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Ed Driscoll

Sex and the Stasism: A Century of Standing Still

February 17th, 2014 - 4:39 pm

“‘The Revolt Against the Masses’ reveals liberalism’s elitist roots,” Michael Goodwin writes in the New York Post:

Ever wonder why Barack Obama seems more suited for a European coffee shop than the Oval Office?

Wonder no more. Fred Siegel’s new book explains all you need to know about liberalism, a political philosophy that, despite good intentions, careened off track after World War I and hasn’t found its way back yet.

“The Revolt Against the Masses” is a brilliantly argued, well-timed case against reactionary snobs who were and remain disgusted with American society. Under the subtitle “How Liberalism has Undermined the Middle Class,” Siegel documents with scholarly detail the arrogance of elites who launched a movement that romanticizes the poor while trying, with distressing success, to dismantle the democratic, capitalist traditions that helped establish the middle class.

“The aim of liberalism’s founding writers and thinkers — such as Herbert Croly, Randolph Bourne, H.G. Wells, Sinclair Lewis and H.L. Mencken — was to create an American aristocracy of sorts, to provide the same sense of hierarchy and ­order long associated with European statism,” he writes.

A century after the ideology’s birth, how’s it working out for both self-styled “Progressives” and for the rest of us? Look no further than a pair of shows produced by the very fountainhead of “Progressivism” itself, Time-Warner-CNN-HBO for some hints, as Peggy Noonan writes at the Wall Street Journal, comparing and contrasting HBO’s 1990s-era series Sex and the City, with its successor, Girls, starring that tattooed Obama postergirl herself, Lena Dunham:

On “Sex and the City” they had careers but were not precisely careerist. On “Girls” they want careers but have no demonstrated capabilities.

On “Sex and the City” the subtext was friendship. In “Girls” the subtext is competition. It is a truer show in a material sense, but a colder one. People aren’t really nice to each other. There’s a sense of grieving over something that isn’t quite named. There’s little emphasis on glamour.

The differences in the tone and mood of the two shows is explainable in part by the fact that the characters in “Sex” were in their 30s and the characters in “Girls” are in their 20s and just out of school. They’re more lost, less fully formed. They’re trying to get a start on who they will become but can’t gain purchase because they don’t yet know who they are.

But watching, I thought the show’s creators were saying, or simply reflecting in their work, that young and academically credentialed girls now are a little more lost, a lot less fully formed than young women in past eras. The great recession is a quiet presence. It’s hard to get a job; sometimes Hannah acts as if she’s scrounging for food. The parents of the characters are mostly affluent flakes who wouldn’t have taught their kids much beyond the idea of rising.

“Sex and the City” had an air of rebellion. “Girls” is living in the middle of what the rebellion wrought.

Back in 2008, a few critics described the crazed fans of Sex and City as the distaff equivalent of  Trekkies and equally obsessive Star Wars fanatics. And since Barack Obama been endlessly compared — even before taking office — to FDR, numerous pundits have referred to 21st century “Progressivism” itself as a cargo cult beholden to the days of FDR. So with all of those holographic reflections in mind, how’s all that hopeychangey stuff working out for them?