|Alexander Hamilton, neoliberal and multicultural. Well, he's multicultural now, and you have to be a pretty mean old fart to complain about it. Image via The Source. I just ran into a very good essay (in the sense that it agrees with me a lot) on Hamilton and the subject matter discussed here, by Matthew Yglesias, from April.|
Corey Robin, making some well-deserved fun of this kind of panditry, fell into doing some of it himself, offering his own analysis of a Clintonian political realignment that would work by simply eliminating the (less multicultural part of the) left, and his own proposal for a mirror-image realignment that would kind of move the multiculturals around and eliminate the right:
The Clinton forces want nothing more than to make all of American politics—not just in this election but for the foreseeable future—into a battle between a racist, ethno-nationalist right and a multicultural, neoliberal center. Our job is to make politics into a struggle between a multicultural neoliberal center and a multicultural, multiracial socialist left.There's actually some sense in that last as applied to the US, in that it's the right that seems likely to disappear for a while in the Trumpian wake. While the "center-left" coalition is showing some signs of discomfort with its breadth—with the cohabitation of Marxists and hedge-fund creeps in a "liberal" alliance—the traditional "center-right" coalition is literally exploding into unreconstructible fragments from the fundamental unsustainability of its premises, as I keep arguing (inspired, once again, by Robin's own Reactionary Mind).
Conservatism ultimately can't hold together, one more time, because it's a coalition of greeds in conflict, between the super-wealthy elite attempting to gather all the nation's wealth to itself and the people they rely on for votes, scattered forces of parochial reaction—religious bigots, white supremacists, small-town business owners, and owners of mega-farms. Liberals are divided by legitimate disagreements on the question of progress and how we can make it.
In this we resemble the pioneers of 1787, it seems to me. There were no conservatives in the new United States: the Tories had been driven out (to Canada and Britain) or temporarily silenced, though there were plenty of evil financiers, famous for buying up the government IOUs held by the revolutionary war veterans for pennies on the dollar. What there was was a battle between two ideas of progress, the Jeffersonian utopia of a nation of smallholder gentlemen cultivating their gardens, all perfectly equal (except for the slaves, who would have to be thought about later on), and the Hamiltonian idea of an industrial colossus, where some people would just have to be wage-slaves for the common good.
This liberal battle didn't have to be a battle, and often wasn't. It could be the frame of the kind of civil, compromising politics those centrists are always telling us about. There can't be proper compromise with conservatism, because it's intrinsically in bad faith, but there can be compromise between competing progressivisms.
As there was, indeed, at the very beginning, when Hamilton and Madison hammered out the question of how to deal with the states' war debts, much of which consisted of those unpaid soldiers' wages; they agreed that the new federal government would have to assume the debt, but Hamilton wanted the payments to go entirely to those dastardly financiers, who would then invest their ill-gotten gains in the creation of banks and factories, while Madison wanted to see major compensation for the cheated vets, who would be able to buy little farms and participate in local Athenian-style democracy. Hamilton won that one, in addition to ending up as a Broadway show. (Madison was too short for stardom.)
Robin's proposed all-liberal politics, a contest between neoliberals and socialists, in turn, reminds me of the effective politics of continental Europe after World War II, where the capitalist elites ("liberals" in the 19th-century sense, which is not as opposed to the modern sense as you might think) and trade unions (nonrevolutionary socialists), natural enemies, learned how to compromise (in the way the Germans in particular should have done at the outset of the Great Depression) and created the form of the modern European welfare state.
The Obama presidency has been a time for leftists and liberal centrists to work together, and we haven't done a great job of it, in point of fact, though Obama himself has done a few miracles in that direction. The oncoming collapse of the Republican party is an opportunity to rectify the failure, better than the opportunity Goldwater gave the Democrats in 1964, which was so fruitful in social progress in spite of the disaster of the Vietnam War.
It's even more possible now, if, as I believe, the basis for the traditional class struggle under capitalism is dissolving into some unpredictable (but probably not utopian) future alignment, as nobody is really in control of the means of production any more.
If "our job", as Robin says, is to make politics into that kind of struggle, then working together now, hedge-fund Democrats and democratic socialists, to vote our American Tories into oblivion, is the way to do it. We can start fighting with each other again in December, but not fighting so hard that we can't get some work done, because there's an awful lot of work to do.