Steven Hayward asked a key question this weekend: "Is Conservatism Brain Dead?" The key paragraph was this:
About the only recent successful title that harkens back to the older intellectual style is Jonah Goldberg's "Liberal Fascism," which argues that modern liberalism has much more in common with European fascism than conservatism has ever had. But because it deployed the incendiary f-word, the book was perceived as a mood-of-the-moment populist work, even though I predict that it will have a long shelf life as a serious work. Had Goldberg called the book "Aspects of Illiberal Policymaking: 1914 to the Present," it might have been received differently by its critics. And sold about 200 copies.
There's one little problem with this: The entire thesis of Goldberg's book is a fraud. Goldberg not only deployed the F-word, he built the entire book on a false, historically untenable, claim: that "fascism, properly understood," is not a right-wing phenomenon but a left-wing one.
Indeed, the spread of Goldberg's thesis into conventional wisdom on the right is one of the main drivers in the transformation of conservatism into a pack of mouth-foaming pseudo-populists:
One of the most persistent components of this is the right's ardent embrace of the fraudulent thesis of Jonah Goldberg's Liberal Fascism -- to wit, that "properly understood, fascism is not a phenomenon of the right at all. Instead, it is, and always has been, a phenomenon of the left." The embrace of this fraud as somehow truthful has produced those teabaggers' signs bearing swastikas (suggesting that health-care reform is fascist) and signs showing Barack Obama as Hitler and, moreover, the claims that Obama is marching the nation down the road to fascism.
The impact of this embrace on our national discourse has been deeper than probably anyone suspected when the book was first published last year. Not only is Goldberg's thesis now taken as an article of faith by such right-wing talkers as Rush Limbaugh (who probably helped inspire Goldberg's thesis in any event), Glenn Beck, Michael Savage,, but also among the teabagging protesters whose ranks are increasingly filled by real right-wing extremists.
What's most noteworthy, perhaps, is that Goldberg's thesis is being used to attack anyone who points out the frequently violent and intimidating behavior of these extremists. It's not the right-wing protesters carrying open weapons, Obama=Hitler signs, and openly disrupting the discussion of health-care reform at town-hall sessions who are behaving like Brownshirts, they insist -- it's the liberals who show enough nerve to stand up to them!
You can trace a lot of the popularization of Goldberg's thesis to Beck's open promotion of it, as in the video above from earlier this year. And when you're talking about brain-dead conservatives, Beck is safely Subject No. 1.
Oddly enough, though, Hayward then goes on to suggest that perhaps Beck himself is the chief hope for ending conservatism's intellectual drought. Oy.
If Jonah Goldberg and Glenn Beck are the leading intellectual lights of this generation of conservatives, there can be no other answer to Hayward's question than an affirmative one.
[H/t to Mitch.]