Friday, April 1, 2011

Wisconsin and Multitude

The response of our Democratic friends to the 2010 midterm elections has not been good. Democratic legislators in Wisconsin and Indiana fled the state rather than allow Republicans a quorum to pass legislation they didn't like. Now we have reports of union leaders threatening Main Street businessmen with boycotts. That's when they are not trying to stop the legislation with friendly judges and attempts to pack the state Supreme Court.

There is a simple word for this kind of behavior: Injustice, and the liberal playbook says that when the power elite does this it sets up a prerevolutionary situation. When the ruling class games the system so that it can never lose, the people have no choice but to rebel. In other words, if conservatives were doing this, liberals would be screaming about Resistance! and Liberation! and taking to the streets. But liberals seem incapable of understanding that Resistance! and Liberation! could happen to them as they become a corrupt and cynical ruling class.

In my view there are three competing world views in the United States. There is the elite liberal view, which sees the American people as a backward and unevolved people that needs to be organized and assisted by an educated elite. Then there is the conservative view, in which the American people are sturdy, inventive yeomen, building families and businesses with practical Yankee ingenuity. Finally there is the radical view, which sees the American people as an oppressed people that needs to be organized into a movement for resistance and liberation. The point here is that, if you are a liberal, every problem needs to be solved by a government program run by educated experts. If you are a conservative every problem looks like an opportunity to get the government out and return it to the private sector where entrepreneurs and civil society will soon sort it out. But if you are a radical then every problem is an occasion for a resistance movement, in which the radicals will lead the masses to victory over the capitalists and the wealthy.

Obviously, in Wisconsin, it's a bit rich for the lefties to play the radical card and pretend that the overpaid and underworked government employees they lead are in fact helpless victims of a cruel and unjust system. To a conservative it is pretty obvious that the union members we have seen on TV are the paid supporters of the liberal elite. But it's not surprising. For liberals, a problem either requires a paternalistic government program or a resistance movement. When liberals are in charge they play the avuncular and evolved philosopher king; when tossed out of office they play the community organizer.

Some liberals have come to the realization that they need to update their world view. In Multitude Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri argues that the left needs to move on from its old unitary categories of "people" "masses" and "working class." They propose the notion of "multitude." With the recent changes in the world economy it doesn't make sense to talk about workers producing things, mere material production. Today we have a more diverse "social production," not only the production of material goods but also the production of communications, relationships, and forms of life." Instead of the working class producing material goods we have the multitude cooperating to produce social goods.

In so far as the multitude is neither an identity (like the people) nor uniform (like the masses), the internal differences of the multitude must discover the common that allows them to communicate and act together. The common we share, in fact, is not so much discovered as produced.

See what is going on here? Hardt and Negri, hacking around in the thicket of their lefty jargon, are finally coming around to the argument that conservatives have been making for 250 years: with Adam Smith that there is an "invisible hand" guiding each individual into serving the whole; and with F.A. Hayek that the market economy is the result of millions of decisions by a multitude of consumers, business people, workers, buyers and sellers that could never by achieved by an administrative bureaucracy in Washington, DC or Madison, WI.

Only guess what! Hardt and Negri think that the multitude will form a new force of resistance, violent resistance that is superseding the old forms of civil unrest, guerrilla bands, and wars of liberation. The new resistance will be not be

a political body of which there is a head that commands, limbs that obey, and organs that function to support the ruler. The concept of the multitude changes this accepted truth of sovereignty. The multitude, although it remains multiple and internally different, is able to act in common and thus rule itself.

But this is exactly what conservatives say. No need for a political administrative elite of liberals--the head--telling the American people what to do. We are competent adults and perfectly capable of acting in common and ruling ourselves.

Hardt and Negri look upon social phenomena like the Seattle rioters of 1999, the anti-Bush "netroots," and the social-media coordinated March 2011 London rioters that spun off the official labor-union Alternative march as the wave of the future.

But I think they are blind to the truth. Their "netroots" are a few spoiled twenty-somethings playing at being the multitude. The real multitude contains the moderate voters that put the Republicans back in charge of the House of Representatives. It is the Tea Party that spontaneously formed a movement of resistance after the election of 2008 and now is putting steel into the spines of elected Republicans in Congress. When the liberal left responds to this movement of resistance with manipulations of the legal and political system using their pals in the government apparatus to thwart the will of the people they are setting up a pre-revolutionary situation.

The reason we have elections, and laws, and rules of procedure is so that we can have peaceful changes of government. The great question in politics for any partisan faction is this. If we defeat the current government at the ballot box will they release their grip on the levers of power and concede defeat? By their actions in Madison, Wisconsin, and their shenanigans over budget cuts in Congress our Democratic friends are telling us that they don't intend to go quietly.

In Multitude Hardt and Negri talk about "biopower" a term coined by French lefty Michel Foucault that refers to the numerous and diverse techniques the modern state have developed "for achieving the subjugations of bodies and the control of populations." In lefty discourse this malevolent power is always the corporations and the wealthy. But suppose the American people should come to decide that the malevolent power is composed of the liberals, the lefty academics, the MSM and the government employee unions that exercise "biopower" to tax them, regulate them, and control them in a profoundly unjust system? It wouldn't be the first time that a tired and incompetent dynasty completely misread the sign of the times.

1 comment:

  1. You might find interesting a post I wrote on March 7 dealing with this subject in which I posit that Wisconsin in not just a tipping point, but a turning point.

    http://viewfrommidamerica.blogspot.com/2011/03/wisconsin-not-tipping-point-but.html

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