The travesty of liberalism

by Henry on March 21, 2018

More in the suddenly topical vein of ‘who will rid us of those troublesome leftists’ from Sean Wilentz. For Chait, the problem is “It’s obvious to me why conservatives want everybody who’s alienated by the callout culture to self-identify as a conservative. It’s less obvious to me why liberals should also want that.” For Wilentz:

These shifts and attempted shifts in vocabulary are not of passing or merely semantic significance. Insisting upon the proper meanings of terms is not divisive or sectarian bickering. The words at stake embody different worldviews. To merge basic concepts that are plainly distinct, such as socialism and New Deal liberalism, is not a useful step toward clarifying our politics. It is, however, a Republican fantasy.

Hence, Wilentz’s proposed way forward:

It may be that the future of the Democratic Party will be determined by the extent to which men and women to the left of the right learn to appreciate the differences between liberal and progressive—and, as an important first step, to appreciate the difference between liberalism and the progressive travesty of liberalism.

Wilentz is visibly upset at how “progressives” define liberalism so as to take the bits that they like, while hissing at the villainy of the rump that they leave behind.

But there is something essentially dishonest about trying to assimilate the New Deal legacy as “socialism,” just as there was something misbegotten about abandoning the term “liberal” in favor of “progressive.”

And:

When today’s progressives redefine liberal capitalism, which has genuine affinities with social democracy, as socialism—or, more exactly, when they claim liberalism’s social provisions as a kind of socialism—they tend to warp political reality to fit the abstraction. They feel compelled to render liberalism nothing more than a soulless, even callous politics of economic growth, while assimilating the reforms that define liberal politics as somehow not really liberalism.

This makes his essay all the more remarkable, in that it spends some four and a half thousand words taking the bits that he likes from socialism and redescribing them as liberal, the better to deplore the vile residue left after this re-appropriation. For example:

Liberals prefer that social equality and civil rights be fixed in universal principles of justice and human rights, distinct from racial, ethnic, and gender identities. They honor Martin Luther King Jr.’s declaration that his dream of a nation emancipated from the nightmare of American slavery and racism was itself “deeply rooted in the American dream.” For King, the civil rights revolution entailed forcing America to grasp its own principles of citizenship and equality more profoundly than it ever had and then to act upon them. In then correcting for generations of violent injustice and the burden of race, the ultimate goal would be what he and others described as a beloved community, an America in which differences abound but are also offset by human and civic interconnection and finally rendered insignificant in public life.

Wilentz is an endowed professor of American history at Princeton. It is conceivably possible that he doesn’t know that Martin Luther King was a self-professed socialist. It is also possible that this is just the kind of misappropriation that Wilentz himself might describe as “essentially dishonest,” were it committed by nefarious progressives rather than he himself.

“I am much more socialistic in my economic theory than capitalistic,” [King] admitted to his then-girlfriend, concluding that “capitalism has outlived its usefulness.” …Capitalism “has brought about a system that takes necessities from the masses to give luxuries to the classes,” King wrote in his 1952 letter to Scott. He would echo the sentiment 15 years later in his last book, Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community?: “Capitalism has often left a gap of superfluous wealth and abject poverty [and] has created conditions permitting necessities to be taken from the many to give luxuries to the few.” In his famous 1967 Riverside Church speech, King thundered, “When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, materialism and militarism are incapable of being conquered.”

More Wilentz:

In FDR’s day, according to socialists at least, socialism meant public ownership of finance, industry, and agriculture. It still does. Pressed on that point, today’s self-styled pro-New Deal socialists protest that, no, they don’t mean that kind of socialism at all: They are democratic socialists, who look to nations such as Denmark and Sweden as their models. But Denmark and Sweden are in large measure capitalist economies, not socialist ones; more properly, they are social democracies, or mixed economies, or, in a drearier lexicon, welfare states. (Denmark and Sweden are also monarchies, but their progressive admirers never mention that.) Social democracy’s admirable policies of redistribution—above all, social insurance programs and progressive income taxes —are chiefly rooted in the reforms of anti-socialist governments, secured by the likes of Otto von Bismarck of Imperial Germany and, later, David Lloyd George of Great Britain. Social democracy is founded on a historic compromise between labor and capital that includes open trade policies and sufficient but restrained taxes on capital gains to encourage growth—precisely the kinds of policies that oxymoronic New Deal socialists attack as nefarious and elitist “neoliberalism.”

Dude. You’re a historian. The history is emphatic. Social democracy stems from debates within socialism. Read Sheri Berman or someone else who has actually done the spadework. Christian Democracy a la Bismarck’s heirs and European liberalism have their own traditions, which sometimes intersected with social democracy (both through mutual influence and mutual rivalry), but which have different origins and quite different trajectories.

There’s a lot more that could be said, if one could be bothered. It’s distinctly odd that the only actual progressives identified in four and a half thousand words of fulmination against the tradition are Bernie Sanders and Oliver Stone (once). Two elderly white guys do not a movement make.

Nor (to put the boot on the other foot) do two middle aged liberal men yelling at the world make up a vital coalition to restore the liberal center. But they can become a little bit of a problem. If Wilentz and Chait want to cosplay the days of the New Republic’s imperialist glory, then fair enough – we’re all allowed our hobbies. But the burden of their argument is to look to split the coalition between liberals and the left to defeat Trump, on the claim that the left (whether progressives or some “PC coalition”) are so self-evidently crazy and obnoxious that they will pull the cause of liberalism down with them. This seems to me to be bad on the facts and worse on the politics. I can’t imagine that the people who are actually making up the anti-Trump movement are particularly moved by their arguments (any more than they’ll care about mine) – they are more plausibly concerned with the practical aspects of coalition building than the intellectual niceties. Even so, we could do without this noise.

{ 60 comments }

1

bianca steele 03.21.18 at 3:31 pm

Serious question: what’s the basis for believing Wilentz is a liberal and not a leftist?

2

LFC 03.21.18 at 4:04 pm

bianca, I don’t think a leftist would have written the passages quoted in the OP. YMMV. Not posting from a computer so can’t write more now.

3

kent 03.21.18 at 4:11 pm

“We could do without this noise” — really? Why?

Why is it “noise” rather than “healthy intra-party debate that may usefully clarify both the goals and the means of this broad coalition that finds ourselves opposed to the right and the alt-right?”

Give me real equality of opportunity for all (equal funding of all public schools nationwide plus a much higher estate tax plus police reform would be a nice start), a healthy welfare state to care for those who lose out, an electoral system that guarantees everyone can vote, and a medical system that doesn’t bankrupt anybody. I don’t care if you call that socialism, capitalism, or social democracy. Do you?

4

Sara Pascoe 03.21.18 at 4:38 pm

Hi Maria,
I was enjoying your posts on Medium, but don’t know how to message you there. You may already know of this group, and even be a member. But just in case you aren’t familiar, I thought I’d introduce you to Global Justice No, GJN (www.globaljustice.org.uk/) headquartered in London. They’ve been around since 1970 and work on Economic Justice and other issues. Down here in our Bournemouth GJ group (on FB globaljusticebournemouth) we’re showing the film ‘The Spider’s Web: Britain’s Second Empire’, all about the offshore tax system, syphoning money out of the Global South, and robbing us all. bit.ly/BnmthSpider If you haven’t seen it, I bet you’d like it. You can see it on Amazon and elsewhere.

I’m an activist, author, and psychologist. I’ve just joined Medium and have yet to post.

Anyway, thanks for your good works and introducing me to Thomas Piketty. It’s always good to know there are more of ‘us’ out there!

Kind regards,
Sara Pascoe

5

Jake Gibson 03.21.18 at 5:17 pm

I am always skeptical of people who allegedly are criticising from the left, but frame their criticism in the language of the right. For example, when an alleged liberal talks about identity politics or “PC”, I assume they are arguing in bad faith.

6

Layman 03.21.18 at 5:20 pm

@bianca steele, the fact that he calls himself a liberal?

From the linked column: “Let me present one liberal’s view of some of the distinctions between progressive and liberal,”

7

bianca steele 03.21.18 at 5:20 pm

LFC: I would agree, except that I’ve seen similar passages from writers who I know are leftists. Without too much difficulty, I can interpret the last quoted paragraph as saying something like, “this new generation of so-called ‘New Deal socialists’ actually doesn’t believe any of the things that *real* socialists believe; they are *only* social democrats, who aren’t radical enough for us real socialists.” Everything Wilentz says about social democrats is what socialists usually say about social democrats. I don’t think a centrist liberal would say the same things (though maybe s/he might, for reasons of academic accuracy). I really doubt a liberal would make a point of tracing the genealogy of “welfare capitalism” back to Bismarck.

Wilentz is a labor historian and if there are labor historians who aren’t leftists, I’d be surprised. There didn’t seem to be any when I studied the subject.

8

politicalfootball 03.21.18 at 6:16 pm

(Denmark and Sweden are also monarchies, but their progressive admirers never mention that.)

I just wanted to pause for a moment to boggle at this from Wilentz. Take that, progressives!

9

soru 03.21.18 at 7:30 pm

I think this argument might make more sense if you got rid of all the words?

There are 4 groups: A, B, C and D. Everyone outside A fears them, so you think they would always lose. Except group B fears D about as much, and so want to retain A as a counterbalance to D, and therefore won’t in practice vote with C more than half of the time.

B wants C to disclaim D, but C won’t do so because they are defined by not being worried about D.

10

bianca steele 03.21.18 at 7:56 pm

Layman,

Okay. I haven’t had time to read the piece closely yet (have a project I have to finish). But does “calls himself a liberal” + “finds it useful to define the word ‘progressive’ and to explain why he disagrees with many people who use that label for themselves” equal “not on the left, and not only that, hates leftists” (which seems to be implied by the discussion).

11

Lupita 03.21.18 at 7:59 pm

But neither the abuse of power nor the failure of policy is an argument for flight from the world. On the contrary, it requires careful thinking, nuanced policy, and sophisticated understanding of rapidly changing trends.

Call this liberal, progressive, conservative, or just plain imperial fluff. It certainly is far, far to the right of anything a leftist would write. Could anybody be more trite concerning US global hegemony and how it is weakening by the day?

US politics, with its sui generis terms and definitions, evolved as an art of not mentioning the elephant in the room. I think it the reason for the current phenomenon of mass hysteria in the US. Forget about PC, identity politics, and freedom of speech. Those are just acceptable topics to obsess about to keep the real fear at bay.

12

Marc 03.21.18 at 8:19 pm

I think that this post utterly misses the point, just as the one on Chait did. A lot of people on the center-left are deeply uncomfortable with the growing intolerance associated with left politics. The key amplifier that terrifies a lot of us is social media. In the 1980s and 1990s local groups had very limited reach – so if, say, students at Oberlin were demanding something radical, the consequences for disagreeing with them were limited. Now you can bring down thousands of Twitter accounts to swarm someone who becomes the target of the day, and people are targeted for firing from their jobs. It doesn’t help that companies are totally willing to toss their employees overboard to avoid bad publicity (and because they don’t actually care about their employees anyhow.)

We then get pious pronouncements that, since it isn’t the government that’s doing the firing, this is totally A-OK and not a free speech violation; or, because there are only a few case like this, it’s so rare that it’s not worth talking about (a tactic that the same people would be properly furious about if it were applied to, say, police shootings). Or that, because the other side is worse, anyone criticizing our team is suspect at best and probably a heretic.

This is immensely destructive to us because it turns what ought to be an obvious choice – the right in the US is utterly bankrupt intellectually – into one that all of the sudden isn’t. If team A is repulsive and team B (that I associate with) becomes fanatical and frightening, a lot of people will either abstain or defect. If it isn’t obvious already, these issues around speech are extremely divisive for people on the left side of the spectrum.

The right will use this as an issue in elections, and it’s already a deep part of their appeal. The left has to have an answer – if “no enemies on the left” is that answer, don’t be surprised if we continue to lose election after election.

13

Michael 03.21.18 at 8:44 pm

If this article doesn’t serve, can anyone point to a fair (i.e. good faith) definition/comparison of liberal vs progressive vs left? I’ve seen the terms used almost interchangeably until the recent internecine wars and would like to better understand their differences.

14

Peter K. 03.21.18 at 8:50 pm

I agree with Mr. Farrell and agree with what Matt Bruenig and Chris Dillow have been writing on the subject (even if the two don’t completely agree I like the questions they’re asking).

http://mattbruenig.com/2017/07/28/nordic-socialism-is-realer-than-you-think/

http://stumblingandmumbling.typepad.com/stumbling_and_mumbling/2018/03/centrists-capitalism.html

I consider myself a democratic socialist like Bernie Sanders even though I’m probably more radical than Sanders and Sanders is probably constrained (yes!) in what he can say a politician and sitting Senator.

And I think of European socialists who are more centrist than Sanders. I’ve been debating liberals like Wilentz who see socialism as dysfunctional and typified by Venezuela and I’ve been debating anarchists/radicals to my left who say Sanders isn’t a socialist and that welfare social programs and “socialist” elements of capitalist societies have little to do with socialism.

I believe a Medicare-for-all program is socialist and will help lead to socialism, whatever that is. I know what our goals should be. Get rid of poverty and war. Peace on earth, freedom from want, that kind of stuff. Worker democracy.

I think the term socialist is a good way to distinguish oneself and others from liberals, center leftists and progressives who may be in favor of market reform, means testing, charter schools, capitalism. etc. They’re not really socialists and not really that left in my opinion.

As Dillow writes:

“The transition from feudalism to capitalism did not generally happen because peasants protested in the streets, nor because they found a government with the “political will” to overthrow feudalism. It happened because a sequence of smallish individual actions – often without consciousness of their full effects – meant that, eventually, people found better things to do than obey feudal lords. Perhaps the transition from capitalism will occur in a similar way. “

15

Alonzo 03.21.18 at 8:59 pm

That MLK was a self-professed socialist is not relevant to the quoted passage, because it is not about socialism. Wilentz has moved at that point from defining his liberalism against socialism to defining it against a leftist identity politics that some socialists embrace and others don’t. The socialist inclinations of King are no problem for his point at all.

16

Ram 03.21.18 at 9:43 pm

“No, ‘liberal’ and ‘progressive’ aren’t synonyms. They have completely different histories—and the differences matter.”

What is the value of classifying oneself in these terms? Everyone who uses them means something different by them, so more is typically confused by using them rather than just, you know, saying what you think about various things. I have opinions W, X, Y and Z. You have opinions A, B, C and D. Mary has opinions W, B, Y, and D. Is Mary in my camp or yours? Who cares?

17

mpowell 03.21.18 at 10:03 pm

I think Marc has the right idea. But if you look at contemporary US politics from the perspective of a leftist you might think, “wow, the right is really unpopular and discredited, we finally have a chance!”. If you’re on the center left you’re thinking, “oh my god, the right has gone off the deep end, we have to do everything we can to regain control of this country!”. There have been a lot of bad articles written trying to make the progressive movement, or whatever you want to call it, into a fundamental evil when it is mostly just a matter of normal political disagreement. But there is also a simple politics angle here. I tend to believe that the vast majority of the voters in the US are not interested in leftist politics. And many will not vote, or vote for Republicans if they perceive the Democratic option as too extreme. There are many bad arguments dedicated to the cause that you can actually win more votes moving away from the center of political opinion. There are very few good ones and I’m not persuaded by any of them.

18

Z 03.21.18 at 10:14 pm

bianca steele @10 But does “calls himself a liberal” + “finds it useful to define the word ‘progressive’ and to explain why he disagrees with many people who use that label for themselves” equal “not on the left, and not only that, hates leftists”

Bianca, the full piece is really quite unambiguous in that respect.

It is structured in a “progressive be like this/liberal (like me) be like that” rhetoric where “this” includes “pie-in-the-sky, ideologically dogmatic promises, little or no consideration of economic revenues or consequences, edifying and improbable pandering, reactionary Malthusian[ism], pessimistic romanticism, equating freedom with the bonds of group identity” whereas “that” includes “pragmatic, realistic effectiveness, raising the minimum wage, wiping out student debt, vastly expanding green energy and public access to the broadband economy, reasonableness, acceptance of complexity, see[ing] how crucial American military power has been to defending freedom [and] halting genocides in the Balkans”.

And that’s just a small sample on both sides.

I find the whole piece 1) quite nasty in its tone but also 2) very significant, and sincere in a certain sense. If I were to point to what I believe is an analytical error in the piece with respect to the present (the historical discussion of social democracy is indeed horrendous), I would point to its contention that “a plutocracy will be good only for plutocrats.” I think that’s sadly too optimistic. An extremely unequal plutocratic society can (at least in the middle run) offer such fantastic enclaves of wealth and intelligence (such as the one Wilentz inhabits) that it can “be good”, in fact stupendously so, for a sizable chunk of society (and in the long run, we’re all dead).

The chunk that, by and large, self-identifies as being like “that” and absolutely not like “this”, in the sense of the piece.

19

Layman 03.21.18 at 10:19 pm

@ bianca steele

Person A calls himself a liberal and then shits on all the people to his left. The people to his left object to being shit on. At which point, you wonder why the people on the left seem less than willing to have Person A to dinner. Maybe person A is also on the left, maybe not, but who the fuck cares if he wants to shit in the punch bowl?

20

Robert 03.21.18 at 10:42 pm

As I understand it, Kautsky and Lenin both led parties around 1900 that, when translated, had “social democracy” in their names.

I doubt my knowledge of debates among Bernstein, Kautsky, and Luxemburg about reformism would be helpful in organizing groups in the USA today.

I prefer those around Michael Harrington who talked of “democratic socialism” in the 1970s to those who talked about “social democracy”. This is part of the history of the DSA. But it is a different context than today.

21

Landru 03.21.18 at 10:52 pm

Hmm. Not that long ago, after reading a bunch of economics discussion at CT I had to sheepishly admit that I didn’t know exactly what “neoliberal” meant. Many kind commenters tried to help me out; though the net result was that I felt less bad after getting ten different answers from ten different — though all seemingly well-informed — people.

Now, after reading these recent posts I’m sure that I don’t know exactly what “liberal” (or “liberalism”) means, in talking about politics. Would anyone care to help me out, and offer a straightforward definition?

(Note in advance: if many generally well-informed people’s definitions are incompatible, or if there are too many instances of “in the sense that X uses it…”, then doesn’t that mean no one should actually be using the word by itself?)

22

soru 03.21.18 at 11:15 pm

Give me real equality of opportunity for all (equal funding of all public schools nationwide plus a much higher estate tax plus police reform would be a nice start), a healthy welfare state to care for those who lose out, an electoral system that guarantees everyone can vote, and a medical system that doesn’t bankrupt anybody. I don’t care if you call that socialism, capitalism, or social democracy. Do you?

If you succeed, no.

If you fail, because you failed to explain that was your goal and got sidetracked into endless discussions of Stalin, Chavez, white privilege, cultural appropriation, and a whole bunch of things that may or may not be valid, but are not part of that platform, then yes.

23

PatinIowa 03.21.18 at 11:51 pm

Question for Marc at 12: Who do you have in mind?

Nothing leaps to my consciousness, and even if it did, it wouldn’t be clear which instances you’re referring to.

Can you you elaborate? Or at least direct me/us?

24

PatinIowa 03.21.18 at 11:52 pm

I mean for this:

“Now you can bring down thousands of Twitter accounts to swarm someone who becomes the target of the day, and people are targeted for firing from their jobs. It doesn’t help that companies are totally willing to toss their employees overboard to avoid bad publicity (and because they don’t actually care about their employees anyhow.)”

25

bianca steele 03.21.18 at 11:53 pm

Z @ 18 “I find the whole piece 1) quite nasty in its tone ”

I don’t, so I guess there’s nothing more to say? When a bunch of anonymous people on the Internet complain that a textbook description of their ideology comes across as “nasty,” I don’t know what to say. Do they think the existing histories of the left are written by reactionaries, or what do they think? Are you pulling my leg—parodying
Val, or somebody? I mean, you all say you’re leftists, so fine, I guess I’m not.

26

Frank Wilhoit 03.22.18 at 12:09 am

There is no such thing as liberalism — or progressivism, etc.

There is only conservatism. No other political philosophy actually exists; by the political analogue of Gresham’s Law, conservatism has driven every other idea out of circulation.

There might be, and should be, anti-conservatism; but it does not yet exist. What would it be? In order to answer that question, it is necessary and sufficient to characterize conservatism. Fortunately, this can be done very concisely.

Conservatism consists of exactly one proposition, to wit:

There must be in-groups whom the law protectes but does not bind, alongside out-groups whom the law binds but does not protect.

There is nothing more or else to it, and there never has been, in any place or time.

For millenia, conservatism had no name, because no other model of polity had ever been proposed. “The king can do no wrong.” In practice, this immunity was always extended to the king’s friends, however fungible a group they might have been. Today, we still have the king’s friends even where there is no king (dictator, etc.). Another way to look at this is that the king is a faction, rather than an individual.

As the core proposition of conservatism is indefensible if stated baldly, it has always been surrounded by an elaborate backwash of pseudophilosophy, amounting over time to millions of pages. All such is axiomatically dishonest and undeserving of serious scrutiny. Today, the accelerating de-education of humanity has reached a point where the market for pseudophilosophy is vanishing; it is, as The Kids Say These Days, tl;dr . All that is left is the core proposition itself — backed up, no longer by misdirection and sophistry, but by violence.

So this tells us what anti-conservatism must be: the proposition that the law cannot protect anyone unless it binds everyone, and cannot bind anyone unless it protects everyone.

Then the appearance arises that the task is to map “liberalism”, or “progressivism”, or “socialism”, or whateverthefuckkindofstupidnoise-ism, onto the core proposition of anti-conservatism.

No, it a’n’t. The task is to throw all those things on the exact same burn pile as the collected works of all the apologists for conservatism, and start fresh. The core proposition of anti-conservatism requires no supplementation and no exegesis. It is as sufficient as it is necessary. What you see is what you get:

The law cannot protect anyone unless it binds everyone; and it cannot bind anyone unless it protects everyone.

27

ph 03.22.18 at 1:02 am

@24 Agreed!

The fact that are countless examples of king’s being overthrown, beheaded, and worse, means nothing. The English revolutions which ended the life of one king and gave birth to the first modern nation ruled without a king are inconsequential. The various charters constraining the power of the king, including the Charter of liberties, did not lead to Magna Carta, and the forty-shilling parliament of de Montfort is an historical fiction. French parliaments (regional courts) in no way impinged upon the freedom of French kings do exactly as they pleased, as absolute monarchs, and Louis XVI shut them down because he enjoyed such immense power that he no longer required their rubber stamp.

He volunteered to be decapitated, as did his wife, for the frisson. Thoreau isn’t interested in anything but conservatism, nor is Russell, or Huxley. Musing upon freedom and the limits of the state is just wanking.

We need one set of laws for everyone and one really smart person to choose what these might be (otherwise we’ll just have all this endless debate leading to nothing) and to ensure we are all equal, happy, and free!

28

VeeLow 03.22.18 at 2:11 am

@Bianca (whom I recognize from other places online):

Here’s a piece of data: if Wilentz were really a leftist, rather than a liberal, wouldn’t his characteristic vices be those of Berniebroism rather than Clinton hackery?

http://www.lawyersgunsmoneyblog.com/2015/09/somebody-is-running-against-hillary-clinton-to-the-hackmobile

29

Richard B McGee 03.22.18 at 3:00 am

The enormous amount of time and energy expended on defining terms (looking at you, liberalism, neoliberalism, and socialism) seems hardly worth the effort, at least in terms of return on political capital. Better to focus on a concrete set of policy goals and support individual candidates who back them. This has been enormously clarifying for me.

30

Doug Weinfield 03.22.18 at 4:01 am

Not relevant to this thread, but of interest: Ada Palmer’s “Too Like The Lightning, as a free download from Tor until March 24:

https://ebookclub.tor.com/?utm_source=email&utm_medium=orgpost&utm_term=tordotcomemail-tordotcompromoemail&utm_content=na-signup-giveaway&utm_campaign=9781466858749&et=44926-n19595942

31

nastywoman 03.22.18 at 5:16 am

As now even some other commenters have pointed to the possibility that –

”The enormous amount of time and energy expended on defining terms (looking at you, liberalism, neoliberalism, and socialism) seems hardly worth the effort, at least in terms of return on political capital.” and even PH was allowed to have his funny comment about ”The English revolutions which ended the life of one king and gave birth to the first modern nation ruled without a king are inconsequential” – see the light of this thread – why can’t we – all the ”good” liberals or socialists or progressives – or whatever we nowadays like to call ourselves just call ourselves –

”good capitalists” and get it over with? –
or just stay with the ”BernieBro”?
I’am and I was really proud – of this ”term” or ”expression”!

32

John Quiggin 03.22.18 at 5:19 am

Marc @ 12

We then get pious pronouncements that, since it isn’t the government that’s doing the firing, this is totally A-OK and not a free speech violation

Not here.

http://crookedtimber.org/2018/03/04/free-speech-unfair-dismissal-and-unions/

If you read the comments you’ll see that rightwing concerns about free speech evaporate when you suggest an end to employment at will

33

Z 03.22.18 at 7:18 am

@bianca steele I don’t [find the tone of the piece nasty], so I guess there’s nothing more to say?

Well, that sounds pessimistic: I think (and hope) we can have a different appreciation of the tone of the piece and keep discussing other aspects.

For instance, what do you think of its analysis of the link between European social democracy and liberalism (I already gave my view)? Or, if you’d rather talk about the topics of contemporary relevance, the piece states “that the future of the Democratic Party will be determined by the extent to which men and women to the left of the right learn to appreciate the differences between liberal and progressive”. Do you agree? If so, where do you draw the line? The piece suggests “hostility to capitalism” vs “understand[ing] the logic and benefits of markets, [though not] mak[ing] a religion out of them” and “justice derives from authenticity” vs. “social equality and civil rights […] fixed in universal principles of justice and human rights”. Do you agree?

When a bunch of anonymous people on the Internet complain that a textbook description of their ideology comes across as “nasty,”

Hum. I don’t think I complained really, I’m not a “bunch of people” and I’m not anonymous, so you must be thinking of somebody else. Yet, I’m the only one who used the word nasty.

I mean, you all say you’re leftists, so fine, I guess I’m not.

It’s sure fine you’re not. As for myself, I think our current socio-economic system* produces massive and historically widening inequalities. Democracy has never existed with such a level of inequality, I see no good theoretical reasons it can, and tons of good theoretical and empirical reasons it cannot (starting with who is the leader of the oldest and most emblematic democracy right now). Since I value democracy, I think it is of paramount importance inequalities are diminished. As I also believe that the root cause of these inequalities is first and foremost educative achievements – a parameter you cannot easily redistribute – I believe strong remedial actions are needed, because I believe ordinary ones will be negated by the persistence of what cannot be redistributed. I don’t mind if one calls these strong remedial actions socialist, or leftists, or progressive, or whatever else. I also don’t mind if I’m consequently called these things myself – because really who cares? -, though the logic I use to come to this conclusion does not rely on socialist, leftist or progressive arguments (for instance, it is absolutely and straightforwardly in contradiction with Marx’s contention that the material structure determines the ideological structure; my whole reasoning presupposes the exact converse).

Indeed, I don’t mind at all if you find the idea that we need strong, extraordinary remedial actions against inequality completely inane or stupid and even if you decide I’m thus better characterized as an inanist or a stupidist (I do care a little if you call me a marxist, not because I don’t like Marx or because marxists killed and enslaved millions of people, but for the reason I explained above). I happen to care about the logic of the argument, tough, and if that comment could encourage you to have a look at it, that will make me happy.

*It also destroys the environment but I omit this part of the argument in the following.

34

CP Norris 03.22.18 at 11:27 am

There are many bad arguments dedicated to the cause that you can actually win more votes moving away from the center of political opinion. There are very few good ones and I’m not persuaded by any of them.

This argument implies there is a definition of “the center of public opinion”. I do not know what that definition is. Historically it has been used to mean something like “the policy preferences of Times & Post op-ed writers”.

35

bianca steele 03.22.18 at 11:56 am

VeeLow @ 28 “Here’s a piece of data: if Wilentz were really a leftist, rather than a liberal, wouldn’t his characteristic vices be those of Berniebroism rather than Clinton hackery?”

Is Bernie Sanders the only leftist in the world? For 8+ years, Wilentz was regularly attacking Obama from the left. Yes, he supports Clinton, but is that a pragmatic political decision rather than an ideological choice? As for what Sanders believes, the brief flurry of “what does Sanders mean by ‘democratic socialism’ given that he’s never said he’s a member of the DSA” mean, during the election, was confusing and disheartening. Was it ever even DSA’s position that the New Deal is “socialism”? Somehow I think it wasn’t.

“Progressives” usually seem to me to be liberals who also think all those leftists are probably right, but don’t have a program of their own, or a way to exclude bad ideas. What this thread suggests to me is that a lot of the left apparently resents being told any idea is wrong if they think it was stated by someone who claims to be on the left. And even if it’s stated by someone who describes themselves using a term that, until very recenly, only existed to indicate “oh no I’m not a mean old liberal, but please don’t call me a leftist.”

36

SamChevre 03.22.18 at 12:29 pm

On definitions: here’s a set I find helpful, although certainly incomplete.

“Liberals” are focused on equality of rights among people. What count as rights is heavily contested, but in general universal rights are the liberal focus. Liberals are opposed to privilege (private law-where class/status are legally important) and fairly are criticized for “the law, in it’s magnificent equality, forbids both rich and poor from begging for bread and sleeping under bridges.”

“Leftists/socialists” are focused on economic inequalities, generally influenced by Marx to some degree. Leftists are opposed to economic inequality, and often see it as a cause of social/rights-based inequalities rather than seeing those as separate things. Leftists are opposed to difference-making inequalities in private property, and are fairly criticized for “Wonderful theory, wrong species.”

“Progressives” are focused on social/identity-based inequalities, often based on feminist and critical race theorist social critiques. Progressives see economic inequality as entangled with social inequality, but see social inequality as the more immediate concern. Progressives tend to focus on the social and institutional factors that maintain social inequalities, and to be very focused on ensuring that all institutions serve the needs of society. Leftists criticize progressives for focusing on the wrong problem; liberals criticize them for re-inventing privilege.

37

bianca steele 03.22.18 at 12:53 pm

Anyway, it seems to me a leftist can: (1) think liberalism has taken over completely, and any dissent from it (barring reaction, which a leftist may or may not think is logically possible) is “socialism,” (2) think liberalism is still embattled, and dissent from it has to choose between dissent from the right and dissent from the left, (3) think liberalism logically can’t really take over but is only a mirage overlaying an eternally conservative reality, and dissent from this conservative reality in the name of greater fairness, or concern for the weak, or the need for the powerless to feel less powerless, or even one’s own sense of unfair personal powerlessness, is “socialism.”

In the US, people who fall into group 3 seem usually to have inhaled a large amount of right-wing and reactionary propaganda, and are at times less than willing to work with the rest of us. Which is not really my problem. As far as I can see, they’re minimally reliable voters for progressive platforms for maybe 10 years and then most of them start voting for Republicans, and supporting reactionary policies in their work and private lives. Maybe a handful of the more vocal among them continue to support “the left” verbally, while not noticing that most people they think agree with them have started moving the other way.

38

steven t johnson 03.22.18 at 12:59 pm

As to Wilentz’ notion there really is a difference between socialism and social democracy, or its US version, the New Deal? The difference is why the New Deal is peacefully dissolving by democratic mandate, but socialism had to be destroyed by purges of labor movements, political intimidation and persecution, industrial PR campaigns and a savage decades long military crusade costing billions and billions (and also millions of lives if that matters.) So I’m not quite sure how acknowledging in some form difference is a travesty of liberalism.

But candidly, I’m not quite clear what the travesty of liberalism is supposed to be? Wilentz’ ungenerous expulsion of the progressive happy campers from the liberal camp of goodness? Or being so crass as to hint that politics is not government programs but, who rules? The reference to Berman didn’t shed much light. I’ve never heard of Berman before, but the post linked gave the distinct impression that Berman treated fascism as a spontaneous mass movement of the little people fighting the evil market, ignoring the role of defeat in war/struggle for a new empire. At first glance that doesn’t seem to be true at all.

39

John R Garrett 03.22.18 at 1:34 pm

Frank Wilhoit @ 26 – what he said. Conservatism consists of exactly one proposition, to wit:
There must be in-groups whom the law protects but does not bind, alongside out-groups whom the law binds but does not protect.

The most substantive comment I’ve seen here or anywhere in some time: reread, rethink.

40

bianca steele 03.22.18 at 4:05 pm

@36

From this I get that the Platonic ideal of liberalism is different from liberalism as it exists in real people and real societies and real history.

@38

I believe Wilentz probably would have a problem with Berman’s statement that the New Deal was understood to be social democracy, if as you say social democracy is a form of socialism. Or he would have a problem (as you suggest he does) with saying social democracy is a form of socialism. As far as I can tell, Sheri Berman’s argument is that the US, equally with many European countries, instituted social democracy and only recently rejected it in favor of neoliberalism. If I’m reading Henry’s linked post correctly, she would equate the New Deal not only with the term “social democracy” but also with the term “welfare state.” But the idea of the welfare state was attacked from the left, in the 1960s, by people like Harrington, exactly because it failed to be either social democracy or socialism. So is Berman wrong? Was Harrington wrong? I guess another possibility is that leftists at the time, when they made radical attacks on the very idea of the welfare state (often in terms developed earlier on the right), didn’t mean what they said or care what they meant, but were just prodding the Establishment to move farther left.

41

Marc 03.22.18 at 7:09 pm

@23, @24: A good article on the subject is

https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2015/02/being-shamed-on-social-media-should-not-get-people-fired/385597/

Another good one, on the dynamics of social media swarms, is

https://www.wired.com/2013/07/ap_argshaming/

This has, if anything, become much more common since 2015, not less. One survey that I found had 18% of US employers reporting that they’d fired employees for social media posts. Given the pervasive job insecurity in the US, this is a potent threat indeed.

JQ: My political opponents are hypocrites, agreed. That still doesn’t make tit for tat on my side of the fence justified.

42

Jake Gibson 03.22.18 at 7:21 pm

I don’t know what I would be called other than a Social Democrat.
I think Socialism is a good idea that won’t work on a large scale due to human nature.
Capitalism is a bad idea that works to an extent due to human nature. So, to me the best compromise is a mixed system, a lot more mixed than we know have.
I am opposed to charter schools, privatization, etc. I am in favor of confiscatory wealth taxes. I am in favor of real equal opportunity. Which means whatever it takes to raise all public schools to the same level.

43

Faustusnotes 03.22.18 at 11:09 pm

Marc those aren’t good examples. Freiersdorfs article describes a conservative hate mob, not left wing preciousness, and the wired article describes a case where the public shamer did not expect or intend for her targets to be fired and was then herself fired (I think). These articles may have things to say about the role of the internet as an amplifier and distorted of discourse but they say nothing about so called progressives use of the internet to deliberately stifle speech.

44

LFC 03.23.18 at 12:02 am

bianca @40

I’m not eager to get too entangled in this discussion, for a variety of reasons. But I would like to make a point about this statement:

the idea of the welfare state was attacked from the left, in the 1960s, by people like Harrington, exactly because it failed to be either social democracy or socialism

I would say Harrington did not criticize the idea of the welfare state so much as the inadequacy of the welfare state, esp. in the form it took in the U.S. Now maybe that’s what you meant, but “the idea of the welfare state was attacked” puts it too strongly and potentially misleadingly, imo. Harrington was not a revolutionary; he did not believe that ‘advanced’ capitalist societies and economies could be replaced in one fell swoop by some cataclysmic transformation. He believed in working through existing democratic mechanisms to push policy and politics leftward, with a view to enacting “non-reformist reforms,” a phrase that, if I’m recalling it correctly, he borrowed from André Gorz. (And don’t ask me anything much about Gorz beyond that, b/c the answer is I don’t know.) I think Harrington believed that Scandinavian-style social democracies, though not socialism, were way stations on the road to democratic socialism, the exact depiction of which prob. remains somewhat vague in most of his work, though his last book Socialism: Past and Future may be a partial exception to that.

Anyway, I’m willing to bet that Harrington never couched his position quite in the terms that “attacked the idea of the welfare state” suggests.

On Wilentz: I have to say, in all honesty, that I don’t much care what Sean Wilentz writes about contemporary politics or how he defines liberalism, progressivism, social democracy, or socialism. He started out as a labor and social historian and then branched out into other things, he’s very prolific and has churned out a string of books (none of which I’ve read). He’s a highly successful and probably highly accomplished historian, but his views on contemporary U.S. politics don’t really interest me.

45

John Quiggin 03.23.18 at 12:46 am

Following VeeLow @28, I found this link in which Chait attacks Wilentz for the latter’s love of Andrew Jackson

http://nymag.com/daily/intelligencer/2015/06/party-of-jackson-vs-the-party-of-obama.html

I should have something snappy to say about this, but I can’t come up with it.

46

J-D 03.23.18 at 3:20 am

Wilentz writes, in the middle of the article, ‘An increase in the marginal tax rate of the wealthy and a repeal of Trump’s easing of estate taxes ought to be at the center of any effective political agenda.’

To my mind, it would have been more interesting, and more useful, if Wilentz had written about how he arrived at that conclusion, and who are the people he understands to be disagreeing with him about it, and what their reasons for disagreement are, and what their alternative agenda appears to be, and how he knows all this. I wish I could know why he chose not to write that article and to write this one instead.

47

otpup 03.23.18 at 3:51 am

Of course, this is all so dodgy:
Social democratic originally was just a euphemism for socialist and more commonly accepted as meaning “having socialist ideas”.
In the American context, liberal is fairly broad catch-all, essentially all of our political culture is “liberal” whether conservative, centrist or socialist.
I used to take “progressive” as an euphemism for leftist (and at one time is was the preferred term for allies and manifestations of the CP).
The welfare state was originally a Bismarckian attempt to co-opt the Left (i.e. the Social Democrats). But in a sense, the left co-opted it as a goal (ways station) and a ground for struggle.
The New Deal was improvised in a period when it was not at all certain that capitalism (or democracy) was going to survive and part of its secret intellectual heritage owes to the socialist Anglicanism (itself probably irredeemably reformist).
Social democrats (that is to say Marxists) have been in a quandry since Bernstein observed that Marx’s theory of social development (as a two class showdown between proletarians and their betters) had not panned out exactly. A model which conveniently (and brilliantly) helped submerged tensions between structural and volunteerist notions of social change and revolution. Though which also had the effect of putting off clearing thinking about what a socialist polity would look like (i.e. the worker’s party vs a multi-party system- if you’ve only got one class why would you want more than one party – itself presumed to be internally democratic).
What we typically call Marxists are actually the somewhat heretical Marxist-Leninists who eventually became not so much an ideological tendency as apologists for the fact that revolution in a backward country would devolve into dictatorship (just as Marx had predicted).
I also don’t know if Gorz or Harrington coined “radical reforms” but would actually be surprised if didn’t arise earlier than either of them.
The whole Wilentz-Jacksonian thing I find deeply disturbing.

48

faustusnotes 03.23.18 at 4:40 am

J-D, isn’t that exactly the Democrats’ agenda? They opposed the Trump tax cuts, I’m not sure if they have released an updated policy plan in the interim but based on their comments back then, what Wilentz thinks “ought” to be at the centre of an effective political agenda is at the center of that agenda.

49

J-D 03.23.18 at 9:03 am

faustusnotesI don’t know, but you may be right. For that matter, Wilentz might agree also, but again I don’t know. If he had built on that sentence, the one I quoted, we might have found out. I think, as I commented previously, that it would have been more interesting and more worthwhile if he had done so. If he has affirmative ideas about how the political agenda should be shaped, why is that not what he’s discussing?

50

MFB" 03.23.18 at 12:02 pm

OK, what is going on with Wilentz?

“To merge basic concepts that are plainly distinct, such as socialism and New Deal liberalism, is not a useful step toward clarifying our politics”

I don’t think any historian of American labour could honestly write these words. It is quite apparent that there was a lot of overlap between socialism and New Deal liberalism, as, for instance, the Wallace campaign illustrated. Of course this does not mean that they are identical things, but Wilentz doesn’t actually show any evidence that anyone is claiming that they are; he’s instead trying to draw a clear distinction between the two which does not actually seem to me legitimate. Of course contemporary Democrats might robe themselves in New Deal outfits while actually being plutocrats, but then shouldn’t Wilentz be criticising them rather than their critics?

“the difference between liberalism and the progressive travesty of liberalism”

So to be “progressive” in American terms, which as I understand it is largely to be a Democrat with a weak lick of leftism or socialism, is to be a travesty of liberalism, according to Wilentz. There has been a lit of talk upstream about how Wilentz is actually a leftist, but if he is, he certainly isn’t a political historian or theorist of any substance. As far as I can see liberalism is not at all incompatible with leftism — in fact, nineteenth-century socialism, including Marx, arose directly out of the liberal tradition. If you feel that you don’t like leftists and would prefer to be an anti-left liberal, fair enough, but reading all left-wingers out of the liberal canon seems to me to be a remarkably oppressive and dishonest manoeuvre (as well as being extremely self-destructive in an era when plutocracy is marching to victory).

Furthermore, “They [progressives] feel compelled to render liberalism nothing more than a soulless, even callous politics of economic growth, while assimilating the reforms that define liberal politics as somehow not really liberalism” seems a bit confused at best. Obviously, many people who term themselves liberal are more concerned with economic growth than with redistribution. Such people could easily be called soulless and callous (maybe wrongly — one would have to get specific to decide). As for “the reforms that define liberal politics”, what precisely does Wilentz have in mind? Obamacare? Drone 1warfare? The war on drugs? Homosexual marriage? Some of those things are not really liberalism, some of those things could be liberal if implemented differently, and some are liberal in parts. It seems to me that this is an astonishingly unhelpful set of arguments.

When Wilentz does get specific, I think, he reveals where he is really at: ” Social democracy is founded on a historic compromise between labor and capital that includes open trade policies and sufficient but restrained taxes on capital gains to encourage growth—precisely the kinds of policies that oxymoronic New Deal socialists attack as nefarious and elitist “neoliberalism.””

Well, that “historic compromise” was violated by capital many decades ago and there seems to be no point in claiming its rotten carcase for liberalism. Open trade policies are not social democrat; they are liberal up to a point, but this depends heavily on the country involved and the nature of trade (early nineteenth-century liberals insisted otherwise, but that ended in the Irish holocaust). As currently implemented open trade policies are certainly neoliberal; so are the deliberate restriction of capital gains taxes which have characterised the neoliberal era. But neoliberalism is not liberalism; it is simply a plutocratic ideology which serves the rich and immiserates the poor.

Hence it seems to me that Wilentz is not himself actually a liberal, but an agent of plutocratic capitalism.

51

bianca steele 03.23.18 at 12:18 pm

LFC, you’re right about what Harrington thought. You also be right that I’m misremembered that he used he words “welfare state” in describing what he was criticizing. But I’m thinking ofwhat an ordinary voter would have seen of his rhetoric and the rhetoric of other people, which is that “the welfare state” is bad, because it’s the wrong way to help people. Christopher Lasch and others in the Left were making arguments about the New Deal and Big Society programs being bad, and the reasons they were given were (as recognized both at the time and now) to be conservative reasons: that big government programs are impersonal and violate individuals’ autonomy by telling them what to do. People like Harrington may have seen that as mere rhetoric, not intended to foment revolution, as you say. But I don’t see how a program of reform begins by joining in on attacks on existing reforms only 20 years old, or what a leftist reformer would want to put in the place of programs run by “big government bureaucracy.”

Steven Johnson @ 38

I think I misread you at my @40 as saying there’s no difference between socialism and social democracy when you were saying the opposite.

52

steven t johnson 03.23.18 at 12:43 pm

If I remember correctly the Democrats opposed the size of the Trump tax cuts. They did not oppose Trump’s tax cuts with the abolition of the Social Security cap on taxable income, with an increase in estate taxes, with a capital gains tax increase, with a more progressive income tax, with a financial transactions tax…or an absolute cut in military spending, so that more taxes might not be needed.

53

bruce wilder 03.23.18 at 1:40 pm

I read the Sean Wilentz article and it seems to be an exercise in virtue signalling by a political centrist and Democratic partisan. Like most left-neoliberals, he doesn’t want to be called a neoliberal or acknowledge the political dynamics that have cast his own political tendency as villains, and he cannot understand why betrayal rebranded as “practical” isn’t selling better.

Wilentz did not write the straightforward piece J-D wishes for because to do so would reveal too much of the reprehensible nature of the Democratic Party politics he has decided to praise.

It is strange that an historian would write a piece whose rhetoric seems premised on such labels having reliable definitions constant thru time when he clearly knows that such labels are repeatedly re-purposed by succeeding generations. FDR used “liberal” for its connotation of generosity just as he repurposed “freedom” as, say, freedom from fear or want. A practical politician overseeing one of the great realignments in American partisan political history, FDR, by virtue of his own family name, could appropriate much of the reputational capital of progressive reform, but he also needed the Republican Progressive faction in his New Deal coalition, as support for agenda items like the Tennessee Valley Authority (public ownership of the means of producing electricity! What will we tell the grandkids?)

But, the New Deal was then, and now is something else. U.S. partisan politics now is undergoing its own crisis of legitimacy and realignment, as is, not incidentally, European party politics. There are splits in both Parties, though Wilentz is concerned with the split in the Democratic Party, which has people who actually care at odds with those, like Wilentz, who want to be seen to care while maintaining plausible deniability.

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Z 03.23.18 at 4:35 pm

bruce wilder It is strange that an historian would write a piece whose rhetoric seems premised on such labels having reliable definitions constant thru time when he clearly knows that such labels are repeatedly re-purposed by succeeding generations.

Yes, I was amused to think of François Hollande presidency, the successful candidate of the Socialist party, each time he wrote the word socialism to relate today and the 1920s.

55

Whirrlaway 03.23.18 at 7:36 pm

I think this argument might make more sense if you got rid of all the words

There you go! It’s the categories again. Is Cluthlu a liberal or a socialist??

… would a being with no self-awareness do less/none thinking in categories? As the vampires in Blindsight perhaps do. Would that make for improved politics or explode the very idea?

56

roger gathmann 03.24.18 at 10:12 am

This is an odd piece of explainery. As was pretty obvious in 1932, liberal was being used in a sense that did not reflect the positions of, say, liberalism in the 19th century. But the word wasn’t jettisoned. Rather, it attached to itself properties that made it “liberal” in the sense of Galbraith-LBJ-William Douglas, etc. Of course, rightwing economists in particular hated this change in the term liberal. In continental Europe, in fact, liberal retained its old nineteenth century resonances.
All of which points to the fact that precision without history is a null set.
Now, what is interesting is that the American progressive movement was still vital and recognizable in 1932, when FDR was elected. So why did FDR democrats lose that word? I don’t have an answer to that one. Perhaps there was a whiff of Wilson about it? Certainly the last thing the Dems wanted in 1932 is to remind people of Wilson. On the other hand, maybe it was because progressive brought to mind the other Roosevelt, and was a Republican Party thing.
Wilentz as the semantics umpire, though, does stink.

57

VeeLow 03.24.18 at 4:59 pm

@ John Quiggin 45–Hmmmmmmm. So Chait saw clearly once what he no longer can see, now that “callout culture” has become a bigger evil than racism, transphobia & misogyny all together?

@Bianca 35– “For 8+ years, Wilentz was regularly attacking Obama from the left.” I would say that Wilentz was defending Clinton from the center, even, dare I say it, the “vital center.” His project is to follow in Schlesinger’s footsteps as Democratic/Clinton court historian by making Jacksonian populism / “vital center” arguments. (LGM posts including the one I linked convinced me of this….)

One reason this new piece is so damn hard to follow is that Wilentz is trying to separate the Democratic Party from both “socialism” (Sanders, economic regulation/redistribution) and “identity politics” (“free speech”/SJW); he confuses matters by using the label “progressive” to stigmatize BOTH these things, ignoring the fact that most Democratic Party-associated debate around the last election has been framed as “economic left VERSUS identity politics.”

58

PatinIowa 03.24.18 at 7:46 pm

Marc @41

Two things:

In neither of the stories you posted were the people who got people fired campus SJWs. The second of the stories has what I think is the crucial feature in the whole discussion:
“THE BULLY IS THE ONE PUNCHING DOWN.” (Their caps.)

There’s a big difference between “One survey that I found had 18% of US employers reporting that they’d fired employees for social media posts,” and “fired people because they were mobbed for their honest mistakes.” For one thing, how many of those social media posts were nasty remarks about the employer? threats of violence toward fellow employees? positive statements about unions? I think you’re assuming that “fired for social media posts” maps one-for-one with “hounded by SJWs into unemployment.” I don’t see any reason to suppose that’s correct.

The stories about campus intolerance I carry around in my head about campus intolerance are very different than the ones you carry around in yours. (Salaita, Juan Cole, the president of the regents sending an industry lobbyist to talk to a scientist studying aquifers http://www.bleedingheartland.com/2013/02/19/bruce-rastetter-tried-to-educate-distinguished-iowa-professor/) Can you think of a way to settle the question of which are more characteristic and which inhibit speech more?

I think a democratic society would have something better than “at will” employment, myself, but that’s not the empirical problem.

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PatinIowa 03.24.18 at 7:54 pm

faustusnotes @43

Your response to Marc’s examples was more concise, clear and better written than mine. I feel bad that I didn’t read the thread more carefully.

60

Collin Street 03.25.18 at 6:05 am

… would a being with no self-awareness do less/none thinking in categories?

Japanese has obligatory evidentiality marking and japanese public discourse is still a horrendous torrent of crap. Sapir-Whorf is bullshit.

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