Chris Hedges has a piece entitled “The World The Liberal Class Made”.
It prompts a few thoughts indeed.
“The lunatic fringe of the Republican Party, which looks set to make sweeping gains in the midterm elections [I am writing this Post in the early afternoon of Election Day] is the direct result of the collapse of liberalism.”
I mostly agree. And good for him for saying it out loud and in plain language.
There is certainly a lunatic fringe to the Republican Party, and it certainly is a directly-traceable consequence of what has happened to the ‘liberal’ movement in this country over the past 40 Biblical years (although there is liberal and there is Liberal and you have to be careful about your definitions and about which more below).
Unfortunately, given the state of affairs after 40 years of ‘revolutionary’, gaga-‘liberalism’ and its attendant Political Correctness you can’t also say something like ‘the lunatic fringe of the Democratic Party’ as well; there are merely ‘very progressive’ elements that constitute that Party’s ‘base’.
If you have been following my mini-series of Posts on Saul Alinsky and his “Rule for Radicals” then you can get a sense of where I’m coming from with that thought.
Classical Liberalism is a 19th-century development that built upon the insights of the Enlightenment of the late 17th and 18th centuries in Europe. What drove that insight, following upon the Protestant Reformation and the destructive Wars (and civil wars) of Religion, was a profound shock at the wrack and ruin that can be caused by broad disagreements in religious belief (especially when espoused by national sovereignties for their own purposes).
But ‘science’ was making remarkable progress in explaining the physical phenomena of this world, even to the point of discovering Laws that apparently governed the behavior of this and that aspect of Matter and physical phenomena. You couldn’t argue, for example, with Newton’s Laws of Gravity: they were demonstrably accurate in describing and predicting the behavior of Matter in certain ways.
Might it not be, then, that similar Laws governed human activity, such that you could discover those ‘Laws’ and thereby establish irrefutable and widely-accepted agreement among people – and peoples – and thus avoid the ‘we believe/they believe’ frakkeries of ‘religious belief’? You could sidestep a whole lotta troubles and avoid a whole lotta bloodshed, wrack, and ruin while also bringing Western (and perhaps world) civilization into a brand new, less bloody, more ‘scientific’ era of progress?
No decent human being could avoid being enchanted with the idea.
Of course, human affairs being what they are because human beings are what they are, a difficulty arose: if you get rid of ‘religion’ can you also then get rid of ‘God’ – at least in any sense that the alleged Deity is a potent and intimately engaged factor in Shaping the course of human affairs and events?
Might it not be that ‘the world’ has its own Laws and that ‘God’ is merely a hypothesis which a rapidly progressing humanity no longer needed?
If there are Laws, then all you need is human Reason to discover them, and then you are well set on the path to an entirely new, post-religious era when ‘God’ – and certainly religion and organized religion, especially the Church – need not be dragged in to inflame and complicate matters.
THAT would certainly be progress, and indeed Progress.
Neither old-style Protestantism nor the Catholic Church could agree.
After all, human beings were not simply and totally ‘material’ beings; they were possessed of a soul. And beyond that, therefore, human existence was not an independently-existing reality, but rather was Grounded in the utter and absolute Reality of its Creator (and, in the Christian vision, Redeemer).
So then to totally give humanity over to ‘science’ would not lead to pure and total ‘progress’ but would actually commit the species to a profound form of un-Reality.
AND if humans were indeed comprised of spirit as well as matter, then there was going to be a stubborn – because it was built-into humans – resistance to the reduction of ‘belief’ to the private sphere or – later on in the 19th century – to ‘psychological’ and ‘emotional’ drives. Or, as Dickens put it so pithily in the mouth of Ebeneezer Scrooge confronting Jacob Marley’s ghost, if you were to attribute the entire sense of a beyond-material existence merely to “an undigested bit of beef”.
But the French Revolution was built upon the absolute supremacy of Human Reason: human beings were, it was imagined, totally and completely capable of conducting Life and History on the basis of the competence of their own unaided Reason, and had no need of God, Church, organized religions and all of that claptrap. As Voltaire had said of the Church and religion: “Crush the infamous thing!” and erase the whole superstitious mess from History and from human affairs.
And it being a political Revolution, then all of that ‘superstition’ would be erased from politics as well.
The French Revolution rapidly and shockingly – but perhaps not surprisingly – mutated into the Jacobin Terror, when tens and hundreds of thousands died simply because they disagreed, either with the profound political change from monarchy to the new-fangled ‘democracy’ or because they didn’t believe in Reason as a substitute God.
The French were soon erecting altars to Reason and setting up festal-days, and went so far as to symbolize the depth and breadth of their New Order by recasting the days of the week and their names and – since the Revolution had proclaimed Year One – setting up an entirely new calendar.
The Americans had carried out their own Revolution which had resulted in the Constitution in 1787, just two years before the French started down their own path in 1789.
But the American Framers were far more ‘conservative’, in the sense that they didn’t trust human Reason. They were not ill-disposed toward God although they were aware of the complications of organized religion. Indeed, though, they were also vitally aware that the human religious spirit existed and was an essential and indispensable element in Grounding a mature Citizenry. They wanted to ensure a separation of Church and State not so much to protect their new State as to protect the religious spirit from the State’s interference (which, being a purely political entity, was going to be incompetent to Ground and Shape the innermost lives and character of the Citizenry).
Indeed, you could say that the Framers wanted to protect the State – from itself. Because if it started to get into the Grounding and Shaping business, then their new limited government would have to start taking on the authority and power of God. And THAT, they realized would not only be blasphemous, but far more lethally, it would be fatal to any sort of limited-government, which is precisely what they had set up the Constitution to protect, preserve, and ensure.
Liberalism in its Classical sense took shape in the early-19th century in Europe. Building on the Enlightenment, although chastened by the awful horror-show that had unfolded as the French Revolution mutated first into The Terror and then into Napoleon’s war-happy Empire, European thinkers wanted to somehow more efficaciously employ human competence to better human life.
God might be a ‘preference’ for some, as might ‘religion’, but you could – they thought – navigate around those navigational complexities and operate politics and society solely on the unrestricted waters of rational and enlightened philosophical principles that were not Above or Beyond this world and its History but rather developed from within this plane of existence – which, for all practical purposes, was the only plane of existence that humans needed to pragmatically concern themselves with.
The orchestra, as it were, could make up the music as it went along and stood in no need of a Composer Whose original vision might impede ‘progress’.
Of course, humans being humans, you couldn’t just keep them to that plan and before long all sorts of thinkers – individual players with their particular instrument – began to come up with notes and their own bits of scoring.
Condorcet had taken the Enlightenment confidence in pure human Reason and erected it into a lyrical philosophy of History; Hegel – as the Teutonic spirit is liable to do – came up with a far more complex and dense philosophy of History. And then Karl Marx, taking decent note of how a budding Industrial Capitalism was creating its own tyranny over the majority of European lives that was proving even more oppressive than the old monarchies and emperors, declared that not only was History merely a matter of this-world’s plane of existence, but went even further and asserted that it is merely a matter of economic and material well-being: if you can set up a politics that guarantees each person a sufficiency of goods, then everything will be perfected.
As Communism’s later course proved, humans – even those who are sure that they ‘get it’ and that they have thereby the authority to impose their vision on the masses ‘who just don’t get it’ and that it is all justified because it is done for the masses’ own good – can’t be trusted with the type of authority and scope of authority formerly ascribed to God and to His Providence. Somehow things go wrong and, as in ‘Animal Farm’, the critters that overthrow the Farmer soon wind up exercising a more oppressive authority themselves.
And, of course, Communism also demonstrated – as had the French Revolution before it – that if you are going to set up a polity that dispenses with anything having to do with ‘spirit’ and reduce everything to ‘matter’ and ‘the material’, then you are going to have to deploy a hell of a lot of official violence to shut people up. And you are going to have to kill an awful lot of your own Citizens just to encourage the rest to shut up and demonstrate to the stubborn lumps that you are the only god in town.
Because humans – like horses being whipped to cross what they sense is a dangerous and unreliable bridge – are going to resist that fatal mistake.
And somehow humans will realize when something spun as pure ‘liberation’ actually threatens to pull solid ground out from under their lives and cast them adrift. And nowadays, in a frakkulent synergy, client-classes of Identities are being ‘liberated’ into being genuinely and profoundly adrift (in terms of the economy but also in the sense of their relation to the Beyond) which renders them, like ducks that have been hit on the head (Lincoln’s marvelous phrase) far less capable to function as The People, thereby creating the vacuum into which the revolutionary elites can flow like sewage from a punctured pipe.
But even in the more mature and democratic and limited governments of 19th century Europe, Liberalism continued to seek ways, as best it could, to improve the lot of human beings: extending the vote, softening the frakklulently sharp edges of an Industrial-Capitalist economy, so that as many people as possible could live the kind of life traditionally envisioned by Western civilization and enjoy those blessings.
Mostly, then, Liberalism sought to improve the quantifiable things of this world, which wound up having to do with the right to participate in politics by getting the vote and the deployment of the public authority to ensure that the monstrously huge and voracious but productive engine of Industrial Capitalism didn’t consume Citizenries and populations like some mechanical Moloch consuming its human sacrifices.
This trend – and an impressive one it was – reached a certain fulfillment in the New Deal in America in the early 20th century – although it took another World War (the Second) to really establish this country at a world-historical level of bounty for its Citizens.
But what followed after about 1970 was something else altogether.
With their muscular Cold-War Liberalism come a cropper in Vietnam, and with their electoral viability hugely weakened by the deliberate fracturing of the seamy New Deal alliance of Northern industrial labor and Southern Jim Crow racism through the first phase of the Civil Rights Movement, the Democrats decided that Liberalism was doubly done-for.
In the first place, the South was going to be lost to their Party for a generation at least.
And in the second place, the postwar American industrial hegemony was going to be coming up against increasing challenge: other nations, recovering from World War 2 or developing their own industrial potentials, were going to make the highly-paid American worker less attractive to profit-seeking industries and investors.
This was one of the most profound challenge-points any US government ever faced.
And the Beltway solution failed, and with a stunning comprehensiveness.
For one thing, the EPA’s efforts to clean up the environment (not at all a bad thing) levied a substantial burden on American industry. It was not considered to be an excessive burden for industry, and that seemed a reasonable assumption.
However at the same time OSHA began a rapid expansion of its regulatory activity. And this expansion began to operate with increasing intensity as it fed synergistically with the growing ‘sensitivity’ and victimist sensibility that intensified over the course of the decades starting in the mid-1970s.
What was not addressed was the hardly unpredictable nervousness of ‘capital’ – investment capital and investors – as well as of the corporate managers as they watched this start to happen and then to intensify.
Meanwhile there were improvements in intercontinental transportation capabilities and communications that rendered the Third or Developing world nations suddenly more useful as potential sites for profitable manufacturing (labor costs saved actually trumping start-up costs in new countries). And with the advent of a world-wide computer interconnectivity, not only physical production facilities and product but even capital itself could now instantly be transmitted and exchanged back and forth around the planet (no need for bundles of cash or piles of gold to be trundled about in warships or other modes of secure shipment).
Affirmative action – which in the very beginning applied only to race – added further burdens, although not crippling, at least at the beginning.
Worse, and in a hellhot irony, the plight of urban blacks in the later Sixties was not so much a matter of ‘racism’ but of the general decline of the American city as populations (and businesses) moved to the suburbs, a process that had been going on since the late-1940s. Although ‘riots’ surely did not impress corporate managers with the idea that trying to conduct production in the urban setting (which had been the late-19th century American model) was reliable any longer. But ‘racism’ was a more convenient and politically useful reason, as well a focus site for ‘white liberal guilt’ … huge amounts of cash thus thrown at the smoke, rather than the fire.
But you can start to appreciate how these effects would become and were becoming cumulative, building one upon another and ‘adding up’, thereby increasing the attractiveness of non-American venues for continued American corporate production. All of these elements could be imagined to ‘reduce productivity’ or at least reduce the ease of productivity. A point which could not be lost on the managers and investors.
The thought that ‘capital’ and ‘production’ and more specifically its managers and investors would literally ‘flee’ the United States in search of higher profit returns or simply to maintain profitability levels did not receive much thought or attention in public discourse, and perhaps not inside the Beltway.
Partially this was a result of a long-established presumption that ‘American’ business would ‘stay in America’ as a matter of ‘natural’ necessity and – less clearly – as a matter of ‘patriotic’ commitment.
But it was also a perfectly understandable (and predictable) dynamic of Industrial and Corporate Capitalism, that ‘profits’ were the primary goal, since they would fuel improved methods of production and attract further investment.
AND since as early as 1949 at least, the serious thought has been that a country’s “abundance” was not simply a matter of having a lot of ‘natural resources’ but rather that what you also needed was the ability to convert those natural resources into some marketable product, to harness them somehow so that they became actual produced wealth rather than merely potential wealth.
In this regard the National Bureau of Economic Research had published in that year the thoughts of one John M. Clark who opined that besides “climate and natural resources” you had to add in “the people’s ability to use them”. And THAT led him to what he called the “quality of population”: among the elements that made this element in the equation effective Clark listed “the importance of education, of moral qualities, and of ‘diffused ingenuity and enterprise’”. *
What Clark was going after here was the reality that a population had to be allowed and to some extent trained and supported by policy in the habits of productivity. While he was looking in those days at the so-called Third World (perhaps also the Soviet Second World) yet by the early 1970s his insights would have been vital in regard to what was happening in America: large numbers of people were being ‘empowered’ NOT by being encouraged to PRODUCE but rather to DEMAND – from the government for entitlements and ‘rights’ and with the cash thus provided to purchase as demanding-consumers.
While it was not in the Beltway’s or the ‘liberals’ interests to see or accept this stunningly obvious reality (their entire politics was now aimed at creating persons whose only abiding ‘empowerment’ would be to rely on government ‘special status’ and the bennies that went with it; in effect a regression to a citizenry of ‘clients’ and client-classes), the Money interests (managers and investors) may very well have connected the dots and realized that the country as a population would not only be sliding away from an ability to profitably produce, but through assorted policies and cultural excitements would no longer be able to sustain a robust production-mentality itself.
However, it was not only presumed that production WOULD not desert the actual geographic United States but that production COULD not because of the difficulties of transporting and conducting extensive production-operations in distant foreign venues. But that situation, as noted, was changing rapidly.
But lastly, I would say, this entire situation was fueled by the Beltway’s mid-1970s ur-strategy of pandering to the demands of the Identities (newly created and ‘valorized’ initially by the Dems) for ‘votes’ while also collecting monies from ‘big business’ through the shrewdly-created PACs.
This situation was bad enough , constituting a serious challenge to the national common-weal that would require careful government handling. The corporations were, after all, chartered by the US government on the sovereign authority of The People and should be expected to operate for the common-weal.
But the pols had become desperate: Identity Politics was proving verrrry corrosive of any primary sense of national Identity (by 1972 JFK’s 1961 exhortation to “ask not what your country can do for you but what you can do for your country” had been reversed, under the combined assaults of Alinsky-ite ‘war politics’ against the Haves and the abandonment of that exhortation by the Democrats themselves, led by the assassinated President’s little brother Teddy). It was impossible to maintain reliable majorities such that pols could take principled stands; rather, ‘demands’ had to be met instantly, no matter how in the long run they would prove unjustified, incoherent, unworkable, imprudent, or prove mutually exclusive and work against each other … all to the detriment of the common-weal.
Pandering, for votes and for cash, became the overriding political strategy of the Beltway.
Nixon’s 1971 decoupling of the dollar from actual gold supplies did nothing but intensify the perceived and actual instability of the nation’s economic condition.
But then came the extension of Affirmative Action through the putatively ‘liberal’ expansion of ‘rights’ to women and then the added (politically-driven) burden of a hugely expanded immigration, and an immigration not of ‘skilled’ workers but rather a much less discriminating acceptance of anybody who could get here as a relative (to ‘keep families together’).
This had the hardly unpredictable effect of theoretically doubling the workforce just as the cost of ‘American labor’ was coming to appear as not only unsustainable but – ominously – unnecessary to American industry and capital.
Worse was the insistence – though not widely played up in the media – by radical-feminism particularly, that a certain palpable reduction in ‘competence’ and degrading of ‘productivity’ were simply the price of becoming a more ‘liberal’ and ‘just’ society.**
And the Beltway bought into it.
And raised it, as the consequences become clear and too obvious to ignore, into not only a Policy but a Philosophy. After Reagan borrowed the country into international debtorship, Clinton presided over a massive sell-off of government assets while Business adopted ‘downsizing’ and ‘outsourcing’ and the Neo-Liberalism of NAFTA-type trade agreements.
But mere ‘outsourcing’ did not guarantee that the profits would return to the United States NOR did the ‘outsourcing’ and ‘downsizing’ do American workers and jobs any good at all. Very much the opposite.
An entire new class of glamorous and grossly overpaid ‘young executives’ – suitably thickened with women and minorities for the greedy cameras and puff-pieces – satisfied assorted ‘demands’ by this and that Identity. And the corporate investors and shareholders collected impressive salaries or profits on investments.
But in the meanwhile, the Beltway was quietly allowing the corporations and Big Money to flee the country in exchange for PAC contributions. And then – I would have to add – you had such inventive sleaze as mastered by the odious Phil Gramm, who made profit out of incipient disaster by enabling ‘new jobs’ through the development of a debt-collection ‘industry’, even as the careful requirements enacted in such post-Depression legislation as Glass-Steagall enabled banks to actually become ‘profit-making’ ventures rather than solid and reliable depositories of savings and hard-earned cash.
Which made for the red-suspender Gordon-Gekko banker to take pride of place next to the actual corporate honchos in the official national roster of secular sainthood.
Profit was good, and so was Greed. Indeed, in this nation both were becoming necessary with a queasily intensifying desperation.
But the whole was lathered over in a greasy, buttery, golden-looking glow. Reagan had Biblically stopped the sun of History in its tracks: America’s Morning would remain. Indeed, it had ‘returned’ all over again.
Thus were the Bible and the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party merged into a stiff national drink and, passed off as Kool-Aid, liberally distributed.
Something had happened to ‘Liberalism’ as it mutated down into ‘liberalism’. Under the Constitutional vision there would be an extension the power of the vote in order to enhance a necessary national political chemistry which, through Constitutionally-shaped politics, would create tensions to be resolved through wide political and public debate and deliberation.
But instead, merging with an intensifying Victimology that pandered to anybody who declared themselves a victim and that piggy-backed nicely on the back of radical-feminism’s ‘war politics’ of Identity in order to Deconstruct everything about ‘patriarchal’ American industiral 'smokestack' culture and society and indeed about Western civilization generally, and embodied not in Constitutionally-shaped politics but in Alinsky’s eternal war-politics of the Have-Nots against the Haves, American politics degenerated dizzily into pressure-plays and power-plays and pandering to whomever could demand a place at the table and could get a chunk of ‘the deal’ on offer.
Which created a type of politician for whom prior professional experience in used-car sales would be a most useful and relevant talent. And, alas, the only ‘talent’ required.
Even as its position in the world began to decline, the country binged on fantasies and profoundly anti-American policies as well as politics. And that was what ‘liberalism’ came to mean and to be.
(Nor am I making a subtle pitch here for the current incarnation of American ‘conservatism’ which was as giddily and lethally infected by the debasement as American ‘liberalism’.)
Even now Ben Bernanke is reported*** to be upset at “bubble-poppers” who are weakening the ‘economy’ while also wrecking America’s credibility as the world financial hegemon. Bernanke has a plan that would give the Fed even more power to play with the money and the economy, claiming – in the accents of American history and tradition so beloved of folks from Left and Right who want to lull any public alarm – that what was most important about FDR’s efforts to beat the Depression was “Rooseveltian Resolve” (read: public debate and input not required nor will it have any effect; after all, the public ‘just doesn’t get it’), which is now precisely what Bernanke intends to display. A lot.
Bernanke will do so by doing whatever he does, basically, because, he brays “Roosevelt’s specific policy actions were, I think, less important than his willingness to be aggressive and to experiment … Many of his policies did not work as intended, but in the end FDR deserves great credit for having the courage to abandon failed paradigms [read: any more serious and tested and true fiscal policy, already long-since abandoned anyway] and to do what needed to be done”. [italics mine]
And I think you can see here not only just how ‘liberalism’ has become a smoke-and-mirrors show but also how it has operated for the past 40 Biblical years. And how it has debased itself and so lethally damaged the country and the common-weal.
What Bernanke is saying here in an effort to spin his current efforts can be said about wayyyyy too much of the ‘liberalism’ policies of the past 40 years: it’s not so much whether these new policies will work or whether they make sense; it’s just that we liberals are going to be trying something reeely reeely ‘new’ and therefore ‘fresh’ and ‘cutting edge’ which proves that we liberals ‘get it’ and nobody else does.
How charmingly Boomer.
It is an echo of something a college graduate said at commencement in 1969: “the challenge now is to practice politics as the art of making what appears to be impossible possible”. Here is somebody dreaming before Teddy Kennedy even came up with his own ‘The Dream’ (but he was sharp enough to see soon enough a surfboard that could carry him along out of his own troubled political waters).
You wouldn’t expect ‘kids’ to stop and ask themselves whether something considered ‘impossible’, especially for quite a long time by much of the species, might be thus classified for a reason. Any modestly-sharp adult might ask if your envisioned ‘politics’ was actually going to wind up actually transmuting something actually impossible into something workably possible OR whether you were just figuring you would make it ‘appear’ possible - thus creating nothing more than a politics of appearances to replace a more reality-based politics.
Frankly it reminds me of the cocky and callow J. Bruce Ismay, spoiled brat son of a late-19th century shipping master, taking over a large and complicated business and tapping his elegantly manicured fingers like the dandy he was to insist to the chief architect that White Star Line’s latest and greatest ship didn’t need so many lifeboats (they ruined the ‘look’ of the ship by cluttering the upper decks), and needed a more imposing central staircase so her watertight doors didn’t need to come up so high in the hull, and that – really – this marvelous ship would ‘be its own lifeboat’ and would just marvelously stay afloat until help came, in the impossible-to-imagine event the need should ever arise.
That ship was Titanic. From whose decks Little Lord Bruce made his surreptitious escape that awful night with the women and children, claiming when he was cornered in New York by a quick-thinking US Senator with a subpoena that he was only the Owner of the company and knew nothing about running the ship.
That college grad was Hillary Clinton.
It all hearks back to that awful year, let’s call this “the Spirit of ‘72”. And here We are today, in Our modern American reality.
Let it not be forgotten, since We’re on the subject of American History, that it took a huge World War to lift Us out of the Depression.
But that was then. We aren’t going to be winning any wars any more like that, and here’s hoping that the Beltway doesn’t figure that it should try.
But then, what else have We got left except the financial industry (including what used to be reliable banks – but then, if there’s no middle-class who really needs those old things?), the defense industry, and that lethally ludicrous Red-Queen’s phantasm called ‘the Knowledge-and-Service Economy’ (read: ridiculously overpaid ‘young professionals’ of all genders and their nannies and their leaf-blowers).
As Hedges puts it, with – alas – the necessary subtractions for a viable Correctness : “The lunatic fringe of the Republican Party … is the product of bankrupt liberal institutions, including the press, the church, universities, labor unions, the arts, and the Democratic Party”.
Well, yes. Although the church has been Deconstructed in the Reality-war with ‘liberals’ (see above) and universities are in kind of a bind since they’ve embraced an Identity philosophy based on the Red Queen assertion that “facts don’t matter” (including the ‘fact’ of the statement itself?).
But he comes through like a champ and hits the Problem a mighty whack: “The legitimate rage being expressed by disenfranchised workers toward the college-educated liberal elite, who abetted or did nothing to halt the corporate assault on the poor and the working class of the last 30 years, is not misplaced”.
Which I think gets Us to how Liberalism was derailed here: Liberalism in its classical sense was based on a fundamental appreciation of the dignity AND THE INHERENT COMPETENCE of the Citizen to judge great public affairs, and on the abiding wariness of the non-wealthy and the non-valorized and the non-entitled to keep a sharp eye on where the indispensable Money is going; you can’t live without the stuff and ‘dreams’ (pace Teddy Kennedy) are a thin and ultimately fatal gruel to try to live on and feed a family with.
But the actually-well-named ‘revolutions’ of the past 40 years were more interested in ‘dreams’, rather than hard ‘facts’, and the Beltway gambit has been to urge folks to ‘dream’ while ‘the money’ was handled by those who ‘get it’.
And get-it they have.
The ‘revolutionary’ mindset of the past 40 years – embraced by the Dems in that clearly awful year of 1972 – actually constitutes a hugely ILLIBERAL and anti-American betrayal of the core insights of Liberalism AND OF the country’s Founding Vision itself.
Because both Liberalism and the Founding Vision are based on a respect for the inherent competence of the Citizen and a desire to ensure that the Citizen is able to participate in deliberation, seriously and with accurate information and effective ability to assess and Kick Tire.
The revolutionary philosophy of the French was that Reason would replace ‘God’ and give Humans the ultimate authority – and responsibility – for making the world perfect. And the Soviet revolutionary ‘improvement’ was that ‘the masses’ really ‘just don’t get it’ and CAN’T ever get it, and so the vanguard elite cadres who ‘really do get it’ are the only ones in a polity capable of making policy and – by virtue of their ‘getting it’ – authorized to impose their calculations and dampdreams on everybody else. And that this ‘responsibility’ is so huge and so urgent that any attempt to slow it down or ‘judge’ it constitutes a crime against Progress and against the State.
Which is pretty much what has been going on inside the Beltway and in American politics for these past 40 Biblical years.
Any attempt to ask questions, express doubts, or just try to Kick Tire is disallowed. Of course they couldn’t start speaking in the accents of actual political philosophy: that would remind The People just how profoundly huge and vital the ‘changes’ really were. So everything was spun as merely the urgency of ‘sensitivity’ and to ask any questions was to ‘backlash’ and ‘re-victimize’.
And then by the time of Bush-Cheney some of the older, more ominous charges could be leveled: to Kick Tire about monstrously portentous national policy (war, say for example) was ‘treason’ and ‘unpatriotic’.
And, as Bernanke wants to tell Us, ‘you just don’t get it’ in matters of high-finance, and ‘bubbles’ are good (because they’re some of the only fiscal engines left to Us) and you Citizens should just sit there, shut up and applaud on cue (like the live TV audiences of the 1950s).
And here We are.
I agree with Chris Hedges who – I would say – would agree with Eisenhower when he said, wayyyy too late in his administration: “So much remains to be done”.
***The article is in the December, 2010 issue of ‘The American Conservative’ magazine, here, entitled “Fed 2.0” by Michael Brendan Dougherty, pp. 22-5 in the print edition. Online viewing by subscription only. Let me add here that this new magazine is not ‘conservative’ in any ‘mainstream’ way but actually tries to come to grips rationally and seriously with Our current problems and is always well worth a look.
In a piece published in ‘The London Review of Books’ (issue dated 21 October 2010, pp. 8-9) entitled “Can you give my son a job?” Slavoj Zizek makes the interesting observation that in China the Communist Party has performed the neat trick of putting itself above and beyond the State (and the State’s published laws and strictures) by making itself for all practical purposes invisible.
It is dangerously un-Correct to actually speak about the Party publicly or even make reference to it. And yet its cadres run all of the main elements of the State.
Given the jaw-dropping amount of bleed-over in ideas and method and operating dynamics between the old Second-World Communist Parties and the ‘revolutionary politics’ embraced by the vote-addled Dems in the late Sixties and early Seventies, I can’t help but wonder to what extent the dedicated advocacies and pressure-groups of the ‘liberal’ bases also actually operate on that assumption: that The Party and the Party-Line (as they define it) actually take precedence over the machinery and Ground of the State (here, the Constitutional Vision) since it is only the Party that ‘gets it’ and has thereby the ‘right and authority’ to lead the masses to perfection and fulfillment. It would give ‘Party politics’ a whole new meaning and perhaps provide an acutely useful angle for examining what’s happened to American politics in the past four decades.
While I’m on it, I can’t refrain from sharing Zizek’s delicious bit of Soviet history from the day in February 1956 when Khrushchev denounced Stalin in the inaptly named ‘Secret Speech’ to the senior cadres at the 20th Party Congress. “The speech so undermined the dogma of infallible leadership that the entire nomenklatura sank into temporary paralysis … a dozen or so delegates collapsed during the speech and had to be carried out and given medical help … the hard-line General-Secretary of the Polish Communist Party died of a heart attack … the model Stalinist writer Alexander Fadeyev actually shot himself a few days later.”
After what has been discussed above and in Hedges’ article, you can’t help but wonder what would happen if the liberals actually elected somebody who would tell the truth about what has been going on around here for the past few decades.
Although I wonder: how many inside the Beltway would be surprised at a recounting of the ‘revolutionary war politics’ that undermined the Constitution and the democratic ethos? Or at the comprehensive Deconstruction not only of a productive economy and the culture-of-productivity that was indispensable to maintaining it? Or at the Deconstruction of any sort of stable, mature, adult culture – anchored in some working sense of the Beyond and of some system of Ideals? Or at the comprehensive and treacherous deception embodied in ‘spinning’ the whole crapulent programme as merely ‘reform’, ‘change’, ‘progress’, and ‘liberation’? Or at the stifling Correctness, accepted by a ‘free press’ more concerned for easy-come melodramatic agitprop ‘stories’ than for acute reporting?
Ah well … a vision to warm the heart in the gathering cold gloom.