In the midst of our blog-talk about the left, A&L put up “All God’s Children Got Values” by Michael Walzer. He begins his argument:
The experts have apparently agreed that it wasn’t values that lost us the last election. It was passion, and above all, it was the passion of fear.
He discusses the state of the left and offers solutions, but hasn’t the feistiness of Peter Beinart. In a telling look for comparisons he is unwilling to go with the anti-communists (no Scoop Jackson liberal he) but rather farther back, to the “kitschy” forties of anti-fascism.
In the context of that thread, this essay from Dissent critiques the state of left thought; while Walzer is not angry, the issues are ones we discussed.
To the right, he argues
ideology rules everywhere . . . 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.
Well, at least he, unlike Paul Krugman, sees ideas on the right. Not very good ones, of course.
We are surprised by his allusion to the “revolution” and that “everything will be wonderful.” The right is, after all, the party of the tragic nature of man. The right doesn’t have much faith in utopian dreams. Of course, I didn’t think the right argued for “torture for terrorists” either.
If he doesn’t have the tone that people posted about, he does have a consistent theme. He returns to fear in his last paragraph:
The Bush administration exploits our fears, but it is not interested in a collective effort to cope with them-that is, to provide the necessary forms of protection and to stimulate the necessary forms of mutual assistance. That is the project of the near-left. The ideological right aims deliberately at undermining security, in the name of self-reliance, but with a deeper purpose: to discipline the workforce and stabilize the new forms of inequality. By contrast, the left project is egalitarian because we are committed to distribute the costs of security fairly and to make sure that the most vulnerable people are the first to be protected-or to be helped to protect themselves.
Obviously, he believes the simple-minded solutions of the right do not cope with fears. But, his last sentence seems to be self-deluding: his belief that the left and not the right are likely to protect the “most vulnerable.” Frankly, it seems to me that the left consistently takes positions against the vulnerable. Who is more vulnerable, those in the teacher’s union or the poor kids thrown into bad schools? Do we consider George Soros or that farmer in Nebraska who votes Republican vulnerable? Were the Iraqis more or less vulnerable after America marched in? (Well, I guess the Lancet would say less, but that doesn’t seem to be the attitude of the Iraqis who today were busy setting up their government.)
Walzer’s essay has no sense of the magnitude of Bush’s policy (as demonstrated so ably by Lex). Nor does he appreciate (perhaps understand) the empowerment that comes from ownership. I’m sure there are new ideas and ones with quite different solutions than Bush’s; they don’t seem to be here. The egalitarianism he argues for is likely to be one partialed out by elites. Most of all, this essay seems an argument in which stasis is valued; the left, he argues, is pragmatic and sees nuance. Well, yes, life is complicated. But if we don’t start testing the kids, how the hell are we going to know if they are learning anything? Sure, there are things that can be improved and things that can’t. But it seems to me that it is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness – and frankly, I see testing, for instance, as shining a light into the abyss of American education. It is a lot better to try to take the first steps – from Iraq & Afghanistan to schools to social security – then to pretend that the problems don’t exist. That pretense is the mask of fear, the unwillingness to take risks. I see it a good deal more in Walzer than in the Town Hall columnists.