Notes on the Atrocities
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Wednesday, April 14, 2004  

A (not so) brief post on the essays

I've finally had a chance to sit down and read the posts we currently have in our blogger roundtable. When I sent out an email requesting participation, I didn't give much structure to the process--bloggers have as their single luxury the freedom to post what they wish. So it's been interesting to see how we each attacked the question differently.

For readers of Less is More, you will have recognized a few of Lawrence's themes here: a Virginian with more than a little of the old Republic in him, Lawrence has sounded the note of freedom. As someone living in a historically Democratic region that has been "abandoned" by its party, Lawrence defines liberty here as broadly as freedom from fascism and freedom from overweening statist elite liberals (my language). Great quote: "The true Left takes delight in the creativity a free people show in exploring the variations of self-rule which their freedoms make possible." What I found especially interesting was a take Lawrence had on the economy--a kind of take I see bubbling up to the top of liberal consciousness:

Capitalism does not exist. I mean this in exactly the same way that Thatcher meant it when she said that society does not exist. And this is exactly the right rejoinder for the Left to give. To those on the right who would insist that there is no community of individuals above the family unit, the response from the Left must be equally absolute. And ours is the stronger case, for one can not point to a single human society in history in which the market functioned without government. Ayn Rand and Milton Friedman can suggest market utopias in which individuals contract with one another in an environment devoid of a government, but they can?t point to a society where this has ever actually happened. More so, there is something darkly brutal in these visions that would take Hobbes?s war of ?all against all? and make it an ideal for society to aspire to. If a mixed economy is one where the government plays some role in the economy, then every democracy in history has been a mixed economy.

Elayne Riggs sings a tune I dearly love (and no, not the one at the beginning of the essay by Olive Oyl): hope and optimism. She notes that the language of politics must by necessity be hopeful, but that doesn't mean the politics are:

And I think that's what a liberal vision needs to be about. Modern-day Republicans, particularly the radical right-wingers currently in power, have not only co-opted the language of hope and ideals (a language which by rights belongs to all of humanity), they've almost irretrievably twisted it so that just about everything they spout is the opposite of what they're actually doing (or have already done).

She's right: not only must we use the language of hope and optimism to shape our vision, we must recall that it's our faith in that vision which is the basis for the hope and optimism.

I wasn't surprised to see Susan Madrak take a pragmatic approach at Suburban Guerrilla. In all great movements, you have the people who sit in coffee shops an talk about how cool Trotsky was, and then you have people who are actually out on the streets doing the hard work. She has an eye on those who will benefit most:

Liberalism is ultimately about using the power of government to encourage a level playing field. (Contrary to right-wing Conventional Wisdom, the Great Society anti-poverty programs did work ? at least, until we stopped funding them.) And it?s about using the economies of scale to raise the quality of life, as we did with Social Security and Medicare.

In what's becoming a pretty common theme, she argues for inclusion, noting that we can't abandon our Christian colleagues to the right. Bloggers being more the Trotsky-talking type, we don't hear enough of this kind of talk, either:

Survey after survey shows the majority of people support liberal policies. So why don?t they vote that way?

My guess is, no one has ever asked them to their face. No one knocked on their door, no one got them engaged in the discussion. Because conservatives pluck their candidates from the churches, the Little League and the PTA, their policies have a familiar, friendly face. Liberals can?t afford to sit back and think ideas will carry the day. They won?t.

If Ralph Nader has proved anything, it's that politics needs bodies. Without the Green Party, he is finding it very hard to get bodies on the street. If we really are going to implement a liberal vision, we have to remember this: it's hard work and it will take broad participation.

But hey, that's what democracies demand.

posted by Jeff | 1:58 PM |
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