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OWS: The liturgy of Moralistic Therapeutic Progressivism

The UK Marxist critic Frank Furedi is onto something in his dismissive analysis of the Occupy movements. Excerpt:

Protests can, of course, assume a variety of forms. And often they can start off as a modest response to a specific instance of injustice before later expanding their influence. What is interesting about Occupy Wall Street or Occupy London, however, is that they lack a specific local context. In principle, every town square – from Kansas City to Baton Rouge – can serve as a substitute for Wall Street.

Detached from everyday life, this protest gains its meaning and definition from its relationship to the media, rather than its relationship with citizens. Numerous reports have suggested that the transmission of images of these protests by the media has led to a copycat effect around the world. There has been much talk about the way in which ‘thought contagion’ and the memetic ‘reproduction’ of ideas through the media has led to the construction of a global movement.

But the media effect is not confined to the communication of images and slogans. The main contribution of the media is to provide a narrative through which groups of individuals around the world can identify with one another’s identities and actions. What is most striking about the protesters in different parts of the world is that they have more in common with one another than they do with the ordinary people in their own communities.


Arguably, this is not the first example of a protest conducted through a media-cultivated global network. However, what is truly distinctive about this movement is its performative character. The focus of the protesters is not on the achievement of any specific objective, but rather on the performance of protest. That is why they have devoted so much energy to the question of how their occupation is conducted. The elaborate construction of a self-organised democratic community, its self-conscious disavowal of leadership and politics, its insistence that it refuses to accept any labels – these are all dramatic aids to a performance.

OWS is the liturgical expression of Moralistic Therapeutic Progressivism — a pseudo-religious ritual of a sort of liberalism that doesn’t actually want to accomplish anything definite, but rather satisfy itself with the quality of its emoting.

(H/T: David Mills)

about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. He has written and edited for the New York Post, The Dallas Morning News, National Review, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, the Washington Times, and the Baton Rouge Advocate. Rod’s commentary has been published in The Wall Street Journal, Commentary, the Weekly Standard, Beliefnet, and Real Simple, among other publications, and he has appeared on NPR, ABC News, CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, and the BBC. He lives in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, with his wife Julie and their three children. He has also written four books, The Little Way of Ruthie Leming, Crunchy Cons, How Dante Can Save Your Life, and The Benedict Option.

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