I have recently Posted on intellectuals (Neal Gabler, Sam Tanenhaus) who are trying to whistle everybody by the (very active) graveyard of the past 40 years, seeking to enable the (former-liberals, now-progressives) Dems – and now the ‘bipartisan’ Beltway – to escape the consequences of the past decades’ of Correct-but-Wrong stuff while not having to say they’re sorry, fix the frak, and at the same time getting to keep all the frak so that their electoral viability isn’t rather largely vaporized.
Now comes Michael Lind on the Salon site to give it another try.
Lind is no dope and he’s done some good stuff in the past (see below). But again – as with Glenn Greenwald and Neal Gabler and Sam Tanenhaus – he’s got to keep up the payments on his 'elite' membership.
So his take on things is that the Republicans (as if there are still, for any practical and useful purposes, two Parties) are developing a new approach that relies on (the admittedly whackulous) Ayn Rand’s radical individualistic libertarianism.
AND he’ll go himself one better and declares to the faithful that this is a Good Thing for “progressives”.
Once again, We are frog-marched by politically unpleasant (to the elites) reality in order to be shown only the wax job and the shiny hubcaps.
In this case, the “conservative” movement is said to have started with William F. Buckley’s 1950s “movement conservatism” that “sought to unite the anti-communist, socially-conservative and free-market wings of the right”. Since Bush the Shrub’s administration, Lind opines, the neocon and social conservative elements of the coalition have lost much ground and the “libertarians” are growing at their expense.
I really don’t think the terms ‘liberal’ (ooops, ‘progressive’) and ‘conservative’ can accurately portray American political reality any longer.
Liberals, don’t forget, were classically concerned with keeping government out of people’s lives – and given the limited nature of the government constructed sooo carefully by the Constitutional Framers – those dead white males were in a very real sense Liberal (capital ‘L’).
The same Founding gents were also Conservative – in the sense that they weren’t ‘revolutionary’ (like their French contemporaries). The Framers were setting up a profoundly ‘new thing’ – a Republic not governed by a monarchy but by its own People – but they were not seeking to overturn in a trice the entire culture and civilization to which the American polity was a richly-endowed heir.
Neither group wanted to see a ‘divine right’ monarchy, or even a government that retained the unbridled omnipotence of those 17th-century European realms. Both groups wanted to see the country ‘model’ this great vision to the rest of the world, while not marching around as an ‘agent of liberation’ seeking to impose that great vision wherever force-of-arms looked to have half a chance of succeeding (Napoleon would say, shortly thereafter, that ‘nobody likes an armed missionary’).
The modern-day ‘liberals’ went off those rails 40 years ago when they chose – for purposes of electoral viability – to embrace a revolution-besotted engorgement of government authority. Eschewing ‘divine right’ for domestic dogmatic purposes, they replaced Divine Right with their own idol – Political Correctness – which Kool-Aid they had imbibed from the Leninist and Maoist handbooks which they considered in the late 1960s to be more useful than the “quaint” (and, they judged, self-serving) insights of the Framers.
The modern-day ‘conservatives’ went off those rails when they chose – ditto – to embrace a militarized super-state that would take as its Brief the (literally God-given and thus ‘divine right’) authority to bring ‘democracy’ and consumer-capitalism to whatever designated parts of the benighted world American military force could occupy (or 'liberate' or 'partner').
Both whackeries presumed themselves to be ‘liberators’ and more or less assumed that they would be greeted as such. And if they were – instead – opposed by the ‘natives’ and the locals, then such opposition could be dealt with as simultaneously being Incorrect and Evil. This was the bipartisan alchemy of Clintonian neoliberalism (which also had an economics aspect that – oy! – has recently demonstrated its colossal ineptness).
Which, by the by, is why even though the ‘liberals’ have now gained the White House the ‘conservatives’ wars are proceeding apace into the Valley of the Little Big Horn. Oh, that and the fact that the country is now so productively and financially hollow that if it doesn’t go out and grab stuff from unenlightened (and Incorrect and oppressive) natives and their governments, then there won’t be anything left to pay the bills over here.
Which kinda sounds like how the Brits got into the Empire business, turning their rain-bethumped little island into the hub of world commerce, trade, and manufacturing. And then got into World War 1 simply because they couldn’t afford to let their trade-routes and imperial ‘possessions’ go undefended. And then World War 1 spawned World War 2 and all that warring left them broke. That’s how these things go, you know.
But even more, it’s vital to realize that what began with FDR in the 1930s was not ‘Liberal’; as I said above, classical 19th-century Liberalism wanted to make room for the marvelously complex possibilities of human communities and of human individuals by keeping the government (Monarchy or otherwise) out of everyone’s lives to the greatest extent possible. Human nature – simultaneously individual and communal - was considered quite capable of creating a future for itself; and while Liberalism never imagined that you could achieve perfection in this world, it retained a powerful respect for the potentials of human beings.
It was not Liberalism but rather socialism that arose in Europe as an effort to baptize government-control in the service of making peoples’ lives better. And in Western Europe, still bathed in the afterglow of the Renaissance and the Enlightenment, the further effort was made to blend socialism and democracy by looking to create ‘social democracy’: the ‘socialism’ of government-control (though in the name of doing good for people and society) while respecting ‘democracy’ (which in monarchy-laden Europe did not share the profound ‘genius’ of the American Founding’s vision of a government of, for, and by The People).
This blending would have been a hugely complicated job in any time or place; although you can make it sound workable conceptually by simply tossing in nice phrases and best-casing the outcomes you claim for your programme, in actuality – ‘on the ground’ as they like to bray nowadays – it was going to be very hard to keep the government ox from running away with the wagon.
And by the time FDR came onto the scene in 1933, the Soviets had pretty much wrecked the reputation of ‘socialism’ (and thus by association ‘social democracy’) by their already clearly frakkulous Communism.
So the New Deal – nobly intentioned and not inapt to the American problems of the day – had to distance itself in the public mind from any taint of ‘socialism’; over time ‘liberal’ came to be the preferred moniker. But the New Deal was Liberal only in the intention of wanting to make things better for people; it had to follow the methods of ‘social democracy’. Surely, the concept of ‘centralized government’ – so central to the Soviet approach – was going to strain the American Constitutional vision, no matter how well-intentioned the visions and hopes for it and no matter how great the emergency and problems it was meant to address.
And by itself, that would have been a legitimate – though hugely fraught – task: grafting a larger government role onto the essentially limited-government concept of the American Founding genius.
It would have been necessary to compensate for this increase in ‘government’ by nurturing a compensatory increase in the ‘People skills’ of the American public; they would now need to People their government – Grounding it, judging it, anchoring it by keeping a much more greatly informed eye on it and quickly and clearly letting their elected representatives and Executive just what they thought.
BUT instead, back there in the 1930s, perhaps infected both by the Leftist dampdreams of the Soviet approach’s ‘success’and the Rightist dampdreams of ‘order’ being imposed on unruly masses by authoritarian and Fascist dictatorships, the whole idea of politically enhancing the competence of the People was an animal that didn’t make it onto the Ark. And now the Flood has come.)*
Anyhoo, back to Lind’s text.
The neocons, he says rightly, are on the decline: they were “marginalized under Clinton”. Which is only the tip of that iceberg. Clinton shrewdly stole their game-plan by embracing “humanitarian intervention”, which was a Correct and ‘sensitive’ justification for sending in the troops and bethumping whatever bunch had been designated as (not Evil but) Oppressive and Insensitive.
The religious right is also in decline, he burbles. He explains this as their gaining much political traction in the 1980s by cashing in on “a backlash against the cultural liberalism of the 1960s on the part of middle-class and working-class white Americans … that backlash however appears to have been a generational phenomenon”.
I think what he doesn’t intend for Us to realize here is that thanks to the success of the ‘deconstruction’ essential to that “cultural liberalism” there is no longer much of a culture remaining that can ground and anchor the middle-class and working-class (white or otherwise).
This is a good thing?
Where does he think the country’s productivity and its economic competence and strength came from? What ‘classes’ (that charmingly Leninist-Maoist term of analysis) does he think helped make the whole thing work?
What ‘culture’ does he think grounded the Constitutional ethos and vision?
And if they are at this point gone, then what does he think happens now?
He’d just rather analyze things according to the old 1960s ‘liberal’ categories, declare victory, and get on with the utopian paradise of whatever the Boomers and the Flower Children and the ‘empowered advocates and Identities’ imagine to be a more general cashing-in and party-time.
To the materialistic and Flat narrowness of Marxian, Leninist, and Maoist analysis Lind faithfully mirrors his demographic by adding the monstrously uninformed but fecklessly optimistic and cockily impatient self-assurance of the Boomers at the height of their pampered and ignorant youth (erected into national law, regulation, and policy by the vote-addled Dems).
Oh goody. THIS will surely work.
And he adds in that the “backlash” was just a generational thing. (Meaning that the old white folks are getting old and dying off now, and the kids are a lot more ‘sensitive’ and ‘tolerant’ – although whether they will be more ‘productive’ or whether they will even ever get the chance to ‘produce’ … well, Lind leaves that question for after the next election.)
I recall Alexander Cockburn saying recently in ‘the Nation’** that the culture wars were really against those classes that the communists would call the petite bourgeoisie, the ones who built and ran the small businesses (90% of American businesses employ less than ten people) and supported a culture that would enable that dynamic to continue producing and supporting lives, families, and future generations.
So really the ‘culture wars’ over here were something borrowed from Lenin and – much more contemporary – Mao, who in 1968 was two years into wrecking the Chinese economy and cultural heritage with his Cultural Revolution and its millions of young, uninformed, enthusiastic and idealistic Red Guards who went around beating to a pulp anybody who didn’t share their enthusiastic certainties as to the Total Correctness of “Mao Zedong Thought”. Wheeeeeee!
But if this is so – and I’d say it is – then the ‘culture wars’ were not some domestic spat about what color to paint the national house. They represented a fundamental defense of not only Western but mature tradition, against a purposeful (if grossly uninformed) assault – masked in the pseudo-philosophy of ‘deconstruction’ – against everything that held hundreds of millions of lives together.
Although the Mainstream Media, supporting the whole thing, happily glommed onto the reductionist and grossly insufficient characterization of widespread public reaction as merely ill-tempered and selfish “backlash” – as if the revolutionary stuff was totally ‘good’ and any objections or even doubts represented nothing more than selfish ‘oppressors’ not wanting to see their ‘privileges’ shared.
And thus, the ‘culture wars’ were not a time-limited thing at all. The statute of limitations never runs out on the premeditated capital ‘deconstruction’ of the entire genius of a culture and a civilization and on all of the human wrack that follows such ‘success’.
And it’s not just a matter of a ‘culture war’ in the sense of superficial or cosmetic changes in the nation’s life. The core of politics has been corroded: A politics that assumed you could manipulate people’s attitudes and perceptions and thereby deeply and quickly change (profoundly and sharply) the fundamental patterns of a society and its culture resulted in – among other things – a politics of ‘symbolism’ that relied on ‘appearances’ … and THAT reduced political discourse to soundbites and photo-ops, and undercut the public capacity to analyze and to deliberate.
And on top of that, the ‘revolutions’ could not only not-wait for deliberation to take its course BUT ALSO could not risk an examination of their demands and their programme to see if the ideas were a) worthwhile and b) weren’t – in the general opinion – frakkulously wrong. So mature and careful deliberation was undermined in favor of a childish and hugely insufficient they-bad/we-good type of argument, erected so clearly into the ‘Fox News’ approach to public affairs, though actually in place as early as the early 1970s as the Left’s revolutions instilled Political Correctness (where only the Correct folks could be taken ‘seriously’ and anything not-supportive of that was mere selfish and fuddy-duddy ‘backlash’.
And on top of that, the Manichean and frakkulously regressive dynamics of It’s-either-Good-or Evil and it’s corrosive communal corollary You-are-either-with-us-or-against-us replaced careful consideration of complexity. And while Bush the Lesser raised that to Executive policy, the Revolutions had employed it as early as the You-just-don’t-get-it days.
And so huge changes were imposed from top-down (precisely as Mao tried to impose his second revolution’s changes in the 1966-1976 Red Guards’ Cultural Revolution (do you recall ‘the Gang of Four’?)), which was stopped only by the death of Mao himself; even the growing evidence of how disastrously and damagingly wrong the ‘changes’ and ‘shocks’ were was not enough to pull China back from the Valley of Frak.
The ‘statute of limitations’ on all this can’t and won’t run out here because the damage and the consequences (intended or unintended) are still wreaking their awful effects – politically, economically, and – I will say – morally and spiritually.
The cost of all this to the American polity re-poses the question: Right or wrong, were the changes even WORTH IT? A question which for 40 years was put off on the screaming assertion that it’s ‘right’ so no further discussion can be had about it.
And here We are.
Recently – within the last month in ‘The New York Review of Books’, though I can’t recall exactly – the historian Tony Judt (born 1948 and thus a Boomer) observed that his generation had been a “catastrophe” for Western culture and civilization.
Lind and all of Us would do well to think about that for a while.
Nor is it enough to say that the Boomers have ‘grown up’. The destructive (and deconstructive) whackeries of their youth were erected into national policy by the Dems 35 and more years ago, and that frakkulous reality still stands.
And – perhaps as you can now see – has spawned something not very far from catastrophe for Us.
Born into a remarkable and historically unique Moment in the world’s history, they thought it was the normal state of affairs and would simply go on and on and on. And that it was capable of being ripped open along its entire length and punctured like a Swiss-cheese yet not succumbing to the ineluctable consequences of History’s Ocean.
Fragility – after all – is not something that occurs to the young. Which is perfectly natural, given the human maturing process. But is also the reason the young need to be given some serious guidance by their elders.
Alas for all of Us, the Greatest Generation was in the grip of a midlife crisis by the 1960s, and that on top of simply wanting to treasure some peace and quiet and order after spending so much of their own youth in a Depression and then in marching around the world getting a first-hand glimpse of what happens when revolutions of the Left (Soviet Communism) or the Right (National Socialism and Fascism and Japanese militarism) or just the orneriness of small-visioned folks (any of the Balkan ‘countries) throw over the constraints of organized society and of ‘human decency’ and any common humanity at all.
And their own government’s dominant Party – heir of FDR – had gotten itself mired in Vietnam and wasn’t about to admit a mistake and go home. On top of Harry Truman’s bloody misadventures in the latter half of the Korean War a decade before.
So Lind’s ‘optimistic’ declaration that the ‘culture wars’ are “in decline” because they were just the backlash of a bunch of grumpy and selfish white people is not only inaccurate but queasily dishonest.
Lind knows better. In 1995 he published a scathing and comprehensive indictment of the fundamentally corrosive assumptions of Multiculturalism and Identity Politics: “The Next American Nation” (see my Post here).
But those PC Club dues must be paid.
As I’ve said often on this site, what I call the Revolutions of the Identities – including what Lind described in that same decade of the 1990s that saw Clintonian neoliberalism basically take over the neocon agenda, baptizing it with Sensitivity and Empowerment, and in that same decade that feminists are now touting as their greatest success (‘Governance Feminism’) in their cheerible and self-congratulatory victory-lap ‘histories’ - achieved their deepest and most destructive (and deconstructive) inroads into the Constitutional ethos. It was then that the Boomer-addled frakkery ‘achieved’ its long-intended destruction and deconstruction.
But that was then.
It’s Consequence-time now. And that’s a Moment that the kids didn’t think would ever apply to them.
Nor has gray-hair seemed to sober them. Or mature them.
Except that they have gotten a lot more savvy in how to cover their tracks. Or try to.
But the Consequences are too big, too awful, too awesome.
But what other options do they have? Admit the whole ‘revolution’ was kinda wrong? That their initial assumptions and presumptions and predictions were kinda wrong? That they’ve created lethal damage that can never fully be repaired? That the party’s over?
The Soviet leadership couldn’t bring itself to do that in the 1970s and 1980s, and those folks (male and female cadres and nomenklatura together) had been in the revolution business a lot longer and a lot more openly than the empowerment-and-liberation mavens of American Boomerhood.
I get to wondering just what reality could generate so much pressure that a writer like Lind would deform himself so frakkulously.
And I think that the answer, in large part, is Consequences: the country has reached a point now where the politics of pandering – to Big Pain and to Big Money – which were always guaranteed to corrupt and corrode the American Constitutional ethos, have finally demonstrated their failure so vividly that the danger into which such whackery has brought the American polity can no longer be hidden or ‘spun’ or ‘re-framed’, nor can the majority of the Citizens either be lulled into spending illusory, credit-based ‘wealth’ or cowed into accepting the Beltway’s whackery at the risk of being labeled ‘un-Correct’ and told that they ‘just don’t get it’.
And there’s an election coming up.
So I’m saying that Lind’s approach is wrong; that his too-nicely described ‘progressive’ agenda is much more costly than We can afford and perhaps even wrong in its fundamental operating assumptions and methods; and that the ‘revolutions’ that he’s trying to spin as Good and Well Done are neither.
*There is a new article by Orlando Figes on the Russian writer Andrey Platonov (1899-1951).
Platonov started out as a writer excited by the possibilities of Soviet Communism in his youth, but over time he saw what it really created ‘on the ground’, regardless of its noble and exciting goals, objectives, promises and visions.
What I’m going to do here is just put in bullet-form some of Platonov’s insights as to the monstrously deforming and anti-human elements of the Communist revolutionary vision and programme.
What strikes me about these points is how much they resemble the presumptions adopted in the late Sixties over here, when ‘revolution’ was considered a good thing, and so many of the old early-Communist, Marxist-Leninist excitements were imported by excited ‘revolutionaries’ here, however mediated those excitements were by European socialist-communist thought and by the pudgy smiling Maoist agenda that even in the mid-Sixties was blazing like a wildfire through China.
And let it not be forgotten that the vote-desperate Dems, seeing their New Deal coalition collapse, instantly endowed these ‘ideas’ with the full force, faith and credit of the government – to be joined within a few years by the Republicans, not wanting to miss the electoral demographic bus.
- Machines would be the “locomotives of history”, pulling people along on the great Communist journey; and you don’t dare stand in the way of locomotives or of History;
- An arrogant and cocksure confidence in the power of technology (and ideology) to transform History; and a concomitant refusal to tolerate the fragility of human beings and their lives and their organic communities;
- Equally, an arrogant and cocksure confidence in the capacity of the great utopian Soviet dream and its organizational systems to transform nature – both material nature and human nature; and humans were pushed about by the centralized government system as easily as trees were bulldozed, farms plowed under, and rivers dammed;
- An arrogant and cocksure confidence in the power of the ‘word’ to transform the world; if you just kept repeating the word – and its slogans – then that repetition would somehow transform human nature and actually force Events into a Soviet reality;
- The necessity for the old society (and old human nature) to be destroyed (‘deconstructed’ would be the Sixties’ term);
- The presumption that once the ‘old’ was destroyed/deconstructed, a rich and vibrant and powerful ‘revolutionary’ reality would suddenly appear, freed from the overlay of the ‘old’ and oppressive culture and civilization;
- That presumptive reality would require that people merely wait for the Soviet/Communist magical reality to provide for them; their oppression would be alleviated by their submission to the all-knowing reality of Soviet/Communist wisdom;
- A rigid and uncompromising assurance that in this great interplay of Historical forces, the ‘individual’ did not really matter much, and was expendable in the Great Process, as eggs have to be broken to make an omelette;
- The ‘kulaks’ – those peasant farm-owners and their communities – whose success actually gave the lie to the ‘revolutionary’ insistence that everything ‘old’ was both oppressive and unproductive were declared ‘enemies of the people’ and liquidated in a premeditated and purposeful government program of elimination; (and I’d say that Lind’s snarky characterization of ‘white working-class males’ is a clear descendant of the old Soviet-era ‘kulaks’);
- A “millenarian sensibility” by which the Soviet cadres saw themselves and their visions and their agenda as sure to usher in a paradaisal era of material fulfillment for all of the (surviving) peoples, which justified the ruthlessly impatient and morally self-assured methods by which the government and Party cadres would uproot the ‘old’ and impose the ‘new’ – since, after all, only the Party’s reality was truly ‘real’; (this millenarian sensibility is shared over here both by the Left’s ‘revolutionary’ self-assurance and by the Right’s assurance that it is deputized by God to enforce ‘His will’ and impose it all over the earth);
- A disconnection between ‘words’ and ‘reality’ (especially human reality) such that (as Orwell would later see) words could be used to mislead people and hide reality (since, in the cadres’ schematic vision, it was all in a good cause); this ‘abstracting’ of reality – subordinating actual living reality to the ‘concepts’ and ‘purposes’ of the Soviet agenda – served to hide the awful human cost of what the Soviet revolutionary programme was wreaking on actual human lives; the use of ‘slogans’ became almost talismanic, serving to ‘ward off’ the crushing, screaming awareness of the damage being caused as all those eggs were broken to make the omelette;
- An increasingly (especially after the Soviet victory over Hitler in 1945)absurd and radically dishonest government insistence upon ‘optimism’ about the history, nature, and future of Communism in all writing published in the USSR.
If you think about these characteristics, and look at the past 40 Biblical years over here … it might prompt some thoughts. And feelings. And then some politically competent action.
**”Move Over, Axis of Evil”, issue of March 22, 2010. The link is here but subscription is required to view the entire article.