Wednesday, November 15, 2006

DEMOCRATS AND LIBERTY?

Easy now. I’ve run across a bunch of articles in the past couple of days that are heading toward the idea that (since) the Republicans were for big and intrusive government, then the Democrats are for Liberty. Now let me put this out there right off the bat: the Democrats being for Liberty is – as certain dead, white, European males used to say – a consummation devoutly to be wished. But between such marvelous Democrats and the ones we have on the hoof today running around the preserve … a great gulf is placed. And, as has been said elsewhere on this site, the Democrats mostly placed the gulf there themselves.

Tom Schaller has an article in Salon: “Do Democrats Need the South?” (www.salon.com/opinion/feature/2006/11/14/no_south.print.html) He discusses the South as being “the most religious and evangelized region of the country, making it the most fertile ground for a socially conservative message.” And, he then adds, the rural nature of most of the South reinforces that.

I’d riff that the concern for capital-letter-words (CLWs, for short) and the capital-letter-world (CLW, for short) does not make one a ‘conservative’ (as opposed to a ‘liberal’). It can’t. We can’t let it. Life cannot be coherently lived, a self cannot be coherently grounded, without some incorporation of some CLWs, some working sense of the CLW. One of the great disasters for the Democrats was to let their (admittedly desperate) need to please the Identities rope them into accepting without serious debate or thought (sorta like the Patriot Act, later on) the postmodernist conceit that CLWs are simply a tool of oppression invented by the oppressor (mostly those dead white European males, but expanded to include American males, and not always just the dead ones).

This was a catastrophe conceptually and politically. Conceptually, it put the Dems in the position of wanting to make the wondrous benefits of sea-travel available to many to whom it had previously been denied while simultaneously relying on the assumption that the hull of a ship doesn’t have to be solid or built of anything in particular or built in any particular way. You want to give more people a better shot at life, but then you go and remove what every civilization in recorded history has assessed as absolutely and utterly indispensable: a crafted relationship to the CLWs and the CLW. Thus the Dems allowed the ‘liberal’ position to be defined as one that didn’t need CLWs and the CLW.

But politically, the Dems are doing business in a country where almost all people “believe”. This ‘belief’ doesn’t necessarily reflect a fact that each and all of those people are ‘religious’ but it most certainly does indicate the presence of their deep preference for CLWs and the CLW. So in a stroke the Dems placed themselves in opposition to that massive chunk of the citizenry who felt in their deepest self that you most certainly cannot run a life or a country without CLWs. And between all that massive chunk and themselves, the Dems allowed a massive gap to develop, a chasm, perhaps even an abyss. And into that dark gap, the hordes of Roveian (and before him, Atwaterian) minions poured, clothed in the armor of light, an identity not so much earned as granted to them by default by the Dems.

And now, how are the Dems going to bridge this gap? If they start accepting the reality or the validity of CLWs and the CLW, then those same CLWs might be used tactically to disrupt the placatory ‘arrangements’ the Dems have made with their assortedly raised-up Identities and their Advocacies. If they don’t start accepting the reality or the validity of CLWs and the CLW, then the Dems are not going to be able to capitalize on this huge Moment in the Republic’s history and may permanently marginalize themselves as a Party.

The present Dem ‘solution’ seems to be: focus on this-worldly, Horizontal, tactical alliances. Maybe we can hook up with the libertarians, maybe do lunch with the evangelicals, maybe even let the Catholic bishops back into the limelight for something else besides … all that stuff. But this is America. Here (if not indeed in most places) you can’t bind a nation (or its wounds) purely on the basis of Horizontal, tactical, ephemeral alliances. The spirit of the Battle Hymn of the Republic, of Teddy Roosevelt’s Progressive struggle against the robber barons and “the interests”, of FDR’s zeal for the economically displaced and his implacable resolution to wage the war thrust upon him, of King’s doggedly majestic struggle for civil rights … none of these defining American notes could have been sounded, could have been sustained or even conceived, without the common grounding in the CLW. There is a Vertical to life, a Beyond, and the personal must first and foremost be Spiritual (loosely defined and not achieved with the active interference or ‘help’ of the government).

The core mistake of the postmodern, and its fundamental conceptual, philosophical, and spiritual bankruptcy is situated precisely here: since the CLWs were at times (mis-) used to oppress, then they are thereby utterly discredited a-n-d they are thereby demonstrated to be unnecessary to the construction and maintenance of human life, individual and communal. To which the only mature and educated response can be: Phooey. And if the Dems allow the national political alignment to remain what it has become over the past 40 years (liberals are Horizontal and conservatives are Vertical) then the Dems are indeed in a suicide-pact. We don’t need preachers running the government, but this is a nation of spirit-hungry folks (however bumbly they may be about it).

And now the Dems have been given the opportunity for resurrection. The Republicans (at least the modern variant: neocon, fundamentalist) - like kids who were turned loose with the family car and trashed it before running it into a ditch – have had the keys taken away. But they only got those keys because a politically viable chunk of American citizens were fed up with the flattened and flattening world that the Dems’ reliance on revolutionary postmodernism was creating in the civic community. The Dems got the keys back by default. They’ve got to come up with a way to re-establish themselves on the ‘high ground’ of the CLW or else we’re going to get into a vicious cycle here. But not forever: each cycle will take us as a nation, along all axes of success, a little lower (or a lot), until finally the Republic is no longer viable, and we wind up with either a modern Caesar or a Louisiana Purchase in reverse.

The Dems are hugely well advised to heed Ike’s advice – his warning – in that last TV address he made to the nation: “So much remains to be done.”

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3 Comments:

Blogger Davidco said...

The argument from defective culture is not explanatory. When you seem to advance it as if it can stand alone, you are in bad company (ie. reactionary ideologists like Charles Murray, Thomas Sowell, David Brooks and the whole 'culture of poverty' crowd which loves to put the cart before the horse as a diversionary tactic. See Austin and Bernstein at Counterpunch.com (Nov.15, 2006. 'Why Bill Cosby is Wrong').

Even where rampaging identities are concerned, every large issue has a specific economic substrate which is available to metric analysis in ways that capital letter words (ie. unprovable assertions about absolute values) can never be.

Both Aristotle and Marx would agree that 'physics' (ie. measureable material realities) is the propaedeutic to meta-physics and the sine qua non of effective debate.

Modesty in resort to the meta as rhetorical tool is not a bad thing - even in one who has some positive 'working sense of the CLW'.

The recent festival of corruption among family values hypocrites should remind us that claims to possession of a 'meta' perspective don't confer any measureable advantage in terms of either private conduct or moral suasion in public fora.

5:25 AM  
Blogger publion said...

I’m not reducing the entire matter to culture. What I am saying is that the level of culture depends in a very crucial and fundamental way upon the level of maturity (individual, communal, political) of each citizen. And beneath that assertion is the implication that individual maturity must be the first forum for the building of The People, the first story if not the foundation of that building.

Yes, we get uncomfortably close to the chicken-egg problem here: does culture form the individual or does the individual (many of them) form culture? There is some level of interaction, surely, but beyond that it gets kinda iffy. But I take my cue from the Western concept, profoundly influence by Judeo and especially Christian thought, that we are each made in the image of God, created as individuals.

Certainly, an individual born into decent economic circumstances has a better chance than one born into starvation, as a general rule. But we have seen enough rich murderers and poverty-born saints to know that economics isn’t the whole thing, not hardly a’tall. And we know Original Sin (which I assert is an acutely relevant point, no matter how many immaturely-processing goons come out of the woodwork claiming that the poor are poor because they are more sinful than the pious middle-class or the God-blessed rich).

So while material realities are indeed a propadeutic to metaphysics, I don’t believe that they are the one and only and indispensable gateway to the metaphysical. It seems to be the historical track record of the human spirit and of the Spirit that the Material is sometimes circumvented, or the weight of its odds defied – and successfully, in the eternal quest for Ascent.

Nor am I trying to simply plaster over grossly ugly societal realities with polysyllables. The question of black (brown, actually) economic performance and its causes (successful as well as unsuccessful) is a vexing one; not least because sensitivities do not permit a full consideration of all the possible variables. But even Austin and Bernstein note that black (brown, actually) economic status is up, whatever the reason(s) for that may be. And yet that ‘culture’ – or, if you wish, that ‘community’ – is generating frightening proportions of murder and mayhem. So economics cannot be the sine qua non, nor can it be so in any culture or among any race: whites (pinkish, actually) are far better off economically, yet have never been able to see their way clear toward abolishing courts and cops as unnecessary. While the quintessential Southern sheriff is remembered for the appalling travesties of the civil rights era, he was not simply there to keep blacks (browns, actually) in their place. Photographing dead criminals – almost all of them white (pink, actually) – was an enduring industry from the 1850s right up to WW2, especially in the West and the South.

This veteran city dweller notes as somehow relevant the fact that the taxi driver corps, now mostly from third world countries whose driving habits differ greatly from our ideals, are not adapting to the modus Americanus, but instead are exerting a palpable gravitational pull on American city drivers, pulling them into third-world habits. It is for that reason I rarely drive into the city. And for that reason I am not particularly impressed with Austin and Bernstein’s assertion that white (pink) kids now listen to rap. While I don’t expect or desire that all kids today should enjoy the Benny Goodman, the Beach Boys or the Beatles, I certainly don’t consider the white (pink, actually) adoption of rapper music (and rapper styles of dress and .. thought?) as a justification of anything except greater parental supervision, black (brown) and white (pink). But alas.

As we are finding out in the Middle East, some stuff is simply not exportable, let alone easily taken up and quickly mastered, by alien cultures. While I am not subtly implying an American Exceptionalism or a ‘white’ (pink, actually) exceptionalism, I am taking note of the fact that one of the world community’s main amazements with the young American culture in the 18th and 19th centuries was that it so uniquely could and did adapt all sorts of stuff; surely the Lower East Side in – say – 1910 was the marvelous zenith of the adaptive interaction (which is not to ignore the poverty and grime, nor the larger structural arrangements of the American economy of the day). Whether we shall ever recover that suppleness I don’t know; certainly the Fundamentalist mentality – with its immature thought-processes, small-spirited vision of the country’s possibilities, and underlying reactionary tone – doesn’t bode well, nor does the type of professionally-required paranoia that must, almost ex officio, perfuse the Pentagoon mindset.

And be all of that as it may, I am saying that as a society, in order to remain The People and remain a Republic, each of us, the very best of our ability (and beyond, from the looks of things) must master the basic skills of human adulthood and maturity – spiritually, intellectually, and emotionally. Otherwise, you could drop a pot of gold on each of us and we’d still be up the creek without a paddle. And carrying a heavy load on top of that.

4:31 AM  
Blogger publion said...

Let me add one more point to what I said above.

I'm saying that the Inner life of the individual citizen is a crucial and fundamental 'ground' upon which the Republic is based. This, if anywhere, is the connection between the Christendom and the Enlightenment/political traditions (but in no way justifies Fundoozie jihaddery to convert the Citizenry or the polity of the Republic).

But the Interior ground is not something that can or should be left to the government. This is where the libertarian and the Democrats of the Advocacies/Identities part ways bigtime: the dems as constituted have welded themselves to Identities and their Advocacies that pretty much demand and require the sustained engorgement and deployment of the police power of the government in order to survive (about which see elesewhere on this site).

Positing that the 'economic' is the first and the key ground also quickly winds up stimulating that engorgement. In this way, even the much laudable 'social justice' initiatives of the mainline churches - to the extent that some of them have tried to base themselves on matters economic - can, however unwittingly, weaken the concern for the Interior.

3:36 AM  

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