Meaning of liberal in politics
Goldberg’s book is a publishing phenomena not only featuring at the top of the New York Times bestseller lists as a hardback but also, as Goldberg himself has noted in the blog he runs about the book, going into a third printing in the UK. That is enough to make many historians, used to important articles and books receiving scant if any attention from a wider public, rather envious. It is best then to point out straight away that Mr Goldberg is not a professional historian, and neither, despite the presence of some scholarly apparatus in the sense of endnotes, is his book a work of academic history. Rather Mr Goldberg is a US right of centre political commentator – who has also written for The Times in the UK – a controversialist and, as befits the modern age, a blogger.
So while many academics may well stick to the prudent technique of rather understating findings and avoiding inferences to what cannot strictly be held up by empirical evidence, Mr Goldberg uses the opposite method of rather exaggerating the points he has to make. I say this because Mr Goldberg does have some useful historical points to make in the book but they are probably not the ones that scream at us when we see the title ‘Liberal Fascism’.
The book is above all a media event. It has been widely reviewed in the US and in the UK – itself quite unusual these days for any book dealing with an historical topic – and then there is the aforementioned blog of the book, where Goldberg chronicles events related to it. Goldberg has a specific method which nods both to the prudent caution of the academic historian but also utilises the tools of the blogger in making statements designed to provoke a reaction.
For example he is quite careful in a number of passages in the book to point out that he is not being cavalier about calling people fascists, or about extrapolating from an individual view or act to a suggestion of a fascist worldview. He argues on page 393 for example that he has repeatedly made it clear that ‘modern day liberals are not cartoonish Nazi villains’. Since one of the points that he makes quite effectively is that many on the left at certain periods have had a tendency to label anything on the right that they did not like ‘fascist’, as opposed to simply right-wing, bigoted, reactionary, or just conservative, it is a point well made. However he rather spoils that caution by producing a rather thin chapter titled ‘Hitler, man of the left’ where he does in reverse exactly what he accuses the left of.