This is undeniably kinder, gentler, and less political. ~Timothy Noah on Goldberg’s re-subtitled Liberal Fascism: The Totalitarian Temptation From Hegel to Whole Foods

Timothy Noah has a knack for making me make mild, quasi-defenses of Jonah Goldberg.  Does he have any idea how wrong he has to be for this to happen?  When Goldberg says that his book has been delayed because it had yet to be finished, one does not need to work overtime to concoct an elaborate marketing damage-control theory to make sense of it.  Sometimes the simplest explanation is the one that is also true.

While Mr. Noah envisions Goldberg hastily deleting all references to Hillary in his desire not to appear too “Coulterish,” he fails to persuade even Goldberg’s most inveterate critics (i.e., people like me).  Now that the subtitle (the subtitle, for crying out loud!) has been changed, Noah declares victory, apparently not realising that the new subtitle makes the book sound even more ridiculous and bizarre than the old one.  If they were aiming to move away from Coulter, they need a new rhetorical compass. 

Whether you agree with the thesis about some actual historical and philosophical points of contact between liberalism and fascism or you don’t, Liberal Fascism: The Totalitarian Temptation From Mussolini to Clinton made a certain amount of sense for reasons I have outlined before.  Next, the original proposed subtitle had some recognisable relationship to the title.  For marketing purposes, this connection needs to be clear.  In my amateur opinion, to change a subtitle in such a way as to introduce new layers of confusion and ambiguity is not the way to sell a book.  The subtitle has to make the subject of the book more clear than the necessarily shorter, genuinely more marketing-driven decision on the title.  These range from the simple (Jefferson Davis: A Biography) to the baroque (see the original subtitle of Crunchy Cons).  Informing us that a book will investigate the relationship between liberalism and fascism by referring in the subtitle to Hegel and Whole Foods as the bookends for the discussion makes nothing clear and rightly invites chortles of laughter. 

Removing from the subtitle the man who was essentially the first historic Fascist and the one who actually gave us the modern word fascisti (something for which I hope Mussolini is paying dearly right now) and replacing him with Hegel may make Popperians everywhere shout for joy, but it actually makes the book appear even less serious.  This purports to impute to Hegel, who was a moderately liberal constitutional monarchist, the seeds of totalitarian thought.  This is still a popular opinion and is most widely held by those who have not read much Hegel.  This view of Hegel is rather like the view that holds Strauss ultimately responsible for various neoconservative preoccupations.  It bears a faint resemblance to the kinds of arguments that claim to show deep affinities between Counter-Enlightenment reactionaries and radical minority identitarians or deconstructionists, which is to say bad, misinformed arguments like this one.  Because you can trace an intellectual lineage of Hegelians down through the Marxists and into the modern communists, there is the idea–popularised by Popper–that Hegel is at the root of totalitarian politics and utopian historicism.  To be brief, Popper was wrong. 

As otherworldly as including it surely is, I can imagine how Whole Foods comes into this.  Goldberg is the would-be scourge of anything that purports to have found meaning and purpose in ordinary life.  He wants a “partial philosophy of life” and would find the claims of people who shop at Whole Foods, if they actually made any explicit claims, redolent of a totalising politics.  The very name threatens Goldberg’s partial philosophy with the possibility of organicity and wholeness and the idea that there is more to political life broadly understood than quibbling over pensions.  Themes that are as basic to European and British conservatism as these should not threaten any American conservative, but when you have no particular vision of order anyone who claims to have such a vision has to be shouted down as a lunatic…or a fascist in waiting.