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.

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