Thursday, May 03, 2012
He had a point then and he most certainly still has a point now.
Where did this come from, this effort to abolish “contingency”?
A powerful synergy was created by the combination of Victimism and organized Advocacy. The Victimist approach is that many (many many, if you tote up the putative constituencies that the organized Advocacy interests claim to represent) are ‘victimized’ by this or that ‘structural’ element in the make-up of societies and cultures – and wouldn’t be (and I agree) wonderful if all this ‘victimization’ could be gotten rid of?
The organized Advocacy approach – drawing deeply from Alinsky and Gramsci (both of whom drew deeply from the Marxist-Leninist universe) – was that since a) the dominant and oppressive and hegemonic forces in culture and society pretty much sustained the status-quo against the ‘marginalized’ (Gramsci’s term) and since b) only political power would solve the problem – that power to be achieved by whatever means necessary to wield a counter-power to the elements of the status-quo, then you had to force the government to work in the interests of the ‘marginalized’ and the ‘victimized’.
In the service of such a good Cause – and soused with the ‘revolutionary’ approach to politics (you don’t seek to ‘understand’ but rather you work to ‘change’; and you don’t let yourself be sidetracked from your plan by ‘facts’ or worries about consequences or by deliberating and consulting with people who ‘just don’t get it’ in the first place) – then whatever force or pressure you can manage to exert by whatever means you can achieve it is ‘baptized’. (Long before Bush-Cheney, this country’s politics had started to walk on the dark side.)
Coincidentally, in those late 1960s Italian radical students (also soused with Gramsci but even more with Mao) were chanting the mantra: Where violence reigns, only violence will help. Over here there was some overt violence, but what escaped notice was the tremendous amount of violence done to the Framing Vision by the adoption of major and fundamental elements from the Marxist-Leninist-Gramscian-Maoist political universe.
Flowing into the powerful stream of American can-do-ism (LBJ was especially noted for it, and with a hefty Texas helping of brawn and brass), and driven by demographic desperation by the dissolution of the almost 40-year old New Deal coalition, the late-60s and early-70s Beltway simply started accepting whatever agendas were pushed their way, aimed at eradicating as many of the ‘oppressions’ of American life as might be identified by this or that among a burgeoning roster of organized Advocacies now sensing broad sunlit uplands in the distance and a clear path opened for them through the corridors of the Beltway.
In this, the Beltway quickly adapted what Theodore Lowi had identified in March of 1967 as the well-established postwar Beltway strategy Lowi called “interest group liberalism”: the Beltway would allow major interest groups (at that time big labor, big business, and big agriculture) to write up the regulations and laws that they could all live with, the administration sort of refereeing the production sessions.
Extending this already-established procedure to the now burgeoning roster of organized Advocacies, We wound up with what I would call “advocacy group liberalism”, and those groups too were allowed to almost literally write the laws and regulations they wanted to see implemented forthwith.
Combined with this was a growing tendency toward a secularism that eschewed any reliance on any Beyond to support folks or assist them in dealing with the difficulties of ‘life’, or what Shakespeare had called “the slings and arrows of outrageous Fortune”. In fact – and as Marx had said – ‘religion’ simply blunted the desire of the masses to work toward improving their own situation (and as Lenin added, the masses can’t be relied upon to help themselves, and the vanguard-elite cadres would have to mount up and herd the cattle … for their own sake).
Having gotten into the game for what it may have thought was a dime, the Beltway was now in it for a dollar. And the dollars and the demands added up quickly and began to exert a cumulative force – I would say an increasingly intensifying deranging force – on all aspects of government (legislation, jurisprudence, enforcement) and on increasingly broad sectors of American life, society, and culture as well.
And – having now put itself in the position of getting rid of any Beyond that might assuage and assist folks – the Beltway found itself increasingly taking over functions formally ascribed to the Divinity.
Which could and can only forebode lethally ominous developments for any constitutional, limited, republican and democratic form of government.
As We have seen now for the past forty Biblical years and more.
Thus too the ancient spirit of Leviathan, called back to life by its newly-created robust mate, Leviatha from the new Left, once again began to stalk the land and – more dangerously – the corridors and streets of the Beltway.
Fortified as well by a hefty infusion of legal ‘positivism’: ‘positivism’ is a poorly named term. It stems from the Latin ponere, to place or to put in place. ‘Positivism’ is the translation in English, but it’s a poor choice because in English it’s associated quickly in the mind with something ‘positive’ and thus ‘good’.
But what the term is actually describing is a government that puts its laws in place; it ‘posits’ them.
The ‘-ism’ stems from the assumption that whatever law a government puts in place is ipso facto valid and inarguable simply because the government has done it, has put it in place.
There is no Higher Law (from any Beyond) to which the law must conform and by which it must be judged, and there is no Higher Law to which a positing-government need answer or to which it must conform or by which it might be judged.
‘Positivism’ effectively removes any law put in place by the government from any limiting factor whatsoever, beyond such political power as the Citizenry might exercise (that same political power that the vanguard-elites of the organized Advocacies had been working so hard to grasp for their own purposes and agendas).
You see how things began to go.
As the government and the Beltway became increasingly indentured to the new client-constituencies, and fortified by a healthy fear of having Alinsky-type demonstrations organized against this or that pol outside his/her office, then “advocacy group liberalism” increasingly became a powerful force demanding that the government resolve or eradicate (or – more ominously – prevent) an ever-expanding panoply of misfortunes and ills and sufferings.
Government began to get into the God-business big-time, and – worse – began to assume the God-role.
And in so doing it began to depart from the Framing Vision big-time: the most basic rights now (to privacy and to property) have come now to be considered in Correct and elite thought – as in Marx’s thought – as nothing but obstructions designed to maintain the status-quo hegemony of the dominant oppressors, and if the government ‘granted’ them (the Framers thought they were merely ‘recognizing’ them) then the government can taketh-them-away. No questions asked, or ask-able.
Thus Wieseltier – hardly alone in his observation – notes that the political and cultural energies and consciousness of the country (government and citizenry, culture and society) was geared toward the expectation that government would not simply manage the big corporations more equitably but that it would – through various broad and forceful and imposed re-jiggering of ‘structural’ causes – eradicate just about anything that some organized Advocacy insisted was a pain, or a problem, or a ‘victimization’.
And here We are.
All too often too many people look to the government to solve all the problems of life; they see themselves as the victims of ... something; they want the road smooth and the American Garden freed from all the toils and tribulations. People with a life-stance like this aren't going to be up to the task of being The People, the ultimate governors of their government. They are, rather, in mind and heart, its clients and dependents.*
Yet ‘life’ remains stubbornly painful. As the novelist Marguerite Duras put it through one of her characters: “Very early in my life, it was already too late”. Just so.
This ‘secularist positivism’ is of course averse to being judged by any Higher Law. And that, I strongly think, is part of the reason for the general and almost-instinctive government animus to the Catholic Church, which stands as a major obstacle to its agenda and its very existence as a political vision and a political force in this country.
The Church stands as an obstacle because she stands precisely and faithfully (some will say obstinately, stubbornly, and obstructively) for that Higher Law. The Church herself is imperfect, not being “divine” herself and comprised of humans constructed – as is everybody – by the “crooked timber of humanity”. But the stands for that Higher Law and no secular-positivist government, no Leviathan (or Leviatha) can tolerate that type of ‘threat’ to its hegemony and dominance (and – I am sure We shall see – ‘oppression’).
One does not need to be a Catholic to be concerned or to be ‘empowered’ as a Citizen to do something about all this.
One need only believe as a rock-bottom first principle that the single monoplane of this earthly existence is not the only Plane of Existence and that there is a Higher Plane of Existence, wherein dwelleth principles, or Principles, and perhaps the Source of all such Principles as the nation was founded-upon.
That position is philosophically quite viable and enjoys a heritage that goes back to Plato and Aristotle.
And though they may be classic ‘dead white European males’, yet at this point We need all the help We can get.
*You think of the Brits in the Blitz and throughout that war, even when in summer ’44 that V-1’s and V-2s started a second Blitz: ‘we’ll manage’. You think of Americans here on the homefront, asking themselves all the time: ‘Is this trip necessary?’ You think of the country – either in uniform or under the discipline and challenges of the homefront, to say nothing of absorbing the losses of loved ones in combat … where is that capacity among Us now? So many are not only too young to recall or to even have parents who can pass on such capacities of character, but are also ‘clients’ of the parent-God government, in a national culture increasingly corroded both by consumerism and victimism.