The prehistory of “liberal fascism”

by John Quiggin on October 28, 2009

A week or two ago I was doing a bit of work on the Wikipedia article on political correctness, and I came up with what may well be the first introduction of the term (initialised as “p.c.”) to the general public, as represented by the readership of the New York Times, in an article by Richard Bernstein.

At least since the 1970s, the description “politically correct” or, in Australia, “ideologically sound”, had been used within the left to mock those who were excessively concerned with doctrinal and linguistic orthodoxy. The story of how “political correctness” turned from an inside joke to a Marxist-inspired assault on All We Hold Dear is reasonably well known. Bernstein traces its emergence as a pejorative to a conference by the Western Humanities Conference held, appropriately enough, in Berkeley.

For me, at least, the real surprise in this article came right at the end, with a quote from Roger Kimball, now of Pajamas Media, who said “It’s a manifestation of what some are calling liberal fascism”. Apparently, Jonah Goldberg owes him royalties.

Update I haven’t made proper use of the excellent NYTimes search facility until now. This search shows a string of sardonic references to political correctness in the Arts section (and one reference to its use by the Chinese CP) appearing in the years before Bernstein’s piece. After that, there’s an explosion). And “liberal fascism” made its first outing (post-1980 at any rate) in a 1988 story about the Dartmouth Review, spoken by then editor Harmeet Dhillon.

{ 153 comments }

1

Billikin 10.28.09 at 9:46 pm

In, IIRC, 1968 Ken Kesey gave a speech about Neo-Fascism in the New Left to a gathering of the same. No joke, folks. Dissenters were already squelching dissent in their own ranks.

2

Mario Diana 10.28.09 at 10:22 pm

I came across the term in an article early in 1991, by an “Orlando” something or other, if I remember correctly — well, half correctly. Did you come across that article. It was in the New York Times, too? I’m just wondering if you have the author’s name. Thanks.

3

Mario Diana 10.28.09 at 10:24 pm

Myself @ 2

Please excuse the juxtaposition of the question mark and period. I had a rough day at work, and I’m sipping pastis as I write.

4

John Emerson 10.28.09 at 11:51 pm

The phrase I remember, used seriously within some Marxist groups, was “correct position”. It was used seriously by people who thought that solving the dialectical questions came first, and and that before these were solved, any political activity was opportunistic and doomed. It was used jokingly within this same groups by those of a more activist sort. One guy told me how, after a succession of Trotskyist splits, his group had ended up being of about 50 people in one room — but they had the correct position. And then he laughed uproariously.

I think that a lot of the ideologues of that time did not actually believe it, but just were trying to make a stand against the amazing sloppiness of the free-lance left.

Later the term “politically correct” came to be used internally to label the minute rules of cultural politics within the left. At the beginning the term was sometimes used by old-school macho leftists to ridicule the newer feminists and gay liberationists. But the personal cultural politics really did get extreme.

And then it went pop, with National Lampoon and young Cerf.

As far as liberal fascism goes, there’s more of a story there than people realize, but Goldberg botched it. Around 1938 the Minnesota Farmer Labor Party, which had been very successful, split left and right. The left were Popular Fronters and supported WWII, the right (Father Coughlin type) were isolationists and in some cases worked with Viereck, the Nazi propagandist. What they all had in common was a mistrust of the free market and a demand for government intervention.

But unfortunately for Goldberg, most of the right switched to the Republican Party (where many isolationists already were) , whereas the left was purged when the FL merged with the Democrats to become the DFL. Roosevelt did have quasi-fascist supporters, but they all abandoned him and most became Republicans.

And it was the liberal Democrats who purged the supposed Communists.

5

P O'Neill 10.29.09 at 12:31 am

#2, that sounds like Orlando Patterson, but I don’t have a link.

6

John Quiggin 10.29.09 at 1:02 am

@John Emerson. Back in the late 1970s, I used to follow a Trotskyist (ISO) punk band called “Correct Line”. Their greatest hit was a thoroughly obscene piece called “I Love the Royal Family”. Musically, they were terrible, but of course that was de rigeur at the time.

7

engels 10.29.09 at 1:22 am

What is noteworthy to me is how at a time when US ‘conservatism’ has become so similar to fascism in many ways they choose to go around labelling their opponents fascists. Interestingly this is the tactic used by Britain’s 100% genuine fascist party the BNP, whose leader Nick Griffin recently remarkde that whites have been ethnically cleansed from London. I don’t think there’s any record of him actually saying something like ‘the white male is the Jew of liberal fascism’ but judging from what I’ve heard from him it would be entirely in character.

8

Moby Hick 10.29.09 at 1:32 am

Speaking of the Farmer Labor party (though not the Minnesota one specifically), we have a Dan Zanes’s (like the Wiggles, but less famous, American and a soloist) album which includes a song called “Don’t want your millions, mister.” This song has the line “Take the two old parties, mister. No difference in them I can see. But with a farmer–labor party. We could set the people free.”

9

John Emerson 10.29.09 at 1:58 am

A friend of mine heard that song from his FL father.

From what I’ve seen almost everyone i n American politics was calling everyone else a fascist aroun 1938-40. Anti-Roosevelt people called Roosevelt a Fascist, and he returned the favor. But a lot of people including one of the LaFollettes admired Mussolini.

Fascism was a new issue and no one knew what to do with it.

And as I’ve said, one of the isolationists most implicated with Viereck in 1940 (Sen. Lundeen) had been accused of being a communist in 1934.

10

Moby Hick 10.29.09 at 2:11 am

I’m waiting for the Farmer-Data Analyst party. We’ll call everybody fascist and point out flaws in their methodology.

11

bianca steele 10.29.09 at 2:15 am

A Professor Steele in the Wp article says anti-neo-Lamarckians are politically correct. I thought it was the neo-Lamarckians who were politically correct! How is one to know . . .

12

John Emerson 10.29.09 at 2:34 am

Given the farmer shortage, the Populists will have to change their demographic somewhat.

13

D.R. Foster 10.29.09 at 2:41 am

The term liberal fascism comes from H.G. Wells in 1932, near as anyone can tell. Wells also called for an “enlightened Nazism” in the West. Though it is certainly peppered with polemic, Goldberg’s book is actually considerably more analytical and less inflammatory than most of you kind folks on the left probably suspect. In other words–its worth reading before dismissing out of hand.

http://jch.sagepub.com/cgi/content/abstract/35/4/541

14

John Quiggin 10.29.09 at 3:35 am

It seems unlikely that Wells was using “liberal” in the modern US sense of the term. I think he was advocating a more liberal (in the C19) sense form of fascism, not accusing US-style liberals of being fascists.

On your more general point, maybe you should read the Sheri Berman seminar here, and then point out what there is in Goldberg that hasn’t been covered, without the silly polemic, by Berman.

15

jholbo 10.29.09 at 3:57 am

D.R. Foster: “Though it is certainly peppered with polemic, Goldberg’s book is actually considerably more analytical and less inflammatory than most of you kind folks on the left probably suspect.”

I’ve read it. It’s every bit as un-analytic and inflammatory as the kind folks on the left suspect. I’m also a bit of a liberal fascism scholar myself, thenk you very much, although I came to it through Wells’ film work. Here’s my prior response, here on CT, to the Coupland piece you link.

https://crookedtimber.org/2008/01/24/liberal-fascism-wings-over-the-world-edition/

16

fxh 10.29.09 at 10:08 am

I’d have to agree with JQ that Correct Line was the term used here in Oz in early 70s late 60s

17

yabonn 10.29.09 at 11:12 am

In other words—its worth reading before dismissing out of hand.

No.

18

Salient 10.29.09 at 12:26 pm

I’m waiting for the Farmer-Data Analyst party.

There’s common ground. Data analysts compute roots of variants to determine standard deviation, the farmers take an interest in variant roots and recognize which deviations are standard.

But what the world really needs is a Collier-Information Theorist party.

You could call a data miners’ strike!

19

steven 10.29.09 at 12:50 pm

In other words—its worth reading before dismissing out of hand.

So I should read it, and then dismiss it out of hand? Seems a rather inefficient way to go about things if you ask me.

20

skidmarx 10.29.09 at 1:02 pm

“Politically correct” is still being used in an unironic way on the TV channel Russia Today.

21

marcel 10.29.09 at 1:47 pm

My recollection jibes, to some extent, with JQ’s 2nd paragraph. When I was in college in Chicago in the mid 70s, I had a housemate who served as the trusted mediator between all the leftist factions on campus, and I recall hearing him using ‘politically correct’ in an ironic or derisive way.

22

bianca steele 10.29.09 at 3:09 pm

I doubt Goldber cares much about the kinds of things discussed on CT wrt Shari Berman. I read him as participating in a discourse, not about political theory and principles, but about genealogy, motivations, affinities, and things like that. In other words, unanalytic and inflammatory. He uses scholarship on history and political science only for journalistic bulking-up of his articles and book(s), and as fodder for high school debate team level point scoring.

If little bits of interesting information stick to his text like burrs picked up in conversations with actual scholars, that says something about something, but nothing especially good about him or his book.

23

bianca steele 10.29.09 at 3:09 pm

Jona Goldberg has every right to be pissed off at what were to be called “politically correct” classmates and instructors and how they treated him. Where he goes wrong is to assume his anger tells him anything about anything more than the people he actually met in college or wherever. One of the most striking features of the part of “movement conservatism” that appeared on college campuses in the 1980s is how unpleasant these young men were.

It’s interesting that campus humor magazines like the “Harvard Lampoon” and “Columbia Jester” were largely staffed by right-wingers like P.J. O’Roarke and John Hughes,* but it’s also interesting that movement magazines like the Dartmouth or Morningside Reviews demonstrated something almost but not quite exactly unlike a sense of humor.

24

bianca steele 10.29.09 at 3:11 pm

Missing * : I wonder how many conservatives used Hughes as an example of liberal Hollywood before it came out that he was really one of them himself.

25

El Cid 10.29.09 at 3:17 pm

The phrase always reminded me of “social fascism,” as proposed by the Comintern in 1928 setting social democracy against Communism.

I first heard the term when an actual Spartacist used it to describe FDR, and I had to sort of figure it out, not being in on the reference.

26

Moby Hick 10.29.09 at 3:24 pm

P.J. O’Rourke was with National Lampoon (i.e., after it left the campus).

27

Tim Wilkinson 10.29.09 at 3:32 pm

I think the campaign to use the term PC and cognates in prosecuting the culture wars (cf ‘loony left’ etc) has gone awry, in Britain anyway. My observation is that among a great many Ordinary People, it’s quite widely used, non-ironically and approvingly, to mean basically ‘not being bigoted’. I think that outcome is assured by the fact that those who proudly announce themselves to be ‘politically incorrect’ are generally of the Clarkson/Carol Thatcher/Littlejohn type, viz. total cunts. In fact you can still hear the opposition using the phrase ‘political correctness gone mad’ – implying a default status of sane – or anyway you could a few years ago.

Actually the above is not quite correct. The actual term ‘PC’ is not very often used, though the concept will be defended against the Littlejohns. ‘Un-PC’ is I think most often used to describe unacceptable but somewhat excusable use of, say, racist terminology by those who know no better e.g. the oldest generation. For those who do (or ‘should’) know better, the specific term: racist, sexist, ‘homophobic’, etc, is generally employed.

28

John Emerson 10.29.09 at 4:22 pm

I actually intend to read Goldberg’s book before dismissing it out of hand. My angle is that there was a story there, but that he missed it since it did not forward to his agenda.

29

John Emerson 10.29.09 at 5:26 pm

Goldberg’s book can now be bought for shipping cost. You need not feel guilty about fattening him up.

30

Paul 10.29.09 at 5:32 pm

Comment spammed to multiple sites, deleted

31

Substance McGravitas 10.29.09 at 5:56 pm

Dear Paul: shut up already.

32

AcademicLurker 10.29.09 at 7:40 pm

23
“Jona Goldberg has every right to be pissed off at what were to be called “politically correct” classmates and instructors and how they treated him. Where he goes wrong is to assume his anger tells him anything about anything more than the people he actually met in college or wherever.”

I occasionally meet conservatives who don’t seem to be obviously stupid and/or insane. With these folks, I’m consistently impressed by the degree to which “the hippies were mean to me in college” has determined the political trajectory of their adult lives.

33

AcademicLurker 10.29.09 at 7:42 pm

Needless to say, I did not intend to imply above that Jonah Goldberg is not obviously stupid and/or insane.

34

bianca steele 10.29.09 at 8:02 pm

@33: Did you mean to imply there were a significant number of 19 year old hippies around in the late 1980s?

35

Matt 10.29.09 at 8:09 pm

At first I read the second to last line of Paul’s bit of bible study as “Elvis flourishes when good men (and women) do nothing”

That would have been a more interesting moral to the story.

36

Keith 10.29.09 at 8:17 pm

bianca steele:

There are a significant number of 19 year old hippies around now. They’re 3rd gen hippies, so their rhetoric and causes have become subject to cultural drift, and in most cases are somewhat diluted (though they do still mostly smell of patchouli, which is weird). Most people ignore them or just smile and nod. They’re good for picking out the conservative kids though. They get genuinely angry about the mere presence of someone with dreads and a Guatemalan backpack and then start ranting about Ayn Rand.

37

Keith 10.29.09 at 8:18 pm

Matt:

Everyone knows that Elvis flourishes when good men (and women) shake their hips.

38

bianca steele 10.29.09 at 8:27 pm

What makes either of you think that type is of any relevance to the discussion?

39

David 10.29.09 at 8:59 pm

Speaking as one who used the term “pc” in the early/mid-seventies, I can assure you that the in-joke was always a pejorative at the same time. Its rather unwitting co-opting by the right was an early indication of a deficient sense of humour and the dissemination a result of a lazy media.

40

AcademicLurker 10.29.09 at 10:39 pm

bianca steele:

By hippies I just meant progressives. I’m just noting that in my experience, with a surprising number of people, their most visceral and deep seated reasons for identifying with conservative politics are linked to some some oddly persistent sense of persecution that they acquired in college.

Admittedly, some progressives can be insufferably obnoxious, but these folks (the conservatives in question) really cling to their resentment. Supporting dropping bombs on strangers in Iraq because you imagine that by doing so you are somehow getting revenge on that jerk who was president of the student progressive alliance… seems a little excessive.

41

bianca steele 10.29.09 at 11:12 pm

@40: I’m really not sure what you’re trying to say. I didn’t mention persecution. (The only allusion I can find to persecution in what I wrote was the mention of John Hughes, who was quoted saying something along those lines in the articles published after his recent death.)

42

John Emerson 10.30.09 at 1:04 am

This is the whole “liberal elitism” thing. Some people just hate liberals because they think they’re condescending, etc. It’s not really just a memory of something that happened years ago, it’s a crystallization thing.

A lot of liberals are condescending, for one thing.

Back before most people were born, people like Galbraith, Schlesinger, Moynihan etc. were viable in public life, but not any more.

43

Nick Caldwell 10.30.09 at 1:45 am

The main lesson of the history of “political correctness” is that the Right will always and inevitably interpret even wry self-deprecation as weakness and exploit it ruthlessly.

44

Tim Wilkinson 10.30.09 at 2:10 am

David @39 Its rather unwitting co-opting by the right was an early indication of a deficient sense of humour and the dissemination a result of a lazy media.

I don’t know a lot about the US experience, but from a Brit perspective:

1.I’d say the co-option was deliberate, opportunistic and done without any interest in how the term was meant, which last is not really the same as ‘unwitting’ _simpliciter_.

2. The sense of humour is undoubtedly deficient, but that’s pretty irrelvant because implacable hostility and the disciplined production of propaganda tends to trump any concern about being seen to… not get irony.

3. An element of laziness/credulity is involved in the wider dissemination of disinfo/distortions about ‘PC’ ( bah bah white sheep, etc ad nauseam), as well as sister-issues such as: the EU (straight bananas), ‘Health and Safety’ (self-reinforcing scare-myths which are mostly in fact man-in-pub opinions about tort law), and Human Rights (pampering of junky convicts, etc). But the core publications from which these stories tend to be propagated (Mail, Express, Sun among others) undoubtedly produce them as a matter of policy – subserving right/business interests. Not to overlook various intermediate/mixed phenomena like selective recruitment, groupthink and tacit understanding of a prevailing editorial climate.

(Refresh reveals NC’s comment @43 – yes, though surely self-deprecation is weakness when it comes to adversarial politics – and anyway the right needn’t engage in such effete pastimes as interpreting stuff – just exploit the opportunity offered, ruthlessly – for how else?)

45

parsimon 10.30.09 at 2:19 am

36: They’re 3rd gen hippies

This strikes me as an exceedingly useful notion, and one that, for some reason, had never occurred to me before. We speak, of course, of first-, second-, and third-wave feminism, after all, and while those terms are fraught, we roughly know what we’re referring to.

It could be quite useful to speak of so-called hippies in this way. Perhaps it’s been done and I was unaware. Ixnay on the “all smell of patchouli” however.

46

Keith 10.30.09 at 3:26 am

Yes, the patchouli comment was lazy on my part.

But the 3rd gen hippie reference, I’m not entirely sure where I got that from. It just struck me at some point that they’re inheritors of an iconic language about rebellion and progressive ideals, the surface style of which they’ll eventually outgrow. And most of them will outgrow the politics as well, becoming repentant conservatives and reactionaries, just as many of the 1st gen hippies did. Why the Hippie iconography stuck instead of say, the Beat iconography is a study I’d like to see. Maybe it has something to do with the activism/idealism of the hippies that is more alluring than the Beats drop-out mentality.

47

Barbar 10.30.09 at 6:03 am

I’m just noting that in my experience, with a surprising number of people, their most visceral and deep seated reasons for identifying with conservative politics are linked to some some oddly persistent sense of persecution that they acquired in college.

Yeah, but nothing happened in college. Some kids organized a sit-in for a living wage. Some other kids volunteered for unsuccessful left-wing politicians. Given all the other shit that happens in college, this couldn’t possibly cause a lifetime reaction that leads to thinking that John McCain would be a good President.

Some people are just conservative. Some people just think that the world is the way it is for a reason, and they don’t trust people who talk about helping the powerless or “doing good.” They approve of master morality and are hostile to slave morality. The hippies didn’t make them that way, they’re just an obvious target.

48

Jim Buck 10.30.09 at 7:53 am

Politically Incorrect Fascist (PIF): one who produces piffle.

49

Ceri B. 10.30.09 at 7:56 am

Barbar, I agree that there are some basic temperaments and that when one is heading strongly a particular way, the incidentals don’t matter much. But they can feel like they matter a lot. College was the first time for a lot of conservatives to feel seriously judged, and that rankles a lot for many authoritarian types – in some cases because the authoritarian follower’s urge to submit sets them up to feel like they ought to heed the judgment except that it’s all wrong and nasty to agree with that sort of person, and the cognitive loops spin wildly. Listening to conservative dormmates rant about it, I felt like I was sometimes seeing the aftermath of an experience as traumatic as realizing that one is gay or transgendered, or losing a closely held religious faith, and scrambling to reestablish security.

50

Alex 10.30.09 at 8:41 am

Isn’t the whole thing about PC and college explained by it likely being the first time a lot of these people were called out on their uncivil behaviour towards the sort of people PC stereotypically concerned itself with? I mean, it’s quite an achievement in arsery to still be whining forty years on, but holding grudges is a human universal.

51

harry b 10.30.09 at 11:25 am

John
we used the term “right on” in Britain (to describe someone who was a bit too pleased with their own political correctness/ideological soundness). This was the early-to-mid-80’s, and certainly in the US, by the later 80’s we were using “PC” to mean the same thing. Looking back, I wonder whether the term “right on” came from “The Young Ones” — the Rik Mayall character was a caricature of the right-on young man — but without being offensive at all to the left (I didn’t really watch The Young Ones, but everyone else I knew on the left watched it and loved it, partly for the Rik Mayall character).

52

belle le triste 10.30.09 at 11:47 am

ben elton didn’t invent “right on”; said non-ironically it goes back to the late 60s of course, but it didn’t take till 1982 for it to wear thin… that’s the year i moved to london, and i associate eye-rolling at earnestness with the reader-culture round the main london sites of the same earnestness, such as time out (pre the city limits breakaway, which siphoned off most of the no sell out krew) and spare rib (and probably half a dozen other publications that failing memory thankfully spares me)

i’d have to look this up — and i’m not sure where — but i’m reasonably sure i can recall viz julie burchill and tony parsons sneering at the “right on” as early as 1977: sneering from the “left”, of course — anyway, the issue of the “correct line” being a such a key obsession within the trot sub-culture, there were always a dozen stupidly “wrong lines” available to laugh at, so i think mockery and self-mockery were always already on the table

(happy days, eh!)

53

Chris A. Williams 10.30.09 at 11:56 am

First time I heard of the phrase ‘pc’ was is late 1990, when an England-based American grad student remarked to my then girlfriend “Chris is a bit PC, isn’t he?”

Up til then, we were all “right-on”, which could be admitted to slightly ruefully by its unrepentant adherents, but never got the same kind of reactionary traction which PC still has.

54

Antiquated Tory 10.30.09 at 12:03 pm

@bianca steele:
“One of the most striking features of the part of “movement conservatism” that appeared on college campuses in the 1980s is how unpleasant these young men were…”
Indeed, that was my experience of movement conservative undergrads when I was a grad student in the late 80s. (My undergrad experience was at a Midwestern geek school without politically engaged students of any stripe.) The Young Americans for Freedom used to meet down the hall from my grad student gov’t office and as a good Anthro student, I started hanging out with them out of horrified fascination. One of the lads I met there had managed to get mugged on the DC metro, which given the number of cops and cameras in that system is quite an accomplishment. But I remember thinking “Damn, I’d mug you myself, just for the sake of it.” Some of the non-students who hung out in that group were pieces of work, too. One non-student I met there owned a waste disposal company, which he described as “not as cushy on the environment as other waste disposal companies.” Another was a US government analyst of the Soviet bureaucracy, who had never heard of Max Weber. The head of the actual student body was an Italian American kid whose dad owned a cement factory in New Jersey. His deputy was also his roommate and his childhood friend. There were rumors that he had been sent along to be his friend’s bodyguard, but I cannot confirm this, or the rumor that they had a big poster of Musso in their room. They got a Miss USA (former Miss Orange County) to speak on campus after she lobbied various Congressmen for the pro-life movement–I mostly remember she giggled a lot and did some kind of trick with string that was supposed to be an analogy of abortion. “Hi, I have really long legs and play up my ditziness for all it’s worth and think abortion is really, really bad.” My wife would have gone for her with a knife.
I’m afraid I got them barred from campus because I taped a speech their chairman was giving in which he said “The Young Americans for Freedom have always been clear about where we stand on homosexuals. We think they should be shot.” I passed this on to the campus newspaper. I’m actually rather sorry I got them banned, I only wanted to mock them. I later got a call from the Campus Republicans thanking me for getting rid of the YAF, because no respectable Republican would speak on campus for fear of being associated with them. Well, it was a long time ago…

55

alex 10.30.09 at 12:10 pm

FWIW, we had a self-conscious Nazi on our campus in the late 80s – leather coat and funny haircut and all. He never looked half so pleased with himself as when he exercised his right to free speech at a Union meeting with a horde of seething Trots hissing every word. Unfortunately, while he definitely deserved to be gone for with a knife, so did a lot of them, not least for their unpleasantly octopoid tendency towards young female first-years, if you know what I mean.

56

belle le triste 10.30.09 at 12:11 pm

Actually City Limits split from Time Out in 1981, before I was in London, but there was a residual competitive right-on-ness — and concomitant exasperation with same — at TO for a while after: I’m trying to remember when TO stopped running a listings page actually called “Agit-prop”; certainly I remember it being an important talking point when they did!

Anyway, I would propose that this kind of attitude arose in the subcultural nexus that linked the underground papers of the late 60s — Oz and IT in particular, both sorta kinda believing they were fashioning a new mode for radical politics — with a variety of subsequent offshoots, some more overtly politicised (Spare Rib); some more commercial (mid-80s TO; NME etc); and dozens of more specialist magazines of various types… the sniping of punks versus hippies which infected that whole era also routinely took the form of spats about “right versus wrong politics”; sometimes it was spitefully funny, and sometimes it was bullyingly humourless, and, well, sometimes it was all kinds of other things

(I wish someone would write the story of all this: Nigel Fountain, of the City Limits collective, wrote a scrappy little book called “Underground: the London Alternative Press 1966-74”, but actually I think 1975-90 is the more interesting period.)

57

belle le triste 10.30.09 at 12:13 pm

[help i’m trapped in moderation: is “sp3c!4l!st” also a problem?]

58

AcademicLurker 10.30.09 at 12:36 pm

41:

I didn’t mean that it was a justified sense of persecution.

I think that 49 and 50 get it pretty much right. The reason some of these folks seem to harp on college in particular is because, for many, college is the first time they begin to consider politics in a serious way and also quite possibly the first time they’ve been exposed directly to people who’s basic political views differ from their own

59

John Emerson 10.30.09 at 1:45 pm

I graduated from college in 1980 at the age of 34. Some of my fellow students were 19 or 20, whereas some of the TAs and young faculty were about my age or a few years older.

It was pretty jarring, because the young facultyI knew were ex-New-Leftists, more or less, trying to carry their politics into the future, whereas most of the students couldn’t care less. The faculty guys looked sort of silly because they assumed that they were charismatic, whereas few college students have ever thought of faculty that way. (One faculty member had a little shock when a student said of one of Ibsen’s restless-wife characters, “I don’t understand why she had so much respect for her husband. He was just a professor, after all”.)

One thing that was happening then, though, was a sorting out of the entering students into left and non-left, and along with this went a lot of other stuff, certain kinds of taste in movies and food and books and clothes and sex and drugs, and it was often perceived as a split between the better, left class of people and the inferior, crass, rightwing class of people. And the separation of the sheep from the goats was often accomplished via snide forms of ridicule.

Thinking about this kind of thing people make two mistakes. One is assuming that the hard right is hillbilly trailer trash, when a lot of it, maybe most, is well-off and educated. The second mistake is thinking that the people we’re talking about are entirely hard-core wingers. I’m willing to right off the hard core 30% of the American electorate, but the people we shouldn’t write off are the 50% who aren’t conservative but just plain don’t like liberals.

One thing that happened during the last 50 years or so is that economic liberalism has come to be defined as “us” doing good things for “the poor and unfortunate” out of a sense of noblsse oblige. A lot of lower middle class people have n feeling of noblesse oblige, and why should they? They’re at risk of becoming poor and unfortunate themselves.

This split is so thoroughly woven in to American culture that any academic seeming guy who speaks in a certain tone of voice counts as a liberal even though he’s center right. (I’m thinking specifically of Bill Schneider of CNN, who has the mild professorial manner down to a T, but is unmistakably centrist and often center-right).

60

alex 10.30.09 at 2:26 pm

It is unfortunately true that a language of redistribution does sound to many ears like people who have never had to work hard telling people who do work hard that their money has to be given to people who don’t work at all. Finding a way of showing that this ain’t necessarily so [if indeed, it isn’t] is a central challenge for the maintenance of anything approaching a ‘left’ into the future [assuming ‘just shooting them’ stays off the table; though personally, when I listen to wingnuts, shooting them is one of the first things that comes to mind. Alas, they have more guns…]

61

Moby Hick 10.30.09 at 2:27 pm

I must admit that I experience an involuntary recoil at the tendency of some to believe that if everybody were properly informed, everybody would agree with whatever position they hold. Rightly or wrongly, I associate this tendency with liberalism. Rightly, in my opinion, I associate this tendency with an overly optimistic view of human nature.

62

Doctor Slack 10.30.09 at 2:29 pm

Sez Emerson: “the people we shouldn’t write off are the 50% who aren’t conservative but just plain don’t like liberals.”

I’m not sure who this is talking about. The hard core 30% of the American electorate that isn’t conservative but just plain doesn’t like liberals IS the hard right (echoed here in Canada). By this point they’re drawn from a whole subculture raised on preemptively resenting / fearing/ hating “the liberal” regardless of what the actual liberal says or does. There are condescending and annoying people of every political stripe, but allowing your whole politics to be dictated by resentment of a subtype of what you imagine to be your opposition is a choice that, frankly, more Americans should write off. It’s what’s turned movementarians into precisely the kind of “America-hating” cultural phenomenon that they came into existence to deride.

If we’re talking about the anodyne language of “balance” and Very Serious People like Thomas Friedman as the objects of resentment, that’s not “liberalism” at all, it’s just “centrism.” Of which there IS a growing resentment, and it’s about time. There are liberals who still misguidedly think of centrism and liberalism as the same thing — owing to the conflation of the Democrats, gormless and craven even now, with “liberalism” — and indulge the kind of pseudo-intellectual bowdlerization of liberal values that centrism promotes, and fuck ’em.

Economic liberalism has come to be defined as the rich, not the lower middle class, doing things for the poor out of a sense of noblesse oblige. This strategy has stark limitations — and points up the need for the revival of a real Left — but it’s only conflated with “us” in the movementarian bizarro world in which every God-fearing red-blooded Anglo-Saxon American Christian man would be a millionaire if it weren’t for the interference of commies and Jews coastal elites and niggers and spics affirmative action and uppity feminist bitches social engineering and the State. Treating that as a credible or truthful viewpoint is a malady of centrism and must be excised.

There’s no need for liberalism to shy away from cultural populism, but since the “populism” of the hard right is built around being a bitch for any particular brand of bullshit the movement’s leaders choose to sell you (because at least they tell you They Hate Libruls Too), they cannot and should not ever try to ape it. One side in the culture war chose to cling to a politics of lies and fantasy and deservedly obsolete ideas. The breach will not be healed by indulging their fantasies, an indulgence they would never trust coming from liberals anyway.

63

bianca steele 10.30.09 at 2:30 pm

AT@54: Sounds horrific, but at least they had substantive points to make. What I remember of the Morningside Review is primarily ridicule of female Democrats (though they may have ridiculed Jean Kirkpatrick too) on the ostensible basis of their looks. The MR is, I think, the one that got National Review funding and was based on the kind of thing the Dartmouth Review was doing. Googling reminds me of the Federalist Paper, which was founded by ex MR members and which I do actually remember as sometimes readable. But on a campus as political and as reliably left as Columbia, where most of the humor pieces in the Jester (which may well have been staffed by leftists, I have no way of knowing), poked fun at political correctness avant la lettre (wear more buttons! the poor of the world need you to wear as many buttons as possible!), the conservatives didn’t seem to have much to say except to make all the nasty remarks they got criticized for elsewhere.

64

John Emerson 10.30.09 at 2:40 pm

Slack: There are a lot of people who actually agree with a lot of liberal positions, but refuse toc all themselves liberals. About 20% of Americans call themselves liberals and 30%+ conservatives. The remainder call themselves something else, usually moderates I guess.

But if you ask about liberal issues one at a time, you get 50-70% agreement on a lot of them. The difference is people who have a negative idea about liberalism for some reason other than the issues. “Just plain don’t like liberals” may be an overstatement, but there’s some kind of weird aversion there.

65

engels 10.30.09 at 2:50 pm

Claiming that 80% of Americans ‘just plain don’t like liberals’ is an over-statement, I’m pretty sure or at least I hope. If it isn’t then the US really does have a problem with something at least closely resembling facism, just not the one that Goldberg claims.

66

Doctor Slack 10.30.09 at 2:52 pm

When Scalzi excoriated liberals in his “I Hate Your Politics” rant, he mocked them for allowing their endonym to be turned into an epithet by their opposition. That happened, and I think what a lot of people really hate about modern liberalism is not its convictions but its relative lack of them — but that’s an outgrowth of “centrism,” of the deterioration of convictions into disposable political planks and the deterioration of liberalism into a fruitless, spineless quest for the approval of “Middle America.” The New Deal liberalism begat a commentariat and political elite that could actually get some things done through discussion, and consequently engendered a naive faith that enough discussion could solve anything — even after the whole epoch of the late Sixties disproved this — and that weakness made “centrism” possible. But centrism and liberalism don’t need to be interchangeable.

67

John Emerson 10.30.09 at 2:55 pm

Neo-populism recently has mostly been people like Carville and Mudcat X who want to go for the Southern white vote. (When it’s not neo-Nazis). To me the target would be discouraged voters, something like 40-50% of the electorate.

It wouldn’t be an imitation of the old Populism either, going after the farmers in bib overalls. It would involve trying to define “us” in temrs of todays America, while defining “them” in terms of high finance, the super-rich, and the various people who have had their hands of the controls.

The financial collapse is going to continue to bite for another 5-10, and it may get worse. Someone will be blamed, and if it’s not the Republicans, it will be the Democrats. The Republicans are already tooling up, but the Democrats are still just mumbling around as per usual.

Someone just pointed out that Obama has an aversion to conflict. WTF is he doing in politics? But he’s characteristic of the typical Democratic wonk, who thinks that it’s possible to evade every issue with slick technical fixes and backroom deals.

Some say that the Democrats’ weaknesses are purely due to simple corruption. They have a point, but I’m not convinced. Democrats can be self-defeating even in terms of their own pathetically limited goals. I’m sure that there’s something in the DSM-IV that covers the Democrats’ problem, the Chickenshit Personality Disorder or something. For some it’s high principle based on Orwell and Gandhi. For some it’s the occupational psychosis of the professional and administrative classes. For some it’s the belief that the future is knowable, and that it’s stupid to fight battles since you already know who will win.

68

John Emerson 10.30.09 at 3:03 pm

See, Slack can say that Bill Schneider isn’t a liberal. I can say that Bill Schneider isn’t a liberal. We’re just two people out of 300 million. (And the payoff is, “Even Bill Schneider says X, and he’s a liberal!)

The Democratic Party chose the elitist path around 1952. I blame Hofstadter, whose books have been used to indoctrinate two generations of wonks. (People have been generous about explaining to me that he didn’t do it single-handed. Thank you, people!) Essentially what they did is relegate populist appeals to the Republicans in order to get a more easily manageable party. (If you read political history 1932-1940, you can certainly understand the Democrats’ motives, even if you think that the turn was a mistake. Things got pretty hairy.)

69

Ceri B. 10.30.09 at 3:05 pm

To the best of my recollection, Engels, John isn’t exaggerating when he talks about the gap between the positions most Americans support and what they’re willing to call themselves. A decent American Prospect piece on the subject turns up with a little googling, and there’s more. Movement conservatives won the battle for terms and identities even though they’re widely hated.

70

Doctor Slack 10.30.09 at 3:06 pm

66: Well… yes, I completely agree. (Except I think the target should be the 50 – 70% of voters who agree point by point with liberal policies but don’t like Democrats. They are a majority. One might even say a… silent majority.)

71

Ceri B. 10.30.09 at 3:12 pm

I also really strongly agree that the targets of voter outreach should be those who don’t vote because they don’t quite see a reason to bother, with the prospect of some changes that would make it worth their while. But I think that will be harder in 2010 and 2012 and on into the future than it was in 2006 and 2008, because of how completely the Democratic Party betrayed hopes for an end to the Iraq occupation and for improvements at home.

72

Harry 10.30.09 at 3:20 pm

But Jeanne Kirkpatrick was a female Democrat, no?

I knew couple of nice (well interesting) guys in YAF at USC. They were definitely not off the top shelf, and after I (or rather, Clancy Sigal on my behalf) melted their hostility to me they would tell me very unpleasant stories about YAF: very posh kids who sneered at the (much smarter) oiks they had recruited.

73

Harry 10.30.09 at 3:20 pm

Sorry for the transatlantic language, I just don’t quite know the American for posh and oik.

74

John Emerson 10.30.09 at 3:22 pm

50 – 70% of voters who agree point by point with liberal policies but don’t like Democrats.

A group that includes me at this point.

75

Doctor Slack 10.30.09 at 3:24 pm

I should know better than to number comment replies here. FTR I’m not agreeing with myself in that last post, but with Emerson’s on Neo-populism three posts up.

76

Doctor Slack 10.30.09 at 3:25 pm

“A group that includes me at this point.”

Probably that includes anyone who expected Obama to effect at least one meaningful change in his first year in office.

77

Billikin 10.30.09 at 5:32 pm

I find it strange to hear about hippies in this topic. Hippies were not self-righteous enough to be PC-ers or fascists, or to persecute college conservatives. The hippie phenomenon was a spiritual movement, not a political one.

78

Substance McGravitas 10.30.09 at 5:44 pm

Probably that includes anyone who expected Obama to effect at least one meaningful change in his first year in office.

There have been meaningful changes.

79

Moby Hick 10.30.09 at 5:49 pm

There have been meaningful changes.

For inventment bankers.

80

Moby Hick 10.30.09 at 5:50 pm

also for investment bankers.

81

Substance McGravitas 10.30.09 at 6:12 pm

also for investment bankers.

That one’s actually not much of a change thus far.

82

AcademicLurker 10.30.09 at 6:15 pm

77:
“I find it strange to hear about hippies in this topic.”

I think “hippies” was used in this context only in the sense that rightwingers consider “the dirty fucking hippies” to be anyone to the left of them.

83

Chris A. Williams 10.30.09 at 7:44 pm

BTW, one man who appears to understand (though not to care about) the critique about liberals, and appears to want (and to care) to move the debate onto a terrain that the left can win, is Mark Ames.

84

Doctor Slack 10.30.09 at 7:58 pm

“There have been meaningful changes. ”

Such as?

85

liberal 10.30.09 at 8:13 pm

Alex wrote, Finding a way of showing that this ain’t necessarily so [if indeed, it isn’t] is a central challenge for the maintenance of anything approaching a ‘left’ into the future …

Huh? It’s been known since at least the time of American self-educated economist Henry George more than 100 years ago that the main redistribution performed by government is from the (relative) landless to the landowners.

Thus, the problem with the “left” is its obsession with Marx’s dichotomy of capitalist vs worker, rather than George’s correct capitalist and worker vs landowner (and other rent collectors).

86

Substance McGravitas 10.30.09 at 8:18 pm

Such as?

Stimulus, non-Federalist-Society Supreme Court justice, honest-to-god diplomacy, pullback on prosecuting medical marijuana operations, this today, pullback on torture, et cetera. On most of these things it’s pretty easy to want it better, but again, it’s meaningful.

87

John Emerson 10.30.09 at 8:30 pm

The stimulus was a defeat or a failure.It wasn’t big enough, and we’re due to have another jobless recovery. A second stimulus could save the day, but the Republicans and Blue Dogs will be ferociously opposed. And the stimulus debate was one of Obama’s bipartisan specials.

Some for the bailout. He had them over a barrel, and he gave him a no-strings-attached bailout. This is worse than a failure, though, because it means that Obama is in Goldman Sach’s pocket.

Other failures/ betrayals: Don’t Ask don’t Tell, two wars, and too many civil liberties / unitary President / official secrecy issues to count.

88

Substance McGravitas 10.30.09 at 8:33 pm

John Emerson 10.30.09 at 8:30 pm

I believe I have what you said covered with

On most of these things it’s pretty easy to want it better, but again, it’s meaningful.

89

John Emerson 10.30.09 at 8:39 pm

They all were business as usual. There had to be some kind of bailout and stimulus. What we got was the minimal one.

Actually, a lot of that was Bush, but Obama didn’t improve anything, and he could have.

90

Doctor Slack 10.30.09 at 8:46 pm

I think we’re working with different definitions of “meaningful,” Substance. A meaningful stance on torture is to say that you want to be in compliance with international law, and then actually do so. That you want to withdraw from Iraq, and then actually do so. Those, plus the various civil liberties / unitary Executive clusterfucks to which Emerson refers, were the defining issues that drove widespread revulsion with the Republic Party. Nibbling around their edges while muffing the whole “stimulus” question does not “meaningful change” make, from my standpoint; hell, it’s not even politically expedient, let alone moral or justifiable. Returning to the old standard of American diplomacy is a welcome change from the earlier nuttiness but of limited value next to escalating the Afghan war.

91

Substance McGravitas 10.30.09 at 8:53 pm

I think we’re working with different definitions of “meaningful,” Substance.

Obviously, and I mostly agree with the criticisms you and Emerson make, and I’ve made the same criticisms in some cases. But I don’t believe everything Obama has done has been meaningless, which would seem to be your assertion.

92

Salient 10.30.09 at 8:54 pm

Such as?

The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act?

93

Doctor Slack 10.30.09 at 9:01 pm

I don’t believe everything Obama has done has been meaningless

I’m not using the word in any grand existential sense. The definition of “meaningful” I’m working with is roughly equivalent to “substantive.” I do not believe the change Obama has effected to date, particularly on the major questions that got him elected, is substantive.

94

John Emerson 10.30.09 at 9:10 pm

The bigger the issue, the more disappointing Obama has been.

I’m not really too disappointed. Obama’s bipartisanship campaign was a fair warning, as were his econ advisers. But occasionaly someone does surprise you.

Sometimes I do think that The Man chooses black, female, and gay figureheads purely and simply to make it harder for me to speak with my accustomed pungency. Powell, Rice, Obama, Clinton, Allbright, et al. (Call me Rush Jr.)

Smart move, The Man!

95

Tom Bach 10.30.09 at 9:19 pm

Honduras? HIV Travel Ban? Stimulus that wasn’t all tax cuts? Re-establishing oversight on intelligence gathering? Hate Crimes? Health Care with P.O.?

96

Substance McGravitas 10.30.09 at 9:22 pm

The definition of “meaningful” I’m working with is roughly equivalent to “substantive.”

Then you’re wrong. It’s not hard to just google “obama achievements” and come up with something you think is worth a cheer, around reproductive rights, park lands set aside, education, or whatever. Are they everything I want them to be? Of course not: I am demanding and impatient. But when I ask mom for five cookies and I get one I am aware that I got a cookie.

97

Doctor Slack 10.30.09 at 9:22 pm

It’s true that it’s hard to be “disappointed” by someone who advertised themselves as the same brand of sucky centrist that’s been muddling along in American politics for the past forty years. OTOH it was sort of legit to hope that some things would be beyond a particular centrist pale, like reprising the mistakes of LBJ in re: foreign wars or trying to implement rhetoric as a substitute for policy in re: clearly illegal torture policies. But bottom line is, it looks right now as though Obama’s on track to discredit the old line centrism as a complement to his predecessors’ discrediting of the old line movementarianism. Best case is that a glimmer of actually sane politics emerges from the rubble.

98

John Emerson 10.30.09 at 9:23 pm

If we get health care with a public option, it will be a defeat for Obama.

The things I mentioned in #87 were the big things Obama’s been involved with so far. (Actually, maybe not Don’t Ask Don’t Tell). We have a lot of frosting and no cake.

99

Doctor Slack 10.30.09 at 9:28 pm

It’s not hard to just google “obama achievements” and come up with something you think is worth a cheer

It is hard to do so and find substantive movements on the core issues that got the guy elected. I mean, yay no HIV travel ban, that’s great, it really is, don’t get me wrong, but it’s not pivotal to the nature of the American republic and the big questions the entire planet is dealing with courtesy of the Cheney Administration. Aggressive warfare, institutionalized torture and the “unitary Executive” are.

100

John Emerson 10.30.09 at 9:35 pm

Add McConnell and Lindsey Graham to the list in 94 for completeness.

My reading of the last 40 years of US history at the moment is that each successive Democratic President (Carter, Clinton, Obama) only half repaired the damage done by his Republican predecessor. So it’s one step forward and two steps back.

101

Substance McGravitas 10.30.09 at 9:39 pm

I mean, yay no HIV travel ban, that’s great, it really is, don’t get me wrong, but it’s not pivotal to the nature of the American republic and the big questions the entire planet is dealing with courtesy of the Cheney Administration.

Sure. But a $2500 tax break on college tuition is gonna be a substantial thing to a bunch of people, as will be access to cheap birth control, not getting arrested for using marijuana as medicine, and so forth.

102

John Emerson 10.30.09 at 9:41 pm

101: “Tax break” says it all. Big fucking deal.

103

Doctor Slack 10.30.09 at 9:45 pm

If there’s any lesson the Democrats should long ago have learned from LBJ, it’s that expensive wars seriously affect your ability to pay for and to push any other program, be it tax breaks on college tuition or anything else. That’s a major reason why the big issues are more meaningful than the little issues. The social and economic woes that ultimately sunk LBJ were directly tied to Vietnam. Similar woes today are directly tied to the massive expenditures in Iraq and, now, Afghanistan. It’s not avoidable.

104

Doctor Slack 10.30.09 at 9:46 pm

(And LBJ at least had the Great Society reforms to his credit before his foolish escalation of Vietnam doomed him. Obama has done nothing to compare.)

105

Substance McGravitas 10.30.09 at 9:47 pm

101: “Tax break” says it all. Big fucking deal.

Does this go to your knowledge of the realities of philosophy departments?

106

Ceri B. 10.30.09 at 9:49 pm

There are meaningful Obama administration accomplishment that make me really happy, like repealing the ban on abortion education in US medical relief spending abroad. And then we look home and find that no no no there mustn’t be any federal health coverage for abortion. I care that the US is no longer committed to a health policy abroad resting on lies and misrepresentation…but I care too that our federal government is insistently denying any obligation to help with a very important service for our own citizens right here. And it goes like that.

There are issues of particular concern to me because I belong to this or that affect group, some large, some small. But I don’t think that even really cool gains for any particular little segment of the population are likely to matter much if we’re stuck with continued collapse into latter-day feudalism with endless war. Anyone doing focused advocacy needs to balance it off with some attention to the big picture, or it all goes to hell.

107

John Emerson 10.30.09 at 9:53 pm

Tax breaks is the Republican answer for everything, for Christ’s sakes. The ones who need help the most are exactly the ones who won’t get it.

Everyone here but you came into the Obama Admministration hoping for some big changes from the previous administration, which was possibly the worst administration in American history and achieved some enormous degradations of American life. We haven’t seen any of those changes. You can throw out as many small things as you want, and it’s not going to help.

Obama really had some historic opportunities, but instead of seizing them he basically asked Olympia Snowe what to do.

108

John Emerson 10.30.09 at 9:56 pm

Ceri B. points to one of the disastrous weaknesses of the Democratic Party since about 1950 — conceiving of the electorate purely and simply as a collection of interest groups to be bought off piecemeal.

109

Substance McGravitas 10.30.09 at 9:56 pm

But I don’t think that even really cool gains for any particular little segment of the population are likely to matter much if we’re stuck with continued collapse into latter-day feudalism with endless war.

I agree entirely. Obama will have to fight to win re-election.

110

Substance McGravitas 10.30.09 at 10:07 pm

Tax breaks is the Republican answer for everything, for Christ’s sakes.

So you would rescind the mentioned break? I mean, I’m for a progressive tax code – soak the rich! – and a liberal society and tax credits for education seem like a reasonable thing even if I acknowledge the bullshit theatre around such a thing.

111

Tom Bach 10.30.09 at 10:13 pm

For the record, I didn’t expect anything but moderate centricism from Obama. Even if one did its been 6 months; give him a year to turn America into a populist paradise.

112

John Emerson 10.30.09 at 10:14 pm

I’ve lost touch with your point, Substance. Our accusation is that Obama has fumbled the big things while doing a bunch of little things. Do you disagree?

One reason we feel so strongly (or at least, I do) is that if we got everything we wanted, it would be nothing more than a return to the status quo ante. We’re not demanding historic progress, just a little remediation.

There remains a possibility that the health care bill will be actual progress. The possibility also remains that the insurance companies will succeed in getting a health care bill that’s worse than nothing — bad policy and political poison. That game is being played right now, and Obama’s performance has been crappy so far.

113

Ceri B. 10.30.09 at 10:16 pm

A tax credit for college is exactly the sort of thing I think of as not helping in the big picture: it moves the margin of who can afford college now some, and that’s good. But it provides no incentive to colleges to manage their budgets differently, nor any incentive to employers to consider something other than the growing reliance on degrees in more and more fields. So it lets more people keep propping a system that cannot be sustained.

I’m not opposed to amelioration, but I’d like it much more strongly tied (indeed, tied at all) to actual reform.

114

Substance McGravitas 10.30.09 at 10:36 pm

I’ve lost touch with your point, Substance. Our accusation is that Obama has fumbled the big things while doing a bunch of little things. Do you disagree?

Yes, I disagree that this is what I am taking issue with. I maintain that what he has produced is meaningful, you do not. I buy pretty much everything you and Slack and Ceri are saying policy-wise thus far. Still, the goodies Obama has produced are coming out in dribs and drabs, but I think they help people live, and not go bankrupt or to prison or die. Unless you’re one of those suspicious types, alas.

115

Henri Vieuxtemps 10.30.09 at 10:51 pm

they help people live, and not go bankrupt or to prison or die

But of course. He’s one of those “sane evil people”, as Jon Schwarz calls them.

116

John Emerson 10.30.09 at 10:51 pm

Well, if I say “One step forward, two steps back” I’m not saying that the step forward is meaningless. Just that on the net, we’ve lost ground. Obama is ratifying a lot of the Bush program. You seem to think that the one step is a big deal.

117

Substance McGravitas 10.30.09 at 11:08 pm

You seem to think that the one step is a big deal.

Size is relative, as many people have said to me. I am arguing that the one step is some sort of deal: a meaningful thing. I guess I get to say that on marijuana he’s moved further forward than the last Democratic president.

118

John Emerson 10.30.09 at 11:11 pm

As far as I can tell, there’s been no net so far. “Less bad than Bush” is hardly progress.

The latest on TV is that healthcare is likely to be gutted. There’s a real possibility of producing a worse-than-nothing bill. This could be real forward progress, but everything I’ve heard about Obama’s role as been bad.

119

Substance McGravitas 10.30.09 at 11:48 pm

As far as I can tell, there’s been no net so far.

If you mean “nothing has been done” that’s false. I’m agreed with you about health care not looking so hot. We’ll see.

120

Substance McGravitas 10.30.09 at 11:54 pm

Your argument in compact form, my emphasis:

WASHINGTON — The National Endowment for the Arts and National Endowment for the Humanities are expected to receive their highest levels of funding in 16 years from a bill President Barack Obama is expected to sign into law by this weekend.

121

John Emerson 10.30.09 at 11:58 pm

In all seriousness, screw The Arts and screw The Humanities. They’re nice things, but that other stuff dwarfs them.

122

Doctor Slack 10.31.09 at 12:29 am

The position that “dribs and drabs” are meaningful or substantive is not meaningful or substantive. With all due respect to your (excellent, by the way) pseudonym.

123

jeremy 10.31.09 at 12:34 am

it might be worth mentioning (i don’t know…maybe it’s not) richard bernstein’s own take on goldberg’s book: http://www.nytimes.com/2008/01/30/world/americas/30iht-letter.1.9602546.html

124

Keith 10.31.09 at 1:16 am

I’d rather be disappointed by Obama than disgusted, humiliated, and embarrassed by Bush. So we’re already in the plus category on his achievements, even if he hasn’t brought about Utopia 10 months into his first term.

125

John Emerson 10.31.09 at 1:22 am

Yeah, “better than Bush” is enough. “Undoing what Bush did” is Utopian. And when someone consistently makes the wrong choices for ten months, you should wait another few years.

I hate Democrats. I hate liberals. I just told the Troll of Sorrow to fuck off, but he’s right.

126

Martin Bento 10.31.09 at 2:16 am

The problem is up until now most liberals held that the abuses of Bush were really just Bush, not America. Those with a little more insight thought the problem was the Republican Party, not America. Obama has destroyed those positions. Now a nightmarish disregard for the civil liberties that theoretically underpin the whole system and an alert slavishness to the demands of Wall Street is thoroughly bipartisan. Because of Obama, none of this can any longer be regarded as an aberration. It is what America is.

127

engels 10.31.09 at 3:07 am

Yes, but apart from the stimulus, non-Federalist-Society Supreme Court justice, honest-to-god diplomacy, pullback on prosecuting medical marijuana operations, pullback on torture, the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, Honduras, HIV Travel Ban, Stimulus that wasn’t all tax cuts, Re-establishing oversight on intelligence gathering, Hate Crimes and Health Care with P.O. what have the Romans ever given us?

Why doesn’t Obama go after the bankers?

128

Substance McGravitas 10.31.09 at 3:37 am

Stanford University $586,557

Home of the positive and constructive Hoover Institution with Thomas “Obama is Hitler!” Sowell

129

John Emerson 10.31.09 at 3:42 am

I don’t get the joke, Engels.

130

Doctor Slack 10.31.09 at 5:01 am

In the Monty Python movie, it was funny because the guy was listing impressive achievements. And didn’t have to repeat any of them to pad it out.

“Utopia.” Honestly.

131

Ceri B. 10.31.09 at 9:59 am

Engels: I absolutely refuse to grant things like “pullback on torture”. We’re getting cosmetic gestures. Where are the full and open investigations, and prosecutions of high-ranking officials who have confessed/bragged of their role in war crimes? When do we find out what’s been going on in Bagram AFB and elsewhere? Where are the statements that of course piece-of-shit rationales like Yoo’s and Addington’s aren’t sufficient cover and that no one who conspired to violate treaty and constitution can expect safety from the law? Where are the new constraints on the use of mercenaries and prison-industrial complex bruisers to do our dirty work?

Likewise with “Re-establishing oversight on intelligence gathering”. I’ve missed immunity repeals, or anything of that sort that might impose any real constraint on the administration doing whatever it damn well pleases. I’ve also missed the administration ceasing to make extraordinarily broad claims of executive privilege and the like to keep its secrets. Kind words do not do it.

At bottom for me it’s pretty simple: an administration that can make war this way is an administration that nobody should trust to do anything else reliably morally or legally. It’s not that there’s nothing to like in what they’re doing, it’s that there’s no reason to trust any of it to last the moment it conflicts with the imperatives of empire.

132

Ceri B. 10.31.09 at 10:04 am

Martin Bento: Yes, exactly. Various of us are dealing with this in various ways, but that is the basic trauma at hand.

133

engels 10.31.09 at 11:32 am

Remember, kids, if we all just hate at the same time and with sufficient intensity, then, and only then, will things will finally start to change. And jokes are a tool of ideological state repression.

‘Undoing what Bush did’ over eight years in nine months probably is ‘utopian’. For the record I am not a fan of Obama and said people here were massively over-estimating him before the election, at which time I was accused of being ‘cynical’. I think Tariq Ali put it nicely: Augustus was a better emperor than Nero.

134

engels 10.31.09 at 11:50 am

Ceri, I didn’t mean to seriously endorse every one of those points, I had just pasted in comments made by others in order to make a joke. Which thanks to Slack and Emerson I now realise was Not Funny.

135

engels 10.31.09 at 1:03 pm

(I think your points in #131 are good ones.)

136

John Emerson 10.31.09 at 1:15 pm

Engels, you were really relying on your name a bit much. Without your name attached your comment would have been pure and simple Obama-loyalist trollery. I did ask myself “Is this the Engels I know?” and couldn’t be sure wthat it wasn’t.

With Obama the intention doesn’t seem to be there, judging by the bipartisan fetish (with solid Congressional majorities) but also judging by some of Obama’s actions, specifically by the justice department. And usually the beginning of a term is when things get done.

I wasn’t expecting much from Obama, but there’s a lot of uncertainty in human life, and you can always hope. So I’m just returning to my previous glumness and anger, in the awareness that Obama is unlikely to improve much, and very likelly will be succeeded by someone worse. But my previous state was no fun, and this negative phase now seems likely to last longer than I will.

So probably Bento’s right. I’ll never really have a sense of humor about that.

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Mario Diana 10.31.09 at 2:12 pm

Substance McGravitas @ 128

I clicked your “Thomas ‘Obama is Hitler’ Sowell” link and reviewed every entry on the first page of hits that Google returned. Not a single link there implies in the slightest that Thomas Sowell likens President Obama to Adolf Hitler.

In one case, some wacko comments posted make references like these. In one other case, the link summary says something about “similarities,” but there is no indication where that comes from, because Hitler is neither mentioned in the article or even in Google’s cached page of the article.

In the other articles the name, Obama, appears somewhere in one context and the name, Hitler, appears somewhere else in a completely different context. That’s the summary of the Google search you supplied.

I know that you realize — as any educated person familiar with searching on the Internet must — that searching “Obama+Hitler+whomever” will return all sorts of things. In separating the wheat from the chaff you may find yourself left with nothing but chaff, as in this case. As such, I’m skeptical as to whether yours is an honest mistake. More likely, you would have the reader conclude that Thomas Sowell is just another hysterical tea bag protester. Shame on you.

If you don’t like the man, why not simply accuse him of being a “fascist”? There is precedent for that kind of slander; moreover, the casual reader is much more likely to be discouraged from reviewing the author’s entire corpus to see whether or not the label holds up.

You may find you’ll have better luck that way.

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Substance McGravitas 10.31.09 at 2:49 pm

I clicked your “Thomas ‘Obama is Hitler’ Sowell” link and reviewed every entry on the first page of hits that Google returned. Not a single link there implies in the slightest that Thomas Sowell likens President Obama to Adolf Hitler.

Well Mario, since you don’t appear to understand what “liberal fascism” is intended to convey, I’m unsurprised that you don’t get the drift of it.

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Ceri B. 10.31.09 at 3:02 pm

Engels: Genuinely sorry I missed your intent. It’s just very difficult to manage sometimes, and it’s not because of the limits of text so much as because of the genuine craziness of our social/intellectual environment. People I have respected seize up and commit to amazingly stupid, wrong things routinely, and people I never did respect nonetheless astonish me with the depths of their revealed vileness. It’s very hard to have any foundation of trust on which to build the expectations against which humorous juxtaposition could happen.

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jeremy 10.31.09 at 7:58 pm

john: i just found an earlier post-1980 use of “liberal fascism,” in 1987, by jeffrey hart in national review: http://www.thefreelibrary.com/Ethnophobia,+heterophobia+&+liberal+fascism.-a04665094

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John Quiggin 10.31.09 at 8:13 pm

Thanks, Jeremy.

Reading this piece, it’s also clear that it would have used “politically correct” as a jibe if that term had been current in rightwing discussions. A possible analysis is that “liberal fascism” was on the rise, but was displaced by “political correctness”, which could be (mis)represented as a leftwing self-description.

Now that “political correctness” has been worn out, to the point where, as noted above, it can be reappropriate as a favorable term (“If it’s politically correct to oppose racism, then I’m politically correct”), “liberal fascism” is having its long-delayed day in the sun.

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Martin Bento 10.31.09 at 11:31 pm

Keith at #46. No doubt some of the young hippyish will turn conservative as some of the originals did. I doubt “most” , based on my personal observations, which is not much of a basis, but I take it that was your basis as well.

Why the hippies and not the beats? Well, the hippies changed the world, while the beats arguably had some influence on literature. Our liberal divorce laws are pretty hard to picture absent the 60’s “sexual revolution”, and that alone has changed the world for good and ill. Many or most of the prominent beats were openly homosexual (Ginsberg, Burroughs, et al) and fiercely homoerotic in their writing. Accomplished little for gay rights, though. Homosexuality was less or less openly a part of hippiedom, yet Stonewall emerged in the hippy era, probably as an accidental by-product of an atmosphere or rebellion that made it thinkable to fight back physically against “The Man”.

As for why, well, the time was more ripe, but also by adopting music rather than literature as their iconic art form, the hippies were able to reach through the media to a larger mass. Hippiedom, in at least in superficial manifestations, was briefly the mainstream culture of youth and popular music.

Punk is an interesting third case to look at, but I don’t know that anyone else is interested in this discussion, and it is wandering off from the topic.

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John Emerson 11.01.09 at 12:04 am

The beats were like precursors. 1940-1955 that culture was concentrated in tiny enclaves in Manhattan, San Francisco, and very few other places. The hippie thing was a new development from that root. It was new, though, and the hippies I knew back in the day didn’t especially like the grumbly old beats.

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Tim Wilkinson 11.01.09 at 9:24 am

JQ @141, ‘Liberal fascism’ is in some ways more apt in any case, since of the actually articulated complaints about ‘PC’, one of the most strident and effective is loosely based on freedom of speech. The use of ‘fascism’ is probably good news if, as I suspect, one net effect is to draw attention to such hard legal and constitutional issues rather than more nebulous matters of social pressure, informal orthodoxy and related personality-based snipes. Even better, it’s very Rick from the Young Ones (#51) or Stan/Loretta from the Judean People’s Front(#127) to be crying ‘fascist’, especially when the target of such petulant hyperbole is at the same time characterised as effete (or more idiomatically, fags).

The best response to ‘free speech’-based handwaving is to point out that the complainer is in fact quite free to troll/columnise/discuss ludicrous racial theories on Question Time, and is just upset at being disdained, disliked, or challenged, i.e. is a whingeing bedwetter. The role of underdog is after all perilously close to that of ‘loser’. (There could even be a bumper sticker in there somewhere.)

The effectiveness of such an approach is reduced though, if some bunch of morons decide to go round banning ‘hate speech’ and locking people up. (I hate those morons and so should you – go on, hate them.) On the other hand, perhaps the muscular-moron approach might attract those voters whose (passive-)authoritarian/macho tendencies are the main reason for a policy-independent dislike of ‘liberals’. Some sort of uniform could perhaps be devised.

National Review: “Heterophobia, hatred of the normal” and “ethnophobia, or hatred of one’s own ethnic group” – brilliant. Lack of Greek is one thing (I understand some quite respectable people have none these days), but to devise those and peg an article on them takes an impressive lack of interest in what words actually mean. But then I suppose it’s a good-to-safe bet that they are based on the similarly unhappy ‘homophobia’. I hadn’t realised it had been around that long – but then the UK tends to lag behind such trends by a fair few years.

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rich 11.01.09 at 1:30 pm

I first encountered the use of the term “politically correct” or PC on the University of Wisconsin campus — in 1983.

It was used by liberals to critique fellow liberals who thought it useful or bright to run around policing allies for insufficient solidarity with a generally hard-left stance, esp regarding policies revolving around women’s rights, gay rights, the anti-Apartheid movement, a pro-multi-culti/diversity outlook, or an anti-Reagan politics in general. None of which appeared particularly radical to me at the time (because they’re conservative in their adherence to Constitutional values).

Point being, politically incorrect is and always has been a contradiction in terms: how can anyone possibly be political and incorrect at the same time?? Political opinions have always been intractable in character and infinite in variation, and by definition under our Constitution, none of them can be correct, as they’re all always contested.

Calling someone “politically incorrect!” because they disagree with you, no matter how right you are about the rights of various parties or the wrongness of a given foreign policy, is just an attempt to keep someone in line without exploring the more interesting aspects of an issue at a more detailed and difficult level. It’s a rhetorical trump card. But no opinion is more ‘correct’ than any other in an arena fraught with interpersonal politics and politics defined more broadly: any political position has to battle it out for primacy — not be granted an ideological throne based on some code word used to police one’s allies by some self-appointed guardian of a puritanical position within an already degraded discourse.

Adherence to Constitutional principles may render political positions worthy and accurate and consistent with the system that upholds

So — in the usage I had seen, PC had been wielded, with a great degree of irony, against liberals who’d gone overboard with the dogma. It was then misunderstood by those ideologues and adopted by them, and further misunderstood by the national commentariat (George Will & Co.), who had no sense of humor and no conception of irony and mischaracterize both the multi-culti ‘left’ and the meaning and origin of the term ‘PC’ itself.

So simple. So easy to grasp.

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Tim Wilkinson 11.01.09 at 3:09 pm

rich, I think some text may have disappeared at the point where the italics kicked in (at the same time as what?). But a couple of of remarks:

It’s a rhetorical trump card. But…any political position has to battle it out for primacy—- not be granted an ideological throne
How does the rule ‘PCs are trumps’ gain its unfair (boo hoo, widdle piddle) authority over those who don’t agree? Or: what plays the role of a sovereign’s use or theat of force in your ‘enthronement’ metaphor (see #144)? Or: what makes ‘PC’ something other than a move in the battle for primacy among political positions? Why can it not be countered by ordinary argumentative means, instead requiring something like appeal to an umpire/parent figure?

PC had been wielded, with a great degree of irony, against liberals who’d gone overboard with the dogma. It was then misunderstood by those ideologues and adopted by them, and further misunderstood by the national commentariat (George Will & Co.), who had no sense of humor and no conception of irony
Finding it less than simple to grasp what the posited second layer of misunderstanding consists of – it looks as though the first misunderstanding does all the work. See in any case #44.

More generally, I thought the main element of the views labelled ‘PC’ (with or without various kinds of ever-so-subtle irony) is the idea that certain terms, jokes, concepts, practices etc have implicit meanings or presuppositions that are (as you point out, mostly uncontroversially) unacceptable if made explicit. Thus attacks aganst ‘PC’ from the right commonly take (or used to take) the form of examples, mostly spurious, in which such implicit meanings were wrongly attributed, e.g. ‘bah bah white sheep’ etc, rather than suggesting that the substantive politics were at fault (‘Yes, the accusation of racism is accurate and relevant to my opinions – but who made anti-racism trumps?’).

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Tim Wilkinson 11.01.09 at 4:33 pm

rich, I think some text may have disappeared at the point where the italics kicked in (‘at the same time’ as what?). But a couple of of remarks:

*It’s a rhetorical trump card. But…any political position has to battle it out for primacy—- not be granted an ideological throne*
How does the rule ‘PCs are trumps’ gain its unfair (boo hoo, widdle piddle) authority over those who don’t agree? Or: what plays the role of a sovereign’s use or theat of force in your ‘enthronement’ metaphor (see #144)? Or: what makes ‘PC’ something other than a move in the battle for primacy among political positions? Why can it not be countered by ordinary argumentative means, instead requiring something like appeal to an umpire/parent figure?

*PC had been wielded, with a great degree of irony, against liberals who’d gone overboard with the dogma. It was then misunderstood by those ideologues and adopted by them, and further misunderstood by the national commentariat (George Will & Co.), who had no sense of humor and no conception of irony*
Finding it less than simple to grasp what the posited second layer of misunderstanding consists of – it looks as though the first misunderstanding does all the work. See in any case #44.

More generally, I thought the main element of the views labelled ‘PC’ (with or without various kinds of ever-so-subtle irony) is the idea that certain terms, jokes, concepts, practices etc have implicit meanings or presuppositions that are (as you point out, mostly uncontroversially) unacceptable if made explicit. Thus attacks aganst ‘PC’ from the right commonly take (or used to take) the form of examples, mostly spurious, in which such implicit meanings were wrongly attributed, e.g. ‘bah bah white sheep’ etc, rather than suggesting that the substantive politics were at fault (‘Yes, the accusation of racism is accurate and relevant to my opinions – but who made anti-racism trumps?’).

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Tim Wilkinson 11.01.09 at 6:23 pm

before after

…just trying to close that/those italics tag(s). Probably won’t work.

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John Quiggin 11.01.09 at 9:22 pm

I don’t know what happened with the italics, but it’s fixed now I think.

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Tim Wilkinson 11.01.09 at 9:58 pm

Thanks though, I now have the appearance of repeating myself with increasing insistence. Also revealed the missing text in rich’s #146 : ‘how can anyone possibly be political *and incorrect* at the same time’. The para as a whole depends on some highly questionable (dare I say incorrect?) philosophy, but never mind.

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rich 11.02.09 at 4:58 am

Tim @ 146 —
I don’t see any missing text, and I can offer a quick clarifier to part of your query there, though not in great depth tonight (see next paragraph). On your comment @ 150, it is incorrect to surmise that “the para as a whole depends on some highly questionable (dare [you] say incorrect?) philosophy” — perhaps at another juncture my observations can be elaborated, but for now responsibility is borne by the reader to do their share of the lifting.

Returning to your initial query:
me: It’s [used as] a rhetorical trump card. But…any political position has to battle it out for primacy—- not be granted an ideological throne….

Tim: How does the rule ‘PCs are trumps’ gain its unfair (boo hoo, widdle piddle) authority over those who don’t agree?

I didn’t say it was successful. Nor did I offer some plaint of unfair treatment or claim to have suffered merely because some self-appointed guardian of political purity among the like-minded has so little political acuity or so few interpersonal skills as to actually presume to condescend to tell their peers what does and does not qualify as thinkable thought on a given issue (without examining its real-world complexities). Nor for that matter, more currently, is any authority conferred on peers with so little intellectual heft or awareness of interpersonal politics that they feel free to presume to condescend to know and disrespect the ‘philosophy’ on which a paragraph I penned must in your view ‘depend’ (without doing the responsible, readerly work of examining that text from a range of angles).

Not sure where you’re comin’ from, Tim. I was not responding to your comment @ #144. I had not read it. But a passing familiarity with rhetoric or a handful of poststructuralist texts, or for that matter a few key texts falling squarely within what was once considered the canonical patrimony, would easily situate what I was getting at within the realm of the correct (accurate)— if not the unquestionable(!) (clause contingent on your ability to get the joke there).

Point being, ‘politically incorrect’ is not a matter of etiquette. Nor could ‘enforcement’ of this particular worldview ever remotely begin to approach some variant of ‘fascism’. Initially used as a highly effective critique of the left by the left, it handily exposed many self-important ideologues who could not distinguish between political difference and retrograde anti-Constitutionalist heresy — and who did presume to enforce their party line of choice. Those serious folks doing the policing, missing any sense of irony and entirely missing the pointed contradiction in terms inherent in the phrase, soon adopted the term as a rhetorical trump card, and used it sincerely and ineffectively. The phrase was subsequently adopted by the ilk of George Will, who also misunderstood its the term as badly as he misunderstood progressive politics.

You may have to divest yourself of some disciplinary baggage, Tim, to fully appreciate the normative usage of the term. Multiple views on a single issue about which there is general agreement should signal that no one opinion among those perspectives can be held up as the “politically correct” perspective. The point of free expression is that no single human arbiter of sound opinion, thinkable thought or effective policy is really reliable. The point of politics is that it is opinionated and subjective, consisting of more than a statistically-verified body of facts. One viewpoint may win out as the result of the exercise of power, and another opinion may be inconsistent with Constitutional principles, but none are ‘correct’ or ‘incorrect’ in a contested political arena. (I’d go on to argue, however, that our core Constitutional principles form a social commons and a set of rules for engagement, and hotly contested opinions may describe accurately or be consistent with that framework; such political positions may be termed politically correct, without risk of aneurysm or seizure).

Couple additional responses:
Or: what plays the role of a sovereign’s use or theat of force in your ‘enthronement’ metaphor (see #144)?

No one plays “the role of a sovereign,” nor assumes to wield the “sovereign’s use or threat of force.” Why would they? Don’t know what you’re getting at here. Think small ‘e’ ‘enthronement’ within the average use of language, not Big Allegory Enthronement. We’re talking rhetoric and argument-ending tactics here, not literary tropes in Spenser’s Faerie Queene.

Or, labeling something ‘PC’ does not end the debate, and no one needs to wield concrete power or literal threats for anyone to realize this.

Or: what makes ‘PC’ something other than a move in the battle for primacy among political positions? Why can it not be countered by ordinary argumentative means, instead requiring something like appeal to an umpire/parent figure?

Who requires appeal to an umpire or authority? Ordinary means are enough, are they not? The misuse of the term is so patently crude that it’d be weak, if the compulsion for political control wasn’t so virulent.

I don’t believe I said ‘PC’ was something other than “a move in the battle for primacy”; I said it was often an ineffectual, self-contradictory and off-target move that chose in-fighting among allies and later handed all its ammunition to the conservatives it loathed. Those conservatives proceeded to get the term and its usage and the political positions of the left completely wrong, of course, waving the bloody shirt or straw man of supposedly dogmatic liberals in the national media and making much hay in the process. Why look, now that the careers of George Will, Sarah Palin and Calvin Thomas are at their zenith, having won universal admiration and unimaginable influence, we can sit back and assess how they’ve wielded all that power to win for gays and folks of color and white men too the full slate of creator-endowed liberties guaranteed in teh Constitution but gutted in practice that conservaties so espouse.

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Tim Wilkinson 11.02.09 at 5:46 pm

Sorry about the hit-and-run slight on grounds of philosophical questionability (I did of course get the ‘joke’, by the way) – I don’t usually do that and had misgivings (proportionate to the importance of the matter) after submitting in haste. Your daintily aggressive response, rich, allays those.

I mean, Nor for that matter, more currently, is any authority conferred on peers with so little intellectual heft or awareness of interpersonal politics that they feel free to presume to condescend to know and disrespect the ‘philosophy’ on which a paragraph I penned must in your view ‘depend’ (without doing the responsible, readerly work of examining that text from a range of angles).? What’s this flurry of wrist-slaps, rich?

That’s another example, by the way, rich, of the ‘bedwetting’ gambit I was experimenting with. It may work quite well if it prompts conservatives to claim that no opinion can be correct in politics. If they tie themselves in knots over the basis of that claim – whether it’s a matter of definition, or guaranteed by the wording of certain US constitutional documents, or derived from the constitutive norms of politics, or true in virtue of the prevalence of disagreement, or derived from the purpose of free expression (according to some correct though contestable doctrine), so much the better. Having said that, if they hold that opinions on what the Constitution says can be correct, it won’t have worked so well, since most things can probably be pegged on the Constitution in one way or another.

Still, rich, repudiation of the metaphors of power (trumps that don’t, thrones with no monarchy, policing without power) is a good sign that the tactic could have some impact, and could conceivably be used to prompt the right-wing ideologues to backtrack on their ‘fascism’ allusions. As you say, ordinary means should be enough – so the retort to “that’s racist (which is un-PC)” is “no, it’s fine”, rather than “Don’t police me with your enthroned trump cards, you dogmatist! The likes of you have no right to scrutinise my utterances!”, still less “you are presuming to tell me what is a thinkable thought”. Of course you were hardly the ideal guinea-pig since you seem relatively reasonable, and the right-wing ideologues are anything but.

Just a quick clarification, though, rich. You said: I don’t believe I said ‘PC’ was something other than “a move in the battle for primacy”. Sorry, rich, I must have misinterpreted the import of: any political position has to battle it out for primacy— not be granted an ideological throne. I had it down as drawing a contrast between ‘battling it out’ and ‘being granted a throne’, and the latter as characterising the way ‘PC’ operates.

In the end I suppose there was a certain degree of cross-talk since I’m referring to the substantive content of ‘PC’ as currently imputed, and as it need not be repudiated, viz. as being basically right and defensible (as JQ put it, “if ‘PC’ means not being racist, I’m PC.”). On this view, ‘PC’ is not really about the evaluation of political positions, but about identifying the political content of various supposedly innocent locutions. Once that is done, the political matters in question are, as a matter of fact, relatively uncontroversial at least at the level of lip-service. Maybe they rest on the bedrock of constitutional principle? I was also treating your criticisms as if emanating from political opponents, rather than from allies protesting a failure of intra-movement dialogue, which makes some difference, though if anything it makes the objection to the very idea of a correct position (rather than to, say, overly rigid fixation on trivial manifesto details) rather harder to sustain, I’d have thought.

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Henri Vieuxtemps 11.03.09 at 11:09 am

“Social fascism” comes from Stalin. Here is Trotsky disagreeing that social democracy (liberalism?) is fascism:

…with Stalin’s words, “Fascism is the military organization of the bourgeoisie which leans upon the Social Democracy for active support. The Social Democracy, objectively speaking, is the moderate wing of fascism.” Objectively speaking, it is a habit with Stalin, when he attempts to generalize, to contradict the first phrase by the second and to conclude in the second what doesn’t at all follow from the first There is no debating that the bourgeoisie leans on the Social Democracy, and that fascism is a military organization of the bourgeoisie; and this has been remarked upon a long time ago. The only conclusion which follows from this is that the Social Democracy as well as fascism are the tools of the big bourgeoisie. How the Social Democracy becomes thereby also a “wing” of fascism is incomprehensible. Equally profound is another observation by the same author: fascism and Social Democracy are not enemies, they are twins. Now twins may be the bitterest enemies; while on the other hand, allies need not be born necessarily on one and the same day and from identical parents. Stalin’s constructions lack even formal logic, to say nothing of dialectics. Their strength lies in the fact that none dares challenge them.

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