This came in last night, from a reader:
Dear Mr. Goldberg, I’m a hard-core leftist (libertarian socialist, or anarchist, to be precise) and reluctantly decided to take a look at your book at the urging of some conservative acquaintances of mine. I thought that I’d find it full of shoddy scholarship and empty, emotive rhetoric but instead found a lot of things that I agree with. The reason for this is that I’m a big fan of George Orwell and Noam Chomsky and find that many of the things you write are found in their writings as well – especially Chomsky’s frequent writings about how much Fascism had support here in the U.S.
What do you think about Noam Chomsky’s writings on this topic, if you know of them? I’ve found that now that I’ve read your book a bit and am quoting it a bit too my conservative acquaintances all of the sudden don’t want to talk about your book anymore hehe.
By the way, I’m very glad that you were able to be honest to the facts and thus take your book in a direction that noone else would have guessed it would and thus make it so that your book is not what people (mostly liberals) expect it to be.
And in a follow-up email:
Oh yeah, again from the Chomsky-fan reader of your book:
the only quibble I have of your book is that political campaigns based on soaring, emotive rhetoric and grand promises of change and revolution (as you identified in Fascist movements and many movements of American Liberalism and in the Left) are also present in Conservative movements as well, including Reagan’s.
I agree that such features are often negative and feel that politics in this country should be more dry and fact-driven rather than emotive and character-cult-driven.
Me: First thanks for the first email. Re the second, I hear this sort of thing a lot. One one level, I think it’s a fair criticism as far as it goes, but I’m not sure it goes very far. It’s true, for example, that Reagan used stirring rhetoric about making the world new again and building a shining city on a hill and all that. And if you’re yearning for purely “fact-driven” rhetoric, I can see why some of that would grate on you. But I don’t believe you can take the “emotive” out of politics (nor do I think Chomsky is a great exemplar of the effort to even try). Inspiring people is a part of politics — whether we like it or not — and so I am more forgiving of inspiration that expands freedom and celebrates what is best about American culture. After all, only those inspired by the idea of liberty will fight to beat back tyranny.
Similarly, a whole lot of nationalism is very, very, bad. A little nationalism is very, very, necessary and healthy. Nationalism depends on the “emotive” as the reader puts it and I see nothing wrong with that. Reagan’s nationalism (I would argue) was aimed almost entirely at defeating the Soviet Union and expanding freedom. It may not have been a successful or as narrowly targeted as a perfectionist, rationalist, would like, but perfectionist-rationalist will always be disappointed by politics. Meanwhile, the emotive, soaring rhetoric of, say, Woodrow Wilson, was aimed at destroying our constitutional arrangements and expanding the state. These seem to me to be major distinctions. And putting Reagan in the same dustbin as Wilson simply because they both used “soaring rhetoric” hardly seems like the best way to organize our allegiances.