Circumventing the Censors

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by Paul Gottfried by Paul Gottfried

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The Chronicle of Higher Education To the editor:

Context is everything, as I try to explain to my students and readers. In his indiscriminate digs at me, Alan Wolfe seems to ignore this maxim entirely. He lashes out at me for such decontextualized sins as putting quotation marks around fascism and for daring to say that the blame for the Holocaust should not be attached to all Germans at all times. As an intellectual historian I have balked at the idea that German history should be studied as a disaster waiting to happen and have rattled some intellectuals for drawing very broad distinctions between Bismarckian and Nazi Germany.

The reason I routinely put fascism in quotes is that what I describe in my works on the political uses of political correctness is the historically ungrounded ascription of “fascist” tendencies to whatever the multicultural Left happens to dislike — and decides to ban. Pace Professor Wolfe, being opposed to Third World immigration in Europe is entirely compatible with popular government and with constitutional restraints on power. It has nothing to do with the Italian Fascist state that Mussolini set up in 1929 or with Hitler’s plans for Lebensraum.

Yet, critics of immigration and advocates of the right of European nation states or regions to preserve their historic character are made to appear in the European press as “fascist” maniacs. Moreover, European government snooping agencies, like the notoriously politicized Verfassungsschutz in Germany, investigate those who hold opinions that fail to please them as “extremist.” The Junge Freiheit is only one example of the many publications that would have stood in the center-right in the 1950s but is now condemned by “protectors of the German constitutional democracy” as “bordering on extremism.” It is the investigators, and not their critics or politically incorrect dissenters, who represent the real threat to what remains of a bourgeois liberal order.

My book on Carl Schmitt, contrary to what Wolfe implies, is far from uncritical. Although I do respect Schmitt’s insights about the development of the nation state and his exploration of friend-enemy distinctions, I also castigate his embrace of the Third Reich. My work offers absolutely no apologies for what was shabby or morally deficient in his life. It also criticizes Schmitt’s slighting characterization of bourgeois liberalism, in an extended critical observation that spills into a later book. After Liberalism, a monograph that Wolfe graciously consented to review in the New Republic, takes Schmitt to task further for distorting the “middle class idea,” as practiced during the nineteenth century. In short, my work cannot be read as an unqualified endorsement of Schmitt’s conception of political life or of his tortuous professional career.

Finally I see no connection between Schmitt’s thinking and those Republican and neoconservative celebrities whom Wolfe rails at in his commentary. Schmitt did not call for an imperial mission to export “global democracy” and, like Rousseau, expounded a communally based understanding of democratic self-government. His own notion of democracy was necessarily self-limiting. He also argued at length after the Second World War that the U.S. had no business trying to take over Europe. If Americans wanted an empire, they should confine their imperial expansion to the Western hemisphere. In what way then was Schmitt a precursor of the Bush administration or of its defenders on Fox News? And if Professor Wolfe knew anything about my background, he would never put me in this Jacobin company, even indirectly. Although viewing these global revolutionaries from a different perspective, I have no more sympathy for them than he does.

April 23, 2004

Paul Gottfried [send him mail] is professor of history at Elizabethtown College and author of, most recently, the highly recommended Multiculturalism and the Politics of Guilt.

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