Archive for January, 2012

05
Jan
12

The Elite Have Feelings Too: Corey Robin Interview At Naked Capitalism

Loser t-shirtRecommending a terrific conversation between Corey Robin, author of The Reactionary Mind and Philip Pilkington at the always-great Naked Capitalism.  What ties together the conservatism of Burke, Palin, Thatcher and Goebbels?  What endures in the various and shifting political theories that endorse inequality and suffering? What is shared by the monarchist, the apologist for slavery, the libertarian?

For one thing, it’s loss.  In short, the elite have so much more to lose than you or I, that the tragedy of their loss repeatedly serves as the cautionary narrative broadcast to the very people whose freedom they most restrict. Victimhood is the chip the elite place on the shoulders of their loudest supporters.

Robin: [T]he sensibility you describe – experiencing or identifying oneself as a victim — is a consistent feature of conservative thought. Regardless of whether the ideologue or camp follower of conservatism sees him or herself as a victim, the idea of victimhood plays a critical part in conservatism. Going back to Burke. Marie Antoinette is the first great victim of the conservative canon. The sovereign who Joseph de Maistre recommends be restored to power once the counterrevolution prevails – someone Maistre describes as being schooled in the ways of adversity, who’s been brought low by fortune and thus learned a thing or two – he’s a victim (and Maistre recommends him to power on the basis of that victimhood). William Graham Sumner’s “forgotten man” is another victim. Nietzsche’s master class, in fact, is a victim. So is Nixon’s silent majority. And so on.

Initially, I thought this was all instrumental and cynical: understanding that the lingua franca of democratic thought is the democratic appeal to the masses, the conservative turns the possessor into the dispossessed. But over time I’ve come to think that the victim is a far more fundamental, and sincere, figure in the conservative canon. Because not only does he appeal to us as a figure of compassion or pity, but he’s also someone who has a very particular claim on us: he demands to be made whole. In other words, he’s a rallying figure, someone whose losses – a country house, a plantation, a factory, a white skin – ought to be recompensed.

What’s more, when you turn your privileged class into a group of victims – not just rhetorically but in reality (the French Revolution really did produces losses among the aristocracy; Emancipation really did divest the master class of privilege and property) – they come to possess an attribute that is universally shared: loss. Their loss is quite different from that of the ordinary run of humanity, but loss is loss. I’ve sometimes wondered whether that might not be the right’s singular bid for universalism: it speaks for the loser everywhere.

But as you say, it speaks for the loser not by democratizing society – making things more equal – but by making it more elite, more privilege, more unequal.

Entire post here.

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02
Jan
12

Jack Abramoff: Shut Down The Free Market For Political Results

I bought Lawrence Lessig’s most recent title Republic Lost: How Money Corrupts Congress And How To Stop It more for the “how to stop it” part and less for the extra illustrations of business interests corrupting the lawmaking process.  To be already familiar with that area of corporate management known as “government affairs” and its mission to trade cash for influence on Capitol Hill by way of K Street lobbying firms is to be desperately thirsty for thoughts about relief, for plausible solutions rather than more problem review.

(I haven’t gotten to Lessig’s prescription yet.  I’m still plowing through David Graeber’s hugely important anthropological takedown of mythological economics Debt: The First 5,000 Years as well as Robert Elias’ The Empire Strikes Out: How Baseball Sold U.S. Foreign Policy and Promoted The American Way Abroad.)

What I didn’t expect to encounter in the interim was this 90 captivating video minutes of Lessig sitting with infamous former DC lobbyist Jack Abramoff. ‘Casino Jack”, a reformed professional destroyer of democracy once so oily and egregious as to have served 3 1/2 years in prison for political corruption, issues a mea culpa I wasn’t expecting, loudly and clearly blowing the whistle on the lobbying industry, its methods, ethos and apologists.

While one might reasonably expect the appearance to be a plug for Abramoff’s new book, the discussion with Lessig is nothing short of amazing and enlightening.  As a first-hand account of how the hidden, excruciatingly free market for political results specifically destroys representative democracy, this is rare, must-see, must-share stuff – particularly for anybody laboring under the delusion that we’re in trouble because markets aren’t free enough.

Monied lobbying is a market that withers democracy and fecalizes every area of the political spectrum.  The cash-shoveling traditions of Abramoff’s old K Street stomping grounds are why record-low congressional approval rates today reign on the center, right and what passes for a left.  As with all markets, this one’s beneficiaries and owners are few, while the rest of us, left uninvited on the outside, tend to pay lots of its costs.  As profoundly inequitable as this is, it nonetheless comes complete with intellectual blessing; corporate influencers and their hired libertarian think tanks from Cato to Hoover to Mises expressly oppose campaign and lobbying reform.  They forbid limiting the “freedom” of boardroom checkbooks to make a mockery of checks-and-balances government.  Voters get the government that corrupters pay for, and Abramoff, speaking as a former buyer of legislation, reminds everybody that not only does this market exist, it is profoundly free by any definition.

Like Wendell Potter did to the private health insurance industry, or John Perkins did to the neoliberal go-go bankers spreading third world poverty, with his new book, Abramoff just might take his place in the pantheon of Great Whistleblowers Of Late Capitalism.

(Now, to find the time to read the damn thing.)




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