Recent posts and discussions at Deliberately Considered have been about fundamental problems in contemporary democratic culture: the need to engage in political discussion beyond clichés, the consequences of the persistence of modern magical political thinking, and the danger of transition to dictatorship from democracy. It makes me think about the state of the right and the left and the ideal of a contested political center.
Ideology has not ended, to my dismay (as I reported in my New Year’s post). People believe that they have the truth in politics in a variety of different forms, on the left and right, in the U.S. and globally. In a strange mirroring of Socrates, who confirmed that he was the wisest of men because he “knew that he didn’t know,” contemporary ideologues know that their opponents don’t know. Opponents don’t only think differently but incorrectly, politically incorrect. Material interests, character, moral failure and ignorance are used to explain the other’s mistaken position. Alternative views are dismissed instead of confronted. True believing market fundamentalists know that the problem of the economy will be solved through de-regulation. They will not pay attention to the arguments and evidence of those who explain how such de-regulation is the cause of our global economic crisis. Those who are sure that capitalism is the root of all evil won’t pay attention to those who examine how all attempts to construct a systemic alternative to capitalism in the last century have ended in economic and political failure. It is not the convictions that I find disturbing. It is the unwillingness of people to actually take into account the insights and evidence of those with whom they disagree.
Thus, I think that Gary Alan Fine’s imagined magazine is not only a matter of idiosyncratic taste. As he put it in his recent post:
“I hold to a somewhat eccentric contention that there are smart liberals (neo- and old-timey, pink and pinker), conservatives (neo- and paleo-), progressives, reactionaries, socialists, libertarians, and more. Is my generosity so bizarre?”
No, not at all bizarre. I think there is a pressing need for Fine’s generosity, that we need deliberate debate about the problems of our times, drawing upon diverse opinions and orientations. It is my hope that over the coming months Deliberately Considered becomes more and more like the magazine of Fine’s dreams. Indeed, I think we have from the start been moving in this direction.
“People reside in gated communities of knowledge.” Fine notes. I trust we contribute to opening the gates, a place for serious discussion about the problems of our times. The pungent political speech that Fine sometimes enjoys, though, from Limbaugh, Glenn Beck and company, is not particularly welcome. This is not the place for shouting heads. I suppose Fine would be fine with that.
It is with my concerns about true-believing and the need to take into account the positions of those with whom I disagree that I reported my response to the Iowa caucuses. I don’t want the eventual Republican nominee to win the election. This is my partisan position, not only because I support President Obama, but also because I think there is a fundamental crisis on the right in our times, which has not yet been addressed. A shellacking would help. I think there are real signs that a day of reckoning is upon us. I think the fissure in the Republican Party, clearly revealed in its primary campaign for the Republican Presidential nomination, is a hopeful sign. Thus, Michael Corey in his response to my post misunderstands me. My point is not that the Republicans are fighting with each other, therefore my candidate will win, or my position will prevail. Rather, my point is that the odd combination of the Reagan coalition, including true-believing free market, neo and Christian conservatives, along with Main and Wall Street moderates, is breaking down, and that this is good not only for Democrats, but also for Republicans, and for the Republic. I understand that Romney will likely win the primary campaign and that he may even defeat Obama. But the lack of enthusiasm for Mitt underscores that the coherence of Reaganism, with its unexamined dogmatisms, is at last over. The only thing that now holds it together is an extremely dark force, hatred of Barack Hussein Obama.
I agree with Lisa Aslanian in her reply to my post, in which she emphasizes the dangers of hatred. I also agree with her that Obama’s opposition enflamed by hatred could conceivably persist into his second term. But I suggest that the power of hatred, like the power of love, has its limits. I think the limits of Obamaphobia are already evident, as the President is taking the initiative against the Republicans (more on this in a later post). I also think his new tough turn does make an appeal to OWS and Ron Paul skeptics (as Lisa desires). My hope, which is pitched against hopelessness, is that those who are committed to libertarian principles, conservative morals and the wisdom of habit and custom, learn to proceed with their commitments in a less dogmatic fashion. A reinvention of Republican political culture is something that is pressingly needed. Such reinvention is already ongoing among Democrats, led by Obama, as I explore in Reinventing Political Culture.
Scott in his reply to my Iowa post ends with the assertion that we are all liberals. I assume he is referring to the legacies of 19th century liberal thought, that unites present day conservatives, i.e. free market liberals, and progressives, i.e. those who think that state interventions are necessary to assure individual opportunity, along with those who want to keep the government out of the bedroom, along with those who want to keep it out of the market. While I think Scott is making an important point, there are also many who are motivated by principles outside the liberal tradition, as I am sure he realizes. Some conservatives believe in the priority of community, tradition, religion and an inherited order. Among the Republican Presidential hopefuls, this is the emphasis of Rick Santorum. And, of course, there are those who are in principle socialist, as well. Although the self-proclaimed socialists are rare in American society at large, they are quite common in the academic world. In fact, while I am extremely skeptical that there is a systemic socialist alternative to capitalism, I do think that socialism is an important principled position within a democratic society with a modern economy, a real utopia that suggests that the way things are now is not the way they will always be. Vince Carducci has been developing this position in his posts here.
Rather than declaring that we are all liberals, I would suggest that we all should be democrats and republicans, in favor of a free public life and rule of the people, committed as we are to competing partisan positions. I imagine Deliberately Considered contributing to this, in its small way, at least as an exemplar. Crucial to this is having a center where left and right meet, for common debate and action, for deliberate consideration.
Final note: This past week I posted a letter authored by former dissident activists, key figures of the democratic opposition to Communism in Hungary, expressing their deep concern on the recent developments in their country. The post attracted a wide global readership. Later this week we will follow through with a series of reflections on the course democracy is taking in that specific Central European country as seen by critical observers in another country in that region, Poland. We also will be taking stock of the developing American political drama. Comparing developments there and here, I trust, will highlight the importance of a free public for democratic culture and also provide us an opportunity to understand the fragility of democracy.
I have made this editorial decision because I am not an optimist. While I take it as my intellectual project to illuminate hopeful alternatives to the prevailing unjust order of things, I think it is important to realize that dangers loom. The path from democracy to dictatorship is not only a danger in Hungary.