Freedom from Blog

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Saturday, October 04, 2008

Bourgeois Ideologists Beware

As some of you know, we're not a household that puts much stock in the concept of "ideology" as that term is used in contemporary parlance, i.e., in the sense that most political actors, perhaps including many if not most voters, act on the basis of ideological beliefs that can be arranged on a single dimension from "left" to "right." This is not to say that political actors don't have beliefs, and not to say that the terms "left" and "right" aren't useful terms. But, in pragmatic fashion, my view is that "left" and "right" have value in describing a range of issue positions in shorthand. So today to be on the "left" means to embrace a certain set of issue positions, and the same for the "right." Whether holding those issue positions together makes internal logical sense, not so important. The term "ideology" in the strongest sense means that the beliefs should fit into a coherent theoretical construct. I think that that is probably a bridge to nowhere too far.

Fronesis' post on the, um, non-conservative nature of contemporary conservatism from about a week ago makes this point from a slightly different angle. If you start from Plato, or Burke, there's really very little about contemporary conservatism that is Burkean or Platonic.

I would point Fronesis to the writings of Frank Meyers as the prime bourgeois ideologist (Marx!) of contemporary U.S. conservatism. Meyers did the intellectual spadework for uniting two divergent political factions: the economic libertarians (perhaps the last remaining truly ideological group) and the folks we call "social conservatives" today. This has always proved an uneasy alliance, but to the extent that there is still a "conservative" movement in the United States, it is fusionist.

At the root of politics isn't ideology, but interest. I'm not a Marxist, but I do believe that politics is driven by interests seeking advantage in the social, economic, and political spheres, and that these interests seek to influence government to achieve their ends; that in that effort, ideological constructs can be helpful. In the U.S., "free market," for example, is a powerful talisman to conjure with. It means nothing, of course. The idea that we have a "free market" economy is laughable. But powerful economic interests have a stake in (1) lots of people believing that we have relatively unfettered markets already and (2) the efficiency and desirability of such markets. So they promote these beliefs through their ideologists. The ones on my teevee always using the phrase "free market."

I think that the current crisis was driven less by ideology and more by a set of powerful interests discovering that they could amass great wealth through exploiting certain economic arrangements. Nothing new here. Only they weren't extracting raw materials from the earth (they weren't oilmen) or exploiting new technologies for greatly increased production (the industrial giants of the 19th and 20th centuries); they were exploiting the creation of paper wealth and paper profits through a speculative bubble. I actually don't think that that bubble was consciously created. I think that when the financial sector realized that it was there--and my guess is that this realization dawned piecemeal--they went nuts exploiting it.

But the interesting point is that there isn't an ideological construct to explain or justify this set of arrangements. Not with any specificity. It's almost like the interests, and the complexity of the economic arrangements, have outstripped the ability of the bourgeois ideologists to produce scripts.

So we're left with the nightmare scenario: another Great Depression will follow unless we protect these interests. Why? Something about credit. But aren't we rewarding "bad behavior"? They are too big to fail. Why? See the nightmare scenario.

Such arguments should be familiar, from the Iraq war. Saddam is going to get the bomb and kill you! Is "neo-conservatism" an ideology or tales told to frighten children?


At 1:28 PM, Blogger Wilson said...

You nailed this piece, I enjoyed it.

On a tangential note, I found this article to be very important:


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