The working title of this essay was “Correcting Jonah Goldberg.” Then, when I realized the significance of that phrase, I realized I wasn’t yet ready to suggest that I could do such a thing. 🙂
It’s not often that I do this. Disagree with Jonah Goldberg, that is. He’s simply one of the finest, most clear-eyed, astute political commentators in America, and therefore the world, today.
Furthermore, he’s a great writer. He could be talking about the funds exchange rate in Botswana as it relates to water management policy, and still the resulting column would be a great read. A Jonah Goldberg column is always a great read.
I’m a fan.
However, Goldberg did say something in a recent column (here — it’s a long one, so search for “statist part of the right”) that struck me as wrong; and it struck me as contradicting a brilliant conclusion of his own! An important conclusion for which he’s justifiably renowned; a conclusion that has, I think, contributed mightily to clarifying the right-left ideological divide, and to improving understanding of that chasm.
Here’s what Goldberg said in his column:
…quick note about my use of the phrases “middle of the road” and “the center” above. I am not referring to the middle of the road or the center in policy terms. I am referring to the fact that when you have one devoutly statist party of the Left and a conservative party transmogrifying into a statist party of the Right, defenders of classical liberalism are caught in the middle. We are in effect homeless, which is why in my first column of the week I called for a new Liberty League. I don’t want a new political party. I would prefer someplace w(h)ere classical liberals and mainstream conservatives can live in exile while plotting their return. [Editor’s Note: Red highlight, and typo correction: “were” –> “w(h)ere” added.]
The point: We Conservatives don’t fear that Donald Trump is a “far-rightist,” who might make us look bad by being a boor and a buffoon, but rather that he’s really a closet leftist!(1) Oh, and as a leftist, he’ll continue to ruin the country as all good leftists do. I think that I can count Jonah Goldberg as one of that very worried number.
In every case, on all the issues important to Conservatives, Trump has staked out positions in the past that are well to the left of Conservatism. Abortion, Taxes, Regulation, National Security … you name it. Furthermore, if you were to state the main aspiration of Conservatives — to reduce the size, scope, reach and power of the central government — Trump would look at you, mystified, as if to say, “What are you crazy?”
Parenthetical remark: Yes, Trump is seen as a “nationalist,” and that’s also seen as a right-wing characteristic. It’s not. Stalin at the end of World War II proved that even extreme leftists can embrace the most insular nationalism if it suits their purposes. Furthermore, Goldberg himself proved pretty convincingly that the ultimate nationalist — Hitler — was really a leftist. That was in Goldberg’s brilliant book: “Liberal Fascism.” End of parenthetical remark.
I think that you could substitute the word “unicorn” for “statist party of the right.” Statism is one of those characteristics that are actual pillars of leftist thinking. Unlike, say, nationalism or racism, both of which span any and all tendencies on the political spectrum, statism is the most prominent single defining characteristic of the left.
The belief that strong central government power is good because of its ability to bring about societal transformation, is a belief held by precisely no one on the right. This is not to say that people who call themselves “Conservatives” or “rightists” don’t believe in statism. We call these people, “mistaken” on the charitable side of things, and “deluded,” when they persist in their silliness.
Statism itself is a thing of the left. So, to say “statist party of the right” is the same as to say the oxymoronic, “leftist party of the right.” There is not possibly such a thing.
If one were to search out there for one single, defining characteristic, the most prominent single pillar of the thinking of the political right, it would be: that the dismantling of strong central government power is desirable. There simply is no such thing as “right-wing statism.”
Otherwise stated: The Republican Party under Donald Trump’s leadership doesn’t risk becoming a “statist party of the right,” but rather it risks transforming itself into a party of the left, thereby clinching the ideological victory of the larboard-side(2) lunatics for the foreseeable future.
The contradiction with Goldberg’s own position that I noted above, comes about because it was Goldberg himself who made the compelling case that Nazism and Fascism were not far-right tendencies, as historians pretend they were, but were actually left-wing ideologies.
There have always been two principal efforts underway on the left to win the ideological battle for America: First: take over one of the political parties entirely, and use it to bend America’s ideological trajectory constantly leftward. The effort to attain that goal began directly after the Civil War, and the end was achieved with the arrival, and four-time election, of FDR to the Presidency.
The second effort to take over America has been to subvert, or at least domesticate and emasculate, the opposition party. That effort has been underway right along with the first effort, and the goal might have been finally achieved with the arrival of Trump at the top of the Republican Party.
If, as many of us Conservatives fear, Donald J. Trump is merely a closeted man of the left — despite all the Conservative positions he’s staked out on the Hannity show — then the leftist victory is complete.
Why’s that? Simple: Remember — Barack Obama ran as a committed centrist.
They lie as naturally as they breathe. If Trump is a closeted leftist, then his openly-stated, very Conservative positions on Hannity mean nothing.
(1) If Trump is the closet leftist many of us worry that he is, then he will make us look bad because leftists are such idiots! Because he has an “R” next to his name, the media will call him a rightist, and — follow me now — a leftist Trump will say all manner of leftist nitwittery that will make the media draw all manner of terrifically stupid conclusions about Conservatism.
The problem: as crashingly stupid and clueless as the media are, they do shape public opinion nearly entirely. It will take many, many years for Conservatives to correct the understanding of Conservatism if that label sticks to a leftist Trump. Or, worse, the word will simply become useless. Like the formerly fine, now useless, words, “gay” and “liberal.”
(2) Word Origin and History for larboard (from Dictionary.com)
“left-hand side of a ship” (to a person on board and facing the bow), 1580s, from Middle English ladde-borde (c.1300), perhaps literally “the loading side,” if this was the side on which goods were loaded onto a ship, fromladen “to load” + bord “ship’s side.” Altered 16c. on influence of starboard, then largely replaced by the specialized sense of port (n.1). to avoid confusion of similar-sounding words. The Old English term was bæcboard, literally “back board” (see starboard).