“The work will have to be done from the ground up,” writes Kevin Baker who sounds the call for democratic political praxis in this month’s Harper’s, “and it will have to be done by us.” Indeed there are times when the collaborative solidarity of an active demos, expressed as a solidarity of demands made at brief but powerful moments in history, like during the Populist revolts of the 1890s, can be revolutionary. Looking backward, we can say that these moments are contrapuntal exercises voiced alongside more fragmentary strategies and ethics.
The problem however, which Baker does not seem to fully address is just how difficult – if at all even possible – that kind of solidarity has been made by American middle-class regimes. Baker correctly states “the people” are never asked or summoned to do anything, and so never can “the power of the people activated.” That the days of Know-Nothings, Mugwumps, and angry pitchforked farmers are surely behind us makes we question whether the very notion of a democratic movement – say, like something even akin to the Civil Rights era – is simply too anachronistic. Too many people are just too broken down into isolation, routine, and downright anxiety to go get those pitchforks. “Democrats,” more specifically, writes Baker-->
have been reduced to a state of psychological helplessness, one in which any political obstacles – ranging from the prevarications of stalking horses like Senators Joe Lieberman and Ben Nelson to the plaintive cries of the tea-baggers out in the streets, to the sterner demands of the Joint Chiefs of Staff or Big Pharma – are transformed into insurmountable organic obstacles.
We have learned to be helpless. And in this state of political depression, it no longer matters how many elections liberals win for the Democrats, or how much damage they do to the country or the world. There is simply no way to do anything differently.
Such hapless fatalism is, of course, in direct opposition to the every tenet of American liberalism, which is rooted in the idea that human agency is still possible in the modern world….
Actually, if to provide a slight corrective, I think it would be mistaken to associate “such hapless fatalism” with political, social, and economic stasis, and thus remain blind to the slow but steadily increasing declension of American life. It is not stasis we are living in, nor even some cyclical return of prior historical battles, but a rootless and nomadic vortex of filth, corruption, and servitude. Sure, there are points of uncertainty and fragility to this “system” but these vulnerabilities only seem to intensify the mechanisms of governance, control, and resignation even more.
Liberals and progressives have proven themselves incapable of mounting a challenge to, or even of taking advantage of, known crises, preferring to leave Change and Reform to politicians, technocrats, and policy wonks who always talk numbers, and demonstrate how best to mollify and relieve a broken system, or as Baker puts it, to “fluff up the generals, bankers, and politicians who not very long ago were in panicked disarray.” And so, the hastening of dispassionate fascism….and when you stare into the abyss, the abyss stares back into you…