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Tuesday, November 09, 2004


no party of tolerance

jesse walker at tcs analyzes the election for its liberty quotient and finds none:

"There is no party of tolerance in Washington -- just a party that wages its crusades in the name of Christ and a party that wages its crusades in the name of Four Out Of Five Experts Agree. "
it's a disappointing statement for all its validity -- but what validity has it? when i view our society and its problems, i can't help but think that we suffer from an overweening abundance of liberty -- and a seriously flawed reactionary movement against it.

being a democracy aggravates the troubles, of course, by necessarily debasing intellectual and philosophical complexity into the terms of the lowest common denominator -- in essence, reductivism. intelligent appeals for social responsibility on both sides are swept aside by the slogans of mass appeal and mean understanding, and this need for simpleminded populism as an avenue to power plagues policy on the right and the left.

the political left's will to rousseauian utopianism has been reduced, through marxism and by democracy, to advocating statism as a mechanism to individuality: tedious responsibilities are to be assumed by the state, leaving the individual emancipated and able to pursue any whim of his will. as the desire for that individual freedom grows absurd and responsibilities transferred grow in number -- no longer just policing, but saving money for old age and providing insurance -- the paradox of emancipated individualism creating tyranny develops.

the political right, in response to the left's pervasiveness over the last century, reacts against the absurdity of overwrought emancipation by appealing to primitivism and tradition, i.e., "back to the good old days". unfortunately, the age-old desire to return to the sentimental womb is plagued by the reductivism of uncomplicated minds that inherently fear the changes and randomness they may not understand and thus dominate the populist right. this conservative reductivism has, as i've previously noted, manifested itself in christian cultism -- a cornucopia of sects, each fighting to preserve a version of cultural heritage so hypersimplified as to bear no resemblance to any actual past.

the right's situation is currently further confused by a coup at the top of their political organ, the republican party, which has placed a trotskyite party of permanent revolution in charge. this situation is very similar to (and in fact is modeled on) the rise of fascism in the weaker european states earlier in the 20th century, where an elitist militarist party appealed to the primitivism and reductive mythological nationalism of the right as a means of co-opting power. the result is that the right has unwittingly empowered radical leftism in american national politics.

presented with an atmosphere in which platonic idealism dominates both right and left, it should be no surprise that complexity, compromise and tolerance have no home in american politics. the question becomes, then, whether or not we can peaceably survive such a period -- or if we are condemned to reconcile such a conflict by force.

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