Somehow I missed this October 21 Guardian column by the US liberal commentator Thomas Frank, in which he caustically explains what Harvey Weinstein says about a certain kind of liberalism. It’s a humdinger. He talks about how Weinstein was a liberal lion, outspoken and active in lots of liberal causes — and he was a monster whose monstrosity was fairly well known in his circles. Excerpt:
There are sleazebags in every party, as Donald Trump frequently reminds us. But even so, Harvey Weinstein was unusual: a militant and vocal backer of a faith he appears to have violated in the starkest way.
What explains Weinstein’s identification with progressive causes? Perhaps it was all about cozying up to power, the thrill of being a friend of Bill Clinton.
Perhaps it was all about moral absolution, in the same way that lists of corporations-that-care always turn out to be led by outfits like Walmart, Goldman Sachs and Exxon-Mobil. In the world of the wealthy, liberalism is something you do to offset your rapacious behavior in other spheres. It’s no coincidence that, in Weinstein’s desperate first response to the accusations against him, he thought to promise war against the National Rifle Association and to support scholarships for women.
But it’s also something deeper than that. Most people on the left think of themselves as resisters of authority, but for certain of their leaders, modern-day liberalism is a way of rationalizing and exercising class power. Specifically, the power of what some like to call the “creative class”, by which they mean well-heeled executives in industries like Wall Street, Silicon Valley and Hollywood.
Worshiping these very special people is the doctrine that has allowed Democrats to pull even with Republicans in fundraising and that has buoyed the party’s fortunes in every wealthy suburb in America.
That this strain of liberalism also attracts hypocrites like Harvey Weinstein, with his superlative fundraising powers and his reverence for “great artists”, should probably not surprise us. Remember, too, that Weinstein is the man who once wrote an essay demanding leniency for Roman Polanski, partially on the grounds that he too was a “great artist”.
Harvey Weinstein seemed to fit right in. This is a form of liberalism that routinely blends self-righteousness with upper-class entitlement. That makes its great pronouncements from Martha’s Vineyard and the Hamptons. That routinely understands the relationship between the common people and showbiz celebrities to be one of trust and intimacy.
Read the whole thing. It’s excellent. It made me think of Dickens’s Mrs. Jellyby: the progressive reformer who thought all the time about how much she loved the poor in far-off Africa, but treated her own children neglectfully. Mrs. Jellyby loved an abstraction, and loved herself loving that abstraction. When it came time to put her own views into action with the concrete people around he (her family and her neighbors) she was a nasty hypocrite.