Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Internal Colonialism in America

No, I am not talking about slavery or the Trail of Tears.  I am talking about the colonial regime of today's liberals, ruling class of the administrative welfare state.

Nor am I channeling some way-out right-wing whacko.  I am amplifying what Jürgen Habermas and James C. Scott have written.  And they are good card-carrying global lefty academicians.

The idea of "internal colonialism" is that the modern administrative welfare state acts towards its native citizens the way that colonial regimes once acted towards their "natives."  It treats them like children that aren't really competent to decide their own affairs.  It organizes the education of the nation's real children, because what about the children of illiterate parents that can't make the right decision for them?  It organizes unemployment relief because who can expect the workers to do it for themselves?  It organizes health care for grannie and pensions for grandpa--after all, who can trust their health care to insurance companies or their money to the Wall Street casino?

The reality, of course, is that nobody looks after other peoples' money--or anything else--better than they look after their own.  So the administrative welfare state is in the process of degenerating from a paternalistic welfare state into a naked grab for loot.

But how does the welfare state really compare with a real colonial regime, like the British in India?

The British started by establishing trading posts in the early 18th century, and then started meddling in local politics, because, after all, commerce may not be interested in politics, but politics is interested in commerce.  By about 1800 Britain was a real power in India and Edmund Burke had made a scandal of Governor Warren Hastings and his looting of various Indian princes.  So we may say that 1800 marked the transition from a buccaneering era into a more avuncular era.  But then came the Great Mutiny of the Indian Army in 1857 that was experienced by the Indians as the Great Uprising.

The Great Uprising failed, let us say, because India was not yet a nation.  It hated the British, but it was not unified and organized.  But 1857 marked the beginning of the end, as the British became simply imperial overlords, expert in keeping India divided and subservient--for a while.

At the turn of the 20th century the Indian National Movement started to become a real power.  It was led by men like Mohandas Gandhi, a man from Gujarat who traveled to London to become a British barrister.  Then there was Jawaharlal Nehru; he went to Harrow, the same British public school as Winston Churchill, and then university at Cambridge.  When these men returned to India they understood the British through and through and they led the Indian National Movement to victory; they knew how to make British power in India into a worldwide scandal and an embarrassment to the British.   It was political idealism at its very best: that is why Gandhi's brilliant non-violence tactics have been emulated across the world.

When you look at liberal colonialism in America, it is clearly a horse of a different color.  It begins not in the messy buccaneering of Clive and Hastings but in a political ideal: to reform political corruption and make US politics more rational.  That is how the Progressive movement at the turn of the 20th century experienced itself.  America should have a proper central bank, progressive income taxes, and a social safety net, they said.  Ordinary Americans just couldn't do that on their own.

But then came the 1930s in which the Progressives utterly failed to make the central bank mitigate the Crash of 1929.  And then they administered the US into a ten year Slough of Despond by waging war on business.  A disaster like that requires a world-class coverup, and the Progressives became liberals, converting the failures of Franklin Delano Roosevelt into wonderful successes, and cementing their dynastic power by combining their movement with the big-city machines into a nation patronage operation.  So now the Progressives had graduated from being rational reformers into a ruling class with an agenda of maintaining their power.

The 1970s were a serious reverse for the liberal ruling class.  Their civil rights agenda ended in urban riots, their adventures in Vietnam into an unpopular war, and their social revolution into serious backlash.  So Ronald Reagan got to be president and show that it didn't need to be that way.  Anyone with eyes to see could tell that there were unintended consequences of administrative liberalism that even the liberals didn't see coming.  Liberals might think of themselves as the evolved, the educated people.  Others weren't so sure.

So liberalism entered its third phase.  The first Progressive phase was one of idealism and high-minded reform, the second New Deal phase one of benevolent dictatorship.  But in 1990, after the Reagan revolution, liberals opted for trench warfare and would do anything to keep their cultural and political power.  The party that passed the civil rights acts in the 1960s became the party that whipped the black vote into a monolithic bloc.  The party of the working man became the party of universal entitlements.  The party that urged us to rise above small-town narrowness cynically divided America any which way to win the next election.

Obviously, when a political class has descended to trench warfare to hold onto its power then it is entering a period of strategic retreat.  The only question that remains is whether its retreat is accompanied by scorched earth, whether it wrecks the nation in the process of losing its power.  In the Anglosphere the last two transitions of power have been benign: the landowners gave up power without a fight, and the bourgeoisie surrendered power to the working class even as it mucked up the economy.

But will liberals do the same?  Will they give up their internal colonial empire without a knockdown drag-out fight?  That is the great question as we head past the current "fiscal cliff" to the badlands of sovereign default and economic ruin.

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