Friday, September 19, 2008

Politics: Jonah Goldberg, "Happy Warrior"

Jonah Goldberg is witty and funny, articulate, incredibly well-read and really, really smart.
Goldberg spoke this morning at the newly and stylishly or garishly (you decide) repainted Marriott Pyramid. About 120 attended. Rio Grande Foundation president Paul Gessing said 50 attended a lunch event in Santa Fe. The Albuquerque appearance was a promotion and public service event that was the second in a series sponsored by the Foundation and the New Mexico Prosperity Project.
For someone who is not yet 40, Goldberg seems to have done everything from being all over the TV talk fests, being a widely syndicated columnist, and a contributing editor at National Review. He and his wife also have one young child.
A clue to Goldberg for us liberal arts fanatics, comes the fact that he attended Goucher College, a small liberal arts college near Washington, D.C., and Baltimore with 1,350 undergrads and 1,000 graduate students At Goucher Dean’s scholarship recipients have a combined SAT score north of 1,400.
Goldberg almost seems to do the pundit stuff to support his reading of literature and philosophy back to the pre-Socratic times.
Goldberg focused on the two main themes from his book, Liberal Fascism: The Secret History of the American Left from Mussolini to the Politics of Meaning. First was debunking the conventional wisdom that fascism was right wing. Second was that progressives never given up their commitment to the broad “moral equivalent of war” notion that was the driver of Woodrow Wilson’s move toward a semi-dictatorship during World War I.
Conventional wisdom says that political philosophies are circle with the extremes—communism and fascism—meeting. “Nowhere else do we talk about extremes meeting,” Goldberg said. “The National Socialists (the Nazis) are socialists,” he quoted one contemporaneous observer. In the 1920s fascism and socialism were seen as about the same thing, though the two ideologies were rivals. Both hated democracy. Later, when it came to killing people, socialism beat the Nazis by “orders of magnitude.”
President Woodrow Wilson, a self-proclaimed progressive, Goldberg said, “was the first would-be fascist dictator. Wilson was in fact the most racist president in the 20th century.” This “moral equivalent of war” concept is everywhere—in energy, in the “War on Poverty.”
Goldberg might have added that the “war” metaphor is inaccurate and deceptive. If something is war, it gets all the resources, without question. Neither the war on poverty nor the war on drugs or cancer or even terrorism have gotten the resources to fight at the level of a real war. Politicians using the metaphor are misleading people into thinking more will be done about a problem than will in fact be done.
“Political unity” as a general concept makes Goldberg uncomfortable. The whole point of the design of the United States’ government was “to pit faction against faction,” he reminded the audience. Check Federalist Papers 10 and 51. “Unity was dangerous in the eyes of the Founding Fathers.”
Trouble lurks in the cliché, “If you’re not part of the answer, you’re part of the problem.” People who haven’t bought “the answer” are bad, Think, for example, of Al Gore’s dissent stifling hysteria about global warming. (Note that “hysteria” is my word, not Goldberg’s.)
Goldberg closed the main presentation with a charge to the audience members to be “happy warriors,” to stay with the battle for freedom. “This is the permanent fight,” he said. The parameters were defined by Rousseau for the collectivists and John Locke for the sovereignty of the individual. The tension “runs through the human heart,” he said.
“There will always be more of them than us,” Goldberg said. He explained that people want to be part of a tribe and that there will always be people who think capitalism takes too much power from the would-be social planners.
Goldberg had two asides about capitalism. First, it is not a zero-sum game. Second, he prefers the term “free market economics” because “capitalism is a Marxist word.”

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