Monday, March 19, 2012

From Crooked Timber:

Bruce Wilder 03.18.12 at 8:13 pm

It seems to me that the NYTimes editor, who chose the headline for Haidt’s op-ed, probably understood the truth. The headline is: “Forget the Money, Follow the Sacredness”. Of course, one should do the exact opposite, to understand American politics.

I find much that is persuasive in Haidt’s analysis, but not his own pose of political centrism of the “very serious person” kind. This privileged son-of-Scarsdale ending his piece with talk of a “Grand Bargain”, which has become code for gutting Social Security and further destroying the middle classes to pay for taxcuts for the rich, undermines the legitimacy of his argument for me.

Someone is paying for American politics, and if “Repubs seem to have little remaining interest in arguing that their preferred policies will actually benefit anyone outside the 1 per cent”, well, that might be a clue as to who is paying for this on-going horror show, and why.

You cannot possibly have total political domination by a tiny hoi oligoi, and democracy governing on issues of economic substance at the same time. Maybe, you can have a little, side-show democracy on issue the hoi oligoi largely do not care about, but I doubt even that can last long, under the kind of authoritarianism, which will be required to enforce economic exploitation on the prospective scale and depth.

I think Democrats are being herded like cattle, just as much as Republicans, prodded by the repulsive spectacle on the Right, to be sure, but mostly willing to remain uncritical of the pro-plutocratic, authoritarian character of the Obama Administration.

Liberalism cannot achieve political power in a democracy without taking responsibility for leading large blocs of people, who are likely to have the political attitudes of “authoritarian followers”. Liberals (using the term for American ideological meaning) like to wonder why hoi polloi would vote against their economic interest, without recognizing that pursuit of the economic interest of the masses requires considerable political organization, including membership organization. That kind of organization scarely exists; ordinary working class and middle class people do not feel themselves part of any effective organization, pursuing or protecting their economic interests—certainly the Democratic Party under Obama is demonstrably not doing so. There’s plenty of evidence of plutocratic corruption undermining even the faint remnants of such organization, from AARP to New Deal 2.0.

The same people, whose resentments and ignorance are being exploited by cynical Republicans, could, in other circumstances, be stalwart supporters of egalitarian projects and values. The kind of crude, clumsy social dominance demonstrated by a Santorum advocating for curbs on contraception are not inherent characteristics of the mass of followers, who are abandoned to the Republican machine, by liberals and Democrats, and vilified for their alleged racial bigotry for their trouble. The alleged racial bigotry is closer to the truth, since people, whose political attitudes and psychology are in “authoritarian” cluster are very sensitive to in-group appeals and out-group vilifications. High-minded liberals may have a hard time grasping what it is like to be scared, vulnerable and ignorant, I guess. A lot of liberals reject polititical solidarity as a matter of principle; it makes liberals untrustworthy as representatives of economic mass interests—liberal positions on immigration and free trade and lukewarm support for unions mark them out as likely to betray the interests of ordinary workers, but liberals seem unaware of the consequences of their high-mindedness.

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