...While Darwin famously saw evolution as an exercise in species-enhancing competition, the Russian thinker Peter Kropotkin insisted that it was an exercise in cooperation. In Mutual Aid: A Factor of Evolution (1902), he argued that survival was fostered by cooperation within and among species rather than by murderous rivalries. Similar arguments can be found among evolutionary biologists and social scientists today, as Robert Wright shows in Nonzero: The Logic of Human Destiny (2000). The communitarian paradigm offers a portrait of humans as naturally embedded in communities. Here, the political project is one of individuation: creating artificially the conditions for personal freedom from a cooperative democratic process. In this view, democracy is not a product of freedom, freedom is a product of democracy. Democratic societies do not secure cooperation by sacrificing freedom, they create conditions for freedom by associating us in cooperative communities.
Let us apply this short lesson in political theory to the American experience. In the American ideal of “liberal democracy,” the two tendencies embodied in this term are supposed to stand in a healthy tension. The “liberal” part of our culture is individualistic and competitive, focused on private freedom and property; the “democratic” part is communitarian and cooperative, focused on public freedom (civic freedom), justice, and the common ground that makes private property possible. Today, the liberal element dominates the democratic communitarian element, upsetting the delicate balance.
The American people have always had a healthy distrust of power, especially in its European hyper- collectivist incarnation (the Nazis and the Communists), in which an ideal quest for community and equality becomes an excuse for rampant despotism. But in allowing this understandable caution to morph into a distrust of democratic centralized government and community power tout court, Americans turned a seemingly innocent concern with social justice (welfare government, the safety net society, and a politics of cooperation, for example) into totalitarian vices.
From the start, de moc racy itself has bred a certain anxiety in America, an anxiety for which Alexis de Tocqueville wrote the defining text. He predicted the formation of a rights-crushing majoritarian tyranny. Yet the specter of majorities run amok that has helped rationalize market neoliberalism and privatization, and has justified advancing the interests of capitalism before establishing civic democracy in places such as Iraq and Russia, has exacted a high cost. For collectivism has never been an American issue. The United States has always been a rights-encased, decentralized, federalist “weak- state” system, relatively impervious to the kinds of dogmatic statism that wrecked Europe in the last century. As my favorite Harvard teacher, Louis Hartz, liked to point out in calling for a more democratic culture, “The American majority has forever been a puppy dog tethered to a lion’s leash.” The new obsession with competition and market liberty constructs an illusory enemy—the supposedly overweening democratic state. The quest for equality and justice is caricatured as a striving for mediocrity and bureaucratic irresponsibility.
At the same time, the actual character of the competitive marketplace is badly misjudged. For the irony is that the rhetoric of market competition often masks private monopolies: less choice, not more. Democratic realists and impartial sociologists recognize that behind the façade of boastful competition lies a world of inequality and domination. While praising the competitive market, those who actually work the marketplace specialize in mergers and acquisitions, takeovers and cartels, liquidations and sell offs. Wealth is not produced, but reshuffled and expropriated. Real competition is avoided, and the risk in whose name profit is supposedly earned is socialized (the taxpayers bail out the corporate failures), while profits, though no longer earned by taking real risks, are kept private, reserved for shareholders and overpaid corporate managers. Deregulation is said to enhance competition, but in the airline and communication industries it has entrenched price fixing and facilitated cartels and the kinds of monopoly that “bundling” makes possible, as when Bill Gates forced computer companies to include the whole Microsoft software platform in the machines they sold.
This is not to say that competition is just a ruse. While it may fail to actually define the corporate hierarchies that masquerade as a market economy, it dominates American cultural life and pervades our psyches. It manages to twist our social interactions and pervert our sense of commonality. Most damagingly, perhaps, its relentless rhetoric— now integral to the vast marketing industry— persuades us that our most precious value, freedom, is tied up with privacy and dependent on freedom from democratic governance, whereas it is democratic governance that actually enforces the variety and pluralism the market putatively reflects and reinforces. Government marks the rule of law, and it is law that secures the conditions for freedom....
Then making the necessary reverse tack, there's dday over at Hullabaloo:
...The "post-partisan" label that Schwarzenegger has taken up has enabled him to just use the language of both sides of the political aisle while rigidly holding to conservative "drown the government in the bathtub" policy. So he sounds schizophrenic to those who don't scratch the surface.If Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger wanted to further his reputation as a dabbler who has political Velcro glued to his fingers, he succeeded with elements of his State of the State speech yesterday.
One minute this Republican governor was praising the public works programs of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. The next he was calling for more partnerships with private industry to build public infrastructure – the seeming antithesis of the New Deal.
One minute he was acknowledging the harsh consequences of spending cuts that involve "not just dollars, but people." The next he was calling for across-the-board spending cuts and refusing to raise taxes.
Because he's supposed to be some kind of post-partisan, state political insiders have convinced themselves into believing that this is an elaborate ruse, that Schwarzenegger is just calling for outlandish cuts without taxes to get a broader compromise (Odd way of forcing compromise, by proposing something entirely on one side of the equation). They're so convinced that he's some kind of coalition builder and compromiser that they don't listen when he says he won't raise taxes (actually, he'll just call taxes fees and make sure they're applied regressively, if at all). It's entirely based on the image of the Governor and not the reality.
I go into so much detail on this because it's a model for how progressive policy would suffer, necessarily, under "post-partisan" executive leadership. Envisioning a government of national unity where everyone puts aside differences neglects the inconvenient fact that politicians have substantive differences, including those who claim to be above politics. Mayor Bloomberg, himself faced with a significant budget deficit, responded to the crisis by saying “The first thing we’re going to do for the city is try to reduce spending.” He has his own ideological rigidities, too, especially in foreign policy, where he shows little difference from George Bush. "Let's everybody get along" is a transparent way to not say "Let's everyone do what I say" when that's the actual meaning. Corporatist warmongers don't get to say who should start or stop the bickering. They have to put their ideas in front of the public and allow them to be accepted or rejected. The cult around Bloomberg mirrors the starstruck media cult around Schwarzenegger. Failing to scrutinize what this call for "bipartisanship" is a cover for will put the country in the same dire straits as California is in right now.
I block-quote so much of this because I don't find the two positions (and there are many other current versions) mutually exclusive, at all.
I say "necessary tack" because to lose one's pathos of indignation in the face of so much obscene injustice as presented by these last several decades of "The New American Century" (beginning with Raegan, or even Carter) would be to lack any conscience whatsoever.
To accept that politicians must function in a certain political reality (however reified that reality has become), if they are to function there at all (as opposed to within some other non-governmental structure) is, always, to risk naturalizing and, always always, to dignify the reified process.
Nevertheless I'm not convinced it is fair to extend this blanket condemnation of the "rhetoric of cooperation" to those - however untested their real courage and innovation - whose intentions almost certainly spring from a different, unquestionably better place. To recognize and diagnose the potential mis-uses of a certain language in a certain context is important, but to deny any person making occasional appeal to such language any chance to bring about change–especially the beginnings of a change in context - is just willfully silly.
Let's face it, the kind of behavioral changes necessary for survival, let alone some form of radical equality or justice, are not going to come easy – behavioral changes never are (just ask the psychoanalyst).
Which is not to say they are impossible–certainly not. Concrete steps toward imposing any genuinely realistic care-of-the-planet, and care-of-each-other (not just the hyper-commodified care-of-the-self) ethos on the USian population, and working with genuine integrity to institute and uphold courageous standards planet-wide, have never been potentially easier to build. The first step to galvanizing the silent majority and breaking down the power-gap is obviously to help someone into a position of power whose openness to change and sense of justice (however tempered) represents some future, at all. Only then the real work –and not just the reactionary, sensationally partisan and ultimately futile damage-control–can begin. If this modest desire–instead of wishing for the violent conditions of an all-out revolution–marks me as a wimpy moderate in some circles, then so be it.