“All God’s Children Got Values, by Michael Walzer, Dissent, Spring 2005, http://www.dissentmagazine.org/menutest/articles/sp05/walzer.htm (from MyDD).
I’ve written before how Fourth Generation War is applied to Fourth Generation Politics, and its first and second stages. This post looks at the final significant battle in the fourth generation struggle against American Liberalism — the battle for the Courts — and the reasons we have arrived here.
Liberalism had won: to begin with. There is no doubt about that. The register of its victory was signed by FDR, Truman, Kennedy, and Johnson. Carter signed it. And those names were good upon Law, for any bill they chose to put their names too. Liberalism had won.
The long and slow collapse of liberalism is the greatest political song of our time. A movement that had begun in intelligence and optimism is fighting its last battles. Liberalism is empty of thoughts and visions. It is now merely anti-Conservatism, like the fighters in Saigon in 1975 were merely anti-Hanoi. We are in the final years, if not the final months, of third stage of this four generation political battle. This war began in the 1960s with high-profile attacks on individual initiatives and ends whens the Courts are taken.
Dissent Magazine’s Michael Walzer shares much of this analysis
In fact, ideology rules everywhere on the right, across the spectrum of issues in which right-wing intellectuals and activists take an interest (note the combination: it used to be only the left that had intellectuals and activists). Everywhere, we see radically coherent, single-causal analyses of social problems and radical proposals to deal with the problems once and for all: lower and lower taxes, privatized Social Security, tests and more tests in the public schools, torture for terrorists, war for Saddam, democracy for the Arabs. And everything will be wonderful, after the revolution.
Walzer sees clearly. And he describes what many regimes have seen: an ideological opponent. Liberalism is facing an ideological insurgency. Further, American Liberalism is not like homosexualism, which is an insurgency fighting an insurgency. It is an entrenched regime composed of corrupt (self-interested) factions
This is the first crossover: ideological certainty and zeal have migrated to the right. Of course, there are still people on the left who are absolutely sure about their political position and zealous in its defense. But they don’t set the tone; they are off on the margins, a frequent annoyance, but not a political force. Most of us on the near-left live in a complex world, which we are not sure we understand, and we move around in that world pragmatically, practicing a politics of trial and error [though of course all politicians practice trial and error tactically. — tdaxp]. We defend policies like Social Security, which have worked pretty well, and try to make them work a little better. We want more redistributive tax and welfare systems, but we are not Bolshevik egalitarians-even if our opponents are Bolshevik inegalitarians. We opposed the Iraq War but are painfully unsure about how to get out and when. National health insurance is the most radical proposal that I’ve heard from American liberals in recent years, and it’s a European commonplace.
Make that a dispirited, entrenched, and corrupt regime
So this is the second crossover: ideological uncertainty and skepticism about all-out solutions to social problems have migrated to the left. This must have something to do with 1989 and the collapse of communism-though I don’t think that the left, near or far, has even begun to come to grips with the disaster that was communism. Perhaps the second crossover is also the product of the (very incomplete) success of social democracy in Europe and New Deal liberalism here, of civil rights and feminism, even of multiculturalism. Successes of this sort don’t leave us without an agenda, but they may leave us without the kind of agenda that makes for passionate conviction and zealous endeavor. A lot of near-left energy over the last fifteen years has been spent defending past victories, whose problematic features we know only too well.
Add on to this the inflexibility of the left and maneuverability of the right. Conservatives are more likely to be horizontal thinkers, able to fight where needed, rather than vertical thinkers, able to defend only their own turf. (The comparison to France 1940, and the Panzers against the Marginot Line, is unavoidable.)
Intellectuals on the left certainly lack certainty: we no longer have a general theory, such as Marxism once was, that tells us how things are going and what ought to be done. Does that mean that we are no longer “general intellectuals” but only locally and particularly engaged-“specialists,” as Michel Foucault argued? This left intellectual writes about education, this one about city planning, this one about health care, this one about the labor market, this one about civil liberties-and all of them are policy wonks. Is that our world? Well, maybe it is ours, but it isn’t theirs. Here is the crossover again: there are definitely general intellectuals on the right. The theory of the free market isn’t a world-historical theory exactly; one might say that it is a world-ahistorical theory. But it does have extraordinary reach; it allows its believers to have an opinion about pretty much everything. In this sense, it is an imperial doctrine, like Marxism. And combined with a theory of American-led democratization (and, for many people on the right today, with a conviction of divine support), it is also an imperialist doctrine: it allows believers to have an opinion about pretty much everywhere.
Add to this the four-to-three numerical advantage conservatives have over liberals in the United States, and you see something like this
Inflexible, Dispirited, Self-Interested, the Left Defends
In the diagram, the force on the left is in trouble. It doesn’t have a coherent program — it is not an ideological network. Rather, it is a series of fiefdoms which have their own internal structure. These networklets can fight only their direct enemy on the right. Meanwhile, the right is an idelogical network with much cross-communication. Authoritative nodes communicate with their peers more, and even follower peers reach out to their fellow travelers. The network of the right fights where the battle is, while the groups on the left must wait for the battle to come to them.
When faced with a dedicated and networks Fourth Generation program, even powerful regimes can fail. When the fourth generation network is larger than the regime, the war is all but lost. As indeed, it is.
Remember that the final stage of fourth generation politics is lawfully coopting the government. In 4GPS3, the government is used to further the movement’s agenda. This has happened — America has a Conservative President and a Conservative Congress. The only branch of government that still gives liberalism regular victories is the courts, and that is the target. The battle of the courts is the last battle in the third stage of this fourth generation war.
Having seized most of the countryside,
the 4GWarriors prepare to annihilate
the remnant of the Ancien Regime
When we hear about the battles for the courts, this must be remembered. It is not just another battle that the parties are fighting. It is the last gain from Left-Liberalism’s rise it has to defend. After this, the war is over.
This is the state of contemporary ideological politics in the United States.