Free Association – Day 2

Well, here I am on day two of my experiment in which I write whatever comes into my head and, inconveniently, my mind appears to be a total blank.

I just finished reading Peggy Noonan’s column in today’s Wall Street Journal. Despite living an places where the Journal is widely read, I’ve never been a regular reader. However, Real Clear Politics sometimes puts up links to articles there. Her subject today is very evident from the title, “How Global Elites Forsake Their Countrymen.” Not a bad article, but it’s one in what is becoming a trend. That it took our scribbling elites as long as it has to state the obvious is notable failure of our supposed meritocracy. Still, now that our scribblers are on the case, let’s hope that our meritocrats in government and other positions heed their call.

All of this murmuring has put me in mind of a book I read long ago by Christopher Lasch. Today, when so many of our scribblers seem to be singing from, if not the same hymnal, then the same two or three hymnals, I am even more appreciative of people who defy easy categorization like Lasch. According to Wikipedia:

In the 1960s, he was a neo-Marxist and acerbic critic of Cold War liberalism. During the 1970s, he began to become a far more iconoclastic figure, fusing cultural conservatism with a Marxian critique of capitalism, and drawing on Freud-influenced critical theory to diagnose the ongoing deterioration that he perceived in American culture and politics. His writings during this period led him to be denounced by feminists and hailed by conservatives for his apparent defense of the traditional family.

Also:

Lasch’s earliest argument.. was that American radicalism had at some point in the past become socially untenable. Members of “the Left” had abandoned their former commitments to economic justice and suspicion of power, to assume professionalized roles and to support commoditized lifestyles which hollowed out communities’ self-sustaining ethics. His first major book, The New Radicalism in America: The Intellectual as a Social Type… expressed those ideas in the form of a bracing critique of twentieth-century liberalism’s efforts to accrue power and restructure society, while failing to follow up on the promise of the New Deal. Most of his books, even the more strictly historical ones, include such sharp criticism of the priorities of alleged “radicals” who represented merely extreme formations of a rapacious capitalist ethos.

The book of his that I have in mind is one that is not seen as one of his best and has been essentially forgotten. It is called The Revolt of the Elites and the Betrayal of Democracy. Written in 1995, I nearly threw it out during my last move. It had intrigued me at the time, but in my memory subsequent events had seemed to have proved Lasch’s thesis wrong. Before tossing it, however, I decided to take another look and wound up rereading the whole thing. Looking back, it seems that the brief prosperity of the mid to late nineties simply put the social tendencies he observed on hold.

The title is an obvious nod to Ortega y Gasset.

I may need to reread Lasch yet again. In the introductory chapter, he writes,

In The True and Only Heaven, I tried to recover a tradition of democratic thought – call it populist, for lack of a better term – that has fallen into disuse.

For a number of years now, I’ve been arguing in private to friends that we need to develop a sort of liberal populism. Perhaps there was a subconscious influence from Lasch in that thought. Suddenly, however, we find ourselves in a political moment when the word “populism” is on the lips of our most elite scribblers, almost always as something to be feared and avoided at all costs.

Noonan, in her column writes:

From what I’ve seen of those in power throughout business and politics now, the people of your country are not your countrymen, they’re aliens whose bizarre emotions you must attempt occasionally to anticipate and manage.

This puts me in mind of an article a read a couple of days ago on the National Interest, “Why Are Elites Out of Touch? They Think Anyone Who Disagrees with Them Is Crazy,” by Nitzan David Foucks. The article concludes with,

We are living in a very important time. The gap between the elites and the public is widening. The reason, as briefly shown, is the elitist language of little substance, detached from the people and their concerns. The people in response have revolted with votes of no confidence and support to new leaders who are antiestablishment. The only way to close the gap, to win back support, is to abandon the language of therapy and political correctness, to one of honesty and rational arguments.

Interestingly, in his posthumously published book from the mid-nineties, Lasch wrote:

The word has come to serve simply as a description of the therapeutic state. When we speak of democracy today, we refer, more often than not, to the democratization of “self-esteem.” The current catchwords – diversity, compassion, empowerment, entitlement – express the wistful hope that deep divisions in American society can be bridged by goodwill and sanitized speech….  In our preoccupation with words, we have lost sight of the tough realities that cannot be softened simply by flattering people’s self-image. What does it profit the residents of the South Bronx to enforce speech codes at elite universities?

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