Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Jonah’s Tome: “Tedious and Inane”

Michael Tomasky read Jonah Goldberg’s Liberal Fascism and reviews it in The New Republic.

Goldberg no doubt believes that he has written something that will provoke, traduce, and infuriate liberals everywhere. (For all his supposed fearlessness, though, he pulled one haymaker of a punch: the original subtitle of the book was The Totalitarian Temptation From Mussolini to Hillary Clinton. I’m mildly curious about the logic by which a writer who insists that Franklin Roosevelt and John Kennedy were fascists thought that the original subtitle violated some canon of judgment or taste.) For about fifty or sixty pages, I confess, I took the bait, and did my best to work myself into a lather. By page 200–there are 405 pages of actual text–offense was beside the point, and I was mentally imploring the author to get it over with. By page 300, I was bored out of my skull. And by the time I made it to the final pages, I was wishing that I had been invited instead to review a multi-volume history of farm subsidies.

But I made it all the way to the end–and to the atypically succinct coda, in which Goldberg expresses the hope that his efforts will serve the same noble, lonely cause that William Buckley aided on national television in 1968 when, after Gore Vidal called him a “crypto-Nazi,” he flung the word “queer” at Vidal. (Except Goldberg hopes for greater “civility”!) So I can report with a clear conscience that Liberal Fascism is one of the most tedious and inane–and ultimately self-negating–books that I have ever read. I suspect our white-coated researchers of the future would conclude mainly that we were a society with too much time on our hands–or at least that there was once a certain Goldberg with far too much time on his. Liberal Fascism is a document of a deeply frivolous culture, or sub-culture.


The great danger, Goldberg writes in the book’s closing pages, is simply that “the promise of American life will be frittered away for a bag of magic beans called security.” So that’s it? Four hundred-plus pages, three-plus years of writing (I have been hearing about this book since 2005), and the concluding indictment is only that liberals are over-eager in their desire to use the state to provide people with material security? In the good old days of contemporary anti-liberalism–I mean the 1980s–right-wingers used to be able to make that point in just a sentence. Like I say–too much time on his hands.

Thank you, Michael, for saving me from having to read the bloody thing myself.