Posts Tagged ‘centrism’

“The interpretation of fascism as an instrument of big business has been classic since Daniel Guerin. But the seriousness of his analysis conceals a central error. Most of the “marxist” studies maintain the idea that, in spite of everything, fascism was avoidable in 1922 or 1933. Fascism is reduced to a weapon used by capitalism at a certain moment. According to these studies capitalism would not have turned to fascism if the workers’ movement had exercised sufficient pressure rather than displaying its sectarianism. Of course we wouldn’t have had a “revolution”, but at least Europe would have been spared Nazism, the camps, etc. Despite some very accurate observations on social classes, the State, and the connection between fascism and big business, this perspective succeeds in missing the point that fascism was the product of a double failure; the defeat of the revolutionaries who were crushed by the social democrats and their liberal allies; followed by the failure of the liberals and social democrats to manage Capital effectively. The nature of fascism and its rise to power remain incomprehensible without studying the class struggles of the preceding period and their limitations.”

– Gilles Dauve, Fascism/Antifascism. Translation of 

« Bilan » Contre-Révolution en Espagne. Edmonton, Black Cat Press: 1982. 

(via forestrebel)

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Famous Moments in History, Reimagined By Centrists

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“In the six months since the election of Donald Trump, American liberals have managed to regroup, assembling themselves into a self-styled “Resistance” and attempting to reassert control over a world they no longer recognize. But something happened out there in the desert. There is something off about them now. On every level, our most prominent technocrats have entered the new year like uncanny valley copies of themselves, stuttering and miming their old habits, with each take trying to remember what their lives felt like before the accident. They can’t quite get the message right. For months, serious journalists studied The Origins of Totalitarianism like a divination manual, wondering when Trump would pass his enabling act. First, the president was a fascist, until he failed to consolidate power. Then he was an authoritarian, until he showed no interest in micro- or macro-management. Then he merely had authoritarian tendencies, or something, and at any rate was probably a Kremlin agent.

The situation is no better on television. Rachel Maddow, once the charming spokesperson of a kinder world, crazily unveils tax returns she found in Al Capone’s vault. Keith Olbermann — never charming but at least self-confident — now squats on the floor in promotional photos, swaddled in an American flag. The newer stars of the left — the Louise Mensches and Eric Garlands — are using game theory to outwit invisible Soviet assassins. Elected Democrats are paralyzed. They repeat, over and over, that none of this is normal, commit themselves to the fight, and then roll over, confirming the president’s appointments, praising the beauty of a missile strike, or begging the FBI to save them. Hillary Clinton emerges from the woods to blame Jim Comey, the DNC, and the Russians for her loss, and the day before the United States withdraws from the Paris Climate Agreement, she tweets a covfefe joke.

On television, in journals, in the halls of Congress, none of the old methods by which American liberals enforced their claim to superior expertise are working anymore. For all their “resistance,” the greatest impediment to Donald Trump remains his own stupidity. Despite every evil and crime of his administration, the most ambitious Democratic victory on the horizon is making Mike Pence president. Our liberals are right: none of this is normal. This isn’t how it used to be. Everywhere, our best and brightest blink. Are they still in the desert? Is all this an hallucination, a bad dream?

So far, critics of contemporary liberalism have attributed all of this disorder to the shock of our recent election. It’s just the ordinary chaos, they insist, that follows an unexpected loss. But something deeper is amiss. Something was lost in the confusion after they crashed into November, and nothing, not even future victories, will bring it back. This breakdown has been a long time coming. These last few months have only made it more obvious, and more complete. What happened?


The most significant development in the past 30 years of liberal self-conception was the replacement of politics understood as an ideological conflict with politics understood as a struggle against idiots unwilling to recognize liberalism’s monopoly on empirical reason. The trouble with liberalism’s enemies was no longer that they were evil, although they might be that too. The problem, reinforced by Daily Kos essays in your Facebook feed and retweeted Daily Show clips, was that liberalism’s enemies were factually wrong about the world. Just take a look at this chart …

This shift was a necessary accommodation to the fact that, beginning with Bill Clinton, the slim ideological differences that existed between the Democrats and the GOP were replaced with differences of style. Clinton’s “Third Way” promised to be every bit the dupe-servant of war and profit its rivals were, but to do it with the measured confidence of an expert. The New Democrats would destroy the labor movement, but sigh about it. They would frown while they voted to authorize the next war. They would make only the concessions necessary to bolster the flailing engine of finance capital, but they would do it with the latest research in the world. The point, as Jonathan Chait made clear in his 2005 manifesto for this new liberalism, “Fact Finders,” was not the moral content of any particular policy, but the fact that liberals in the 21st century were open to evidence, whereas conservatives were not. “The contrast between economic liberalism and economic conservatism,” he wrote, “ultimately lies […] in different epistemologies. Liberalism is a more deeply pragmatic governing philosophy — more open to change, more receptive to empiricism, and ultimately better at producing policies that improve the human condition.” It is not a coincidence that Chait’s essay quickly devolves into a defense of welfare reform.

Liberalism remained slightly kinder than pure reaction — not quite so racist, not so terribly brutal to the poor — but even these commitments were subsumed by the ideology of pure competence. Bigotry wasn’t evil, it was just stupid, an impediment to growth. Health care reform and the welfare state were not moral necessities, they were the best means of keeping workers healthy and productive. The notion that knowledge asymmetries lay at the root of all political conflict was quickly transmuted into the basis of policy itself. If liberals became masters of the world due to their superior respect for facts, then education — not redistribution — was the only hope for the dispossessed. If liberals believed in climate change because scientists told them they should, then the trouble was not the metastatic excesses of capital but the failure of reactionaries to bow to empirical consensus.

The result was an American political movement whose center was a moral void. When John Kerry spoke out against the death penalty, his opposition was based in flawed application — the punishment just wasn’t smart. When he criticized Bush’s handling of the War in Iraq, his position was similar: he would continue the war but be more strategic about it. When Kerry lost, American liberals opined that there were just too many rubes out there. They would have voted better — smarter — if only they had had the right data visualizations in front of them. When Barack Obama won, and then passed the Heritage Foundation’s health care policy while carrying out a drone war responsible for the incineration of children in half a dozen sovereign nations, he did it while remaining the smartest guy in the room. That was what mattered. At the dawn of the 21st century, we stood on the doorstep of a permanent managerial world order. The wonks just needed to finish explaining it to the rest of us.”

– Emmett Rensin, “The Blathering Superego at the End of History,” LA Review of Books. June 18, 2017.

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