July 11, 2017
…and Where We Stop, Nobody Knows

…but we can make a good guess. Lately I have been re-reading the history of my (relative) youth, and it turns out to be a depressing exercise. Even a frightening one. The excerpt below is from a 1968 essay by the great I.F. Stone. Substitute the “War on Terror” for Vietnam, switch the names of the politicians as appropriate, and the piece could run almost unchanged today. Stone had the 2016 election figured out half a century ago:

The average man approaches the problem of war with simple reactions of anxiety and threatened virility thousands of years old. There is a strong movement for peace, but there is also a strong contingent of cavemen among us, and it is hard to see which is the majority; the same people often belong to both categories. Reagan and Wallace speak for large constituencies, too. In Vietnam as in Korea the Democrats have kept the wars limited while Reagan, like MacArthur before him, speaks for a Republican right wing which thinks the whole business can be ended in no more time than it takes to go from the 17th to the 18th hole by dropping a bomb on Peking and another on Moscow.

The two urgent issues are the Vietnamese war and the black revolt. Both require solutions for which we are poorly conditioned. One is to give way in Vietnam to a communist, though also nationalist, tide. The other is to deal with the aspiration of the blacks, the other poor, which can only be met by fundamental changes, a real redistribution of income from haves to have-nots, and an intervention of the state deeper and more far-reaching than anything America has ever known before. The only party less prepared for this than the Democrats, though not much less so, is the Republican Party.

The issues, however, are beyond that unspoken ideological consensus within which the two-party system operates. The Democratic Party, unlike the Republican, has some legitimate claim to being the party of “the people.” But the people for whom it speaks turn out on closer examination to be middle-class owners of property, white-collar workers, or the organized working class…


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The urban and rural poor, and all but the thin upper strata of the blacks and our other “colored” minorities, are not really a part of its constituency. They are outside “the people” in whose name it claims to speak. Unfortunately for revolutionary theorists, the more fortunate, those with something to lose, are the overwhelming majority. The poor, white and black, are but a lower fifth of the population. Should the Democratic Party move too far in the direction of taking them in, and serving their interests, it is likely to lose much of its white skilled worker followers to the Republican party. It is this which makes the Democratic Party look so unsatisfactory to the black radicals and the new left, purveyor of half measures rather than fundamental change. But in this the party faithfully reflects a majority constituency, and in this sense it is truly representative.

The new radicals generally are unwilling to face up to this reality. They prefer to believe that there is something wrong with the party, or with something called “the system,” or that society is sick, rather than admit that what they are revolting against is the majority itself. To admit that would be too difficult and too untactful a break with the dominant ideology of democracy. Black nationalist separatism is fantasy based on despair but in one respect is more realistic than the New Left, for in proposing separation it recognizes that what it is combating is the white majority and not some clique, conspiracy, or perverse ruling elite which has somehow lead “the people” astray.

In a democratic society it is always assumed that the people are good, as in theology it is always assumed that God is good. Evil is an accident, or the work of the devil. When large numbers of ordinary men commit some outrage against humanity, it is tacitly assumed that somehow they are not part of “the people." That myth, the Common Man, is the theoretical sovereign of democratic society, and when he turns up in a racist mob or a typical veterans organization, ideology literally turns off our vision. Democratic political stereotypes remain stalwartly non- and pre-Freudian because you can't win elections by telling voters that they themselves are at fault. It is easier to let them off the hook by blaming some abstraction. Adam’s sins are still attributed to some serpent which crept into the garden.

It is the nature of the white majority, and of man, that brings the two-party system to the verge of breakdown when faced with the need to swallow a military defeat and to tax the whites for the benefit of blacks. The danger is that the white majority may choose instead to follow a simplistic demagogy which advocates as the way out a get-tough policy at home and abroad. Against that darkening a backdrop, McCarthy is a wan hope.

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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at July 11, 2017 06:56 PM
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