Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Heightening the contradictions?

There is going to be a lot of Conservative soul searching in the next few years. Here is one piece in Forbes about Charles Kesler, the editor of the Claremont Review of Books. (H/t RealClear Politics)

As a result, liberalism, as well as the United States, finds itself at a historic crossroad.

President Obama’s decision to double down aggressively on the reach and cost of big government, just as the European model of social democracy is hitting the skids, provides the perfect opportunity for conservatives to exploit. His course makes the problems of liberalism worse and more urgent, as though he is eager for a crisis. Sooner or later, the crisis will come. If the people remain attached to their government and laws, and American statesmen do their part, the country may yet take the path leading up from liberalism.

Of course, this is very like the old Marxist idea of "heightening the contradictions" itself. It is just as likely to be reaching for straws of consolation in the circumstances. "The worse, the better" is not much of a response because it is indistinguishable from passivity and defeat.

One thing which struck me in the article, though, was this quote from Lyndon Johnson:

President Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society represents the third great Progressive wave. With the liberal label firmly in place, the goal was now qualitative – to rescue liberalism from the materialism of the New Deal and to empower government to add meaning to the lives of the average person. The Great Society would end poverty and assure abundance for all. But, that was no longer enough. As Johnson explained: “’But most of all, the Great Society is not a safe harbor, a resting place, a final objective, a finished work. It is a challenge constantly renewed, beckoning us toward a destination where the meaning of our lives matches the marvelous products of our labor.’”

This was surely a forlorn hope, but it is interesting he expressed it as such. (It might be useful to read Robert Caro on this, so I might get to that sometime). Liberalism had a conception of "the meaning of our lives" which largely extended to equality, and has trouble seeing anything beyond that. The good life is impartial neutrality and redistribution. And that's it.


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