In this exclusive Q&A with The College Fix, Goldberg explains how American progressivism was born of the same intellectual and political climate that gave rise to various European collectivist, statist and nationalistic movements – and how those mindsets are currently in control of higher education discourse today.
“Political correctness, speech codes, hate-crime hoaxes: these are all efforts by a very small number of people to control what is said and how it is said,” Goldberg explains.
While you rightly point out that the word “fascist” is exhausted in its use, do you think the fascist connections with American progressivism carry on in any of the clichés (i.e. those buzz phrases that stop an argument) you find when you speak at different campuses?
Goldberg: A big point of my book was an attempt to “deflate” the idea of fascism. It wasn’t an outlier in the earlier 20th century; it was a very mainstream movement (particularly before the rise of Nazism) that was part of the fad for “experimental” social engineers. The key issue is power.
Today, the power of fascism is in using the label to silence your opponents. No one gets called a fascist for wanting more “public-private partnerships” between the feds and big business, even though that sort of thing is central to fascist economics. No, people get called “fascist” for disagreeing with feminist radicals or supporting free speech or refusing to conform. The most fascistic things routinely said on college campuses today is “if you’re not part of the solution you’re part of the problem” or “the time for debate is over.”
There’s no safe-harbor for disagreement. You have to get with the program or you’re a “problem” that needs to be fixed. The best working definition of fascist for the left is simply a “conservative who’s winning an argument.” Because all you have to do to get called a fascist is to disagree with a leftist. Rightwing on college campuses is just another word for “non-compliant.”
Orwell noticed this a long time ago, which is why he said that fascism had simply come to mean “anything not desirable” or something like that.
You write in your latest book, The Tyranny of Clichés, that clichés are tyrannical in that they are “the use of allegedly non-ideological insights to advance starkly ideological understandings of the world.” Is academic freedom now a tyrannical cliché, and how so?
Goldberg: Sure. Let’s start with the word ideology. Few words have a worse reputation these days. It has become synonymous with “closed-minded” and “dogmatic,” even “brainwashed.” This is nonsense. An ideology is merely a checklist of your principles. Hopefully your principles are derived from empiricism and experience, though they needn’t always be. (I have never murdered anyone, never committed incest etc., yet I am ideologically, even dogmatically, opposed to them.)
There’s nothing wrong with being ideological or dogmatic. When people tell me they hate dogma or certainty and brag about how open-minded they are, I tell them that I am dogmatically opposed to setting orphanages on fire. I am also dogmatically opposed to slavery, genocide and the consumption of flan. Save for that last bit, does that make me more or less enlightened?
Again, it all comes back to power. The Progressives borrowed this neat trick from Napoleon and Marx (which sounds like a fine haberdashery). They unilaterally declared all competing ideologies to be closed-mindedly “ideological” while claiming for themselves an open-minded pragmatism. So liberalism doesn’t have to defend itself as an ideology while it can accuse all of its competing ideologies of being cult-like and other-worldly. We hear this in Obama all of the time. His opponents are “ideologues” who put their “ideology” ahead of the American people, while he is merely a “problem-solver” who only wants to do “what works.” I’m sure he believes it.
Which points to one of the big problems with liberalism; its staggering lack of self-awareness. Liberals simply take it as a given that they are open-minded, morally superior free thinkers. At least conservatives acknowledge our dogma. Liberals have become so dogmatic they can’t even see theirs.
So some ideology is probably better than none or pretending to have none. I believe that Peter has made this point before. (We could call this post applying the lesson: episode 2.) Later in the interview:
Conservatives need to get better at convincing people that we believe what we believe not just because it is good for us but because it’s good for everybody. Capitalism is the greatest anti-poverty program in human history. Yet conservatives rarely emphasize that. Why?
More to the point of your question, the ultimate goal must never be ridicule but persuasion.
Nothing wrong with some ideology provided one avoids being blinded by it.