Home/Rod Dreher/Reaching The American Liberal Utopia

Reaching The American Liberal Utopia

A friend on the left sent this critique of the contemporary left by David Atkins, who is a man of the Left. Atkins’ basic point is that by making social issues its raison d’etre, the left has ceded the field to the forces of plutocracy. Excerpt:

The result of all this was a hard turn to the Right on all but social issues that, historically, seems to have been almost inevitable. Free market capitalism had no ideological counterbalance on the world stage, capital was free to hire labor anywhere in the world on the cheap or use machines to replace it entirely, moneyed interests gained greater influence over politicians, unions were crushed underfoot, and a coalition of voters motivated by racial and sexist resentments was newly empowered. To soften the blow of the downward slide of the middle class, policymakers shifted their focus from wage protections to asset inflation, with disastrous economic consequences for all but the wealthiest.

Not surprisingly, the Left responded to this by cozying up to moneyed power and by shifting its focus away from questioning the assumptions of the flawed capitalist pseudo-meritocracy, and toward attempting to expand access to that meritocracy to everyone. That shift allowed the Left to hold together its social coalitions while maintaining access and influence to big money donors. The “era of big government was over.” Trade protections for workers, regulations on the financial industry, and taxes on the wealthy were all eliminated by bipartisan consent. The left, meanwhile, became singularly focused on social issues and on making sure that the poorest Americans didn’t suffer too badly in the brave new plutocracy.

And thus was born the “New Left” whose organizing principle is that society will be perfected when even a transgendered racial and religious minority can also become a plutocrat or head of state, so long as not too many people are dying on the street without access to food or healthcare. Toward that end, the New Left focused on electing politicians who would in turn appoint judges to help that withered vision become a reality.

As an organizing principle in a world of Rightist economic dominance, it’s not completely terrible. But it’s a guaranteed loser in the present as well as the near and long-term future.

Hector St. Clare, this one’s for you.

This is interesting to me in part because the standard Thomas Frankian critique of the Right is that conservatives have allowed themselves to be played for suckers by right-wing plutocrats, who distract them from their economic interests by manipulating them on social issues. This critique has a point, of course, but presumes that material facts (that is, economics) are more important that social/moral ones. Aside from that, it’s ironic that liberals will accuse social conservatives of being useful idiots for plutocracy because they care more about social issues than economic ones, when they themselves — the liberals, I mean — are quite often guilty of the same thing.

Two thought experiments:

For the Left: If you could have what you dream of in terms of a progressive tax, Wall Street and corporate regulation, environmental policies, universal health care, and an expanded welfare state, would you let conservatives have their way on same-sex marriage, abortion, diversity, and other social issues important to you? Why or why not?

For the Right: If you could have what you dream of in terms of abortion, same-sex marriage, religious liberty, diversity, and other social issues important to you, would you let liberals have their way on tax and economic matters? Why or why not?

As a social conservative, I would take that bargain. I wouldn’t be entirely happy with it, but it’s one I could live with. That’s why deep down, I’m a Euro-style Christian Democrat.

When you answer the question, don’t give me a “both/and” response. We would all like both/and. If you had to choose, which would you choose, and why?

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.

leave a comment

Latest Articles