Sunday, January 31, 2016

The Cruel Fate of the Ruling Class's "Little Darlings"

Back in the 1840s, in the white-hot frenzy when the industrial revolution spread from Britain to continental Europe, the young son of a well-to-do lawyer had a brilliant idea. The industrial revolution was just like the feudal era, he realized! Back in the feudal era the rich feudal lords exploited and oppressed their feudal serfs; now the rich capitalists were oppressing their proletarian factory workers. Plus ça change!

Karl Marx didn't just propose a political explanation of the social turmoil of the 1840s; he put the classical economists to work to show that the economic exploitation and immiseration of the workers had the inevitability of a law of political economy. Revolution was the only solution.

Back in the 16th century, Marx opined, there was nobody to help the peasants when they were "hurled" onto the labor market by their uncaring lords. But this time would be different. This time a vanguard of the proletariat, a cadre of educated youth, would lead the workers to revolution and smash the neo-feudal oppression of the bourgeois capitalists.

Everyone glommed onto this brilliant idea, and bid for the support of the suffering workers, and so, despite the idea that the new industrial era would be dominated by the bourgeoisie, it turned out that it was the educated sons of the bourgeoisie that fought for and won the crown of political power in the new age. The leaders of the new educated ruling class enlisted the working class in their political army and marched all across Europe and the United States to political victory. They loooved the working class and lavished it with political presents, from social insurance legislation that taxed labor to yield pensions and health care, to the licensing of monopoly rights for labor unions. Life was good for the little darlings of the educated elite.

Despite the idea that the world was born anew, this was merely politics as usual. Every ruling class occupies territory by armed force and taxes the inhabitants thereof for the right to go about their business of working and living, and the rulers pay their supporters out of the taxes they extort from the ruled. This is true for every government from a small guerrilla band in the mountains, to a criminal gang in the city, to the feudal king and his barons, to the feudal baron and his retainers.

But in the end, the world changes, and either the rulers or the supporters get tired of their crooked deal, and cast off their former buddies. In the United States, the ruling liberal elite got tired of their little darlings, the blue-collar workers, and started to bid for the support of African Americans, high-born feminist women, immigrants, gays, and, eventually, Muslims. Television producer Norman Lear did his part with a TV show, All in the Family, that wanted us to believe that its hero, warehouseman Archie Bunker, was the living embodiment of all the sins of the world: racism, sexism, and homophobia. You might wonder how an ordinary working class schmuck could be so guilty of the sins of the racist, sexist, homophobic patriarchy; I could not possibly comment.

Of course, this is nothing remarkable. The political elite always betrays its followers, just as the generals eventually leave their soldiers to die by the side of the road. Napoleon left his army to starve on the retreat from Moscow. The Brits sent a whole generation to die on Flanders fields. The New Dealers set their blue-collar supporters up for a fall by encouraging the auto-workers and steelworkers to price themselves out of a job with unaffordable wages and pensions.

The moral is clear. Don't believe the recruiting sergeant! Don't go for a soldier; don't believe the blandishments of the politician. Don't believe the flatteries of the sugar daddy. Once you become the little darling of some rich patron you are setting yourself up for disappointment, or death, or a fate worse than death.

And so it is that the white working class, once the little darling of our liberal ruling class, is now mired in drug dependency and suicide, and in 2016 is rallying to the banner of a crony capitalist that promises to Make America Great Again.

And what about the next candidates for abandonment?

What about African Americans, who liberals loooved so much they gave them the nation´s First Black President. Except that now African Americans are enraged because nothing has changed. What happened to the liberals' little darlings?

What about women, taught to divorce and to have sex like men, and to empty their wombs, and to value career over family? How did that work out? What happened to the liberals' little darlings?

Don't become a little darling. Don't sell your birthright for a mess of pottage. Don't attach your life to a militant movement. Don't think that a powerful patron will solve your problems. Because no powerful person cares about you; he only cares about what you can do for him.

Here's the cautionary tale that I like to tell. It's the story of the end of the feudal era. Marx, writing about the end of the 15th and beginning of the 16th century in Britain:
A mass of free proletarians was hurled on the labour market by the breaking-up of the bands of feudal retainers, who, as Sir James Steuart well says, “everywhere uselessly filled house and castle.”
Yes, but why were the feudal retainers so useless? I will tell you. It was because the Tudors were disarming the nobles and destroying their castles. They were concentrating power in the monarchy by forcing the nobles to disband their feudal armies and they were replacing it a national army with taxes and credit. The result was that the nobles didn't need their useless feudal retainers to fight in their private armies, so they dumped them, and started to make their estates into agricultural money-makers with "improvements" and less labor. Now they would compete with riches and houses in London, instead of on the battlefields of the Wars of the Roses. So if you were a feudal retainer, snuggling up to some great lord, you were suddenly out of luck and out in the cold.  And the Elizabethan Poor Law didn't really help much. In fact, the proletarians were in for a couple of pretty cold centuries, until the jobs, jobs, jobs, of the industrial revolution showed up.

The moral is clear. Don't become a little darling of the ruling class. Go out in the world. Learn a skill; serve your fellow humans with products and services. Be responsible, be prudent. Don't disappear into some big corporate or government sinecure, for you never know when the bosses will kick you out and "hurl" you on the labor market.

The market is, of course, a stern task master. That's why we have families and churches and associations and charities to soften its hard edges. Life is hard, and in the end we all die, survived by our children.

But the fate of the "little darling" is worse. It is oblivion.

Friday, January 29, 2016

The Dance of the "Three Peoples"

When Karl Marx described the world in the 1840s he explained it all as a fight between the bourgeoisie and the proletarians. Just as the old feudal lords preyed on their serfs and peasants, so the bourgeoisie exploited the helpless proletarians.

But all was not lost. Into this binary fight to the death came riding Marx and his merry band of Educated Youth. They would teach the bourgeoisie a lesson and, through the fierce crucible of revolution, inaugurate a thousand-year community of liberation and emancipation.

As was common in the mechanical Newtonian age, God, or Marx's revolutionary cadre, directs traffic from outside the universe. Marx's revolutionaries are not represented as well-born youths, yearning for relevance -- not to mention power -- in the social and economic and political swirl of the industrial revolution. They descend like Homeric gods to direct the destinies of the mere mortals on the plains of Troy. But in our modern 21st century we have moved on from the Newtonian action at a distance through the 20th century revolution in physics to the notion of quantum entanglement, in that everything is influenced by everything else.

So, as thoroughly modern, I have a better idea. Let us rename the proletarians of Marx's melodrama as the eternal People of the Subordinate Self. Most humans, most of the time since the dawn, have been go-along-to-get-along people, the nomadic troop under the dominant male, the villagers under the thumb of the big man, the serfs of the feudal lord, the factory workers of the corporate behemoth, the ward heelers of the precinct captain. These subordinate folk do not consider themselves as independent actors. They attach themselves to a powerful patron in return for scraps from the lordly table. They complain and they grumble, but they don't do anything about it; they already sold their birthright for a mess of pottage.

Let us rename the beastly bourgeoisie as the dull and boring People of the Responsible Self. These people began to emerge on the human scene during the so-called Axial Age between two and three thousand years ago when all the modern religions got their start. All of a sudden people started to think that they could understand the world and had a responsibility to do something about it. Before the Axial Age you have the world of Homer in the Iliad. Everything on the plains of Troy is decided by the gods up on Mt. Olympus, who back now the Achaeans, now the Trojans, as the mood takes them. But in the Axial Age you start to get a Hinduism that teaches there are consequences to earthly behavior in subsequent reincarnations. In Christianity, the good go to Heaven and the evil to Hell, and it's up to us to live our lives as a testament to the glory of God. As Robert Bellah writes, the new religions "promise man for the first time that he can understand the fundamental structure of reality and through salvation participate actively in it." I maintain that these new religions are crucially city religions that meet the needs of city people. City people cannot rest in rural idiocy doing the same thing every year; they must figure out every day how to adjust their skills to serve the market. There is no feudal lord to take care of them; they must individually shoulder the responsibility of finding their place in the city scramble and holding onto it. In my view the great story of the last half millennium is the astonished transformation of millions of humans from experiencing themselves as subordinate peasants into responsible individuals. Finke and Stark in The Churching of America 1776-1990 report on the findings of the preachers of the Great Awakening in the 1740s.
“When we began first to preach these things, the people appeared as awakened from the sleep of ages—they seemed to see for the first time that they were responsible beings, and that a refusal to use the means appointed was a damning sin.” 
That is what happens when a person of the subordinate self becomes a person of the responsible self. He awakes from the sleep of ages. If you want to get a taste of what such a person is like, the go-to place is George Eliot's Adam Bede, set in the Methodist England of 1800. Of course the real star of the show is the lay Methodist preacher Dinah Morris.

But where do Marx and the Educated Youth of the 19th century fit into all this? Where does today's NPR liberal fit in? I will tell you. The Marxes and the liberals are the new breed, the People of the Creative Self. Ask yourself: what in the world are the dutiful sons and daughters of the bourgeoisie to do with themselves? Are they to follow their fathers and carry on in the family business, like Friedrich Engels? Are they to get a job or start a career and become a stolid banker like George Banks in Mary Poppins? Heavens no! Our modern son of the middle class wants to live a creative life, as a writer, an artist, a videographer, an activist, a revolutionary. His sister wants to work in global health for a non-profit.

But there is a problem. Anyone can be a subordinate peasant. Many people can become responsible individuals. But very few people have the chops to become a genuinely creative person. It is a sobering fact that, in the quest for creativity, many are called by few are chosen. It was the genius of Marx to intuit the solution to this problem. The dull sons of the bourgeoisie that weren't likely to be chosen for creative immortality could form a creative class of not-very-creatives and rule the world by forming a political alliance with the People of the Subordinate Self in a global war against the People of the Responsible Self. That is what Marx proposed in his proletarian revolution against the oppression of the bourgeoisie. Yay!

We see that this model explains delightfully today's politics in the United States. Well-born liberals, committed to a creative life, tell the workers, the African Americans, the well-born but downtrodden daughters of the middle class that they are cruelly exploited and oppressed by the bigots and racists and sexists of the white male patriarchy. Follow us, the liberals cry, and we will give you Peace and Justice, not to mention reduce inequality.

On this view we can describe the politics and the culture of the United States as the battle between two forces. Over here is an over-under coalition between the People of the Creative Self and the People of the Subordinate Self, institutionalized in the Democratic Party, the education bureaucracy and the media hive. Over there are the People of the Responsible Self, the white middle class with families, jobs, mortgages, and 401ks, supposedly institutionalized in the Republican Party, the big corporations and the country club. You can see that in the presidential politics of 2016 the Republican Party is in fact split. On the one hand you have  billionaire Donald Trump representing the blue-collar white working class, who are really People of the Subordinate Self, while Ted Cruz represents the Republican base of People of the Responsible Self.

Does this reductive theory three-part theory make any sense? Well, think about this. Sigmund Freud, once beloved by our liberal friends, divided consciousness into three parts: the Id, the Super-ego, and the Ego. (By the way, in the original German, these are das Es, das Über-ich, and das Ich. the word "ich" means "I" as in "Ich bin ein Berliner"). Do you not think that Freud's instinctive Id stands for the consciousness of my People of the Subordinate Self, his Super-ego for the consciousness of the People of the Responsible Self, and his Ego for the consciousness of the People of the Creative Self? Anyway, I like to say that Michelangelo's great sculpture the David that stands enthroned in the Accademia is The Birth of the Ego. The David is not about David; it is about the glorification of the creative artist, Michelangelo.

When you divide the world into three parts, like Gaul, it changes things. It certainly has for me. In particular, it provokes me to think about the various Peoples of the Subordinate Self that have been taken under the wing of the ruling class of the day, subordinate workers and peasants who have become the "little darlings" of the rulers. But that is another story.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

The Politics of Trash Talk

Obviously, the big deal about Donald Trump is that he's good at trash-talking. You could say that trash-talking is his destiny. More specifically, he has succeeded in saying things that liberals say you are not allowed to say.

Now, if you step back a bit, you could say that politics is all about trash-talking. The trick is to make sure that your trash-talking is considered mainstream and fair, and the other party's trash-talking is sick and wrong.

In other words, politics is all about controlling what other people are not allowed to say.

Strictly speaking, the things you are not allowed to say are heresies, and ought to be confined to questions of religion. But in our day, religion has seeped into politics, so now the heretics are merely dissenting from the conventional political wisdom of the ruling class.

If you look back, it seems that everything is fixed and impossible to change, until it does. You would never have thought that the button-down Fifties would have morphed into the let-it-all-hang-out Sixties, but it did. Yet who would have thought that the kids swept all before them in the Sixties would be humbled by the Silent Majority of the Seventies?

The "political correctness" of the last 20 years has been a brilliant effort, driven by the ideas of the Frankfurt School, to define political and social reality. You are not allowed to say that western culture is the best thing since sliced bread since that is racist and patronizing to other cultures. And you are not allowed to say anything that would offend any client group of the Democratic Party because racism, sexism, or homophobia.

But then along came Donald Trump, and Trump is more than the author of The Art of the Deal; he is master of the art of the insult. That's what he plays on TV.

Normally, politicians are pretty careful about insults, because the worst thing a politician can do is insult a voter. That's why they usually confine their insults to "greedy bankers" and "billionaires," who you can count on one hand, but never "our nurses" or "our teachers," not to mention policemen, firemen and members of the armed forces. That's where the kids went wrong in the Sixties. They might have thought of policemen as "pigs" and Vietnam veterans as "baby killers" but the American people did not.

Up to now, Donald Trump has done wonders with his insults, and kept the eye of the media on him. The question is, of course, whether his poll ratings translate into votes in the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary. The simple fact is that nobody knows. His core supporters seem to be blue-collar whites that didn't show up in the 2012 election. So the question is: will these non-voters show up at a primary in the middle of winter. Nobody knows.

Meanwhile, Donald Trump decided not to appear at the January 28 FoxNews candidate debate, because FoxNews host Megyn Kelly was biased against him. Was this a masterstroke, showing all the other candidates up as wimps? Or was it a "tell" of weakness? Nobody knows.

I'm reminded of an incident in The Manchurian Candidate. I'm not sure if it appears in the movie, but I know it appears in Richard Condon's book. The stand-in for red-baiting Sen. Joseph McCarthy, name of Sen. John Yerkes Iselin, is asked (by his wife, I think) what he does at a Senate hearing when he needs to go to the bathroom. Why, he replies, I just get up and go. Don't do that, she says. Instead, make a scene. Say you are not going to take it any more, and stalk out of the hearing room in a rage.

I suspect that is why the Donald decided to make a scene about the FoxNews debate. I suspect that his campaign people determined that Trump didn't do all that well at the last debate, and might do worse in the next one. So the best thing to do is to fly into a rage and stalk off.

But will it work? We will know in about a month after Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Contra-deBoer: Wrapup

I'm finishing up my analysis of Fredrik deBoer's left manifesto for 2016 (start here). My eleventh piece was "Human". Now I'm wrapping up with a big picture look at deBoer's vision for the left and what it means for the rest of us.

Let us start by cycling through the headings that deBoer used to outline the left movement that he wanted for 2016. He started with "Materialist," meaning that the movement should be concerned with the "material reality of the present world," and science and so forth. But the left has shown remarkable lack of interest in developments in the social sciences since Marx, starting with the marginal revolution of 1870 that basically ruined the economics of Capital. Why not?

He calls for the movement to be "Anti-capitalist" and takes it for granted that the "moral and practical problems of capitalism cannot be reformed away from within the system." In the first place, the word capitalism is a pejorative cooked up by Marx & Co., and capitalism is not a "system." Nobody knows what it is. Is it the ability of young nobodies like Arkwright and Rockefeller to start enterprises without permission from the great and the good? Or is it the union of credit and government? Nobody knows. It is certainly not a system, in the Newtonian, mechanical sense; it is better to think of it as a chaotic emergent phenomenon, according to modern chaos theory. And to talk of replacing capitalism with a "moral social system" is oppression and domination, flat out. Really? Who gets to decide?

The left movement is to be "Antiracist," for racism is "a unique form of injustice... ever-present in modern society." Really? I'd say that racism is universal in pre-modern society, that only became scandalous with modern capitalism. You could certainly say that capitalism first perfected slavery in the sugar plantations and then, with the help of the evangelicals of the 18th century, recoiled from what it had wrought. And then it abolished slavery, and then extended the franchise to the former slaves, and then banned all forms of racial discrimination, so that now we are arguing about the number of black Oscars on the head of a pin. The left played a great role in the fight against racism; now it's time to declare victory and go home.

The left is to be "Feminist," for "gender discrimination is a unique form of injustice that has been ubiquitous in human history." Really? I'd say it goes all the way back to the chimpanzees, in which there is a male hierarchy and a female hierarchy, and all the males outrank all the females. The interesting question is ask is why this domination has become scandalous in the modern era. Why does the First Feminist, Mary Wollstonecraft, show up in the 18th century and not a millennium before? I will tell you what I think. I think that female equality could not emerge until the frontiers of war had receded enough so that only a few men were needed to be soldiers. Now that women have emerged into the public square they have started to reshape it to fit a more feminine sensibility, as Georg Simmel prophesied a century ago. For that we need a militant political movement? I think we should let the ladies get on with it, and only interfere when their feminizing agenda starts to attack basic human rights, like the presumption of innocence.

deBoer's left is to be "Anti-nationalist," because the nation state is fundamentally illegitimate. Well, yes. But every state is illegitimate, having been born in war, not in a law court. The question is, what can you come up with that is better than the nation state, which at least expands the human community from the blood kin to the community of language. Right now, in Europe, we are seeing the looming bankruptcy of the elite-inspired supra-national community. So it looks like the nation state is here to stay, for a while.

The left movement is to be "Pacifist." I confess to a special irritation at the left's conceit that it is the Peace faction, and this comes from the left's fundamental ignorance about politics. Politics is violence; government is force. Politics needs an enemy; government needs a war. The left finds its enemies in capitalists and the rich and the white racists and conducts merciless and unremitting war against them. But the left is scandalized by the external wars of nation-state politicians. It takes a special kind of blindness not to see that the left movement and the nation state are in the same war-like game, only with different enemies and different war-fighting techniques.

The left is to be "Liberal," in the sense of recognizing that certain individual rights trump "the pursuit of economic and social equality." Anyway, rights are popular with the people. Well, yes. But maybe rights of every kind, including the right to engage in work and buying and selling and own private property should trump the pursuit of social justice. Just saying, because that was the original meaning of "liberal."

The left movement is to be "Democratic." deBoer means here that the left cannot be a small cadre movement; it must be a mass movement that persuades rather than coerces. I couldn't agree more. The only problem is that a political movement is inherently coercive. It wants to acquire the levers of political power and use them to have its way with the unconvinced. That's why conservatives believe in limited government. We believe that government's force is not very useful for things beyond policing lower-class young men and spanking the foreign ennemi du jour.

deBoer wants the left to be "Realist," understanding that leftist victory is neither impossible nor just around the corner. I'd say that any realist would have to say that the left is a movement looking for a cause. In the 1840s, Marx had a point. The laboring class, instead of starving on the farms and in the workhouses as of old, was surviving, just, by working under fiendish conditions in the satanic mills. There had to be something better than that. But now, 170 years later and 2,000 percent richer, the realist on the left would recognize that the left needs a total reboot.

The left should be "Pessimist." It's a broken world, and the only hope is to make it a little less broken. There is a limit to what political action can achieve. I agree.

In "Human" deBoer more or less admits that the whole left project is a crock. Dehumanization is the mark of capitalism and of the social replacements. What is needed is a world to "empower individuals to direct their productive energies towards tasks that given them meaning and satisfaction." Here's a thought. I don't think that any militant political movement is going to achieve that, because every such movement, like an army, is all about subordinating its members to the organizational goal, the final victory. It is inevitable that a political movement, like an army, grinds up individuals like cannon fodder and leaves them precious little time to self-direct their productive energies to any purpose other than the Cause.

In closing, let me say this. Back when the First Feminist was writing, the First Conservative was also making waves. It is salutary to recall how modern, and how right, Edmund Burke was when he made us conscious of the notion of "tradition" and set the stage for dairyman Tevye to sing about it in The Fiddler on the Roof out in the shtetl. Burke was for Catholic emancipation and lost his parliamentary seat in the slave port of Bristol over his views; he was for American independence during the Revolutionary War; he was against colonial oppression and exploitation in the person of Warren Hastings, governor of Bengal; he was against the French Revolution which, he predicted, before the invention of the guillotine, would end in the gallows. It was in The Vindication of the Rights of Man that Wollstonecraft made her reputation with a critique of Burke's Reflections on the Revolution in France. But Burke made a grand defense of self-conscious tradition over the mechanical Rights of Man, that we the living cannot just act as though we are free to reinvent the world for our convenience. We have a contract that we must honor, not just with ourselves, but also with our dead ancestors and with generations yet unborn. Before Burke, everybody just took all that for granted.

And that raises the interesting question why, in deBoer's manifesto, there is no mention of "family" or "parent" or "child." What exactly is the left's plan for the family? Inquiring minds would like to know, beyond the notion of "equal dignity for all gender identities."

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Contra-deBoer: Human

I'm continuing with an analysis of Fredrik deBoer's left manifesto for 2016 (start here). My tenth piece was "Pessimist". Now we look at his last item, "Human."

In his final heading, deBoer looks at some of the flaws in the left project and the need to "leave behind both the dehumanizing system of capitalism and the dehumanizing replacements that too many left movements have invented." Instead the new left would turn over a new leaf.
It would empower individuals to direct their productive energies towards tasks that given them meaning and satisfaction. It would dissolve the grinding alienation and pointlessness of the capitalist workplace. It would reject the crude collectivism of Maoism and Stalinism and the proto-fascism of various left niche groups.
So much for the left's goal. But the means needs to be cleaned up too. No more the "anti-individuality of identity politics." No more naming and shaming, "language policing" and "in-group signaling."
It would remember that compassion is the most basic of left-wing virtues. It would forgive. Its members would treat their enemies better than they are treated in turn. It would tear down the walls the left has erected to prevent us from viewing the moral challenge in the face of the other, even when the other is awful, especially when the other is awful. It would have the courage to be human even as everyone and everything else demanded that it be otherwise.
This is, of course, magnificent. But it means that the whole left project was a mistake.

If we accept that capitalism and its dehumanizing replacements are morally equivalent, then what was the point of the revolutionary left and its political project in the first place? To replace one inhuman system with another?

If we propose to end identity politics then we are talking about ending the second wave Marxism invented by the Frankfurt School. This was the effort to revive the left after Marxists realized that Marx's immiseration prophecy was wrong and that the workers were nationalists before they were socialists. So in the future Marxists would move on from the working class as their project and base their movement on liberating and emancipating historically marginalized groups like non-white races and women. And gays. And now transgenders.

But if the left is now to be all about compassion and loving your enemies then what is left of it as a political project? Politics is violence; it the the belief that things are so unjust that force is needed to rebalance the scales of justice. That is why the left has always been structured as a political army, featuring military discipline and victory as the goal. But if we are now talking about loving our enemies, then what is left of politics?

There's another issue, that of empowering "individuals to direct their productive energies towards tasks that given them meaning and satisfaction." I'm all in favor of this, myself, but I understand, according to my reductive Three Peoples theory, that the self-conscious desire for "meaning and satisfaction" is part of the belief system of creative people, and creative people, although well-represented in the global intellectual elite, are really a rather small minority. Most people just want to get a job, especially a job that might last a lifetime. If they are what I call "subordinate" people they want to shelter under a powerful patron, or if they are "responsible" people they want to live as a responsible person that takes care of himself and his family. The great mass of mankind don't think about "productive energies"; they think about families and friends.

In my view, the result of the creative people adapting society so that it empowers creative people to follow their bliss is the society described by Charles Murray in Coming Apart: The State of White America 1960-2010. In this society, Murray writes, the educated elite, like residents of Belmont in the Boston area, lives rather well, with satisfying careers and lifetime merger marriages. The middle 40 percent does so-so but there's a lot of family breakdown, and the bottom 35 percent, like residents of Philadelphia's Fishtown, is not doing so good at all; the men don't work much and the women don't marry much. In other words, after a century or more of big government there is something rotten in the state of Denmark, and I doubt if the wise advice of us folks in the creative elite, left or right, is going to fix it.

Having analyzed all this and reached the end of deBoer's "Left materialism for 2016" I'll be back for a final "Wrapup."

Monday, January 25, 2016

Contra-deBoer: Pessimist

I'm continuing with an analysis of Fredrik deBoer's left manifesto for 2016 (start here). My ninth piece was "Realist". Now we look at his "Pessimist."

In Pessimist, Fredrik deBoer surprises us. Here is what he writes, in full.
A functioning, healthy left political movement would understand the fundamental limits on human flourishing. It would acknowledge that tragedy and despair are unalterable aspects of the human condition. It would not posit political struggle as an attempt to create an ideal world but as an attempt to make a broken world a little less broken. It would concede that alienation, loneliness, heartbreak, dissatisfaction, ennui, depression, boredom, anguish, and disappointment can sometimes be ameliorated through political action, but can never be eliminated. It would identify utopia as a dangerous idea. It would know that not getting what you want is something like the default condition of human life. It would always remember that “should” implies “can.” It would face up to the fact that human life is not fair and will never  be fair.
What can one say, except to agree? But this section brings the whole piece into question. If we are just trying to make the world "a little less broken" then how far do we need to go in the direction of economic and social justice? In particular, how much government coercion is justified if the objective is not utopia, but just a little more fairness? For instance, the left has achieved a lot just with cultural naming and shaming, particularly in shaming people into a more inclusive attitude towards people of other races. If that worked so well, how about shaming us into helping others more? Actually, Americans are already just about world champs in charitable giving, and the 1% accounts for about 1/3 of the giving.

If alienation, etc., "can sometimes be ameliorated through political action, but can never be eliminated", what about the reverse proposition? What about the pessimist position that political action can make, and ofgten does make "alienation, loneliness... depression... and disappointment" worse instead of better? In other words, there is plenty of research to indicate that government free stuff makes people miserable, because  if you want to feel good about yourself there is nothing like being a responsible person that works and pulls their weight.

And what about the whole anti-capitalism thing? The capitalist textile revolution created cheap cotton washable textiles for the masses for the first time in history. The capitalist railway revolution allowed the masses to travel on something other than their feet for the first time in history. The illuminating oil revolution allowed the masses to be able to afford artificial lighting in their homes for the first time in history. All in all, according to Deirdre McCloskey, people under the thumb of the capitalists have experienced about a 3,000 percent increase in per-capita income in 200 years. Wouldn't a pessimist say that the chance of meeting or beating that with anything other than capitalism is slim to none? Particularly since capitalism is not a system of capitalist accumulation, as the critics like to imagine, but a process of "zero to one," as PayPal billionaire Peter Thiel puts it. It's the process of coming up with and implementing a new idea that, when capitalized in a startup corporation, is worth billions. No "accumulation", no immiseration of the workers, but something new that provides value to the masses.

It's good to see Fredrik deBoer requiring a little pessimism in his left movement. It's good to see him write that "utopia is a dangerous idea." But I would recommend facing squarely the pessimistic fact that government is always and everywhere force. Even the legal system is a coercion system. It says that if you two guys can't resolve your differences then we judges and juries will impose our judgement on you both, and we will enforce our decision with the power of the state. How much force is enough, and to what extent does the addition of the sweet use of force dissolve any conceit about justice? And really, what is a left movement without its millennarian idea of heaven on earth through the violence of politics?

Here's my idea on pessimism. Pessimism is the root and branch behind the idea of limited government. It just says that there is a limited amount of stuff you can do using force.

Next up: "Human."

Friday, January 22, 2016

Contra-deBoer: Realist

I'm continuing with an analysis of Fredrik deBoer's left manifesto for 2016 (start here). My eighth piece was "Democratic". Now we look at his "Realist."

Fredrik deBoer wants the left to realize that victory is neither just around the corner, nor it is impossible. It should refrain from the two extremes of "triumphalism and fatalism", but start from the fact of the rootedness of "existing power relations." The way forward is going to be hard. But it is not impossible, as the history of left mass movements shows: "progress is possible, even likely," as the "history of labor and socialist victory" proves, and "political change seems impossible until it suddenly seems inevitable." But deBoer doesn't like the politics of word games.
[The left] would be skeptical of the value of symbolic or linguistic achievements. It would place little political importance on altering vocabulary, communication, and similarly symbolic goals. It would not treat popular culture or celebrity as meaningful sites of left-wing practice. It would always define success in material terms, not in representational or symbolic terms.
These, of course, are the words of a Moses rallying the Israelites in the middle of their 40 year wanderings in the wilderness. We will get there, but it won't be easy. Only men of steel -- well, more likely bronze -- and the women that love them will get to the Promised Land. By the way, do you notice the word "socialist" above? It's the first time that deBoer has used the S-word in his Left 2016 piece.

If we are going to be realist, could we please look at the difference between now and the situation in the 1840s when Marx was formulating his scientific socialism? Back then the Irish were dying in their millions in the potato famine, and the Germans were also experiencing a hungry forties of their own. In Britain the Poor Law Amendment Act of 1834 had reversed 250 years of welfare policy and forced the poor into factory work under inhuman conditions in the cities where everyone could see them. It looked like this misery would continue forever unless Something Was Done about it, i.e., socialism.

Only the misery didn't continue forever; instead, everyone became richer, including the working class. As a racist, sexist, homophobe, I like to believe that the misery retreated because the textile revolution was followed by the railway revolution, followed by the oil revolution, followed by the electric revolution, followed by the auto revolution, followed by the electronic revolution followed by the information revolution. The textile revolution provided cheap cotton clothing for the masses, the railway revolution provided transportation for the masses, the oil revolution provided cheap illuminating oil for the masses, the electric revolution provided cheap urban transportation for the masses, the auto revolution provided personal transportation for the masses. And so on.

A left-winger like Fredrik deBoer would insist that the decline of misery was caused by the worker mass movement and the socialist mass movement. Very well, except that in 1850 "economic and social justice" would have meant equality at a very low level. And what would the economic and social justices have said about the upstart John D. Rockefeller and his standard illuminating oil?

A realist would have to admit that the attempts to create a socialist society have been horrible failures, and indeed the most grotesque tricks on the common people. For the leaders of the Soviet Union, the Peoples Republic of China, and post-independence India all thought that they were implementing the very latest in western European social and economic technology when they socialized their economically backward states. Reading the manifestos of the ideologically fashionable back in Europe they didn't realize that the socialist ideas were the ideas of a crank, a man who had taken the incomplete ideas of the classical economists and completely missed the point. So they visited untold miseries on their peoples, and compounded the error by resorting to terror (except in India) to force their crank ideas through to success. In other words, they turned the realist hard-slog rhetoric of Fredrik deBoer into brutal reality and utterly immiserated their peoples in a way that was unimaginable to the Educated Youths like Marx and Engels.

Underneath the realist rhetoric in deBoer is a naive faith in politics, as though politics can solve the existential problems of humankind. But politics is violence; it proposes to correct the violence of the "existing power relations" with new, righteous violence that will correct the dominations and oppressions of the old order. But how bad can things be if they have increased per capita income by 3,000 percent in 200 years? How bad can things be when three-fourths of the poor in the US  own a car or truck? When 42 percent own their own home?

When deBoer talks about a "mass movement" and about "victory" he is making my point that politics is violence. For sure, he is not talking about violent insurrection, but he is talking about the intimidation of peaceful protest and naming and shaming. And he is talking about using the power of government to alter the decisions of the market. How do you think that a policy of "economic and social justice" would be implemented? By suggestion? It would be implemented by government functionaries, backed up by government enforcement officers, also known as men with guns.

Fredrick deBoer opposes a symbolic politics of "altering vocabulary, communication, and similarly symbolic goals" because for him a left movement is about material goals. Really, he knows not what he says. The left has made extraordinary progress in recent decades with its program, borrowed from the Frankfurt School, of changing the culture by naming and shaming those that don't talk leftist. And politics is downstream from culture. If there is one thing that conservatives fear it is that the left has won over their children in the culture wars. And once you have won the culture, what else is there?

Next up: "Pessimist."

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Contra-deBoer: Democratic

I'm continuing with an analysis of Fredrik deBoer's left manifesto for 2016 (start here). My seventh piece was "Liberal". Now we look at his "Democratic."

Fredrik deBoer recognizes that one of the problems of the left today is what political professionals like to call "messaging."
A functioning, healthy left political movement would identify building a mass movement by appealing to the unconvinced as its most central, most essential goal. It would identify obscurantism, factionalism, purity signaling, and other behaviors that limit the potential numbers of the movement as counterproductive. It would limit the use of specialized vocabulary and other forms of in-group signaling. It would constantly consider how its practices and discourses actually grow or fail to grow the ranks of the movement. 
Principles, he writes, are important, but they shouldn't exclude "vast swaths" of the population from understanding the movement because that limits its size. He is arguing that a mass movement should appeal to the masses.

The movement would use voting systems for decision-making, and would provide for minority voices and dissent. But it would avoid "flat" and anti-hierarchical organization; they have failed the left. The movement "would recognize the basic, beautiful radicalism of voting and democracy and defend it against the tyranny of structurelessness."

Note that by "Democratic" deBoer is not talking about how the successful left movement will govern. He is talking about how the left movement governs itself and is obviously reflecting conventional wisdom emerging on the left that their ideal of a government of consensus collectivism doesn't work for their political movement. The movement must have leadership, and while voting is important and democratic the movement should not get carried away by an excess of egalitarianism.

On the other hand deBoer is also concerned about getting the word out. He obviously feels that the left is hampered by its in-group jargon that doesn't communicate enthusiasm to potential recruits to the movement. Principles shouldn't get in the way of building the movement. In this deBoer is just like any sauntering politician and understands that the voters are not interested in ideas. They want a strong leader who will get them what they want. Or they want the government to keep its hands off their paycheck.

For someone like me, who is not a leftist, all this is rather encouraging. It tells me that the left finds itself tangled in its traces. On the one hand, of course, it believes in a militant political movement that will march and protest until it replaces the current unjust regime. In other words, it believes in a military top-down organization in which people are expected to fight and die for the cause. On the other hand it believes in a perfect cooperative and collective society free of all state coercion and domination and hegemonic structure where everyone is equal, everyone is consulted, and everyone matters. This is what the Marxists call an "internal contradiction." In the Hegelian dialectic "being" and "nothing," although opposites, are identical and resolve themselves, as I understand it, in "becoming." That's easy for Hegel to say, but how does the left resolve the problem of being at once a political movement, which must be focused and disciplined, and also a collective of peace and justice in perfect equality? As Candidate Obama once said, that is above my pay grade.

But I would be really interested in how "democratic" the left movement would propose to be after it had acquired power. None of the "so-called Communist" regimes of the last century seem to have done a good job on the democratic front.

Next up: "Realist."

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Contra-deBoer: Liberal

I'm continuing with an analysis of Fredrik deBoer's left manifesto for 2016 (start here). My sixth piece was "Pacifist". Now we look at his "Liberal."

Fredrik deBoer understands that "the guarantee of certain individual rights is not contrary to the pursuit of social equality and social justice but rather an essential element of that pursuit." Recognizing that "basic human and political rights" are "immensely popular" a left movement must speak the language of liberalism.
It would not concede the language of personal freedom and political liberty to conservatism, but would insist that only economic egalitarianism can truly result in real freedom, and would work to achieve that freedom for all people in all places. 
In addition, of course, the left movement would champion individual "self-definition, including in the spheres of sexual identity, gender identity, and consensual sexual practice." It would recognize how left movements are protected from McCarthyism by individual rights and how the abuse of human rights in "so-called Communist" governments damaged the cause of anti-capitalism.
It would understand that a robust, functional left social movement would be strong enough to live alongside those who disagree with it, and would have no need of silencing them. It would move confidently in the knowledge that its core beliefs will eventually win because they are correct, and so feel no particular desire to silence those who dissent from those beliefs.
This piece is rather revealing. I read it as saying that, hey, even though we lefties don't really believe in individual rights, because collectivism, we must advocate them, and even, maybe, practice them, because individual rights are so popular, and we must not give the conservatives a club with which to beat us. But then deBoer proposes the Orwellian notion that "only economic egalitarianism can truly result in real freedom." No it doesn't. Economic egalitarianism can only work under coercion. The only person with real freedom under economic egalitarianism is the guy that does not work. Everyone else is working under the direction of the collective.

Notice the tentative nature of the last quote above, that the left ought to be "strong enough to live alongside those who disagree with it", because after all the left's beliefs will win because they are correct. I agree, but I understand that deBoer's tentative tone reflects the truth that the left has never let non-believers live alongside them unsilenced. From Marx to Lenin to Castro to Chávez to today's campus protesters, the left has never entertained the idea that opposing beliefs are to be endured, not for a moment. Always and everywhere, every leftist is engaged in the tactics of silencing the opposition. It might be naming and shaming with the accusations of racism and sexism. It might be the accusation of hate speech. It might be the marginalization and removal of a troublesome faculty colleague. It might be the "entryism" of the social justice warrior. It might be the use of confession and the suspension of the presumption of innocence in the investigation of sexual harrassment. It might be the torture of innocents during a purge. The left never leaves anyone alone.

But why is this? Why does the left not believe in live and let live? The answer is simple. The central faith of all left movements is the faith in politics, the use of government power to reverse injustice. It is a faith that is doomed to failure, because politics is violence, and government is force. A leftist cannot leave anyone alone, not for a moment, because the movement is everything. Thus, as one conservative blogger has written: "You will be made to care."

It has long been a commonplace in conservative circles that any leftist support for free speech is merely tactical, necessary until the day of revolution. It must be considered a virtue in Fredik deBoer that he allows this truth to leak through in his support for Liberalism and "certain individual rights."

Next up: "Democratic."

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Contra-deBoer: Pacifist

I'm continuing with an analysis of Fredrik deBoer's left manifesto for 2016 (start here). My fifth piece was "Anti-nationalist". Now we look at his "Pacifist."

"Violence," writes deBoer, "is a tool of establishment power", and leftists must admit that left movements can never match "reactionary power's capacity to inflict violence." So the left must grasp that "left machismo and revolutionary fantasies" have in fact diverted leftist energy.
[The left movement] would insist that narratives of righteous violence are the tools of imperialism and militarism. It would acknowledge that traditional powers like the United States have waged a ceaseless campaign of violence against less powerful nations.
The left would proscribe the use of violence.
It would pursue a world of diplomacy, non-aggression between disparate peoples, and resistance to coercion through threat or violence between different places and groups. It would understand that we cannot build a just society or a just world through the tool of violence, which is the tool through which injustice has been committed and maintained.
The center of the left's self-consciousness is that it believes itself as a political and moral movement for Peace and Justice. To make this faith work, it has to hide from the fact that its program of Politics is Violence.

The left is not blind to the violence of its opponents. Establishments maintain themselves in power with violence. The United States uses violence against less powerful nations. The left sees reality there: the established powers are not about to give up the reins of power without a fight. Government is force; politics is violence. The establishment's power and the United States' foreign policy is proof of that.

But somehow, the future political world of the left will not use violence, instead using diplomacy, non-aggression. I just do not understand how that is going to happen. In the first place, I look at the way the left conducts itself where it does not have political power. It uses the show of force, the "peaceful protest," and the "march," in which protesters, organized with quasi-military discipline, wave banners and placards with their non-negotiable "demands." Sorry, Mr. deBoer. Politics is violence, or at least the threat of violence. The whole point of the peaceful protest is to say that, right now, we are marching peacefully, but we will not be marching peacefully forever.

In the second place, I look at the way the left conducts itself where it does have political power. It uses intimidation and coercion to get its way. In the university, where leftist people have the power to intimidate and coerce, they force students to attend political indoctrination sessions. They suspend the presumption of innocence for accusations of sexual harassment. They humiliate and silence people with the cry of "racist" or "hate speech." President Obama, who promised "fundamental transformation" of America after his election makes no bones about unilateral executive action and regularly accuses his political opponents of incivility.

Moreover, deBoer makes clear that the initial implementation of his moral social system will occur using the power of the state. He writes under "Anti-nationalist" that "the short term the state is a necessary structure for establishing economic and social justice." Exactly my point. Government is force. Politics is violence. First of all, the left movement will use the coercive power of the state to implement its agenda, and then will relax the power of the state in a process of elimination. Let the record show that the usual record of leftist governments is that they progressively amp up the coercion because their economic policies result in the demolition of the economy and they desperately resort to force in a futile effort to head off economic disaster.

The fundamental contradiction of left politics is that it is attempting to combine politics and religion. "Peace" is a proper and useful religious symbol. It promises that after the struggle and heartache of life we will achieve the "peace that passeth all understanding" in Heaven. In the tremendous wisdom of the United States founding and its separation of church and state it is understood that "Peace" is the job of religion, and violence is the job of government. It must be so, because humans are both cooperative and competitive beings. Sometimes they work together, sometimes they compete with each other.

Of course there is a way to maximize peace on earth. It is the moral social system of free trading and free labor. It is the notion that before you get an income you have to serve your fellow humans by finding and doing useful work that provides products and services that other people want. It communicates wants and needs through a chaotic emergent process we call the price system although it isn't a system at all. It rewards people that concentrate on other peoples' needs before their own, and it rewards people that create and sustain a reputation for trustworthiness. We know that this is a peaceful process, because of the science in Steven Pinker's Better Angels of Our Nature. In the collective world of the hunter-gatherer, the death rate from violence was 500 per 100,000 per year. In the patron/client world of the feudal system the death rate from violence came down to 50 per 100,000 per year. In the free-exchange world of the global capitalist trade and manufacture the death rate from violence has come down to 5 per 100,000 per year.

But that is the one thing that the left, since Marx at the latest, protests against: free and fair exchange beyond the tutelage of the great and the good. And so there is no peace. That is because people on the left all believe  in the primacy of politics, and politics is violence.

Next up: "Liberal."

Monday, January 18, 2016

Contra-deBoer: Anti-nationalist

I'm continuing with an analysis of Fredrik deBoer's left manifesto for 2016 (start here). My fourth piece was "Feminist". Now we look at his "Anti-nationalist."

Not surprisingly, Fredrik deBoer is against the nation state.
A functioning, healthy left political movement would recognize the fundamental illegitimacy of the nation-state. It would see that structure as the product of capitalism and imperialism. It would recognize the nation-state as recently invented for the express purpose of enabling war.
Imperialism, of course, is a natural outcome of nationalism, and national borders exist "as structures designed explicitly to separate different classes of worker and thus prevent solidarity." In the short term, deBoer believes, the state is necessary for "establishing economic and social justice." But in the long term the state must be eliminated as "illegitimate."

I don't know quite how to deal with the "fundamental illegitimacy of the nation-state." Obviously all states are illegitimate, in that they are all founded on war, not law. That is true for the United States and the United Kingdom. To the victor the spoils. And the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics was a Russian nation state, born in a coup and a civil war, that consciously tried to Russify its non-Russian minorities.

Yes, the nation state was invented for enabling war, and the best explanation I have found for this is in The Sources of Social Power where Michael Mann describes the nation-creation process for England. It happened in the Tudor period when the king found that he could no longer fund his regime out of the royal estates. What with the development of guns and expensive navies, he needed money, lots more money, to be able to stand up to France and Spain and their military and economic might. So he started ramping up national taxes and using the merchants of London for their credit and disarming the nobles by demolishing their castles. The result of this power play was the English nation state.

Imperialism? Well, sure. The merchants had to get something in return for buying the king's paper. And what they most valued was a navy to keep the pirates at bay. One thing led to another and pretty soon a young punk like Robert Clive -- "out of measure addicted to fighting" as a youth, according to La Wik -- ends up in India and starts messing around in the princely politics of that ancient land and the Brits find that they have an empire. It is a mistake to think that empire is a conscious policy. History is a disaster, and empires crop up in the strangest places.

As for the idea that national borders exist to separate the workers and prevent solidarity, I think that we can refer to the current migrant crisis in Europe to let the air out of that one. Workers are like other humans. They want state power used to give them benefits, and will vote for politicians that promise them. But when things turn south they demand that the politicians continue their benefits and keep out the low-wage competition from immigrants.

As for the withering away of the state, a Marxist perennial, I cannot conceive of a time where the current practice will end. A government is an armed band that occupies some territory and taxes the inhabitants thereof for the privilege of being allowed to work for a living. The proceeds of this taxation is used to reward the government's supporters. On the day that this mechanism ceases to work then we may start to talk about the reality of the "elimination of the illegitimate structure that is the state as a paramount long term goal." If anything, the larger the social units, the bigger the government and the more powerful the state.

The folly of deBoer's idea is encapsulated in my catchphrase that Government is Injustice. All opposition political parties and revolutionary movements feed on the food of injustice. Every last member smolders with the knowledge of the government's injustice and the ruling class's pride and arrogance. And they are right. What do you expect from an presidential executive order or a bill passed by a majority in a democratic parliament? You expect a measure dressed up in the language of justice that rewards the government's friends and punishes its enemies. In their Calculus of Consent social scientists Buchanan and Tullock discovered the only just method of legislation. It is the rule of unanimous consent, a rule that requires the majority to buy the votes of the minority: in other words, pay for the costs that will likely be experienced by the minority. So every oppressed opposition that succeeds to political power imposes its will on the defeated foe. Just as deBoer proposes to use the power of the state to establish his moral social system of economic and social justice.

There may be a more legitimate political entity than the nation state, but we do not see its possibility on the horizon. The present turmoil in the European Union is a day-to-day testimony to this truth. The Greek people, encouraged by politicians, experience the EU economic policy as injustice; for some reason they do not experience any kind of solidarity with their worker pals in Germany. In return the German people, in the teeth of opposition from their betters, experience the open-borders policy as injustice; they do not feel solidarity with the migrants that are pouring into Europe from the failed region of the Middle East. And the EU ruling class is not shy about silencing voices that dissent from their ruling-class consensus.

Because Government is Injustice, any political entity, from a city to a world instead-of-a-state, will find that it has to deal with opponents within the walls. These will be disappointed inhabitants that experience the policy of the entity as injustice, and they will probably interpret the policy as motivated by malice. That entity will respond to the challenge to its legitimacy with force. deBoer understands this when he writes that the state will be needed to establish economic and social justice. Of course. In the future, all will be sweetness and light, but in the short term we must deal firmly with these troublesome exploiters.

The nation state ain't going nowhere. Not in our lifetimes, and probably not in this millennium.

Next up: "Pacifist."

Friday, January 15, 2016

Contra-deBoer: Feminist

I'm continuing with an analysis of Fredrik deBoer's left manifesto for 2016 (start here). My third piece was "Antiracist". Now we look at his "Feminist."

deBoer's approach to sexism is the same as his approach to racism. But he asserts that "gender discrimination is a unique form of injustice that has been ubiquitous in human history" [my italics], not just in the modern world. It is a "uniquely destructive injustice... the domination of women by men."  The same remedy is required: "addressing material inequality and material injustice" and pursuing a politics of "equal rights, equal power, and equal dignity for all gender identities."

But I'd say that we have a category error here. The notion of "gender discrimination" only makes sense in a state society with a justice system that reaches into tribes and families. Prior to the state, people lived in families, men and women, and the patriarch was law. It was the Roman Empire that made the first significant effort to penetrate the patria potestas with the state's law and an environment where discrimination had any meaning.

Actually, the domination of women by men goes all the way back to our ape ancestors. In the society of chimpanzees all males outrank all females, and the males are not slow to remind the females of this fact. There is also a complete division of labor between the sexes. The males defend the border of the troop's territory, and the females bear and raise the young using the food available within the troop territory.

That is where we began. Since then there have been some changes made. For one thing, modern men have been socialized from border wars to wage labor. For another, the lives of women are no longer completely consumed by childbearing and childraising, and for over a century they have been coming out into the public square. This public square, as the German sociologist Georg Simmel wrote a century ago, was defined by men for men. But he predicted that women would, in time, transform the public square to suit a more feminine sensibility. Now that the majority of university students are women, I think we can say that the current rape crisis on campus reflects a more feminine sensibility at work both in the administration and the student body. Has that happened spontaneously because individual people have adjusted their individual lives to new conditions on the ground, or because of the left and its activism? I suspect a bit of both.

I'm just a humble racist, sexist, homophobe, but I wonder if the rhetoric that deBoer uses is not dominatory in a male-centered, and Enlightenment rational sense -- which was critiqued by Horkheimer and Adorno in Dialectic of Enlightenment. Do women really talk and think in terms of material inequality and equal rights, equal power, etc.? In my experience women, unless they have been carefully taught, think much more in terms of relationship, in giving and receiving, and above all in caring for those they love. How would that work in the relentlessly political world imagined by the left?

For you will search in deBoer's manifesto in vain for the word "child" or "loved one" or "family". Forget "husband" and "wife" or "spouse" or even "partner." There is not a whisper of that. It is all very well to talk about rights and power and material security, but it rather elides the central fact of human life, that it is not about politics and government and a moral social system, or of economic reproduction, but of living and human reproduction and growing and dying.

Let us concede the point that women have been dominated by men since the dawn of time. But what do we make of the rich women of the Middle Ages that were married young and remarried and often lived to a ripe old age enjoying dowers from three separate dead husbands? What kind of domination would allow old widows to enjoy the fruits of the patriarchal estate in such a way while important dynastic questions were being weighed in the balance. A real patriarchy would have stripped the widows of their extravagant dowers without compunction. What do you make of the writings of women like Fanny Burney, Jane Austen, Charlotte Brontë, George Eliot, and Willa Cather? Were these women just writing fantasies of feminine empowerment, or were they writing about women and situations they knew?

There are serious questions about the feminist agenda and whether it is really as good as advertised for women and other living things. Is the sexual revolution really so good for women? Hasn't it had the paradoxical effect of victimizing women in a humiliating sexual free-for-all? Has the divorce revolution really been so good for women -- or men or children -- or has it coarsened women's lives and thrown them into dependency on government? Does not legal abortion put pregnant women under hegemonic pressure to "get rid of it" for the convenience of the others in their lives?

If you ask me, a real Feminist movement would not be a movement of the left at all, but a vast informal network of communities of women working to serve the best interests of all women, and also the men and women that they loved. It would not be political, because politics is violence; it would not be governmental, because government is force. It would not, for sure, be armed to the teeth with an ideological agenda, ready to lay waste to its enemies. Because, to use a trope of President Obama, that's not who women are.

Next up: "Anti-nationalist."

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Contra deBoer: Antiracist

I'm continuing with an analysis of Fredrik deBoer's left manifesto for 2016 (start here). My second piece was "Anti-capitalist". Now we look at his "Antiracist."

Fredrik de Boer's "functioning, healthy left political movement would recognize that racial discrimination is a unique form of injustice that has been ever-present in modern society." This is because racism is both "material oppression and emotional insult", and it arises out of the modern world's "history of the domination of non-white races by white races." So racism is not merely a function of economic inequality but a "unique and uniquely pernicious phenomenon". But "combating racism must begin with addressing economic inequality and material injustice." Overall, the new left movement would "assertively pursue a society of equal rights, equal power, and equal dignity of all races."

So if you think that racism is a special injustice, and if you think that the solution begins, initially, with fighting inequality and material injustice, then you are all set up to use government force to remedy the situation.

But I don't think so. I don't think that racial discrimination is "unique" or that it is peculiar to modern society. History, according to Theodor Adorno, is a disaster, and that disaster has a lot to do with the appetite for hegemony and domination in ruling classes and revolutionaries bucking for promotion to the ruling class. Conquest slavery was ubiquitous in the ancient world, and a thousand years ago the Vikings would sail up the rivers of England in the fall. They would kill the men, seize the harvest, and sell the women and children in the biggest slave market in northwest Europe, Dublin. Human groups have always discriminated against the "other," whether the other is the tribe next door or the Muslims in a no-go ghetto. Moreover, humans have also tended to prefer white to dark skin color. No doubt there is a class thing here: dark means someone that has to work in the sun. And of course the Circassian slaves (they have their own Wikipedia entry) were highly prized in the harems of the Middle East because of their whiteness.

The particular indictment of modern capitalism, of course, plantation slavery. It stand to reason, of course, that when you are buying slaves to work your highly profitable sugar or cotton plantation -- and you are using West Africans because by trial and error the slave masters discovered their immunity to malaria -- you need to find a way to justify the way you brutally exploit your slaves to help you sleep at night. What better than to classify the West Africans as a lesser race that can't deal with freedom and can't be responsible free men and women? And then when you lose a civil war to the northerners you bridle at the idea that your former slaves could in any way be your equal, let alone lord it over you in league with evil Republican carpetbaggers and scalawags. And the worst thing is that under capitalism, it pays employers to hire blacks who are willing to work for less than a white man. So you write Jim Crow laws and Davis-Bacon acts to make sure that doesn't happen. And the result? Your Southern United States stays poor and backward and morally depraved, and the blacks you oppressed migrate to the north. The fact is that only now are African Americans returning that once sterile and bare land, now manured, husbanded and tilled with excellent endeavour of good Republican supply-side economics. Because that's where the jobs are.

Of course, if you have already decided that racism is uniquely evil, then all else follows. But suppose you end up creating ill will between different groups in society. After all, nobody thinks they are uniquely evil, and they tend to object strongly when somebody marginalizes them as evil. I'd say, for instance, that left politics is uniquely evil, as shown by the man-made famine in the Ukraine and the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution. But try getting your lefty friend to agree to such a proposition. So when you start on the "uniquely evil" course you are creating divisions and conflict in society. And who knows where that might lead? It might lead to your glorious revolution being reversed by the reactionaries.

But here is yet another problem. When the educated elite of creative left activists has declared a group of humans as uniquely oppressed victims, and enacted not just non-discrimination laws but positive discrimination in affirmative action and "diversity" and a culture of offense, what does this do to the recipients of this rage for justice? I argue that it makes the recipients into a dysfunctional culture that cannot succeed in society without special privilege. I call it the "little darling" problem. And I mean problem, for the little darlings.

Back in the old days, racism was unexceptionable; today it is scandalous, and the left has done its part to make it so. But when do we declare victory? After every last racist has been hunted down and named and shamed and banished from progressive society?

And is racism a unique evil? That's the $64,000 question. What do you think?

Next up: "Feminist."

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Contra-deBoer: Anti-capitalist

I'm continuing with an analysis of Fredrik deBoer's left manifesto for 2016. My first piece was "Materialist". Now we look at his "Anti-capitalist."

deBoer states that the "moral and practical problems of capitalism cannot be reformed away". So the left must build a "post-capitalist world" to deliver a truly "moral social system".
This world would take advantage of the incredible productive capacity that capitalism has unleashed on the world and use it to spread material goods through a system of collective ownership. It would not eliminate private property entirely, but rather entail universal joint ownership and control of the productive apparatus of society.
"[M]aterial security and comfort" would not be "earned"; they are "the fundamental right of all humans".
[This world] would acknowledge that we’ve moved from an age defined by scarcity to one defined by abundance, even while it acknowledged that there are certain resource limits on the planet. It would achieve material egalitarianism while preserving aesthetic, philosophical, social, and personal diversity. It would operate under the assumption that removing human beings from the immediate need to work to live would not result in mass apathy and listlessness, but rather unleash a massive flourishing of creativity, productivity, and inspiration. 
Notice that the imperative for a "moral social system" as a replacement for the capitalist world goes immediately against deBoer's first topic, Materialist, in which he privileges the "is" over the "ought." For his, the imperative of a moral social system means that the practical success of capitalism, to the extent we understand it even now, counts for nothing against the moral imperative of a moral social system. Earth to deBoer: the people in any society, except for a few activists, think that their own moral social system is the best going. And what happens to "preserving aesthetic, philosophical, social, and personal diversity" versus the "moral social system" that the left movement has set up? The whole point of the aesthetic or philosophical or personal life, as practiced for instance by the left for the last century or so, is to imagine a new point of view. So what happens when that point of view, perhaps shared by a coterie of the most moral people going, comes up against the one true moral social system just implemented by the left movement?

The idea of implementing a truly "moral social system" also goes against the anticlericalism in the Materialist paragraph. This is something that is hard for people on the left to grasp. The best way to realize it is to assert that all the movements of the left are secular religions, and that each claims to have discovered the true "moral social system." When you talk about discovering or developing a moral social system you are talking about what St. Augustine did 1,500 years ago and St. Thomas Aquinas did 800 years ago. They were clerics putting together a moral social system for the benefit of the Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church. And the question for people on the left is: what happens to the people that don't agree with your truly moral social system?

It is all very well to say that material equality and material security and comfort are fundamental rights of all humans. The question is: how? How does the material for the material security get produced? Obviously there must be a bunch of people out there producing the products and services that yield material security and comfort for all. But who decides? The answer to the question was made by Eric Hoffer half a century ago. Either the boss tells the worker what to do, or the worker figures it out for himself. If the boss does this (whether an actual boss or the voting community) then the moral social system is based on force. If the worker decides what to do then he needs some sort of feedback to tell him whether he is making the right product in the right way for the right use of resources. We know what this feedback is called; it is called the price system. And it is telling that whenever people say: we don't need no stinkin' price system, economic chaos ensues.

It is obvious to me what this new post-capitalist world is all about, with its new moral social system where there is no requirement to work and everyone gets to practice "aesthetic, philosophical, social, and personal diversity". It is a paradise set up for artists and writers, Dichter und Denker, as the Germans say. La Wik, in the original German.
Dichter und Denker ist das Ideal der Verbindung von Kunst und Wissenschaft, insbesondere der Philosophie, in einer Person oder Gruppe.
Here is the translation from La Wik:
"Poets and Thinkers" is the ideal of combining art and science, particularly philosophy, in an individual or group.
By the way, in German Wissenschaft doesn't just mean science, it "incorporates science, learning, knowledge, scholarship and implies that knowledge is a dynamic process discoverable for oneself, rather than something that is handed down."

On my Three Peoples theory, deBoer's ideal is the cry of the People of the Creative Self. They don't want to be subordinate serfs, working for The Man. They don't want to be responsible individuals, working on a dull family and a career. They want to be funded to think deep thoughts and imagine a great thing.

deBoer skates over the cosmic responsibility that the leaders and followers of the post-capitalist world are taking on. He assumes that it is a given that we humans can replace the capitalist world with another that is better and more moral. He assumes that we understand how capitalism works. He assumes that we can design the moral system and then implement it.

I'd argue, even as a raging pro-capitalist, that the opposite is true. We really don't have a clue how capitalism works. All we know is that, in the past 200 years the peoples that have lived under capitalism have experienced a 3,000 percent increase in personal material welfare. We know that, e.g., when the Chinese government switched from a socialist-inspired economic model to a capitalist inspired model it resulted in the biggest increase in material prosperity in human history. We know that, e.g., when the Venezuelan government replaced a so-so capitalist economy and started driving towards socialism, it visited economic chaos on the Venezuelans.

Let us imagine that the Chinese government just got lucky, and the Chavistas in Venezuela just go unlucky. But, as Napoleon said about generals: "Is he lucky?" In other words: never mind how he did it, did he get the job done?

I'm inclined to go with modern science and its chaos theory. Like the weather, the economy is a chaotic emergent system. Central to the notion of emergence is the notion that the interactions are so many and so governed by chance that it is impossible to understand or control it. You don't try to control the weather; you merely adjust to it.

But humans bridle at the idea that they are at the mercy of events. Central to the conceits of prophets, rulers, thinkers, moralists, and political activists is the notion that they can grasp the meaning of it all and reduce it to a formula, as in "moral social system."

I don't think so.

Back in Marx's day, he had a point about Anti-capitalist. Based on the science of the classical ecnomists, t looked like capitalism was going to result in immiseration for the workers and the middle class. Only he was wrong. Capitalism didn't immiserate the workers, it birthed unimaginable prosperity for everyone. Today, the anti-capitalist had better come up with a better idea than, oh, we'll keep the good parts, but trust us, we know what we are doing.

Nest up: "Antiracist."

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Contra-deBoer: Materialist

At the end of 2015 Perdue PhD Fredrik deBoer issued a leftist manifesto for 2016. It's helpful for a right-wing extremist like me because it seems to honestly propose a new Left. But of course to me the whole thing reeks of stuck-in-a-bubble cultism.

Let's look at deBoer's first topic; he argues that the new left movement must be "Materialist."

He starts by invoking Marx: "a functioning, healthy left political movement would be concerned with the material reality of the present world." It would not be anti-religious, but "it would be anticlerical"; " it would recognize that science is key to human flourishing" but would recognize that science can often be used to marginalize. It would reject "all forms of supernaturalism, the occult, and vague spiritualism. It would be concerned first and foremost with reality, and would privilege “is” statements over “ought to be” statements."

Very well, but a left movement that started with the "material reality of the present world" would have to start with understanding why, during the flourishing of capitalism as a social and economic reality, per capita income in the capitalist countries has increased by 3,000 percent in 200 years. Before we can do anything to change the current system we must understand why it worked and why it flooded the world with untold riches wherever it was tried. deBoer's invocation of science is significant, for it was Marx's conceit that his economics was "scientific." So it was, based on the best economics of the time, and it was by a critique of that economics that Marx came up with his doctrine of "surplus value" as the means by which the capitalist exploited the worker. The only trouble is that economics has moved on from the dichotomy of "use value" and "exchange value" to the notion of marginal value, but you will search in vain in the work of Marxists to find a reformulation of "surplus value" in terms of an economics that has solved the enigma of use value versus exchange value. And what are we to say about the reality that Marx's prophecy about the immiseration of the workers turned out to be completely unreal?

What does it really mean to be anticlerical but not anti-religious, to privilege the "is" against the "ought to be?" I'd say it gets you into a muddle. Anticlericalism starts with opposition to the institutional power of the Catholic Church and I suppose any other institution of religion. But what are we to make of the 1,000 year campaign of the Church against polygamous habits in the ruling class? Or its campaign against cousin marriage? Could that have succeeded without clerical power? The fact is that clerics have often been the most impressive force against unjust political rulers. You can tell that because rulers tend to get really pissed off by troublesome priests. And by clerics do we include left-wing movement activists that work for advocacy organizations? Should we not consider left-wing organizations as secular churches practicing the modern secular religions from socialism to environmentalism, and their officers as secular clerics?

And does anticlericalism extend to, say, the individual enthusiastic Christian church with its lower-middle class members and entrepreneurial minister, such as was experienced by liberal sociologist James M. Ault, Jr. in Spirit and Flesh?

What does it really say to privilege the "is" over the "ought"? As I see it, every single human on this planet privileges the "is" when it suits him and the "ought" when it suits her. Meanwhile everyone agrees that humans shall not live by bread alone. The whole point of any religious or political belief is that the "is" is not enough. Life "ought" to be better: fairer, juster, nobler, more equal. Any time that someone advocates for a better world they are privileging the "ought" over the "is."

I can see where deBoer is coming from in calling for materialism. He is reprising the Marx that excoriated the utopian socialists for their pie-in-the-sky ideas and offered his own social and economic analysis that was based on the best social science available at the time. Very well, but the new Marx must reformulate his "ought" on the "is" of today. And that includes the fact of prosperity unimaginable in the hungry 1840s, the post classical economics that has delivered withering critiques of socialist economics. And then there is the notion, advanced by thinkers like Deirdre McCloskey and George Gilder, that the foundation of our prosperity is not science but "surprise." People keep coming up with new and surprising ideas that bump up prosperity: from the textile revolution to the steam revolution to the oil revolution to the electric revolution to the information revolution. And that is to say nothing of the unremitting transportation revolution. It is not the science that makes the difference, but the application of science by humans to human flourishing in ways that nobody thought of before.

Marx had a point about materialism. The bourgeois revolutions were all about principles and rules, but what about the workers? Since then, politics has taken account of material needs, so the Materialist question has been answered.

Next we will look at deBoer's "Anti-capitalist."

Monday, January 11, 2016

What Our Ruling Class Gets Wrong

So the latest news is that the Swedish media have been sitting for six months on a rape event at a summer concert in Stockholm. So the Cologne Syndrome has extended to Sweden. Who knew?

What, you may ask, is wrong with our ruling class? Isn't rape the very thing they care about? Not quite.

The Big Idea that animates our ruling class is "Never Again." Never again will they allow another Auschwitz. And since everybody knows that the ordinary man and woman in the street is capable of acts of extreme nationalism and right-wing oppression of minorities it is the sacred destiny of the ruling class to prevent another Auschwitz.

A good example of this conceit is the essay "Education After Auschwitz", part of a collection by Theodor Adorno in Critical Models: Interventions and Catchwords. The problem seems to lie with the ordinary people. "One must come to know the mechanisms that render people capable of such deeds" and prevent them from being capable of doing it again.
When I speak of education after Auschwitz, then, I mean two areas: first children's education, especially in early childhood; then general enlightenment what provides an intellectual, cultural, and social climate in which a recurrence would no longer be possible[.]
 What absolute rubbish! I assume that Adorno is trying to say that, with proper education, it would be impossible to get people to become part of the genocide machine; they might even peacefully protest against it.

But of course, that's not the way it works at all. The Holocaust was not publicized like the Peace Corps, as in: come and save the world by eliminating the Jewish race. It was all done under a blanket. And each person with a part in the genocide had a minor, subordinate role to play. It is pompous to imagine that replacements could not be found for any functionary with a soft heart. The fact is that nearly everyone will do what they are told, because they are afraid. And that includes elite intellectuals.

If we are really serious about Never Again we must look to the real problem. It is politics, and the elite culture that frames politics. The ideas that coalesced in the Nazi horror were ideas imagined and developed not by brutish "young sons of farmers" that Adorno suggests were eager concentration camp guards but by the educated youth of the 19th century. A lot of the Nazi racism came out of the Romantic movement. Among other things Romanticism wanted to rediscover the local and the organic as a buffer against the rational and mechanical culture of the Age of Reason. (Hey kids! How about the current fad for local and organic?) This developed into a nostalgia for the volkisch ways of country folk. Then the second-rank intellectuals around the National Socialist German Workers Party found that could fashion various strands of Romanticism into the cult of das Volk. Volk good, Jews bad. Just like today's politics. For Democrats, it is abortion good, guns bad; for Republicans it is guns good, abortion bad. That's how politics works: good vs. evil. And it is intellectuals that provide the ammunition to load into the rhetorical guns.

The point is that any intellectual or political movement can do this. Right now, from the left, we have what conservatives like to call Cultural Marxism that  works to marginalize Christian and conservative voices. Its latest notion is to stigmatize college men that engage too enthusiastically in the sexual revolution that the left championed 50 years ago. So here we have a movement that insisted that sexual liberation was the only way, and then 50 years later starts to worry about a "rape culture." Here we have a movement that marginalizes opponents of gay marriage as bigots and homophobes. And is happy to use the power of the state to fine Christians that don't go with the Zeitgeist. Never again?

If you want to know what is wrong with the Muslim rape epidemic in Europe, you must start with the conceits of the European ruling class. On the one hand they have the conceit that they are Florence Nightingales compassionately bringing refugees from darkness into light, bringing the whole world into a single diverse global community. On the other hand they have the conceit that they must control and direct the opposition of the ordinary people in the various nations of Europe to this ruling-class sponsored invasion. What could go wrong?

Here´s another point. The reason that Germany, in particular, is importing immigrants is that the fertility rate of German women is now about the lowest in the world. Lifetime fertility per German woman is about 1.4 children. Thirty percent of German women are said to be childless.

Now, how could that happen? I will tell you. It is not because of brutishness in a certain class of rural people. It is because the ruling class, for over a century, has pushed a culture that sneers at childbearing and encourages women to "balance" their lives between family and work. The idea is that a career is a higher and more satisfying lifestyle that merely raising a family. So, of course, millions of women take the hint and devote themselves to education and paid work. Women put off marriage and family and have more sexual partners. But this is a problem because women that delay marriage have a shorter period to bear children, and women that have more sexual partners tend to have more STDs. And STDs like chlamydia tend to make women sterile. What could go wrong?

Conservatives say that the influence of intellectuals should be limited, as part of a general philosophy of limited government, and what I call the Greater Separation of Powers. Put it this way. Millions of people start businesses every year, and most of them fail, because the business idea was not up to snuff. The same is true of political and cultural ideas. Most of them deserve to end up in the ditch. But when intellectuals have a lot of influence on politics, and a powerful government can implement these ideas over the objection of opponents, then you are setting up a situation where bad ideas can take hold and cause social distress and injustice.

Well, here we are in 2016 and our conceited ruling class has got us into a fine mess on a number of fronts from immigration to spiraling health care costs to excessive government debt to the cultural sink of the lower 35 percent in America where the men don't work and the women don't marry.

And it's when things are in a mess that ordinary people turn to "strong leaders" that promise to "make America great again."

But the problem is not ordinary people turning to strong leaders. The problem is conceited rulers imposing their half-baked ideas on the rest of us.