The degrading dialectic of liberal toleration and conservative barbarity

“(Competitive) Games hold a special valence for Scalia; they are the space where inequality rules…(After modernism) the watermarks of privilege and privation are no longer visible to the naked eye; they must be identified, again and again, through struggle and contest. Hence the appeal of the game (which) offers the perfect marriage of the feudal and the fallible, the unequal and the unsettled” (Robin 2011: 140-141).

“‘To say that something is ‘essential,’ he writes, ‘is ordinarily to say that it is necessary to the achievement of a certain object.’ But games ‘have no object except amusement.’ Lacking an object, they have no essence. It’s thus impossible to say whether a rule is essential ‘All are arbitrary,’ he writes of the rules, ‘none is essential.’ What makes a rule a rule is either tradition or ‘in more modern times,’ the edict of an authoritative body like the PGA …”the twin poles of Scalia’s faith: a belief in rules as arbitrary impositions of power–reflecting nothing (not even the will or standing of their makers) but the flat surface of their locutionary meaning–to which we must nevertheless submit; and a belief in rules, zealously enforced, as the divining rod of our ineradicable inequality. Those who make it past these blank and barren gods are winners; everyone else is a loser” (Robin 2011: 142-143).

This is not just Scalia’s theory of rules, but the general conservative idealist theory of truth.

The sources of Scalia’s outsized influence:

1) Scalia’s self-confidence when professionally tolerated by liberal peers.

2) “he tells the power elite exactly what they want to hear: that they are superior and that they have a seat at the table because they are superior.”

3) Scalia reflects the spirit of the age.

4) “Scalia’s outsized presence in our Constitutional firmament” is enabled by “the patience and forbearance, the general decency and good manners, his liberal colleagues show him. While he rants and raves, smashing guitars and dive-bombing his enemies, they tend to respond with an indulgent shrug, a ‘that’s just Nino,’ as O’Connor was wont to say…Scalia preys on and profits from the very culture of liberalism he claims to abhor: the toleration of opposing views, the generous allowances for other people’s failings, the ‘benevolent compassion’ he derides in his golf course dissent…The conservatism of duresse oblige  depends upon the liberalism of noblesse oblige” (Robin 2011: 146-147).

From “Affirmative Action Baby,” in Robin, Corey. The Reactionary Mind: Conservatism from Edmund Burke to Sarah Palin.

Another very recent example of conservative manipulation of liberal toleration for conservatism:

The British right cops to the conservative marketing ploy: “I’ve argued at the top levels of government, ‘Scrap the minimum wage.’ But then there’s a sharp intake of breath. Anything that looks like a return to the Dickensian workhouse raises hackles. But I don’t want people working in sweatshops at 5p an hour. You should sell abolishing the minimum wage in positive terms, as providing young people with a first step on the jobs ladder, as a ‘jobs for all’ scheme.”

The uneven, degrading dialectic of liberal nicety and conservative barbarity both supports and over time erodes liberalism, which cannot say no to conservatism and its authoritarianism.

For contrast, see discriminating and refusing egalitarianism, illustrated in Jantelagen and Bartleby the Scrivener.

It is also not to be overlooked that the liberal consensus has rarely bestowed socialism with the same indulgent tolerance it shines on conservatism. 2 cases in point: 1) In the Nordic social democracies, liberalism and socialism were in coalition, from the end of the 19th century to the early 1970s. Even there, the social democrats persecuted communists. 2) As well, the post-1956 Latin American socialist Left struggled to build a liberal-socialist alliance (see Greg Grandin’s history of Guatemala and Latin America).

Both cases are rare examples of lib-left coalition, largely shepherded by a conciliatory and pragmatic Left, and both coalitions were assailed by liberals (internationally, or in the case of Sweden, eventually domestically) who preferred to retreat into conservative barbarity–eg. the US consensus, which was wholly vicious against the 20th-21st century Latin American Enlightenment, pressing the coach drivers’ whip into conservative hands. Where Sweden, in the early 1970s, reached the endpoint of the liberal-socialist partnership–what to do with the excess profits: let capitalists keep them or socialize them?–again liberals forsook socialism and, in embracing capitalist rule, beat back a less-than-measured retreat into the arms of conservatism, recently resulting in the contradictory reification–via vilification/victimology– of immigrants, and the ensuing state-sponsored gagging and shackling of labour.

Maybe liberals are not so much the avatars of toleration, as people who are, except in the rarest cases, capable of recognizing shared genealogy with the Right only. Considering that, perhaps Leftists ought to contain our celebrations of abstract toleration, and more closely attend to the contours and trajectories, the specification of our tolerations. Since liberalism, both liberals and parts of the Left have been so proud to claim that fresh tolerations can change the course of human interests and history, if not transcend discrimination outright. Yet even “fresh” forms of toleration must always be (certainly) partial, rather rigid if shared, and so subject to instrumental, (collective) political manipulation.

The (Leftist) point would then be to choose and to fight for a specified range of toleration that facilitates widespread freedoms, rather than confers freedom upon a ‘chosen’ elite. We would foremost recognize the necessity of Left collectives within which we may sense and think together to choose key battles and strategies. All props to Gramsci and to radical unions.

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