Wednesday, January 25, 2006

You Know I Like Him

I have not read it, obviously, but the title and cover of Jonah Goldberg's book are mistakes.

Feel free to make the argument that fascism and Nazism are movements of the left, but calling liberals fascists and hinting they are Nazis is just plain wrong. Franklin Roosevelt created modern liberalism as a democratic alternative to fascism, communism, and Nazism, for crying out loud. The way the blurbs for the book read, it sounds like he is making very un-Goldberg-like arguments, like saying Hitler banned smoking and liberals want to ban smoking, so liberals are like Hitler. This style of argument is much like saying the SS used rifles and the U.S. Army uses rifles, so the U.S. Army is just like the SS. The point is that the SS using rifles is not what made them the SS. Hitler and the Nazis banning smoking is not what made them Hitler and the Nazis.

Again, I haven't read the book. I know Goldberg is a smart guy. I know he usually is the first one to point out how silly these types of arguments are. And I know he did a lot of research on the topic. I will probably read the book to see what he came up with. But the title, cover, and blurbs on the Amazon page are a disastrous start.

(Hat tip to DCAT--so don't call us hypocrites.)


dcat said...

I knew you'd come through. The hypocrites will be revealed soon enough.
Just got a techy email from Jonah (not for publication) in which he told me no to judge a book by its cover. But the cover itself, the title, is the problem. The title equates Hillary with Mussolini and liberals with both fasciosts and with totalitarianism. That his title is sloppy is either his or his publisher's fault. It is not mine. And it is wrong and inappropriate and in this case it is perfectly acceptable to judge a book by its cover. I would similarly judge a book titled "Bush is a Nazi" by its cover and my judgment would be not to read any further.


Stephen said...

I would like to second Tom's comments. I don't think a title, cover, or contents (if the Amazon description is accurate) like that help anything.

Tom said...

I agree. I've read enough Goldberg to know that he is probably telling the truth that the content of the book is very different from the title and cover. I would suspect the publisher is forcing him to be more contentious with the title and cover, because that will sell more books. The problem is that his book will never be able to make a dent with anyone who already disagrees with him because they will never get past the cover.

Imagine Jacques Fancypants wrote a book called "The American Auschwitzes," with a picture on the cover of Americans in Times Square on New Years Eve with penciled-in Hitler mustaches doing what looks like the Nazi salute, and the blurbs on Amazon said that Americans have the death penalty and Nazis had the death penalty therefore Americans are Nazis. Inside the book, Fancypants could prove once and for all that the death penalty is completely wrong, and the argument has nothing to do with Americans being Nazis. I would never get to that argument because the title, cover, and blurbs would be so ridiculous and wrong. Same thing here.

J.D. said...

I realize that by now I am preaching to the choir, but I had to voice my agreement on this. I teach my students about avoiding these types of comparisons, but titles and cover pics like this undercut those efforts. Also, playing the label game is so dangerous in not so obvious ways. Example: Last year, in one of my classes one side of a student debate on abortion compared the practice with the Holocaust. But such an approach can be applied the other (and equally faulty) way; the Nazis were against abortion too, so does that make today's opponents of abortion Nazis? The opposing side in the debate argued this exact point, and before I knew it, the class was talking about Nazis (wrongly, in most cases)rather than focusing on the issue at hand. Lesson--arguments for or against a practice, idea, concept, model, etc. should rest on their own merits. Making tenuous connections with totalitarian regimes and ideas do nothing to elucidate the realities, contradictions, pitfalls, and other attributes of liberalism, conservatism, and so on.

I, too, appreciate Goldberg greatly, but (as you have said already), the cover and title do more harm than good.

That said, I will still read the book to give Goldberg a fair shake, though I completely understand Dcat's refusal to do so.