Sunday, January 20, 2008

Where Is My Mind?

(Today's blog entry has a soundtrack.)

Hi there again. It's been a while since I last posted anything to this blog. Come to think of it, the last time I posted anything was just prior to my doctoral proposal hearing, which seemed at the time like the sort of thing over which I should get really stressed out and melodramatic. In retrospect it really wasn't that big a deal, but it did provide me with a wonderful excuse for relaxing and turning off my brain afterwards.

Admittedly, I haven't completely slacked since then. In between episodes of Battlestar Galactica, I filed a bunch of grant applications to fund my field research, I've kept up with my various side jobs at my university, I've been working as a teaching assistant... but sheesh, I really feel like my brain has been in sleep mode for the past couple of months. Shouldn't I be a little more excited and confident about my career path now that I've cleared this major hurdle?

It's strange. I've been thinking a lot lately about why I decided to go to grad school and what I hoped to get out of it at the time. I really don't think I had any idea what I was getting into, but then again, I suspect that few 23 year-olds have much clarity about major career choices in general. At the time I just knew that I liked what I had been studying in college and I thought it would be nice to get a degree that would allow me to contribute to public discussions about media and society with some academic credibility. I know: what was I thinking?

Maybe it's because I've been thinking lately about my initial goal of becoming a "public intellectual" that I've become strangely fascinated by Jonah Goldberg's most recent book, "Liberal Fascism: The Secret History of the American Left From Mussolini to the Politics of Meaning.". Jonah Goldberg, to the best of my knowledge, doesn't hold a PhD or any degree higher than a bachelor's from Goucher College, so I don't think it's unfair to say that he doesn't have the traditional qualifications of what would usually be considered a "public intellectual." From what I can tell, he's best known for being the son of Lewinsky Scandal veteran Lucianne Goldberg, and only incidentally recognized as a pundit, columnist and contributing editor for the National Review and its online publication.

What interests me about Goldberg's book isn't its outlandish cover art depicting a smiley face with a Hitler mustache or the losing arguments Golberg has offered on his promotional tour in support of the book. Instead, what captured my interest in "Liberal Fascism's" was the book's previous working subtitles. Over the last year, had listed the book as "Liberal Fascism: The Totalitarian Temptation From Mussolini to Hillary Clinton" and then as "Liberal Fascism: The Totalitarian Temptation From Hegel to Whole Foods" before eventually settling on the comparitively benign title about "Mussolini and the Politics of Meaning".

Now, I haven't read the book yet (though I'm eagerly awaiting its arrival at my library), but from what I've gathered it seems that Golberg's argument is that contemporary American liberalism is an offshoot of the same ideological lineage as Italy's National Fascist Party and Germany's Nationalist Socialist Party, better known as the Nazi Party. Goldberg is quick to point out that the word "Socialist" appears in the title of Hitler's political party, and therefore proves a common ideological foundation with American liberals because they are branded "socialists" by their political opponents. Brilliant, huh? I mean, you have to overlook his logical fallacy that the same word always implies the same meaning regardless of context, and then you have to ignore the fact that Hitler denounced most socialist and communist political movements because he saw them as the perverse ideological products of Jewish intellectuals, but once you do that...

Hmm. Alright, maybe I'm not giving the guy a fair shake. Here, let me offer you Golberg's own explanation of his argument in his own words in an interview with

To sort of start the story, the reason why we see fascism as a thing of the right is because fascism was originally a form of right-wing socialism. Mussolini was born a socialist, he died a socialist, he never abandoned his love of socialism, he was one of the most important socialist intellectuals in Europe and was one of the most important socialist activists in Italy, and the only reason he got dubbed a fascist and therefore a right-winger is because he supported World War I.

Wow! Call me crazy, but all this time I thought that Mussolini was labeled a fascist because of his role in creating the Partito Nazionale Fascista!...

OK, so Goldberg's book is probably a laughably weak attempt to smear his political opponents masquerading as rigorously researched intellectual historiography. But here's what gets me: at one point, Goldberg conceived of this book as one that would critically engage with Hegel. How often do you see THAT kind of intellectual ambition from American political pundits? Call me crazy, but I actually want to applaud that kind of chutzpa. I know I'm going to regret saying this in the morning, but right now I actually feel like this kind of crap is actually healthier for the public sphere than the usual political dumbfuckery that I see on the shelves of Borders and Barnes and Noble.