Posts

Jonah Goldberg Ha Sempre Ragione

So, Jonah Goldberg and Peter Beinart have this series of webcast debates that have been going on for some time now, and the latest one was about American imperialism. I haven't had a chance to watch it yet, but I'm … Read More

By / November 29, 2007

So, Jonah Goldberg and Peter Beinart have this series of webcast debates that have been going on for some time now, and the latest one was about American imperialism. I haven't had a chance to watch it yet, but I'm guessing the discussion dovetailed the issues in the exchange between Ron Paul and John McCain in last night's debate — quick summary: McCain accused Paul of having a pre-1939 mentality — because Jonah posted (approvingly, one assumes) the following bit of wisdom from Evelyn Waugh that a reader sent to him, wondering how a Paul supporter would respond:

It is in the nature of civilization that it must be in constant conflict with barbarism. Very few empires have been the result of a deliberate ambition. They have grown, inevitably, because it has been found necessary to expand in order to preserve what is already held. The French had to annex Algiers because it was the only way in which the Mediterranean could be made safe from pirates. Empire moves in a series of 'incidents,' and these 'incidents' mean that it is impossible for a country to live in isolation. Barbarism means constant provocation.

Or, more succinctly, take up the white man's burden. Anyway, the reason this snippet caught my eye is not the facile, pseudo-intellectual, pseudo-sophisticated jingoism Goldberg is endorsing — that's pretty much his wheelhouse — but the title of the piece Goldberg's correspondent excerpted. It's called "We Can Applaud Italy," and came out in 1935. "What did Italy do in 1935," I asked myself, "that Evelyn Waugh would want to applaud?" That's right. The Mussolini regime annexed Ethiopia in an act of naked aggression, using chemical weapons in contravention of the Geneva Convention, bombing Red Cross tents, and slaughtering 30,000 civilians in a reprisal for an attempt on the life of General Graziani. ("Avenge me! Kill them all!", he is supposed to have said.) You know, just another non-deliberate "incident" that a "civilized" nation was unwillingly forced into, in the face of "barbarism."

Now, Waugh is not the only great artist to have found The Maximum Leader to be a model worth imitating. However, if your magnum opus, instead of Brideshead Revisted or The Cantos, is Liberal Fascism: The Totalitarian Temptation From Mussolini to Hillary Clinton The Totalitarian Temptation From Hegel To Whole Foods The Secret History of the American Left, from Mussolini to the Politics of Meaning, it might pay not to be so, shall we say, liberal in using explicitly pro-Duce propaganda in the service of cheap point-scoring.

As I've mentioned before, National Review has a long tradition of standing squarely for clerical fascism against "barbarous" Reds, but recycling an encomium to an actual member of the Axis must be an innovation even for NR. Several questions worth pursuing: Does Jonah Goldberg read all the way to the bottom of his correspondents' emails? If he sees something likely to piss off liberals, does he give any thought to the context in which it emerged? Shouldn't someone who claims to be in the midst of writing "a very serious, thoughtful, argument [about the origins of fascism] that has never been made in such detail or with such care" know the basic facts of the history of fascism?

Never mind that. Andiamo avanti, Jonah Goldberg! Forza Italia!

UPDATE: Jonah updates: "Update: Just for the record, the above post does not, in fact, constitute an endorsement of Waugh's applause for Italy. I just thought the quote was interesting. "

Well, there you go. He thinks the Waugh's rationale for supporting Mussolini is insightful, but does not, himself support Mussolini. Like I said, andiamo.

Tagged with: