Monday, October 13, 2008

Man of Letters

An email sent to Jonah Goldberg, author of the fascinating "Liberal Fascism":


I've just finished your book, "Liberal Fascism", as part of a rather gluttonous burst of reading, and I must say that LF is the most absorbing and challenging read I've had in a year or more. I'm still struggling with it somewhat - my feeling is that your strengths lie in your scholarship and your penetrating and unconventional analysis, and that your (understandable) urge to engage in playful polemic creates a tension in the text that is often left unresolved in a way that is often unsatisfying. That said, I think I need to reread it at least once more before I make any final judgments, and I think that the substance of your argument more than makes up for any stylistic quibbles I might have.

Your book brings to mind a number of other works - what I found most stimulating about your argument was your ability to place novel insights (novel to me, at least!) within a framework of familiar and canonical Western thought, illuminating threads in other works which I had not previously suspected to be there. Hume comes to mind repeatedly, particularly his "Of Superstition and Enthusiasm", which may as well have been written yesterday for its applicability to the modern Left-liberal attitude towards scepticism of PC orthodoxy, or indeed any other form of free conservative inquiry. In a similar vein, LF returned - albeit obliquely - to arguments put forward by Arthur Herman (who, if I am not mistaken, also writes occasionally for National Review) in his magisterial "The Idea of Decline in Western History", which follows the romantic/apocalyptic motif along a path which intersects repeatedly with the foundational ideas and figures of both fascism and modern Left-liberalism. It is obviously not a coincidence: fascism is a notoriously protean idea, capable of taking all sorts of guises, but one essential animating idea we always find is the notion of modern decadence, and decline from an earlier Golden Age. If you have not read it, do yourself that favor; if you have, I am sure you agree.

I bring this up in order to pass along this passage from Herman's book, about the radical "black nationalist" liberal idol Marcus Garvey, which I think helps to place his heirs - especially a certain Rev. Wright, intimate of candidate Obama, currently keeping an unusually low profile:

Garvey told a reporter that he represented the future of black nationalism, while [Garvey's rival, W. E. B.] Du Bois represented the past. That future, he believed, hinged on what he was convinced would be the future of twentieth-century politics: mass politics, mass propaganda, and the power of the disciplined and mobilized nation. That conviction drew him to the figure of Benito Mussolini. Garvey expressed great admiration for the Italian dictator until he invaded Ethiopia in 1936. He even claimed that far from his movement's being patterned after Mussolini's Blackshirts, the influence flowed the other way around: "When we had 100,000 men and were training children, Mussolini was still unknown." [...]

He reserved the same admiration for Adolf Hitler. For Garvey, Jews were the symbol of the "lying, wheedling" West, and Jewish international finance was a power that "can destroy men, organizations, and nations." [...] Anti-Semitism and the appeal of modern mass movements also led him to seek a partner in an unusual quarter: the Klu Klux Klan. To the stunned outrage of Du Bois, the NAACP, and virtually every other Negro leader, Garvey arranged a meeting with the KKK's Grand Dragon. Both agreed that a black exodus from the United States would protect the purity of both races. In short, racial pessimism formed a bridge between these two forms of radical nationalism, one black and the other white. -- Herman, pp. 213-214

Today, Obamaphiles fervently hope that he has the spirit of Garvey with him (e.g.: , countless others). I quite suspect they are right about that, as evinced by the company he keeps. Anyway, your book is a delicious read, and I thank you for your time, and would be more than honored if you choose to quote this email at whatever length you wish. Enough out of me: I need to re-read "Liberal Fascism", and you need to get busy on the sequel. Please.

"Willmoore Kendall"

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