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.

social progressivism and economic neo-liberalism

Sociologist John Gulick responds to an article on Japanese austerity politics:

“Also interesting here are the reform measures being backed by the international tutors of neo-liberal austerity. “Socially progressive” measures such as a more open immigration regime and a higher labor force participation rate for women are being proposed alongside the usual deregulatory, free trade, anti-welfare state nostrums. The Wall Street Journal editorial board really forces one to consider the homologies between social progressivism and economic neo-liberalism. (Yeah, these homologies will differ according to socio-cultural context.)”

My response to Aziz Rana’s nplusone article “Obama and the Closing of the American Dream” –the article claims that the American Dream has been reduced to advancement via educated professional status:

Well, I remember a study not but a few years ago that showed quite the opposite–regardless of whether their businesses survive, Americans have very little regard for education-based professional status. It’s not their dream. They just feel it’s not attainable, whereas thanks to teevee they can incredibly imagine themselves as Bill Gates, Donald Trump, Kardashiods, or a lotto winner. I don’t remember what that study was, but Michele Lamont got similar ethnography and interview data in her comparison of US v. French working class men’s attitudes.

If the American Dream is dead, it’s because we have conservative business policies in place of social democratic business-hudsbanding ALMPs and a policy bias toward quality work and full employment–and that means we have both tremendous incentives to flee a feudal labor market and a high rate of small business failure, reinforcing the options- and freedom-reducing conservative ideology benefitting the top 1% (and scattering Little King incentives below). If the Dream is dead, that’s how it died.

In other words, the causation behind the educated professional path remaining as an insufficient vehicle of social mobility–if you compare Anglosphere countries to Scandinavian countries– surely appears related to the Anglosphere’s characteristically conservative approach to managing the business and labor market policy landscape in such a way as to produce a high business failure rate and feudal workplace conditions.

If you don’t own capital, educated professional status is the one of the few strategies left that provide to the working class a hope of semi-comfort/semi-discomfort and demi-status. The other remaining strategies include patriarchal status (Perhaps that’s why so many women are getting higher ed degrees.), employment in a military, prison, or police institution, and of course deployment as a Conservative Expert or Agitator. In contrast to these latter remnant socio-economic strategies, to be an educated professional today requires enthralling levels of debt for the working class, and, often, insecure income. That debt combines with the disciplinary force of the steadily-growing army of the underemployed (and feudal workplaces); educated professionals today are thereby reduced to just another managerial (manhandling), retainer class. Being a retainer is not anyone’s dream; and it’s better to manhandle than to be manhandled, but it’s not autonomy.

Magical Rectitude:
Synthesizing observations on the coincidence of economic neoliberalism and ineffective social progressivism, with Rana’s analysis of the educated-professional death of the American Dream, as well as observations on neoliberal adoption and diffusion in the professional sublcass

I would very much agree that educated professional status, as one of the last refuges of American-dreaming scoundrels (though it operates the same in other countries as well), requires under the circumstances a desperate careerism that causes the elaboration of both economic neo-liberalism and justificatory, superficial, myopic “social progressivism” (of the quality Nancy Fraser critiques).

The temporary neologism I’m using for this kind of neoliberal social progressivism is “magical rectitude“, because it requires professional, emotive marketing. But I’ll try to get back to Mills and see if he has a term.

I think Rana’s right in pointing out that that American Dream remnant–mobility through education and attaining professional status–when it’s all that’s actually left (aside from authoritarian employment and the reifying fantasies of winning the high-inequality society jackpot) to the working class, is part of a system of feudal social immobility and appropriation. Not least because in that very context, the activity of educated professionalism reduces to serving as either a retainer or a labor repressor/manhandler.

Today’s professionals don’t have the independence Gramsci observed in Traditional Intellectuals. Their work is subordinated to and tied up in economic neoliberalism. At the historic “neoliberal” moment Traditional Intellectuals lose all vestige of autonomy, they have to legitimize their fading middle income and status. To promote a political agenda of non sequiturs, they thus they feel compelled to marketing, to mystifying idealism, framing their captured work as though it were driven by an independent, professional, community-oriented altruistic impulse following a linear path of progress: Deunionization on behalf of the children. Labor market deregulation for the immigrants. Austerity for the immigrants and women. Academic proletarianization for the students and world’s poor. Oil imperialism for Muslim women and Arab democrats.* It’s all fairly transparent (translucent) marketing, sales on behalf of oligarchy. So today’s educated professionals appear contemptible (to the working class, to the elite, to each other) on numerous fronts, and from a social movements perspective they appear captured.

…I think, though, if you think about this sub-class and its co-dimming autonomy and status, especially compounded with its educational, etc. debts, there is a structural, material wedge between educated professionals and the 1% that can be worried to good effect. Hence, OWS.

Gulick responds:

“Degreed professionals are increasingly crowded on one side by neo-Taylorist efficiency experts, and by the cultural hegemony of the self-promotional PR/social media ethos on the other. (Mills was on to this 60 years ago, quite fabulously!) And they are both the administrators and the administered of this.”

* Managerial, professional neoliberal social progressivism has conservative coalition-building and legitimation functions. As compared to such professional neoliberal social progressivism, more properly conservative doublespeak seems to deal more in abstraction: Student debt for the principle of responsibility. Unfettered police powers for freedom. Enthralling women for freedom. No health care access for free commerce. The agenda-setting conservative abstractions are exclusionary and not designed to directly co-opt their victims, but rather to co-opt a protective layer of would-be Little Kings.

For further discussion, see:

Mills, C. Wright. 1951. White Collar: The American Middle Classes. New York: Oxford University Press.

Melville, Herman. 1857. The Confidence-Man.

Social Democrats v. Fabians

Actually-existing Social Democracy:

 
 1914 Sveriges socialdemokratiska arbetareparti poster: 
“The Right’s Program is The People Under Militarism”

This is a link to Marxist.org’s August Palm (1849-1922) page. Features a biography of the Swedish father of social democracy, as well as five of Palm’s works and two photos.

August Palm

Marxists.org’s presentation of the Swedish social democratic reformist Hjalmar Branting (1860-1925).

Curiously, marxists.org features no mention of Rudolf Meidner, or even Gosta Rehn.

I think that’s because they have an implicit thesis that I’m going to counter.
(And oh yes, I am going to go all Belinda Robnett on them, and see if I can drag out the Scandinavian women bridge leaders.)

1936 Sveriges socialdemokratiska arbetareparti poster:
“Women, We Build the Future”

Fabians:

Despite the alarming paucity of Scandinavian social democrat mentions or works, there are 13 distinct (British) social democrat entries in marxists.org. Additionally, here is a link to Marxist.org’s Fabians page. No wonder Anglo-American leftists imagine that social democracy is British, with all the ineffectuality–and indistinguishability from liberalism–that implies!

The Contemporary Anglo-american “Social Democrat” View

Historian Jim Livingston identifies as a social democrat. He does not conceive of social democracy in the way that I think was originally strong in the Scandinavian tradition–where socialism or Marxism is the backbone of social democracy.

Rather, in Livingston’s view, socialism emerges from and complements capitalism. My hypothesis is that for social democratic approach to work, the social democrat cannot see socialism emerging from capitalism, but rather sees socialism historically emerging in the Enlightenment alongside the bourgeois revolution, and then being repressed by the capitalist order.

So Livingston’s not a social democrat in the way that Meidner for example was. For Meidner, markets were not an ideal distribution mechanism to be supported by socialist props; rather, social democracy is a transitional phase to be overcome. The point of a political-economy for Livingston it seems is how to get markets to work, as opposed to the more human-centered Epicurean tradition–how to allocate the flows of pleasures and pains (Marxist economists may not appreciate the hypothesis that Marx’s humanistic base cannot be jettisoned). H1: Effectively, for the Anglo-american social democrat, it comes down to the welfare of markets.

Livingston has a conception of conservatives, liberals and leftists (He cites both Obama and, by inference, American organized labor as leftist) that sees them all organically recognizing the need to embrace private investment in the mid-to-late 20th century wake of declining US-centered profits, rather than conservatives winning hegemony. Same goes with “the left’s” failure to promote a decoupling of growth & distribution.

H2:
I think, like all Anglo “social democrats,” Livingston has an ad hoc, short-range, Anglo-american-centric definition of Leftist, and does not have a valid grasp of what distinguishes the Left transhistorically. He claims that Right thought and Left thought are fluid, structureless, without boundaries. (H3: As distinct from a theory of hegemony and false consciousness.)

But he seems to be a very erudite, nimble, and thorough-going Anglo-american “socdem,” and he provides a stimulating window on a sophisticated version of that perspective. I’m interested because I think Livingston’s influences and assumptions and his formulation of social problems and issues may be quite representative (except in their erudite formulation and more complete logical-causal dissection) of the Anglo-american “social democrat” approach, and studying them is going to help me make certain categorical distinctions.

Livingston has written a highly-recommended history of the Fed (1986), and an unfriendly interpretation of American turn-of-the-20th century populism (1994).

Conservative Soc Mov Module: Muslim "Honor Killing" Criminals

The thing about conservative political strategy is that it is modular. Conservatives have got a playbook, and it’s not that elaborate. So if they do it to Sweden, they will do it to the Anglo world:

Canadian media sells “Honour Killings” as indication of “natural” Muslim seditionist tendencies.

Political strategy question: How do you get a people who see themselves as super-civilized liberators to support anti-liberatory conservative policies?

It turns out, this is easier than a level one Soduku puzzle. Start with flattery, and then they’ll turn on their own righteousness nozzle. Nationalism + defensive, instable, cul-du-sac liberalism  =  conservative-pliable mass psychology. Think of how conservatism has bloomed in contemporary Sweden, France & Canada.

On the advice of a elder feminist, I went to Sweden to study how their welfare state repressed immigrants. What I found there was a full-blown conservative campaign to destroy labor rights in Sweden, using the double-barreled politics of describing immigrants as both criminals and victims–criminals who make having a welfare state impossible (Because they can’t be trusted, and destroy civilization.), and victims of a welfare state thats de-commodification policies don’t let them “express” (sell) themselves. The conservative-fed media conclusion was that if you got rid of labor protections (and so by extension the labor confederation and social democracy), immigrants would be good and thrive, just like they do in Austria and the Anglo countries.

The Swedes were in complete denial about the potency of immigration politics in Sweden–Despite the legislative meetings and bills; despite feminist galvanization against the cruel, cruel, racist state and the cruel, cruel anti-Swedish civilization Muslim fathers; despite the massive media coverage of these conservative themes (and a very few, although of course always tragic, instances of violence within Muslim households) and simultaneous neglect of contextual data clearly showing that patriarchal violence is common across “civilizations” and hardly monopolized by Muslims; and despite the fact that Karl Rove was there in Sweden strategizing with a new conservative political coalition about this conservative campaign. One year later, the conservative coalition was the ruling government, and it has been ever since.

Now the exact same political trope is being used in Canada. Why now, eh?

You have to know your audience. On the other hand, there you have your data. Are you going to tell some unreconditioned, decades-old tool story about how the immigrants are super oppressed by the state and their fathers? Sure some of them are, sometimes. And they are oppressed by “authority” in a broader sense. So look, there’s something else going on here as well. Something rather pressing.

As Nancy Fraser has argued, people need to strongly consider that the contemporary incapacity of pro-liberation liberals to apprehend conservatism and conservative strategy is decidedly non-trivial. That incapacity decides labor policies and capital regulation in favor of capital. It feeds state-based working class institutional breakdown and reinstitutes full human commodification. It allows capitalist elites to confidently delegate to altruistic liberal managers the diligent pursuit of the task of imposing proletarianization, irrational and ideological privatization, and austerity. In an era of declining growth, it fuels capitalist expansion via primitive accumulation, rather than allowing humans to decrease our throughputs while rationally redistributing accumulated surpluses. Not really ironically, it exacerbates racism and sexism. It promulgates vicious war.


What I’m talking about is this problem: People can be very nice. People can be anti-authoritarian. People can be pro goodness and they can be all about extending moral consideration. Not conservatives, but liberals to lefties. (Though conservatives can champion  elaborate decorum. Order, you know.) 


All that fails to solve this problem: Without an adequate, socially-embedded theoretical framework (eg. Marxist), even self-identified progressives’ work (in the broad, materialist, Scarry sense) can be readily co-opted by conservatives to advance the conservative goal of shrinking moral consideration, monopolizing surplus and stunting human development. This is the problem of directive hegemony (Therborn. As opposed to legitimation — Habermas).


(Discuss Desai, Hall on the historical Thatcherite construction of conservative hegemony, around here.)


If structure is the accumulation of collective action, then conservative collective action creates the pathways that convert altruistic intentions and beliefs into dehumanizing hierarchy and tyranny.





Political-economic engagement (intellectualism, to use Perry Anderson’s term) is not just for conservatives or property-owning white men. Political-economic literacy and engagement matter. A lot. To everybody.

To illustrate this point further, I will discuss how the summer 2011 Winnipeg Rebelles gathering unfolded. Hint: To work together–to express our humanity, even feminist, multiculti lefties/progressives need to be able to distinguish conservatism. And in my personal experience in the technocratic, anti-Big Questions, anti-macro theory Anglo world, this has been an unmet need for over a quarter century, at a minimum.

We’ll see what happens to the Honour Killings conservative strategy in Canada. If Canadian feminists and the judiciary can avoid getting sucked in, if they firmly assert that violent patriarchy is not the exclusive property of Muslims (Obviously, in Canada there is already wide recognition that Aboriginal women are killed by their male relatives.), then maybe they can keep the neocon anti-Muslim “Clash of Civilizations” politics out of courtrooms and out of currency. And just maybe it will not justify, in the minds of Canadians, both Israel bombing Iranians (Yes, partly on behalf of Anglo-American geopolitical/energy strategy.) and domestic austerity measures.

Breivik and Judeo-Christian terrorism

In response to Brievik’s Judeo-Christian fascist political terrorism–77 murdered and 96 injured when he bombed Oslo government buildings housing the Labor Party, and slaughtered Labour Party children at a multicultural summer camp,

the Jerusalem Post wrote an anxious story demanding that we prevent the right-wing atrocity from overshadowing the “Failure of Multiculturalism” in Europe. What is the Jerusalem Post on about, you ask? Good question, because as much of a non sequitor as it first appears, it just so happens to get to the heart of the Breivik massacres.

“The Failure of Multiculturalism” in Scandinavia: International Conservative Politics

What has happened in northern Europe is that conservatives have been waging a campaign against labor, and the tool that they have been using is a spectacularly-conflicted (But who needs consistency? What you need is complete coverage!) dual politics creating a “multiculturalism crisis” out of immigrants–immigrants portrayed as both Muslim criminals and as victims of the social democratic welfare state and labor institutions. This political campaign has been raging unchecked since the 1990s. Breivik is the direct product of this conservative campaign.

The broad, intended conservative goal is to exterminate labor institutions in Scandinavia, and thus to exterminate social democracy. It’s been a more difficult project there than elsewhere, though certainly not impossible. Neoliberalism has made great headway for conservatism in Scandinavia. Leave it to a Scandinavian, however, to increase effectiveness and efficiency: You can also help to extinguish the Labour Party’s future by directly exterminating its youth.

The connection to neocon Israel lies in the conservative goal of promoting imperial, high-inequality, capitalist, Anglo-american-centric capitalist countries on the global political-economic stage. Scandinavia isn’t China, but social democracy is an alternative political economy that has the capacity to subordinate finance capital to socio-economic welfare and occasionally controls finance capital. It is  thereby a threat to the financial-military domination of the global conservative hegemon.

Norwegian teens mourn the loss of their friends.



Breivik was the product of global conservative conditioning. Not only did he target Labor Party representatives and children, Breivik wrote a 1500 page “manifesto,” in which Israel is mentioned on 170 pages, Norway on 135. Breivik: “So let us fight together with Israel, with our Zionist brothers against all anti-Zionists, against all cultural Marxists/multiculturalists.”

A plump and satisfied Breivik, in Izod, on the way to jail.



Studying Swedish immigration politics over the past 10 years, I have found the “failure of social democratic multiculturalism” trope to be a fundamental conservative tool in Scandinavia. There it is used to argue not just for stepped-up European harmonization with imperial Anglo-American-Israeli policy, but also for dismantling the labor protections that enable social democracy.

The conservative argument is this: “The Failure of Multiculturalism (in Scandinavia, not US/Israel-special-relationshi​p countries) is the result of Muslim Criminality + Social Democratic institutions (eg. welfare state, labor rights). The solution to the Failure of Multiculturalism is to break down labor institutions, and to support Israel in our Clash of Civilizations.”

In this conservative political campaign, the problems posed by fascism (understood beyond the 20th century Jewish Holocaust) are eclipsed, by design (Thanks, Lyotard). These politics are neocon Zionist home turf. It is no surprise that J-post is anxious that such emergent crises of fascism will slow the conservative campaign in Scandinavia.

I initially went to Sweden with the PhD advisor-driven mission of discovering what the Swedes had done to violate their immigrants and how US-Canadian immigration could provide the Swedes with a proper immigration approach. Having extensively compared, in Sweden, the US and Canada, Swedish immigration policy and outcomes with Canadian, US, and other Anglo-country policies and outcomes, I can firmly say that the long legacy of social democratic multicultural policy and program development in Sweden is, if anything, more progressive, constructive, and preferable, from both overarching immigrant and native perspectives. It’s not the communist horizon, but as usual, actually-existing (not nominal) social democracy, even in decline, pretty much gives you the best you are going to get out of capitalism.

Why the Failure of Multiculturalism politics now? 


Graeber points out that modern racism is a class-compromise byproduct in European societies, where elites wished to resume slavery in their countries, and working men and women refused the institution. Essentially, political-economic elites resorted to promoting modern racism as a means of securing broad consent to their right to superexploit someone…elsewhere.

(After the ‘Dark Ages’ rejection of slavery in Europe,) modern racism…had to be invented largely because Europeans continued to refuse to listen to the arguments of the intellectuals and jurists, and did not accept that anyone (in their own societies, whom) they believed to be a full and equal human being could ever justifiably be enslaved” Graeber 2011: 212.

It is worth asking to what extent intellectuals and jurists today are again trying to convince these intransigent, vulgar ‘Europeans’ (or Americans) to accept slavery in their own societies. Where do race and immigration politics, including carefully-managed versions of anti-racism (“Antiracism = submit to capital” or “Civilized contemporary global capitalists are antiracist/antiracism.”) in Europe and the Anglosphere, coincide with the promotion of domestic debt peonage and international slavery?

Why are Scandinavians vulnerable to the conservative anti-racist/pro-racist political one-two punch? What I observed is that, hitting the wall imposed by the bourgeois takeover of social democracy, their tremendous historical social democratic capacity for problem solving stutters and stalls. Unwilling to accept that even Swedish (nativist), righteous liberalism is unable to solve the fundamental social problems of capitalism, they descend into an inability to admit that coerced human migration in capitalism is not potentially a picnic on the beach.

They hysterically swear to themselves that somewhere out there is a liberal-conservative model of social inclusion that is both cheaper and can achieve more inclusion than social democratic inclusion could. There is not. What Swedes have consistently failed to acknowledge, throughout the conservative ascent era, is that immigration is extremely hard, especially for non-elites. It’s hard for the “welcoming” society. It’s harder for immigrants. Refugee immigration is even harder still. It does not get done in any core capitalist country easily or prettily or cheaply.


The free-market formula for purportedly “masterful” immigration (touted to flourish in Austria, Canada, the US) is an unwholesome marketing combination of outright distortions and fractional truth based in ideal, exceptional, fleeting experiences blown up by marketing spin into a bloated department store parade float, distracting children and obstructing our view. The actually-existing social democracies do fundamentally-vexed immigration and social incorporation about as well as it can be done, and they have kept trying to improve (including counterproductively), in the causative context of global imperial war and exploded societies. And in that context, human mobility and the difficult work of rigorous collective restoration are essential.

In studying the intensely-marketed Failure of Multiculturalism campaign in Sweden, I had to conclude that, regardless of what righteous, altruistic feminists and anti-racists it grafts onto its project, it is a conservative political campaign to dismantle labor institutions on the back of immigrant victimology and stigmatization. That is ugly.

It is no prettier that this immigrant-exploitative war on the working class is intimately tied to international neocon efforts to push the more reluctant, social-democratic quarters of Europe behind the oil-dependent, finance-ruled, high-inequality, bellicose and belligerent conservative imperium. Only chronic marketing victims should be surprised that such an imperial military-finance alliance both ignites the E-Z/La-Z semi-laissez faire marketing imaginary (“All the Beautiful, Cafe-latte Multicultural Utopia needs is Walmartization!”) and, on its flipside, fosters contemporary fascism.

Doug Henwood responds: “There’s a right-wing critique of soc dem that says it only works in ‘homogenous’ places like Sweden. Relatedly, Hayek claimed that soc dem and socialism are fundamentally nationalist, since their planning universe need national borders. But your research shows that not only is that not true, but the war on immigrants is part of a war on soc dem.”

(Henwood’s friend Joel Shalit keeps an eye on some contemporary national conservative movements, and also does some damage-repair for Israel within the Western Left. He doesn’t have much to say about the Breivik case; but he does understand at least Israeli, British, German and Italian conservative politics, and following up on his “Actually Existing Israel” (April 2011), Henwood interviewed Joel Shalit on Israeli national identity and radical conservatism and superficially on Israel’s relationship to the European right on Henwood’s radio show Behind the News.

In response to the Jerusalem Post article, Shalit advocates in “Breivik and the Jews” that Jewish people should not be trying to hide the dependency of contemporary European fascism on Jewish conservatism, but rather should confront the conservative ideas.)

Hegemony via Confusion & Opportunistic Parochialism

Having recently viewed a succession of music videos from the 1980s (of which this is representative), and this depiction of modern postmodernism, I think it bears iteratation: confusion is a tool of conservative hegemony.

The conservative “immigrant crisis” political trope continues unabated, as where in March 2012, the right-wing Swedish press, apparently hoping that no one has memory in Sweden and claiming that the Left never let Swedes chat about all the immigrant problems, again lays the blame for the right-wing Breivik atrocity squarely on the shoulders of…you guessed it, “Left-wing culture politics.” Jävla galen propaganda.

The Anglo-american media spun the Breivik massacres in this way: “Norwegians are a lot more barbaric that they think they are. After all, they are Vikings, who once gleefully hurt the innocent villagers of Great Britain.” This interpretation of the meaning of the Breivik massacres is “backed up” by Wikileaks documents in which the US State Department whines that Norway should devote its income to a bigger militarized policing apparatus.

Huh. Of course the US State Dept. desires that other countries give their money to Halliburton. Where has that been shown to reduce harm, and how does that fervent wish demonstrate that Norwegians need to convert over to a similarly repressive state? And as regards purported Norwegian sub-surface barbarity: Norwegians simply do not engage in viciousness at the volume that people in right-wing societies do, and that’s because they have savvier social integration understanding and institutions (Not because they are “homogeneous”, which due to inter alia mass immigration, they are not).

 By any valid measure (Though my review of the literature “documenting” the failure of multiculturalism in Scandinavia shows clearly that conservatives will fuck with the measures–so let’s aggregate the measures for ease of consensus.), the contemporary Scandinavian societies cannot compete in the violence Olympics with the Judeo-Christian Anglo-American societies. (Even if Zionism is your sole measure of civilization, Scandinavians have award-winning, government-mandated, early-to-late education programs focused on the singular tragedy of the early 20th century Jewish Holocaust. They have lots of advanced initiatives designed to combat antisemitism. Their press is not anti-Semitic.) The result of this vigorous socialization into Western “civilization”? When married to conservative politics, it has meticulously groomed a Christian Zionist terrorist.

Norwegians are not insulated from global civilization/hegemony, surreptitiously (yet lazily!) cultivating their genetically-cruel culture in the backwoods. That’s a cockamame story. That it sells at all is dependent, in fact, on the parochialism and Halliburton investments of the Anglo-american press’ audience.

… A lesbian couple heroicallysaved 40 children from Breivik.

Race politics working their magic on this side of the pond:


Brad de Long ponders a Republican Bangledesh-American arguing hopefully that white American conservatives are not racist; they’re just protecting good things from bad people, Virginia. De Long answers the Republican in “Why Don’t Republicans Like Illegal Immigrants from Mexico?, where he argues that illegal immigrants from Mexico logically should be the posterboys for Republican ideals, and yet still Republicans hate illegal immigrants.

Here’s my rejoinder to the conservative-liberal debate on conservative racism:

It is true that Republicans degrade or hate Mexican immigrants, surfacely because they are “colored” and often have an accent. Wah-wah. But inasmuch as such complaints gesture lazily towards some vaguely-natural “problem” and echo historical charges against some people by other people, it still is something of a random problem construction, as De Long points out. Why is active racism characteristic of conservative politics today?

Because racism  is dehumanization and it is not random; it is a conservative “Little King” institution that allows tyrants to maintain a popular base in a high- inequality political-economy.

Racism encourages zero-sum thinking that co-opts people to a high-inequality agenda. When Republicans enjoy bonding together by actively degrading Mexican immigrants (and other people they want to perceive and remake as low status and powerless), they are sharing a symbol of their tribal project, working together to promote their own material benefit at the expense of other people. In the race-besotted US/Israel, conservatives set up this classic stratification credo, typically without any confirming evidence whatsoever: If we don’t savagely degrade and super-exploit the weaker tribes, they will eat us and everyone we love.

Racism is a conservative coalition-building tactic. From a top 0.1% ruler down to their media lackeys down to a conservative convenience clerk, what these capitalist conservatives have always wanted is to privatize (someone else’s) commons, and the perpetuation of cheap labor that they can exploit. So no matter whether they’re trying to transfer the wealth of the dwindling US middle class into their own off-shore hoard, or whether they’re suffering stagnant income and related hierarchy indignities–no matter their horrible alienation, at least they’ll always share the high-inequality market and the militarized police to force someone more vulnerable to provide them all a compensatory Chemlawn yard.

And while preventing immigration historically tends to allow labor to organize and take a larger share of social wealth, creating a special class of dehumanized and legally-vulnerable laborers definitely does produce loads of cheapened labor to use and abuse– with fun moralistic fervor!

Conservatives are an organized political group that strives to dictate to us our true value (abysmally low), and what we owe them (the sun and the moon and the stars). Paraphrasing David Graeber, conservatives seek to transform the very foundations of our being–since what else are we, ultimately, except the sum of the relations we have with others–into matters of fault, sin, and crime, and to make the world into a place of iniquity–an agonized, writhing hell that they rule, a little crowning fraternity of the damned.

Let me give you a representative example of the framework problem I see with so much of the professional neoliberal civilizer staff, by recounting two examples of pertinent antiracist history that I can say with a great deal of assurance that antiracists don’t know or cannot remember–because it doesn’t fit in the official multiculti Anglo settler country anti-communist plot line.

1) “Communists” in the US South

2) Socialists and communists in the US North:

A century ago, in the early 20th century, socialists in the interior, in Minnesota, worked in coalition with the Twin Cities African American community to promote and host anti-racist movie and discussion nights in rural towns. It was immensely successful anti-racism and progressive rural mobilization (Jennifer Dalton. “Making MN Liberal”). It created the conditions for such unusually progressive politics that in that era, the state even saw its forests run for ecological goals (Mark Hudson. “Fire Management in the American West.”), the preservation of urban public space, the nation’s strongest teacher’s union, the preservation of family farms, and its workers’ lives defended by the National Guard (which only happened one other time in US history–under Pinchot’s PA governance.)

 For at least 5 generations (and, really, we know more), socialists have known–and were capable of acting upon the knowledge–that to build and maintain working class consciousness and mobilization in North America, partly we need to combat the tool of racism across geographies–combat it by engaging people’s sociability. (Kind of like how today, a hundred years later, it is still socialists who work with First Nations folks to develop some of the most innovative antiracism initiatives in central Canada, such as Neechi CED initiatives.)

The Minnesota socialists’ early and effective anti-racism efforts were disbanded, eliminated by a small group of liberals who used the threat of fascism to take over the Farmer-Labor Party. Today rural Minnesota is instead organized by the far right, via churches, and rural people there are again “naturally” racist and sexist and, well, sort of feudal rural idiots, just like how we imagine they should be to sustain the rationale for our jobs as professional civilizers in a gloriously unequal–ahem! ambition-rewarding!–society. And the result is that rabid anti-inegalitarians rule unfettered throughout.

That’s how much we have progressively improved our anti-racism by imagining that working class consciousness and a strong anti-inequality critique is a problem because it must “subsume race,” which we know because we have accumulated our tremendous liberal intellectual endowment of identity politics theory and initiatives that we somehow imagine, despite all the evidence, that conservatives cannot manage the hell out of (the combo racist and antiracist politics harnessed by conservatives in the destruction of US mass public education being but one case in point).

I am always impressed every time I realize that liberals think they personally discovered anti-racism in 1968, possibly at a cocktail party in New Haven or Toronto or London–maybe in the coffee shops of Paris, and that their job is to be as boorish as humanly possible whenever Marxists suggest that This is America, land of identity politics and that North America is rich in hugely-overdeveloped identity politics theory and initiatives, which are materially-supported by universities, governments and foundations across the political spectrum, and which help political-economic elites bond globally, as a class (The ultimate multicultural camaraderie). Whereas the US is absolutely, forcibly poverty-stricken in working class consciousness and historical-materialist understanding.

This intellectual poverty and self-sabotage underlies our inability to sustain a critical mass of alternative mobilization to address our failing, persistent, zombie political-economy, or race and women’s poverty– inequality problems, or our market-besotted, energy-drunk failure to contribute to a greater, barely-initiated project of building a decent, judicious, healthy environment, society and world. When liberals insist that we don’t need a Marxist understanding of racism, they breathe life into racism, which is also a tool for predatory rulers.





David Montgomery’s Cambridge-published studies on Cold War-suppressed Leftist contributions in the US:


Montgomery, David. 1987. The Fall of the House of Labor: The Workplace, The State, and American Labor Activism, 1865- 1925. Cambridge Press.
Montgomery, David. 1995. Citizen Worker. Cambridge.
Montgomery, David. 1979. Workers Control in America. Cambridge.

(In contrast to Lipset’s classic liberal story “Political Man” about the good center and the bad peripheries.)

jantelagen

A response to the Wikipedia entry on Jantelagen (“Du ska inte tro att du a nagon.”):


Sandemose was incredibly critical of Jantelagen, and from a pro-inequality perspective, Jantelagen is a cultural reflex that seems to threaten to stifle our beloved “Great Men” (read: our own impression of ourselves). Yet, obviously, the small Scandinavian countries have a long, vast history of high economic, scientific, political, militaristic, education, environmental, and cultural innovation and achievement. The critique of Jantelagen itself is part of Jantelagen culture–a cultural system of rigorously checking people’s narcissistic pretensions to monopolize power. And what exercise is more appropriate in such a frenetically self-aggrandizing yet deeply social species of Great Ape? Although it’s always annoying to have to deal with criticism, I very much doubt Jantelagen culture is stifling in the long haul. Look at its opposite–high-inequality, narcissistic Anglo-american culture, where elites and their retainers are never compelled to confront and handle the idea that they might have gone way off track. Now there is social, political and economic rot.


In the context of a social species, a systematic lack of accountability is stifling, and crippling. Criticism isn’t stifling, beyond the immediate shame response. What can be overdone if not exercised in moderation, and is certainly not rare in high-inequality Anglo-american societies, is shame.


On Jantelagen and immigration:


The English-language Wikipedia entry treats Jantelagen as a threat to the Ayn Randian Anglo-american cultural ideal of the “Great Man” of business, because Anglo-americans are more concerned with the deference “due” to the capitalist class. However, Jantelagen is actually about how Scandinavians respond to the autistic introduction of foreign culture by immigrants who are prone to naturalize and decontextualize the “superiority” of their native “common sense” or technical patrimony.


Here again, I think Sandemose’s critique is excessive, inadequately reflexive. In fact, incorporating new, non-acculturated members is a real problem–for society is the ongoing culmination of class and other conflicts. When new denizens are introduced, they can be used as a sort of “shock troops” to undermine the accumulated social contract hard-won in a region. In this respect, Jantelagen refutes the naive approach that fails to see society in social terms, but only in market terms (eg. immigrants as merely new workers or new sources of capital…or bringers of new techniques). Jantelagen’s approach, although adding an additional burden onto the backs of immigrants–who are admittedly already overburdened, forces perhaps the most crucial responsibility: requiring social, historical awareness and learning where the immigrant would be inclined to tune out the immigration society, perhaps only to be used as an economic or political pawn by opportunistic factions within the society. That is, Jantelagen demands that new members of society first and foremost recognize that society is a social production with a material and cultural history. 

Why the hell not?


Jantelagen is arguably a preferable response to introducing newcomers to a society, when compared with what we blithely conceive of as “cosmopolitanism.” The kernel for this insight first came to me when I was forced to read some truly block-headed anthropology back in grad school in the late-1990s: Appadurai and Canclini. Never before have you seen more parochial elitism dressed up as “cosmopolitanism,” as these anthropologists attempted to reductively classwash neoliberal immigration as a fun, pastich-y, jetting setting global cocktail party.


What is cosmopolitanism, as we currently understand it? It’s aught more than parochialism, usually with a generous helping of consumerism–within the confines of elite networks. Jantelagen is much more sociologically grounded.


[to be continued]


A side note on Jantelagen and marketing:


Anglo-american naive narcissism makes for an easy marketing environment, to be sure; but the Scandinavians manage to consume a lot in their own way. Pay attention to their motivator: public life. They get ideas for how to consume by walking around in the streets, looking at each other, and by dropping in their local design shops.

The Persecution of a Two-way Mirror

At this blog site, Joanne Namerow discusses the main Wikileaks outrage, from elites’ perspective: States’ use of surveillance technology, rendering subjects’ lives and political views transparent to rulers, can occasionally be used to make capitalist state and capitalist elite machinations transparent to the public. What Namerow doesn’t discuss is that transparency isn’t half of what’s required for political mobilization. The state has the advantage of being run on behalf of antidemocratic elite interests, whereas the capitalism in front of our faces remains illegible to most of the unorganized public. Further, the leaks can’t stop the great assembled masses of neocon strategists and secret polices from doing their job #1–suppressing democracy and promoting Anglosphere financial-militarist capitalist interests.

The public elite freak-out over Wikileaks is a nice, petulant, fascist law’n’order rallying cry and all, and it’s not like they don’t have the excess machinery to prosecute their campaign; but it is also a lot of wasted energy and resources. But hell– I’m all for elites & their retainers wasting their considerable, malevolent, ne’er-do-well energies, and they’re wasting our appropriated resources anyway.

Democracy Now! hosts a Dec 20, 2010 debate between a socialist feminist, Naomi Wolf, and a neoliberal feminist, Jaclyn Friedman over the international persecution of Wikileaks’ Julian Assange.

What’s at stake in this debate is setting the criteria for the circumstances in which socialist feminists coalesce with neoliberal feminists, and the circumstances in which socialist feminists must break off from neoliberal feminists and regroup as a separate network (cf Nancy Fraser).

When Karl Rove comes knocking at your door and tells you he will let you decry rape for 15 minutes on teevee if you sell imperial tyranny for him, and your reaction is “OK! Sounds like a bargain!”, you know you’re a fucking neoliberal tool. If and only if in the context of an international antidemocratic elite campaign, you do not believe that women have the capacity to make decisions, then you are not a feminist; you are a paid neoliberal shill. Since we are strict pomos and we must allow women to label themselves feminist if they want (or if it serves their career networking), we could gamely specify them as Karl Rove feminists. Which version of feminism led Friedman naturally to resort to yelping, “Fear! Fear! Fear is the reason!” at the end of the Democracy Now! debate.

Yes, most of us women and many men have been raped; it involved fear and other emotions, and rape is one of the overlapping abuses of power in a rapacious, proliferating, inequality-based political-economic culture of alienation and “unmaking,” as Elaine Scarry might put it. The existence of abuse in individual relationships requires us to morally oppose the further development of the institutions that foster such oppression. The long elite antidemocratic campaign is a central corrupt and corrupting institution.

Inasmuch as it first pointed to hypocrisy (as articulated by Naomi Wolf and Michael Moore), the charge that Sweden underprosecutes rape is a distortion of the actual legal strength of women in Sweden vis-a-vis sexual violence. Sweden has a very different legal system that approaches almost all crime with restitution, rather than vindictive, long-term punishment as in the Anglosphere; and that social democratic legal tradition is an asset that reduces alienation and oppression. (In ignoring this, Amnesty is cooperating with a local Swedish effort to use the international public sphere for local political purposes. Perhaps in the Swedish context, Amnesty’s classification of women in Sweden as particularly vulnerable to consequence-free violence supports women’s emancipation; perhaps instead it supports neoconservative efforts to augment inequality by replacing the current legal system with a punitive, capitalist class-biased Anglo legal system.) There is a very good reason why some Swedes are angry with the state prosecutor and the neoliberal feminists for assaulting that reconstructive social democratic tradition.

This Assange prosecution case will most definitely NOT make Sweden and the world better at opposing rape, contrary to Friedman’s baseless assertion. It will only continue to give conservatives license to destroy democracy in the glorious, cynical, patriarchal name of protecting the sub-rational womenchildren sub-citizens. Sweden has a conservative Law’n’Order government that got into power and stays there by flogging the idea that swarthy immigrants threaten the virtue and accomplishments of “real,” “liberated” Swedish women. Those politics of pimping out feminism are honed to a fine art in Sweden, as you can see from watching the cynical Swedish lawyer in the Democracy Now! report.

Sweden’s conservative government is absolutely colluding with other conservative states to pimp out women’s fear and rage at being raped for these rulers’ own antidemocratic purposes. Wolf knows what she’s talking about, and her incisive analysis is impressive.

Assessment of socialist-feminist / neoliberal feminist coalition:

In the Assange case, the neoliberal feminists are not fighting for rape victims or any women. They are serving as a voluntary army for politically-organized international capital. But simply wrapping the terrifying, bloody flag of sex victimhood around the shoulders of this conservative campaign cannot make it liberatory for anyone but already overly-mobile capital, rapist of whole communities and societies, progenitor of alienated, dehumanizing, abusive, exploitive relationships. And I speak not just from a political perspective, but also from an experiential perspective, as a feminist who was raped by an IDF soldier.

This is a point where socialist feminists cannot reconcile with the political program of neoliberal feminists, which has led directly into the pit of extreme social inequality, including gender inequality–if you recognize that women make up the majority of the world’s poor, exploited, dispossessed and disenfranchised. In today’s political context, mutual opposition to rape and patriarchy is not enough, nor is mutual commitment to women’s advancement. Which rape? Which patriarchy? Which women’s advancement? These are crucial questions, because the neoliberal feminists’ abstracted emotional triggers cannot hide the bloody flood of wretched disparities in life chances that we have seen and will continue to see under the management regime of such neoliberal supplicants to the conservative movement.

This is a point at which socialist feminists must regroup around their own separate, historically-rooted Left feminism. They can and must fight sexual violence and promote women’s networks separately from the neoliberal feminists. Mobilize their own constituency. Build upon their tradition’s own ideas. The neoliberal feminists’ only policy answers are sealed within the bleak, corrupting world of Reagan, Thatcher, Mulroney, and Reinfeldt, wherein Karl Rove’s Angels can sell their glossy, full-color magazines to the self-righteous daughters and wives of finance, insurance, and real estate.

Considered strategically, socialist feminists should remember, however, that over an historical sweep, the existence of elite conservative feminist hegemony–while destructive in many terrible ways–can produce something of a hegemonic check on Left patriarchs. As Paul Lichterman’s work has shown, it’s sometimes wise to refrain from enjoining fierce bullying with all your firepower–but rather to practice some jijitsu. You don’t want to completely alienate or destroy all enemies.

Naomi Wolf is a good model. She articulates a consistent, clear socialist feminism firmly and confidently, even while she is being savaged by the neoliberal feminists. The trick is to regroup with other socialist feminists at such junctures–not to let the neoliberals get inside your head.

There will come a point in the future where the competing feminist groups will have temporary use of each other. You want your head clear to take advantage of that moment.