Wednesday, September 3, 2008

New Categories

Joe Bageant's "anonymous political consultant" is subsequently and insightfully cited in a more recent post, and again points out how the "elite consensus" is forged by vilifying and excluding the "backward" elements of society - those who are not (yet) economically or socially liberated enough. In a great rip-roaring piece of analysis, he notes the deafening absence of objections by the proponents of "personal responsibility" when it comes to the public covering of losses incurred by the power elites of our economic system, and of the inviolability of the practice of externalizing "socializing costs" in the worldview of this class:

The elite consensus on these issues is solidly to the right of public opinion. This is especially the case on the issues of trade and globalization. Support for supposed free markets, free trade and globalization are almost universal and unquestioned within elite circles.

This is the establishment issue, all else can be argued and debated but to question the system of privatized profit and socialized cost is the fastest road to political oblivion for any candidate for national office.

Within the confines of elite consensus no cost is ever too exorbitant in "reassuring" Wall Street and "calming the financial markets". No better example of this than the prompt and generous response of the Federal Reserve and the Congress to the recent financial crisis in the housing markets. With hardly any opposition the United States Government nationalized the losses which resulted from the bursting of the housing bubble. There where no calls of prosecution, lectures on personal responsibility, fears of creeping socialism or demands for conditional structural adjustments from bankers and investment houses. The scandal in fact is not the crime in this case, which is to be expected, but in the silence of the public and the political class to this public thievery.

My one objection to this analysis is the claim that we can classify such economic mandarins as members of "the Right" (I don't think it was the capitalists who were sitting on the right side of the French Parlement when discussions preceding the French Revolution were taking place. Recall that Turgot was wildly admired by the philosophes, and was one of the great 18th-century proponents of progress, economic growth - and centralization. He understood well that economic growth necessitated the existence of a strong and centralized State to flatten and consolidate those lumpy parts of society - the original "corporations" - that might stand in the way of public and private power. For more on this general point, read Grant McConnell's classic book Private Power and American Democracy. Better still, try to digest Bertrand de Jouvenel's classic On Power, which refutes the idea that the revolutionaries were seeking to displace a centralized regime. Theirs was a project of State centralization.). What Bageant's consultant considers to be to the Right, however, is what is called "liberalism" in Europe. It is only a fluke of history - the common opposition of a coalition of disparate worldviews to the communism - that gave rise to the widespread trope that economic liberals should be considered as constituents of "the Right." The consultant's earlier commentary, linking these economic liberals to the cultural Left is apropos: the liberation of self from all restraints of tradition and custom required, and is based upon, the initial artillery attack of an internationalizing commercial system. This coalition of the willing, seemingly separated into opposing parties but joined by a worldview, is masterfully obscured by our broken political categories.

Bill Kauffman gets to the heart of the barrenness of these categories in his rousing speech before the Ron Paul Un-convention. I hold no particular flame for Paul, and I think Bill (like Ron Paul) is too willing to critique the Empire (rightfully) without noting the depredations that our private, corporate Empires exert on the small towns and local customs that he extols. But there's much here to admire - beginning with a quote from one Wendell Berry (who is better on the recognizing the role of an expansionist economy in destroying cultures), which appropriately receives a shout-out from the Kentucky delegation. I couldn't agree more with his call to re-think our basic political categories, and am cheered that a growing chorus of voices are calling for just this.

Part One:

And Part Two:

Hat tip, Rod Dreher - nice tag teaming...


robert said...

Good man, Mr. Kauffman. His blindspot re unrestrained economic power, though, is yet another symptom of the barrenness of the political categories he's speaking against. It's really too bad (and very frustrating) that the Libertarian Party has been so successful in convincing those who have caught a glimpse of what our system has become that they are THE alternative to centralized power. Mr. Kauffman, like many good folks who claim the Libertarian label, are clearly no such thing. They're populists and subsidiarists.

robert said...

A much shorter piece with a similar argument to McConnell's and de Jouvenel's books is Bill Cavanaugh's essay "A Fire Strong Enough to Consume the House: The Wars of Religion and the Rise of the State." It deconstructs the Enlightenment's claim to being our savior from irrationality and religious violence and, fairly convincingly, argues that the wars of religion were actually the birth pangs of the centralization of state power.