Monday, November 02, 2009

Waking the (Un)Dead, Part 1

Jonah Goldberg stirred up something of a controversy when he published Liberal Fascism.

The expressed goal of the book is to counter arguments that modern conservatism is essentially fascist in nature by pointing out that modern liberalism shares an intellectual ancestry with fascism.

Recently, certain individuals in the blogosphere have been making a point out of expressing their bemusement at his work.

In Liberal Fascism, Goldberg argues that modern liberalism -- better described as socialist progressivism -- shares key elements of the intellectual origins of fascism.

The counter-argument, as is advanced by many outraged left-wingers, is that Goldberg singles out the left and attempts to declare them guilty by association.

But this raises the question as to whether or not those complaining about Goldberg's work in Liberal Fascism. If they had, they would know that it isn't actually liberalism alone that Golberg suggests shares an intellectual ancestry with fascism. He notes that modern conservatism shares much of the same ancestry.

In one of the concluding chapters of the book, Goldberg explains how many popular movies have distinct fascist undertones.

Oddly enough, one of the movies Goldberg examines is more popular among conservatives than it is among liberals.

That movie is Dirty Harry.

In the film, Clint Eastwood plays one of his signature roles: Police Inspector Harry Callahan. A detective with the LAPD, Callahan does more shooting than actual investigative work. Callahan is the prototypical supercop character, excessively resorting to deadly force at the drop of a hat.

In the course of foiling a bank robbery, Callahan explodes in violence, killing all but one of the perpetrators -- all of whom are black -- with his .44 magnum.

Callahan's style of justice is technically lawful, but only by merit of his possession of a police badge that he effectively treats as a license to kill. He's effectively forced to resort to such violence by a system that is corrupted by a weakness that prevents it from dealing effectively with criminals, particularly the Scorpio Killer (Andrew Robinson).

He exhibits no hesitation in resorting to such violence. There's a nihilism at the very core of his actions that exhibits a "will to power". In this case, Callahan siezes for himself the power to transform the society in which he lives through violence far beyond any reasonable mandate his badge may afford him.

Of course, whatever fascist overtones appear in the film are not intentional.

"I don't think Dirty Harry was a fascist picture at all," Eastwood said in an interview for Playboy Magazine. "It's just the story of one frustrated police officer in a frustrating situation on one particular case. I think that's why police officers were attracted to the film. Most of the films that were coming out at that time, in 1972, were extremely anti-cop. They were about the cop on the take, you know. And this was a film that showed the frustrations of the job, but at the same time, it wasn't a glorification of police work."

However, in a sense it could be considered the corruption of that system that often made the kind of violence Callahan engages in at least seem necessary. The corruption of law enforcement breeds a weakness into a society that leaves it vulnerable to the lawless.

A key tenet of any fascist argument is that the social system in question has been corrupted, and rendered weak and impotent, and must be replaced. Fascists argue that not only violence an acceptable means of replacing that corrupted system, but a necessary means.

Certainly, few would expect such a critique of such a film as Dirty Harry to be found within Jonah Goldberg's work. The question that quickly emerges is this: will Goldberg receive credit for this kind of honesty from those who are bound and determined to discredit his work through ridicule alone?

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