Monday, February 6, 2012

What Linda Hirshman gets wrong about what David Brooks gets right about the left.

Continuing the theme, expressing irrational amounts of rage over things I read on Salon today, which I began in my last post, I recommend this piece by Linda Hirshman.

Full disclosure: I haven't read Brooks' article, and have only Hirshman's to go by.  If her's is well-written that should be enough anyways.

Right from the first paragraph things go horribly wrong:

As he often does, in his column Friday New York Times columnist David Brooks offered what looks like a “nonpartisan” analysis.  Social movements, he warned, are suffering because everyone thinks they should make up their own belief system. Unless you’re Nietzsche, Brooks advises, this is a guarantee of failure. Every man is not a political genius.
Well yes.  His analysis certainly looks nonpartisan.  That fact that he's a complete right-wing partisan and establishmentarian hack will be overlooked for a moment though.

Nietzsche's belief system, as much as he professed to have one, can be summed up as, "question everything, and then ask why you were asking those questions."  He also explicitly argued that ideas which are entirely original are necessarily going to be bad ideas.

However, most people never take the time to read any Nietzsche for themselves (start with Walter Kaufman's translations if you do!) and so I'll forgive that gaffe.

Next Hirshman explains a few concise points:

  • "Nobody does “whatever floats your boat” like the liberal left."
  • "Letting every person with a “mic check” suggest a fundamental strategy for the movement is a recipe for disaster." 
  • "Not only have existing intellectual traditions been the product of superior minds, they have stood the test of time. Anyway, how to act collectively when everyone is pursuing his own quixotic dream?"
How is it that conservatives get away with spouting these types of elitist cliches and still get to accuse everyone else of being a snob?

If I have to explain to you the value of group discussion in brainstorming, then you're hopeless.

Describing the left as "everyone pursuing his own quixotic dream" is hilarious.  First, half of the left is pursuing 'her' own dreams, something I'd think Linda could sympathize with.  The more substantive problem with that caricature will become clear as November approaches.  Soon all the GOP ramblings about those damn hippies will turn into warnings about the left 'drinking the Kool-aid' and marching in lockstep off a cliff with Obama.
"For his friends on the left, however,  Brooks advises a simple reversion to their philosopher, Karl Marx"
Wow!  Something I agree with Brooks on!  Well, I'd prefer not a 'simple reversion' but rather a critical reconsideration, but still!

But then Hirshman goes on to make this statement:
Fortunately, should the left be capable of giving up its endlessly proliferating individual belief systems, two schools of thought other than the return to the specter of communism would be available to them.  There is a robust utilitarian tradition, represented most recently in the work of Princeton philosopher Peter Singer....
Wait a sec, if you get to reference the ideas of the much-maligned Friedrich Nietzsche, why can't we talk communism?
The well-worked-out analysis of Singer’s argument for beneficence is a vastly better foundation for a long-term social movement than any of the slogans on OWS placards. “Tax the rich” is catchy, but dissolves when confronted with Brooks’ comrades’ libertarian first principle: “It’s my money.”
Not if you're using a Marxist perspective....

From here her essay devolves into a typical "leftists could save themselves if they just became Randroids" screed.

Another great 20th century philosopher, the late John Rawls, made a very well-worked-out argument for why it’s not “your money” at all. It’s only your money, as citizens of many less well-favored societies than the United States know, if other people are willing to refrain from killing you to get it. Otherwise, life is, famously, “solitary, POOR, nasty, brutish and short.” Rawls set forth elaborate conditions for when societies agree to let the rich keep the money without having to live behind walls topped with ground glass.
Most important, Rawls posits, inequality must also benefit the people on the bottom, e.g., by expanding the size of the pie. This was the case for much of American history, and the society was the better for it. But now that finance has replaced manufacturing as the engine of the economy, not so much. The endless claims of money movers like Mitt Romney that they are “creating jobs” reflects the deep power of Rawls’ construct. If they’re not, what is he doing with all that money? Rich people’s claims to be complying with Rawls’ condition can only go on so long in face of the robust evidence to the contrary.

On second thought, I don't think she got anything right, except for parroting Brooks' call for more Marxism.

Vive la Révolution?

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