Jens 'n' Frens
Idle thoughts of a relatively libertarian Republican in Cambridge, MA, and whomever he invites. Mostly political.

"A strong conviction that something must be done is the parent of many bad measures."
  -- Daniel Webster

Wednesday, January 16, 2008 :::

Jonah Goldberg seems to think of this as the best opposition to the thesis of his book that he's encountered. They're both more knowledgeable about the subject than I, but here's my thought: Ledeen's main contention seems to be that Jonah doesn't make sufficiently fine distinctions, and I think Ledeen is too reluctant to make any groupings at all. For example:
The weakest part of the book has to do with the Nazis. All of us who have worked on fascism have had to try to figure out to what extent Hitler belongs inside the definition. As Jonah says, Hitler worshiped Mussolini (a love that was not reciprocated), but the Fuhrer was driven by racism and antisemitism, not by the sort of nationalism the Italians embraced. It is very hard to find a political box big enough to accommodate the two, and, like the rest of us, Jonah huffs and puffs trying to make one.
Distinctions are good, and I hope and expect that Jonah's book doesn't spend 500 pages discussing how everything is either black or white. Maybe Nazism doesn't precisely fit the definition of Fascism except in the public imagination, which makes less fine distinctions than I hope and expect Jonah's book does. But I think Jonah's point is that if you divide the world into right and left, Mussolini, Hitler, Stalin, Trotsky, and Mao have to be on the same side for almost any meaningful definition of right and left, and, further, that Woodrow Wilson and FDR are, if not on that side, at least closer to it than, say, Ronald Reagan.

I just got the book today, so maybe I'll be more informed later.

UPDATE: My reply was expressed better here.

After reading the introduction, though, Ledeen seems a bit fairer, for the following reason: Jonah delineates his topic to include only Italy and Germany. I think if he was discussing fascism throughout the world, it would be clearer what was exceptional about each strain, and why some might argue that the Nazis don't even belong. But I think it's a little more reasonable to say that if you are going to pick two pure examples, the Nazis shouldn't be one.

I think a lot of the problems and/or perceived problems with the book come from its dual mandate: Jonah wanted it to be a serious history, and both he and his publisher wanted it to sell a lot of copies. I'm still enjoying the book, but I suspect both Jonah and I would be happier with more abstract geekiness and less story-telling. Neither of us is a fan of the mustachioed smiley-face on the cover (at least in this context). And I think he's a bit defensive in the introduction about tying modern liberals to totalitarians; it was worth emphasizing that he's not saying Hillary Clinton is exactly the same as Hitler, give or take a little Jew-killing, but he seems to emphasize this every three sentences throughout the introduction. And, of course, most of the people he most wants to emphasize that to - the lefties he'd love to engage on this topic - won't read any part of the introduction because of the title and the smiley-face.

I think if he hadn't had to worry about marketability, he would have written something that would have pleased Ledeen more, by emphasizing more differences and getting into more details and generally being more technical.


::: posted by Steven at 8:29 PM

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Idle thoughts of a relatively libertarian Republican in Cambridge, MA, and whomever he invites. Mostly political.

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