"Without the ultrarational hopes and passions of religion no society will ever have the courage to conquer despair and attempt the impossible; for the vision of a just society is an impossible one, which can be approximated only by those who do not regard it as impossible."--Reinhold Niebuhr
Metaxis We are in-between beings whether we like it or not. We become substantive to the degree that we hold our opposite tendencies, especially the spirit vs. matter tension, in balance and to integrate them.
Latent Authoritarians Talks about the role of the principle of susidiarity in combating the top-downism of the right and the left.
The Hypertropied Eye Modernity and its eye centeredness created the conditions for the possibility of individualism and critical reflection, but it also led to the gradual disenchantment of the world which became reified.
Dying Traditions Living traditions survive in the U.S. only so long as they can resist acculturation into the larger modern American milieu. The economic pressures working to break down such subcultures are terrific.
This lecture by Leonard Shlain is worth your time. It connects to several themes I've developed in the past that I plan to get back into, but this will be a reference point. Lecture starts at the 2.30 minute mark.
Between the slave power and states' rights there was no necessary connection. The slave power, when in control, was a centralizing influence, and all the most considerable encroachments on states' rights were its acts. The acquisition and admission of Louisiana; the Embargo; the War of 1812; the annexation of Texas "by joint resolution" [rather than treaty]; the war with Mexico, declared by the mere announcement of President Polk; the Fugitive Slave Law; the Dred Scott decision — all triumphs of the slave power — did far more than either tariffs or internal improvements, which in their origin were also southern measures, to destroy the very memory of states' rights as they existed in 1789. Whenever a question arose of extending or protecting slavery, the slaveholders became friends of centralized power, and used that dangerous weapon with a kind of frenzy. Slavery in fact required centralization in order to maintain and protect itself, but it required to control the centralized machine; it needed despotic principles of government, but it needed them exclusively for its own use. Thus, in truth, states' rights were the protection of the free states, and as a matter of fact, during the domination of the slave power, Massachusetts appealed to this protecting principle as often and almost as loudly as South Carolina. John Randolph (1882) pp 178-79
Whenever you hear a conservative, especially a southern conservative, squawking about states' rights, remember what Adams says here about what it meant in the run-up to the Civil War. Such conservatives only use the phrase as a subterfuge to hide their real objectives, which is to centralize according to their own regressive, repressive vision of what America should be. In the 1840s and 50s their goal was not just to protect chattel slavery within the borders of their own states, but to make it normative throughout the country.
And the truth is that in the 1850s, the southerners were more successful in imposing their will on the North than northerners were in imposing their will on the South. Ask the Massachusetts citizen who was forced by the federal government by law to return to his owner any runaway slave who showed up on his doorstep.
And the same is true today. The right wing is not against the Federal Government and in favor of states rights. They are only against it when Democrats are in power, just as they were against the filibuster and for reconciliation when they held the senate and for and against them now that they don't. There is no principle at work here, they just say whatever in the service of their quest for power. Plus ca change, . . .
I'm not writing much about the healthcare issue, because I haven't much to say I haven't already, and I'm trying to be more positive, or at least to write about things that point a way forward. It's harder to do, and hence the fewer posts.
It's looking, once again, like something is going to get done with healthcare. We'll see. The roller coaster ride will continue, and I'm at a point where I've puked myself clean and can look on with some equanimity. So I tuned in toward the end of the summit yesterday, and it met expectations. Obama was very like the way he was when he went to the GOP retreat last month. I caught Durbin's takedown of the the GOP talking point about tort reform and his appeal to the other members if they are so convinced that this plan is socialistic, they should renounce their own government healthcare programs. I missed Paul Ryan's bit, but gather that it was an impressive sales job for silly, politically impossible ideas.
I also listened to McCain's crocodile tears about how using reconciliation would destroy the senate as if GOP obstructionism hadn't already done that, and wondering if it will ever be possible just get rid of the senate altogether. I mean honestly, why do we need it, and does anybody care about except the egomaniacs who are in it and the moneyed interests who see it as their tool? In any event the American people, let's hope, understand that it's ok to abuse reconciliation if the GOP continues to abuse the filibuster. The GOP's use of the latter has made the senate into a joke. If the MSM doesn't get that, I think most Americans do.
At this point I just hope something, anything, gets done, because my bigger concern is the threat of significant Republican gains in November. I'm glad Brown showed he has an independent streak and voted with the Dems on the jobs bill, but his election to Kennedy's seat is still a very disturbing indicator of rank-and-file disgust with Democrats. And a big part of me sympathizes with Massachusetts disgust, but while the Dems are disgusting, they are not dangerous; real dangers loom on the far-right. We have good reason to fear that populist rage will continue to build and that it will channel rightward if the Dems don't find a way either to dissipate it or to channel it leftward.
The Dems are not dangerous; they're just venal and easily manipulated, and as such they're hard to like or to care about. We have to assume that as a group we can't count on them to stand for much except their own careers, and so the question now is not whether we like or admire them but whether they have any utility. We have to look at them the way the corporations look at them--as tools. The main question going forward is who will use them more effectively--corporate interests or people interests. It's pretty clear whose winning that contest now, but what has to happen to change that?
...let us pause to contemplate what appears to be the epic dimwittedness on the other side of the battlefield--the years of folly that have allowed the Democrats to wander blithely into the same old snare again and again. The laissez-faire system has just finished giving us a convincing demonstration of its viciousness, but the party of Franklin Roosevelt can't get out in front of the resulting anger. Working-class Massachusetts and even Appalachia are turning away from it in disgust, but the party of the political scientists doesn't seem to have noticed.
The answer to the riddle is as plain as the caviar on a lobbyist's spoon. Democrats don't speak to angry, working-class people because a lot of them can't speak to angry, working-class people. They don't know how. Many of the party's resident geniuses gave up on that constituency long ago, preferring instead to remodel their organization as the vanguard of enlightened professionals and the shrine of purest globaloney. They worked hard to convince Wall Street that new-style Democrats could be trusted. They accepted, for the most part, the deregulatory agenda of the Reagan administration; in fact, in some fields--banking, telecommunications, free trade--they went farther than Ronald Reagan dared. (h/t Jon Taplin at TPM Cafe)
I've said it often enough before, but I'll say it again: The Dems have allowed themselves to become broadly perceived by blue collars as no longer representing their interests, and the Dems are forcing them into the arms of the populist right by default. The Dems have become the province of culturally left Whigs and corporate Whigs, and neither speaks blue-collarese. It doesn't matter that their policies are more worker friendly than those of the GOP. It's a question of 'ethos', and where people feel at home, and which party makes them feel that way.
Let's talk about Whigs. When I use the term, I'm concerned more about a mentality or a kind of values constellation than I am about the specific historical Whig Party in Britain and in America. My goal here is to trace the changing party affiliation of the Whig mentality in America to the present day. My argument is that the dynamic, future-oriented, progressive dimension of the American soul is Whiggish, so I want to spend some time to understand what that means and how it makes us what we are, for better and for worse.
I'd argue that every significant crisis in American history, to the degree that it was resolved positively, required that left-leaning Whigs rose to the challenge, either by creating a new party, as they did in 1856, or by fusing with an existing party as they did in 1932. The question I want to explore is whether the crisis we're currently dealing with is on the level of 1856 or 1932 and whether contemporary left-leaning Whigs have what it takes to rise to the challenge. But first let's lay out some background.
In a debate for the hearts and minds of the American people, Ron Paul will defeat Peter Orszag every time. Michale Lind
Lind has an interesting post today at Salon if you're interested in a very ATF explanation for the mindset of the Teapartyers.
We are dealing with a mythological mentality, based on simple and powerful archetypes. Contemporary figures and current events are plugged into a framework that never changes. "King Charles (or King George) is threatening the rights of Englishmen" becomes "Barack Obama is promoting socialism" — or fascism, or monarchism, or daylight saving time.
As in other cases of mythological politics, like messianic Marxism, this kind of thinking is resistant to argument. If you disagree, then that simply proves that you are part of the conspiracy. Inconvenient facts can be explained away by the true believers. It's hard to come up with arguments that would persuade people who think that Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi are totalitarians to change their mind.
I've frequently written about the power of Mythos over Logos, and there's no question in my mind that Lind is right about this. Mythos defines the framework of possible acceptable meanings and thinking; logic and rationality are simply tools people use to defend the framework or to argue fine points that might be debatable without posing a threat to the basic framework.
I contend that we are living in a decadent period, which means that the overarching mythos or metanarrative that provided the framework for the dominant culture has died. For Americans and Europeans that framework was defined by Enlightenment rationalism. Moribund in the late 19th century and dealt its deathblow by WWI, it no longer possesses compelling or persuasive power when it comes to organizing a culture-wide cultural meaning and values framework that gives most of us a sense that we're all in this together. A fragmented, Balkanized array of subcultures fills the vacuum, and in such an environment, anything goes, and whoever comes up with the most compelling narrative wins.
While I agree with your assessment that the former vice president is engaged in a desperate strategy to cover up (and avoid the consequences of) his own official misconduct in authorizing torture, I also believe that he (and the GOP in general) are engaged in a crude political calculation--that since the odds favor another terrorist attack within our borders, they are willing to play those odds by preemptively blaming Obama and the Democrats. There is, bluntly, a level at which they see the potential for mass loss of life and destruction of property as a political "plus". It is because this is true that the right has overreacted so savagely to John Brennan's pointed remarks last week.
People who regard this kind of speculation as outrageous and unseemly fail to understand that Cheney and his supporters--having already not only rationalized but celebrated torture and the weakening of the constitution in the name of national defense---have crossed a bright line into truly Strangelovian territory. These people are shameless; it is virtually impossible to malign them, it is simply that the truth itself is so malignant we can hardly bear to give it credence. ( Source)
I re-watched the Tracy/Hepburn flick State of the Union over the weekend. It's another classic Capra film that is clear-eyed about the everyday corruption that infects our politics. But while that's so, it refuses to be cynical about it because of its confidence in an idealism that slumbers in the American soul that is always there to be awakened.
But while the kind of back room political political game the movie depicts is a one the Dems still play, and we saw it in the deals made with the banks and pharma, Republicans like Cheney are playing a completely different game. The Dems are old school in their corruption--they try and hide it from the American public behind a veil of idealistic rhetoric; Cheney represents an innovation that is far more chilling. He doesn't even feel the need to pay lip service to American ideals anymore.