Tuesday, October 28, 2008

I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by blinkered liberalism

Here is one of the leading liberal bloggers of our day:
It seems to me that any talk of the end of conservatism is not only premature, but fundamentally misguided. It’s in the nature of things that politicians and intellectuals whose ideas tend toward the preservation of existing wealth and privilege are going to manage to find money and institutions to support them. The right sequence of events could push such a movement out of power for a while, but any incumbent regime is bound to be tripped up by bad luck or mistakes soon enough. And when it does, people turn to the alternative.
This is what I'd like to call "silly-ass" on several levels. The first thing to say is that it doesn't make any sense by Yglesias' logic to say that conservatives are and always will be defenders of "the preservation of existing wealth" if the very idea of "existing wealth" should (theoretically at least) be dependent upon the type of government in place. In other words, if "progressives" manage to take over come November and redistribute or do whatever it is they do, won't "existing wealth" then become an outcome of their own policies? And won't "progressives" then de facto be "defending" that existing wealth regime?

The real point is that all of this begs the question of Democrats' actual commitment to challenging existing wealth and privilege. Yglesias doesn't even say what's wrong with existing wealth and privilege. It can't be (for him) that wealth and privilege are per se wrong, or that all currently existing wealth and privilege was acquired unjustly.

He should specify what he means, because of course Democrats are comfortable with -- in fact, they have a long history of -- allowing extreme inequalities of wealth and privilege, so long, hypothetically, as the government provides some minimum of social insurance to people. Yglesias makes it sound as though the opposition, once in power, will effect a liquidation of existing wealth and privilege and an equalization of opportunity, but of course those currently wealthy and powerful will by and large remain so.

The final point is that this is an absurdly sanguine view of democratic electoral politics. He seems to assume that coalitions of popular movements that challenge wealth and privilege will be the default parties in power, with plutocratic "alternatives" sneaking in when the former are "tripped up by bad luck and mistakes." (But again, where will this cadre of fatcats come from if progressives have so far leveled wealth and privilege?)

Politicians and intellectuals don't have to search for money and institutions. Money and institutions find them, and the Democrats are certainly no exception. The idea that all of the righteous and just elements of American society are not only represented by, but actually spearhead, the Democratic party is ludicrous and Manichean.

5 Comments:

Blogger Robot said...

The whole "bad luck and circumstances" thing doesn't really make sense to me earlier. A bunch of people (including Yglesias) have been linking to some new Larry Bartells article recently in which he shows how progressives and conservatives politicians everywhere are equally affected by economic downturns, or something like that (has anybody else seen this stuff, and could you shed some light on it?). The point being that circumstances trump ideology/policies, which is exactly the point I thought Bartells was arguing against in his book. But I digress...

I think you're right that Yglesias is rather sloppy here with his structural interpretation of politics and wealth, but not for the reasons you cite. There are plenty of tycoons (Soros, Buffet) and giant corporations (Google...) supporting Obama one way or another, for a variety of reasons, not least is that they think this country would do well to have a solid middle class again. The more to consume, after all!

I'm very much for politics redefining the kinds of things you say they should redefine but that liberals are at times too weak in the knees to say or think. That said, it should be pointed out that Yglesias is prima facie right on here: there *will* always be a concentration of wealth at the top (as there always have been) in American society, and there *will* always be a sizable number of these folks who will seek conservative--in the sense of allowing them to keep and make the most amount of money possible with the least amount of redistribution--political solutions. Just think about the Republican Party during the Roosevelt, Truman years and beyond. Sure there were a number of left-wingish "insurgents" or patrician reformers in the party, but they filled the role of "party of those at the top who think they're being screwed by the New Deal."
That's all he's saying here, I think. But, again, you're right to draw out some of the implications of these banal ideas.

11:33 PM  
Blogger Robot said...

probably a lot of typos up there. deal with it.

11:33 PM  
Blogger Austin 5-000 said...

I think you're misunderstanding Yglesias' idea of "existing wealth and privilege." Yglesias is probably not talking about a "wealth regime" which would include "privileges" like health benefits or whatever else an Obama administration will provide. Rather, he's talking about "wealth and privilege" in the Upper East Side sense of the words: private schools, country clubs, chauffeurs, &c.
I don't think it's controversial that "Conservatives" in this country protect the institutions that make that kind of wealth and privilege possible. Nor do I think that "Progressives" will suddenly become the protectors of these institutions, although they may become closer to them.

12:44 AM  
Blogger Scantron said...

That particular post of his was indeed something of a throwaway, but that was my point; to find an off-the-cuff example of "liberals behaving sloppily."

You're right about the U.S. wealth structure and about conservatives protecting that structure in a more extreme fashion, which I certainly don't want to challenge. The first part of my criticism was mainly a reductio. The main bit is that liberals, insofar as they're represented by Y's thoughts here, need to figure out what they're talking about, because "existing wealth and privilege" is a nice tag line but it doesn't a) actually specify what you're talking about or b) make Democrats the exclusive bearers of populist sentiment in a dyad with Republicans -- I'm not even sure it definitively establishes them as *a* bearer of such sentiment. It's a point about dirty hands (look at the rise in income inequality under Clinton) and confused objectives.

You forget that Warren Buffett is a useful idiot for the coming totalitarian dictatorship:

http://iowaindependent.com/7522/king-electing-obama-could-lead-to-totalitarian-dictatorship

I haven't seen that particular Bartells thing. It wouldn't surprise me to see another excellent paper from him though, as this seems to be the year of "Larry Bartells and Paul Krugman get everything right."

12:47 AM  
Blogger Scantron said...

The other thing I should mention is that this kind of arrogance from Y has some "feel-goodness" to it but is a pretty bad way of describing the situation. Surely half of the electorate isn't voting for "existing wealth and privilege" in some sort of sinister way. Of course, I'm not going to deny that some voters most definitely *are* voting for that; but neither am I going to deny that many of those people also feel they can safely pull the lever for Democrats (Warren Buffett, presumably, being one of those people).

1:06 AM  

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