The Jonah Goldberg Intellectual Society meets to read and discuss his latest book.
Jonah Goldberg in The Tyranny Of Cliches:
Hindsight Is 20/20
How often do we hear people say we must “get on the right side of history,” as if they know their own history? “When they say it, what do people mean?” asks my National Review colleague Jay Nordlinger. They may mean “my side,” or “the good side,” or “the side that posterity will smile on.” People may be alluding to the ultimate triumph of liberal democracy. Or they may be alluding to the ultimate triumph of socialism, or a stricter form of collectivism. For generations, the Left has assumed that history marches with them: Get out of the way, or be crushed. The phrase has what British historian Robert Conquest calls a “Marxist twang.” The Marxists believed that history was predictable and unidirectional, so of course there must be a right side and a wrong side to it. The candle makers were on the wrong side, the lightbulb makers the right side. But history doesn’t work like that. There were times when it was obvious that technology aided tyrants and there have been times— much like our own—when it seemed equally obvious that technology must liberate the individual. The truth is, it must do neither. As Richard Pipes tells Nordlinger, “The whole notion is nonsensical.” To which Nordlinger adds, “History does not have sides, although historians do.” Marxism surely contributed to the idea that there’s a right side to history, but the chief culprit is the arrogance of the present (Marxism, one could say, is a subspecies of this arrogance). We look back on the past and see it as prologue to our moment in time. History becomes a movie for which we know the ending and we think the characters of yesteryear are fools for not seeing it, too. Like the idiot teenager who declares, “I’ll search the attic” in a horror movie, we marvel at the stupidity of earlier generations. (my bold)Liberals think that their side of history is the right and therefore the only side of history, unlike conservatives. Liberals are arrogant; they think they are smarter than past people and that they know what the future will bring, and that it will go in only one direction--theirs. Unlike conservatives.
Jonah Goldberg in an interview about his book:
But on the broad sweep and thrust of it, almost all of the criticisms [of Liberal Fascism] to me seemed ill founded, ill tempered, and off the mark. And going through it, I was like, holy crap. You know, if this is the best that the living—that the leaders or the leading scholars of fascism have to say about my book, then man, I did a pretty good job. And so I sort of concentrated on—what’s his name—Robert Paxton, who was sort of—he himself considers himself the dean of living American scholars of fascism, and I went point by point through his assertions, and if memory serves—I mean, people are free to go back and look themselves—I think I rebutted all—if not every single one of his claims, then, you know, ten of twelve, pretty authoritatively. And if that’s what the dean of fascism studies had to throw at me, then I felt okay. Because until then, you know, when I was working on the book, it was so other-worldly, the stuff I was reading and the conclusions I was drawing. I was getting very nervous that man, I am heading out into crank territory. And you know, what am I—and I started to restrict myself to sources that were entirely mainstream, just trying to be careful. And I kept waiting when the first reviews came out for somebody to sort of catch me getting me something colossally wrong, like just totally missing it, or convincing me of how stupid I was. And that review never materialized. And it wasn’t until the History News Network thing that I finally said, okay, just the hell with these people. I think history is going to continually move to my direction. And I’m perfectly fine with what I wrote in the broad scheme of things.(my bold)If you think that Jonah Goldberg is being a hypocrite for saying that liberals are arrogant and wrong for saying that the future will agree with them, and then going right ahead and saying that the future will agree with him, you could not be more wrong. Goldberg is not being a hypocrite because the future really will agree with him because conservatives are right and liberals are wrong. It's proven by the Circle Of Argument.
No, the reason why I find Cohn’s argument so useful is that it illustrates the progressive mind-set so perfectly. Cohn argues that LBJ made a covenant with the American people—a covenant is a sacred contract— to ensure that the poor would henceforth and forever get comprehensive medical insurance. Here’s the problem: Presidents cannot bind future presidents, never mind future Congresses. Any law can be revisited, any presidential decree may be rescinded. One would hope that Cohn would recognize this fact given that his magazine routinely argues that not even the Constitution itself should be considered permanently binding and restrictive (which is to say it shouldn’t permanently bind or constrict progressives in ways they find inconvenient). What offends Cohn and his fellow progressives is the suggestion that any liberal victory once pocketed can ever be reversed. Laws and words have no binding power on future generations, but once Team Progressive puts points on the scoreboard, they can never come off . That is what is sacred, because their conception of history only goes in one direction.
This is the living, breathing heart of the progressive worldview. It is as ideological as any conviction can be. And that is fine. There is nothing wrong and a great deal that is right with having ideological convictions. What is offensive to logic, culturally pernicious, and, yes, infuriating to me is the claim that it is not an ideological tenet. Progressives lie to themselves and the world about this fact. They hide their ideological agenda within Trojan Horse clichés and smug assertions that they are simply pragmatists, fact finders, and empiricists who are clearheaded slaves to “what works.”
ADDED: Goldberg is not impressed that liberals think it is inevitable that gays will gain all the same civil rights that straights have.
It just so happens that “the right side of history” is one of the topics I discuss early in the book. My chief problem with the “right side of history” argument is that it is used an appeal to the authority of an imagined future that hasn’t even happened yet. It is a way of saying to your opponents: you should give up not because your arguments are wrong but because you will eventually lose anyway. It is an attempt to demoralize your opponents not engage them. ... Anyway, we may yet come to a point where gay marriage is an unremarkable institution in everyday life in the United States, but if we do it won’t be because it will be inevitable. Very little in the affairs of men is inevitable.How on earth can anyone think history will move in his direction?