September 8, 2007

"unable to process the fact"

I liked this look at "the big picture." By Orrin Judd, writing about the book The Argument: Billionaires, Bloggers, and the Battle to Remake Democratic Politics ...

...In 1980, after fifty years of liberalism regnant, America had been bequeathed a world where the USSR and communist allies controlled half the globe, where the economy was stagnating and prices were rising, and where there was such spiritual malaise that a president took to the airwaves to whine about it.

Ronald Reagan, in turn, called for a return to the values, principles and policies of earlier days and ushered in a period that has seen an unprecedented quarter century of uninterrupted economic growth, the obliteration of communism/socialism, and a resurgence of faith and faith-based policy in America. So dispositive is the victory of democracy/capitalism/protestantism that Francis Fukuyama coined the term End of History to describe it. Essentially, after two hundred years of miserable failure by a variety of isms, there simply is no challenger to the Anglo-American model any longer.

The Left is understandably upset about the abject failure of everything it believed in and a good portion of the movement has been unable to process the fact. While folks like Bill Clinton, Tony Blair, and Rahm Emmanuel had sense enough to throw in the towel and move their parties to the Right, many activists and intellectuals have instead become nothing more than reactionaries. This leaves them in the obviously futile position of insisting that the past three decades are a mistake and that we should return to the recipe that brought us the godawful 1970s.

The "Argument" then boils down to this: should Democrats seek to vindicate their ideals and crash and burn in McGovern/Carter/Dukakis/Gore/Kerry fashion, or should they accept the Western consensus and run as a kind of chick-friendly version of conservatism, a la Bill Clinton and George W. Bush?

Such is the nature of ideology and the eternality of the tension between Security and Freedom that just because the latter obviously have the stronger case does not mean they will prevail. When they do, we'll get stuff like the current Congress, which is indistinguishable from the Republican-dominated one that preceded it. When the former prevail, we'll get actual Republicans. Either way, it's mostly win-win for the country...

My guess is that, no matter how many times it is discredited, Leftism will always send up new shoots (with new names of course). Democracy and free markets and conservative thinking (and even the poor libertarians) and Globalization all share a tacit recognition of Original Sin. They assume that ALL human beings are flawed, and that all human enterprises will be things of failure and frustration, and therefore need feed-back mechanisms to get them back on track when they inevitably go awry.

But this means that we will never solve our problems by putting them in the hands of experts and elites—by putting them in the hands of those who are wiser and better. And it is the hunger to feel superior that drives all Leftish thinking. Left-leaning people may busy-body endlessly in helping the unfortunate, but there is always the assumption that the helper is in a position of superiority, and the helped will continue to remain helpless.

In Christian and conservative thought it is assumed that helper and helped are of equal value in the eyes of God. (Of course we often fall short of this in practice.) The conservative hopes the poor will become strong and productive citizens, and no longer need help. And the Christian hopes they will be saved, and sees in them potential saints...

To both the conservative and the Christian, the sin to avoid when helping others is Pride.

* Update: i received a quite-justified rebuke from a friend for using language such as: "And it is the hunger to feel superior that drives all Leftish thinking." That's way too categorical and definite, and probably wrong about a lot of people.

Well, if I were really careful about what I wrote, I'd probably not have time to write at all! But please feel free to criticize. In many ways I just write to clarify my own thoughts. (A process I recommend---you don't really know what you are thinking until you try to express it so others will understand.)

The Leftish thought I'm referring to is that which tends to aim for what Peter Drucker called "salvation by society." Socialism is the classic example. And it is particularly difficult to do battle with because, crazy as it sounds, most leftists aren't leftists any more. Not in the sense of having some philosophy like socialism that is "bigger" than they are. (When was the last time you met a Marxist plotting armed revolution?) So it's like wrestling with a jellyfish.

I do think I'm right that the hunger to feel superior to others underlies a lot of what goes on on the Rive Gauche. Perhaps I'm sensitive to it just because I'm quite capable of the same error. But at least I'm on guard against it...

Posted by John Weidner at September 8, 2007 7:41 AM
Weblog by John Weidner