The September issue of ‘The American Prospect’[ hereinafter: TAP] is online and on the stands. It is one of the more candid of the mainstream Left-liberal-progressive and Democratic mags.
I read it regularly not so much because I am one of the above (although I am not a Rightist-conservative and Republican either) but because I can get a good grasp of what these folks are saying among themselves, how they are thinking and what they are thinking, and what stories they are telling themselves to feel that their efforts are Good and Necessary.
And this issue is some sort of Summation issue, where the staff is trying to be candid and cover all the major issues and challenges. So its several articles offer some significant opportunity for comment.
What I’m going to do here is go through several articles that particularly struck me, noting what strikes me as significant not only in terms of content but in terms of How They See It, and contrasting (usually) with how I see it.
I will link to each piece I discuss (the entire issue is already up on their site and worth a look).
Editor Robert Kuttner starts off with “A 20-Year Odyssey”. This is a neat framing device since the mag is now 20 years old, having started up in 1990 (in what now seems a lost world). Just about all of the articles in the issue will use as their starting-point the situation in 1990, and discuss ‘liberal’ developments since that time.
OK, why not? BUT it’s essential to point out that many of the programs and initiatives – and the Revolutions of the Identities themselves – are actually 45 years old, or certainly over 35. And this is especially true of the core dynamics involved, lying beneath the surfaces of the programs and initiatives that the articles discuss.
Kuttner sets up with the observation that when the mag was founded (1990) “‘interest-group liberalism’ was described by many commentators as an alarming blight”. He mentions gay rights, feminism, disability rights, and “expansion of opportunities for minorities” all being accused of “making liberalism a fragmented collection of narrow interests at the expense of the broad collectivity”.
My abiding objection and concern exactly.
And my concerns cover both CONTENT and METHOD; both WHAT was being proposed or demanded and HOW it was to be implemented.
That’s NOT to say that I want to see gays beaten up, women beaten and kept in the kitchen with the kids, the disabled politely ignored in ruts of incapacitation, and ‘minorities’ (most of the country, don’t forget, according to Correct classification) without opportunity.
Rather my concern in regard to Content is with What was actually demanded as a ‘solution’ to the problem, such as it was perceived. And my concern in regard to Method has to do with a) How such changes were to be brought about in the wider American polity and b) the prudential work-ability of the proposed/imposed changes.
And after 45 years – certainly after 20 – We now have the chance to assess everything not as ‘new’ but as having been around for a while.
Certainly the polity is indeed more fragmented. And while there are many reasons for that decline (I would have to call it) into a solipsistic and self-absorbed individualism, I say that it cannot be denied that Identity Politics and the antagonistic stances of each of the Identities as it limned its Necessary Enemy and then made its demands have greatly contributed to that.*
Kuttner heads along this course at full and proud speed. “A 20-year liberal scorecard easily shows that the era’s greatest liberal gains have been in the politics of inclusion – setting the stage for an African-American president”.
Well …first I note the sly re-naming of Identity Politics [hereinafter: IP] as “the politics of inclusion”. Maybe that’s what they intended – inclusion – and a fine intention it is (though it all started off with 'separatism', let's not forget). But that’s not what happened, and even way back then any sober assessment of intended and unintended consequences would have revealed the huge dangers to the polity if this sort of IP-dynamic got loose. Let alone when it was multiplied as well as amplified by a follow-on surge – or flood – of newly-minted Identities, each demanding their own version of “inclusion”.
It's a little more complicated than they'd like Us to think - this 'politics of inclusion'. Essentially it works out to separating yourself and your group from the larger community in order to develop your sense of outrage at being oppressed so that you can make your demands upon the larger community that you've separated yourself from in order to demonize them. And this little gambit has been practiced not only by one Identity but by all, and not just once each but 24/7 for 40 years. What is left of 'We' and 'Us'? You have to EXCLUDE yourself first, in order to then create an 'oppressor' who theoretically justifies your self-exclusion, and then your INCLUSION consists of attacking the erstwhile 'oppressor' and demanding your demands.
And of course there is the question not only of the Content of this, that, and the other’s ‘inclusion’, but also the Method of its being imposed: quickly and by sidestepping wide national deliberation. As I have often said, this all smacks wayyyyyyy too much of the Leninist methodology of ‘vanguardism’: that ‘we’ (meaning our ‘movement’ or Party) have the lock on the Right and Good way to proceed, and that ‘the masses’ just don’t get it, and that they must be led like cattle to the paradise to which the ‘vanguard elite’ is most certainly sure it and only it can lead the way.
Surely it isn’t just “backlash” that many folks might have serious doubts about introducing so profoundly anti-democratic a dynamic into a Constitutional Republic that is inextricably grounded in public deliberation.
And – see Note 1 on Robert D. Putnam below – the best-case scenarios as to the paradaisical outcomes through ‘advocacy science’ and ‘advocacy statistics’ and ‘advocacy journalism’ most certainly would give cause for further doubt on the part of anybody who realized that, like a ship at sea or an aircraft in the air, and with many passengers – you can’t just go re-configuring the essential hull or airframe and expect things to stay smooth and safe while you are eagerly effecting your vigorous and deep deconstructions and reconstructions.
As for the trump ‘proof’ of success, that America now has an African-American President … well, what good has THAT done, given the overall situation? This is a ‘victory’ in a war declared almost half a century ago, and in the meantime the National Situation has (by the oddest coincidence) declined catastrophically and the battles We now face really aren’t going to be won – or even survived – with an African-American or woman or gay or lesbian or whatever President. At this point We desperately need competence, not affirmative-action and “diversity” (about which more below) in Our ‘leadership’. So forget the ‘symbolic victories’ of electing whomever President and just try to find actual competence first.
Face it, the liberal-progressives are now fighting a war that has been overtaken by even more frakkulous events (events which – the hellhot ironies! – their own ‘wars’ helped to bring about). At this point, their ‘strategizing’ reminds me of nothing so much as Hitler poring over maps of the Western front in late 1944, planning his ‘masterstroke’ that would result in the Battle of the Bulge, while the Red Army is coming over the eastern borders and Germany’s resources and supplies are running out and her industrial capacity largely gone away.
The liberal-progessives emit a whiff of major un-seriousness in all this, and the worse things get, and the more they trumpet victories that bear no useful or positive relationship to the current mess, then the more un-serious they are going to appear and the more detached from actual national realities they are going to become.
“Minorities have now transcended racial identity politics.” But then, after noting a black as chairman of the Republican Party, he mentions “women” as CEOs and such. But THAT is a different Revolution altogether, and I don’t think Kuttner is so sloppy a writer or thinker as not to notice what he’s doing here. He’s shrewd enough to realize that he’d rather not emphasize that the liberal-progressive agenda for the past 2 and 4 decades has actually not simply waged a heroic struggle for ONE Revolutionary Identity, but for an entire storm of them (he’d prefer the term “rainbow” but it’s tooooooo nice, and too cleverly so).
But his point does confirm that the radical-feminist Revolution patterned itself after the template of the Civil Rights paradigm, especially in that second phase of the Civil Rights movement (post-1965 or so) where it really did style itself a 'Revolution' - having drunk too deeply of Franz Fanon's prescriptions for Third World native populations 'colonized' by imperialist oppressors and figuring that with a couple of word changes the whole scheme would be applicable in the United States as well. And, of course, the radical-feminists took Marx and simply substituted 'gender' for 'class', and took Fanon and simply substituted 'women' for 'oppressed Third World natives'. And it was all so Fresh! Cutting edge! Creative! Transgressive! Rich! And so forth.
It’s like setting out on an agenda of multiple wars simultaneously (by the oddest coincidence). Gerald Ford – who can be too surprised? – was grossly wrong when he burbled ingratiatingly in the 1976 Presidential campaign that America is a country that can handle a revolution – even many revolutions – all at the same time. Wheee! But he, the Republican candidate, was simply paying his compliment to the power of the liberal-progressive storm-stampede when he babbled it.
Kuttner tries to strike a balance in his assessment: “Yet the alarms about ‘interest-group liberalism’ were not entirely wrong”. Yes, liberalism is “most persuasive” as an ideology when “it offers broad benefits to all citizens, not just to aggrieved groups”.
Just so. But then, this whole idea of offering “benefits” is almost by definition going to lead to ‘pandering’, to ‘buying’ this or that group’s electoral loyalty by passing around government money like it was frosting slathered on a cake. (Which is going to present a huge conceptual and practical problem to the liberal-progressive Plan when the government (by the oddest coincidence) runs out of money and frosting.
And a Citizenry whose relationship to their government is largely defined by benefits-received instead of responsibilities-owed? And those responsibilities are not simply the ‘moral’ kind but the very vital and quintessentially American responsibility to GOVERN THE GOVERNMENT. And how can you as a Citizen do that if your relationship to the government is a frakkulent misch of Squalling Kid to Mommy or a Client to an all-powerful Patron? We are becoming a hash of Breakfast Table and Banana Republic.
And just how many Americans – if I might for a moment transcend the sad and frakkulous consequences of IP – are now better off for all this? Here, in 2010, I mean. (Let’s not even get into those White, Working, Macho Industrial Americans who were kicked to the curb starting in the 1970s (see the immediately previous Post)).
“Since 1990, particular movements demanding inclusion made great gains, but the general movement to harness capitalism and broaden prosperity has suffered terrible losses”. Yes, by the oddest coincidence. I can’t help but thinking that the Deconstructing of the ethos of productive national capacity and competence, abetted by the radical-feminist demand to Deconstruct the macho male industrial ethos, actually served as a cover for Wealth and the PAC-packing corporations to outsource the entire industrial infrastructure, undermining the gains Labor and Workers had made from 1900 to 1970 and ensuring that most Americans would wind up trying to make a living as short-order serfs. (See the immediately previous Post.)
He concludes by trying to spin “the out-groups that won major gains” as merely “impolite social movements”. Phooey. They were, whether all their little folks realized it or not, genuinely Revolutionary in their Methods and constituted a frakkingly overt effort to deploy Leninist vanguardism here in the United States under the guise of ‘liberation’ (just like Lenin used to say) and ‘progress’ (ditto).
And those ‘gains’ were not ‘won’, they were imposed – and by a frakkulent combination of political favoritism, manipulation of reality and public opinion, and stunningly inaccurate ‘science’ and predictive assessments. The TAP approach is to emphasize the ‘good intentions’ and marvelous ‘goals’, and then spin the results as mostly Good and vaguely ascribe the failures to their political enemies and to “backlash” – which is a sleazy gambit in the best of times, but under the present circumstances reveals itself (to many more than the liberal-progressives care to imagine) as the height of witless misfeasance or deliberate malfeasance.
He had opened this introductory piece with the assertion that “The magazine has rejected facile contrarianism in favor of extensive reporting and evidence”. I’m going with the thoughts that the magazine is a little too quick to dismiss grave concerns as “facile contrarianism” and that – as is so often the case with ‘reporting’ that also wants to be successfully ‘advocating’ – there is a certain fatal selectivity in the reporting and a certain shallowness to the evidence.
Then to Mark Schmitt’s article “Who Owns Freedom?”
He asks a refreshingly candid and verrrrry relevant question: “Do liberals take freedom, particularly civil liberties such as freedom of expression, seriously enough?”
The National Nanny State – which is what the government has morphed into under the urging of those who like to consider themselves Correct Liberals – cannot respect the full panoply of traditional civil liberties because by its very nature it is a Parent and everybody else are squalling kids who need to have their needs met though they have neither the maturity nor competence to effect their own solutions to what bothers them. (Carol Gilligan’s 1982 Breakfast Table image – Mommy dispensing whatever she feels is necessary to soothe various squalling tykes around the table according to her omnipotent and wise intuitions – is a recipe for self-destruction when applied to a Constitutional and democratic polity such as Ours.)
He sees the receding of robust civil-liberties as being “perhaps … a result of a backlash in the 1990s against ‘rights-based liberalism’”. Ovvvvvvv courssssssssse. What else could it have been? Could it have been prudent and sober citizens who weren’t quite sure how a Constitutionally limited government answerable to its Citizens could simultaneously meet – and by imposition – the numerous demands of this and that Revolution for a piece of the pie Right Now without radically un-balancing the Founders’ carefully crafted Constitutional machinery?
Or could it have been that a lot of folks might have intuited (like horses refusing to step on a rickety bridge) that what is essentially Leninst vanguardism has no respect for ‘the masses’ (formerly, in the United States, known as The People) because they just don’t get it and probably never will so they should just be led where it is Good and Right to go like witless cattle? (See a following TAP article below that makes precisely that assertion as indispensable to liberal-progressive dogma).
Schmitt tries hard here to conduct a sufficient inquiry without having to look at anything un-Correct. “Do we have the same commitment to the kind of rights that allow human creativity and political debate to flourish but might also lead to things we don’t like?”
But of course, Political Correctness (itself a Soviet term) is precisely intended to stifle or short-circuit any such “political debate” – and if the ‘debate’ is going to lead to or support or even justify opposition to the vanguard elite’s agendas, then naturally any good Revolutionary is going to suppress or deflect it. And if you can’t get away with sending unpleasant dissent to Siberia, or shooting same, then you can use Correctness so that the doubt will be cut off at its roots – in the minds of the population – such that few except the hardiest skeptics will even think there is any reason to dissent or doubt.
Having committed to what is in essence a form of Leninist vanguardism 40-plus years ago, liberal-progressives can’t honestly inquire now as to the state of civil rights. If the masses are – and they are, by definition – ignorant and ‘just don’t get it’, then it’s a waste of time and worse to listen to them, and if it’s not worth listening to them then why even let them speak in the first place? Such delay and obstruction will simply distract the energies of the Revolution(s) and postpone the Great Day of Perfect Fulfillment(s).
“Speech rights are not a privilege granted by the government only to individuals.” Newsflash: in the Framing Vision, rights are not granted by the government AT ALL. They are inherent in the dignity of the human being and as such are inalienably vested in the human being-citizen by natural law (if not also Divine law) and the government that has no right to subvert them and any regime that tries to do so hugely transgresses the limits of its authority and commits a profound treachery.
But this is not the cutting-edge ‘knowledge’ that informs current liberal-progressive dogma. And it couldn’t be, for what the liberal-progressives and the Nanny State want to do. Any natural-law thinking limits the government, and it was precisely the indispensable objective of the various Revolutions that government (once the Dems had signaled their willingness to support any Revolution pushed their way) must have total and complete authority to create rights and dispense them as it saw fit, and therefore any limit on that authority – by Natural Law or Divine Law or any Law that was Higher than the government itself had to be discredited and ignored.
The short term for this is Legal Positivism: a law’s authority stems solely from the power of the government that makes it . Which, if you stop to think of it, would justify Soviet and Nazi laws (Hitler, after all, became Chancellor legally) – since there would be no Higher Law of any sort that would justify interfering with a legitimate government. Funny how the night moves in legal and political philosophy.
And of course, to get rid of Natural Law you have to get rid of Nature – which is precisely what the radical-feminist Revolution had to do in order to sidestep arguments about the ‘nature’ of the female – you have to get rid of Nature (and – amazingly – Evolution). And to get rid of the obstructive and limiting power of Divine Law – which is what that same Revolution had to do to clear the path, conceptually anyway – for abortion: you had to get discredit God (or at least ‘religion’).
But THAT leaves humans pretty much on their own as a species, trapped in a two-dimensional existence with no working Vertical or Beyond. But THAT’S OK because, in the liberal-progressive view, THE GOVERNMENT is there to meet all your needs and make all the troubles of life go away.
And they wonder why so many folks haven’t bought into their program over the past Biblical 40 years?
Schmitt concludes by urging “a robust progressive conception of freedom” that is centered on “a guarantee of sufficient economic resources for everyone to fully participate in society and realize his or her own aspirations”. He continues: “This creative argument restores the third of Franklin Roosevelt’s Four Freedoms – freedom from want – to its rightful place and thus rewrites the progressive mission of economic fairness as part of the quest for greater individual freedom”.
Yes but really no, not at all.
FDR’s Four Freedoms were enunciated in January, 1941 – and he was giving voice to a deeply wished-for world, and also trying to occupy an indisputable and indubitable and inspiring high ground in his efforts to prepare the American people for entry (somehow) into World War 2.
BUT he was not enunciating a philosophy of government, since while it is one thing to guarantee that a government will not itself deny rights of free speech and of religion, thus binding itself to limit its interference in those areas, it is something else altogether for an earthly government to guarantee that it will ensure the 3rd and 4th ‘freedoms’ – freedom from want and freedom from fear’.
The only power an earthly government would have in regard to the 3rd and 4th ‘freedoms’ is that the government might bind itself by promising not, through its own action, to create ‘want’ and ‘fear’ (by raising up famines and police-torture as national policy, say). BUT no earthly government can promise to remove all ‘want’ and all ‘fear’ from the lives of human beings, even when those human beings are its own citizens. No earthly government can make such a guarantee or promise because no earthly government can possibly muster the wisdom and power to fulfill such a promise and such a self-assumed obligation or ‘mission’.
And certainly no Constitutionally limited government can undertake to make or fulfill such promises.
NOR do the liberal-progressives and the ideologues of their Revolutions solve this profound problem by simply declaring that there is for all practical, human, and governmental purposes no Higher dimension, no Beyond, no God.
First of all, it is a hypothesis gravely in need of proof that no such entities or dimensions exist; so to embark upon a huge governmental change on the basis of an unproven hypothesis is – at the very best – highly imprudent.
Second, it runs counter to the deeply held tendencies demonstrated by most of the human species since the beginning of recorded human experience – thus suggesting an ineradicable human tendency, if not also suggesting that somehow most humans sense – and accurately – that such things and entities exist.
And third, it commits the American government (and the liberal-progressives) to a world-view that ignores the deepest assumptions of the Framing generation, assumptions about the nature of reality that are as fundamental to the stability of the traditional American Constitutional structure as a huge building’s foundations are dependent upon the bedrock in which they are sunk (if the bedrock suddenly turns to swampy mush, even though you can’t see it from the street, the building’s stability is lethally compromised).
So I am not here making the argument from religion that to deny God’s existence is to be anti-Constitutional and anti-Founding. I am insisting, rather, that simply (but profoundly) as a matter of the architectural dynamics of maintaining a government structure, you can’t wish-away or factor-out the bedrock ground of the structure’s foundations without endangering lethally the continued stability of the entire structure erected upon that bedrock.
And as always, since the Boomers’ heyday in the late 1960s, you must always be careful whenever anybody tosses out the word “creative” – it’s as frakkulently mushy as its chronological sibling “groovy”. Ditto, coming up to the 1990s, any use of the word “rich”.
I’d add here that in my ongoing – if sporadic – series of Posts on current liberal-progressive legal philosophy maven Martha Nussbaum, this is precisely her approach – building on the same vague but good intentions as the Four Freedoms – that government must take over the work of Divine Providence and not only erase ‘want’ and ‘fear’ but also to do so because such guarantees – so to speak – are not only benevolent wishes but are claimed to be Constitutional rights that the US government absolutely must ensure, and with no delays for debate, deliberation, or Tire-Kicking of any sort (in Correct dogma, Tire-Kicking is merely a form of ‘blaming the victim’).
And such an assertion is a guaranteed recipe for not only a Nanny State but a Despotism (and don’t tell me that there is such a thing as a government that will reliably remain a Benevolent Despotism – and that’s something the Framers saw even in their own benighted, oppressive, patriarchal era).
And notice how a liberal-progressive and happily ‘secular’ worldview, having dispensed with ‘God’, then quickly raises up ‘government’ for all practical purposes to take the former or late Deity’s place .This is an idolatry of government that the Framers precisely sought to avoid.
Ditto, such a divinization of government (which is where the liberal-progressive-secular Vision inevitably leads) makes the Citizenry nothing more than ‘worshippers’, and totally dependent upon this ‘god’. And THAT is even worse than Gilligan’s Mommy presiding over her Table, which reduces the Citizenry to a bunch of unripe, squalling babies.
Nor can Schmitt escape from this mess by claiming that what he’s proposing is nothing more than a “redefinition of freedom as economic fairness, in keeping with the evolution of the meaning of ‘liberalism’ from John Locke’s minimal state to the modern, supportive government”.
First of all, and again, you are not well-advised to ‘redefine’ ‘freedom’ without a whole whole lotta serious thought – AND informed public deliberation.
Second, ‘economic fairness’ sounds nice, but as I’ve said, the Four-Freedoms approach , while marvelous as a human hope, won’t and can’t work as a governmental policy – AND MOST CERTAINLY won’t and can’t work as a philosophy of government – not anywhere, but certainly not in the United States system as constituted.
Schmitt verrrry slyly tries to get around THAT by what I believe is current Beltway and liberal-progressive cocktail wisdom: John Locke (a major though not the only influence upon the Framers) is ‘old’ and we now know so much more than he did. Yah.
And the clincher is that Schmitt tries to sneak Our present engorged monstrosity of a Beltway ‘government’ by Us as merely being “supportive”. This is a variation on the Benevolent Despot theme: it’s big, verrrry much so, but reeeeeely reeeeeeely ‘nice’ and ‘sensitive’ and wouldn’t think of interfering with the Citizenry … any more, of course, than it ‘has to’. But that’s where ALL despotisms quickly change their happy-face into some other visage altogether. A government committed to “robustly” bringing about FDR’s 3rd and 4th ‘Freedoms’ is going to have to be a hell of a lot more than “supportive” – it is going to have to terraform human existence in a ways not seen since Lenin and Stalin and Mao were in their heyday. (Very much like – by the oddest coincidence – the U.S. government is now trying to do in the Greater Southwest Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere even as I write these words.)
As if on cue, Kevin Mattson follows with an article urging Us to “Forget Populism”.
“Liberals … have to worry about governing – and nurturing the semblance of rational dialogue that governing requires”. Ah, the committed elite’s travails never end. Although it’s something of a Freudian slip, I think. Because one of the most corrosive procedural frakkeries of the Age of the Revolutions of the Identities is precisely that rational dialogue had to be prevented. It had to be prevented in the second place because it was ‘too slow’ a process to address the urgent ‘emergencies’ and ‘outrages’ that were the Necessary Urgencies that had to be solved immediately; and because a wide public deliberation could lead to a wide public discovery that beneath all these agendas were lots of good-enough intentions and impressive hopes, but damned little coherent and sober thought; and because THAT discovery could lead not only to wide public rejection but also wide public disrespect of the folks who tried to sell these agendas.
And in the first place, because The People, being really just the masses who just don’t get it, were not worth all that effort and risk anyway.
Especially when the Dems (later both Parties) came to the conclusion that it was necessary for their political advantage that these new Identies be raised up – and quickly – as reliable voting blocs AND that in the process the entire populace be gotten into the habit of not-questioning what was going on, or why, or how.
Because if you could control the Beltway pols, then you could control the national political agenda, and without all the messy spade work of building a public consensus from the bottom up. Instead you could get your political indentured-servants to impose it from the top-down. And as We know, the Beltway pols were eager to be ‘controlled’, so desperate they were and are for electoral viability first, last, and always.
So rational dialogue was too risky a Method for too little certainty of gain (indeed, probably just the opposite: a near-certainty of public rejection); and the Betlway pols were willing to turn over the shop to the Identities anyway, having quietly decided that if the civil rights legislation killed the Southern component of FDR’s New Deal Democratic electoral coalition, then the evolving and recovering world economies would kill off the Northern component: the white, industrial, working, ‘male’ ethos, comprised of those dinosaurs, the ‘dominant culture’ of Working folk, whom Wealth as well as the Women’s Movement wanted to wreck and replace.
And, it must be said, so it has come to pass.
But of course, really, this whole idea of ‘Revolution’ contains the answer that, like the proverbial elephant, is in the middle of the room but not being noticed: this past 40 frakkulent years – with all its wrack and ruin, no matter how positively spun – hasn’t been about sifting facts to achieve the best course of action, at all. It’s been about simply beheading the culture and ethos and infrastructure of the so-called ‘dominant majority’ and then replacing it with the head of the subordinate minority multi-cultures– whether it was a good idea, or a workable idea, or not. It has been not an exercise in sober and serious governance, but rather a revolutionary-style grab for power and control, achieved using all the old scams and gambits and scambits of Lenin, and Stalin, and Mao, buttressed as well by the SNCC's ill-advised infatuation with Franz Fanon's 'therapeutic revolutionary violence' against 'colonial oppressors' which that self-destructive group sought to apply to the domestic United States, although Fanon himself saw such a gambit as inapplicable.
And – by the oddest coincidence – when the culture and ethos that had proven itself by achieving the greatest level of prosperity for its civilization in national and world history was kicked to the curb to make way for the Revolutions of the Identities, with their Deconstruction and deceptive ‘victories’ for diversity and demasculinazation and what-have-you … the whole Achievement goes away, politically, economically, and – face it – militarily, and on top of that, the country is now governed by an ethos and populated largely by persons whose only response to any difficulty is to look to the government.
This is not a ‘supportive’ government; this is an infantilizing and addictive government.
And the Dems, being desperate there starting in the mid-1960s, were the homeowners who invited these vampires in through the front door … and the home into which they invited the head-hunting creatures was – wait for it – Capitol Hill. Or, if you wish, the National Home and Hearth.
Hence, when he says “a semblance of rational dialogue” he’s admitting more than he wants to: the whole object was to undermine rationality and genuine deliberative dialogue, because such dialogue clearly would have exposed the weaknesses in the essentials of all the agendas. Instead, the substance of mature and competent civic examination and deliberation was corroded and replaced by immature and cartoonish processes more appropriate to children than to mature adults.
So Mattson is against “populism” – against an appeal to the populace, the Citizenry, the people, The People.
Entering into any sort of transaction with the above-mentioned requires “pandering and over-promising rhetoric, prone to outlandish promises that generate disillusionment in the face of the reality of political compromise and the demands of governing in a complex world”. Which, it seems to me, is a perfect confession of precisely what the liberal-progressives and their Revolutions of the Identities were trying to do to the little people they sought to entice. The Pot not only calling the Kettle black, but for the very thing that the Pot itself was trying to do.
“Like it or not”, he says, “since the 1960s populism has steadily become the property of the right, precisely because it is dramatic and simplistic in its world-view”. Uh-huh. You don’t have to embrace the whackeries of religious Fundamentalism to think that life according to the Lifetime Channel and the assorted victim-mongering cartoons of half-a-thousand initiatives, and the police-state frakkeries of ‘governance feminism’s’ greatest ‘successes’, are more than enough to convince people that the liberal-progressives are not interested in all the people, or in The People.
And then he says it straight out: “Populism’s … philosophical premise, if it can be said to have one, is that ‘the people’ are the embodiment of virtue, uncorrupted by power and wealth the way elites are”.
Mah, mah mah. This is why I like this mag: every once in a while you can find out what this bunch is really thinking. The heart of the ‘American Experiment’, and the reason the Founders called it that, was that nobody in history had ever trusted that ‘people’ could function as The People: that they could somehow reliably if not perfectly govern themselves by governing their government.
THIS was the great uncertainty even among the Framers themselves; throughout the Constitutional Convention and the lead-up to it, the struggle was between those who didn’t truth ‘people’ in their generality, and those who felt that somehow ‘people’ could find within themselves the civic maturity and competence to sustain their common identity (and vital role in the Constitutional vision) as The People.
The liberal-progressives – to some extent like the actual early 20th century Progressives themselves – don’t think ‘people’ can do that. And in THAT presumption the Progressives and the current liberal-progressives were in unacknowledged, perhaps unrealized, agreement with the Revolutionary cadres of Leninist vanguardism: only the elite cadres who ‘get it’ have the right and authority to ‘lead’. And they will lead the benighted, lumpish masses to a liberating paradise on earth if they are simply allowed to get on with their work and the lumps do what they’re told and stampede where they’re aimed.
And now – having reduced through cartoonish thinking and manipulated stampedes the civic competence of the Citizenry and having imported wayyyy too many folks who were unfamiliar with the American Experiment (that Experiment which differs hugely from Teddy Kennedy’s famous “Dream”) and who have been told by Multiculturalism that the Experiment isn’t worth assimilating into in the first place – the liberal-progressive elites poke fun at the helpless and dependent lumps they have so largely created and the ‘liberated’ herds of ‘victims’ and ‘the oppressed’ whom they have assembled into a ‘liberated’ herd obedient to their word.
No wonder that by 2001 Bush-Cheney figured that the Constitutional ethos was “quaint” and wasn’t worth more than a shallow and cynical lip-service … they’d been watching all that go on, from the Left, for decades. Oy.
What justification do the liberal-progressives offer for their abandonment of the whole Experiment? Because, as Mattson sneers, even Jimmy Carter backed away from his respect for making “a government as good as its people” when he “discovered that people were beating up pregnant women waiting in line to pump gas in 1979”.
In other words, since the Experiment wasn’t perfect (and who with any knowledge of human imperfection could even or ever imagine that anything human could be perfect?), then it can safely and rightly be abandoned.
And so it has been.
And once again, take a look at this ‘story’ from 1979: on the basis of such isolated glimpses of humans at their less impressive, the Revolutions have claimed that ALL people and the ethos that trained them are incapable of acting maturely and decently and therefore the elite cadres of the Revolution are justified in imposing their Great and Good Agendas without further questions being asked.
But this is cartoonish ‘thinking’. And either the liberal-progressive approach is cartoonish at its core, or else this type of excuse was merely a rhetorical ploy, cutesey word-games, to justify the power-play that the liberal-progressives and their cadres and their Democratic (and then bipartisan) enablers wanted to pull off anyway.
“Liberalism, however, doesn’t assume that people are automatically virtuous.” Who but maybe Frank Capra and John Steinbeck ever thought they were? Surely not the Framers. Surely not genuine 'conservatives'.
And if ‘people’ are not automatically virtuous, and liberal-progressive cadres are people, then …. ?
“[Liberalism] suggests that people need to become more than what they are.” Yah. And of course, somebody has to lead them, or push them, or drag them, or stampede them, or force them – whereupon, enter Lenin and Stalin and Mao.
Given liberal-progressivism’s ‘secular’ bent, I’d like to point out that in the best Catholic theology God does not insist or impose but rather invites humans to greater levels of maturity. God does not view folks as ‘the masses’.
And the impositions of such Content by the Methods of Revolutionary manipulation and force are a hell of a lot more than ‘suggestion’ (And relevant here is radical-feminism’s profound dependence – noted decades ago by such capable moderate feminist thinkers as Elshtain and Sommers among others – on using the criminal law as well as government authority to impose their agendas).
Indeed, in another article in this issue of TAP (see below) one supporter of Identity Politics will openly crow about the need for ‘political power’ to force the agendas.
“Once America moved from being a small rural society to an industrial and then a post-industrial high-tech society, populism veered rightward.”
Soooo … respect for The People (or the capacity of ‘people’ to be The People) became quaint by operation of History and the liberal-progressives are merely responding to that Historical Necessity.
And as ‘people’ saw their jobs being outsourced even as their ethos of productive industry was derided as ‘macho’ and ‘oppressive’ and ‘unjust’ and (fill in the blank), and they sensed that the Democrats and the Left were somehow enabling all this, they “veered” toward the Republicans (the only other option in a rigidly two-party system). And THIS somehow ‘proves’ that ‘people’ now deserve whatever they get?
And of course what they are doomed to get now is a future of soft-serve serfdom.
So I am thinking that liberal-progressivism really and truly has no use for the American Experiment or for The People. BUT it can’t come right out and say that, and so We have the weird and queasy national discourse these days, where everybody is officially trying to do the Best Thing and yet nothing works to restore the health and integrity of things.
AND that soft-serve, burger-flipping, indentured serfdom is the fate that now awaits all the ‘minorities’ who have been liberated from all their ‘oppressions’ by the liberal-progressives. Only Wealth is going to survive well – and that is a story as old as human history itself. The liberal-progressives, it turns out, have delivered the United States into a paradise that turns out to be the old historical hell-on-earth; and they have done this by Deconstructing one of the most remarkable (though hardly perfect) levels of societal economic achievement that the world has ever seen. (Or do you think that ‘minorities’ have joined the Wealthy in the inner circle of earthly-paradise while only the ‘dominant’, now ‘devalorized’ and Deconstructed ‘white, industrial, male working class’ is going to suffer (justly, of course) the hell of being on the bottom?)
Thus on to Paul Starr’s article, “American Prospects: America’s 20-Year Tug of War”.
Again with the 20 years thing.
Although he has rarely if ever met a liberal-progressive anything that he didn’t like, Starr amazingly observes that on top of “symbolizing a historic break in his very person” (Obama being black and president and all), everyone expected him to do something about “the possibility of transcending the bitter partisan divisions in domestic politics”.
Which presumably exist because they were the intended and deliberate consequences of Identity Politics – which has as its goal the zero-sum dimunition of any common American identity based on the pilgrim path to a common-weal, in favor of a sharp increase and intensification of the us-vs-them resentment that would necessarily fuel a desire for … Identity Politics. A perfect self-licking ice cream cone! Forty Biblical years of it.
With sublime lack of irony, Starr sighs authoritatively that nobody could have solved all THAT in just 2 years,; “we cannot escape from recent history as if it were merely a bad dream”. The gentleman, as they say, ain’t just whistlin’ Dixie! We aren’t escaping from the past Biblical 40 years any time soon, nor Our children nor Our children’s children.
He notes, accurately, I would say, that “extreme swings in sentiment about their leaders have become so common among Americans now”. Yes they have. And this is symptomatic of two things above all else, I would say: first, that in the absence of ANY substantive and thus sustained position by either Party, which is itself a consequence of the Revolutions’ insistence that no ‘abstractions’ can be allowed to limit or hinder whatever opportunity arises at any given moment, then the voters are sensing – again like horses on a rickety and dangerous bridge – a queasy unreliability in what may appear to be or can be expected to be a reliably authoritative and capable structure of national purpose and vision and plan.
But there is no such thing. Like the Israeli realm – again, by the oddest coincidence – the liberal-progressives are stuck in a dilemma: they can’t make definitive statements without admitting that their actual intentions and objectives are hell-and-gone from what they say in front of the cameras; and yet by not making definitive commitments and statements, they appear not to have a reliable and concrete plan.
Surely the Beltway doesn’t think that you can get away with this sort of thing? Or that you can do it for decades and not have folks catch on? But then, since they’ve also been rather successful in dumbing-down, in cartoonizing, American public discourse and civic competence, perhaps they figure they can keep it up until they retire and get out of town. Most impressive. Somebody has taught them well – and it wasn’t Obi-Wan.
Second, that such extremes represent not only the derangement and debasement of politics but also of the political competence, and indeed of the personal and individual maturity, of Americans. There are too many now who are like batteries that cannot hold a charge and must be continuously plugged into a wall outlet; or who are like compasses that cannot find, much less hold onto, true North.
And there is no way in hell anyone can argue that the past 40 years’ worth of de-valorizing and Deconstructing Capital letter words and concepts like Maturity, Character, Adulthood, Authority, Virtue, Excellence, Self-Mastery, Reason, Truth, Objectivity, and Reality haven’t played a part. And Flattening human existence into the dark, iron-hard ice-cold and flame-hot but ephemeral two-dimensional pagan cartoon from which, only after unspeakable sufferings and travails, humanity had emerged a few millennia before.
Well, thinks Starr, “most Americans are nervous about change”. Actually, most humans are – it’s built into the species. Once you’ve got things on some sort of even keel, you want to be careful about making sudden changes. Or profound changes. Or changes that require a lot of destruction (or deconstruction). Or a lot of such changes all at once. Or changes that will be sudden, profound, destructive and deconstructive, and uncontrollably multiple and multiform and simultaneous.
It’s natural – you could say an evolved trait in humans – to be wary of change and to want to Kick some Tire. NOT because you’re ‘entrenched’ and don’t want to give up your ‘privileged position’ but simply because humans have learned to be cautious over the course of their relatively brief sojurn in existence.
‘Backlash’ and ‘ulterior motives’ in the now-classic sense are hardly the ultimate or even primary explanations for hesitation and doubt in the face of change.
Lenin and Mao saw that: why do you think they realized from the outset that Terror, ruthlessly and liberally (so to speak) applied, was going to be necessary to effect their Revolutionary changes and worldview? Because they realized that any agglomeration of human is going to be predominantly cautious and skeptical in the face of change. And you will have to override that innate human species’ safety mechanism through force or – if you must – the most cynical and exquisite manipulation of emotions and the undermining of rational analysis and careful, prudent deliberation.
“Twenty years ago – that happens to be when we started ‘The American Prospect’ – there were legitimate grounds for believing that the United States was on the cusp of a new liberal era.” Well, I was there then and I think not; long before 1990 it had become clear to un-Correct eyes that there were monstrous and lethally dangerous problems with both the Content and Method of ‘liberalism’ as it had devolved to that point in time.
The only things that changed in the early 1990s were first, that the USSR (built on Lenin’s interpretations of Marx, from which gentlemen the Revolutions of the Identities had copiously copied) was getting ready to implode under the weight of its quintessential deformities, and that the USA was at a crossroads: it could take the money saved from Cold War rivalry and start to stanch the slide of American financial and productive (not re-productive) health, or it could decide to turn itself into the USSA, replacing and trying to surpass the Soviet monstrosity as World-Revolutionary Hegemon.
And in the event that choice was obscenely wrongly made.
Second, there was the Clinton Administration, and the only real promise there was that the liberal-progressives (known back then merely as ‘liberals’ since they hadn’t wrecked the term with their oh-so-publicly and unspinnably frakkulous dampdreams) would now have ‘their own’ Administration, in which Bill was even sensitive enough to accept Hillary as a totally-equal co-President, which was as it should be, in the eyes of the faithful. (And sure enough, the frakkulent parade of ‘governance feminism’ regimes began, not so much because it was an idea whose time had come, as it was a scambit whose Enabler had taken office.)
And one of Clinton’s shrewd plays was to pander to the radical-feminst Left’s demand for Deconstruction of white, macho, industrial working class culture by allowing Wealth to outsource the industrial capability that supported it, and thereby undo almost a century of gains of Labor and Workers.
And meanwhile to also welcome anybody into the country who wouldn’t remember what had been, and would be grateful just for being here. And would remember which Party was in power that brought them in.
A brilliant scheme! And only that.
On to Ann Friedman, whose piece is “All Politics is Identity Politics”.
She sets up Michael Lind who had written an article for TAP in 2004 arguing that “the Democratic Party should attempt to disassociate itself from ‘identity-politics groups … and economic-interest groups like unions’ and instead organize itself by geography”.
Lind is no dummy. He may well have seen that the core result of the core dynamic of Identity Politics [IP] was to set the nation against itself, dividing the Citizenry up into fractious fractals, each of whom had to have an initiating and mobilizing Outrage and, therefore, a Necessary Enemy (although by common arrangement, that Enemy would be common to all of them, by virtue of their all being ‘minority’ and therefore oppressed: the White Male Industrial Working folk (male and female) would be the ‘dominant’ and therefore oppressing Enemy, who knew they were and were by definition deliberately seeking to keep everybody else down.
Meanwhile, the Wealthy – the historic predator class in human history – got a free pass: many of them were eagerly pouring cash into the Clintonian coffers in the 1990s, and since fake-wealth in the form of Bubble-based credit was flowing like cheap champagne in the early 2000s, then ‘being wealthy’ – as Gordon Gekko had implied in the early Reagan 1980s – was Good and lotsa otherwise little people were leasing reely nice vehicles and living large.
At this point, I can only wonder what would happen if the currency collapses and a political crisis is thereby spawned: how would a secession (based not on political reasons but on reasons of economic necessity and survival in the face of a now cashless central government) work? In 1860 there was a convenient concentration of political secessionists in the South and then there was the North. But now, after IP? Will ‘minorities’ secede? How? Will ‘women’ secede? How would that work out on the ground? Will all the minorities move to one section and all the ‘dominants’ to another – as happened when Pakistan was erected to accept the Moslems from newly-independent India and Hindus in the newly erected Pakistan had to move into India? And what about ‘minority Identities’ that don’t want to live on the same turf as other ‘minority Identities’? Ach. A lethal kaleidoscope of fractally fractious factions.
Anyhoo, Friedman is taking a stand for IP and shame on all who think ill of it.
And in best TAP fashion, she reveals a revelation: for years it has been recognized African-Americans (oops, no hyphen there – I must not have gotten that Memo), Hispanics, and Asians “are the most reliable Democratic voters”.
So there it is. The Democratic plan – never revealed as such – of 40-plus years ago was indeed to abandon the Northern and Northeaster Industrial workers, as well as ‘white’, as well as ‘mehhhn’, and pursue electoral viability by raising up whole masses of new voter-Identities. And whatever had to be done to American society and culture (and – oy gevalt! – industrial productivity) in order to make and keep that electoral viability would be done, and a Correct, positive spin put on it all. Fresh! Transgressive! Creative! Rich! Totally autonomous!
So now, the Party, she says, has a “nonwhite base”. (Oddly, she doesn’t say ‘female’ or ‘women’s’ base.) But of course, that means ‘minority’ by definition, and thus everyone is mostly dependent on the government either for entitlement or the enforcement of ‘opportunity’. And that government may soon run out of or greatly devalue its cash, perhaps in the midst of a “double dip recession”.
“Racial and ethnic minorities” are “the single strongest element of the progressive coalition … followed by single, working, and highly educated women.” And all dependent on the government’s authority, which is based on its eternal free-flow of cash, which is – as aforementioned – hugely at risk of substantial implosion.
And that particular slice of Chardonnay-swilling womanhood (Ms. Friedman among them) represents a verrrry thin slice of all the females in the country, many of whom are struggling with a ‘liberation’ that has seen them cast out into a hard and difficult world (where, they had been told, males had been secretly having all the fun; perhaps when the males left they took the fun with them, leaving only the acid drudgery of work, responsibility, and the unending pressure of anxiety about the future).
But she’s mostly concerned with the next election – which is another alarming hallmark of the Revolutions. Having created ‘change’ far beyond their dreams, although catastrophically negative, they can now do nothing but pretend that if they can just win the next election then everything will be OK … somehow. I don’t think that’s really much of a plan at this point.
This unsinkable ship has hit a berg and ripped herself open. Reformers’ concerns over the re-distribution of hull-space to 3rd class as opposed to 2nd class and the quality of meals in 3rd class … are no longer the primary drama available aboard. (1st class, of course, never permits its interests to be put on any reforming agenda – 3rd class is welcome to the 1st class lounge and saloon after the bedizened and the Beautiful have transferred themselves to the boats.)
The liberal-progressives are still Partying – if I may – like it’s 1999; that is to say, as if We haven’t recently run Our allegedly unsinkable ship into the fatal berg. Curious that the Boomers and liberal-progressives have this second point in common with the Fundamentalists: they think that the Universe is committed to keeping the United States going forever. (The first point in common is that thing about Evolution: to the extent that it suggests that the female of the species is kind of wired for the necessary and sustained nurture of the long-developing human young, then the liberal-progressive feministicals are agin’ it.)
“Progressives love identity at the voting-booth – it’s how we knew our long-awaited majority was going to emerge”. And is that working for Us?
“Calls to reject identity and adopt a ‘greater good’ approach never make clear who defines that greater good.”
The first thing to note is that Friedman reveals the revelation that IP is the antithesis of any sense of ‘the greater good’ or – more clearly, I would say – the ‘common good’. Or perhaps she would prefer: ‘the common good’ is, alas, collateral damage but constitutes an acceptable loss. If so, I think not.
The second point is that this question of Who Defines is a perfectly predictable and foreseen problem in the Constitutional vision and its system: individuals get the vote (blacks after the Civil War, women in 1920) and they also get freedom of speech (although it took until 1965 to clear away Jim Crow in the South).
Folks are then free to get together and develop their ideas – and then they are free to try to convince a critical mass of other Citizens. That provides, among other things, a sort of natural political filtration system: ideas moving along are refinied or changed in the interests of making them politically workable.
What happened in the Revolutions of the Identities, in the late 1960s and since, was a form of ‘stove-piping’ (just like what happened to ‘intelligence’ during the run-up to the Iraq invasion on the grounds of ‘WMDs’, by the oddest coincidence): rather than proceed through a process of filtration, the politicians at the top simply hovered up selectively whatever ‘intelligence’ supported what they really wanted to do regardless of whether it was accurately based or not.
Thus the Era of Identity Politics and liberal-progressive ‘success’, and thus also the Iraq War (and indirectly, the current Af-Pak fiasco, which may or may not be joined by some whackulent and fatal war with Iran). Funny how the Beltway night moves.
American women had had the vote since 1920. Rather than consider the possibility that the lack of any major ‘change’ with the ensuing 40 years, such as the Second-Wave feminists demanded for themselves in the 1960s, had something to do with the oddness of their agendas or the huge risks involved in trying to implement them, the eager and brassy radical-feminists (surpassing by far the revolutionary and separatist black-power revolutionaries) made the most of the Dems’ desperation in the late 1960s and claimed that the whole thing absolutely MUST be the result of a gender-version of Jim Crow whereby all the males in the country (and in the world, and in world history) had been conspirng like the fabulous and fabled Illuminati to keep all the good stuff for themselves at the expense of the females.
Why this had not been obvious to generations of women earlier, such that they would have easily and clearly seen the need for action, is not something that the cadres wanted folks to stop and think about. Better a stampede of outrage strategically aimed at the failing force-fields surrounding the Dems upon the Hill.
But the success of Identity Politics – such as it has been – is nowadays hugely and shrewdly mis-defined. Unlike the battle of Jericho, the Capitol’s walls did not come tumbling down – the Dems opened up the gates gladly and eagerly to welcome the new arrivals, quietly determined to kick out whomever they had to in order to make room for the newly valorized arrivals.
Give this a moment’s thought: it is not in the Dems’ or now the Beltway’s interest to be considered ‘traitors in a good cause’: that they sold out American culture and the Constitutional ethos itself to the seemingly vote-rich Revolutions of the Identities. So they let the cadres of those Revolutions and of IP and of Diversity and all the rest take the credit and let them claim that it was on the basis of those agendas’ marvelous and undeniable rightness that they got so far in so short a time.
But really, if you examine these agendas and the assumptions behind and beneath them, it’s clear that the whole bunch was a dubious hash of presumptions and selectively culled half-facts and factioids and ridiculously best-case visions of Paradise on Earth … most of which, if submitted to proper filtration, would have wound up in the far corner of the faculty dining room reserved for the queasily wild-eyed.
EXCEPT THAT the Beltway, led at first by the Dems, quickly opened the gates and let them all flood in; ‘stovepiping’ their frakkulent assertions into national policy (just as, by the oddest coincidence, Bush-Cheney then deployed their own version of stovepiping in order to ‘justify’ the preventive-war invasion of Iraq).
Like so much else of the liberal-progressive chronicle of success, these ‘victories’ depended not so much on the worth and quality of the agendas espoused, nor on the steely chops of the advocates of those agenda, but on the eagerness of the Beltway pols to pander to whatever could be decently wrapped in enough high-flown words from enough ‘elite experts’ so as to create an aura of True Worth and Inevitability around whatever demand they chose to cave-in to, no matter how incoherent or potentially dangerous to the common-weal of the nation it was (by the oddest coincidence, much like what happened with the Iraq War).
Thus she is not accurate and perhaps not honest when she asks whether LBJ would have ever exerted himself to get the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts passed AND SIGNED BY HIMSELF without “pressure” from assorted groups like the SNCC, the NAACP, and others such “racial pressure groups”.
LBJ always wanted to improve the lot of little people. The Great Society was not something imposed upon him; he honestly wanted to use his Presidency to do good and great things (and still screwed up bigtime, in case you might think that lots of political chops and a nice address in the D.C. area guarantee competence and wisdom).
Indeed, after IP pressure groups forced him to back away from the Moynihan Report (which, as is now clear, was accurate in its warnings), and then as those pressure-groups turned to the separatist, revolutionary urgings of SNCC and the Black Panthers, IP actually forced LBJ away from further pursuit of this element of his Great Society vision.
BUT I DO think that where IP and pressure groups really have an influence is in pushing legitimately hesitant and doubtful pols into backing incoherent or ill-conceived or poorly thought-out agendas that are placed before them as a demand. And someday in the future, when today’s Correctness is no more, I expect that competent scholarship will actually be free enough to examine some of the currently trumpeted ‘successes’ and assess them in terms not only of subsequent results and consequences, but also in terms of the incoherences and outright whackeries that were in the plans themselves at the outset.
In the same vein, she asks rhetorically if the government still wouldn’t be “denying the existence of AIDS” “if it weren’t for the gay rights movement?” I recall that it was the gay-rights movement that initially didn’t want to have the matter discussed because it was precisely the whackulent ‘total sexual freedom as expression of self and highest form of experiencing life’ approach which had contributed to the misadventures of Patient Zero in the first place: an airline steward, he had had sex with some form of ape or monkey in Africa, returned to the United States, and through further liberating sexual self-expression set the catastrophe on its course here, soon amplified by the aforementioned philosophical dogma of the movement.
When the disease could no longer be denied, and it had progressed through drug usage even into the infant children of drug users, references began to be made to “the innocent victims of AIDS”, referring to the children. At which point the PR folks did some shrewd thinking and came up with a demand that the government stop referring to such “innocent victims” and simply start referring to all sufferers as just plain “victims”, as if they had been, say, caught unawares in a freak tornado on an Oklahoma highway.
Like sooooo many other frakkeries induced by the liberal-progressive agenda (under-parented children, for one glaring example), AIDS was spun as something that ‘just sorta happens’ to some folks, and no further questions please – nor is it permitted to Kick any Tires (which would be doubting or re-victimizing or blaming the victim).
And again, IP was fatally infected by the SNCC's late-1960s presumption that Franz Fanon's disturbingly violent and divisive analysis of the options open to oppressed colonial peoples in Third World countries could easily and usefully be applied to the United States.
We were to simply buy this highly dubious fleet of liberal-progressive vehicles, and expensive they were, and dangerous … without any Kicking of any Tire whatsoever (such skepticism was simply ‘backlash’ anyway). Frankly, it seems – by the oddest coincidence – the way the Beltway blew Our tax money on hugely ill-conceived weapons systems in order to please their Rightist defense-industry benefactors.
I can’t quite see an impressive upside here, although the influence of IP, under if not above the table, does seem clear enough.
Then, in a stunning line, she asserts that “the common good is a laudable goal, but asking progressives to subsume their identities and interests is not the way to achieve it”.
Again, the revealed revelation is that there is some antithetical space – perhaps profound – between ‘the common weal’ and IP, and that all ‘progressives’ (all those minorities, theoretically at least, and the feminists of the Chardonnay Corps) are by definition members of this or that Identity.
As I have often said, this raises hell with any chance for any primary sense of a common American identity or national identity, or – for that matter – even a human identity. This greatly weakens the polity and the common-weal, and also heads toward what James Petras, in a recent article to which I have linked in the immediately previous Post, refers to as a new form of “barbarism”.
And neither Petras nor I use that term lightly or in some shock-value rhetorical or agitprop sense. What is meant is that IP in this regard heralds a return to a tribalism beyond which Western civilization and culture had grown – at great cost – more than two millennia ago. Like so much of the liberal-progressive agenda (I have referred specifically to matters of Law in earlier Posts) the demanded ‘change’ and ‘reform’ and ‘progress’ actually represents a clear regression, culturally and politically. And a regression back to a truly less advanced and more primitive time and usage and worldview.
In so many grave respects I really don’t see the progress in ‘progressive’. It has some very worthy observations about the imperfections of life, and some lovely hopes for how it all might be different. But, tinged with a pervasive hostility and suspicion imbibed with the rest of the Marxist-Leninist milk upon which it conceptually nurtured itself, it offers only a regression to tribalism and non-rational, lock-step groupthink, imposed upon ‘people’ for whom it entertains no actual respect, Flattening the human horizon even as it leads to a Flattened and shrunken future that is bound to fail the human need for Meaning. You can’t keep a Constitutional Republic and a democratic polity as envisioned in the best of the Framers’ Vision this way.
She concludes by proudly declaring that she was a feminist before she was a liberal. Which means, it must be said, that liberalism came to feminism. Which, I would say, is part of the long decline of Liberalism into ‘liberalism’ and into liberal-progressivism.
I conclude this admittedly lengthy Post with a look at Randall Kennedy’s article on “The Enduring Relevance of Affirmative Action”.
Kennedy is primarily a student of things racial, and so his reflections are hobbled at the outset, since ‘race’ is only one of the now-numerous categories which, under the pressure of Identity Politics, now qualify for affirmative action [hereinafter: AffAct].
He starts off with a trumpeting delivered without a trace of irony: “One of the most notable accomplishments of liberalism over the past 20 years is something that didn’t happen: the demise of affirmative action”.
I think it’s symptomatic of this type of groupthink, especially when you mostly only talk to other true-believers, that you don’t think through and really ‘hear’ what you’re saying. (Either that or you’re just mouthing positive spin to ward off the demon Consequence while you still can.)
He’s proud that a highly dubious initiative, which even at its inception (and imposition) was imagined to be so troubled an idea that it would only last “five or seven years” (I recall the phrase being used at the time), and has been consistently doubted and disagreed-with, has still remained a national policy and – indeed – has been expanded exponentially over the decades.
But I also note that after almost 45 years, it still doesn’t seem to have worked. We are within a few years of this thing being half-a-century old, and to hear its supporters tell it, the thing is necessary precisely because it hasn’t worked yet. Which may be because the problem it was meant to address is so deeply and stubbornly rooted. Or it may be because the problem is ‘perennial’ (meaning permanent among the species and unreachable by the powers of human governments). Or it may be because the program itself is conceptually ill-conceived.
He reports that in the early 1990s the thing looked to be on the rocks, its days numbered. Court decisions were starting to run against it – perhaps reflecting a growing awareness that after 35 or so years it should have either worked or it should be re-assessed, and in any case ‘dialed back’.
Yet the Civil Rights Act of 1991 squeaked through (and this with a Beltway committed to pandering to the Revolutions of the Identities) – perhaps because Bush the Father was heading toward a tough re-election race and didn’t want to alienate any more Identities or Advocacies than he had to. (The radical-feminists capitalized on his anxieties in their eager push to ‘demasculinize the military’, which has succeeded rather too well.)
But then, Kennedy sighs, Bush the Father tooketh away what he had giveth, by appointing Clarence Thomas (subtext: Uncle Tom and race traitor) to the Court, who took his place with others of his ilk – and Kennedy will name names: William Julius Wilson (who has since allegedly repented of his heresy), Shelby Steele, Condoleeza Rice (?!), Linda Chavez, “and any well-spoken Negro or Latina who consorts with the Tea Party crowd” (the use of the old term “Negro” here cannot be anything but polite code for ‘Uncle Tom’).
“Conservatives charged that affirmative action amounts to reverse racism … “ Well, it’s a bit of a sly thing to blame this only on ‘conservatives’: it was called ‘affirmative racism’ in the very beginning, until the PR flaks realized what a dangerously revealing moniker THAT was – after all, a year or two after 1965 and the passage of the Voting Rights Act precisely designed, in concert with the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to END the remaining Jim Crow racism, here was the government insisting on practicing it officially. (Let alone expanding it exponentially to accommodate follow-on Identities.)
Back in those days, anybody who could think could see that the re-introduction of racial discrimination, and by the Federal government that had just finished abolishing Jim Crow, was a bit odd. You didn’t have to be a rabid ‘conservative’ or a ‘backlasher’ to see that.
But to Kennedy such thinking merely “rationalized” “backlash”. He sails on majestically without giving it a further thought.
He also gives a bit of the game away by reporting that some pols did not want to support it for fear of committing “electoral suicide” – since most of the country were not political ‘conservatives’ in any realizable sense of the term, then clearly a lot of average folks had some serious doubts. But of course, liberal-progressives have no love for ‘people’ – most of whom, unlike Garrison Keillor’s denizens of Lake Wobegone, rate as below-average.
Even Obama is trying to move beyond the whole thing (just as he is trying to move beyond Identity Politics), calling it one of those “exhausted programs” that “dissect Americans into ‘us’ and ‘them’” and that “can’t serve as the basis for the kinds of broad-based coalitions needed to transform America”.
And at this point We should really be thinking of just settling for ‘saving’ America. That’s how far the past 40 years have taken Us.
But AffAct survived, Kennedy asserts, because in a 1995 speech (his only one devoted wholly to AffAct) Bill Clinton asserted that “affirmative action has been good for America”. This from the Chief proponent of TAP’s now-rejected “neo-liberalism” and of globalization and NAFTA … I’m not sure I can readily trust the man’s judgment.
One of the reasons Clinton gave for the program was that “it can usefully serve to prevent new invidious discrimination that is difficult if not impossible to reach through litigation”: so all of this so that the government could fine-tune its efforts to chase every bit of discrimination into every mind and heart where the rules of evidence and due process (in those days anyway) were too strong to permit desired outcomes in court cases.
Oh, and that “the adverse consequences on whites are often grossly exaggerated and can easily be minimized”. I’ve always been suspicious of this consequentialist type of justifying things: the consequences aren’t so bad so it’s OK.
First of all, you can’t know ALL the consequences that something generates: some of them are too subtle or take a long time to incubate. Yet when they manifest, their effects can be dire indeed. Certainly, the erosion of a general sense that the rules were being applied equally and fairly was going to be a baleful Consequence indeed among many non-blacks. But that was easily solved, the pols figured: the whites can be diluted one way or another until they die out, and everybody else can be declared a minority and made a beneficiary so that they’ll all get in line behind the thing. Neat. And so it has come to pass.
Second, the whole effort is a way to avoid talking about Principles and First Principles. One of the great difficulties of even Classical Liberalism was that in the interests of being ‘scientific’ and ‘rational’, and also to avoid distracting arguments about non-material and non-provable assertions and assumptions, it strove mightily to avoid discussing such immaterial things as ‘principles’ and ‘beliefs’. Just the facts, please.
The trouble with that approach is that you wind up Flattening the discourse and – if it goes on long enough and is pushed far enough – the entire human sense of what’s possible in the world. And if you then try to run a politics among real people – most of whom stubbornly do hold to some Beyond as a place or a force or a personal Being – then you are hobbling your politics from the get-go: your politics will have fenced itself off from much of the motivation and human dynamics of the Citizens themselves.
The solution to that glaring weakness as it has been evolved by the current crop of liberal-progressives is to insist that Beyond-talk or concerns about the Beyond are nothing more than either sly fronts and covers for malicious obstruction or else witless and phantasmagoric delusion.
How long can a ‘politics’ like that survive?
And the solution to that glaring problem was also evolved quickly: in best Leninist Revolutionary style, ‘politics’ itself was reduced to the dissemination of the Correct line to be followed by the mindless masses under the watchful prodding of the vanguard elites.
All in all, none of the foregoing is compatible with Constitutional, deliberative democratic politics. Indeed, all of the foregoing is antithetical to such a politics.
For AffAct to work as conceptually coherent, you have to imagine that there are scads of already competent folks who are simply not being considered for the jobs. OR you have to admit that there are not so many of those but many who might become so if given a chance. OR you have to admit that there might be few of either of the foregoing groups but you just think it would somehow be better if competence – already possessed or potentially possible to develop – were left out of it and things were approached simply as a ‘right’ (where competence doesn’t enter into it). OR – and here’s where ‘diversity’ was invented to fill that gap – you can insist that somehow just having a whole bunch of different folks around is in and of itself a good thing; so Good, in fact, that the government should put its very fat thumbs on the scales to make sure it happens.
All very dubious as coherent thinking, let alone as social planning and national policy. BUT, come to think of it, rather very much useful for creating more and more ‘clients’ who will be indebted to their government Patron. The Nanny State and the Patron (or Padron) State … oh boy.
But then, as even Kennedy admits, along came “the amorphous and malleable idea of ‘diversity’”, which “provided much needed buoyancy to affirmative action”. BECAUSE, he neglects to follow through, AffAct on its own merits was sinking quickly, as the weight of its Consequences and failures were becoming more undeniably and unspinnably clear. Diversity didn’t just give AffAct a boost; it had to be developed in order to replace a now too-clearly failed gambit.
‘Diversity’ was itself, as he admits, a vague and fuzzy concept: that somehow a unified culture is weaker than one that is ‘diverse’. But, I would add here, it was the only game in town, the solution that had to be Invented – and quickly – in order to save something that was failing because of its own numerous and profound inadequacies.
'Diversity' is at best an unproven hypothesis, and probably doesn’t rise beyond the level of thesis. America in the first and Great age of immigration was a robust though fluid culture and confident of itself; immigrants were expected, over time, to assimilate themselves, and thereby contribute their strengths and culture to the American culture.
But in this second not-so-great age of immigration, Multiculturalist dogma holds precisely that the ‘dominant’ American culture is no good, or at least not worth giving up your own for – and so the Correct immigrant must precisely NOT assimilate but instead remain (defiantly, creatively, transgressively, richly) entrenched in his/her own culture. Indeed, Correct dogma calls for constant immigration simply to prevent assimilation from taking hold (which it will, if the dynamic is left unmolested and unvexed).
And at this point, after only a few decades of all this (it was only 1977 when the Bureau of the Census changed the course of American life and history by decreeing that henceforth there were to be 5 ‘racial’ classifications on the census forms; 6 if you count ‘Other’) it seems like American culture isn’t doing quite so well – surely, even Obama wishes to get away from the old initiatives in order to restore a sense of common purpose and unity to a Citizenry that is going to need all the strength it can get.
Kennedy, however, is pleased as punch that his beloved gambit has defied all rational expectations of its future.
Again, I’d say that this ‘success’ is not so much a demonstration of the initiative’s inherent strength but rather an indicator of the necessity of the Beltway’s support for reasons of political expediency if nothing else.
Diversity, as I said, is an unproven, and hardly intuitive thesis. Robert Putnam discovered to his Correct horror that ‘social trust’ declined in proportion to the increase of racial diversity.**
That corporations now burble its praises means nothing at all: in the first place, with the pols flexing their muscles and telling businesses that they will be diverse or else, I would no more take comfort in those corporations' subsequent burbling than Stalin derived true consolation from his truckloads of birthday telegrams. And the corporations’ gambit was to ‘obey’ the pols by making their American workplaces more diverse while simultaneously (and quietly) outsourcing their workplaces overseas.
And as for the military, also touted by Kennedy: the acquiescence of the military bosses must be seen in the light of the careerist desires of self-preservation and advancement in the upper ranks, bending not under the pressure of the pressure-groups but of the Beltway pols who had already made up their minds to pander to every demand pushed their way. Nor did the bosses in the military, any more than the corporate bosses, actually bow to the undeniable value of the thesis, proven in its accuracy and its efficacy. Rather, again, this was a program the pols were determined to impose and against them nothing could long stand.
(And I am of the mind that Our current military situation in the field is both directly and indirectly a consequence of these rigid, dogmatic, and hugely fraught diversity policies, especially in terms of gender. And what has befallen the Army, tasked with up-front fighting, will befall the naval and air forces when their diversity-wracked units are actually placed in the teeth of real combat.)
Kennedy also notes that a nice aspect of ‘diversity’ as opposed to AffAct is that the former is “non-accusatory”: it doesn’t imply the responsibility or ‘guilt’ of whatever alleged oppressor (white folks, abled-folks, men, heterosexuals, and so on) is involved. ‘Diversity’, rather, is just a happy-faced but thoroughly accurate and Right and Good and True thing. Like it, embrace it, and you will be the better for it – as will the entire (choose as needed: country, corporation, city, department, force, university, Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, Coast Guard, or Other Entity/Polity/Organization).
Like it, embrace it, drink the Kool-Aid ...if you've done it for the liberal-progressives you can do it for the Bushies ... or - what the hey? - the Bhagwan.
In the same way, to trumpet that “diversity is good for the bottom line” is not hardly upfront. If you mean that you don’t get government funding unless you do it, that’s true. If you meant that if you don’t embrace it and burble about it you or your entity will be picketed by a trained squad of sign-carriers trained in the telegenic arts as thoroughly as the professional mourners of ancient Rome, that’s true. If you mean that you can say Yes to it while making your real money at your overseas production sites, that’s true.
Otherwise, not so much. Unpredictable work absences, uneven work performance, the unreliable quality and tense atmosphere noted by Robert Putnam in his research (see Note 1 below) … all these and more are the subtle but virulent costs. And on top of that, everything is intensified exponentially in the military-naval setting, and then intensified exponentially again in conditions of actual combat or emergency.
Only a Correct and complaisant media have protected ‘diversity’ from its own follies.
And, as I said, who knows if it really works? Who knows if, instead, it actually degrades performance? Surely, the corporations soon went overseas and the military – when confronted with actual combat – began hiring ruff-tuff mercenaries in numbers as high as the actual military field forces.
So many questions. So many trumpety proclamations.
I conclude the look at Kennedy with this classic: The diversity “rationale”, he says, “facilitates the evasion of prickly subjects – for instance that racial [or any other] minorities selected for valued positions sometimes have records that, according to certain criteria such as standardized tests, are inferior to their white [or male or whatever] competitors … The diversity rational moves the spotlight from the perceived deficiencies of racial [or any] minorities to their perceived strengths”.
Well, if something doesn’t work yet is being rigidly imposed, and requires you to burble its utter praises, then I can see where that would be “prickly”. Ditto if something you’ve put a lot of time and effort in and take pride in is threatened by an ungrounded program. That sort of thing.
But this business about “perceived” is a sly misdirection. What bothers the objector is not – according to Correct practice – ‘real’, it is merely ‘perceived’, and the objector is at fault for the poor or bad ‘perception’ (and saying it out loud). Whereas the “perceived strength” is not the strength perceived by the observers, but rather the Correct ‘perception’ required to be entertained by the observers … or else.
Neat trick. The valence of the word changes in mid-sentence, and god help you if you can’t follow the bouncing ball.
Oh, and I hope you didn't miss the bit about "standardized facts". One of the neato gambits of radical-feminism was its adoption of the women-are-different trope to matters of epistemology, of How Humans Know. So-called 'facts', they would mutter darkly, are nothing but perceptions and there are no such things as 'facts' that exist 'out there' independently of human perception; if you see a 'fact' that's because you made it.
But 'facts', and 'reality' in so far as it used to be defined - i.e. as a tissue of independently existing 'facts' - don't exist; what we see is what we have already constructed.
Well, that’s my take on this informative issue of TAP.
Essentially the liberal-progressives are now reduced to defending such realities as Identity Politics, Diversity, Affirmative Action, while trying to convince Americans that the American Experiment’s trust in the ability of people to function as The People was either frakkulently wrong to begin with or is, at the very least, now ‘quaint’. (Of course, having spent 40 years successfully reducing the civic-competence of the American Citizenry, they are becoming more accurate – at least in that assertion – every day.)
Worse, they have spent 40 years, whether they want to realize it or not, whether they want to admit it to Us or not, reducing also the ‘world’ in which Americans and humans live: it is a Flattened world, simultaneously mushy and iron-hard in its surfaces, with no Consolation from any Beyond (the existence of which would create a Higher Law that could stand in judgment on its numerous agendas).
Worse, they have spent 40 years, whether they want to realize it or not, whether they want to admit it to Us or not, reducing the moral competence of Americans: you can’t simply insist on ‘total autonomy’, while refusing to admit any elements (Virtues, natural law, Higher Law, religious precepts) that can Shape that autonomy. If there is no Shaped Self to wield that ‘autonomy’, then you have simply put a 5-year old behind the controls of a battle-tank with a full load of fuel and ammo and turned the tyke loose on the streets and highways. And you have done this a hundred million (or more) times over.
And if there is no Law within, embraced and allowed to Shape a Self, then how will a polity full of such humans have any civic order? It will have to be imposed by the government. The ‘total autonomy’ approach, with its necessary Deconstruction of all Higher and Beyond realities, must perforce lead to a police/Nanny-state. And so it has.
All in all, I’d say that ‘liberal-progressivism’ has resulted far more negative consequences, and that directly or indirectly the country has suffered, whether ‘dominant’ or ‘minority’ … and yet the Wealthy continue to prosper with impunity.
As Ike said that last time he spoke as President: “So much remains to be done”.
*It has been recently admitted by himself that Robert D. Putnam, noted and highly-regarded author of the 1995 book “Bowling Alone” and the conductor of the sociological studies upon which the book is based, had discovered – to his liberal and Correct horror – that ‘social trust’ declined in close proportion to the amount of racial diversity (he didn’t explore gender or other categories of diversity) and that this was especially true of LA, arguably the most diverse locale in the country.
He was so shocked (and perhaps, not inaccurately, concerned for his own professional creds as a liberal, and Hahvahd, professor) that he did not reveal this rather stunning discovery for years. He did that, he claims, because he didn’t want to let it be known until he could come up with some compensatory ‘positive’ explanation or ‘solution’. Having made the admission to a reporter for the prestigious “Financial Times”, and his revelation being duly reported, a wave of dismay went up from the usual suspects, at which time, though he made utterly no objections to the factuality of the report, he insisted that he had been misquoted and/or taken out of context and so on and so forth.
This is an example of ‘advocacy intellectualizing’ that has resulted in a lot of intelligent folks not taking even the most earnest Left-liberal-progressive assertions with a grain of salt. TAP and its readership prefer to see this grain-of-salt phenomenon as mostly uninformed or unreconstructed and obstructionist “backlash” (the word will appear numerous times in this issue’s articles).
But this goes to the heart of the actual problem with so much of TAP’s much-touted ‘liberal’ and ‘progressive’ agenda and its allegedly successful history and performance over the past decades: there have always been very real problems with either the Content or the Method or both, upon which reasonable and informed Citizens might well disagree and on the basis of which they might well raise objections. But to TAP and its demographic this is all nothing but “backlash”. You can’t get a serious deliberative assessment going when one side is simply pooh-poohing any Tire Kicking as “backlash”.
Which is a problem that has plagued not only the TAP demographic but the entire polity for decades now.
**This article from the August 19, 2010 ‘The New York Review of Books’ reveals, in a by the by, the fact that in Dubai – wealthy and multiculturally diverse mecca of the Persian Gulf – even among the wealthy and the well-off from several countries and numerous nations, national groups “stick” together; and “everyone keeps to his own kind”. If this is true among persons who have no deforming anxieties about material well-being, and who are not from America and in many cases not from the West, then a) how can it be that America is somehow the source of some kind of inhuman or unnatural virulent non-diversity, so contrary to human practice that the most rigid and intrusive government ‘diversity’ initiatives are justified?
And b) how can it be possible that what is not possible for folks whose lives are un-deformed by the anxieties and worries that plague most humans on the planet is going to be possible to Americans whose living standards are now going south?
And for that matter, is such ‘diversity’ as is currently an axiom of liberal-progressive dogma and its political agenda even possible for humans?
Or is this all – and has it been for decades – merely the dreamed-up cover for a huge Deconstruction and re-construction of American society and a grab for electoral viability?
If so, what ‘diversity’ has done, and what it may still do, enjoys neither conceptual accuracy nor political legitimacy. And what, then, do We do now?