Friday, October 10, 2008


Glen Ford raises an intensely powerful point over on In a Wednesday, October 8, Post entitled “Crisis Will Test American – and African-American – Social Compact”, he raises a question that has not been allowed much air since the late 1930s: has the ‘social compact’ been broken?

Good on him! It’s about time. Between the National Security State (with its roots in the Good-War years) and the National Nanny State (with its roots in the ‘revolutions’ of 1968), nobody but nobody has been paying much attention to the huge danger of leaving those ancient foes of liberty and democracy – entrenched privilege and political control of wealth and the sources of wealth – to their own devices as the country and the citizenry were plunged into revolutionary struggle against suddenly newly erected foes: race, but then – quickly – gender and after a while, sexual orientation. And then, a while after that, a general melee in which just anybody who could claimed ‘victim’ status and pointed frenzied fingers at this or that perp (mostly male, curiously). Somewhere in that thirty-year scrum, the American ‘social compact’ was shredded.

I’m taking Mr. Ford’s acute idea a bit further than he does in his Post.

He is right to see racial slavery as a historically traceable monstrosity that the country (and the blacks) have been struggling with for centuries. He is right to point out the tremendous strength imparted to all Americans by Martin Luther King’s enunciations, casting the deep-rooted civil rights struggle up to 1965 in terms that evoked and summoned the deepest and best ideals of the American Vision. The social compact was immeasurably strengthened by that majestic mountain-top moment in July of 1965 as the Voting Rights Act was signed.

The Moment – alas – was not to last, even for a ‘moment’. LBJ had already laid down for black Americans a second phase, after the legislative elimination of the engines of official racism, called ‘affirmative racism’. Never one to look at the Big Picture – for all his Great Society visions and schemes – LBJ as a politician just couldn’t risk so vital a new constituency drifting away from the Democratic Party that had given up so much (the South for a generation, as one strategist put it) to raise up that constituency. And LBJ as an American just couldn’t imagine that twenty-sticks of dynamite wouldn’t do twenty times as much good as one stick. And LBJ as a modern President just couldn’t imagine that the Federal bureaucracy couldn’t make things work, if enough money and expertise were thrown around. And jobs.

If the achievements brought to so remarkable a point in July, 1965 weren’t going to be enough for the citizenry to digest and consolidate, then the demands that suddenly arose as ‘the movement’ splintered and sheared away from Dr. King’s approach, and into ‘black nationalism’ and ‘black power’ and a seemingly endless series of demands that were not part of the content or the spirit of the pre-’68 period were most surely going to jam up the national capacity to competently adapt.

And to do so would require vast amounts of public attention that should also have been earmarked for the huge changes in the world economic system that were starting to alter the fundamental postwar position of the US as economic , industrial and military powerhouse of the West.

Waging the war in Vietnam and the War on Poverty – as it was called – was going to create a two-front demand on the national treasury – for ‘guns’ and for ‘butter’. But then also, dealing with both the Economic situation and both the consequences of the pre-1966 achievements and the demands of ‘Affirmative Racism’ and of ‘black power’ of the post-1968 era was going to create a two-front demand on public attention, the attention of the citizenry and of the legislators and the government ‘executive’ branch.

This would have been a major set of tasks on any nation’s plate. And most nations do not – never have – undertaken so much, not the least because people don’t really like to deal with complicated issues that cannot be simply and quickly and vividly and definitively solved. And Americans more than most.

And the Democratic national leadership was still in shock over the possible political costs of 1965, especially after Watts, and then the war in Vietnam started going wonky, and then came 1968 and the party-machinery itself was hugely re-worked.

And that was before anybody noticed the Republicans making counter-moves. Ah politics!

And if many white Americans had understood the work of the civil rights movement that led up to 1965 as a reaffirmation of the common social compact that was the American People, an ideal and a vision but also an essential element of proper Constitutional government, then the shock to the social compact was all the harder as ‘black power’ asserted separation from ‘whitey’. And where the Klan and such rabid white reaction was still mostly a fringe reaction, ‘black power’ spoke as a rival at the very core of the American black community’s leadership, vying with Dr. King himself.

But then, as if the national landing pattern wasn’t already kinda crowded, a new Identity suddenly burst onto the stage, feminism of the Second Wave. With its roots in a early-20th century revolutionary theory and practice even more than in a certain historical trend of American pragmatism, and armed with a political strategy that sought to cast ‘women’ as ‘another’ and even more ‘oppressed’ species of ‘slave’, and requiring that ‘men’ – white but also black – were the ancient, violent, war-loving enemy of all that was good and decent in humanity – that is to say, the feminine … you can imagine the effect on the ‘social compact’.

No wonder, then, that in short order the politicians, sensing that there was no longer – could no longer be – any ‘people’ or constituency upon whom they could reliably count for votes and contributions, began to seek more ‘reliable’ sources of funding, the huge corporations that had grown out of the postwar era, especially those – and their name was Legion – connected within the matrix of what Eisenhower had called ‘the military-industrial complex’. If there was no more social compact, no more ‘People’ to represent, then the pols would ‘represent’ whomever now had the cash and the will – and that was the interlocked corporations, and then the F.I.R.E. sector.

I had mentioned in a recent Post that 1968 was a Moment hugely lost: when the American people – reunited after the civil rights apotheosis of 1965 – might have resumed the ancient struggle against entrenched privilege and money that had marked the First Gilded Age and existed even among the councils of the Founders, especially among the Founders.

But the Identities – especially the post-King American black community and the revolution-intoxicated Second Wave of feminism in its prime – diverted public attention away from the ancient enemy, and not only diverted public attention but assaulted and fractured it. A development which the entrenched and newly-important corporations did nothing to prevent.

But as well, in their muddled urge both to accuse the government of being the supreme repository of all oppression and to force it to acquiesce to their own demands, the Identities actually served to enhance the intrusive regulatory – and after a while the police – power of the government. What coercive and suppressive authority the government – so soon after Hitler and Stalin and Mao – could not grab on its own, it could nobly claw on behalf of the ‘oppressed’ and the ‘victim’.

And this again was a development that wealth and corporate power did nothing to prevent. After all, it was one thing for the government to call out the troops and the Law in support of workers’ right to unionize and to strike. But it was something else completely when government began establishing its registries and lists and stationing and deploying militarized police – and then the military itself – to suppress public discontent about who gets what slice of the pie.

History had not only not ended, but it was re-spooling to the 1880s and 1890s.

And if there was no social compact, then there was no people – legitimately called – who could ‘protest’ legitimately. That stood to reason. As long as nobody started waving the Constitution around. But that problem had been solved too. It was from the Left – with philosophers like Richard Rorty and from assorted Identity ideologues – that Constitutional protections such as free speech and privacy were being denounced as mere ploys for this or that form of oppression. And in America, if it’s from the Left, then it’s for the little people and not for the rich people. So the old writings and stories said.

But beyond male people and female people, beyond white people and black people, beyond straight people and gay people, beyond little people and big people – there was no People. And the ideologues of the Left agreed with that too: “The People” was just an abstraction, a tool used by oppressors to oppress. Political power flows from political pressure and there is no People.
What social compact could conceivably survive almost forty years of that?

Hell, it could no longer be publicly held that America had “a soul” in Dr. King’s once-not-stunning phrase. And surely, the Left ideologues wanted no ‘soul’, nor any revenant from a dead Beyond that could dare ‘judge’ whatever the hell it was that they wanted and that they wanted to do with an insatiable ‘freedom’.

No ‘soul’, no People; no People, no social compact.

Mr. Ford is rightly upset with Mr. Obama’s trimmings of late. Nor do I take a side in the question as to whether Obama is demonstrating a fundamental incapacity for the Presidency (which in no way would establish Mr. McCain’s capacity for the office) or simply a necessary shrewdness in tacking through the minefield to get to his objective.

But what else can be expected from a candidate in Our era? ‘Principles’ are thin gruel for most human beings to subsist on, let alone risk their expensively-acquired offices. It would help if there were a People, a social compact, such that an office-holder could make a case with some candidness and expect some intelligent deliberation, feedback, and support. But that is not at all how the entrenched wealth OR the Identities want things run. And the entrenched wealth also has the money.

So …. You see where things are going here. Have been going all along. Have gone to. Have gotten to.

Nor can any reasonable person take any consolation from the fact that ‘women’ – speaking symbolically here – are in positions of great power and influence. Nor have they been of any great help. Ms. Pelosi, Ms. Rice, or Ms. Albright and Ms. Reno before them … have any of them helped make things better? Sure it’s a great thing if all that anybody wanted was a better slice of the pie, but We had been told – had been assured – that the only ‘evil’ in the world was ‘men’, and that ‘women’ would bring peace and calm and intuition (not, curiously, reasonableness or rationality) to counter ‘macho’ war-mongering and oppression. Can anyone say that in the past thirty or twenty or ten years this country has done ‘better’ in its foreign policy? Has it become more ‘peaceful’? Has it become less war-like? Or was all that stuff about ‘men’ being the real source of the world’s woes just an excuse for grabbing the knives and slicing the pie differently?

Have We fallen as far as We have now fallen … just for that?

McKinley and Wilson plotted their wars and died their profoundly vivid deaths … but they didn’t bankrupt the country. And they won their wars, at whatever price in decency and honor and wisdom.

Of course, what they lacked in character or genuine honor they made up for in a hefty fear of The People, and what would happen to them politically if The People found out just what the hell was going on.

But there is no People now, it might be said. 60% of the Democratic Party’s membership has been female now for a while, but that doesn’t seem to be doing the country much good. Perhaps men don’t like being ‘Men’ and would prefer to be ‘men’ so they go Republican. If so, who could be surprised?

At any rate, there is almost no ‘social compact’ left. The People has been fractured, or at least the citizenry have been. And this is no loss for those who wish to see power and wealth concentrated in the hands of a few. And this includes the traditional ‘rich’ and the ‘malefactors of great wealth’ and yet also the revolutionaries of the so-called Left who want the power concentrated so that it can be wielded against those of the citizenry whom they consider to be their greatest oppressors and enemies.

But in a battle like that, the rich will win. They always have. They always will. Unless The People rise up to assert the role of Ground and Foundation of the Branches, then the Branches will go find somebody else to serve. Has that not already happened? Is that not now abundantly clear?

The Branches, like the old Confederate states, must be called back to ‘their old allegiance’; to take their rightful place as the servants of The People.

But for that to happen, We must once again knit together The People, too long assailed and fractured by revolutionaries and radicalisms that have no proper place in a Republic and in a democratic politics.

It may be difficult to accept that We here and now have a rendezvous with Destiny, when for so long words that being with capital-letters have been politically incorrect.

But it is here and it is now that this ‘America’ shall be preserved or ‘meanly lost’.

Where did they go, the rich and the poor, after Rome fell? Into the Dark Ages. Yet for so long, We have been seen, by Founders and Catholics and Protestants alike, as being some ‘light’ to the nations. It was a reflected light – especially as far as the Catholics were concerned – but a faithfully reflected light is no small achievement, as the sight of a working light-house will attest.

Let Us reflect.

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