Andrew Sullivan rightly sees that we are in the grip of reactionism, not conservatism. Reactionism is not simply about hatred or racism. It is illiberal, yes, but an indignant rejection of the status quo. What Sullivan clearly sees is that reactionism is a political movement that is now worldwide at the height of its political power. To oppose reactionism as simply hateful and thus illegitimate is not enough. We need to martial a political opposition. —Roger Berkowitz
"Look around you. Donald Trump is now president of the United States, having won on a campaign that trashed liberal democracy itself, and is now presiding over an administration staffed, in part, with adherents of a political philosophy largely alien to mainstream American politics. In Russia, Vladimir Putin has driven his country from postcommunist capitalism to a new and popular czardom, empowered by nationalism and blessed by a resurgent Orthodox Church. Britain, where the idea of free trade was born, is withdrawing from the largest free market on the planet because of fears that national identity and sovereignty are under threat. In France, a reconstructed neofascist, Marine Le Pen, has just won a place in the final round of the presidential election. In the Netherlands, the anti-immigrant right became the second-most-popular vote-getter — a new high-water mark for illiberalism in that once famously liberal country. Austria narrowly avoided installing a neo-reactionary president in last year’s two elections. Japan is led by a government attempting to rehabilitate its imperial, nationalist past. Poland is now run by an illiberal Catholic government that is dismembering key liberal institutions. Turkey has morphed from a resolutely secular state to one run by an Islamic strongman, whose powers were just ominously increased by a referendum. Israel has shifted from secular socialism to a raw ethno-nationalism. We are living in an era of populism and demagoguery. And yes, there’s racism and xenophobia mixed into it. But what we are also seeing, it seems to me, is the manifest return of a distinctive political and intellectual tendency with deep roots: reactionism. Reactionism is not the same thing as conservatism. It’s far more potent a brew. Reactionary thought begins, usually, with acute despair at the present moment and a memory of a previous golden age. It then posits a moment in the past when everything went to hell and proposes to turn things back to what they once were. It is not simply a conservative preference for things as they are, with a few nudges back, but a passionate loathing of the status quo and a desire to return to the past in one emotionally cathartic revolt. If conservatives are pessimistic, reactionaries are apocalyptic. If conservatives value elites, reactionaries seethe with contempt for them. If conservatives believe in institutions, reactionaries want to blow them up. If conservatives tend to resist too radical a change, reactionaries want a revolution. Though it took some time to reveal itself, today’s Republican Party — from Newt Gingrich’s Republican Revolution to today’s Age of Trump — is not a conservative party. It is a reactionary party that is now at the peak of its political power."Form more information visit: http://nymag.com/daily/intelligencer/2017/04/andrew-sullivan-why-the-reactionary-right-must-be-taken-seriously.html
Did South Park Create the Alt-Right?
[caption id="attachment_18885" align="alignright" width="300"] By Source, Fair use[/caption] Janan Ganesh asks a not so rhetorical question: did the satirical cartoon South Park help bring about the right-wing counter-culture of the alt-right?
"It has been 20 years since the debut of South Park. That is long enough to take the measure of its impact — and to conclude, with some confidence, that it did more than any cultural product of that era to predict the counter-elite mood of today. After a scatological start, South Park found its voice as a satire of the liberal left. It made joke figures of Barbra Streisand, Bono, Alec Baldwin, Toyota Prius drivers, pacifists, grievance-mongers, public sector bureaucrats, the politically correct and, in a double episode after the Danish cartoon furore of 2006, those who would cave in to religious intimidation. There were rightwing victims, too, but every other comedian picked on those. What gave South Park its electric effect — and its creators, Trey Parker and Matt Stone, hero status among me and my friends — was its willingness to go after the hardest targets, and with style. The only liberal-baiters we had grown up with were oafish standup comics on Britain’s seedy club circuit. The Anglo-American writer Andrew Sullivan, a “punk Tory” in his youth, went so far as to hail “South Park Republicans”: irreverent young people driven rightward by the priggishness of the other side more than by any doctrinal commitment. Parker and Stone winced at the link but knew he had half a point. “I hate conservatives,” said Stone, in a quote for the ages, “but I really fucking hate liberals.” Their artistic influence is still unmistakable — in Family Guy, in the standup work of Bill Burr, in the derision with which celebrity pronouncements on serious matters are now met, in the fact that South Park itself is entering its 21st season. The question is whether the show had an unintended political influence, too, creating a kind of anti-PC chic that curdled into what is now the populist right. Through no conscious design of their own, did Parker and Stone invent a monster?"Form more information visit: https://www.ft.com/content/c69fa756-30be-11e7-9555-23ef563ecf9a
Politics vs. Moralisation
[caption id="attachment_18886" align="alignleft" width="300"] May 3rd's Living Room Conversation Panelists[/caption] It should not have been such a big deal. As part of a six-person panel on how—or whether—we should cross the partisan divide and talk with people whom we find politically disagreeable or even offensive, I decided to include a recent Bard graduate who has had journalistic success and is not a White House Correspondent for the alt-right blog The Gateway Pundit. Sadly, given the state of our intellectual and political worlds, this panel became highly controversial. Thankfully, because of the excellent work by my colleagues at the Arendt Center, colleagues and students at Bard, and the support of Bard's President Leon Botstein, the event went on as planned and without major incident. Unlike talks at other colleges around the country, the panel discussion featuring Lucian Wintrich IV (Bard '12) was neither canceled nor disrupted. Bard students who opposed the invitation organized a counter event, inviting free speech advocates from the writers group PEN and Columbia Law Professor Kendall Thomas, who spoke to the students about the importance of free speech. While a part of me wishes those students had taken the risk of coming to hear Wintrich speak, I applaud them for protesting in ways that were both responsible and intellectually provocative. In the end, we at Bard have shown that it is possible to bring controversial conservative speakers to liberal arts campuses and stand up for the principles of academic freedom, plurality, and freedom of speech. At the same time, the intense effort required to allow this event to happen could well serve to chill future similar efforts if we don't figure out a way to reestablish a campus and societal consensus around the importance of hearing from and engaging political adversaries. We need to ask: why are students and faculty so opposed to having people they disagree with speak on college campuses? There are likely many answers. But the overriding reason given by those who would censor Mr. Wintrich is that he is evil. The claim that Mr. Wintrich and those like him are evil comes in many forms. Some argued he was sexist. Others that he was racist. He was said to be a white supremacist. Some said he was anti-Semitic. And in the end opinion solidified around the claim that he was transphobic. Amidst the nearly 100 emails I received making these arguments, only three bothered to try to provide examples of evidence to back up these claims. In my judgment, none did so successfully. We can argue about that. But the point is that for the vast majority of those opposing Mr. Wintrich's right to speak, the reason had to do with a failing in his person. Mr. Wintrich was said to be disqualified to speak because his views made him a leper, someone outside the realm of democratic discourse. Such arguments that go to the person of the speaker are called ad hominem attacks, attacks aimed at the person himself or herself, not at their ideas. Today's "good liberals" are so confident that they have the truth, so sure that they are on the side of justice, that they believe in their right to censor those with whom they disagree; there is no need to engage with political adversaries when those adversaries are simply wrong and evil. Argument is difficult; it is much easier to present one's opponents as moral degenerates to be mocked, censored, and deplored. No argument is necessary. The increasing moralisation of politics, to use a term of Chantal Mouffe's from her essay "The 'End of Politics' And the Challenge of Right Wing Populism," is one important cause of the rise of right-wing populism around the world better. For Mouffe, "right wing populism is a consequence of the post-political consensus. Indeed, it is the lack of an effective democratic debate about possible alternative that has led in many countries to the success of political parties to be the 'voice of the people.'" In other words, as political elites embrace an inarguable agreement on basic moral and political truths that cannot be contested, they refuse to engage political opposition to those truths. such an anti-political stance cedes the political ground to those who contest mainstream truths. The rise of right-wing populism can largely be understood as a democratic political rebellion against an elitist and anti-democratic and anti-political consensus. If Mouffe is right, and I think she is, then it is important to re-engage right wing populists politically rather than to continue to condemn them as evil and deplorable. In an open letter to the Bard community, I tried to explain why it was that I believe it was wise to allow Mr. Wintrich to speak at Bard.
"For that reason, I want to write to the campus community and say clearly that I do understand the concerns that have been expressed about Mr. Wintrich. His approach to journalism, which is intentionally to undermine the institution of journalism, is one that I, as someone who studies political theory and totalitarianism, find politically dangerous. His willingness to use highly provocative humor has the potential to legitimate stereotypes and reinforce institutional discrimination. His mode of argument is one I find unattractive and potentially undermining of democracy. At the same time his argumentative style has been, on a basic level, effective and one that we can understand to be—whether I like it or not—increasingly mainstream. Mr. Wintrich has White House Press credentials. This means he is one of the reporters in the country who has been given privileged access to the President of the United States. This makes Mr. Wintrich a successful representative of a journalistic approach that has become common in the United States. His style of argument—in which language is not treated with care or seriousness, —is not that different from the one used by the President of the United States. I fully understand that many at Bard want to dismiss Mr. Wintrich as someone who spews hate. There is no question that he revels in saying things that are offensive and insulting. That he does so as part of a political act and thus as a performative argument gives little solace to those who feel themselves targeted by such rhetoric. And given a political climate in which more than 50 years of progress in civil rights, feminism, environmentalism, and other social justice movements are in danger of being rolled back, there is a desire amongst many who deeply value these progressive achievements to build protective walls around our communities. But this is to overlook the basic fact that the push to roll back the liberal victories of the last half century is already well underway. This is true not only here in the United States, but in Turkey, Russia, Hungary, the United Kingdom, France, and elsewhere. At some point those who would censor the representatives of what is now undeniably a new and radical right-wing counter-cultural movement need to face the fact that the reaction against modern liberalism is not simply the work of isolated haters; rather, it is a profound movement that has captured a meaningful part of the global zeitgeist. No doubt much of what is said by those in the emergent right-wing-counter-culture is radical, dangerous, and offensive; and yet, it is also true that much of what is said is convincing to many. The movement pushing back against the progressive liberalism of the late 20th century is certainly more influential amongst a more diverse and educated population than some want to believe. And it is also true that there are people in the wider Bard community who think that in important respects Mr. Wintrich makes valid points about the overreach of government and the dangers of political correctness—even if they sometimes do not like the way he goes about making his points. Aside from violence, the only way to respond to a global movement one disagrees with is through persuasive argument. We must always remember that we don’t win an argument when we and our friends are convinced that we are right. We win an argument when we convince those who meaningfully disagree. If we want to change the world, we need to learn how to argue with and persuade others. It is important that as members of an intellectual community we resist the understandable urge to barricade ourselves in comfortable gated communities of liberal purity. Some students and faculty have argued that it is enough to simply read the writings of the Steve Bannons, the Betsy Devos’s, the Charles Murrays, and the Lucian Wintriches—that offensive opinions can be experienced at arm’s length and kept out of the campus community. But it is not enough to simply read these views (or more frequently to read dismissals of them). A view we disagree with on the internet rarely argues back when we dismiss it. Actually arguing with someone who will respond to our arguments is the only way to truly test our arguments. The practice of arguing with those with whom one disagrees is the best way to learn how to engage actively and effectively in the political life of a citizen. It is the only way to learn our weaknesses and our opponents’ strengths. And, at the very least, it is the only way to discover whether, despite our real differences, we share a common commitment to reason and decency. When I write “only way” in this paragraph, I mean that after a life of watching politics and writing about it, it has been the only way that I have seen that ends up being productive. I ask that you take seriously this point of view and, of course, that you feel free to oppose it—that is to say, that you argue against it, if you disagree."Form more information visit: http://hac.bard.edu/news/?item=18812