December 6, 2004

Reactionary Provincials

Marc Cooper points to a short, concise piece in The Nation by Michael Lind (an ex-conservative turned center-leftist who I’ve admired for years) that stands out in a sea of mediocrity.

In an era in which most U.S. population growth is occurring in the South, West and heartland, American liberalism is defined by people in the Northeast.

At a time when rising tuitions are pricing many working-class Americans out of a college education, the upscale campus is becoming the base of American progressivism.

In a country in which most working-class Americans drive cars and own homes in the suburbs, the left fetishizes urban apartments and mass transit and sneers at “sprawl.”

In an economy in which most workers are in the service sector, much of the left is obsessed with manufacturing jobs.

In a society in which Latinos have surpassed blacks as the largest minority and in which racial intermixture is increasing, the left continues to treat race as a matter of zero-sum multiculturalism and white-bashing.

In a culture in which the media industry makes money by pushing sex and violence, the left treats the normalization of profanity and obscenity as though it were somehow progressive, making culture heroes of Lenny Bruce and Larry Flynt.

At a time when the religious right wants to shut down whole areas of scientific research, many on the left share a Luddite opposition to biotech.

In an age in which billions would starve if not for the use of artificial fertilizers in capital-intensive agriculture, the left blathers on about small-scale organic farming.

In a century in which the dire need for energy for poor people in the global South can only be realistically met by coal, oil and perhaps nuclear energy, liberals fantasize about wind farms and solar panels.

And in a world in which the greatest threat to civilization is the religious right of the Muslim countries, much of the left persists in treating the United States as an evil empire and American patriotism as a variant of fascism.

American progressivism, in its present form, is as obsolete in the twenty-first century as the agrarian populists were in the twentieth. If you can't adapt to the times, good intentions will get you nowhere. Ask the shade of William Jennings Bryan.
I think he’s off base about Larry Flynt and Lenny Bruce. Hardly anyone cares a whit for nasty ol’ Larry, and Lenny is from another era. (Also, as an aside, anyone who doesn’t care for Lenny Bruce might consider watching Dustin Hoffman portray him in Lenny and see if you don’t change your mind.)

I also think he's wrong about sprawl. Ask your average American what he or she thinks of sprawl, and you're not likely to get an enthusiastic endorsement. It's one thing to like your house in the suburbs, and another to be a booster for 2-hour commutes from the exurbs. New urbanism is rising, not falling, in popularity - and for a reason.

But Lind’s basic point stands. Progressivism, as he calls it, is both provincial and reactionary. What used to turn me off about the right now repels me from the left.

Not entirely, mind you. The Democrats have been the party of fiscal responsibility since at least the 1980s. (The Republicans create deficits so the Democrats can reduce them.) And the Republicans have plenty of provincial reactionaries of their own. (Jerry Falwell and James Dobson, anyone?) But that’s just another way of saying anyone who is literally progressive, rather than dogmatically so, has nowhere to go.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at December 6, 2004 6:24 PM
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