Following its release in January of 2008, Jonah Goldberg’s Liberal Fascism rose to the top of the New York Times bestseller list. Today the book hits shelves in its paperback version (with a new afterword on Barack Obama), which provides an excellent excuse to talk to the esteemed NRO editor-at-large, and to shine a spotlight on an important book, one more time:
KATHRYN JEAN LOPEZ: So how does it feel to have written a number-one New York Times bestseller?
JONAH GOLDBERG: Better than having written a number-two New York Times bestseller, all things being equal.
LOPEZ: I asked for that. But, seriously: The book was hugely successful. Maybe the most successful political, or at least conservative, book of 2008. That’s got to be cool.
GOLDBERG: Okay, well, yeah: It feels good. (Though it’d feel better if I sold half as many books as Mark Levin. Holy Frijoles.) I spent a long time working on Liberal Fascism, and a lot of things happened in the process — my daughter was born, my Dad died, just to name two — and this beast was a source of a lot of stress and worry on my part. Add to that all of the grief I got from the Left about it, years before it even came out, and, yeah, its success is a nice vindication.
What feels better than — or at least as good as — the commercial success of the book is the impact it’s clearly had. It’s very difficult to talk about fascism these days without at least acknowledging my argument. That’s progress. Also, I can’t begin to tell you how edifying it is to hear stories, almost on a daily basis, about how the book is being included in college courses. I’ve spoken to university seminars on it. College kids are constantly writing me for papers they’re doing, and civics teachers are incorporating stuff from the book. That feels so much more concrete to me than bestseller lists and blog spats.
LOPEZ: What surprised you the most about the reception to the book?
GOLDBERG: Well, I’d say what disappointed me the most was the Left’s reaction to it. With very, very, few exceptions, the Left decided that it was vital to destroy the book, unread and unexamined. It’s almost a constant theme of the liberal and left-wing reviews of Liberal Fascism: Do Not Read This Book. I wish a few serious people on the Left showed some interest in actually coming to grips with the book’s arguments rather than going in like lawyers and spin-doctors representing their client — “liberalism” — and using any weapon near to hand. Michael Tomasky’s review was particularly disappointing, because I would have hoped The New Republic would have tried to engage the book in a serious way. Instead, it was a hackish and intellectually childish hissy-fit. [Jonah’s response to Tomasky is here]. And that was the best of them; the bulk of attacks from the left were simply personal attacks on me and childish tantrums about the cover or title. I kept waiting for a serious liberal to engage in a serious and open-minded way. I don’t think it ever happened.
LOPEZ: So, no surprises then?
GOLDBERG: Oh no, there were lots of surprises. But a lot of those were pleasant surprises about the polite reception I received on so many campuses, the graciousness and support of NR readers and colleagues, that kind of thing.
One surprise, for want of a better word, was that I didn’t get more stuff wrong. For instance, when I was writing the book, I thought there’s no way all of this horrible stuff I was reading by and about Woodrow Wilson and Herbert Croly could be right. I checked the sources over and over again, and for the most part restricted myself to credible, mainstream historians or primary sources. Still, I was waiting for someone to say, for example, “No, no, no: Goldberg gets Wilson all wrong!” But to date, I don’t think anyone has written a detailed, fact-driven defense of the guy. One left-wing blogger rolled his eyes and simply said it was silly for me to call Wilson a liberal, which seemed idiotic and a huge concession at the same time. When the New York Times reviewed the book, the reviewer didn’t even object to a single accusation against Wilson. In fact, he didn’t disagree with anything in the book until I got to FDR. Well, by the time I got to FDR, I’d said that Fascism was left-wing, that Hitler was a man of the Left, and that Wilson was a would-be fascist dictator. That seemed like a pretty big concession to me.
I think the larger significance of this is that liberals are either unwilling or unable to defend the roots of what we call liberalism, and that speaks volumes and lays down an important marker.