Opinion journalism, by dint of its inherent subjectivity, has the luxury of being able to separate itself from reality when the situation calls for some creative punditry. The form allows writers to go off on extended riffs, cherry-pick quotes and take bits of text out of context in order to support their case that someone, somewhere, is being taken for a ride by opposing masters of spin, and the op-ed writer is here to disabuse you of such notions.
But when columnists who are normally on opposite sides of the partisan divide start coming to the same conclusions (as two New York Timesmen did earlier this week), you have to wonder what’s going on.
Such is the case with Harper’s magazine arch-liberal Lewis Lapham, and National Review’s fire-breathing conservative Jonah Goldberg. It seems that in diametrically opposed ways, both writers apparently agree that the United States is turning in to a fascist state.
In his monthly editorial in the October issue of Harper’s, Lapham sees the specter of fascism, well, everywhere, most especially in the “hallmarks of fascist sentiment in the character of an American government,” even in “faith-based initiatives.” But it’s not just the government — it’s the corporations, too. Already, he proclaims, “fascist terms of political endearment” are accepted by the “affluent and suburban classes [who] have taken to heart the lesson taught to the aspiring serial killers rising through the ranks at West Point and the Harvard Business School.” What’s more, “as surely as the loyal fascist knew that it was his duty to serve the state, the true American knows that it is his duty to protect the brand.” It’s not a stretch to assume — given his singling out the government, military and corporate classes — that Lapham is pointing the finger at conservatives.
You couldn’t choose a better foil for Lapham than Jonah Goldberg: He’s just as angry, just as distressed about contemporary American life, and just as removed from the “regular folks” he wants to save as Lapham is. The big difference between the two is that Goldberg sees fascism being imposed by the Left, rather than the Right. It’s all summed up nicely in the title of his forthcoming book, Liberal Fascism: The Totalitarian Temptation from Mussolini to Hillary Clinton.
While the book itself won’t be out for nearly a year (and we obviously haven’t read it yet), the title and publisher’s blurb give us a pretty good idea of what he’s going for:
Jonah Goldberg shows that the original fascists were really on the Left and that liberals, from Woodrow Wilson to FDR to Hillary Clinton, have advocated policies and principles remarkably similar to those of Hitler’s National Socialism.
Goldberg draws striking parallels between historic fascism and contemporary liberal doctrines. He argues that “political correctness” on campuses and calls for campaign finance reform echo the Nazis’ suppression of free speech; and that liberals, like their fascist forebears, dismiss the democratic process when it yields results they dislike … he boldly illustrates the resemblances between the opinions advanced by Hitler and Mussolini and the current views of the Left.
Looking at the two arguments, we can reach one of two conclusions: Either everyone in America — from FDR to the CEO of Wal-Mart — is actively working toward a fascist state; or Lapham and Goldberg are stretching it just the tiniest bit.
But what does it say about the state of the opinion media when two writers who have traveled such different roads and have such opposite visions of the responsible parties somehow end up at basically the same place? Doesn’t really speak well for the seriousness of either enterprise, does it? After all, if the liberals are fascist, the corporations are fascist, the government is fascist, Harvard MBAs are fascist, proponents of campaign finance reform are fascist, then who isn’t fascist?
One is left wondering what Lapham and Goldberg would call an actual fascist, should they have the misfortune to meet one.