Friday, October 20, 2017

Topics in Post-Revolutionary Socialism

Wood engraving byVladimir Favorsky, via polis.

Shorter Monsignor Ross Douthat, Apostolic Nuncio to 42nd Street, "What's the Matter With Republicans?", October 18 2015:
When Thomas Frank's What's the Matter With Kansas came out in 2004 with the thesis that working class voters in places like Kansas voting Republican were voting, insanely, against their own economic interests, it was wrong, because Republican presidential administration did all kinds of great things for those people, like Reagan didn't get rid of Social Security and Medicare, and everybody could get a subprime adjustable-rate mortgage, and then in the Bush first term there was Medicare Part D and No Child Left Behind. And everybody would get a tax cut! Not just the millionaires.
And yet now everything that Frank said that was false then is true! Thanks, Trump!
It wasn't false, was it? The "middle class tax cuts" were pathetic, the easy credit for creating an "ownership society" went sour, Part D had a doughnut hole, and children were getting left behind all over the place. These things were clearly designed to benefit not consumers but rent seekers with an interest in the industries involved, from drug companies to educational publishers, and in the case of the banking deregulation, that even went bad for the bankers. And compassionate conservative George W. Bush still wanted to privatize Social Security.

What Ross is really lamenting is that McConnell and Ryan and Trump won't or can't even bother to pretend that they care about anything but their own tax cuts any more.

But it occurs to me that there really is something to his argument, apart from sheer bad faith.

For the first time in the whole sorry history of the past year of conservative complaints about Trump not being a conservative, I'm starting to see a way in which it's kind of true, in the sense of the post-Marxist or whatever you'd like to call it theory under construction in this space, which is as you may recall that
  1. Capitalism collapsed under the weight of its internal contradictions, as Marx predicted it eventually would, sometime around 1982, but nobody noticed.
  2. Ownership of the means of production, to be precise, generally vanished into the ether of program trading, index funds, meta-reinsurance and the like, and the bourgeoisie by and large ceased to exist; in terms of production relations, we're just about all proletarians now. 
  3. But in terms of consumption relations, we are vastly unequal; this is the basis of the new class system (first class, executive class, economy class, and nonfliers permanently stuck in the ground).
So let's say conservatism is, as we always define it here, a rhetorical technique for defending privilege against encroaching democracy, in which the more powerful find ways of explaining to the less powerful, "You should vote for me to keep being your superior," as it were. In 18th-century England and France the nobility and high clergy to the incoming bourgeoisie, telling them how the squirearchy and the priesthood have always kept them safe; in the later 19th century in Germany and North America the ascendant bourgeoisie to the scary workers, threatening them with unemployment ("I create the jobs!").

Now that the class distinctions have become so financialized—control of the means of production yielding to control of one's one portfolio—, those conservative institutions hardly exist any more. This is really what David F. Brooks is so perpetually upset about, that "the" church and the whatever he's thinking about, Kiwanis or bowling leagues, don't have the visibility they used to have. It's true! The NRA (which taught me gun safety when I was 10 and did a great job, I don't mind saying) and the United States Chamber of Commerce don't do a damn worthwhile thing any more. But what he's really angry with, it seems to me, is the American bourgeoisie itself, which just no longer exists. That's not even their fault!

And conservatives have nothing left to talk about but fear, of the chaos on the other side of the chaos. They no longer have an interest in workers' prosperity, for example, the way that filthy old Henry Ford did when he priced the Model T to be within his workers' means. or their long-term health. They're just interested in not giving them any money. But what disturbs conservatives like Ross is that they no longer have any interest in controlling the lower orders. So there's not even anything to lie about.

Conservatives now can't remember how to tell voters they care, because it's been so long since they were expected to worry about it. And the difference between the Trump and W. Bush administrations is really that, that they don't have a cultivated sense of how to fake it.

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