Divided and Uneven Liberal Identity (archive 2012)

The certain power of people who identify as “liberals” to have an ideology that still mirrors the society they critique because of two basic assumptions is pretty telling; although not in the simple double-think or hypocritical way that so-called “conservatives” often accuse them of belying    It is not that these marginally richer working class (called middle class in the US) are bad or crypto-racist necessarily even if they often blindly do benefit from such exploitation, but they are often blind to the structures they assume could be fair. Even terms like privilege imply that it is just systemic unfairness that could be reformed out, and not something that is fundamental to the structure of economic situation itself. After all, privilege is granted and can be taken away without fundamental social change at the roots of production.   You can deprivilege an ethnic group in feudalism for example (the dominance of say the Anglo-Saxons by the Normans) but not change the fundamental social structures of the society.   These unconscious assumptions are hidden within the language of many liberal “radicals” who adopt the nomenclature without fundamentally doing historical work to see the development of the idea at hand.   This gives even progressive liberalism a limitation that tends to be conservative under stress: It’s fundamental assumptions are in line with a “progressive” notion of the present to be managed into improvement without fundamentally changing the structure of class, and thus not deeply changing the nature of race or gender.  (Read the recent discussion in mostly liberal magazines about the end of men, which does not discuss that the pay for women while improved is still off and that benefits of middle class society are disappearing for lower income “middle class” including things like marriage without liberating the work load on single mothers, etc.)

In short, the mistake is that they actually assume the world as it is could be tweeked into something ideal without radical (and thus violent in some fundamental sense even if no blood is spilled) change, and thus they read the current into the past when trying to understand it.  Recently, more or less liberal sociological work by people like Jonathan Haidt read a fundamental separation of political ontology into determined psychological framework ignoring that historically these divisions are very modern.  For example, many liberal narratives about the South Eastern US ignores the history of populist and even progressive politics in the South: William Jenning Bryant was the presidential candidate of the “Solid South” after all.  Keynesian redistribution is assumed because that is all managerial tax policy, and no look at how fundamentally un-equal the work structure would be even under Keynesian redistribution schemes and how dependent semi-capitalist social Democracies actually are on exploited labor in countries that are not social Democratic.  The problems of the EU make this abundantly clear.

Many “Leftist” critique of liberalism actually accept fundamental liberal categories (Keynesian just needs to be more radicalized, the state is enemy but it could be run by more leftist technocrats to the benefit of all,  the assumption of nation-states as somehow real national actors) and just try to push them further.  This in a way makes sense because the origins of left-liberals and Democrats have an ideological genealogy that is on the same spectrum of bourgeois politics out of a mostly European framework.  Even “radically” “non-Eurocentric” radical liberal critiques (such as say Judith Butler) still fundamentally use categorical terms which are out of European thought itself (“the other” for example being a primary one).

In this, the self-identified radical or even the self-identified moderate liberal, can be somewhat forgiven for reflecting the divided and uneven nature of semi-capitalist liberal modernity.  It sees the world as “it is” but the world as it is is a reflection of the structures in which our economic and political lives are limited.  But while they can be forgiven, as long as they do not recognize the fundamental structural impossibility of their project due to the nature of representation and production, they are often their own enemies and the enemies of the very social improvement they advocate. Keynesianism does not work without outside exploitation of labor to give grist to the mill of the welfare state’s production capacity. Mutliculturalism doesn’t work unless one has a definition of culture that is purely ideal and thus involved with tolerance and tokenism of native languages without any respect for their own development or separation from the traditional ideologies of their society.

Many of my “liberal”–and remember I realize how confused this term is in North America, but also in Europe (which often denies the liberal origins of most contemporary social Democracy after the say 1930: Was it not the German Social Democrats, the former party of Marx, who removed minimum wage laws in Germany)–friends actually do see these contradictions in the paradox of Obama’s actual governing record, or the realization that most neo-liberalization of the US economy was actually accelerated under Bill Clinton.  They see it, but still holding on to the theories and social categories of soft psuedo-Marxian analysis of a re-distributional (which is really just radical Keynesianism often), sociological categories which have idealist modes of ideology, and notions the vague “system” is “systemically unfair” (instead of doing what it logically must do to maintain itself as a mode of production and distribution) limit how they can address the problem, and so the march continues and economic cycling and stagnation maintains itself.


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