But as with liberalism of the 1950s, the New Left is now very much the establishment themselves. And a movement that sees itself as avant-garde is now the very definition of garde.
To put it mildly, this sort of cognitive dissonance can cause tension.
Which brings us to Ronald Radosh’s new post at PJM, in which he explores The New Republic and “the Crisis of The American Intellectual: Can the Old Liberal Stalwart Play a Role in Today’s World?”:
A few years ago, [incoming New Republic editor Richard Just] participated in some of the meetings held to create an American version of the Euston Manifesto, which TNR publicized, and of which Just was a co-author and signer. (The full American manifesto can be found here.) As the American authors of what began as a British endeavor explain:
The statement was a defense of liberal democracy and human rights as well as a rejection of anti-Americanism, anti-Semitism, and terrorism.
Regarding the British one as a “turning point in contemporary intellectual and political debates,” the American supporters came up with their own domestic version.
Unfortunately, the high hopes its framers had came to naught. Its influence was virtually nil. In Europe, rather than have a great effect, the climate of anti-Americanism and anti-Semitism, especially in London where Euston originated, has only become worse.
The problem that Just and TNR have, however, is one brilliantly addressed by Walter Russell Mead in his latest important blog post on “The Crisis of the American Intellectual.” Read argues that the reason today’s intellectuals are ill-equipped to play a major role in addressing what we must do about today’s issues goes way beyond Just’s hopes that liberalism questions itself and its own favored exponents of the doctrine.
As Mead explains, “the United States is stuck with a social model that doesn’t work anymore.” Mead writes that the problems go beyond the erosion of our cultural model, the problem of the deficit, and the problems of international competition, all of which he thinks can be dealt with. The problem is nothing less than the Weltanschauung of the American intellectual class.
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Instead, he argues that they are “backward looking and reactionary.” By that he means they are stuck in the old Progressive era notion of “progress” and I would add the vision of statist socialism favored by many on the Left. First, Mead addresses ideology:
Since the late nineteenth century most intellectuals have identified progress with the advance of the bureaucratic, redistributionist and administrative state. The government, guided by credentialed intellectuals with scientific training and values, would lead society through the economic and political perils of the day. An ever more powerful state would play an ever larger role in achieving ever greater degrees of affluence and stability for the population at large, redistributing wealth to provide basic sustenance and justice to the poor. The social mission of intellectuals was to build political support for the development of the new order, to provide enlightened guidance based on rational and scientific thought to policymakers, to administer the state through a merit based civil service, and to train new generations of managers and administrators. The modern corporation was supposed to evolve in a similar way, with business becoming more stable, more predictable and more bureaucratic.
And this, to get back to the problem facing TNR, is still the perspective most of its editors hold. They think the “administrative, bureaucratic state,” as Mead defines it, can still be handled via regulatory measures. Hence their defense of and support of the disastrous ObamaCare, which outgoing editor Foer mentions as one of the magazine’s most important efforts. As Mead writes so powerfully, “if our society is going to develop we have to move beyond the ideas and institutions of twentieth century progressivism.” Its promises have dissolved, and its “premises no longer hold.” This goes against the grains of many of our best intellectuals, Mead claims, an observation justified by reading many of TNR’s own writers and editors when they write about domestic issues.
For America to prosper, Mead argues:
Power is going to have to shift from bureaucrats to entrepreneurs, from the state to society and from qualified experts and licensed professionals to the population at large.
And good luck with the left ad0pting that remarkably open model in the near future, especially when the current iteration of what was called progressivism, having been eclipsed by the adaptability of the modern, open, technologically savvy society, is angrily attempting to turn the clock back on freedom, entrepreneurship, and in many cases, technology itself.