Friday, August 31, 2012

my TotE review

So I have a review up of Twilight of the Elites, over at The New Inquiry, which you can check out. Chris Hayes, with typical equanimity, tweets about it:

Perhaps it doesn't come off in the review, but to be plain: my affection and respect for Hayes are very real. It's hard for me to envision liking and respecting a prominent figure in the media more. He's brilliant and committed and incorruptible, and I don't give false praise.

My fundamental point in the review is only that Hayes is perfectly emblematic of mainstream American liberalism; he has an analytical take on our current predicament that implies far more radicalism than he is willing to countenance in his prescriptions. Honestly: I'm impressed and enthused by just how scathing the conventional liberal take on modern America is. They diagnose our problems, correctly, as coming from corporate and aristocratic capture. More and more often, in my experience, they arrive at the correct perspective that such capture by money is an inevitable consequence of our capitalism, at least, if not all capitalism. And then you say "So look, guys, we are not getting out of this mess through the system that you say has been captured," and you get that record-scratching stop.

What I am doing in my review is to take Hayes's argument seriously. I am suggesting that taking it seriously requires the consideration of the not-very-nice. I don't think that we can achieve the change Hayes wants without shitting on some people Hayes loves very much. I doubt we can achieve it without dashing my own dreams of a comfortable middle class parlor radical future.

Look at Kevin Drum. Dude makes some brutal criticisms of the American political system. You propose one solution that's more radical than, like, minimally tweaking the Earned Income Tax Credit, and he has a seizure. "No! Teh politics! Center-right country! Triangulation! Argle bargle!" And I just want to say, for fuck sakes, guys, do you want us to take your critique seriously or don't you? If Kevin Drum is correct in his role as analyst of our current predicament, then we're beyond little moves here. If the point is merely that we are likely to fail, that's okay. Meet me behind the shed, I'll bring the whiskey. I am not an optimist. But something is fundamentally not working here and I would rather take the chance of meeting exigence with appropriate effort.

I will take being accurate and being mean over the typical alternative, which is to be nice and useless. I do apologize to Hayes if he thinks that my ad hominem was intended to hurt his feelings. It rather was intended to make a point that he himself makes in the book: that he is a part of the system that he indicts, just as I am. (I am, indeed, a more direct participant.) That Hayes's social and personal relations contribute to a network of privilege is, again, a point that I doubt he would dispute. So what is illegitimate about my pointing it out? I'm not sure. Given the typical fury which attends my every attempt to interrogate the influence of the social in human power relationships, most people seem to intuitively see it that way.

I am an incredibly easy person to ignore, so if I'm wrong, it's whatever. If I'm right, then eventually mainstream liberalism is going to have to make hard choices. I'll give the reactionary lunatics who dominate the Republican party this: there is a perfect logic between the extremism of their diagnosis and the extremism of their prescription. And they don't care whose feelings they hurt.