Primavera di bellezza

The image here is from the promotional material on the flap of a book. Unless you either a) follow political satire regularly, or b) are a confirmed member of the far-right establishment, you have not heard of the book. The title of the book is Liberal Fascism: The Secret History of the American Left, From Mussolini to the Politics of Meaning. If you have a passing knowledge of history, then you already know that Mussolini was not an American leftist, and that this can be taken as a sign of the cluelessness of the book's author. And who is this author? Chances are you have not heard of him either: one Jonah Goldberg, target of a variety of comically insulting nicknames, son of a minor literary agent who became the not so secret inside source in former president Bill Clinton's sex scandal, and recipient of a series of sinecures in the system fondly known as "wingnut welfare," whereby extremists are guaranteed an income and institutional support regardless of the (stunning) modesty of their talents or their (catastrophic) records of failure (e.g., Doug Feith, Donald Rumsfeld, George Bush).

I have not read the book and do not expect to read it. Life is too short for tasteless meals, bad books and ill-fitting shoes. Some other folks have been reading it with much of the expected hilarity that comes from the wide gap separating the author's sense of his own intellectual scope from the evidence available on the page.

Still, the line from the flap copy struck me: "The quintessential liberal fascist isn't an SS stormtrooper; it is a female grade-school teacher with an education degree from Brown or Swarthmore." You will probably neither know nor care why the author thinks he knows so much about (at least female) grade-school teachers. But he certainly knows nothing about education. At Swarthmore College, and I suspect also at Brown as at every other institution in the region, a student cannot get an education degree. They can major in a recognised discipline with an accompanying concentration in education, after which, if they want to teach in a public school, they will take another programme to get an education certificate. The reason for this is state policy: education boards do not want to hire teachers with education degrees, but teachers who have demonstrated mastery of an empirical field in addition to receiving a separate education qualification (private schools will take teachers without the education certificate, but require them to have a masters' degree). This fact is pretty much known to everyone who has worked in higher education or passed through one of its institutions, if they were paying attention.

Ordinarily it would not be a big deal for a person not to know about the undergraduate programme at a small college in Pennsylvania. And ordinarily posh institutions would be fair game (when I was an undergraduate at Swarthmore, people still remembered Spiro Agnew having called the place "the Kremlin on the Crum" -- but then at least Mr Agnew was not wholly ignorant, he knew the name of the creek that passes by the campus). But there are exceptions when: 1) a person is claiming omniscient knowledge he obviously does not have, 2) a person is building a whole theory on an insulting image that has no basis in fact, and 3) a person is making a sweeping characterisation of a group of people about whom he knows nothing.

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