Life in the Fully Politicized Society

Many will remember Michelle Obama’s 2008 speech, in which she said:

Barack Obama will require you to work. He is going to demand that you shed your cynicism. That you put down your divisions. That you come out of your isolation, that you move out of your comfort zones. That you push yourselves to be better. And that you engage. Barack will never allow you to go back to your lives as usual, uninvolved, uninformed….You have to stay at the seat at the table of democracy with a man like Barack Obama not just on Tuesday but in a year from now, in four years from now, in eight years from now, you will have to be engaged.

Victor Davis Hanson notes that she also said:

We are going to have to change our conversation; we’re going to have to change our traditions, our history; we’re going to have to move into a different place as a nation.

…which is, of course, entirely consistent with the assertion made by Barack Obama himself, shortly before his first inauguration:  “We are five days away from fundamentally transforming the United States of America.”

It should be clear by now that all aspects of American life and society are rapidly becoming politicized. Obama has greatly accelerated this movement, but he didn’t initiate it.  The “progressive” political movement, which now controls the Democratic Party, has for a long time been driving the politicization of anything and everything.  The assertion “the personal is political” originated in the late 1960s…and, if the personal is political, then everything is political.

Some people, of course, like the politicization of everything–for some individuals, indeed, their lives would be meaningless without it. In his important memoir of growing up in Germany between the wars, Sebastian Haffner noted divergent reactions from people when the political and economic situation stabilized (temporarily, as we now know) during the Stresemann chancellorship:

The last ten years were forgotten like a bad dream. The Day of Judgment was remote again, and there was no demand for saviors or revolutionaries…There was an ample measure of freedom, peace, and order, everywhere the most well-meaning liberal-mindedness, good wages, good food and a little political boredom. everyone was cordially invited to concentrate on their personal lives, to arrange their affairs according to their own taste and to find their own paths to happiness.

But this return to private life was not to everyone’s taste:

A generation of young Germans had become accustomed to having the entire content of their lives delivered gratis, so to speak, by the public sphere, all the raw material for their deeper emotions…Now that these deliveries suddently ceased, people were left helpless, impoverished, robbed, and disappointed. They had never learned how to live from within themselves, how to make an ordinary private life great, beautiful and worth while, how to enjoy it and make it interesting. So they regarded the end of political tension and the return of private liberty not as a gift, but as a deprivation. They were bored, their minds strayed to silly thoughts, and they began to sulk.


To be precise (the occasion demands precision, because in my opinion it provides the key to the contemporary period of history): it was not the entire generation of young Germans. Not every single individual reacted in this fashion. There were some who learned during this period, belatedly and a little clumsily, as it were, how to live. they began to enjoy their own lives, weaned themselves from the cheap intoxication of the sports of war and revolution, and started to develop their own personalities. It was at this time that, invisibly and unnoticed, the Germans divided into those who later became Nazis and those who would remain non-Nazis.

I’m afraid we have quite a few people in America today who like having “the entire content of their lives delivered gratis, so to speak, by the public sphere, all the raw material for their deeper emotions.”  But for most people, especially for creative and emotionally-healthy people, the politicization of everything leads to a dreary and airless existence.


In her novel We the Living, based partly on her personal experiences in the early Soviet Union (which is probably why it is, IMO, the best of her books from a literary standpoint), Ayn Rand paints a vivid picture of what day-to-day life in the politicized society is like.  Her heroine, Kira Argounova, is a strong anti-Communist, but absent other options has found a job (which she got through intervention of a Communist friend) in something called “The House of the Peasant,” which is dedicated to “a closer understanding between workers and peasants,” under the slogan “The Clamping of CIty and Village,” celebrated with posters bearing slogans like “Comrades, strengthen the Clamping!”

Kira’s boss at the House of the Peasant is an older woman “thin, gray-haired, military and in strict sympathy with the Soviet Government; her chief aim in life was to give constant evidence of how strict that sympathy was, even though she had graduated from a women’s college…”  But the boss lives in fear of “a tall girl with a long nose and a leather jacket, who was a Party member and could make Comrade Bitiuk shudder at her slightest whim, and knew it…”  All the office staff members also live in fear of the Wall Newspaper, which carries criticisms of individual workers both for their personal behavior as well as their work performance:

Comrade Nadia Chernova is wearing silk stockings. Time to be reminded that such flaunting of luxury is un-proletarian, Comrade Chernova…Comrade E Ovsov indulges in too much talk when asked about business. This leads to a waste of valuable time…We hear that Comrade Kira Argounova is lacking in social spirit. The time is past, Comrade Argounova, for arrogant bourgeois attitudes.

After reading this last, Kira “stood very still and heard her heart beating. No one dared to ignore the mighty pointing finger of the Wall Newspaper…No one could save those branded as “anti-social element,” not even (Kira’s Communist friend) Andrei Taganov…At her desk, she watched the others in the room, wondering who had reported her to the Wall Newspaper…”

All workers in the office are expected to be member of the Marxist Club (ie, to be “engaged,” as Michelle Obama would put it), which meets after hours and for attendance at which the workers are not paid. The club met twice a week: one member read a thesis he had prepared and the others discussed it.  When it is Kira’s turn, she reads her thesis on “Marxism and Leninism,” which she has copied, barely changing the words, from the “ABC of Communism,” a book whose study is compulsory in every school in the country.

She knew that all her listeners had read it, that they had also read her thesis, time and time again, in every editorial of every newspaper for the last six years. They sat around her, hunched, legs stretched out limply, shivering in their overcoats. They knew she was there for the same reason they were.  The girl in the leather jacket presided, yawning once in a while.

After mandatory discussion (“Kira knew that she had to argue and defend her thesis; she knew that the consumptive young man had to argue to show his activity; she knew that he was no more interested in the discussion than she was, that his blue eyelids were weary with sleeplessness, that he clasped his thin hands nervously, not daring to glance at his wristwatch…”), the meeting finally comes to a close. “We shall thank Comrade Argounova for her valuable work,” said the chairman. “Our next meeting will be devoted to a thesis by Comrade Leskov on ‘Marxism and Collectivism.'”

If this sort of thing sounds like a lot of fun to you, then you should be applauding the increased politicization of America.  Of course, to a certain type of person–the type represented above by the girl in the leather jacket–such a society is something to look forward to.

The endpoint of such a society can be found in the words of the Nazi judge Roland Freisler, who, in sentencing Christoph Probst to death, sneered at his defense: “He is a “nonpolitical man” — hence no man at all!”…the implication being that manhood and humanity are only to be found via participation in (approved) political activity. This is the ultimate development of the “the personal is political” line.

The politicization of American life has originated very largely in the universities–indeed, what has happened in these institutions has been a leading indicator for what is happening in the larger society.  For just one of thousands of examples, see this post about the indoctrination conducted by the University of Delaware as part of its “Residence Life” program. See also the notes of one of UD’s designated indoctrinators about his or her interview with a young woman who was showing more independence and spirit than is apparently desired by that institution. The degree of bureaucratic intrusiveness in this conversation could have come right out the the “House of the Peasant” in the above-referenced novel.

I’ve been reading David Mamet’s book about the  film industry, Bambi vs. Godzilla. He mentions his 1992 play Oleanna, which he describes as “a rather straightforward classical tragedy” which “drove people berserk.”  The play involved a girl who made an accusation of rape against a male professor, said accusation being either questionable or outright false.

The play’s first audience a group of undergraduates from Brown. They came to a dress rehearsal. The play ended and I asked the folks what they thought.  “Don’t you think it’s politically questionable,” said one, “to have the girl make a false accusation of rape?”

(I guess it was even more politically questionable for Shakespeare to have Lady Macbeth plotting murder.) Mamet describes his own reaction to the reaction of the Brown students:

I, in my ignorance, was stunned. I didn’t realize that it was my job to be politically acceptable.  I’d always thought society employed me to be dramatic; further, I wondered what force had so perverted the young that they would think that increasing the political enfranchisement of a group rendered a member of that group incapable of error–in effect, rendered her other than huan.

For if the subject of art is not our maculate, fragile, and often pathetic humanity, what is the point of the exercise?

But, of course, in the fully politicized society the role of art is the same as the role of science or education or car-building or grocery-shopping….to promote the interests of the dominant or ascendant power structure.

Note that the incident David Mamet describes happened way back in 1992.  We are now in our second or third generation of university administrators and professors who have grown up in a highly politicized climate and take it as the normal way for human beings to live. It was inevitable that this toxic orientation would seep out into the larger society and increasingly dominate it, and now it has.

23 thoughts on “Life in the Fully Politicized Society”

  1. Lenin says that a capitalist will sell you the rope you use to hang him. Capitalists invented the telephone, the autos, the railroads, the paved roads and the computer and progressives use these tools to extend their control down to the grass roots level. Road to serfdom.

  2. How very ironic that particular address now appears to be: We are more divided, even more cynical and distrusting of our political establishment than ever before. And staying in the seat of the table of democracy … was there ever a more brutally cynical and manipulative statement in campaign politics that that? ‘Demand’, ‘require’ and ‘allow’ – those particular phrases sound ever more … I dunno – what is the phrase? More Orwellian? Well, yes – we got involved. Politically – and got targeted by the media and a politicized IRS as racists and the Deity knows what all. Thanks, Michelle, your contribution is duly noted.

  3. The average person hasn’t yet seen government control of his profession close up, except in medicine, banking, and auto manufacturing. Why can’t knowledgable, fact-based, systematic government oversight bring community and efficiency to everyone?  (sarcasm)

    Thomas Jefferson: “A government big enough to give you everything you want is powerful enough to take everything you have”. The dramatic increase in government regulation and direction of private business is killing business activity. Who wants to invest in many years of risk and hard work, to end up controlled and directed like a government worker, taxed to death by the government as a “person of too much wealth”.

    The Department of Work and Production

    An encounter of an ordinary guy with a government agency that is going to make his profession more efficient, and increase or save his salary.

  4. While comparisons with Nazism are apt, note that the purveyors of “the personal is the political” are admirers of another brand of socialism, and that Obama himself admires Mao. The USA is having a slo-mo Cultural Revolution. Our ‘Red Guards’ harass wrong thought where ever found: bakers, photographers, programmers, CEOs.

    All that remains is to open the laogai.

  5. Daniel Henninger in today’s WSJ: “All of a sudden, the left has hit ramming speed across a broad swatch of American life–in the universities, in politics and in government. People fingered as out of line with the far left’s increasingly bizarre claims are being hit and hit hard.”

    He cites the example of an English professor at Vassar who, during a meeting to discuss the school’s boycott-Israel movement, announced that the dialogue “would not be guided by cardboard notions of civility”, also, the Harvard Crimson editorial by an undergrad demanding restrictions on academic freedom, specifically calling out for suppression the work of conservative professor Harvey Mansfield.

    Henninger points to a Title IX settlement agreement signed between the federal government and the University of Montana as the leading edge of a much more intrustive role for the Federal government in day-to-day operation of universities (and is is *already* pretty intrusive.) The agreement orders the school to retain an “Equity Consultant” to advise it indefinitely on compliance. The school must, with the equity consultant, conduct “annual climate surveys” and submit the results to the federal government.

    “Make no mistake, universities under constant pressure from the Obama administration and the most driven members of their ‘communities’ will comply and define due process downward. If the liability choice falls between the lawyer brigades at the Holder Justice Department or some 19-year-old student or an assistant professor who didn’t post the course’s ‘trigger warning,’ guess who will get tossed to the Marcusian mobs at Harvard and Vassar?

    Obama Unleashes the Left–how the government created a federal hunting license for the far left

  6. The Montana settlement and other legal and bureaucratic actions of the Obama administration, perhaps including the Nevada ranch invasion, are like the ripples that form over submerged rocks in a stream. Major legal settlements don’t just happen. There is probably, below the surface, widespread coordination between the leftist activists in the federal govt and those in state govts, the universities and other nominally private institutions (including big media organizations, whose employees conscientiously look the other way). This is a real conspiracy. It’s not well hidden. A lot of people are in on it or benefit from it. The people who see it for what it is and object to it are political opponents who wouldn’t support the Left anyway. Most of the people who are being fooled aren’t really being fooled. Mostly they aren’t interested enough to follow politics or current events. So the conspiracy succeeds, at least for a while. We shall see if it continues to succeed, or if at some point a plurality of voters decides they’ve had enough.

  7. The problem is not only direct legal pressure from the Federal government, but also internal pressure from “progressive” forces in various institutions. For example, at UCLA there has been an attempt to get the student government to enact a ban on its members going to the Middle East with pro-Israel groups. That failed but a majority of candidates for student government positions have now signed a pledge not to take such trips.

    In the Presbyterian Church USA, a Virginia Beach pastor who was slated to take a leadership role in a church forum at its annual General Assembly has been pressured to resign by church officials. His offense? Taking part in two trips to Israel sponsored by a Jewish group. He had looked forward to being the official moderator of the Committee on Middle East Issues at the denomination’s General Assembly. But he was forced out when it came out that he had gone to Israel on trips organized by the Jewish Community Federation of Richmond, Virginia. Though he had previously been to the region on two trips organized by the Palestinians, the mere fact that he had been exposed to Israel’s side of the story in the conflict was enough to brand him as untrustworthy. (Wouldn’t want their conclusions to be affected by actual facts.)

    Both links via Bookworm

  8. Andrew Garland: “The average person hasn’t yet seen government control of his profession close up, except in medicine, banking, and auto manufacturing.”

    They have long been deep in the airline industry. They control the airways and do it very inefficiently. They control departure and arrival slots at major airports. Lots of power politics and influence involved there. The one area where they do a decent job is in maintaining training, maintenance, and safety standards. Though it probably costs more than it should.

    There are two kinds of people as recognized by Sebastian Haffner – those who want to live their lives and be left alone and those who want to tell others how to live their lives. Those who get involved in left wing movements seem to be the type who want to force others to conform to their standards – whatever they deem the correct standard to be.

    It’s now apparent that the left has decided to start an all out campaign against Israel as an “apartheid” community. It is springing up in academia and the Obama administration has been less than friendly to Israel’s cause. Unless the friends of Israel, and those who understand that coercion will be used on them next, stand up against this, they will be emboldened to go after more limits on speech, more laws against private property, and more requiring you to toe their line.

  9. “widespread coordination between the leftist activists in the federal govt and those in state govts,”

    This, of course, has been the tactic of the left and the EPA with the Endangered Species Act as the club. In local government, I’ve seen the same sort of coordination between the state legislature, “public interest law firms” and the real estate developers who fund them. All of this is to force more and more subsidized housing on middle class communities. Mission Viejo is an older planned community which is almost 100% built out. The state legislature (75% Democrats) keeps changing the law about “affordable housing” to require more and more. The law firms sue and, just as in the EPA cases, the government immediately caves in and orders more or whatever the left wants. One problem we had was the parking laws. The state would force more multifamily housing into the community, which has a significant traffic and parking issue already, and owners of single family homes would be inundated with parking from nearby multifamily projects. They could hot have guests for dinner as the street would be solid cars after 5 PM.

    It’s a racket, like all good intentions become eventually.

  10. I should add that housing prices in California have gone through the roof became of restrictive zoning, another hobby horse of the left, but the funding by developers, who live in Newport Beach (I know them) drives the conjunction of leftist lawyer and real estate tycoon. If the zoning was more reasonable, the tycoon could earn money honestly instead of by bribery.

  11. Sigh … I once owned three acres in the verge of a national forest in SoCal. I let it go, for about what I spent for it, last year. I realized that a)I would never be able to afford to build the country retirement house on it with the profit from selling my Texas suburban house … and b)that I didn’t want to go back to California. I loved the So-Cal hills, having grown up in the back country; the property was a good patch of real estate with a view (now that the latest wildfires have burned off all the trees) … but it is not my home any more.
    The Hill Country is where I want to be now. Let the other stuff go.

  12. I had 10 acres on Vashon Island ten years ago that I wanted to retire to but it never worked out and I finally sold it. Actually it was on Maury Island which is attached to Vashon by a causeway. Beautiful spot but I needed a companion. The island, unlike Bainbridge, has no bridge. The only access is by ferry, of which there are three. One time about 15 years ago, there was a proposal to build a bridge from Tacoma to the south end. There was a community meting at the high school and 10,000 people, the entire population of the island, showed up. 95% voted no.

    I loved it.

  13. My question: Now what?

    Suppose the GOP takes the house and senate next year. Can they, will they, stop any of this by defunding it? Suppose we go on the suggest the GOP takes the presidency in 2016? Will we see a wholesale restructuring of government, one that reduces the size and scope and power of it in our lives?

    My watching of the GOP is that when they come to power, they trim a little from preplanned social spending increases (aka make draconian cuts) increase defense spending a bit, then go on autopilot for as long as possible.

    They are not a party that makes changes. They lack that sort of vision. They might control the entire federal government and do absolutely nothing with the opportunity.

  14. “They might control the entire federal government and do absolutely nothing with the opportunity.”

    I blame Gingrich and Hastert for the failure of the last GOP Congress. The Senate was tied up in various Democrat trickery; Jim Jeffords and Lincoln Chaffee. Gingrich got Clinton to sign welfare reform but then descended into self absorption with his book and outrage over Air Force One seating assignment.

    Hastert was always a member of the Illinois “Combine” and unlikely to do much in the way of reform.

    Bush was not a promising conservative and then was quickly derailed by 9/11.

    Maybe the GOP has learned their lesson. They are weak but they are the only game in town. I am not optimistic.

  15. I am not optimistic.

    Me neither. I think the key is that since even a tiny bit of cutting to pre-planned spending increases will be portrayed by the Left as Social Armageddon, then why not reshuffle the entire deck? Once they’ve gone to ten on the rhetoric, what’s left? Nowhere to go. So go ahead and go full in. Let them freak out. I think the average person has reached inoculation point to their This means the End of the World! shtick and will watch the fireworks quietly from their living rooms, hoping against hope the GOP succeeds.

    My worry is that the GOP is as deeply addicted to K Street money as the Dems. The oligarchy will march on, destroying all in its path. Where is a leader with the guts and vision to take these people on? Scott Walker?

  16. Michael and Mike,

    Yes, it’s absolutely a fire and sword moment, and the institutional R’s are scared of anything more vigorous than a sparkler. We are doomed.

    Oh, heck, they’re afraid of sparklers too, most of them.

  17. “The oligarchy will march on, destroying all in its path.”

    Things that can’t go on forever, won’t. Social Security and Medicare are unsustainable. Obamacare is unsustainable. The Gods of the copybook headings are coming .

    There are only four things certain since Social Progress began —
    That the Dog returns to his Vomit and the Sow returns to her Mire,
    And the burnt Fool’s bandaged finger goes wabbling back to the Fire —
    And that after this is accomplished, and the brave new world begins
    When all men are paid for existing and no man must pay for his sins
    As surely as Water will wet us, as surely as Fire will burn
    The Gods of the Copybook Headings with terror and slaughter return!

    At least I probably won’t be here unless I am so unlucky as to live as long as my mother.

  18. Michael Hiteshew Says:
    May 9th, 2014 at 9:50 am

    My question: Now what?

    Suppose the GOP takes the house and senate next year. Can they, will they, stop any of this by defunding it? Suppose we go on the suggest the GOP takes the presidency in 2016? Will we see a wholesale restructuring of government, one that reduces the size and scope and power of it in our lives?

    Assuming actual elections in November, and further assuming that the vote count will be anywhere close to honestly reflecting the votes legally cast [neither are givens]; the House is not a problem. This is not a reflection of the popularity of the House Republicans, but rather the power of incumbency and the fact that House districts for both parties are gerrymandered beyond competitiveness. And the polling would seem to indicate that there is a chance that the Republicans could pick up a few seats, and at worst will lose a couple. The worst loss in an honest election would leave the Republicans in charge of the House.

    Despite Democrat propaganda about gerrymandered Senate seats, that is an impossibility. You can’t gerrymander a statewide election. There are no districts to gerrymander. Making the assumptions above, the best case of possible wins for the Republicans [because incumbency rules] would give them a majority of maybe three. And most likely it will be one or two if they get a majority.

    No over-ride is going to be possible. Impeachment still is impossible, because even if a Federal level Democrat was caught on nationwide TV naked in bed with a live boy and a dead girl, all three wrapped in the Fort McHenry Flag; not one Senate Democrat would vote for their impeachment. EVER. For them Party trumps law, decency, and the Constitution.

    And there are still the half dozen Republican Senators who proudly vote with the Democrats on any important issues. And the prospect that enough of them would change parties to keep Harry Reid in the Majority Leader’s chair.

    The best case, assuming the Republicans can get and keep a majority, is that some Republican bills can be brought up for a vote in the Senate, and there might actually be some real budget bills. Whether they will do anything with that return to constitutional norms is questionable.

    I have a feeling that electoral politics are not going to save the country.

    There is also the highly probable case that the Republicans are going to either push through Amnesty and Permanent Open Borders and/or formally give up on repealing Obamacare. They have promised the former, and are openly talking about “just fixing” the latter. In that case, they will join the Whigs, and the Democrats will be be in full control of everything.

    “And only the Great Blue Sky Tengri Nor knows what the outcome will be.”

    Subotai Bahadur

  19. “are openly talking about “just fixing” the latter (Obamacare)”

    I think it might be possible to make Obamacare “voluntary” which would accomplish the same purpose without the blood bath that repeal would bring. Nobody but diehard Democrats would choose Obamacare with other alternatives possible. It would then become Medicaid for all, which is what it really is. Medicaid would become a budget issue subject to the usual horse trading. Underwriteable health insurance would become available again with the benefit that the public had stared the beast in the face and seen what “universal” care looks like.

    Amnesty is suicide for Republicans and I hope they have enough sense to give lip service only. I think that is what Romney was doing with the minimum wage.

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