"God knows people who are paid to have attitudes toward things, professional critics, make me sick," wrote Hemingway, "[They're] camp following eunuchs of literature. They won’t even whore. They’re all virtuous and sterile. And how well meaning and high minded. But they’re all camp followers."
Curiously, the more publicly dismissive an author is toward his critics, the more desperately, bathetically affected by them. Take Jonah Goldberg, a most curious case. Goldberg embarked upon the typical project of a middling magazine writer of any political persuasion: he wrote a padded national magazine article, part polemic, part Wikipedia. Most of these guys know that they're in on a racket. These are books designed to sell quickly in one large printing and then disappear. You get a good advance and a low percentage. The bindery is cheap and the cover design sucks. Nobody cares. Everyone makes money. The author spent one week on research and less than three clacking out seventy-thousand words. The editors don't have to give a damn about style or coherence. Is the spelling correct? To the presses! Nobody gives a damn how the book is actually reviewd, provided that it is reviewed often. The people who buy The Bush Tragedy or Godless or Liberal Fascism don't care what reviewers say, but they like things they've heard of. Reviewers love these books because they are easy to read, and because they are extensions of familiar authorial personae, which makes knocking out a thousand word review on deadline simple is as simple does.
But Goldberg incredibly convinced himself that he was doing something else altogether, a serious work the likes of which the world had never seen, a work of serious intellectual scholarship that would fundamentally alter the way that his readers viewed the recent history of the world. Quelle égoisme ! No one shopping the "Politics" aisle at Barnes & Noble is there to have his mind changed. Goldberg spent years percolating his dumb idea, and hauled together a lot of improbable junk to back it up, which is just what you do when your model for writing a book is writing a contrarian term paper, but longer. Since he has released it, four years later, the response has largely been bemused tolerance from mainstream reviewers, who aren't quite sure what to make of a guy who ought to be in on the con but appears to be both confidence man and mark all at once, while from the partisan press he has recieved, of course, praise from his fellows and mockery from his adversaries. All of this is predictable and totally banal, but he appears genuinely shocked about it, and has dedicated an entire blog at his magazine, as well as the above-linked article, to combat these critics with a series of increasingly petulant petards.
I mean, my god:
As for Dachau’s organic honey, Tomasky is once again — willfully — obtuse. My point was not that Nazis are liberals and liberals are Nazis because they both like organic honey. Indeed, Tomasky explicitly concedes that I constantly insist that that is not my point. So what is my point? Simply this: Many of the progressive and holistic ideas that lie at the heart of today’s lifestyle Left, the environmental Left, and the New Age movement share numerous unquestioned philosophical, emotional, and practical similarities with the intellectual and cultural currents that fed into and sustained Nazism.My point is not that Nazis are liberals or liberals are Nazis because they both like Organic Honey; my point is simply to point out that Nazis are liberals and liberals are Nazis. Because he steadfastly refuses to own up to his own hyperbolic argument, he finds himself caught in the most embarrasing sort of doublebind--trying to defend his sincerety by constantly subverting his own thesis.
You will never find a truly great practitioner of the craft, an Ann Coulter or a Michael Savage, doing this. Coulter is not ever going to write an article in which she claims that liberals aren't really godless, despite the title of her book, and Michael Savage is not going to admit that it isn't really a mental disorder. Cosseted liberals like Weisberg are never going to admit that George W. Bush is not a unique tragedy but a necessary outcome of the rigged system to which they themselves have devoted entire careers of crafting apologia. They're too smart for that, and their checks are too big. The problem with Goldberg isn't that he's dishonest. It's that's he's dumb and honest, in a perverse sort of way. He really believes what he's saying, and he will argue till dawn that he doesn't really believe it, as long as you take it seriously.