Monday, June 27, 2011

In Defense of Bonapartism

A recent Foreign Policy article by Leon Aron is illustrative of the sorry state of modern conservatism. Aron generally supports the legacy of Boris Yeltsin and the devastating neoliberal "shock therapy" that ushered in an era of gangster capitalism, complete with dramatic increases in suicide, alcoholism, drug abuse, crime, and a whole host of other catastrophes, including a demographic disaster. Aron's ideology is a good example of the radical neoliberalism that is usually called “conservatism” in the United States.

Predictably, Aron takes shots at Vladmir Putin, warning of the dangers of “neo-authoritarian Putinism.” I suppose that for today’s Jacobins, Putin is the new Bonaparte. Of course, from a populist perspective, better Bonapartists than neoliberal/neoconservative radicals. At least under Bonapartist political theory, the emperor is supposed to stand above all classes and rule justly in the name of the people, not just for the benefit of a few plutocratic oligarchs.

Indeed, is it just a coincidence that both Trotskyists and neoconservatives have spilled so much ink writing against Bonapartism, and Left Bonapartism in particular? Even though the neocons don’t often use terms like “Bonapartism,” terms such as “neo-authoritarian” and even “fascist” are often used by neoconservatives to describe populist figures who refuse to bow down to the neoliberal consensus on economics and culture. Yes, they might very well be authoritarians (which, emphatically, is not the same thing as being a fascist!), but can we blame people for preferring authoritarian leaders who give them domestic peace and some measure of economic security and justice versus anarchy and gangsterism?

Monday, June 20, 2011

Giorgio La Pira: The Five Principles of Social Morality

First published in 1939 in L'Osservatore Romano, this excerpt is from an article by Giorgio La Pira on Christian social thought. Please visit the website of the Fondazione La Pira to see the original source, and do look around the site, there is a lot of great stuff there, much of it available in English.

Now, to La Pira:

First principle: all men are brothers because they are all created by the one God and all redeemed by the one Saviour. (...) If a doctrine undermines the basis of the gospel it is anti-Christian. It must be rejected as anti-human. It is bad. It comes from Cain. In no way does it conform to the divine goodness of Christ. (...)

Second principle: these brothers are not "isolated": the love that unites them in God and each other is whole: in other words, it makes them members of one organism, like the parts of one body: the mystical body of Christ. (...) Here is the divine view of life. It embraces heaven and earth, past and present, present and future, and makes the earthly city move towards the heavenly city.

Third principle: every human creature, as, indeed any other creature, has a task to carry out in life. Each human creature is a worker, and God himself assigns the work to be done. (...) I do not work to kill or to overwhelm my brother. I work for him when I work to build my real house. When I work illuminated by the light of reason and, even more, by the light of faith, I plough the furrow in my land, but the seed I sow will provide grain for many, will provide grain for everyone! Free labour, labour of love (...)

Fourth principle: the order of the Mystical Body, the City of God, has gradations (...) my family is sacred. God wishes it. My city is sacred. My country is sacred. My lineage is sacred, and, conversely, the family is sacred, the city, the country and the lineage of my brothers.

Fifth principle: the four principles above are true in the supernatural order and are equally true in the natural order. Because grace heals and elevates nature. It works as nature works: in the same direction, according to the same laws and the same true and good inclinations. The Gospel is also the revelation of the natural order!

Father Knows Best

The great David Lindsay has an excellent post for Father's Day. Please give it a read.

Marriage As Luxury Good

June Carbone and Naomi Cahn have a depressing but important article on the decline of marriage and family life among lower income Americans over at New Deal 2.0. Definitely worth a read.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Down With The Meritocracy!

Kim Brooks writes in Salon about "killing" the liberal arts degree in America. Yawn. You can find these kinds of pieces all over the place these days. While it is understandable given the many college graduates who will be unable to find work in this awful job market, these kinds of angst-ridden articles are really a symptom of America’s deadly meritocracy disease. This disease can be found among both conservatives and progressives, but it is much worse among progressives. Modern progressivism is obsessed with sending working-class Americans to college and making them part of some mythical vast upper-middle class, undoubtedly shedding their regressive cultural tendencies in the process. Oh, and they will have plenty of money for expensive hybrid cars and other status symbols of the progressive merit class. 

Unfortunately, this progressive dream is turning into a nightmare as more and more graduates find themselves stuck in a bad economy with loads of debt and poor job prospects. Not surprisingly, the arts and humanities are taking a beating as both business conservatives and meritocratic progressives attack so-called “useless” subjects in favor of a greater emphasis on practical subjects. However, the problem does not seem to be too many humanities graduates, as their numbers are relatively small. Indeed, business, an exemplary practical major, is one of the most popular degree fields in the United States, although it also seems to be one of the less academically rigorous. Add all of the various degree mills peddling certifications in nursing, computer science, and other practical fields, it would seem that Americans are not jumping into Chaucer and Aristotle as readily as some would have it.

And yet, we still have vast numbers of unemployed and underemployed people in the country. Are all of these folks History and English Literature majors? I doubt it. The arts and humanities are being used as the whipping boys for the failures of neoliberalism and meritocratic progressivism. Indeed, the entire emphasis on education is flawed. While educational policy is doubtlessly important, the economic superstructure in which educational policy is crafted is the really important factor. A country may use educational policy to produce engineers in great quantities, but if there is little industry in the country an engineering degree may not be so useful.  A country may even have an excellent educational system that produces plenty of math and science graduates and also have plenty of heavy industry, but if the underlying assumptions of the economic system are faulty, all of those math and science graduates will not save the system. Just ask the citizens of the former Soviet Union about that one.

The real conflict, then, is not the arts and humanities versus math and science. There is no reason for the different branches of human knowledge to be at war with each other. Instead, the conflict must be between different political visions of society. In the contemporary United States, the conflict is between conservative and progressive meritocracy on one side and the social democratic and populist vision of full employment at family wages. Conservative and progressive supporters of meritocracy are different to the extent that the conservatives have a much more Darwinian concept of meritocracy, one without much concern for the losers in the race of life. The progressives, on the other hand, support the more popular vision of meritocracy based on increasing social mobility and prosperity through higher education. The greater emphasis on math and science among progressives is supposed to be a realistic concession to the demands of global competition. 

But how realistic is it to expect to transform much of the population into an army of engineers and scientists? Not very. It is a fever dream best left in the realm of science fiction. It is about as realistic as thinking that every Chinese and Indian child is proficient in calculus by the age of four, something one could be forgiven for believing if you listened to President Obama and others when they discuss these matters. You can’t blame them though, they are trying to remake the American people in their own image of the successful, highly-educated professional. 

The other vision of American society, once the dominant vision on the Left and even on much of the Right, was a social democratic/populist vision based on a commitment to full employment and high wages. This vision was dominant throughout the New Deal era of American politics, which began in the 1930s and ended in the 1970s. This was an era when Americans and Western workers generally saw the largest advances in popular living standards and income equality in human history all without sacrificing economic growth. Even relatively poorly educated workers enjoyed the fruits of a middle-class lifestyle. 

Now, I want to address all of the young people today obsessing about their educational choices: just think about some of the older people you known. It could be your grandparents, for example. Don’t be surprised if you realize that your grandfather was able to support his wife and children, (none of them working full time, mind you) in relative comfort without a college degree, or perhaps even without a high school or technical degree. How did they do this? Don’t be surprised if they were in a labor union or were employed by the government, or perhaps both. Also, don’t be surprised if they were in an industry formerly protected and encouraged by government policy as an important component in a general industrial policy aimed at national economic prosperity instead of predatory usury and the rentier economy.  

Now, instead of sulking, you should be good and angry and progressive meritocrats ought to be one of the objects of your rage. They abandoned the American worker in order to create their professional-class utopia. To the progressive meritocrat, the unionized, blue-collar laborer was personified by All in the Family's Archie Bunker, who is portrayed as an ignorant bigot. The new meritocratic economy had no place for dinosaurs like Archie Bunker, nor for the labor unions that were supposedly riddled with Archie Bunker types. The New Economy would dispense with the labor union as an almost medieval relic of a blinkered past.

We must bury the pernicious ideology of meritocracy once and for all and instead adopt an economic strategy aimed at materially supporting the human family, whether the head of that family is a doctor or a janitor. Obsessing over educational policy while ignoring how the economy is structured and how plutocratic forces use state power to advance their interests while hurting the rest of us is a recipe for disaster. It plays into the hands of the atomistic, individualistic ideology that has done so much harm to Western culture. Unnecessarily attacking the arts and humanities will only hasten the death of the civilization that our political class disingenuously claims to be defending.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Ayn Rand vs. Jesus

Please watch this fantastic video by The American Values Network. These are exactly the kinds of points that the Left must make in order to bring religious people back into the left-wing fold and rekindle the heady days of the original Populist Movement. The current capitalist crisis has exposed the deep tensions within the fusionist alliance between Social Darwinist capitalists and social conservatives. Christian socialists and others should jump at this opportunity to destroy fusionism once and for all while also reducing the power of the anti-religious Left, which has been such a stumbling block on the road to rebuilding authentic populism.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

From Il Santo to Bunga-Bunga: Italy’s Road to Political Perdition

The Savoyard writer Joseph de Maistre once wrote that “Every country has the government it deserves.” It is fitting that Joseph de Maistre was a subject of the King of Piedmont-Sardinia, the country that would one day form the nucleus of a unified Kingdom of Italy.

Italians are currently celebrating 150 years of national unity while Italy's government is mired in the so-called “Rubygate” scandal centered around Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s alleged sexual activities with a then-underage Moroccan nightclub dancer, as well as other allegations that the Prime Minister was hosting erotic “bunga-bunga” parties with other women in an underground salon at his Villa San Martino estate. At this point, it may behoove Italians to remember the words of Joseph de Maistre as they ponder the post-Berlusconi future of their country.

While it would be wrong to blame an entire country for the failures of its leader, Italians were comfortable with Berlusconi for much too long. As Hans-Jürgen Schlamp writes in Der Spiegel:

The recipe [for Berlusconi’s political success] was simple: A bit of polemic against the ‘communists’ and the judiciary; a dash of invective against gays, Gypsies and Muslims; a couple of cheap promises, such as imposing caps on taxes and creating jobs. He then spices up the mixture with a few off-color macho witticisms -- and voilà.”

Many Italians were easily seduced by the character of Berlusconi as much of the nation embraced the trash television morality he represented on his networks and in his personal life. As Italians now prepare for the future, they would do well to look back to figures like Giorgio La Pira and others who represented a Christian conception of Italy that was devoted to traditional morality, social justice, and peace. By embracing the trashy values of modern consumerism, Italy lost its nobler traditions that often pierced through the dark layers of the country, whether it was Fascism or the reality of political corruption and organized crime. Italians must choose between the tradition of Il Santo or that of Silvio “bunga-bunga” Berlusconi. They cannot coexist.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

America’s Dystopian Future

Nicholas D. Kristof has an excellent piece on how the economic ideology of the GOP is helping to erode America’s position as a First World country. I would add that the United States is only adopting the unfortunate aspects of poorer countries. I don’t really see families or communities becoming stronger and more cohesive in the States, at least not among the less affluent. Instead, if things continue on the present trajectory, I don’t think it is outlandish to say that the United States might end up looking like a cyberpunk dystopia. Glitzy technology will  help to mask the miserable social, moral, and cultural conditions of the majority of the population, as it already does to a certain extent today.

Europe's Road to Serfdom

Michael Hudson with an excellent article on the austerity measures being pushed on Greece and other European nations, here.

Edit: I want to add another great article under the same title, as it also deals with austerity in Europe. Please read this great post by Lord Keynes on the failure of austerity in Latvia, it is very informative.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Kids These Days

David Brooks has an interesting piece in The New York Times about how our young people are not prepared to enter the world of adulthood due to a toxic mixture of overzealous parenting and hippie “find yourself” individualism. Oh, and the job market is bad too, but really the problem is that our graduates are too full of themselves and their parents encouraged this kind of thinking by being “helicopter” parents.  

While I agree with some of what Brooks has to say (perhaps young people are too narcissistic these days), I think he misses the greater point, which is that much of the extreme emphasis on a structured childhood was probably a product of changes in the economy. Brooks and others in the bubble world of the punditocracy fail to realize how much status anxiety there is among the American middle class. Gone are the days when even a manual laborer could expect to have an income sufficient to support a family in relative comfort on one working adult’s income. Instead, the American people were told by all of the Very Serious People in politics, business, and the media that education was the only way to avoid sinking into the new low-wage, low-skilled underclass being created by America’s embrace of neoliberal economics.

Not surprisingly, the result was an almost neurotic reaction by frightened middle-class parents. Parents were told that little Jimmy and little Susie had to be loaded up with extracurricular activities to make their college applications more attractive, had to take expensive test prep courses to be able to succeed at ultracompetitive standardized tests, and that an unstructured childhood was a relic of the past, or worse, a symptom of a lower-class lifestyle, as exemplified by the media's portrayal of poor and working-class children as wild and uncontrollable. 

Unfortunately, Brooks is yet another in a long list of media figures who refuse to look at how the American economy has changed structurally and instead seems satisfied with turgid lectures on how suffering builds character. Alternatively, Times writer Paul Krugman’s recent piece on the devastating impact of long-term unemployment in a stalled economy is much more appropriate given the reality of the economic world recent graduates are being forced to contend with and has the added benefit of pointing out that things don’t have to be as bad as they are.  

While Brooks is correct to point out how corrosive extreme individualism has been for American culture, he seems to use an individualistic methodology when writing about the problems young people will face in the near future. Besides a ritualistic nod to the problem of debt (without really discussing how and why that debt came into existence), Brooks avoids discussing the wider social forces that may have led parents to become overindulgent and their children increasingly narcissistic. While we should avoid the trap of blaming social forces for all individual failures or misfortunes, we should also discard the old tricks of the classical liberals who used philosophical individualism mixed with puritanical moralism to shame the poor and unfortunate into accepting their miserable status in an often exploitative and unjust economic system, all while absolving those at the top of the economic ladder from any moral responsibility to society.

If David Brooks is really interested in turning young people into responsible adults with “sacred commitments” then he should support policies such as public employment, a national commitment to a family wage, and proper regulation of the economy to avoid the devastating economic bubbles that he apparently opposes. Unfortunately, such ideas are not taken seriously by the Very Serious, Moderate types like David Brooks, despite the fact that we already had such a system (or something close to it) under the Keynes-Beveridge consensus, and it actually worked pretty well. 

The continued attack on young people is combined with a blatant refusal to do anything about the problems facing the young. In a few years from now, when David Brooks will no doubt be writing about the social decay unleashed by the creation of a permanently unemployed or underemployed underclass, I hope people remind him that all he had to offer the suffering masses were empty platitudes.