The Problem of the We09-09-2017
The Problem of the We
Omri Boehm turns to Richard Rorty's 1998 lectures Achieving Our Country for perspective on Mark Lilla's recent critique of identity politics. Rorty spoke of the "cultural left" that specialized in "what they call the 'politics of difference' or 'of identity' or 'of recognition.' This cultural Left thinks more about stigma than about money, more about deep and hidden psychosexual motivations than about shallow and evident greed." Losing interest in labor unions and laborers, the "academic, cultural Left" argues that "the system, and not just the laws, must be changed." And while the cultural Left labels the system "late capitalism" or, more recently, neo-liberalism, it, as Rorty writes,Form more information visit: http://blog.lareviewofbooks.org/essays/mark-lilla-future-post-identity-liberalism/
"does not think much about what the alternatives to a market economy might be, or about how to combine political freedom with centralized economic decisionmaking. Nor does it spend much time asking whether Americans are undertaxed, or how much of the welfare state the country can afford, or whether the United States should back out of the North American Free Trade Agreement. When the Right proclaims that socialism has failed, and that capitalism is the only alternative, the cultural Left has little to say in reply. For it prefers not to talk about money. Its principal enemy is a mind-set rather than a set of economic arrangements."Rorty mirrors Hannah Arendt's argument about the "theoretical sterility and analytical dullness" of the leftist revolutionary movements during the 1960s. At a time when the institutions of liberal democracy have failed, "revolutionaries are those who know when power is lying in the street and when they can pick it up." But the revolutionaries of the Left today can't pick up the power because they are caught up in obsolete clichés. The question that needs to be asked, Arendt writes, is "how to arrange matters so that the masses, dispossessed by industrial society in capitalist and socialist systems, can regain property." But she worries that the Left has not asked this question. For Rorty, the cultural Left has abandoned the dispossessed masses. While it has successfully shed light on racism, sexism, and homophobia and "decreased the amount of sadism in our society" (especially among college graduates), it has turned its back on economic inequality and economic insecurity. The result has been a chasm opening between the urban and suburban cosmopolitan elites and the rest. The successful insist that rich countries share their wealth with the world's poor; the rest of the people "insist that the primary responsibility of each democratic nation-state is to its own least advantaged citizens." And here is where Rorty makes his now famous prediction:
"At this point, something will crack. The nonsuburban electorate will decide that the system has failed and start looking around for a strongman to vote for—someone willing to assure them that, once he is elected, the smug bureaucrats, tricky lawyers, overpaid bond salesmen, and postmodernist professors will no longer be calling the shots."What Boehm understands is that Rorty's analysis is the backbone of a basic truth in Mark Lilla's account of identity politics. And yet, Boehm also sees that Lilla's call for a universalist and nationalist "we" is predicated on an ideal of what unites us as Americans that does not exist. What is needed is what Rorty and Arendt both called for: to think about our present situation. To talk and to listen to each other. To abandon old pieties but also to insist on the hard work of identifying those ideas, beliefs, traditions, and practices that unite us and not only those that differentiate us. What we need, in other words, is not a recognition of the "we the people," but a new commitment to re-think, re-imagine, and re-make the people into a "we" that is true to the current state of American political, social, and economic life. Boehm pursues this idea by exploring the truths and contradictions that have made Mark Lilla's attack on identity politics so fraught.
"But if we do take Lilla’s challenge seriously, deeper questions arise about the alternative politics that he offers. The Once and Future Liberal prescribes civic liberalism that seems very much like Rorty’s patriotic variety: there is “no liberal politics,” we are told, “without a sense of we”; the only answer to the consummation of Reaganism through Trump’s demagogy is a recourse to “something that we all share but which has nothing to do with our identities” — this isn’t human nature, but “citizenship”. Undermining the “universal democratic we on which solidarity can be built,” Lilla complains, liberals have been “unmaking rather than making citizens.” It is necessary to return from “me” to “we,” he insists. Lilla’s attachment to radical we-liberalism becomes perhaps the clearest in his attack on liberals’ “legalistic” approach to politics. “Most foolishly,” he writes, liberals grew “increasingly reliant on the courts to circumvent the legislative process when it failed to deliver what they wanted.” Rather than “building consensus,” they preferred presenting their case as “a matter of absolute legal right.” Working by this method, instead of convincing the American “demos,” the only people liberals had to convince are the “judges” assigned to their case. This rebuttal of ACLU and its sister organizations is, in fact, covert anti-constitutionalism. Lilla here de facto subscribes to a voluntarist interpretation of liberalism — preferring the will of the American people, the “we,” to the prescribed principles that were supposed to bind it. In this light, when this book speaks of American “national pride,” it prefers the demos collectively respecting the national anthem to the United States Constitution. “We,” Lilla writes at some point, “is where everything begins.” This latter proposition is the book’s main premise, and it is also its main liability. Because liberalism has replaced universal metaphysics by a non-universal ‘we’, the distinction between identity- and patriotic liberalism has actually become not so sharp. This distinction wasn’t watertight already in Rorty’s time; but it has been finally reduced ad absurdum by the rise of Trump in American politics. If we are to learn anything at all from this absurd, it is that patriotic liberalism is but a species of identity liberalism: not of women, blacks, L.G.B.T or Muslims, but of those who can start the political debate by asserting “we Americans.” In other words, ‘we’ is not where everything begins; it is where everything ends. Political progress in America has always been achieved through the struggle — even the civil war — over who would utter ‘we’ successfully. And the struggle goes on: insofar as it only has the current “we Americans” to fall back on as anchor, nothing in this patriotic locution could distinguish a progressive sounding “Achieving Our Country” from the reactionary “Make America Great Again.” Lilla seems to be at least bothered by these complications, for he repeatedly modifies the words ‘citizen’ and ‘we’ by the adjective ‘universal’; and, in two irritated footnotes, he dismisses the question of who counts as a citizen as a “sign of how polluted our political discourse has become.” Polluted or not, these are the questions haunting the book. The reference of the word ‘we’ is never universal; patriotic politics is not cosmopolitan politics. By the same token, ‘universal citizenship’ is a contradiction in terms. In short, liberalism is not humanism: having dissociated truth from politics, it can lay no claim to universality. If Lilla’s promotion of a universal patriotic we is not a noble lie, then it is an attempt to enjoy the fruits of metaphysics without assuming the appropriate responsibilities."
The Moral End of Politics
[caption id="attachment_19176" align="alignleft" width="300"] By ndlon from Flickr[/caption] Jason Willick argues that the partisan resistance to a solution to legalizing the Dreamers is grounded in a misplaced and illiberal moralizing of politics.
"“If you want to keep DACA, here’s a thought,” one conservative tweeter noted wryly in response to the torrent of outrage that met President Trump’s decision to scrap the program, “make a proposal that opponents are willing to compromise on. That’s how politics used to work.” There is, as Yuval Levin notes, a “huge opening” for such a compromise. Some Congressional Republicans would be willing to codify DACA (which shields unauthorized immigrants who came here as children from deportation) if it was accompanied by certain restrictionist measures. And some Democrats might be willing to vote for more border security or a reduction in less-skilled immigration if it meant that “Dreamers” were given real security. But anyone who has been watching American politics for the past several years has to be skeptical that any deal along these lines will actually transpire. Because however “politics used to work,” they don’t work that way anymore. Instead of a set of public-spirited representatives bargaining for partial victories, we are now watching maximalist factional leaders performing ideological purity rituals to increase their status within their tribes. The coming fight threatens to damage U.S. institutions even further. The DACA chaos—from its unilateral inception under President Obama to its twilight without any fix in sight under Trump—isn’t just about immigration. It points to a growing disturbance within liberal politics itself. Understanding the roots of that disturbance can help prevent it from spreading. “The historic contribution of liberalism,” wrote Daniel Bell in 1955, “was to separate the law from morality.” In other words, just because something seems morally right doesn’t mean it should be reflected in the law. And just because something is the law doesn’t mean that it is morally right.... The DACA crisis arises out of Americans’ deteriorating ability to separate their own moral views from the law—or to separate the outcomes they desire from the process required to achieve it."Form more information visit: https://www.the-american-interest.com/2017/09/05/daca-fight-end-politics/
"The battles over health care, education, and other goods underway today express a very different view of public goods, one grounded not in economic terms of efficiency and production, but rather in moral and political concepts. In this framework, “public goods” are those essential to enabling human success and well-being. Let’s call this the democratic conception of public goods. It is a democratic conception in the substantive and aspirational sense of “democracy”: these are goods that we owe to one another in a shared democratic society. In turn, this suggests that ensuring equal access to these goods is a matter of public concern and public obligation. Viewed this way, public goods encompass much more than conventional utilities and infrastructure (such as roads, bridges, and electricity). The category also includes a wider array of “social infrastructure”—those essentials that allow for one’s full potential to be met, ranging from health care and housing to broadband Internet. Such moral appeals to the importance of basic necessities and the need to provide them publicly and equally are familiar aspirations. But by themselves they have often been politically unpersuasive: skeptics frequently cast these demands as luxuries rather than necessities or argue that they would be too costly to provide publicly. And in an era marked by deep distrust in government, “self-correcting” free markets might seem more likely to provide such goods and services efficiently and competently. But a democratic conception of public goods entails more than just the aspiration for equal access to basic necessities. It also includes a second, critical claim: that power in the modern economy is exercised through the control, administration, and provision of these very goods. Whether they are public agencies or private firms, providers of goods such as health care exercise control over those dependent on them. Historically this power has been used in ways that create and perpetuate racial and economic injustice. Public goods must be democratic, then, in a second sense: by ensuring the accountability and responsiveness of these providers and protecting beneficiaries of public goods from exploitation."Form more information visit: https://bostonreview.net/forum/k-sabeel-rahman-losing-and-gaining-public-goods