We talk about a variety of topics on this episode, including cultural conservativism and libertarianism, whether libertarians are more at home on the right or left, Goldberg’s 2009 book, Liberal Fascism, and the rise of outsider candidates on the political right and what they may (or may not) be signalling about the preferences of the electorate.
Trevor Burrus: Welcome to Free Thoughts from Libertarianism.org and the Cato Institute. I’m Trevor Burrus. Joining us today is Jonah Goldberg, Senior Editor of National Review, a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and frequent Fox News contributor. He’s the author of 2008’s Liberal Fascism and 2012’s Tyranny of Clichés: How Liberals Cheat in the War of Ideas. Welcome to Free Thoughts, Jonah.
Jonah Goldberg: Hey, it’s great to be here.
Trevor Burrus: So I would like to start with your background. Do you have – were you a – by birth – a conservative by birth or did you have a click experience? Do you have some sort of dark leftist past?
Jonah Goldberg: I may have had some dark leftist weekends. But no sinister past, yes. So I grew up – people have heard me talk about this before. I remember some of these jokes but I grew up on the Upper West Side of Manhattan.
Trevor Burrus: OK, that’s pretty …
Jonah Goldberg: We were like Christians in ancient Rome, right? We were like one of the very few conservative families around and we sort of – I always joke about how we would in Riverside Park and draw a little C in the dirt with your foot, between the catacombs and the [Indiscernible]. So it’s one of those parlor games again to allot with libertarians and conservatism people, sort of people who understand that their ideological is like – would we still be us if we grew up in say the Soviet Union, right?
I mean there are those kinds of questions and I sometimes wonder. If I had grown up in some socially conservative neighborhood …
Trevor Burrus: Where being reactionary meant usually different …
Jonah Goldberg: Right. In Missouri, I have been a contrarian by being a liberal. I don’t think so, but you never know, right? It’s an interesting contrafactual. So I always – being conservative is being sort of against the grain and New York 1970s, 1980s and all that kind of stuff. My dad was a huge influence on me. My dad was a classic sort of – he would not have – I know he didn’t call himself a neo‐conservative. But he was a neo‐conservative in the sense that he had a long, dark leftist past or at least a short, dark leftist past and moved right word.
Trevor Burrus: So very much like …
Jonah Goldberg: Very much. When I first came to Washington, Irving reminded me a lot of my dad and my dad’s idea of a good time was going on long walks with his sons and explaining to them why Stalin was a bad man. So I don’t know that I was conservative from birth. The thing about me is that I never planned on going into this line of work. I wanted to write comic books and science fiction novels when I was a kid and I kind of fell over backwards into this.
It wasn’t until I really went to college that I realized how immersed I was in politics and media and all that kind of stuff. I’m not saying I found out I was smarter than people. I was rejected from every college I applied to. It’s just I knew things about politics and history and culture that normal kids didn’t and I don’t mean that to brag. I just mean that that’s sort of what was going on in my house is that we’re – it was a lot of conversation.
My dad subscribed to – partly for work but probably 20 newspapers and 40 magazines and we were just sort of drenched in all that stuff.
Trevor Burrus: Now you mentioned that people who know their ideological, which made me think about the interesting fact that conservatives and libertarians, when asked questions like this, will often talk about what the left is called or the feminist like to call the click experience. It’s different. I don’t know if the left gets the question of when did you realize you were left. But conservatives and libertarians get this – often get this question of was it some day and then you realize. Why do you think that’s the case?
Jonah Goldberg: I think there are a lot of reasons for it. I have this long spiel about how there’s a reason why comedians are widely overrepresented by blacks, gays, Jews, and Canadians.
Trevor Burrus: The real …
Jonah Goldberg: Well, no, but for all the same reasons, right? I mean Canadians are observers of American culture but they are not part of it. They get a huge amount of their television and their pop culture from America but they’re also slightly alienated from it. You don’t have to read Invisible Sun and all that kind of stuff to understand that to be black on a mainstream conventional mostly white campus meant you had to understand your own culture and also the majority culture. Same thing for Jews, same thing for gays.
That gives you a certain amount of critical distance from the mainstream while still understanding the mainstream and that’s sort of that half layer of alienation that – and comedians have that same thing. They have this ability to observe life as if it is something beyond them.
Trevor Burrus: Like aliens watching the planet.
Jonah Goldberg: But they’re also very fluent in it, right? And you look at Jon Stewart. I mean one of his brilliant things is he could speak the language of pop culture probably better than anybody alive. So anyway, I think there’s – something similar goes on with conservatives and libertarians in the sense that we understand the mainstream culture. We understand the mainstream intellectual culture but we’re not of it and it gives us this ability to talk about it with a certain amount of critical distance that I think is very good and very helpful and is one of the reasons why libertarians and conservatives by my likes tend to be first of all more objective and correct. But it also means that we are seen as slightly the other.
Trevor Burrus: On the Jon Stewart which just paused my head, which is an interesting question because you mentioned the comedians and some things that come up every now and then is whether or not conservatives could be funny or do a thing like Jon Stewart or what John Oliver is doing now and a lot of times conservatives and libertarians have tried to do that. It has failed pretty miserably. It has been very clearly ideological in a certain way. Do you have any theories about why it’s …
Jonah Goldberg: Oh, yeah. I get asked about this a lot in part because I’m sort of known as a conservative who can crack a joke, right? And some people say that I’m the funniest scholar at the American Enterprise Institute which is sort of like …
Trevor Burrus: It’s an August list.
Jonah Goldberg: Yeah, it’s like the best Oktoberfest in Orlando. It’s saying something but just not a lot. But no, I get asked about this a lot. I think that part of the problem is that most of the attempts to do a conservative version of Jon Stewart lie in the fact that they try to do a conservative version of Jon Stewart. Jon Stewart doesn’t go out to try to be – or didn’t. We’re recording this shortly after Trevor Noah just started as the new host, which I haven’t seen him yet.
He didn’t set out to do a liberal show. It became more and more liberal over time as he became sort of the dashboard saint of sort of the left wing blogosphere and all that.
But he set out to do something funny and that’s a very different thing and I wish these attempts which keep coming back sort of like herpes for conservatives to do these funny right wing shows, I wish they would stop trying so hard to be conservative. It’s sort of like Trotsky art, right? And instead just try to be funny because it turns out that actually a lot of standup comics are conservative and really libertarian and they’re getting more libertarian by the day as college campuses become these sort of bizarrely, sort of Nerf bat Stalinist outposts, right?
I mean no one is going to get shot but you can’t tell a joke anywhere, that whole controversy with Seinfeld and what not and Amy Schumer has come out. Amy Schumer is clearly left wing in her politics but she’s actually becoming – a lot of these people are becoming essentially libertarian free speech warriors because they recognize the way that a lot of the culture is going and that’s fine.
But I think there are plenty of libertarian and conservative‐minded funny people out there. The part of the problem is that the people who assign – who produce these shows and the networks that sign up these shows, they want – they don’t think conservatives are funny because they’re left wingers, right? Or if they want a sort of counter program and do something conservative, they think the smart thing to do is go hire a conservative to be a funny conservative and that automatically politicizes it. It removes from the conservation a lot of good material.
Now I used to be a big defender of The Simpsons in part because it’s not that it was ever a conservative show. It’s just that they were equal opportunity. If they could get …
Trevor Burrus: Or South Park.
Jonah Goldberg: Or South Park. Well, South Park is actually very libertarian really compared to The Simpsons although I haven’t watched The Simpsons much in a long time. But my argument with The Simpsons was always that if they are 50–50 equal opportunity guys shooting at republicans and democrats, conservatives and liberals, that is about 48 percent more than conservatives usually get in the popular culture and we should claim that as a victory and move on.
Trevor Burrus: So you’ve been talking about conservatives and libertarians. You consider yourself a conservative. Why aren’t you a libertarian?
Jonah Goldberg: Oh, well, the way I kind of explain it to people – writing Liberal Fascism, my first book, made me much more libertarian and part of the problem is early on in my years as a pundit type, I got into a lot of fights with a certain subset of libertarians and …
Trevor Burrus: There are a lot of subsets of …
Trevor Burrus: I’ve gotten into many fights with them too.
Jonah Goldberg: There are many rooms in the mansion of libertarianism, which is one of my big beefs about libertarians is that libertarians, when arguing with non‐libertarians, they argue as if the libertarian is this unified ideological whole and that libertarianism is the one consistent ideology.
Then when you put 10 libertarians in a room and you discover there are 15 positions on something, it would turn out that that’s mostly BS and I really can’t stand that insider‐outsider stuff. Conservatives at least acknowledge that we got a lot of differences inside of our tent. Libertarians tend to have this – will have all sorts of fun arguments when the tent flap is closed but when we argue with non‐libertarians, we’re all going to act as if we’re all in it together. I find that kind of grating after a while.
But anyway, one of the ways I like to explain my position is that at the federal level, I am essentially 95 percent libertarian, if you take out foreign policy, which I think you can, right? About 95 percent – 80 percent libertarian. It kind of depends on some issues on – sort of off preservation.
At the state level, it’s more like 50–50 and at the local level, I’m pretty much a hardcore communitarian. There are certain rights that we all have to have guaranteed. You can’t bring back slavery. You can’t bring back Jim Crow. We fought a civil war over these issues. It’s settled. We amended the constitution a couple of times. Done, right?
But beyond that, if some local town wants to ban gay weddings or ban – or allow only gay weddings, right? I mean I don’t really care.
Trevor Burrus: Maybe ban guns would – I mean Second Amendment.
Jonah Goldberg: Well, there’s a problem there, right? So there are some issues that by their very nature become “federal issues”. But my druthers would always be to err on the side of saying these are local issues. I mean Johnny Cash wrote a song You Can’t Bring Your Guns to Town, right?
If that’s a local ordinance, it bothers me a hell of a lot more than if it’s a federal ordinance, right? Because then there is no right to exit. I do this whole thing on college campuses about how I think that federalism – you know, basically the process of pushing public policy issues to lowest democratic level possible is the best system ever conceived of for maximizing human happiness because it lets the most people live the way they want to live.
Some people will live very conservatively in ways that a lot of people in the Cato Institute will despise and some people will live very libertarian which will – people at the Cato Institute will celebrate. A lot of people will find a happy compromise in between. But the beauty of pushing these things down to the most local level possible is that the winners have to look the losers in the eye the next day.
They have to see the losers at their kids’ soccer matches and on the line at the grocery store and they have to live with the consequences of their decisions.
What we have now is we have a system where we have these competing elites, not to get all Mosca and Pareto on you. But we have these competing elites at the federal level and I think conservatives do it less than liberals and leftists but they still – some do it where they say, “Well, the federal government is going to impose one side’s vision. I would rather it be mine.”
They try to do a one‐size‐fits‐all, understanding what this country is about. That’s not what this country is about, right? Barbara Streisand gets to live whatever kind of life she wants to live and John Ashcroft gets to live whatever kind of life he wants to live.
Trevor Burrus: But we don’t have to make them live together.
Jonah Goldberg: But we don’t have to make them live together.
Trevor Burrus: That would be a reality show.
Jonah Goldberg: That would be a fantastic reality show. But they also don’t get to impose it on everybody else and so on a lot of issues, I’m very libertarian. On a lot of issues, I’m very conservative. It just kind of depends. But one thing I think ultimately the problem – probably the reason this is so fresh in my head is I just wrote the new foreword to this What is Conservatism? book that Frank Meyer put out which is sort of the federalist papers of fusionism, right?
I think fusionism is a bit of a problem. Philosophically it’s flawed. It’s this idea – in National Review where I hang my hat most of the time is an avowedly fusionist enterprise and the argument – the pithy description of it is that a free society – a virtual society must be a free society because virtue not freely chosen isn’t virtuous.
If I compel you to do the right thing, you aren’t doing the right thing for the right reasons and you get no credit for it. You have to want to choose the virtuous path.
I think it’s a political organizing principle that’s great. It served the conservative movement and the libertarian movement quite well for over a half a century. But at the philosophical level, I think there are problems with it and the sort of jokey summation I have about libertarianism has always been libertarianism is the single greatest political philosophy ever conceived of except for two weaknesses – children and foreign policy.
If neither of them existed, there’s no sane argument for not being libertarian. But we do have to take some care about the kind of citizens we raise in the next generation and that means a certain amount of, for one of a better word, enforce conformity or authoritarianism or however you want to put it.
We do live in a world where the Hayekian extended order tends to stop at national borders and there are people beyond those borders who want to do things that require a strong national defense. That’s where I condone all of that.
Trevor Burrus: You mentioned when you were writing Liberal Fascism, which is a spectacular book, greatly influenced a lot of – reading your footnotes or reading your sources influenced a lot of further research of mine. But you said you started becoming more libertarian. Was it kind of the fact that there is a vein of conservatism, not necessarily fascist but in terms of creating a state family, socializing people in a certain way that kind of starts to seem like the kind of fascism that Mussolini practiced and things like that?
Jonah Goldberg: Yeah, I mean it’s …
Trevor Burrus: I guess the question is sort of – a question I asked Charles Cooke in the event we had on the conservatarian book was, “Would conservatives be against state education if they controlled the curriculum?” That kind of family building, that kind of state building, which you see in fascism traditionally.
Jonah Goldberg: Well, I mean this sort of gets back to the earlier point I was making. If forced to choose between competing state ideologies or ideologies of the state that we’re going to impose on people, I will choose the conservative one almost every time, right? So if we’re going to play that game, and I got to pick a side, I’m going to pick the conservative side because I think there will be less damage done to the society. But I would rather not play that game, right?
So there’s this ancient tension within the conservative movement of those who are anti‐state and those who are anti‐left, right? And seven out of ten times, that distinction is written on our hearts, right? Because we’re both anti‐state and the anti‐left. Your question about schools gets to the heart of it, right? I mean are you anti‐government‐schools where Milton Friedman would talk about it or are you anti using tax dollars to impose this left wing ideology on our kids? If we could just get in the time machine back to 1950s where they didn’t do that, would they be OK, right?
I don’t think necessarily either strain of those things is fascistic in the way that we’re talking about. I do – because I think – we can get in the weave in this if you like, but Friedrich Hayek, I am – it’s sort of one of my pet things is I cannot stand the misuse and abuse of his essay called Why I’m Not a Conservative.
Trevor Burrus: Me too. We’re on the same page there.
Jonah Goldberg: Yeah. Hayek never called himself a libertarian. He called himself an old Whig.
Trevor Burrus: Old Whig, yes.
Jonah Goldberg: Which is exactly Edmund Burke described himself and Edmund Burke as many will remember was the founder of modern conservatism. The concern he was talking about are blood and soil conservatives of Europe, the demise types and that was never what conservatism in America was about. That’s why Hayek says America is the one country in the world where you can call yourself a conservative and still be a defender of liberty because what we are trying to conserve is a classically liberal revolution.
Everything would be so much easier if libertarians could finally junk the most un‐euphonious words since – until conservatarian came along and just call yourselves liberals or classical liberals, right? Which is really what most of you are.
Trevor Burrus: I would love to be able to do that.
Jonah Goldberg: Yeah.
Trevor Burrus: I don’t like to call liberals liberals. I like to call them leftists …
Jonah Goldberg: Yeah, or progressives, right?
Trevor Burrus: I’m taking it back.
Jonah Goldberg: I agree with that. If we can do that, that would be wonderful and it’s a very recent innovation to say it otherwise. But no, so what made me – just to get back to your actual question, the fundamental thing that I took away from writing Liberal Fascism in terms of this conservative libertarian thing is that – and I do this whole riff and speeches about it, but I call it the fundamental categorier in politics and this categorier is a mistake that libertarians never make.
Conservatives only rarely make and the progressives or leftists hold dear as the center point of their entire philosophy and it’s simply this. The government cannot love you, right? It cannot be your mommy or your daddy or your tribe. It can’t give you – fill the holes in your soul or any of that kind of stuff. It can only be government and that means it’s good for a handful of things. It’s OK for a few more and then it’s really bad for the rest and that’s the one – so there’s this great discussion by Bill Buckley about Chesterton and the importance of dogma.
Bill actually got his example wrong in this as Virginia [Indiscernible] once pointed out to me. But he says, look, we learned from Chesterton that dogma is important to constrain the realm of what is acceptable in the society, right? He says – quoting Chesterton, he says the purely rational man will not fight – the purely rational soldier will not fight. The purely rational man will not marry, right?
I mean you have to have a larger sense of your place in the universe and your meaning and all of the rest in order to do some things that we need you to do in a society and then he says look – he was arguing with Murray Rothbard.
He says Rothbard thinks that people should go – and that lighthouses should be able to charge boats for the use of their lighthouses. It turns out as [Indiscernible] and Mike Lynch once explained to me that in fact that happened all the time, right? But Buckley didn’t realize this. But his larger point is the correct one. He said – it’s a great line. He says, look, a country that is constantly debating whether or not we should privatize lighthouses probably won’t socialize medicine.
I think sometimes libertarians take this categorier point too far and see themselves as itemized individuals and all the rest and don’t give enough space to the possibility that part of being free is to live conservatively in a conservative community which is allowed to impose restrictions on the individual.
But at the same time, if everyone had the libertarian position, government will make far fewer mistakes and we get into far fewer trouble because dogmatically, it is almost impossible for libertarians to impose any kind of tyranny.
Trevor Burrus: Now, the question I have here which is – I think we’ve kind of taken – answered this to some extent but some libertarians who might be listening to this would resist the categorization of being on the right and this might just be an example of the one‐house, mini rooms, kind of example. But a lot of libertarians think it’s unfortunate. Some people here at Cato, we’re not clear why we usually get categorized with heritage when half of our opinions are on the left.
Do you think that there’s a good reason that libertarians are on the right or is it just a historical fight against communism or is there something about libertarians and conservatives that are generally – except for maybe some differences – generally the same kind of approach to the world?
Jonah Goldberg: Yeah, I think for the most part, libertarians belong on the right. I think libertarians bristle and can’t stand being for the most part on the right, but they are. The reason for it is simply that – well, no, I shouldn’t say simply that because I think – and there isn’t a single reason for it. I think it’s what social scientists would call an over‐determined phenomenon. There are a lot of reasons for it. One of them has to do with the history of anti‐communism. Another one has to do with what I was getting at earlier about how conservatives are defenders of the classical liberal revolution and so are libertarians.
So even though the conservative argument may be more deeply rooted in cultural heritage kind of arguments and all the rest, at the end of the day, conservative constitutional scholars and libertarian constitutional scholars, there’s an enormous amount of overlap there, right? Because both sides actually believe the text means something and all the rest.
Trevor Burrus: Does that speak to something itself in the sense that why would both sides think the text means – is there an underlying causal factor? One of the things you write in Tyranny of Clichés is that conservatives are more honest about their indebtedness to ideology which I think is true of libertarians too.
Jonah Goldberg: It’s absolutely true with libertarians, which I think I acknowledged in the book. We’re dorks. You walk around Washington and I’ve been here for almost 25 years, right? I mean like we literally have kids, really smart kids, wearing their favorite philosophers on their ties, right? I mean we’re like a bunch of Dungeons and Dragons geeks, right? I’m a level nine Hayekian, all that kind of stuff.
I think that’s wonderful, right? I do think this is the one of the things that unites certainly intellectual conservatives and intellectual libertarians. There’s something different when you get down into sort of raw populace kind of emotional stuff. But at the philosophical and intellectual level, we’re united by an enormous number of things with – the constitution is one and understanding of the role of the state within broad confines is another.
This is a point I often make. On the single area that matters most in public policy, which is economics, right? I mean other than sort of our fundamental constitutional rights where we also largely overlap. There are no – at least prior to Donald Trump, there are no economic – conservative economic thinkers – there are no libertarian economic thinkers who aren’t also essentially conservative economic thinkers.
Your hero economists are my hero economists. It’s Milton Friedman and Adam Smith. You can go down a long list and Thomas Sowell and all these kinds of guys. There is no separate group of …
Trevor Burrus: Just libertarian economists.
Jonah Goldberg: Of just libertarian economists or just conservative economists. I mean there might be some economists who are very conservative.
Trevor Burrus: But they’re economics …
Jonah Goldberg: But their economics is perfectly – well, they would fit in just fine right here, right? I mean the protectionism just simply doesn’t exist among conservatives, again, at least prior to Donald Trump. So I think that that’s – so that’s part of it and then another thing is that we are in contra‐distinction to liberals and leftists. We actually take ideology seriously and we take ideas seriously. That’s not to say that there are no serious intellectuals on the left. Of course there are.
Trevor Burrus: But are there anyone wearing ties with their favorite philosopher?
Jonah Goldberg: But that’s exactly right. EJ Dionne actually writes about this in one of his books. He says, look, liberals just simply orient themselves to politics differently, but conservatives tend to – conservatives and libertarians tend to be ideational. That is we rally around certain ideas.
Liberals and leftists tend to rally around – are coalitional and they – and they’re activists and I think that this stems – I mean I can get [Indiscernible] in this but I think this stems a lot from American pragmatism. I think it stems a lot from the fact that Eric Voegelin was largely right when he said that – to a very large degree progressivism or leftism or whatever you want to call it is in a sense a – is a political religion.
It’s fascinating when you go to libertarian or conservative egghead confabs, right? It’s a lot of weedy, narrow, intellectual fights all about Randian this and Burke that and all that. You go to the left wing ones and it’s a lot of testifying.
Trevor Burrus: And registering to vote.
Jonah Goldberg: Yeah, it’s – well, yeah, on the political side, it’s registering to vote. The conversation is all very religious. It’s testifying in the religious sense. I feel that we shouldn’t live in a kind of country where X has to come at the expense of Y.
Trevor Burrus: Sing it, sister!
Jonah Goldberg: Yeah.
Trevor Burrus: Yeah, exactly.
Jonah Goldberg: And the idea that there shouldn’t be tradeoffs, that there’s a unity of goodness and that all good positions go together. That is a fundamentally religious point of view. It’s a kingdom of heaven on earth kind of point of view and it’s something that conservatives who tend to be – a lot of them tend to be of much more religious bent. They already have their religion in a traditional form and libertarians – I mean I know there are plenty of religious libertarians but a lot of them – their religion – they don’t look to the state and to politics to fill that religious part of their lives. So I think that it’s funny because I think there is a tendency among libertarians to want to be cool.
Trevor Burrus: I will attest to that. I mean I’m already cool but I see …
Jonah Goldberg: And in the secular popular culture, conservatism is uncool, which is kind of funny, right? Because the whole point of secular popular culture is to be rebellious and it’s amazing. One thing – I love going to college campuses and I always try to say, “Look, let me get this straight. Your professors are liberal. Your textbooks are liberal. The publishing industry is liberal. The music industry is liberal. The mainstream media is liberal. The fashion industry is liberal. Your high school teachers are probably liberal. The administration here at the school is liberal and yet you think you’re sticking it to the man by agreeing with all these people?” If you want to be a real non‐conformist, be a pro‐life, Christian, evangelical at Brown.
Trevor Burrus: Be Alex P. Keaton from Family Ties. Wear a suit all the time, young republicans.
Jonah Goldberg: Right. So that’s the thing. So much of what counts as sort of rebelliousness is actually conformity and I think that there’s a – regardless, there is a tendency which I find grating at times for libertarians who try to prove that they are cool and more conversant and fluent with the popular culture, by trying to throw conservatives under the bus. The problem is at the end of the day is liberals will not have you. I mean, yeah, the issue climate is all about …
Trevor Burrus: Drug war …
Jonah Goldberg: Drug war and gay rights. To a certain extent, they will have you. But you’re never going to get liberals to replace the state with freedom.
Trevor Burrus: That was a line that Brian Doherty had when he was here talking about his Ron Paul book. He made a comment that the fact that – despite Ron Paul being more left than the left on the issues that they’re supposed to be good on and they totally disavowed or mostly disavowed on, proved to him that the left is only a party of sort of redistribution and social – all of those things don’t really matter. What really matters is whether or not you’re for the corporations, whatever that means and for redistribution.
Jonah Goldberg: Right. Brink Lindsey ran into this quite a bit when he was here with his …
Trevor Burrus: He’s still here.
Jonah Goldberg: I thought he left.
Trevor Burrus: He came back.
Jonah Goldberg: Oh, good. Oh, good. I like Brink. I’m a fan of Brink but we have our disagreements.
Trevor Burrus: You mentioned the religious aspect which is – which a lot of your writing, especially in Tyranny of Clichés, it’s very good for pointing out how political rhetoric is very self‐serving a lot of times and other people have ideologies and you just have things that work. For example, you bring out one of Obama’s speeches and you’re very good – one time I saw George Lakoff give a speech to my class in law school and he said the problem with liberals is that we’re too rational, which is interesting to me because I was like – well, of course, everyone thinks that. No one thinks they’re irrational and you’re very good at pointing that out.
But then it often – it concerns me if we’re going to categorize the leftist – or sort of pseudo‐religious, whether or not we’re pathologizing them in a negative way, because it seems to me a bad thing if we think of leftism as some sort of disorder or religion, which I know you’re not saying is entirely true. It just has elements of it but a book like Dinesh D’Souza’s The Roots of Obama’s Rage is kind of doing the same thing of just being like, well, let’s try to explain Obama via other – something else than just trying to address his ideas and explaining his ideas. So do you ever have concerns about pathologizing our opponents on either side?
Jonah Goldberg: Oh, yeah, no, no. Some of those are just simply endemic to politics and it kind of drove my crazy that people thought – I don’t want to get into Dinesh in particular but thought that somehow Barack Obama passed ObamaCare because his father was an Ibo tribesman and whatever. It’s like well, some 245, 250 other congress people voted for that law and they …
Trevor Burrus: It has been a main part of democratic thought for 20 years.
Jonah Goldberg: Right. So if not …
Trevor Burrus: If more.
Jonah Goldberg: Longer, right? So the idea that somehow it can all be explained by this otherization, otherizing Obama, I thought was a real distraction and truly problematic. At the same time, I don’t think – I’m a big enemy of these – I’m not saying you’re doing it but there’s sort of an undertone of it, of this sort of – everybody does it, false parallelism, right?
Trevor Burrus: Yeah. There’s a problem with that. I think Buckley had a thing of if someone pushes a woman in front of a car and someone pushed them out of the – well, everyone pushes women around. There are two different opinions. I’m just saying it’s – I prefer to try and think of my opponents as having arguments rather than pathologies.
Jonah Goldberg: Right. Well, let’s put it this way.
Trevor Burrus: Even though my tendency is to want to pathologize.
Jonah Goldberg: Let’s compare rather that – let’s compare Russ Roberts and Paul Krugman, right?
Trevor Burrus: They …
Jonah Goldberg: I know they have, right? So Russ Roberts, who I’ve never met …
Trevor Burrus: He has been on here.
Jonah Goldberg: But I’m a fan of his podcast and Russ Roberts is almost to a fault willing to acknowledge the possibility that he suffers from confirmation bias. He acknowledges. He says, look, at the end of the day, if you’re a Keynesian, you can find enough data to support your position and if you’re not, you can find enough data to support your position and ultimately it’s just – it’s a muddle and I’m always – and he says it over and over again. He says it in the debates with Krugman. I’m always open to the possibility that I’m just looking for the evidence I want to find, right?
Paul Krugman will never make that kind of concession. Paul Krugman says instead things of profound asininity like facts just have a liberal bias, right? Now that is a better distillation of confirmation bias than anything you could ever come up with and I think that if you – when Barack Obama talks about how – in that – yeah, I begin the book with this.
He gave a speech the day before his first inaugural where he says, “We as a country need to have a new declaration of independence from small‐mindedness, bigotry, prejudice and ideology.”
Trevor Burrus: I bet those are things that other people suffer from.
Jonah Goldberg: Right. He’s always talking about other people. He’s always talking about how he’s not an ideologue. He’s a problem solver. Now, close to seven years into the Obama administration, the idea that – you can have the view that Obama is great. You can have the view that he has been terrible or some place in between. But I can’t take you seriously if you don’t think he’s ideological.
I mean I just – I literally think that you have – your own ideological insane blind spot if you think his only approach is to be a pragmatist than a problem solver and the thing is, is that conservatives and libertarians are willing to admit that they have an ideology.
Now ideology is not a bad word. I mean, yeah, there are some bad dictionary definitions about it but …
Trevor Burrus: The Frankfurt School definitely had their definition of it.
Jonah Goldberg: Right. It all traces back to basically Napoleon and Marx who have this – they changed what ideologue means to me – to go from someone who cares about ideas to actually mean someone who’s sort of ensorcelled and has been brainwashed and all that and it’s nonsense.
Trevor Burrus: Brainwash is another really good example of a term that you only call other people. You would never describe yourself as brainwashed.
Jonah Goldberg: Right, right, right. So Eric von Kuehnelt‐Leddihn who’s a – I’m a big fan of, he – for those looking to find him, he has been dead for a long time. He was this Austrian writer for National Review and he makes a very good point. He says – first of all, in Europe, ideology and world view are simply interchangeable terms. They’re synonyms for each other.
Moreover, in America, 95 percent of the sentences that mean anything about ideology, if you just replace world view, you get it, right? All I mean by an ideology, it’s not a set of principles that I will adhere to when the facts disagree with my ideology. But it is a checklist of my principles. I believe certain things after thinking seriously about things, about reading history and all the rest and I came to certain conclusions about how the world should work and these are questions I bring to new facts.
The idea that somehow liberals aren’t ideological about homosexuality, about guns …
Trevor Burrus: Social justice.
Jonah Goldberg: Social justice, right? I mean you can go down a whole long list of things. The idea that they’re taking each and every one of these issues purely on an empirical basis, weighing the pros and cons and the facts is insane and yet they claim that time and time and time again. It is a tradition that goes back and liberal and progressive intellectual writings go back over a hundred years, straight to the pragmatist thinkers and it is a con. It is a way of saying your ideology is – so like think of Charles Beard, right? Charles Beard is this famous economic historian who says that the founding fathers only cared about protecting their own narrow economic self‐interest.
Now this has been completely debunked. But it’s still hugely popular in all the wrong places, right? And what he was really doing is he was promulgating his own ideological interpretation. What all these pragmatist types were doing was promulgating their own ideological interpretation and saying, no, we’re just disinterested observers. We only care about the facts. Anybody who disagrees with us – well, you’re like the founding fathers. You’ve got this ideology that explains all of your points of view and it is a con.
It seems to me that almost any other realm of life as part of being self‐aware, part of being wise in the classical Aristotelian sense, is understanding your own biases, right? It’s understanding the world that you – the way you want it to be, right? Because that’s the only way you can check yourself to say, “Wait a second. Am I just looking for the evidence I want to find?” If you don’t believe that you have that capacity, if you don’t have an internal – the idea that somehow Paul Krugman isn’t out there looking for the evidence that he’s always right about everything is insane and the fact that he lacks the awareness to conceive – to acknowledge that point is a huge indictment of his entire work.
Trevor Burrus: It might be called a pathology.
Jonah Goldberg: Yeah, it might be or at least it’s a mistake.
Trevor Burrus: Yeah, some sort of mistake. In Liberal Fascism, I have always actually wondered about this. When you wrote the book and as you say fascism properly understood is not a phenomenon of the right at all. Instead it is and always has been a phenomenon of the left. You also say many of the ideas and impulses that – we call liberalism come to us through an intellectual tradition that led directly to fascism. How did the left react to that book to you?
I mean so on one level – I mean you’re good at being like, I’m not saying you’re fascist now but you also wanted to point out that it matters to some degree to know the genesis of these – or at least – of the right as the typical thing. Did you get any good responses from the left? Oh, I didn’t even know that. Was it mostly just like you wrote a book that called those fascists and then you took a walk?
Jonah Goldberg: For the most part, it was a very disappointing reaction. First of all, the book was attacked for two years before publication, which kind of inclines me to think that some of these people were not going to like it no matter what I said, right? I understand that the cover is a punch in the nose and the title is a bit of a punch in the nose and I get that even though the title comes from a speech by HG Wells. It’s not something I …
Trevor Burrus: And the cover is brilliant. It’s a smiley face with a Hitler mustache.
Jonah Goldberg: But a couple of years after publication, there’s this guy. I can’t even remember his name but he’s one of these guys whose entire cottage industry is to say that conservatives are fascists and that the – we must be eternally vigilant and sort of a classic – sort of the Southern Poverty Law Center type, one of these guys.
Trevor Burrus: Classifying he was a hate group or …
Jonah Goldberg: Right. He convinced the History News Network which is a pretty good site to do a seminar – a symposium on my book and the amazing thing is no one invited me to participate. It’s not like the author is dead, right? And Ron Radosh who is a great historian, intellectual historian who gave it a glowing, wonderful review …
Trevor Burrus: He’s real neo‐conservative – he used to be on the left …
Jonah Goldberg: He used to be a true communist.
Trevor Burrus: Yeah.
Jonah Goldberg: And I’m not sure he would call himself a neo – but who knows. Anyway, he gave it a glowing review and then he invited him to do it. He said, “Shame on you guys that you’re not inviting the person who you’re going to eviscerate,” right? So I was actually delighted by this thing.
OK. Finally, I’m going to get smart criticisms of this book, right? Because I think that most of the reviews were pretty bad. The New York Times one wasn’t actually all that bad but then when the thought went out that no, we must destroy this book, not give it an inch of ground, the rest of them were mostly bad.
I mean Michael Tomasky’s was sand‐poundingly stupid. But – so the History News Network. They even got Robert Paxton, the dean of living fascism historians I guess and I got to say none of them were particularly very good. Paxton – I focused on Paxton simply because –
Trevor Burrus: So did they write these down into a symposium or …
Jonah Goldberg: Yeah, and so everyone – you can go look it up. I’m sure it’s still on the web and my response to them is still on the web as well. They – they scored some points and some – which I’m happy to acknowledge but on the grand picture of it, I really wouldn’t change at least the first half of the book which is the historical part. The second half is a little bit of a screed but – and one of the reasons why it was so difficult for the left to deal with the book is I define my terms.
Look, here is what I mean by left wing and right wing, right? This sort of gets us back to where we started this conversation. In American life, at least on liberal terms, right? So forget our terms and where we may – where the schisms lie. On sort of conventional liberal terms, something is – there are two pillars of right wingness in American life. There is the classical liberal pillar, right? Small – limited government, free markets, free minds, Cato Institute, property rights, all of that stuff, the sovereignty of the individual.
Then there’s the cultural conservative pillar, right? Family values, tradition and all that kind of stuff. If you are very far over the line for either one of those categories, you are considered right wing. At National Review, because we’re fusionists, we try to be both, right? We try to marry those two. But Cato is all one pillar, very little of the other pillar and you’re still in – we were talking about before we started how you get frustrated sometimes when you’re called a right wing think tank.
That’s because to the left, if you don’t think the government should be in charge and drive – and is the engine of progress, then you’re right wing, right? If that’s how we’re going to define right wing, those two pillars, then fascism by any rational understanding of the phenomenon was not right wing, right?
It was – Nazis hated Christianity. Mussolini hated Christianity. Hitler said he wasn’t a patriot. He was a nationalist and he wanted to bring – he would never bring back the monarchy. He would never being back democracy.
Trevor Burrus: Well, certainly also had the Whig view of history that the progress is defined as – like the next step is increased …
Jonah Goldberg: Absolutely. There’s a deep, deep …
Trevor Burrus: And that’s a huge element in sci‐fi. Some sci‐fi is better at this but – that centralization is synonymous with progress.
Jonah Goldberg: That’s right and a lot of that comes from Hegel, right? Hegel and Marx obviously. And so the response to the book – I mean I wish I had had better [Indiscernible]. Obviously I have my confirmation bias here, right? I never read a review of the book from the left at least where I said gosh, they got me. I mean it’s interesting. So the New York Times review by this guy David Oshinsky. Historian at the University of Texas, I think.
He tendentiously but accurately describes the thesis of my book for the first couple of paragraphs that fascism was a phenomenon of the left, that Mussolini was a man of the left, that he comes out of the left, yada, yada, yada, that there was statism, there was centralism, yada, yada, yada.
It’s only when I get to – he says Goldberg is on less solid footing when he gets to FDR.
Trevor Burrus: Seriously?
Jonah Goldberg: I’m like well, game over, right? Because that’s 132 pages into the book. By this point, I’ve said that Wilson was a would‐be – Woodrow Wilson was a would‐be fascist, that Mussolini was a man on the left, that Nazism should be understood as a left wind phenomenon and if you want to say I’m unfair to Franklin Roosevelt, fine.
Trevor Burrus: But at the same time, the blue eagle is a very disturbing fascistic type of thing.
Jonah Goldberg: Oh, absolutely. The second in command of the National Recovery Administration General Hugh “Iron Pants” Johnson was an open admirer of Mussolini, handed out fascist tracks in the White House. He hung a portrait of Benito Mussolini on his wall. During the democratic convention, he handed out a memo saying that FDR should be like Mussolini and send all of congress and the Supreme Court to an island for 90 days.
I mean the idea that I’m just simply asserting that there was some cross‐pollination here is insane and one of the reasons why the book is so long and there’s so many footnotes is because I knew that people would say I’m asserting things without evidence and so I had to beat the crap out of the reader with example after example after example.
The fact that so few people were willing to deal with the book on its own terms and instead deal with the straw man that the left wanted it to be was very frustrating to me, but also sort of a sign of its success and since then, I’ve heard from a lot of sort of academic types. Always off the record, always sort of sub‐rosa that they find it useful. They actually invited me to come speak to a class on fascism at Harvard about it, which I thought was an interesting sign.
It’s interesting. It’s now on 11 – I don’t know if it’s 11. It’s somewhere between 8 and 12 languages and it’s amazing. Whenever I meet people from Eastern Europe, they don’t think the thesis is very controversial at all because if you lived under communism and then you lived under Nazism, you understand that they’re really not opposites, right?
At the end of the day, the intrusions into your life are so close to equal that almost the differences between them are aesthetics rather than sort of some fundamental difference.
Trevor Burrus: Moving briefly to modern politics in so far as we have to occasionally live through periods of times such as this, there’s a lot of discussion that has been happening recently about the rise – so we’re recording this in September 2015. So the rise …
Jonah Goldberg: The very end of September.
Trevor Burrus: They very end of September 30th, so the rise of outsider candidates, somewhat extremist candidates, Bernie Sanders. Not necessarily an outsider but then Trump, Fiorina and Ben Carson and then even people like Jeremy Corbyn in the UK. Do you think that this is actually signaling – because we also have the incredible distrust of government in terms of distrust of congress and distrust of – record level lows.
Is this indicating something broadly or is it just sort of primary‐free for all season? It’s hard to take any actual lessons from.
Jonah Goldberg: No, I think there’s something bigger going on. I mean – we can do the rank punditry part but the shelf life on that is going to be pretty short. I do think there is something larger going on. You have – it’s interesting. In 1968, you had student revolts in the most heterodox number of countries, from Mexico City, to Bali to Indonesia.
Trevor Burrus: Budapest?
Jonah Goldberg: Budapest. Well, across Europe and the United States and Canada and lots of South America and the circumstances on the ground were obviously very different in different places but there was something also just in the water then, right? I think there’s something in the water right now. There is the sense I think across the developed and developing world that the nature of technology, the nature of the economy is getting out ahead of the people who claim to have mastered it, right?
That we don’t really know where things are going. We don’t feel like we’re getting any richer. I think – I personally think inequality is BS as a serious issue. The only time inequality is a real issue is when it is a statistical symptom of a real issue, right? I mean so like if …
Trevor Burrus: Poverty and mobility.
Jonah Goldberg: Right. If the bottom quintile lost their jobs tomorrow, that would increase income inequality. The problem isn’t in income inequality. The problem is 20 percent lost their jobs, right? And so the way the left talks about inequality which is very [Indiscernible]. It’s very abstract and separate from the real public policy issues. I think it’s sort of nonsense but I think there are smart people on the libertarian and conservative side who talk about income and also on the liberal side. We talk about income inequality the right way, that it’s a symptom of something.
But anyway, people don’t like it and there is this sense that it’s increased, right? And there’s also the sense that the elites – and I’m a big fan of Joseph Schumpeter and why he thought capitalism would come to an end. It was because the new class would sort of just take over and they would redefine civilization for their own benefit. I think we’re seeing a lot of that.
So I think whether it’s the EU or the American economy or Davos crowd or whatever you want, the kindling is there for a lot of different reasons. It’s another one of these over‐determined phenomena. The kindling is there for a populace prairie fire.
Trevor Burrus: And Donald Trump is …
Jonah Goldberg: Well, that’s the really weird part.
Jonah Goldberg: I feel like I should be wearing a piano necktie saying I feel like I’m taking crazy pills here. But …
Trevor Burrus: Since you work in National Review and you guys have been – all of you have been hitting him with body blows of extreme rhetorical flourish and it doesn’t seem to matter, which is …
Jonah Goldberg: Yeah. There’s a lot of BS pop psychology about this that like – oh, we feel like our …
Trevor Burrus: Pundits don’t matter.
Jonah Goldberg: Our sinecure in the Washington establishment is evaporating and that’s why we feel threatened by Trump and yada, yada, yada, right? So like first of all, the idea that somehow it is a great business strategy of mine to piss in the cornflakes of a big segment of the conservative base is insane, right?
If I were driven by economic self‐interest, the smartest thing I could have done is just not attack Trump at all. Just stay quiet and ride this out, right? But I think what is happening – the threat that Trump poses is a real one. Not that I don’t think he’s going to get the nomination. I don’t think if he became president, he would become a dictator. I think this country chews up dictators.
None of that stuff. What bothers me, what scares me is the way in which we’re seeing conservatives and some – quite a few libertarians draw out their principles and their dogma and their ideology out of anger at the “establishment” and out of – essentially a [Indiscernible] personality for this guy and the example I’ve used most often was there was a poll a couple of weeks ago where they ask republicans whether or not they supported single payer healthcare.
Something like 16 percent said they did. They were then told that Donald Trump supported it and support went to 46 percent. Now, if there is an issue that institutions like the Cato Institute and the American Enterprise Institute and National Review and Fox News has spent more time on the last five years than educating the American people why single payer is a bad idea and the one group you would think would have been persuaded by that would have been the conservative base. So the Republican Party, right?
And that all it takes is being told that Donald Trump is in favor of something to abandon that in a heartbeat, that is really depressing to me. Another thing that’s really depressing to me is the – I don’t for a moment think that Trump supporters are a bunch of anti‐Semites and bigots. They’re not. I mean these are my people. These are the people who are reading the National Review. These are people from the – who show up on the floor of CPAC. They’re good people.
But the bilious nastiness that Trump has unleashed, that has been fairly surprising to me – particularly because it’s so stupid, right? I mean the idea that the storm front neo‐Nazis would support Donald Trump is kind of insane just on the merits, right?
Donald Trump isn’t an anti‐Semite and I don’t think he’s smart enough to be a white nationalist. I mean I think he just doesn’t know what the hell he’s talking about, right? But these guys rallied around him because they see him as a battering ram to destroy the establishment.
So these trolls, some of them I kind of think are probably getting funding from Russia, have been saying insanely disgusting things. There are some that have Twitter handles that are literally pictures of ovens and about how you should get in the oven and all this kind of stuff.
When I responded to some of these jackasses making jokes about this guy named Joshua Goldberg who was arrested for faking being a member of ISIS, and I just tweeted. I said, look, my brother’s name was Joshua Goldberg. He died a few years ago. I don’t find any of these jokes very funny, right?
The first response I got from that was, “Was he turned into a lampshade or soap?” and so I’ve been getting this kind of stuff. My colleague David French has been getting worse stuff because he had the temerity to adopt an Ethiopian child, right? And which is – which is polluting our bloodlines, according to these neo‐Nazi jackasses.
So anyway, I don’t hold any of that against Trump supporters. I think it would be grossly unfair guilt by association to hold them against that. But when I was getting the full wave of this crap, shockingly few Trump supporters would get in my timeline or send me an email and say, hey, look, I think you’re an idiot about Trump. Trump is great, blah, blah, blah.
Well, these guys don’t speak for us and I think under normal circumstances, if I was being subjected to this stuff, David French was being subjected to this stuff, there’s a normal primary season and I was criticizing John Kasich or Rand Paul or whatever and anti‐Semites for whatever reason were coming after me for that.
I would like to think that Rand Paul supporters would say, hey look, I think you’re wrong. Rand is our guy. But these guys don’t speak for me and the Trump supporters basically just sat on the sidelines and again, it’s anecdotal. It’s not a scientific thing. It could be impressionistic. A lot of this happened over Labor Day weekend. There are all sorts of explanations for it.
But I’ve been doing this for a very long time. I’ve been in the middle of an enormous number of social media and internet – in internet years, I’m older than Methuselah, right? So I’ve seen a lot of this before and again, it’s my own impression. I wouldn’t want to say that this was a hard and fast rule or come to any scientific conclusions. But you get the sense that Trump supporters are willing to – if they’re willing to throw over opposition to single payer healthcare, it seems like they’re willing to throw over a lot of other things too and that I find really disturbing.
Trevor Burrus: You mentioned you’ve been doing this for a while, the punditry business. It’s always changing. But in a broader sense, do you ever get tired of it? On some days – I mean maybe some days I guess. But not the bad policies of this town, which conservatives and libertarians are always going to get tired of, but the dogma, the lies, the bad arguments, the grandstanding, the political scandals and then you go on and have to comment again and there’s like well, this is just SSDD again. Do you ever get tired of it or is it always changing?
Jonah Goldberg: Well, I get exhausted with it. I really cannot stand the spinner class. I have individual friends who – or acquaintances who are in that class, but as a profession, basically find it dishonorable, right? I mean I’m not a big believer in most of the sort of Jesuitical understandings of journalistic ethics and all that kind of stuff.
But I do believe that my only job is to tell the truth as I see it and as long as I do that, I’m on solid ethical and moral grounding and when there are people out there who are paid to say things they do not believe – I personally could not do that.
It’s one of the funny things about these days, all of a sudden being told I’m a member of the establishment and I’m part of the Georgetown cocktail party set. I hate all that stuff and I have very little to do with – I’ve been to one cocktail party that happened to be in Georgetown in my life and I spent most of my time as a pundit like Howard Hughes with Kleenex boxes on my feet in my basement writing about fascism, right?
The idea that the author of Liberal Fascism is secretly trying to endear himself with sort of liberal leads I find very hard to swallow and so yeah, I get very weary of that aspect of Washington but I’m also – I just don’t interact with a lot of that. I have friends that I made in Washington 20 years ago and that is about 75 percent of my friends and I try to get out of Washington a lot. My wife is from Alaska. We try to drive cross‐country a lot. It’s a very healthy thing for people in my line of work to do is to drive across this country because you learn first of all it’s a big freaking country and second of all you learn or you relearn that most people don’t look to Washington to solve their problems or to define their lives and that is something a lot of people in this town really don’t – I mean they may understand intellectually but they don’t understand on an emotional level and I think what happens here is vastly more important than it really is.
Trevor Burrus: Thank you for listening. If you have any questions, you can find us on Twitter, at FreeThoughtsPod. Free Thoughts is produced by Evan Banks and Mark McDaniel. To learn more, find us on the web at www.Libertarianism.org.