Pankaj Mishra gets at least one thing right. The rhetoric of the secular left is indeed increasingly devoid of any moral content. But this is hardly news. The de-moralization of the left has been a very deliberate project engineered by a narrow clique dedicated above all else to defending sexual freedom against popular democracy. Abandoning socialism and self-government and class solidarity as animating ideals in favor of technocracy and juristocracy and meritocracy thus followed naturally.
Recall that the New Deal was “maternalist,” a set of institutional innovations designed to protect “traditional family life” (that artifact of political economy) from the remorseless logic of the market. Social norms and regulatory interventions were designed to stigmatize paid labor for women and to secure a “family wage” for male breadwinners. Sexist to the core, this regime at least maintained that there is more to life than “wholly materialist and secular goals,” as Mishra puts it.
The New Dealers saw families as a democratic redoubt against industrialism. Today’s center-left, in stark contrast, promises a program of childcare subsidies and related measures that are more “market-friendly” than “family-friendly,” designed to create as large and pliant a workforce as possible. For those who “slip through the cracks,” the credentialed shock troops of the social services are ready to punish and reward as necessary. Custodial democracy thus becomes a fact of life for millions.
Which is why the religious right is right, at least in part. For Mishra, what the wags call “Christianism” is the mirror image of Hindutva: a politics of nationalist self-assertion, with religious rhetoric masking Class War waged by the Haves on the Have-Nots. But what if it’s a function of a defensive orientation? Vacuous though it may sound, “family values” means a whole spectrum of things: intimate sphere, household security, keeping the market in its rightful place.
Rather than legitimate material acquisitiveness, the call for “family values” represents a radical challenge to the way we live. Gandhi might have understood that.
People keep complaining to me about Keith Gessen’s story “The Vice President’s Daughter.” Sexist, pretentious, parochial, name-dropping [sic] . . . It goes on. And these are Gessen’s friends! The consensus seems to be that Gessen should stick to criticism.
The resistance to Gessen is the resistance to a distasteful truth. His alter ego may be a bitter last man, a failure, a curser of the darkness. But is he unrepresentative? To put the question in his own words, “Does he who fights douchebags become, inevitably, something of a douchebag?”
I have seen his disappointment in your eyes.
A very thoughtful article by George Scialabba on Christopher Hitchens, but I’m surprised that his recent columns about the election in Ohio weren’t brought up. Could this represent the “balance” Mr. Scialabba is seeking? Hitchens has certainly carried the theories (“conspiracy” or not) much further than most of the left is willing to.
Regarding the article on Hitchens, it once again demonstrates everything that is wrong with leftist thinking. The US is evil and responsible for the world’s miseries. No one else is responsible for anything. Leftists don’t seem to realize that everything the US is guilty of is worse everywhere else. Don’t leftists know that poor nations have received billions in aid? If they don’t use it properly, what should the US do? Poverty, starvation, slavery, racism have always been part and parcel of the human experience. It’s only very recently in the West that people started thinking such things were wrong. The US does not have to be perfect to be defended. If leftists get what they want and destroy Western culture, what exactly do they think will happen?
Thanks for the reminder. But since I’m in Michigan I guess I won’t be making it to your party, which I recall is on the lower east side . . . of what, the country? But I am looking forward to the new issue of n+1. You could have called it n++, though, C-style. People have started calling it o, behind your backs.
I was at the n+1 party on Saturday night and had a great time (and I love the magazine, by the way). I have a weird favor to ask, even weirder since you don’t know me. At the party I met a guy who said he knew you. His name was [—]. He gave me his number but due to my technical incompetence, and those $1 beers, I didn’t save it to my cell phone right. If you could put me in touch with him, or just forward this email, I’d really appreciate it. I feel sort of silly about this. Thanks.
We’d like to use your letter about the party in our letters section. Do you mind? How’d that go, by the way?
Oh god. I guess there’s a cleansing power to humiliation. You can even add that after all that, it turned out he had a girlfriend. All for naught.
To the Editors,
n+1 is a terrific publication and I hope you find the money and energy to keep it going—but please stop emailing me about the great parties you are having, or have had, or are going to have. I’m not coming. I’ve got my reasons: for one thing I don’t live in New York; for another, I’m not what you would call a naturally affiliative type. Send my invites and updates to Jay McInerney or Tama Janowitz—they haven’t known what to do with themselves since Studio 54 closed.