Friday, September 6, 2013

Levin's Amendments a "Fantasy"?

I've criticized Mark Levin's The Liberty Amendments: Restoring the American Republic from the right, writing that what's needed is not a laundry list of reforms but an ideological revolution to power them.

But for a lefty like Anne-Marie Cox at the British Guardian the whole Amendments thing is an "originalist fantasy" -- and boring too.

Because the states are never going to authorize a convention under Article V of the US Constitution.

Well, yes.  I get that.  I get that the constitutional amendment process is fiendishly difficult, and that to propose ten amendments is political insanity.

But that's not the point of Levin's Amendments.  The point is to dress up a conservative program of reform in the sacred garments of the Constitution, to turn the boring grind of day-to-day politics into a holy crusade.

I happen to agree with Cox that the originalist movement is a busted flush.  I happen to agree that a state-led convention process would be a dead letter.  But that is not the point.  The point is to get the conservative faithful riled up and ready for political battle.  Obviously, political recruiter Mark Levin has succeeded in that, since Amendments has already spent weeks as a #1 New York Times bestseller.

Right now, even as we speak, Amendments is #9 on Amazon.

And remember, Ms. Feminist Cox.  The Equal Rights Amendment may have failed to get ratification by the required 38 states in 1982, but its ideas and its prescriptions have seeped into every corner of American life in the public square.  I'd call that a stunning strategic success, even if the tactical ERA battle failed.

All this just means that the specific reforms that Levin advances, from returning the Senate to its original function as the voice of the states to the limitation on taxation, will be a dead letter unless we completely and decisively demolish the liberal world view.

By that I mean that conservatives must advance a world view that encloses both the originalist vision and the progressive vision and points the way to something new.

That something new, from the conservative point of view, must include the notion of limited government and civil society.  It will require a flank attack on our liberal friends, catching their activists facing the wrong direction, so that their strategy and tactics, indeed their whole world view, collapses before the ideological might of the conservative world view.

In my view the world-beating conservative world view should beat the liberals with the ideas of their own ideological saints.  If you want to talk about alienation with Marx, what is more alienating than a life on government benefits utterly cut off from a useful contribution to society through work?  If you want to talk about the exploitation of surplus value, what is worse than the government taxing away and sequestering 15 to 25 percent of the ordinary worker's wages every paycheck?  If you want to talk about oppression, what is more oppressing than the demolition of lower-class culture by the liberal social agenda?  Isn't that what all invaders try to do when they defeat their hated enemy?  Why can't conservatives use Marx as a club to beat their political foes?

But when it comes to a positive agenda, and a new and all-encompassing world view, I hold that we should mine the left for the best political ores.  I start with the first generation Frankfurt School and Horkheimer and Adorno.  Their Dialectic of Enlightenment admitted that domination is in the very blood of Enlightenment because: "What men want to learn from nature is how to dominate it and other men."  In other words, they admitted that their Holy Grail of Enlightenment is also the wound of an Original Sin.  I have boiled this idea down into a catchphrase: System is domination.

That means every one of the lefty comprehensive and mandatory government programs is nothing more or less than a system for domination: cruel, unjust, corrupt, and wasteful.

Then we advance to the next generation of Frankfurters and Jürgen Habermas, student of Adorno.  His grand opus The Theory of Communicative Action proposes understanding the world as a duality of "system" and "lifeworld."

The problem for Habermas is the "colonization of the lifeworld" by systems, the systems of bourgeois capitalism, steering media, and the authoritarian administrative welfare state.  The answer is to empower the "lifeworld" as a public sphere of negotiation and exchange of truth values in a spirit of equality to balance the strategic might of system domination. Right on Jürgi! In my words,
People are not just egos pursuing a selfish goal; they are social beings immersed in a shared lifeworld, a culture that begins with “ego” and “alter,” the self and the other in which, of course, language is central in defining what it is possible to think about in the shared culture.
It is worth noting here that "Action" in the title of Habermas magnum opus is "Handeln" in the original German.  That means a lot more than action.  It includes the idea of negotiation and even haggling.  In regard to Jews, for instance, "Handeln" can be used as a pejorative, meaning people that are always bargaining and looking for a deal.

I hold that we conservatives can only defeat the world view of our liberal friends with their own ideas, ideas from the very best lefty thinkers.  We have to change "what it is possible to think about in the shared culture."  That means, of course, reversing the culture of political correctness, which is precisely an attempt to limit "what it is possible to think."

But how do you change "what it is possible to think"?  You don't, most of the time.  But when things start going wrong, badly wrong, then people start to break out of the taken for granted culture, the "lifeworld" in Habermas' words that "appears as a reservoir of taken-for-granteds, of unshaken convictions that participants in communication draw upon in cooperative processes of interpretations."

The whole point of a culture, of a "lifeworld," is that it provides a "taken-for-granted" blueprint for successful life in society in the here and now.  But when things go wrong, then people start to ask questions.  They start to critique the "taken-for-granted."  They start to search for a better way.

The glory of the Obama years is that nobody could perhaps have designed a better way to bring all the liberal "taken-for-granteds" into question.  And the irony of the whole thing is, as Stephen Moore points out in the Wall Street Journal that the young, minorities and women are hardest hit by the Obama economy and energy policy and, no doubt, social policy.

Yes, indeed, Anne-Marie Cox.  Mark Levin's Liberty Amendments is a boring fantasy.  But that's not the point.  The point is that the book's success shows that the people are starting to ache for an answer to our present problems.

It is up to us to build a shining ideological edifice that will create conservative light out of liberal darkness.  Do that, and the reforms in The Liberty Amendments will become a slam dunk.

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