Sunday, July 29, 2012


In a recent article on the Counterpunch site [L1] Andrew Levine recommends that “the Left” start consciously and without hesitation embracing the “core principles” expressed in Lenin’s 1902/3 pamphlet What Is To Be Done?.

Lest there be any confusion, that advice is aimed at the American “Left”.

It “has lessons” for the American Left.

The first thing to note is that there is some vagueness as to just what “the Left” means. As best I can make it out, it does not mean ‘liberals’. Rather, it aims at those ‘radicals’ who were eagerly vacuumed up by the demographically-desperate Dems in the late-1960s and early-1970s.

But that distinction may now be of only historical significance, since the ‘liberals’ pretty much got swamped by the ‘radicals’, each bunch of which came onto the field with an agenda  - often including the term ‘revolutionary’. And – especially with the quick and pressured Beltway embrace of radical-feminism (which itself had elbowed more moderate versions of feminism out of the nest, to fall and crack-up or starve in the unpublicized depths below) – there came both the rise of deliberate and conscious Identity Politics (fractalizing the Citizenry and The People into implacably-oppositional chunks who shared only a common victimization of ‘oppression’) and the political Method of Lenin as channeled through the early-20th century Italian Communist thinker Antonio Gramsci.

And that Method of Gramsci’s was specifically designed to undermine already-functioning Western European democratic and constitutional polities in the service of a revolution that would bring ‘the marginalized’ to the center and end all ‘oppression, hegemony, and dominance’ once and for all. (Those now-familiar political terms are Gramsci’s, lifted from his writing by the radicals over here.)

Gramsci also dreamed of undermining the American democratic constitutional (and – of course – bourgeois) polity but couldn’t even begin to hope ever seeing that goal achieved.

But then came the 1960s and the Dems were desperate.

And then the Republicans realized that if the Dems were going to kick the Framing Vision to the curb in order to create a new Leviatha government to impose the agendas of their newly-created Identities, there was no reason why the Right couldn’t bring back bad old Leviathan, an impositional government hedged twice: by the Framers in 1787 and by the American Progressives following the (First) Gilded Age through the (worthwhile) efforts of both Roosevelts during their time in the White House.

The common ground here being that both major Parties were going to kick the Framing Vision (and its Constitution) to the curb. From the Left because the Vision and the Constitution were merely patriarchal machinery for continuing patriarchy, dominance, and oppression; from the Right because the Framing Vision and the Constitution curbed and bounded the power of wealth and unbridled capitalism.

And that both Left and Right realized that the only way to get what they wanted was to get control of the levers of political power (previously reposed by the Framers in The People and in deliberative democratic politics) and then get rid of whatever principles or traditions put curbs on the power of that government to do whatever its operators wanted it to do for them.

I’ve said it all before on this site.

But now comes a well-credentialed academic member of the Left elites. And he has finally been moved by the awfulness of the current national situation to put it out there in plain English: the Left needs to come out of the political closet, declare its love for Lenin (or at least, for his “core principles”) and do what has to be done.

The ‘L-word’ now takes on a stunning new connotation: that ‘L’ is code for ‘Lenin’. Say it now and say it loud … I’m a Leninist and I’m proud! (At this point, wave your copy high over your head with a big smile, while facing the eager cameras. If there are several of you, try to wave in unison and create that nice ripply Wave effect.)

Yah. Do that.

And while you’re at it, Let A Hundred Flowers Bloom! (You remember the Mao-man, right?)

Lenin’s pamphlet, says Levine coyly, “was a political intervention focused on issues confronting the Russian Social Democratic movement at the dawn of the twentieth century”. So far so good and so true.

And “much of its content is peculiar to the time and place of its composition”. Ditto.

But it has some value to us here today as a “theoretical treatise” and thus read “it can be enormously enlightening”.

So we – even we here – are well advised – if we be of the Left – to put away Mao’s Little Red Book (do you still have your copy?) and take up Lenin’s book (hereinafter: WITBD). Because, “ironically”, his insights “have never been truer” than they are now in the United States. Meaning, that American politics today, and Our overall political arrangements, have a lot in common with the problems that so exercised Vladimir Illyich (formerly Ulanov, but it wasn’t a catchy name and so he changed it to Lenin).

“The Left in the United States today, what there is of it [of the Left or of the United States?], would do well to take on board that text’s core principles – adapted, of course, to the circumstances we now confront”.

Of course.

Except that Levine will studiously and thoroughly avoid discoursing as to just how it has been the Left’s embrace of Gramscian-Leninist principles forty Biblical years back that has brought Us to Our present lamentable and increasingly catastrophic political (and cultural and economic) situation.

And as I have often said on this site, it is a huge and hugely relevant and dubious Question: can you even graft a Leninist-Gramscian politics onto the Framing Vision and the Constitution and still keep the United States envisioned by the Framers, as a government (to use Lincoln) “of the people, by the people, for the people” – and not just one or two but all three of those enumerated principles?

Since We hear from every point on the political compass now that things have gone very profoundly wrong – somehow – with America and its politics and its political discourse and its entire basic Stance toward the world and toward its own most genuine and vital First Principles, then I’m going to suggest that the Answer to that Question is – and always has been – No.

Call me a pessimistic, un-hopey backlasher but there it is.

Levine has the courage of his convictions. “The most basic of those principles [i.e. Lenin’s] is that, for fundamental political change, leadership and direction is indispensable … insurgent masses need a revolutionary vanguard”. [italics mine]

You read it here first.

But I say that it is precisely the political Method (and Genius) of the Framing Vision that the only way to achieve ‘political change’ – especially if it’s going to be ‘fundamental’ (whatever that means) – is to engage the political support of the Citizenry, of The People. And you do that not by doing an end-run around The People by either hoodwinking them manipulatively or by simply going to the Beltway and doing ‘deal politics’ in the non-smoking smoke-filled backrooms there or both. Nor do you threaten and intimidate and/or seduce the pols – the elected legislators chosen by the Citizenry to responsibly “preserve, protect and defend the Constitution” – into giving you what you want or face a highly publicized and strategically designed hissy-fit.

And I say that while the Framers' way  may be less ‘efficient’ than the way of a “revolutionary vanguard” in the short-run, yet in the long-run – as the awesomely serious and adult Framers and Lincoln saw – this is the only way to effect change without so fracturing and de-ranging and debasing the entire culture, society and polity that it is reduced to a quivering collection of ‘interests’ each – like some antediluvian single-cell life-form – seeking merely to get its own way.

“Revolutionary vanguards” have amply demonstrated a nasty habit of not wanting to let go of the reins of power once they have – for their ostensibly benevolent purposes – achieved that position. In that, Revolutionary Vanguards and the Man on the White Horse have a great deal in common. And from a constitutional democracy’s point of view, it’s all baaad. (And let's not forget that even among revolutionary-vanguards there  will always have to be a Comrade-in-Chief - such vanguards are notoriously not-democratic.)

“Revolts and rebellions have always been with us, and will be so as long as injustice and oppression endure.” Yes.

But I say that it is the Genius of the Framers that there is a better way than revolt: you trust the Citizenry, The People, and – this is the great Gamble contained within the American Experiment – you cast your lot with Them and trust in the process embodied in the Vision.

Or else you go and start yourself another polity altogether. (Nor, in a democracy, is it wise (let alone decent) to trick the Citizenry – those lumpish cattle, in your condescending estimation – into going along with you, having been assured that you are just ‘reforming’ and ‘tweaking’ or that you can guarantee a ‘revolution’ – or many simultaneous revolutions – with no ill effects and lethal consequences that need to be worried about.)

But you can’t graft bits of Lenin’s conceptual corpse onto the living body of America’s living system and expect to create in the Beltway lab on the Hill anything resembling a living entity that is capable of leading a decent and constructive political life.

But that’s what’s been going on for forty years at least, with – Gramsci could only have dreamed of it – the Beltway’s full, eager, treacherous and official collusion.

Levine continues the Leninist insight: “But for the spontaneous outbreaks of resistance to result in real change, they cannot remain spontaneous forever”.  

And once again: what does “real change” mean? Has the accumulated wrack of the past forty Biblical years not been “real” enough? What precisely had the cadres been hoping-for and aiming-for forty years ago? With no definition of what constitutes “real change” then We stand poised to live through permanent or semi-permanent revolution from the Left while simultaneously waging permanent or semi-permanent war under the auspices of the Right.

And that cannot end well.

It’s time to Kick-Tire and ask the revolutionaries exactly what it is they intend to achieve, so that We will know when the ‘crisis’ is over and We can get back to a functioning and productive culture, society, economy and democracy (all of which, you may well have noticed, have kinda gone to seed in the past forty years).

And just as “Lenin wrote as a revolutionary addressing revolutionaries”, let’s Us address the Left elites as revolutionaries and ask them forthrightly and directly just what it is they intend to accomplish.

Or else We are going to be revolutionizing and revolutionizing until suddenly We are no longer in business as a polity or a common-weal or perhaps even a nation.

Or perhaps We might simply ask Our elected representatives and those who seek to be such. After all, the Framing Vision’s equivalent of what Lenin would term ‘vanguard elites’ are the elected representatives: it is their job, under Our guidance, to do the day-to-day planning and tasking that keeps the common-weal chugging along. We didn’t hire them to turn the whole shop over to Lenin’s vanguard-elite cadres; We hired them to keep Our democratic business and culture and society going.

And if the pols agree with the Lefties that We need “fundamental transformations of social, political and economic institutions” then they need to say that and then submit to the Questions that will make them spell it out: just what do they think they’re doing or what do they think they are going to achieve?

Levine admits it: this type of “transformation” isn’t “on the agenda of any liberal democracy, much less the United States”.

So much for ‘liberal’ American democracy (Levine might mean Liberal, the enemy Lenin figured he faced; the ‘liberal’ of the post-1972 era would be a lot more familiar to Lenin – and Gramsci – because post-1972 American liberalism has been heavily tainted with the Gramscian-Leninist operational philosophy).

And while Levine takes his Leninist swipe at American democracy as not even being ‘liberal’ any more, I would say that a major reason for that is that long before Bush and even Reagan the Beltway gave itself – and Us – over to the cadres of the various ‘revolutions’ here. More on that in a bit.

And then Levine walks a bit on the dark and ominous side: “But fundamental changes in the basic structures of societies … are not out of the question, even in the United States” because “a better world is possible … even in the United States”.

So the past forty Biblical years have not been anywhere near the ‘revolution’ that Levine thinks should have happened. Of course, that may be the result of the policies and consequences of what revolutionizing was done in those years. But it’s more pleasant for the Left to imagine – as the patriotistic jingoists do about the Iraq War and its spin-offs – that the Problem stems from not having done the job thoroughly rather than admit that the job itself has caused wayyyy more damage than anybody cared to think about back in the long-ago.

I would say that the revolution – like the Iraq invasion etc. – has been ‘oversold’. A typical gambit when you’re trying to sell your stuff to the government.  And put one over on The People.

And have We now got “a better world”? What revolution has ever managed to pull that off? And without serious cost? Or will We get the fabled “better world” after just one more mighty dose of vanguard-elite wisdom?

“Lenin’s point was that without a revolutionary organization, shaped and informed by revolutionary theory, there can be no successful revolutionary practice.” And so it was. And Catharine MacKinnon said as much – although not quite as overtly and candidly – in her 1989 how-to book, Toward a Feminist Theory of the State. But she had to be coy and could afford to be: there was still enough ‘wealth’ around so that the Beltway could slather gold-paint over everybody – like a Potemkin village – and keep up the illusion that you could indeed ‘do’ Lenin-Gramsci and still be rich. (Although Katherine Hepburn had acutely observed long before: you can have it all, you just can’t have it all at the same time. But at just the moment when the Left might have listened to Hollywood, it chose to ignore Kate.)

A vanguard-elite revolutionary organization is not compatible with a deliberative democratic politics and it is not compatible with the Framing Vision. It presumes the incompetence of ‘the masses’ and in this country that means The People and the Citizens. And if there are no competent Citizens then there is no basis for The People and no need for a Constitution and no grounds for the Framing Vision. Any Engineering 101 student can (or could) tell you what happens to a building or vessel that is hurt like that.

“This goes for peaceful but nevertheless fundamental transformations of basic institutional arrangements.”

Let’s put this beast to bed once and for all: What has happened in this country in the past forty Biblical years is not politically characterizable as “peaceful” (and most certainly not honest, either). We have had culture and gender ‘War’ and ‘Wars’ on this that and the other thing; We have seen law militarized by being ‘revolutionized’ (the definition of ‘revolutionary law’ is that it supports the revolution – as Lenin himself declared); and We have been saddled (though quietly) with an Identity-Politics philosophy (scarfed from Lenin via the Eurocommunists of the 1970s and 1980s) that presumes an eternal ‘war’ among competing Identities (an eerily Social Darwinist bit) and rejects any “deliberative democratic politics” because nothing will change because so many of the Citizens ‘just don’t get it’ so why listen to them in the first place .

I would say that huge and lethal violence has been done to the Framing Vision and to the First Principles upon which this country and common-weal was founded. And that the moral violence that destroyed so much of the integrity of the political process has been incalculable. And that also applies to the violence done to an entire Citizenry whose polity and common-weal has been undermined out from under them, with the collusion of their elected officials and the ‘free press’ that was supposed to keep them honestly informed about what was really going on.

And just what does that “basic institutional arrangements” mean? Surely any change so “fundamental” and ‘basic” should have merited a thorough public airing and deliberation. But then, what do The People know? Most of them ‘just don’t get it’.

But Levine shrewdly and slyly foreshortens his historical perspective: from Lenin back in his salad days Levine moves Us right up to “early 2011” and “the Republican overreach in Wisconsin”. Somehow that period is missing between 1919 and 1991 (when Lenin’s scheme finally closed itself down); and between 1968 or 1972 and 2010 in this country (when the ‘revolutionary’ elites conducted their Long March through America’s culture and politics and institutions).

Are We better off now than Archie Bunker was in 1970? Steerage passengers now get more ‘freedom’ on Titanic, but – somehow, though let’s not go there – the damned thing seems to have hit a berg (flooding steerage first, in a savage irony). So much for the command-and-control capabilities of the vanguard-elites and the pols who loved them.

(And – yes – there will always be enough lifeboats for first-class; if Greed is Good when you’re amassing wealth, it’s even more so when you’re buying your way into a lifeboat on a dark and cold night at sea.)

But all of this revolutionary-thinking is “not really peculiar to Lenin … it is a tenet of all serious efforts to think through the dynamics of fundamental change in the modern era”.

I would say, first, that since Lenin’s thinking helped contaminate the entire 20th century, then he himself helped create that bit of the modern-era. Nor did it help that even as his ideas produced the wrack and ruin that ultimately self-inflicted failure on his Project, the Beltway pols were becoming BFF’s with the spin-off vanguard-elite cadres of Gramsci over here.

And second that while Levine may indeed have given a great deal of serious thought to effecting revolutionary agendas, and to those “dynamics of fundamental change”, yet I don’t think he has given any thought at all as to whether any of his illuminations and excitements are constructively( and survivably) applicable to the American polity of the Framing Vision. What sort of doctor is so very fascinated with his own surgical technique but hasn’t given thought as to whether the patient can survive his cutting-edge operation?

Why, he asks, bring Lenin’s name into Our current mess at all?

For one thing, he says, “What Is To Be Done, like all classic texts in political theory, conveys timely insights”.

First, I’d say it was a classic text in a failed political theory.

Second, while it evinces a political theory, it is a political theory that is inapplicable to and incompatible with the Framing Vision.

And , yes, Lenin evinces a burning concern for suffering and oppression. But as We have recently learned in Iraq and elsewhere, you aren’t helping matters much by ending up creating even more suffering and ruin than you were trying to mitigate or erase or solve in the first place.

And vanguard-elite politics are not, and cannot be, deliberative democratic politics. So that would be quite a fundamental change indeed for this country. 

We freely talk about Machiavelli in polite conversation nowadays, he sighs, but not Lenin.


He asks plaintively: Can’t we all just get used to using the descriptor ‘Leninist’ the same easy way we use the descriptor ‘Machiavellian’?

Good frakking grief.

Don’t We have enough trouble with Machiavelli’s reasons-of-state, by which a government can secretively carry on its (inevitably nefarious) activities without having to inform its Citizens? And Machiavelli was advising a government that was not a democracy; so transferring his illuminations to the American scene caused even more frakkulent problems.

But then – echoing current Democratic political strategist George Lakoff – Levine offers another reason: “how a political position is described is itself a political act”. Meaning that to reject Lenin is – he says – to go along with the “reactionary” elements that tried to bring “Marxism into disrepute” in France and among neo-conservatives here during the 1970s and 1980s.

Who in the 1980s would have had to work to bring Marxism (let alone Leninism) “into disrepute”?

He quotes the English historian E.P. Thompson who – asked if he were still a Marxist – responded that “in the present circumstances common decency requires that he say Yes”.

I fully appreciate Marx’s (and perhaps even Lenin’s) concern for oppression and their desire to do something to ameliorate or even eradicate it. But their solution a) caused far more damage than it cured and b) can do – and to some extent has done – more damage than it has cured here in the once-robust democratic polity that was the United States.

If Jesus was right that “the poor you always have with you”, then aren't you always going to need a Marxist-Leninist polity (or “basic institutional arrangements”)? There is a lethal political philosophy – or philosophical warning – implicit in Jesus’ own insight. But of course Jesus was making the point in that scene that you are never going to eradicate poverty (or ‘oppression’) and that it’s one of those things that goes with the territory in a fallen and incomplete world.

Which is not to assert or infer that Jesus said it was OK to have poverty in your midst. But it is to say that since that heart-rending reality is never going to be completely eradicable, then you are ill-advised to overturn your entire polity and common-weal (and create all the ensuing wrack and ruin) on the ‘justification’ that you are going to pretty much eradicate it and so the cost will be worth it in light of the world-historical goodness you shall create.

The rats of poverty and suffering infest the human ship. But setting fire to the ship in mid-ocean in order to eliminate the rats is … not wise. Better to take a more prudent and moderate approach and just go after this and that rat as best you can figure to do so.

But prudence and moderation are precisely what Lenin and the entire revolutionary mindset abhor and abjure. And it is precisely there that they part company with the Framers and that their schemes become profoundly and fundamentally incompatible with the deliberative democratic politics of the Framing Vision.

Continuous public debate and decision – transmitted to the elected representatives – by the Citizens and The People are the wisest and safest political paths to pursue in the process of continually improving the common-weal.

But vanguard-elite agitation and manipulation – reaching to the manipulation, seduction, or suborning of the elected representatives themselves – is not safe. And if ‘safe’ sounds rather un-adventuresome and ‘bourgeois’, then you can look to the Titanic for what happens when ‘safety’ is made to yield to lesser but more biting imperatives.

And revolutions – being part of the Genus ‘Revolution’ – generate their own self-serving imperatives. And safety is not one of them. Rather, they incite a deluded and truly fake ‘heroic’ arrogance and sense of urgent and demanding purpose, coupled with an intransigent refusal to consider the ill-consequences of their demands in the wider view of things. As Bush did in Iraq, and as the vanguard-elites of America’s various Identity-Revolutions have been doing for the past forty Biblical years.

Levine refers in a glancing aside to the fact that “our political discourse is by now so degraded” … and so it truly is. But that is the result of forty years of Political Correctness (itself a Soviet revolutionary tactic), aided and abetted by a demographically-desperate Beltway and a financially-desperate mainstream media (both rather integrity-challenged). All the bits and pieces of agitprop designed to stampede and seduce an uninformed public (Lenin: “the masses”; Framers: The People) into going along with or at least acquiescing-in wave after wave of ‘revolutionary reform’; We reformed and reformed until We are now so utterly deformed that nothing works right and The People are merely cattle to be herded by barons (and baronesses) of the Left and of the Right.

In the inimitable words of Chester A. Riley: “what a revoltin’ development dis toined out ta be!” (Google it if you have to.)

So Levine sets himself up to offer even “prissy” and “self-righteous” blue voters “a dose of real politics, or, more precisely, lucid political theory”.

Yah. Well, Lenin had a lucid political theory but – again – it turns out to be a) a bloody and lethal failure of world-historical proportions and b) utterly incompatible with and antithetical to the Framing Vision and any deliberative democratic politics. (And as a political philosophy professor … has he been teaching this stuff to kids in college?)

So, Levine perorates, “one should use the Leninist name wherever one can” because it is not only “substantively correct” but “better yet, it will annoy those who deserve it most”.

I think it’s high time that We stopped settling-for a politics-of-annoyance. It is time to engage the Citizenry (who will then inform their elected representatives) rather than to annoy The People, or rather to annoy all those variously-conceived ‘oppressors’ who, if you tally them all up, apparently constitute most everybody else.

The in-your-face, under-informed and over-excited callowness of the Boomers (radicals even more than drug-addled Flower Children) was a bad show that should have been stopped more than forty years ago. Instead it was brought to the Broadway of the Beltway and has become the longest-running turkey show in the country’s history.

And those turkeys have come home to roost.

But in best Over-the-Rainbow fashion, Levine points to the “comparatively beneficent capitalist states” that “still survive in much of western and northern Europe” that “look pretty good from over here”.

Those states, like this country, have gotten to where they are in the past decades by doling out entitlement-cash on the witless presumption that you can kill the Goose and still get a steady supply of the Golden Eggs. They presumed that they could promise all the bennies because their economies would continue to grow and provide tax-monies.

But the productive economies have collapsed, and surely – even if they recover somewhat – cannot fund all the promises that their pols made in the fatuous and sly expectation that as long as there was enough ‘wealth’ to go around, nobody would care much about whatever else was going on with their country. The ‘Bubbles’ – in Europe and here – were the last gasping effort to keep the cash-green illusion of Oz going: you can have lots of ‘revolutions’ and still be a productive economic generator.

Nope. Turns out that only the rich really got richer; everybody else got ‘wealth’ in the form of ‘credit’ that dissipated like smoke in the wind along about 2008. Now most democracies can only offer government-funded jobs, but a) that will only last as long as the government’s currency is worth anything and b) how can any democracy function if most of its Citizens are enserfed to a government check?

Levine roundly abuses Carter as well as Clinton and Obama for their ‘bipartisan’ sell-outs. But in an age of Identity-Politics, it is impossible to garner reliable electoral majorities and you have to pander to each Identity’s demands and agendas today in order – you hope – to secure the approval of their elite Advocates and the votes of their oppressed masses come election time.

And in the general adversarial melee of Identity Politics, with The People fractalized, the unsleeping amassers of wealth quietly took up where they left off after both Roosevelts and the Great Depression. And in order to secure their support, pols had to give them what they demanded too.  

And here We are.

But Levine blames it on “constitutional arrangements that assure that ‘we the people’ are consulted only at periodic two and four-year intervals”. But that’s a cartoonish caricature of genuine democracy in the Framing Vision. The Citizenry – informed accurately and effectively by a ‘free press’ – would keep themselves well-apprised of political goings-on and continually let their elected representatives know what they thought.

And that requires an adult-level attention span and ability to stick with a task or a responsibility. But of course the Boomers got rid of Adulthood and all of the ensuing cohorts have grown up thinking that ‘children’ hold the key to happiness and that Youth (or Youthiness) is the hallmark of human success in conducting a Self and a life.

How are the vanguard-elites going to repair that lethal and huge chunk of damage? Lenin wouldn’t have bothered; as long as the Party vanguards were in power, they could run everything and the masses could just settle back to parasitically enjoy what the hard-working Party vanguards had whomped up for dinner.

Yah. That worked so well.

And as Theodore Lowi saw forty-plus years ago*, a complex government is required for a complex society. But that simply means that The People must work even harder to ride herd on their elected representatives, and to do that The People must be even more adult and competent and responsible than in a ‘simpler’ society. But the mature adult competence of the Citizenry is precisely what has not been developed; indeed, it has been eroded and undermined and ‘devalorized’: the oppressed need only rely on their vanguard-advocate elites and show up on cue to express pathos, bathos, or outrage as required. They’ll get on the evening news or at least get a moment of recognition on some website.

And then, in a truly sly move, Levine points out that since the American political system is now so debauched and deranged – but only in favor of the wealthy and only as a result of their machinations – then Lenin’s vanguard-elitism is now necessary. We don’t seem to have much ‘democracy’ around here anymore, he mentions as if by inadvertence.

Levine sighs that “the electoral road to change and hope – not just for a radically transformed social and economic order but even just for a more decent order within the framework of existing social and political and economic arrangements – is more than usually out of reach”.

And how did that happen?

So then – in Levine’s schematic – this country in the space of forty years has been reduced to the hapless and feckless polities like Gramsci’s backwards southern Italy of his childhood. And so the vanguard-elites of Lenin are now necessary.

But it was – I would say – precisely the Gramscian-Leninist undermining of the past forty years that has so corroded the civic competence of the American Citizenry that now the Gramscian-Leninist solution is the only ‘answer’ and ‘solution’.

Phooey and baloney. This is nothing more than the kid who bumps off his parents and then claims the privileges of an orphan.

Levine pulls his punches a bit at the end: this country now needs “a political vanguard – not necessarily, indeed not ideally, the kind Lenin proposed”. Well if you are going to have a revolution, just how non-Leninist can your revolutionary vanguard be? A sufficiently non-revolutionary and non-Leninist vanguard might wind up being really not much more than a dedicated bunch of Citizens who have something they want to say to all their fellow/sister Citizens and get some public deliberation going and let things move from there.  

But that was what We had. Remember? Before all the revolutionary political ‘change’ of the past forty years?

Levine exhorts Us: “For those who would take the message of What Is To Be Done to heart, the remedy is clear: we need to construct a leadership that is capable of making change happen when the time again arises, as it surely will”.

Say what? The Leninist idea is that revolutionary vanguards make the revolution happen, not that they sit around and wait until things look better. Indeed, Lenin pretty much missed the original Russian revolution in February of 1917 and quickly had to whomp up his own Red October revolution against the democratic revolutionary government of Kerensky in October of 1917. Lenin – it must be recalled – did not overthrow the Czar’s government; he overthrew the still-struggling democratic government of Kerensky. Lenin – to borrow Churchill’s thought – strangled Russian social-democracy in its crib. Because he had no use for the namby-pamby prudence and moderation of democracies and insisted on a full-blown revolution run by his vanguard cadres.

And what is this “leadership” that Levine seeks to “construct”? It has to be a vanguard-elite. Because, of course, the leadership of The People is to him (as it was to Lenin) just a pipedream. So much for the Framing Vision.

If We have to get back to any “core principles” in this country – and I agree that We most desperately do need to do that – then We need to get back to the First Principles of the Framing and of the Constitutional Vision.

And there isn’t – as Levine for his own purposes implies – much time left.


*Read his 1969 book The End of Liberalism and wonder how anybody who could read back then can claim that they didn’t see Today coming.


If I could use this image to try to capture at least some of the complexity and yet simplicity of the Framing Vision: imagine a group of travelers who pool their resources and lease a yacht-and-crew for a voyage. The travelers don’t and can’t go up to the bridge and give orders to the captain about the day-to-day running of the vessel; they get together and decide what ports they’d like to visit and then the captain – who actually knows how to run the vessel and crew – implements their overall plan.

This is a way of seeing what the Framers were after. They did not want ‘direct’ or ‘radical’ democracy (the individual lease-holding passengers constantly going up to the bridge to give helm or engine orders), but they most certainly did want The People (whose voyage is responsible for the employment of the yacht and crew) to control the ‘vision’ of where the vessel would go.

Nor, really, do I trust any ‘direct’ or ‘radical’ democracy schemes. They will always work out like Orwell’s Animal Farm: the few vanguard-elites, claiming the authority of the whole, will simply try to take over the whole thing – with, but of course, the best of intentions for everybody. It never works out that way.

Labels: , , , ,

Monday, July 16, 2012


As an indication of how far behind I am in my reading, I just came across a July 17, 2008 review by Stephen Greenblatt of a then-current staging of Shakespeare’s Macbeth.

The playwright flattens – using Greenblatt’s acute descriptor – the world of the play. Rather than a multi-Planar world (a Plane of Existence beyond what we can see), the playwright posits a mono-Planar world (all of reality stuffed, squashed, and flattened into this single Plane of Existence that humans can see and taste and touch ‘on gross examination’ – as the doctors would say).

Thus in place of the morally-charged heights and depths of the multi-Planar universe, there are merely the actualities (not to say ‘realities’) that present themselves to human ‘on gross examination’.

So politically, Macbeth and his wife preside over what is clearly a Stalinist type of government (the authority of which government they have usurped by murdering the true king, Duncan, who was making a royal visit to the castle of Macbeth, his most accomplished military thane).  Thus evil – or Evil – is reduced in this staging to a merely this-worldly political expression of what in classical Western thought (and Shakespeare’s own conception of things) would be seen as a manifestation of some profoundly human and/or divine derangement and in classical Christian thought would be seen as an expression of Original Sinfulness.*

Individually, this mono-Planar frame of understanding reduces the stunning and shocking Evil of Macbeth and his wife Lady Macbeth to merely a diagnostic presentation of the psychological derangement that comes to define them as a result of their crime: Macbeth is ‘shallow’ and ‘willfully stupid’, refusing either to look into his own now-lethally damaged depths or to consider the post-crime consequences of his act in relation to judgment by any Higher Plane or Law.

This is of itself a deeply useful and accurate insight. In the romanticization of criminality following such films as Bonny and Clyde (1967) and The Godfather (1972), the interior life of persons given over to a pervasively and violently sinful and illegal life was popularly imagined to be vibrant and liberated (Bonny and Clyde, whose only ‘problem’ was that the police caught up with them and nastily ambushed them) or mature and in some way noble (Don Vito as leader and all his nobly loyal henchmen and lieutenants; the Don’s only problem being that his impulsive son and ‘dishonorable’ fellow-mobsters witlessly undermine or treacherously attack him).

Whereas in reality, the day-to-day interactions of such persons reflect a soul-numbing and brute, lumpish shallowness that becomes so self-defining that it assumes a frighteningly sinister reality of its own, which is then reinforced by the observer’s awareness that these passively repellent humans, when they do take action, act in the most brutal and violent ways.

The problem isn’t the ‘crime’ and the breaking of the law, but rather only the oppressive and unsportsmanlike conventionality of the police in chasing you; and ‘sin’ doesn’t even enter into the eidesis of these films, into the imagined-world of the films and their scripts. And it’s clear that you can be noble and ‘mature’ even when running a criminal empire as your life’s work; and that conventionality is just so white-bread boring and ‘shallow’, and your only big problem is other criminals who aren’t as noble as you and conventional types (like cops) who don’t stay bought.

These are messages that could not and cannot but appeal to the Boomery excitements and illuminations of those times, now forty and more Biblical years ago: you can be utterly ‘un-conventional’ (one might today say ‘transgressive’) and yet thereby achieve a more vivid life and self than the white-bread drones who – in standard Western movies – were the merely passive and cattle-like ‘townsfolk’ whose very bovine daily life seemed to invite the healing-exciting ministrations of the violently unconventional and transgressive bad-guys just to shake them out of their torpor and lethargy. Yah.

Better to be excitingly criminal, unconventional and transgressive than to embrace the (apparent) drudgery of building, conducting, and sustaining a productive individual, family, and communal life. Wheeeeee!

That has worked so well for Us.

I think that the Boomers suffered not only from the usual delusions of youthiness – with its simplistic, shallow, excitable and impatient perturbations, but also from the fact that a) their own parents were pretty much settled into productive peace and quiet in the postwar 1940s and 1950s after the crushing and terrifying Depression-1930s and strenuously demanding wartime-1940s,  and yet those same parents b) wanted to ‘give’ their kids all the abundance and ‘freedom’ they themselves did not experience in those hard hard years.

And c) there were just so many Boomers that they sort of got the idea that it was a kid’s-world and existence to begin with – so that if you were ‘over 30’ then you really didn’t know much about ‘life’ at all and it was all only going to get worse as your hair went gray and you put on a few pounds. ‘Experience’ belonged to the young, and all that increasing age brought was less-experience and more ‘conventionality’.

Which – by the by – fed right into JFK’s initial electoral problem: how to counter the ‘maturity and experience’ objection to the candidate, compared with the then-powerful image of Ike’s presidency, and JFK’s older competitors – Democratic and Republican – for the job. The Answer: frame the competition as ‘old and tired and worn-out’ and yourself as ‘fresh and young and vibrant’ (and let Jackie dazzle those multitudes who were susceptible to mere bedazzlement, including the greedy but oh-so-susceptible TV and newsreel cameras with their new-found capacity to film all the dresses and jewels and hats in the garishly bright hues of ‘living color’ … and present it all as ‘news’).

And, Greenblatt neatly points out, Malcolm  – the murdered king’s avenging son – offers no better hope for the future under his reign than an ongoing official vengeance against all those who acquiesced or collaborated in Macbeth’s brief, murder-gotten administration.

There is no hope even in this morally-flattened world. Politically – and to my mind marvelously – Greenblatt likens this lethal no-exit conundrum to the political problem of Stalinism: if you were a Soviet citizen (with the mere pittance of sham-rights accorded to you by that monstrous government) looking up at that rock-like gaggle of monsters standing around Stalin on the reviewing stand atop Lenin’s Tomb in Red Square as the vast military and cadre parade went by, you might well ask yourself: what good would it be to get rid of the Primary Monster, since all that would happen is his replacement by one of that gaggle of Associate Monsters?

This political hopelessness acutely mirrors – but in the modern staging of the play doesn’t reveal – the profoundly existential human hopelessness that always clouds and chokes the merely mono-Planar vision of human existence: no matter where you turn on the flat two-dimensional surface of this human mono-Plane, you are still going to run into the same Evil-bleared and Sin-smeared reality, and only the uniform or suit or dress is going to change. There is – deep down – a hopelessness to the mono-Plane because humans can never on their own escape from Sin.

How can they? Sin is somehow seated in each human and thus cumulatively in the entire species. It is this profoundly deranging if mysterious reality that forever stymies purely mono-Planar efforts to ‘get free’ and break into the broad sunlit uplands of a humanity liberated into its own genuineness, freed from its own ‘inferior’ and worst possibilities.

Even the example of Communism is instructive: Marx ignored Sin, re-defining it in a spectacularly thorough mono-Planar materialistic way as merely being ‘economic injustice’ – and then that profound and profoundly inaccurate and deceptive misstep was compounded by Lenin’s unshakable demand that if all political power were placed without question in the hands of the government and its elite vanguard cadres, then a defect-less human existence was guaranteed to be the result. More or less.

And how did that work out? (Yes, there were then and there are now those who said and say of the Communist gambit what is said by some of the Iraq invasion: a good Idea, but alas poorly executed and we’ll do it right the next time. Should there ever even be a ‘next time’ for such a blood-soaked outrage?)

And what then to do with yourself and your ‘self’ and your life in the midst of such political (and existential) mono-Planar hopelessness?

“Munch” and have-sex, as Lady Macbeth counsels her terrified husband as he beholds in front of him, in the dark kitchen of the palace, a bloody-dagger hanging in the air, pointing at him. Because, she advises of the dagger, “there is no such thing”. So … it goes away if you just ignore it because it’s all just a construct of your mind?

But choosing the Knife is instantly its own punishment. The option of the unconventional (you could say profoundly  ‘un-natural’, from a Christian point of view – although it is currently not-Correct) and the transgressive, of the ‘short-cut’ that will get you what you want by getting-around or breaking-through or breaking-down all of the ‘conventional’ moral and legal obstructions to your burning and too-coddled desire is all you need to choose. Your choice is the only reality because your choice makes reality. (And thus the consumerist turkey comes home to roost with a time-bomb in its weak beak.)

And once you have done that you will have your desire.

But – as any genuine adult would know – that isn’t all there is to it. Every action generates consequences, and you should never contemplate an action until you have analyzed its possible or probable consequences and calculated whether you will be willing or able to pay the price.

But then – I would say – it is a savage irony (but hardly surprising and certainly not unforeseeable) that Americans now take a sort of limitless-credit approach to costs and consequences: if there is a cost to an action or course of action that you (witlessly and negligently) hadn’t considered, just ‘put it on the card’ and no harm done.


In Iraq and the Middle East, and in all the other venues where the country is now vigorously (if quietly) building up ‘lily-pad’ bases**, the government will just ‘put it on the card’ – and since the government is its own credit-issuer, then it can never run out of cash and credit. Neat! In domestic politics, keep the deliberately-erected client-Identities and their demographics well-lubricated with cash and entitlements by ‘putting it on the card’. And, but of course, since the Very Rich individuals and the mega-corporations  and banksters are now the prime remaining repositories and generators of ‘wealth’ (however the term is now defined), then they automatically have all the ‘credit’ they need for their ‘cards’.  Can you hear the echo of a great big Wheeeeee from inside the Beltway? A successful ‘strategizing’ of the Problem!

To me Our situation resembles residents of Berlin in the late-spring of 1945: still listening to Goebbels’s optimistic and upbeat insistence on the radio (as if it were 1939 or 1940 all over again) while, outside the now-cracked or shattered windows, you can hear the intensifying thump of Soviet artillery as The Other Shoe tramps closer and closer (since the ‘Eastern front’ is now only a few hours’ bumpy motorcycle ride from the ‘Western front’).

Morally, then, the country is also running out of its credit-limit on ‘the card’. And the Bank or Card-Issuer is headquartered in that Higher Plane of the multi-Plane (although with branch offices and agents liberally situated throughout the mono-Plane and never very far away at all).

The solution to that Problem is to pooh-pooh the existence of the multi-Plane and insist that the Beltway has it all under control. Don’t believe your lying ears when you hear those whump-whumps in the near-distance; believe the radio and the optimistic insistence that your government has it all under control. Oh, and that you will soon be called upon for even greater sacrifices, such as sending the old men and boys out for a quick walk to the Front (and an even shorter term of living service once they get there) and if you are staying at home, be ready to lock your door in a sassy in-your-face gesture of defiance to the Consequence that approaches. Oh, and lock your windows – even if they no longer have panes … gestures are very important.

Such a plan. Such marvelous strategy.

But don’t you dare allow yourself to think that it won’t work and that everything won’t be miraculously turned-around and it will be The Glorious Good Old Days all over again very soon. Don’t you dare.

It’s all a matter of how you ‘frame’ it and how you ‘spin the Narrative’, really. Every bit of reality is ‘socially constructed’ and so all you have to do to change ‘reality’ (and Reality?) is to change your ‘construction’ of it – and then your attitude will change and you’ll feel better (some anti-depressants and hard liquor might also help, or ‘munching’ a sammitch or two or a quick 'liberating' hook-up) and that’s all there is to it, really.

Ja! Da! Yah.

After all, “fair is foul and foul is fair, hover through the fog and filthy air” – as the marvelously monnikered Weird Sisters declare.

Although so profoundly deranged a sense of reality – especially moral reality and Reality – cannot but result in a blindness that sends you staggering and blundering sightlessly through actualities that demand immediate reconsideration and re-formation on the deepest levels of your life and the nation’s life.

But the entire Game-plan of the past forty Biblical years has precisely been to erase any such awareness of blindness; what, after all, is Truth? – as one Roman governor once put it from the secure perch of his official Beltway-type Chair of Judgment.

Since everybody has such different ideas of Truth, and since Reality is really just a ‘construct’ anyway, then there can’t be any Truth or Reality in the first place, except what we have “in our poor power” to make it. So stop thinking about Truths and Reality and just do some creative-imagining of “fresh vocabularies” to construct your preferred ‘narrative’. Thus Richard Rorty, ace and highly-touted philosopher of the past forty Biblical years around here.

Vocabularize this, Dick.

Since six blind men can’t agree on the elephant they stumble into in the jungle (it’s long and thick (the trunk); it’s hard and pointy (the tusks); it’s flat and leathery (the ears); it’s round and thick like a tree (the legs); it’s built like a house or a wall (the body itself); it’s thin and serpentine (the tail)) then there can’t really be any such thing as an Elephant at all.

Such logic.

And yet the country has been happily replaying the ancient Eastern warning for decades. Are there enough people left who have the wit and courage to really deal with the Elephant? Especially since now we also seemed to have really pissed it off?

So once you have ‘choiced’ for a mono-Planar and totally-plastic reality*** then you are pretty much un-equipped to deal with the Elephant. Although, for forty Biblical years, that awesomely wrong-headed choice has been funded – with the Beltway’s eager collusion – by holding off the Consequences:  we just  ‘put it on the card’ and used the national Treasure to fund increasingly intensifying efforts to avoid the Consequences and keep trolling the mono-Plane for new sources of excitement and ‘fulfillment’ and ‘liberation’ and distraction. Such progress. Such maturity.

Just how far along Our plot-line will parallel Macbeth’s is yet to be finally revealed.

But if there is high-drama in Our national life, this is where it is.


*What traditional Christian – and especially Catholic – thought called Original Sin is probably better translated as Original Sinfulness. It is not an act, but rather a predisposition or tendency to deny one’s own most genuine self (mirroring the individual’s having been created in the Image of God) and instead embracing or yielding-to one’s “inferior” (as the I Ching might put it) urges, and so diverting and deranging one’s God-given gifts, capacities, and energies from their true nature and purpose.

By its very nature, this is most essentially and profoundly disruptive of not only one’s own genuine self, and of one’s relationship with God, but also damaging to the web of relationships among all humans.

Just recently, theoretical physics has proposed as an alternative to ‘string theory’ the concept of ‘M-theory’. ‘M’ here stands for membrane: the idea being that all of life, including humans, comprises a ‘membrane’ – an active and dynamic unity. This vaguely but palpably recalls Obi-Wan’s and the Jedi concept of ‘the Force’, but that concept itself echoed the comprehensive Christian metaphysical vision of an active, dynamic unitive skein of created life, informed and energized and Shaped and somehow guided by God’s benevolent Providence.

But in the Christian vision, Providence was not simply some impersonal ‘force’ but was actually the working-out and deployment of God’s intense, loving concern for all His Creation, especially humans, who were made most closely in His Image.

**See this alarmingly illuminating recent article for an overview of this country’s new military ‘strategy’: we will close down all but a few large overseas bases, in favor of myriad ‘lily-pad’ bases – small, staffed by covert and special-ops forces and drone-operations – all over the planet. The image of the ‘lily-pad’ is taken from a frog implementing his predatory plan by silently moving from lily-pad to lily-pad to get at the juicy insect he intends to consume.

***Marvelously, even as Dustin Hoffman’s eponymous Boomer ‘Graduate’ runs from a conventional world that advises him to ‘get into plastics’ in 1968, the real Boomers totally embraced ‘plastics’ in the sense that they embraced the kiddie-daydream that all of reality – including themselves – was merely ‘plastic’ and could be manipulated into your favorite shape as easily as you (recently) had been doing with piles of Play-Doh in your backyard. And this Mentality and this Stance became the national political and cultural philosophy – because, of course, what did grown-ups know?

Sunday, July 08, 2012


For July 4th, writer Kurt Andersen wrote an Op-Ed  for The New York Times.

He had recently been at the Woodstock Writers Festival and the question had been put to him: “Why had the revolution dreamed up in the late 1960s mostly been won on the social and cultural fronts … but lost in the economic realm, with old-school free-market ideas gaining traction all the time?”

His answer: what has happened “is all of a piece”: “extreme individualism has been triumphant … selfishness won”.

He has part of good a point, and one that fits in with my own view of the history of this past half-century or so.

Because – yes – there has always been a “tension” in “the American idea”: “between radical individualism and the demands of the commonweal”. And in the 1960s this – he says – led to a supernova explosion of “self-love” (which, he also notes, Thomas Jefferson had derided as “the sole antagonist of virtue leading us constantly by our propensities to self-gratification in violation of our moral duties to others”).

There has indeed always been a “tension”, but it has been a dynamic and tensive tension (if I may): the interaction of the two poles (radical individualism, the demands of the common-weal) actually energized the vitality at the core of the lived American experience.

In fact, in the best-case scenario, you would work hard to develop yourself as an individual precisely in order to not only secure your own life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness but also to contribute thereby to the general common-weal of everybody else, who were also doing that same thing.

The two energies were harnessed together, like horses to a wagon. They were to be competently handled by the individual holding the reins, and this project would form the common Project of all Americans, each and every one.

Jefferson’s “self-love” – in the bad sense – would work out to something like this: you simply focused on your own pursuit of happiness and (parasitically) let the rest of the country and your fellow citizens eat your dust. Sort of like a quarterback: your only interest is to get the ball you are carrying down to the goalpost and everybody else on the field is irrelevant at best or a potential obstruction at worst. Your only ‘duty’ is to the ball and to your getting the ball to the goalpost (where you can happily spike it and do your favorite little dance, just to remind everybody you did what they didn’t or couldn’t). It is – I imagine – a very self-gratifying little exercise. A restorative little diversion, if practiced occasionally.

Whether you can build or sustain a society, a culture, a polity, and a country by making that your life’s primary objective is another Question altogether. But then again, there’s such a thing as ‘thinking too much’, especially in football American-style.

Andersen notes some historical examples of this and that era in American history when “Americans have gone overboard indulging our propensities to self-gratification”, such as the Gilded Age and the Roaring Twenties.

Given the Abundance (to use historian David M. Potter’s term from the 1950s) with which the country was naturally endowed, there was more than enough to go around, and everybody could just get to it – making a life for themselves and their families while simultaneously contributing to the common-wealth. With so much Abundance, getting-ahead wasn’t a zero-sum game.

Human nature being what it is and always has been, there was always a ‘moral hazard’ to the whole proposition: you could get so carried away with getting more material Abundance for yourself that you lost sight of anything else. And that would not only morally and materially weaken the common-weal for everybody else, but it would also turn you into a troll – not to put too fine a point on it – although a very nicely-accoutered troll. And you might turn your kids into trolls in the process, or your game-plan might induce others around you to start ‘taking a walk on the troll-side’ themselves. And you can see where that dynamic might go if it really got rolling.

After periods of such intensive and general selfish self-indulgence, an “economic crisis” or “reassertions of moral disapproval” would somehow work out a restoration of “a rough equilibrium between individualism and the civic good”.

So the consequences of an economic crisis or reassertion of moral-disapproval were able to work as a corrective when things got out of whack.

But coming up to more recent American history Andersen starts to sail into troubled waters.

The “two decades after World War II” were notable for a couple of things – and he doesn’t quite touch on all of them. The generations that as young or middle-aged adults had fought – in the military or on the homefront – in that Good War were also the generations who had experienced the deprivations of the Great Depression that extended from 1929 well into the 1930s.

In 1945 the country emerged as the Primary Victor of that War since it had not only spear-headed the winning side with its industrial might and military prowess (although the Red Army had proven itself a kind of frightening peer in that regard), but by 1945 all of America’s peer-competitors for industrial and economic productivity had pretty much been wracked by the War, while the U.S. productivity base had remained untouched by bombing or invasion or combat waged on its own national territory.  The country’s natural Abundance and the natural productiveness of its citizens were reinforced and amplified by the wrack and ruin of all of its peer-competition.

And that verrry comfy economic reality lasted until 1965 or – at the latest – 1970.

The Boomers, alas, spent infancy and childhood thinking that this was the normal state of affairs, now and forever.

Andersen doesn’t mention that.

He does mention that to the Boomers their parents seemed kinda worn-out, conformist, and sort of over-invested in just leading predictable and boringly peaceful lives. That those parents had pretty much had a too-eventful youth between 1929 and 1945 didn’t occur to their kids; that they had seen in the wartime wrack and ruin of Europe’s and Asia’s societies and in America’s own shocking experiences with the Depression and the Dust Bowl so much human destruction that they treasured ‘order’ and ‘stability’ and ‘peace’ … that didn’t occur to the Boomers either.

Like Dustin Hoffman’s eponymous ‘graduate’ in 1968, they only saw that ‘going into “plastics”’ wasn’t going to get you all the happiness that could be had: rather, get the girl, walk out on everything else, hop a bus, figure to score that night, ride out for more exciting pastures, and cut before any larger and longer examination of the consequences could be examined. Hollywood!

Or maybe like an “Easy Rider”, hop on your hog and blow through the boring and backward towns, making sure your very presence reminded all those troglodytes that they lived in caves and you had crawled out and really knew the score.*

And in “Bonnie and Clyde” it didn’t even make any difference whether you obeyed the law. You were just so ‘freeeee’ and ‘liberated’ by robbing banks (of other folks’ hard-earned cash) and living large. The law and ‘society’ were just things meant to oppress you and get in your way. Precisely a kid’s view of it all.

Of course, the kids wouldn’t have long remained mired in such natural (for a kid) misconceptions if their parents had been doing their job. But something had happened to the parents of the immediate postwar period: they really didn’t know what was right or wrong anymore and didn’t want to be too ‘authoritarian’ and bothersome (look, after all, where that had gotten the Japanese and the Germans and the Russians). ** And perhaps Rousseau was right: if you just leave them alone the kids will ‘naturally’ be good and ‘society’ will only screw them up.

After all, 1914-1945 had been a thirty-years or so that pretty much demonstrated to even the most unreflective observer that even the most extensively-developed civilization could screw itself up and deprive or kill dozens of millions in the process. Maybe we should just ‘let it be’ and trust the kids. Maybe that would be better. Maybe that would work. Yah.

Meanwhile, there was money to be made at all levels: the Little Guy could unionize and get a steady decent job and raise his family (think of ‘Archie Bunker’ – and who wouldn’t kill now for a steady job that paid decently, even if you had to carry a lunch-box to work every day?). And the bigger fish could take advantage of the country’s planetary pre-eminence in industry and finance.

Money could insulate you (and yours) from another Depression’s ravages. And nobody but the whacko far right-wingers imagined the government could start to look like those bossy monstrosities that Hitler and Stalin had put together.

But in all of that, as Andersen notes, there was still a balance: if beatniks and hippies were distasteful  weirdos, so too were European-type superwealthy permanent aristocrats whose families and fortunes simply engorged to the point where they might as well have been Dukes and Countesses and all that, living on their estates far away from the troubles and toils of ordinary folk.

As he provocatively juxtaposes it: “Greed as well as homosexuality was a love that dared not speak its name”.

And he continues: “But then came the late 1960s, and over the next two decades American individualism was fully unleashed. A kind of tacit grand bargain was forged between the counterculture and the establishment”.

That’s a good start. But only a start. In the first place, the counterculture was only one of two prongs of the Boomer revelation. The summer-of-love Flower Children – just looking for a boozy, bong-y, permanent summer afternoon on a California beach – were the laid-back siblings of the gimlet-eyed ‘revolutionaries’ of an increasingly large number of revolutionary agendas, seeking – complexly – to achieve individual fulfillment or empowerment by massing ‘victims’ together into Identities and groups whose advocates and agitprop organizers could hit the streets and head to the Beltway.

And that is the key element that Andersen doesn’t mention: it was the Beltway, spearheaded by the Dems and later joined in bipartisan bonhomie by the Republicans, that fueled the fires that birthed the Left’s new Leviatha while melting the bars of ancient Right-leaning Leviathan’s cage.

This wasn’t just some vague cultural synergy. This was a calculated political strategy conceived and hatched for their own purposes at the highest levels of government, there in the Beltway.

The deal – as I have often said – was that the Left’s organized Advocacies would be pandered-to in exchange for the votes of their Identity-group’s ‘demographic’ while the Right’s unsleeping ‘moneyed interests’ would once again be allowed to run free, like they were in (what would now be known as) the First Gilded Age.

Government (thus taxpayer) monies would be showered upon the Left’s agendas and groups while government legislative and regulatory authority would be engorged to enable those Big Outrage and Liberation agendas and impose them on society and culture, while government legislative and regulatory authority would be precisely weakened in order to allow Big Money to play its eternal Game.

But then – who knew? – the rest of the world recovered from World War II or started to develop along American and capitalist lines. Suddenly the country had competitors again.

So much so that in 1971 Nixon had to abrogate the Bretton Woods agreements of 1946 and float the Dollar. The vaunted U.S. currency was now no longer based on the amount of gold in the national vaults but would ‘float’ in the aether of international financial calculations. The economy began to wobble instantly.

But precisely at that same time, rejected 49 states to 1 in the 1972 presidential elections, the Dems desperately welded themselves to their newly-hatched client-Identities and went for ‘revolution’ from above, engineered and administered by deceptively happy-face New-Order elites and the pols who eagerly and happily loved them.

While simultaneously the Big Money elites now went international with an increasingly avaricious avidity that was only intensified by Reagan’s seemingly happy-face but restorative Presidency (when Gordon Gekko’s cinematic ‘greed is good’ became the official morality of the Right, as ‘revolutionary morality’ – which is not really morality at all – became the official stance of the Left).

There was no balance and no proportion now: genuine revolutionaries have no truck with ‘balance’ and ‘moderation’ on principle, and wealth has never accepted limits on its own engorgement.

The fundamental American ‘moral hazards’ – frakkulently and whackulently – intensified precisely as ‘morality’ was kicked to the curb both by the Left (morality is simply a code for sustaining the oppressive status-quo) and by the Right (there’s nothing immoral about making as much money as you can).

With ‘morality’ deconstructed, there was no balancing element to Shape or Boundary either ‘liberation’ or ‘wealth-creation’.

“Do your own thing”, says Andersen, “is not so different from “every man for himself”. True enough.

Although he neglects the revolutionary morality of Identity-group ‘liberation’ as it mutated here: there is no morality because morality ‘oppresses’ and it is only in the service of the revolution (whichever one you choose to benefit-from) that anything can be judged morality; revolutionary success is by definition the only ‘morality’ and is by definition ‘moral’. Case closed. If you ‘just don’t get it’, then get out of the way and shut-up or you really will ‘get it’.

The entirety of the foregoing brought to you by your government. And spun as (marvelously) simultaneously both ‘liberal’ and ‘progressive’ and also ‘traditional’ and ‘red-blooded’. Something for everybody! Although – weirdly and ominously – the common-weal somehow got kicked to the curb even as ‘everybody’ got something.

But as the world itself became America’s productive (and lately financial) competitor, the government had to resort to more and more tricks to keep up the flow of cash and the illusion that the Golden Eggs were still flowing: diversifying, out-sourcing, off-shoring, juggling the government fiscal and employment figures, re-jiggering the definitions, juggling the books, and then finally, Bubbles – as shiny and glossy as everybody who knew how to work the levers of power could make them. And now the government is simply printing the money and figuring that as the financial Hegemon it can keep doing that as long as the special ink and paper hold out. You might as well have printed up tons of special paper to sop up the water and started stuffing it ‘optimistically’ into the holes in Titanic.

Nor, as he notes, was there any longer any “social opprobrium” to provide speed-bumps to slow down the lemming-rush from Left and Right, nor watertight doors to stop the increasing flow of water leaking into the Great Ship.*** The same deconstructing of social opprobrium that lubricated ‘unwed motherhood’ and ‘gay sex’ and half a thousand other fresh, rich and transgressive bits of progress and liberation also deconstructed any sense of ‘decency’ in the amassing of personal wealth.

Nor am I here primarily disagreeing with the content of this and that ‘liberation’ and ‘transgressive progress’. Rather, for both Left and Right, I am pointing out primarily that nobody stopped to think through the larger systemic Consequences.

Whether you A) agreed or disagreed with the Content of this or that ‘liberation’ or ‘reform’ – from Left or Right – was only one part of the deliberative analytical task and the challenge that demanded to be faced.

There was also B) the Question as to how such changes would be introduced. What sort of government would it take to achieve all this? This was the Question of Method. To what extent could any Constitutionally-grounded American government achieve all this and still remain Constitutionally grounded? And to what extent would have to mutate into something else altogether (Leviatha and Leviathan)?

And there is then also C) the Question of Consequences: regardless of whether this proposed change is ‘good’, is it workable at a cost (financial, ‘moral’ – in the sense of the Framing Vision) that the country, the culture, the society can bear? That can be borne without the entire fabric of society and culture becoming so frayed or pressured that it unravels sufficiently i) as to be unreliable as a matrix of living and conducting a decent human life and/or ii) mutates into some other type and shape of thing altogether?

Costs and Consequences: not simply economically, but in the larger and more Classical sense of ‘the Human Economy’ of values and prudential judgments and decisions, made by all of those whose lives will be impacted.

Or, as one militarily-informed participant in the run-up to the Iraq War put it: nobody wanted to ask the essential strategic Question: And what then? Once you have ‘won’, what happens next? And how do you respond to it?

So: given, as Andersen related at the outset of his piece, that the social and cultural revolution(s) of the 1960s had been “mostly won” … what then? And really, if their Costs and Consequences had not really been appreciated, have they really been won?  Which, of course, has been the abiding Great Question about the Iraq War and the seemingly endless string of military mis-adventures that it has spawned.

If you ‘win’ what you set out to win, and yet wreck yourself in the process, to what extent – really – can you be said to have won anything at all? Hitler – to use that realm of reference only because of its general familiarity – ‘won’ in Poland in 1939 … and yet he wound up – quite beyond his intentions – with World War 2 on his hands. The Japanese ‘won’ at Pearl Harbor … and yet they wound up – quite beyond their expectations – with the War in the Pacific on their hands, the strategic initiative of which by June of 1942, a mere six months later, they lost spectacularly and permanently at Midway.

Thus what Andersen calls the “Me Half-century”.

Except that the individual ‘me’ was organized into ‘Identity-advocacies’ (Left) and ‘interests’ (Right) and thus amplified the lethal Consequences astronomically.

And here We are, in the Year of Grace Two Thousand and Twelve and of the Independence of the United States the Two Hundred and Thirty Sixth … and counting. Literally.

Nor can it be asserted that the ‘culture wars’ of the 1960s can’t be held responsible for the economic perversions of the 1970s and 1980s and subsequently. It was precisely the American culture that provided the matrix and Ground of the Boundaries that would Shape and Contain America’s morally-ambiguous energies.

And when those Grounds and Boundaries were culturally kicked-to-the-curb, then all bets were off as to where the now unguided American energies might go.

And the government’s energies ditto.

So here We are.

And what then?

And what now?


*In that 1969 movie, it didn’t hurt that Fonda and Hopper blew through the Jim Crow South, where folks were not only set in their ways – which in itself isn’t such a bad thing – but were set in the ways of Jim Crow. From a scripting point of view, a neat loading of the deck.  

**It’s interesting to look at – say – Lewis Stone’s Judge Hardy shrewdly but wisely fathering the bumptious Andy Hardy in the late 1930s and early 1940s, Jim Backus’s almost pathetically helpless fathering of James Dean in 1955’s “Rebel Without A Cause”, and Donald Sutherland’s Knowledge-and-Service society architect father in 1979’s “Ordinary People”.

***Thus, I would say, it’s really nothing but a distraction whether one is ‘optimistic’ or not: arguing whether the glass is half-empty or half-full is irrelevant when the glass itself was filled with a poisonous concoction that you have already half-consumed. Or, to use another image: arguing whether the ship is half-empty or half-full is irrelevant when in either case you have now taken on so much water that your critical reserve-buoyancy is negated.


I just finished watching an installment of Ken Burns’s superb video history The Civil War; the episode that deals with the events of 1864. There was a photograph of Lincoln, described in Walt Whitman’s words as craggy-faced, serious, his homeliness somehow elevated by the depth and power of his personality. So very much, I thought, a strikingly impressive example of human beings in the full flush of their adulthood, forged in no matter how hot the fires of life and events.

And it struck me: would Lincoln have ever become what he became, had he been required to play to the kids’ mentality?

But isn’t that precisely what has happened to American politics in the past forty or fifty years?

The world and era of the Civil War was an adult world and an adult era: kids had to learn quickly and as best they could what Life and History required of them, and make the best of it. And they acquitted themselves with a stunning sobriety and determination and achievement.

One might wonder, in the twilight, what Obama might have become had he himself not been under the pressures of that type of politics his Party did so much to promote forty Biblical years ago; or had he himself, perhaps, not been heated – but only to a softness – by the mushy flash-pan evanescence of a youthy politics of the quick Impulse and of the easy Intention.   

One might wonder how long – without genuine human adulthood – the country might longer last.

Labels: , , , ,