Correctly Political: Tea and Sympathy for the Devil You Know

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15 Responses

  1. jfxgillis says:

    I think we’re going to end up halfway between reform and the old equilibrium.Report

  2. Barry says:

    “Do those corporatists have any idea at all, for example, how deeply hostile to Free Trade many in the movement are?”

    Probably they do; if not they need to fire their pollsters.
    However, it really doesn’t matter, as has been seen over the past thirty-odd years.Report

  3. E.D. Kain says:

    Excellent post, Jack.Report

  4. Jaybird says:

    My problem with these sorts of analysis is that they read like the following to me:

    “The position P that these people over here hold is held for the following reasons: A, B, and C. A has the root cause of this particular defect in character. B has a different root cause in a completely different character defect. C is an interesting reason, but can be dismissed as insincere and not truly held because of the character defects in the people.”

    This leads to discussions of A, B, and C and defenses of the character defects (“these are virtues!”) but there is no discussion of position P and its merits or problems. People get bogged down in the “how dare you think I think that!” and the discussions of the people involved. Position P becomes secondary to the joys of psychoanalysis.

    I suspect that this is done mostly by people who were harshly potty trained, but my research isn’t complete on that front.Report

  5. greginak says:

    but isn’t this all the problem the modern conservative movement has. it is idealogicaly incoherent, its followers don’t often believe their own professeda ideas and doesn’t deliver what is says it will. FDR in a way fused the interests of the middle class and poor together which led to policies that created immense growth and prosperity. over the last 30 years conservative polices have actively worked at splitting the middle class away from the poor so they could benefit the rich. the tea party people are likely the victims of conservative policies. yes that is a generalization but the incoherent shouting of the tea bagged doesn’t exactly make it look like they know they ass from a hole in the ground.Report

  6. Rortybomb says:

    Fantastic! Please post again. (though maybe break into smaller posts – I normally skip the longest ones here.)

    Re: Marcuse. One of the most important things I take away from the Freudian-inflected Hegelian Marxists is the desire to turn the rational political agent on his or her head. In America especially, politics is centered on the model that a person has an economic interest, and has a social interest. So you can be a (9, -8), and be a libertarian, or a (3,9) and be an evangelical, etc.

    Now people who trouble that, say Thomas Frank or Reihan Salam, still use the framework but say that one is influencing the other. But they still assume that the agent is rational, and trying to maxmizing between the two numbers. But what if (a) there is only one impulse, and there is no disconnect? And more importantly, (b) what if the very notion of a political desire rationally mapped onto outcomes can’t cover the political feeling we have? What if alienation, subjection and trauma – the language of Freud – are the guiding forces in pushing us towards our political realm?

    I always try to at least include that trail of thought when I think something like “but your interests are in conflict!” Interests are what I’m presuming, though they are the very thing in contest.Report

  7. Rortybomb says:

    I like this a lot; it has influenced some of my thinkg in this matter. Wendy Brown:

    While Frank is clearly correct about the neocon leadership’s hand waving over such issues and its pursuit of policies at odds with the economic welfare of its working- and middle-class base, his analysis assumes rather than queries the “interests” he imputes to this base. Neoliberal de-democratization produces a subject who may have no such interests, who may be more desirous of its own subjection and complicit in its subordination than any democratic subject could be said to be.27 That is, even as Frank explains compellingly how the rich and powerful have exploited the disappointment and frustration of working- and middle-class America, this explanation hews to a model of objective interests on one side and ideological obfuscation and manipulation on the other. Thus it resurrects a certain political hopefulness through the worn figure of “false consciousness” and
    eschews the more troubling possibility of an abject, unemancipatory, and anti-egalitarian subjective orientation amongst a significant swathe of the American populace.

    To see this more clearly, let us revisit four aspects of neoliberal de-democratization, considering them now as the seedbed of the new political form that I’m suggesting is produced at the intersection of neoliberal and neoconservative rationalities: (1) the devaluation of political autonomy, (2) the transformation of political problems into individual problems with market solutions, (3) the production of the consumer-citizen as available to a heavy degree of governance and authority, and (4) the legitimation of statism.

  8. jfxgillis says:


    Thank you! I do try to ease the reading strain with sub-heads and sections.

    The presumption of comprehensive rationality, I think, is far more a problem for the right than the left. Frank’s point isn’t that non-rational aspects of consciousness lead to irrational politics, but that within the confines of economic rationality the political choices are contradictory of interest. I.e., the guy who voted Republican to defy those suits on Wall Street. As a wage-earner, do I vote my own interests by supporting the party that supports collective bargaining or do I vote against those interests by voting for the party devoted to low wages? Those a mutually exclusive zero-sum interests.

    The right, however, is trying to meld two spheres, the economic and the cultural, that have competing but not mutually exclusive impulses. Do I vote for the party that opposes abortion because I’m Catholic or for the party that will maintain Social Security because I know I’ll need it? Those are value judgements.Report

  9. Koz says:

    Very interesting essay. One quibble I have is that Marcusian false consciousness is more likely to be found on the other side in the culture wars. A lot of the underlying cultural conflict (eg, see the 2008 Presidential campaign) is the about the desire of the knowledge manipulating establishment to assert social superiority over blue collar types and Palin enthusiasts. Of course, in the big picture this doesn’t accomplish anything for them. And, it only works in an advanced, relatively stable economy, which some of them are doing their level best to bury. But their alienation is still sub-rosa because (as you pointed out) they perceive themselves to be the majority in contrast to the Tea Partiers who are the minority.

    And they may even be right on that score but it doesn’t matter. Ultimately the majority/minority business is about control over the political-cultural establishment. Unfortunately for the knowledge manipulating New Elite, their the satisfaction of their cultural aspirations require more power than the political-cultural establishment has, so control over it is sort of a booby prize. The knowledge manipulator types haven’t figured this out yet, but I think they will soon. In fact, I suspect the Tea Parties are going to be one of the first lessons in their education.Report

  10. Michael Drew says:

    When I started the post, I didn’t suspect that a pseudo-intellectual apology for this bubbled-up-from-the-think-tanks phenomenon could end up surpassing the thing it treats in crazy. Boy, was I a naive simpleton.Report