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June 29, 2006


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That's wonderful. Homoilogia, one would think -- but of course, the context is what makes it entirely and interestingly different.

Is someone stealing Candy's IP? Or are we looking at, like, meta-meta-satire, man? (Keanu voice: "Whoa.")

I prefer to think of it as being "anthologized." More flattering to my faltering ego.

Tutor, this is a beautiful essay. I hadn’t seen it before, so thank you for trotting it back out.

Even though I consider myself one of those plain-speaking Liberals you criticize, still I resonate with your argument. I know that these are very dark times for this country and, as a consequence, for the world. I’m less certain about which battles need to be fought and how best to fight them.

I’m convinced, certainly by your example and the example of other writers, that there are times and places when hammer must meet hammer—when the thuggishness of the Neocons needs to be answered in kind. I’m glad that people of conscience have warriors like you, Al Franken, Stephen Colbert and others who have mastered the art of the raised voice and the strong rebuke.

I also believe there are places where my feeble Liberal sword—what you refer to in your essay as a “fair-minded” account—can have some effect.

Of course, I’m flying in the dark as much as you. Which of us knows where the critical battles are and how to win them? Is it the schools? Are we rearing whole generations of young people incapable of deliberation, pliant prey for the marketers’ tricks? Is it the media? The Blogosphere? The nonprofit world?

I don’t know. I’m not only a plain-speaking Liberal, but also a rather boring nerd, and as such, I need to be convinced about matters of strategy. In the absence of that kind of certainty, the best I can do is feel my way. And my feeling, at present, is that the danger is not the liberal tradition of tolerance and reasoned debate. The danger is believing that that’s all there is for us to do, "making poems in the lap of death."

Albert, thanks. The question to me is whether the liberal tradition has historically had enemies, intellectual and political traditions that would actively subvert it. The answer of course is yes. The tradition that opposed liberalism in Weimar comes down to us today through figures like Heidegger, Schmidt, and Leo Strauss, who are in fact key thinkers for the neocons. Add Plato, Machiavelli, and Nietzsche and you can define a tradition that would subvert liberalism from within what is still putatively a liberal democractic republic, as opposed to a tyanny, plutocracy, or oligarchy. The key difference, it seems to me, is that liberalism is based on fairness, on rules, on defining a fair game for all. The tradition of Nietzsche and Schmidt is based on winning, on victory over the enemies within and without. In figures like Rove and Horowitz and Delay and even our President you can hear this langauge of politics as war, and victory being defined not as the victory of those who are for us over those who are against us. You see it too in the demonization of dissent as "terror" and the many means of fighting the war on "terror" by subverting liberties.

So, I am saying this is not about dems and repubs but about two political traditions one of which is democratic in the broad sense and the other of which is not.

Liberals are trained to "rise above the fray" in order to be true to the ideal of fairness. But that move is now blocked. They are demonized and are in the dock, not on the judges seat. They stand accused of treason. How then do they respond with an even handed gesture?

The bullies need to be bullied back. Limbaugh, Fox, Coulter need to be bullied back. And that bullying has to consonent with highest and best traditions of deep liberalism - I know of none better than Horace, Dryden, Swift, Pope, Addison and Steele, and Dr. Johnson - satirists all. We liberals were not always diffident. Dick Minim is actually a character in an essay by Dr. Johnson, and a figure of fun.

You see this, Albert, in the mildly satirical style of so much analytic philosophy - its ability to deflate the sublime and the pretentitious. You see it exquisitely in Hume. Reread his passage on is and ought and you will see it now as a great Augustan satire, as well as a highpoint of analytic logic.

The satirical tradition is the atavistic gene still present in the liberal tradition. By reawakening that moral strength, that courage to wound in order to heal, we can be true to our tradition while taking the war to our adversaries. If it be war, they lose. May we treat the vanquished Horowitz better than he would treat us if victorious.

As I understand it, a (classically) Liberal framework is consistent with a victory, in the court of public opinion, of one idea of the Good over another. Most of us agree, for example, that it’s better to be smart, beautiful, and healthy than dimwitted, ugly, and diseased. The problems begin when the dominant idea of the Good compromises a framework of rights that all can claim equally—even those who reject the dominant notion of the Good.

Thus the Liberal appeals to “fairness” that you mention.

One of the biggest challenges, as I see it, is that the Liberal is pressing a very subtle point. It’s a point about how best to balance competing notions of the Good against a neutral and growth-encouraging framework of rights in a way that maximizes human flourishing. Well, fuck: that kind of subtlety is way beyond the ken of just about every conservative I’ve ever engaged on the issue.

I say let each warrior frame the battle as he will. For me, pre-postmodernist that I am, it’s a battle about Truth and Justice, and every mode—satire included, (but not necessarily pre-eminently)—needs to be deployed.

My first response to this post was my tarbaby reflex: OH NO YOU DON'T, NOT AGAIN! It was painful enough the first go-around, T.

But since you're finding a new audience who're innocently axing the wrong questions (I need to be convinced about matters of strategy) whereby the evil liberal triangulators stumped us last time, I'm linking this right now:


God bless us every one!

Oh no. Wrong questions again, Albert. Like that time you went on that chemistry bulletin board and you asked if cheese was a plastic.

I miss being called the left equivalent of David Horowitz. :sniff: Timmy! Timmy! Come back!

great post

Albert, in the liberalism of Isaiah Berlin, even the Good is at war with itself, concordia discors all the way down, yet each as a right to pursue his or her vision of it. The conflict is itself part of what makes for a good society. Without it we are doctrinal, dead to variety, dull.

Mill makes those points too, I think, about the tyrany of received opinion, and of the majority.

A deep liberal is not a moderator. He is an instigator. He does not want to win, but to prevent anyone from winning absolutely. He wants checks, balances, conflict, free discussion, endless struggle, not victory per se.

Yet, that framework, our constitutional framework is now being challenged. Triangulators are shadows of liberalism, not the real thing. To defend open society requires those who are willing to make sacrifices for it. The trinagulator is an appeaser and opportunist, to call such a person a liberal demeans the valient men and women who created and preserved our traditions of political liberty.

T.V., I re-read your post, and thank you again for it. What we are talking about is the "Constitutional" level of liberalism, the "set-up" in which our whole democratic process occurs. We are saying that this constitutional framework has been challenged by the right and betrayed by the dems. One undermines it, the other triangulates with those who do. One wants the absolute victory of narrow and authoritarain views, the other just wants their jobs back. One mights, the other compromises. Real constitutional liberalism fights to death for the other's right to be wrong. The true liberal says, "Bush have a right to be wrong within the constitution, but no right to undermine it. Over my dead body." The dems, say, "Let's not get upset, let's not be confrontational, let's make a deal. Those who would undermine the constitution probably have a good point. Let's split the difference and get on to the next election."

We can quibble over our slightly different readings of Berlin, but I think your main point is true. Few among those who assent to be called Liberals intuit, in a deep way, that "Freedom for the wolves means death for the sheep."

The question is whether libealism is born of debate or arrived at debate throug civil war. I suspect that the liberal synthesis was won in civil war, Roman, English and other. When the valor goes, the liberals as in Weimar are easy marks. If we won't take a stand for our constitutional principles we will soon have lost them, not through debate but through force and guile met with cowardice and temprozing.

This is finally starting to make sense to me. If I may interpret you are saying that reasoned debate is not the starting point it is arrived at only after considerable blood has been shed. Saner heads have prevailed and we have all agreed to settle our differences with words rather than swords.

In the world we have, the swords are sheathed publically while all sorts of thugs engage in shadowy wet-work. Sen. Minim proceeds to speak publicly of moderation as if we don't see the thugs scattered all around threatening to harm you and yours if you don't toe the party line.

Exactly, Gerry. An open space was won in endless wars, in Rome, England, here in America. We can't take democracy, the e basic rules of the game, for granted. It seems increasingly as if our elected officials find our hard won constitution an outworn encumbrance on their road to victory over all and their talk show demogagues unilaterially and without due process deem terrorists, non-persons, traitors, enemies of the state, or whatever term of art they make up next to vilify their opponents and "bring them to justice." There is a long heritage of this kind of thing, running down through Schmitt and Strauss, but it is not the liberal democratic tradition on which this country was founded. We must nott lose by guile what was earned in blood. How we preserve our liberities peacefully is the question. It must start with the courage that Minim lacks to call things by their proper names, even when so doing risk retaliation. Another strategy is parable. Another is fable. Another is satire. Another is social organizing. Another is funraising for grassroots change. Another is open spaces for citizen deliberation. Another is teaching students the dangers of "framing," ad-speak, soundbites, swiftboating, etc./ Another is teaching the basics of our liberal democratic traditions. The list goes on, but I would put courage at the top of the list, along with patriotism, which is the duty to make sacrifices for your country. We need more patriots and fewer opportunists in both parties.

a pebble a nibble a crumb (nosed out the molehole)

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