A voice to the hitherto voiceless (?)
April 7, 2018 3:30 AM   Subscribe

"So rather than treat the new populism as a coherent ideology and program, it may be more helpful to think of it by analogy to medical science. Just as a fever in the human body is a signal that something is wrong in that body, so the varied and sometimes-contradictory populist fevers and passions in the trans-Atlantic body politic are signals that the democratic project, far from being perfected in the post-Cold War world, has in fact got some serious problems."
posted by spaceburglar (35 comments total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
 
Ugh. “And in this process of rebuilding, there will have to be a serious discussion about the limits and boundaries of pluralism.” Basically, multiculturalism is doomed, Trump is the gays’ fault, and freedom for businesses is paramount but freedom for individuals is poisonous.
posted by sixswitch at 4:35 AM on April 7, 2018 [15 favorites]


This is very interesting and thought-provoking. Thanks for posting. Despite Weigel’s grumpy old man fussing about “unrestrained libidos” there’s some useful ideas here, for ex:

The question is how to temper and direct markets so that the vast energies let loose by economic freedom contribute to rebuilding the foundations of civic life, rather than eroding those foundations through that form of self-absorption called "consumerism," in which human worth is measured by what a person has rather than who a person is.
posted by chavenet at 4:38 AM on April 7, 2018 [3 favorites]


The “body” is white European culture, and the “virus” it’s trying to repel is immigration and advances in political and cultural visibility by white women and POC. In some countries you can also argue that the body’s immune system was weakened by a global financial crisis that caused downward economic mobility for a generation of college graduates who believed themselves to be inoculated against the possibility of financial hardship.

Beyond that, this piece first approvingly cites Hillbilly Elegy, the thesis of which is “these racists’ racism is fine but their unwillingness to pull themselves up by their bootstraps is not.”

And then it goes on to credit “the cult of license,” which, “despite its promises of liberation, does not seem to have added to the sum total of human happiness.” Reading further, what appears to be meant is that the rise in populism is a result of ... no-fault divorce and birth control pills?

Good grief.
posted by mrmurbles at 5:04 AM on April 7, 2018 [25 favorites]


This is right-wing spew of the William F. Buckley school, the kind which pretends that wording its defenses in college-paper language makes its ideas something different than the ahistorical ignorance (were I feeling less generous I would simply say lies), base bigotry, and hate it defends. The purpose of this sort of writing is simply to provide intellectual comfort to people who love right-wing awfulness but either have sufficient shame or exist in a social context that it's painful to mainline the pure stuff. This is disgusting and must be exposed and prevented from being presented as insightful or acceptable at every turn.
posted by Pope Guilty at 5:40 AM on April 7, 2018 [24 favorites]


(clicks link)
In October 1990, Charles Krauthammer and I were having lunch...
(thinks: oh dear)
...Third is the skepticism, mockery, scorn, and disdain that is regularly poured over traditional cultural institutions and mores by elites in the arts, the universities, the mainstream media, and the entertainment industry. This form of cultural authoritarianism...
(thinks: as expected, this is just one more serve of the customary wingnut help help I'm being oppressed by The Left bullshit. Is there any point reading on?)
Libertine hedonism often leads to boredom and a profound sense of purposelessness....In the roiling sea of sexual liberty, the deep desires of our young people to marry and form families are often frustrated
(thinks: oh ffs. If I wanted a rave from my druncle, I'd call my druncle.)
(closes tab)
posted by flabdablet at 5:43 AM on April 7, 2018 [19 favorites]


In the US politics thread someone linked to a Driftglass, a blogger that I've come to love. One of the points that Driftglass hits on over and over again is that the problem is not "both sides", it is not "politicians", it is not "Americans", the problem is Republicans. And if Driftglass was reading this, he would immediately home in on passages like this from the start of the essay:

Surveys indicate that one-third of all Americans would favor the authoritarian rule of a leader unconstrained by the checks and balances of our constitutional system (and one in six would like the strongman to wear a military uniform).

It's not "Americans" who are in favor of authoritarian rule. It's republicans. It's been republicans for decades. If this author and his friend Charles Krauthammer had a single eye between them they could have seen this back in 1990. I only made it 1/3 through this terrible essay, and I feel like that was too much.
posted by Balna Watya at 5:45 AM on April 7, 2018 [34 favorites]


the hitherto voiceless

Would that it were so. Oh, would that it were so.

The hitherto megafuckingphonic would be closer to the mark.
posted by flabdablet at 5:46 AM on April 7, 2018 [10 favorites]


The “body” is white European culture, and the “virus” it’s trying to repel is immigration and advances in political and cultural visibility

My body would like to point to its Crohn's disease and asthma in order to defend this analogy.
posted by ambrosen at 6:07 AM on April 7, 2018 [2 favorites]


I mean, I for one am wondering if the price for advancing justice is that we're constantly having to fight rear-guard actions with a major world power succumbing to increasingly virulent strains of fascism every 50 years.

Putting that at the feet of democracy seems like a stretch, though: China, not exactly a democracy, has removed term limits for Xi Jinping as he's increasingly consolidated power. Putting it at the feet of globalisation seems more likely.

Which then sort of gets back to the question of how much change can we have before enough people would rather blow everything up. Australia's having a debate about immigration at the moment, which is pretty tedious in the ways you'd expect except for the revelation that Australia has hit its 2050 population target about 30 years too early and the infrastructure simply can't cope. There's clearly a limit somewhere; that's clearly not a satisfying answer to those losing out. (It has, at least, answered my teenaged question about what's actually stopping us from having open borders.)
posted by Merus at 6:32 AM on April 7, 2018 [3 favorites]


spaceburglar’s call out quote for this MF posting is perfectly done, because it is definitely the highlight of the piece.

Fever is a good analogy. Good analogies help open minds.

I read down the whole pillar of words from top to bottom in hopes of there being additional nuggets of useful insight similarly succinctly said, but it turned out at the end was nothing but social media sharing buttons. I guess fellow there had a word quota to hit.
posted by Construction Concern at 6:40 AM on April 7, 2018 [1 favorite]


mrmurbles: The “body” is white European culture, and the “virus” it’s trying to repel is immigration and advances in political and cultural visibility by white women and POC.

Things have gotten objectively worse for poor white people. It has been useful to rich people to convince poor white people that women and POC (and homosexuals, and immigrants) are to blame for things getting worse, not rich people. They've engaged in a massive propaganda effort to that end, which has largely succeeded.
posted by clawsoon at 7:32 AM on April 7, 2018 [18 favorites]


It has been useful to rich people to convince poor white people that women and POC (and homosexuals, and immigrants) are to blame for things getting worse, not rich people.

also that college professors, NPR, and TV writers are the "elites"
posted by thelonius at 7:59 AM on April 7, 2018 [9 favorites]


The “body” is white European culture, and the “virus” it’s trying to repel is immigration and advances in political and cultural visibility by white women and POC.

I don't think that's a good read on the piece - it's also contradicted later in the text. For example:
That embrace of "home" can and must be open, rather than crabbed, and it ought not be confused with strident forms of ethno-nationalism that deny to those who are religiously or racially "other" any possibility of finding "home" where the majority religious or ethnic or racial group has long found it.

In America, the development of civic patriotism will take a somewhat different path, given the native plurality of our population. Here, civic patriotism will reflect a renewed commitment to those truths on which the founders staked their lives, fortunes, and sacred honor. Such a commitment would mean that Americans must once again affirm that there are self-evident truths that can be known by reason; that knowing these truths teaches us both our obligations and the limits of the legitimate role of the state in our lives; and that affirming these truths is what makes an "American," irrespective of anyone's grandparents' country of origin.
He's definitely a Catholic writing from his position, so naturally his definition of what is good and right and true is going to be influenced by that, but there's actually a significant amount of meat in this essay.
posted by corb at 8:00 AM on April 7, 2018 [4 favorites]


"I'm not a thief!" I explained, as I slipped my hands into a stranger's pockets.
posted by Pope Guilty at 8:03 AM on April 7, 2018 [2 favorites]


Such a commitment would mean that Americans must once again affirm that there are self-evident truths that can be known by reason; that knowing these truths teaches us both our obligations and the limits of the legitimate role of the state in our lives; and that affirming these truths is what makes an "American," irrespective of anyone's grandparents' country of origin.

Maybe I'm being uncharitable, but doesn't he seem to be implying that if you aren't a John Locke style liberal-libertarian you aren't truly American?
posted by perplexion at 8:09 AM on April 7, 2018 [1 favorite]


""learned helplessness" — a pathology, I might add, that America's churches have done precious little to address, and that is one root of today's epidemic of opioid abuse."

Now I understand! It's all the fault of the church for not giving us better training in morals!
posted by Jane the Brown at 8:10 AM on April 7, 2018 [2 favorites]


doesn't he seem to be implying that if you aren't a John Locke style liberal-libertarian you aren't truly American?

I think he's trying to suggest that we need to collectively share at least an idea of the boundaries of what we're pushing for - an Overton window, if you will - that affirms human dignity. For example, he says
The vitality of the public moral culture is crucial to the democratic project because it takes a certain kind of people, living certain virtues, to make free politics and free economics work so that the net result is genuine human flourishing. The machinery of democracy and the market cannot produce that flourishing on its own or by itself.
and I think of, for example, how much the alt-right claims that they're still for democracies, but they want that democracy to trample on people's human rights - they want intimidation and hatred to triumph. As I read him, he's saying that we can't just throw the word 'democracy' around and mean 'whatever vote gets a majority, that's cool' but rather agree collectively to say that our democracy is actually built on the ideals of, say, the Declaration of Independence - that our democracy has a purpose and that purpose must be integrated into the system.
posted by corb at 8:28 AM on April 7, 2018 [7 favorites]


Okay, I RTFA. Seems like the article is largely split into two parts. In the first he diagnoses modern society's ills, and well all I have to say about that he and I... differ considerably in what we consider to be the issues with society today, but that's to be expected.

He then attributes many of these ills to a malfunctioning of the system of governance we call democracy. In this we agree. I think democracy is one of the great human inventions, but there are definite serious structural issues within how it's practiced today.

Then he goes into detail about how to 'fix' democracy. This is where, imo, the fact that he's a conservative, in the most literal sense of the word, truly betrays itself. His solution to 'fixing' democracy is simply an argument that we need to remember the Enlightenment and go back to that version of democracy.

He seems to think that 'democracy' of necessity implies 'free market capitalism' and 'classical liberalism.' I disagree. They're separate concepts. He doesn't present any kind of persuasive argument for why one necessitates the other beyond vague allusions to those original Enlightenment writers. But I find it hard to believe that the version of democracy a bunch of old white privileged men created is the Necessary and Correct Version for All People Everywhere For All Time.

He never seems to ask himself, if that original version of democracy was so great, then why are we in this position now?
posted by perplexion at 8:38 AM on April 7, 2018 [5 favorites]


I think he's trying to suggest that we need to collectively share at least an idea of the boundaries of what we're pushing for - an Overton window, if you will - that affirms human dignity.

With all due respect, I think that's a reach. I agree he's pushing for an Overton window, but I don't think that's one of 'affirming human dignity' but rather a return to the ideals of the Enlightenment and a religious public. I don't think you can read this essay, with its repeated allusions to the 'failings' of the church and the lack of morality of the people and then read a certain kind of people, living certain virtues and assume that those 'certain virtues' are a belief in human dignity. To me it's very, very obviously the 'virtues' expressed in traditional Christianity. Especially given the long passages about how modern individualism and moral relativism are ruining democracy.
posted by perplexion at 8:54 AM on April 7, 2018 [4 favorites]


a return to the ideals of the Enlightenment and a religious public

This is an incoherent request. The Sapere aude Enlightenment? "Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities"?

Possibly he's with early Voltaire instead: "Your Majesty will do the human race an eternal service by extirpating this infamous superstition [our religion], I do not say among the rabble, who are not worthy of being enlightened and who are apt for every yoke; I say among honest people, among men who think, among those who wish to think." A Big Lie.
posted by clew at 9:18 AM on April 7, 2018 [1 favorite]


“..Described by J.D Vance

Aaaand I’m out. Interesting they managed to find a respectability politics conservative, ya know one of those people who say actually what people want is freedom FROM choice, I thought they all died in 2005- anyway go read What You’re Getting Wrong About Appalachia and not that Silcon valley squib Vance.
posted by The Whelk at 9:44 AM on April 7, 2018 [7 favorites]


I don't think you should throw the baby out with the bathwater in this essay, but really, complaining that the left wants to impose its values on everyone and then not even mentioning the fascist intentions of the right to do just that? ...And blaming everything on the Sixties is getting very old. How about we focus more on getting rid of that ideology from the pit of hell, neoliberalism, and not forget that a good place to start cleaning up culture would be with the unholy corruption of power mixed with money spreading like, well, a disease.
posted by blue shadows at 11:14 AM on April 7, 2018 [2 favorites]


It has been useful to rich people to convince poor white people that women and POC (and homosexuals, and immigrants) are to blame for things getting worse, not rich people. They've engaged in a massive propaganda effort to that end, which has largely succeeded.

Racism and antiimmigration sentiment are in no way exclusive to poor white people. Look at Trump himself, a millionaire so outraged by a back president that he became an activist of birtherism. Look at 60s/70s white flight and red-lining —- racism practiced en masse by the most economically secure white middle class America has ever had. Trump won the white vote across every economic class, poor, middle and rich. Most “populists” aren’t poor, and it’s simply not true that if the 1% stopped somehow tricking poor white people into racism, racism wouldn’t exist.
posted by mrmurbles at 12:01 PM on April 7, 2018 [1 favorite]


Hey, buddy, given all your concerns, it sounds like the left wing is the place for you!

Worried about morally anorexic libertine interpretation of "freedom" with no thought or responsibility behind it?

Well come on over! Our Freedom of Speech comes with a helping of standing up for others. Of not punching down. Our economic freedom comes with a responsibility of paying your damn taxes so our countrymen aren't starving in the street. Come on and fight back against the "fuck you, I got mine" version of freedom.

You want loyalty? How about you join the side that didn't sell out to the influence of foreign dictators. Who didn't fall into line behind even now spreads lies undermining the integrity of American democracy

You want a real American identity? Then to hell with nativism. America isn't my "homeland." That's in the North-ass end of Europe wherever my ancestors came from. My ancestors were immigrants. But it is my country. And it was their country, too. They built this country, fought for this country, some of them even had brothers die for this country fighting this nationilstic garbage you half-heartedly endorse. And some of them coudln't even be bothered to learn English.

The unique things this country claims are every thing modern conservatives hate and are trying to get rid of. We are a nation of immigrants: children of refugees and slaves and natives and smugglers and all the wrong sorts of people. A nation for those "poor and huddled masses, yearning to breathe free." Ours was nearly the only violent revolution that actually succeeded in being something other than being "meet the new boss, same as the old boss." And that's because George Washington, for all his myriad faults, didn't want power and glory and military might. He didn't want to be a big strong man. He wanted to go home. That's American.

So vote for the people that wants to go home from war, that wants to let people in and let them become American, who are so truly committed to freedom of poltiical dissent that they'll let you torch their own country's flag. Join the side fighting for more than some dirt and having been born in the same place. Suppress the urge to hide behind closed borders and fight for liberty and justice for all. For everyone. Don't let the cowardly and fearful whittle it down to "for American citizens" or for "the right sort of people." All means all.
posted by Zalzidrax at 3:38 PM on April 7, 2018 [5 favorites]


Zalzidrax: Our Freedom of Speech comes with a helping of standing up for others.

Self-righteous fury infects the Left. As Wiegel puts it:
But whatever its contemporary genealogy, epistemic tribalism and the incapacity to see anything of value in what the "other" thinks or believes is now pandemic across the political landscape of the West. And that tribalism makes the robust encounter of competing ideas, which is essential to the democratic project, very difficult.
The Left has to get this under control.
posted by No Robots at 4:00 PM on April 7, 2018 [1 favorite]


What does that quote (and your comment) have to do with “the Left”, No Robots?
posted by a box and a stick and a string and a bear at 4:07 PM on April 7, 2018 [2 favorites]


Erm, more from the article:
In fact, a good argument could be made that epistemological tribalism in its current form began on the left under the influence of Herbert Marcuse, whose disdain for "repressive tolerance" has re-emerged from the fever swamps of the Sixties and is now making a mockery of free speech and elementary civility on too many American campuses.
posted by No Robots at 4:10 PM on April 7, 2018


making a mockery of free speech and elementary civility on too many American campuses.

The "elementary civility" that previously meant excluding or capping the population of blacks, Jews, women, and other minorities? The "elementary civility" that forced black students at Yale to live in a housing facility named after John Calhoun? The "elementary civility" that had privileged fratboys at the same institution chanting "No means yes, yes means anal" in front of the Women's Center (and dorms that house freshmen women) at the same institution, without meaningful repercussion for the individual participants?

Listen, No Robots, if you are able to accept that world as one of free speech and elementary civility, then you really have a fundamental problem. You have been trained to think of civic space exclusively in terms of the default white male. You only consider the values you profess to hold insofar as they touch the default white male. You are deeply and profoundly wrong.
posted by praemunire at 5:06 PM on April 7, 2018 [9 favorites]


(I'm not interested in "robust encounters" with the idea that, e.g., one-quarter of American women should be executed for the exercise of one of their constitutional rights. Just because some asshole has an idea doesn't mean it's worth anyone else's time. The democratic project doesn't need to reckon with the idea that Jews are secretly controlling the media and finance to maintain itself. The more indefensible the garbage ideas taking over the right are, the more the right must talk frantically about abstract tolerance and the "robust encounter of ideas." They know the ideas are at best the idiocy of people who are wholly incapable of dealing with modernity and at their worst have the reek of the concentration camp. They know there's nothing of value to take from them that would justify the immense effort of extracting it. So they also engage in some really weak intellectual history to try to invent some period of greatness the modern left can be said to have betrayed. This is all they have, because they know the substantive values espoused by supporters of the present regime are too deformed and debased to defend with a straight face to anyone.)
posted by praemunire at 5:14 PM on April 7, 2018 [11 favorites]


Back to thinking about the stresses between democracy, capitalism, and ethics, an interview about a history book The Moral Economists. E.g.:
"Polanyi’s case was different: he was able to move beyond both God and Marx, envisaging a basis upon which a moral critique of capitalism could be sustained without relying on either belief system. That basis was furnished by the writings of Adam Smith, which adumbrated an account of political economy which never doubted but that economic transactions are embedded in moral worlds.

"This was a very different understanding of Adam Smith’s significance to that with which most people to whom that name means something now have been inculcated. But it is an account of Adam Smith’s significance which grows increasingly recognizable to us now—thanks to the work of Donald Winch, Emma Rothschild and Istvan Hont, among others, facilitated by the end of Cold War hostilities and the renewal of interest in alternatives to state- or market-based principles of social order.

"In other words there are ways of re-integrating economics into the wider moral matrices of human society without reverting to a Christian or Marxian belief system. There is nothing extreme or zealous about insisting that the moral significance of economic transactions be recognized. What was zealous and extreme was the determination to divorce economics from broader moral considerations."
posted by clew at 8:10 PM on April 7, 2018 [1 favorite]


The trick, praeminure, is to claim regressive bias in an argument when that bias isn't really cogent to the argument. We all have bias, some of us are working on it, but claiming bias is a great way to shut down an argument.

The most clear cut example in recent memory is the feminist author with the pseudonym Requires Hate, who reserved her vast ire exclusively for women of colour who were insufficiently deferential.

A couple of days ago, black Twitter took a bad faith reading of Bernie Sanders' comments about Democratic Party leadership abdicating state and local elections and construed it as an attack on black politicians during the 50th anniversary of MLK Jr's death.

We also know that those who claimed the Pulse nightclub shooting was intended as an act of Islamic terrorism were, technically, correct. They were right for the wrong reasons.

It's true to say that the left has a purity problem. It's also true that we need to put this in proportion: the conservative world view is collapsing, and is morally and intellectually bankrupt. 'Leftists get holier than thou sometimes' is not on the same scale, but that doesn't mean it's not a thing.
posted by Merus at 8:31 PM on April 7, 2018 [4 favorites]


The “body” is white European culture

Framing it as such ignores the rise of Duterte, Modi, Erdogan, Bolsonaro, Prabowo...
posted by Apocryphon at 11:33 PM on April 7, 2018 [1 favorite]


Hey, buddy, given all your concerns, it sounds like the left wing is the place for you!

The author of the OP doesn't even need to go all of the way to the left, given his convictions. The Guardian op-ed: "Can Christian democracy save America from Trump?"
Christian democracy has historically been based on three core principles. The first is that the Christian tradition of natural law implies a commitment to the idea of the inherent dignity of the human person, which in turn sustains certain fundamental moral commitments – for instance, to the sanctity of human life, the importance of the traditional family and, more generally, moral authorities to guide human conduct.

The second is a moral critique of capitalism based on the assumption that Christianity is incompatible with materialism and commands a duty of charity towards the poor and needy. Contrary to a widespread misconception, it was precisely on these premises that redistributive “welfare” regimes were built in most European countries after the second world war. For, barring a few exceptions in northern Europe, it was primarily Christian democratic – not social democratic – parties that came to power in continental Europe.

Finally, the third core principle of the Christian democratic ideology is a resolute internationalism, which translates into a commitment to both supranational cooperation amongst established powers and a duty of solidarity with respect to less fortunate peoples and countries. The role of Christian democratic parties and agents in the creation of the United Nations, the European Union and the international human rights regime was decisive.

[...] Christian democracy demonstrates that religious conservatism need not be linked with nationalist populism. American evangelicals can learn from this tradition, one that has influenced American Catholic thought, instead of becoming pawns of the far right.
posted by Apocryphon at 12:06 AM on April 8, 2018 [3 favorites]


Self-righteous fury infects the Left.

Only to about the same extent that it infects the Right. The main difference is that the Right response to this beam in its own eye is flat refusal to acknowledge it, the result being that most thinkpieces from self-styled conservatives end up being little more than tedious riffs on I Am Rubber You Are Glue; the Left, by way of contrast, regularly adopts the circular firing squad as its preferred organizational form.

That said: most of the fury expressed from the Left is not self-righteous, merely righteous. History has never been kind to hidebound reactionaries.
posted by flabdablet at 3:15 AM on April 8, 2018 [4 favorites]


'Just as a fever is a sign that something is wrong with the body, so too is populist fever and rage a sign that something is wrong with the body politic.'

OK…

'And just as a bodily fever stems from an imbalance of humors, so too has our black bile outstripped our sanguine. Bring the leeches!'

Oh boy.

I'm sympathetic to significant parts of his argument — I do think that populist movements largely stem from grievances which the current political system is ill equipped to handle. I do think that a basic republicanism is the answer to much of the nationalism and tribalism. But I am extremely dubious of the notion that right-wing Catholicism is the solution to many of these problems, and a fair amount of it feels like he's still salty about Vatican II.

And, like many conservatives, there are huge gaps in his philosophy that he bridges with reactionary impulse: Blaming Marcuse for "your truth"/"my truth" is silly when you can get to the same place through Locke's "there is nothing in the mind that is not first in the senses." I know I say it a lot, but the only way out of post-modernism is through (you can see No Robots struggling with that again above). The impulse to blame secularlism misses a fundamental point of pluralistic societies (again banged on by Locke in the 1600s): secularism is a compromise position based on the fundamental problem of reconciling competing faiths. His position is also born of the chauvinism of religion, the inability to imagine a moral life without it. Which, again, was addressed in the Enlightenment — Rousseau's arguments for a "civil religion" based on virtues unconnected to church dogma were a recognition of that basic republican value of being part of something greater than ones' self. (I do note with some amusement the irony of a Catholic seeking to reconcile the difficulties of transnational institutions, as the Popes had a pretty long run of asserting universal temporal authority.)

As for the capitalism bits, others have already pointed out just some of the problems with his St. Hayek, but it's worth remembering that Hayek also argued for universal basic income. But the idea that somehow Walmart and Amazon manage to keep informed on the economy without snitches and gulags but that government can't seems to again be a failure of imagination.

Fundamentally, this essay highlights the limits of conservative approaches to fundamental political and economic issues: Even when he's right about causes, or in some of his broad solutions, he lacks the ability to do more than return to the ideas he's always loved — the essay is undercut by a lack of imagination, a lack of vision. When faced with the need for progress, all he can offer is the past. All he can offer is Ford's proverbial faster horse. And he can't even bring himself to actually reckon with what caused the problems we now face. For example, his hand-waving about the problems of racism and civil rights ignores how intimately that was connected to his St. Reagan the Redeemer, and even how his own Pope basically describes Austrian economics as evil.
posted by klangklangston at 2:52 PM on April 10, 2018


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