JOHN UPDIKE: HOW WE GOT HERE
(I realize that the preceding Post was a bit long – even for me.
Yesterday I put up an Addendum to that Post but it occurs to me that many readers might already have read the original Post so I am putting up that Addendum as a free-standing (and much much shorter Post) here, with a couple of additions.
This Post presupposes a nodding familiarity with the prior Post on Jurgen Habermas and Chantal Mouffe, and if you’ve read the two Posts prior to that (on Catharine MacKinnon and Antonio Gramsci) then you are pretty well prepared. But this Post can also stand on its own without much difficulty.)
Let me add here some reflections on this article by Robert Boyers in ‘Harpers’ (July 2006, pp.89-94) reviewing the now-late John Updike’s then-new novel “Terrorist”.
I recall Stephen Pinker saying (in an interview in ‘Reason’ recently, I think) that “if the impediment to a better world is some defined group of people” (I’m working from memory here), then the defining-group is “justified in unlimited outlays of violence”.
He’s going for the idea that fundamentalisms are by nature going to start ‘defining’ this or that target group or culture as ‘evil’ and thus – at least in their own minds – justify the violence they are about to impose.
But this strikes me as precisely the dynamic involved in the Gramscian-Mouffian assault on Western and American Culture (because most of those Citizens can be primarily defined as ‘just not getting it’).
And – because America is one of those Western democracies Gramsci (and Lenin) realized could not be attacked outright – the ‘violence’ here is not physical but is rather conducted through Gramsci’s insidious ‘war of positions’ against the Culture through the derangement of its politics (which are corruptly and evilly sustaining Oppression, Dominance and Hegemony) and its Citizens’ very ability to conduct any sort of deliberative and democratic political discussion.
After all, why allow those Citizens and The People to do all of that when, of course, ‘they just don’t get it’ to begin with?
Which also leads me to think, as I have said in prior Posts, that the real historical significance of the Watergate scandal so hugely trumpeted against Nixon (for whom I hold no brief) in 1974 was primarily necessary in the view of the budding ‘liberal’ elites in order to reverse and discredit the presidential election results of 1972 – when all but one of the States in the Union rejected the Democrats’ New Order Party vision that embraced the Radical Feminist* gameplan.
In fact, I wonder if on some intuitive level a large number of Citizens sensed even back then that there was something fundamentally Alien in the whole vision, although they did not at that time a) have the vocabulary or full conceptual awareness of what was being busily spun as merely a continuation of MLK’s profoundly impressive unitive Vision;
and b) could not at that point in history even imagine that the federal government would actually embrace what is essentially a Marxist schematic that for all practical purposes abandoned the Framing Vision.
(Nor am I here shrilly going for a the-government-is-Communist bit. What the Beltway embraced was Marxist, and Eurocommunist, but not to all appearances Communist as that monstrous ideology was known in the USSR and all its satellites.)
Boyers observes of Updike’s anti-hero that his faith was “a rottenness of certitudes” – about the West, about the evil of Western civilization (and I would include Culture here), about the great threat that Western and American civilization posed to the world and its peoples, and about what a noxious affront such an outrageous Thing was to decent and right-thinking people.
And does that not sound rather familiar in light of everything that Gramsci, Mouffe, R-Feminists, and the whole pandemonium of fellow/sister-travelers and ‘useful idiots’ claim about the macho, patriarchal, dominant, oppressive, hegemonic American Culture and its enabling document, the Constitution?
But – I note – not Updike, not Boyers, not Pinker go there. Which omission is itself a commentary on the state of intellectual discourse in the country nowadays. And largely has been for the past 40 Biblical years.
The terrorist anti-hero of the novel notes that Westerners “brag of freedom” but it is “a freedom to no purpose”. We are instantly brought back to first principles when confronted with this observation, which is actually touted as one of the great cutting-edge aspects of postmodern, post-democratic, post-Liberal politics in the ‘liberal’ New Order: no individual has to consider him/herself bound by any preconceived notion of what the purpose of his/her life is, since s/he is ‘born free’ and is not burdened or constrained by any ‘essence’ or by any Higher Authority or Being that/Who might have imbued human beings with such a confining and restricting load.
I hold no brief whatsoever for the anarchist or terrorist idea that the only way you can impose your political vision is by gratuitous or calculated violence.
But I also hold no brief for the lethal Gramscian-Mouffian assurance that a well-established democratic polity and its Culture only serve the forces of Oppression, Dominance, and Hegemony and that on that basis that polity and that Culture deserve – and can only be dealt with by – the “antagonistic” “war of positions” which has been slyly waged – with the Beltway’s full aiding and abetting – for the past 40 Biblical years.
This is the secularist ‘space’ created by simply erasing any possibility of human purpose (except if a particular individual personally chooses to accept such a restriction – and even then s/he can change his/her mind any old time).
But it should not be too hard to see that such a neat political ploy, rhetorically (and demagogically) shrewd, is also profoundly destabilizing to any human sense of Meaning and Purpose.
(And for this reason, it becomes clear that the Church’s long-standing opposition to the Marxist form of ‘Knowledge’ is grounded in a reason far far Above and Beyond some massively brutish desire to quench genuine human freedom: Flattening humanity’s existential horizon onto the Base Board of the Mono-Plane (with no Higher levels of existence, hence no God and no ultimate grounding and justification for human dignity, meaning and purpose) is no path to genuine, full, and ultimate human freedom.)
What I fear is that the more addled the Citizens become because of so profound a lack of large and solidly-anchored Meaning and Purpose, the less able they will become to withstand the growth of Leviathan (the National Security State) and Leviatha (the National Nanny State), which two profoundly anti-American monstrosities are now revealing their essential sameness as they metastasize with impunity into some intrusive and (in a nice symmetry) monster-government unbounded and unrestricted by any Framing ‘essence’ or ‘nature’.
About the anti-hero’s terroristic ‘politics’, Boyers observes that the young terrorist is not actually interested in politics at all. And that his “political ideas” are merely a hash of “platitudes and warmed-over certainties”.
But what is the Gramscian and especially Mouffian ‘philosophy’ (embraced by R-feminism, MacKinnon, Nussbaum, Amartya Sen and – up until recently – Habermas) except precisely just such a hash of old Marxist and Leninist categories and prescriptions, re-jiggered but nothing more?
A hash of mantras, presumptions, dogmas and slogans which – if you’ve gone into hock to put your kid(s) through college any time in the past twenty-five years – now passes for ‘elite cutting edge education and Knowledge’.
And in a remarkable bit in the novel, when the character of an assistant to the Director of Homeland Security is asked by his boss why terrorists do all this bad stuff, he gives the answer: “Because they hate the light”.
Let Us pass over in silence the fact that this almost a word-for-word replication of the Israeli Realm’s single primary justification for the opposition that remains so stubbornly alive to it in the Middle East six full decades after its erection as a sovereignty.
Let Us rather recall that this assertion is also precisely the single primary ‘explanation’ George W. Bush gave for the 9/11 attacks: the terrorists hate us because of our freedom. (A freedom which, a decade later, very very few on either Left or Right deny has somehow slipped away in the choking, miasmic brouhaha raised by the unleashed dogs of war.)
And in the Correct argot that means that any Citizens who oppose or doubt the ‘Knowledge’ of those who ‘get it’ are merely backlashers and fetishizers of the Constitution, that pact with Oppression, Dominance, and Hegemony cooked up by patriarchally macho, oppressive, dominant, hegemonic dead white males.
And yet one of whose worst and most lethal philosophical systems R-Feminism slyly filched and, with the help of a demographically addled and supremely feckless mob of Beltway pols, invited in through the front door here around 1971 or so, and – further – was insidiously spun as cutting-edge, fresh, and ‘new’ thinking about reform that nobody had ever thought of before here in this country.
But it was ‘new’ to the American political and cultural Universe only because it had been avoided like the plague ever since Marx (let alone Lenin and Gramsci). And the wreckage of its monstrous failures throughout the world had become – especially after WW2 and the revelations Nikita Khrushchev made at the 20th Party Congress in 1956, ominously accompanied by the repression of the Hungarian Revolt of that year – clear to all but the most whacked-out ‘believers’ in the Marxist approach and all its spawn. (And, it might well be added, the failures of all the excitements and visions of the Bandung era in the Third World of the 1950s as well.)
Marxism in any of its variants was not so much ‘fresh’ and ‘new’ as it was the toxic core of a fundamentally Alien political Universe, and a Universe that – like an Orc to an Elf – was comprised of precisely those elements that denied some of the most fundamental first principles on which the West’s and especially America’s polity and Culture had been built.
In relation to Western Culture and the Culture contained within the Framing Vision, Marxism constituted not an alternative Universe but rather an anti-Universe.
Boyers sees Updike trying to demonstrate that to be encased in such an ideological shell simply cuts the ‘believing terrorist’ off from reality. But let Us not be distracted by the red-herring of ‘belief’ here: the secularist Gramscian-Mouffian cadres of the vanguard elite Elect are just as much ‘believers’ as the – in this case, Islamic – terrorist. The elite cadres are secular believers – meaning that they do not base their beliefs in any other Plane of Existence – but they are believers just the same and just as single-mindedly and ruthlessly (and, thus, just as whackulently).
Because if you have the magic ‘Knowledge’ (shades of ancient Gnosticism) then an almost irresistible need is experienced by the well-intentioned yet slack-minded: to immediately get rid of whatever interferes with your oh-so-marvelous Knowledge and its dampdream fever-swamp ‘visions’. And not let those who ‘just don’t get it’ interfere with your plans. After all, you are, just as sure as any religious fundamentalist terrorist, ‘on a mission from God’. Although in the Marxist case, you are a secular fundamentalist and don’t believe in a God; instead, you believe utterly in the Marxian ‘Knowledge’ that – as improved by R-feminist bright-bulb Catharine MacKinnon over here – has been hidden since the beginning of recorded human history and has only now been ‘revealed’ to and by the cadres of the vanguard elite Elect who are the only ones who really do ‘get it’.
Boyers goes on to observe that “the new Islamic fundamentalists are frightening principally because they have so little attachment to the things of this world”, a world that is “ugly and deceitful, a world filled with defilement and shame”. And a world that is “the devil’s playground”.
And, one could only add, the Western and American world is nothing more than a blivet filled with the truly Evil devilry of Oppression, Dominance, and Hegemony. (You can consult your search engine for it if it isn’t a familiar term.)
(Why weren’t Americans frightened of all that sooner? As I said above, perhaps because they simply couldn’t grasp or imagine that the Dems (and before long the Republicans for their own purposes) were going to smooth their way forward in the early 1970s by inviting the shades of Marx and Gramsci – dressed perhaps in a Mouffian wig – into the very heart of the American polity and Culture. And yet The People sensed something back there in the presidential election of 1972.)
In fact the only difference I can make out between Updike’s terrorist anti-hero and the Gramscian-Mouffian pandemonium is that whereas the anti-hero entertains a “sour view of the world”, the pandemonium – cadres, fellow/sister-travelers, and useful idiots – entertain a gleefully sour view of the world: it’s so rotten that they can happily take axe to it root and branch, sawing and hacking in the sure and certain Knowledge that anything they hit deserves such a mighty deconstructive and transgressive whack.
You can kiss the American common-weal goodbye. In fact, it’s probably been left too far behind to embrace now, even for a farewell smooch. Hasta la vista, bayyy-beeeeee – to quote a phrase.
Goodbye to all that. It’s not ‘your grandfather’s America any more’, to recall a gleeful Radical Feminist slogan.
Boyers draws a connection between the fundamentalist anti-hero and Hannah Arendt’s characterization of “the banality of evil”, embodied in Adolf Eichmann, a man she described as possessing “a quite authentic inability to think”.
With all due respect to Boyers and Arendt, I don’t think that’s what We see in the Gramscian-Mouffian cadres of the vanguard elite Elect. What We have here is a deliberate and calculated refusal to think. Instead, they embrace their presumptions, mantras, dogmas, fever-swamp excitements and visions, and slogans.
And then do their very best (with the resources of the Beltway pols and bureaucracies at their disposal and the collusion of so much of the mainstream media and educational ‘elites’) to ensure that We don’t and indeed can’t think either.
Can it really be any wonder that nothing vital around here seems to work anymore?
There is no longer in Our politics – as there is no longer in the politics of Updike’s terrorist anti-hero – “the drama of contending ideas”. Instead there is nothing but a kabuki of dueling adolescent cartoons masquerading (and being accepted) as ‘political thoughts’ and ‘political positions’. And all so verrry ‘fresh’, ‘rich’, ‘creative’, ‘transgressive’, ‘deconstructive’, ‘liberating’ and – but of course – cutting-edge.
‘Creative’ as in ‘make it up as you go along’ and don’t worry about what the whole thing will look like once you’ve gotten it rolling and don’t worry about such fuddy-duddy things as ‘consequences’ or ‘un-intended consequences’ because – it is ferociously believed – somehow Everything Will Be Better when you’re finished all your fresh and rich creating, transgressing, deconstructing, and cutting up and down.
And is that working for Us?
But then, in the fatal anti-politics of Mouffe’s “radical democracy”, there is no ‘Us’, nor even an ‘us’. Rather instead, there is simply a scorpion-pile of writhing creatures seeking what they want and demanding it right now, stinging and whacking their own kind in an eternal and fatal scrum of self-interest. Is this not a form of Social Darwinism?
Is it then any wonder that somehow – none of the elite cared to imagine how it might or would happen – the same philosophy that accompanied the first Gilded Age and its grossly deranged social and political relations has now – and from the Left – been introduced here and, by amazing coincidence, We are now afflicted with a second Gilded Age even worse than the first?
Gordon Gekko managed to make his repugnant comeback in the 1980s (his direct ancestor Gekko from the 1880s had been caged, finally, in the 1930s) as a selfish, aggressive (and quite possibly sociopathic) Macher precisely in response to what had by 1980 been a decade’s worth of the intense and rabidly-infused Marxist class-war ‘narrative’, grotesquely jiggered to now include (by 1980) Race and – far more virulently – Gender (as those words are used as code for all the demands of basic Identity Politics).
Identity Politics thus conceived had a) made insistent and obsessive and aggressive self-centeredness ‘respectable’ again, and indeed made it absolutely cutting-edge; and
b) had, through its assorted deconstructions and destructive manipulations in the service of maximizing Mouffe’s permanently necessary “antagonisms” among the hugely-expanded ranks of the variously ‘oppressed’, created ‘space’ merely by destroying whatever it set its sights upon (with the full collusion of the addled Beltway pols) and thereby actually created a vacuum – into which, as I said, Gekko’s spirit returned with a vengeance. A vengeance driven by that robust vitality that always appeals to the lower human urges and fueled by the huge quantities of ‘paper’ wealth created in the Reagan years in the effort to restore the appearance of a healthy and Productive American economy that even in 1980 was a thing of a rapidly-fading Past.
Nor did the Clintons help by embracing the worst of Gekko while also whole-heartedly opening the corridors of government to the R-feminists and their agendas and cocksure (so to speak) certainties and adolescent self-assurance that they ‘got it’ and possessed – for the first time in recorded human history – the secret ‘Knowledge’ that would bring their ilk’s dampdreams (and precisely not the common-weal) into marvelous flowering perfection.
Such feminism. Such governance.
Big Identity and Big Money. Such a two-fer.
Boyers makes reference to Dostoevsky trying to wrap his capacious and sensitive mind around the reality of that actual historical figure, the bloody-minded Russian anarchist Nechaev, who sought nothing less than the extermination of – in an eerie classification – “gentlemen and Liberals and all defenders of every status quo”.**
Which – and feel free to consult any ‘consciousness-raising sessions’ – is pretty much the agenda of the R-feminist Gramscian-Mouffian cadres of the vanguard elite Elect.
But even if only considered from a purely conceptual point of view, the constant instability of deliberately smashing any reliable predictability and ‘solidity’ that has formed or is forming in one’s Culture is profoundly deranging to human development.
Yes, the cadres will insist that this human developmental need for ‘stability’ is merely a ‘compensatory illusion’ created by weak-willed and weak-spirited humans who for millennia ‘just didn’t get it’ and were ‘oppressed’ by hegemonies to which they were seduced to give their consent.
But both human developmental psychology and what used to be called ‘religious anthropology’ are acutely alive to the deranging potentials of an essential unreliability in one’s surround: Shaping becomes impossible for the human personality (which, alas, has mulishly not yet evolved into some Star Trekky level of ‘pure energy’, utterly vital yet immaterial and unconstricted by any need for a Shape). Humans exposed to a culture built on fluid unreliability do not – pace Gene Roddenberry – evolve into ‘pure (and Correct) energy’ but rather become mushy and gelatinous, an exo-skeletal insect without the exo-skeleton.
And if you are still able to conceive of the human situation un-deformed by the Secret Knowledge of those who ‘get it’, you might also imagine that to then also Flatten the already gelatinized human species into a purely materialistic, Mono-Planar, this-dimensional existence (with no Beyond and no Higher Entity or – if you wish – God) is thus and thereby doubly lethal and most surely fatal to any genuine (or Genuine) human fulfillment and freedom.
My take on all this in regard to Our own present situation is this: while studying the Islamic terrorist anti-hero and the dynamics that drive him to his frightful assumptions, Updike is somehow – and perhaps unintentionally – reflecting an even more lethal and insidious dynamic that has been going on right here for decades.
In other words, somehow – whether he intended to or not – Updike here is talking not only about the psychological dynamics and deformities of the Islamic terrorist anti-hero of his novel, but also – lurking not far beneath the surface of that writerly discussion – are the psychological dynamics and deformities of American society as it has been contorted – first from the Left and then from the Right – over the past 40 Biblical years.***
So his novel, whatever its weaknesses, is indeed a ‘rich’ source of insight into vital and urgent matters more specifically American.
I know that Updike is now dead and I am not trying to stuff words into his mouth. But the similarities between the psychology and presumptions of Updike’s anti-hero and the long-espoused presumptions of the Gramscian-Mouffian cadres are simply too compelling to ignore.
And I wonder if somehow, in that now distant year of 1972, The People somehow sensed the abyss that lay at the heart of the New Order and instinctively acted to reject it and – they thought – ward it off.
But instead, the cadres of the vanguard elite Elect simply became enraged and – with the feckless ‘barons’ of the Beltway as their political enablers – simply decided that a People that “just doesn’t get it” doesn’t deserve to be heard and their ‘deliberative democratic politics’ are merely a rotten husk and ditto the Constitution that guarantees that politics and ditto the Framing Vision that undergirds that politics.
And the band played on from there.
Even though now what was billed as the marquis crowning victory of American ‘liberalism’ – a young black multicultural man as President (as JFK was a young white Catholic man as President) – turns out to be as dedicated an enabler of a profoundly anti-democratic vision as the monstrous tag-team that preceded him and the queasily greasy-glowing tag-team of husband and wife that preceded them.
Asked what should be done in the matter of the Warren Commission, half a century ago next year, homely up-by-the-bootstraps Philadelphia guy John J. McCloy – major D.C. player in the WW2 era and Member of that Warren Commission – insisted that whatever was decided, the US simply could not be allowed to be seen as “a banana republic”.
But here We are: a declining republic with – yes – no bananas and just some really big bombs.
*Let me repeat here a few introductory points about my use of ‘feminism’ and ‘radical feminism: As noted in the MacKinnon Post, I use this term (R-feminist) to denote radical-feminism. A couple of points to clarify at the outset: A) R-feminism is different from moderate and liberal feminism, which MacKinnon and her cadres helped kick to the curb in American politics in the 1970s; B) when I refer to R-feminism I am referring to it as a political phenomenon; thus C) I am not ‘against women’ (who, in my book, are human beings made in the Image of God and you really can’t get a higher encomium than that); which foregoing presumes D) that I don’t think R-feminism is demonstrably the representative spokesthing for all women.
**In the process, Boyers recommends – and I agree – some excellent literary works: Henry James’s “The Princess Casamassima”; Joseph Conrad’s “The Secret Agent”; Dostoevsky’s “The Possessed” and – more recently – J.M.Coetzee’s “The Master of Petersburg”.
If you are of a literary bent, and want to give yourself a short but acute course in the psychology of ‘true believers’ who will, and most urgently and sincerely feel compelled to, do ‘whatever it takes’ and to do it right now, then this is a great little list to start with.
As I have been saying, you will learn a great deal not only about the psychological wiring of ‘religious’ fundamentalists but also of secular fundamentalists. Thus – alas – getting a much clearer picture of what has happened to American politics, political discourse, and public political competence – individual and communal – in the past 40 Biblical years.
***And of course, staring everyone right in the face for the past 40 Biblical years is this ominous and lethal symmetry: Just as conceptually there are no ‘innocent victims’ for terrorists, so too there are no ‘innocent bourgeois’ for Marx, Lenin, Gramsci or Mouffe. And for MacKinnon and her ilk, the new working definition of ‘bourgeois’ is that ‘you just don’t get it’.
So for all of the viewing audience who let so much go on for so long without much of a thought, because it didn’t really have anything to do with themselves … well, if you weren’t part of the solution then you were part of the problem (remember that bit from the long-ago?).
In a recent exchange of communications the idea was proposed to me that MacKinnon’s R-feminist version of ‘modern feminism’ “has nothing whatever to do with Marxism”. This is so, the idea goes on, because “Marxism-Leninism is distinguished by a single party directing all the affairs of society and by government ownership of the means of production” and “neither of those has arisen in the US since 1970 or at any other time”. And that whatever has happened since 1970 is and must be considered as prompted solely by “the ample precedents throughout American history” itself.
But it was precisely Gramsci’s point that one could not repeat the Russian Method of establishing ‘the revolution’ in the West and that a new Method was necessary because a) the Citizenries of the established democracies were too competent politically and b) democracy was so deeply entwined in those Western democracies. But they had both realized that ‘democracy’ could only serve “the bourgeoisie” and – to put it in Gramsci’s terms – the dominant hegemonic Culture.
It was to specifically tailor such a new and needed Method that Gramsci constructed his own approach, that ‘war of positions’ by which vanguard cadres of the Party would not govern through a single-Party State but would rather conduct a sustained offensive assault against the fixed positions, the ‘castle’ to use his imagery, of an established democracy and its Culture.
Rather, vanguard-elites would – in the full ideal of Gramsci’s vision – educate the “marginalized” and then nurse those “marginalized” along as those now ‘educated’ and ‘consciousness-raised’ “marginalized” made the revolution.
As I have indicated in my series of Posts, the danger lurking in this was that – given the nature of human psychology and the dynamics of power, especially in revolutionary projects – the guiding element of the vanguard elites would become impatient with this ideal approach and seek both to a) ‘speed up the revolution’ on their own and b) retain power rather than giving it over to the “marginalized” while also c) give themselves over to Orwell’s ‘Animal Farm’ scenario and retain the power for themselves (for the sake of the still and variously oppressed, of course, and always in the name of those oppressed masses).
Just about all of this has happened here since 1970. Even in regard to (c) where the IVth level of advanced ‘Advocacy’ constitutes a bloc (a Gramscian term and a concept he strongly urged upon the cadres) of powerful influence in the Beltway. Our politics is now envisioned (in Mouffe's feverswamp justifications) as an ongoing, permanent, and necessary clash ('war' wouldn't be a mischaracterization) of "antagonisms" between 'Identities' among the "marginalized" and variously "oppressed" and – as always – waged ultimately against the dominant, oppressive, hegemonic target Culture, i.e. America’s Culture built on and anchored in its Framing Vision.
And Our political discourse is reduced to the dynamics inherent to the Marxist, Leninst, Gramscian assault strategy of continuously and variously assaulting and undermining and "de-legitimizing" (a Gramscian term, not feminism's) the "hegemonic" (ditto) Culture such that whatever mud or claim serves the Cause is tossed forth as 'reason' and any effort to support the Culture - no matter how rational, reasonable, and compelling - is and must be hooted off the stage of public discourse. Shades of Mussolini's well-dressed thugs hooting down Haile Selassie as he tried to make his case against their invasion of his country before the League of Nations; a newsreel clip whose grainy black and white message should always be before Us. Rather than that witlessly lethal burble of Mao's: "Let a hundred flowers bloom!", which soon led China not into a Garden but a Jungle.
Indeed, what has been most uniquely ‘American’ about the whole process has been that the sworn defenders of America’s democratic, deliberative political Culture was that the Beltway, led by the demographically-desperate Dems in that era of the very late 1960s and especially the very early 1970s, actually threw open the gates of the Culture in a desperate (and, in my opinion, witlessly treacherous) bid for ‘the female demographic’ (which the cadres-advocates claimed to fully and uniquely represent and control sufficiently to ‘deliver the votes’).
Thus was born the Beltway pandering to Big Identity (spear-headed by Gender). It was shortly thereafter that the Dems came up with PACs, which the Supreme Court upheld in 1976; a neat idea which systematized and legalized the delivery of cash to pols for their services and indenture. A development, by the by, which the corporations and Big Money did nothing to prevent, since it also played right into their hands as well – a development, thus, which while it seemed in the short term remarkably shrewd and ‘strategic’, actually – and hardly unforeseeably – opened the door to the old politics of the first Gilded Age.
Nor do I assert that the entire Gramscian subversive strategy – that ‘war of positions’ – ignored the terrain on which it was operating, i.e. America’s own particular history and historical themes and dynamics. Rather, it built upon them, using them for its own purposes. That was part of the ‘genius’ and adaptability of Gramsci’s approach.
And in regard to the assertion that ‘modern feminism’ (which fails to appreciate my distinction among moderate and ‘liberal’ feminism and R-feminism), "has nothing whatsoever to do with Marxism", I can only point out the following:
Surely MacKinnon’s “Towards a Feminist Theory of Politics” (1989, though she says she had been working on the ideas of the relationship of feminism and Marxism since 1970 or so) establishes that: she crows that while Marx was good, his ‘economic’ definition was insufficient and she proceeds to substitute Gender for economics and for ‘proletariat’ and, like Julia Child in kitchen on camera, discusses it with us as she does it.
Ditto Mouffe whose theory of “radical democracy” has no need whatsoever for a “deliberative democratic politics” (her 1985 summa “Hegemony and Socialist Strategy: Toward a Radical Feminist Politics” rather clearly lays it out). Further, her concept of necessary and permanent “antagonisms” between groups in the service of their own agendas (as opposed to any balancing sense of the commonweal) as absolutely essential to her “radical democracy” goes quite some way toward a) explaining the lethally fractalizing effect of Identity Politics as it has evolved here and b) demonstrating the use of Gramsci’s ‘war of positions’ as he outlines the way to undermine a “hegemonic” and “oppressive” (his terms, not feminism’s) Culture in service of the “marginalized” (ditto).
The connection of which dots leads me to reaffirm my thought that what has fundamentally deranged American politics has been this lethal (perhaps fatal) synergy of Gramsci’s original approach and R-feminism’s adoption of it in the American setting since 1970 or so – and vitally infused with seeming ‘success’ by the immediate and rather thorough embrace of the whole toxic shebang by the Dems (in the beginning) and then Republicans (as Big Money in the immediately ensuing years was given a place in the game).
While all along the whole thing was ‘spun’ as merely a continuation of MLK’s far more capacious and genuinely American Vision and thus as the further expansion of ever-expanding visions of ‘civil rights’ and (the key Gramscian giveaway) ‘liberation from oppression’. And as being utterly fresh, new, creative, and native to the American soil (and, in my terms, to the American political and legal Universe).
Which was and remains fundamentally not so.
And constitutes, I would say, the core derangement from which so many of Our current political debaucheries and lunacies and derangements and malfunctions continue to erupt like so much lava from a threatening but still (stunningly) unacknowledged volcano.
Labels: American political development since the Sixties, Chantal Mouffe, John Updike, Marxism and radical feminism, Stephen Pinker