Sunday, April 20, 2014


Ross Douthat, unsurprisingly, doesn't share the perspective on capitalism expressed in Thomas Piketty's book Capitalism in the Twenty-first Century. The way Douthat sees it -- if I correctly understand a Scott Winship post he cites approvingly -- people are getting way too much in Social Security and Medicare and employer-provided health care to be suffering from any sort of real increase in equality. Douthat writes:
Even if the income and wealth distributions look more Victorian, ... the 99 percent may still be doing well enough to be wary of any political movement that seems too radical, too utopian, too inclined to rock the boat.
And yet, around the world, the 99 percent seem rather cranky these days. Why on earth would that be if (according to Douthat) economic explanations are completely off the table? Well, Douthat being Douthat, you can imagine what he thinks the real explanation is:
... what's felt to be evaporating could turn out to be cultural identity -- family and faith, sovereignty and community -- much more than economic security.
Yes! Of course! We need a whole lot more of Jesus and a lot less rock 'n' ro-- er, progressive taxation. And where are people turning for this spiritual nourishment, according to Douthat?
This possibility might help explain why the far left remains, for now, politically weak even as it enjoys a miniature intellectual renaissance. And it might hint at a reason that so much populist energy, in both the United States and Europe, has come from the right instead -- from movements like the Tea Party, Britain's UKIP, France's National Front and others that incorporate some Piketty-esque arguments (attacks on crony capitalism; critiques of globalization) but foreground cultural anxieties instead.
Do you see what Douthat is doing here? He's burying the loaded word "sovereignty" in among innocuous words ("family and faith ... community"), lumping them all together as "cultural anxieties" and fears about "cultural identity" He's making it seem as if people just want a simple Norman Rockwell life, or whatever the equivalent of that would be in various European countries.

But, um, "sovereignty" is really a big deal to these movements, as a look at this "What We Stand For" page on the website of Britain's UKIP makes clear:
... Another wave of uncontrolled immigration comes from the EU (this time Bulgaria and Romania). Yet the political class tells us the EU is good for the UK.....

• Regain control of our borders and of immigration - only possible by leaving the EU....

• Proof of private health insurance must be a precondition for immigrants and tourists to enter the UK....

• Prioritise social housing for people whose parents and grandparents were born locally....

• Make welfare a safety net for the needy, not a bed for the lazy. Benefits only available to those who have lived here for over 5 years....
Oh, and:
Ukip is part of the group Europe of Freedom and Democracy (EFD). The group includes representatives of the Danish People’s Party, the True Finns Party, the Dutch SGP and the infamous Italian Lega Nord – all of them far-right. [UKIP leader] Nigel Farage is co-President of the group along with Lega Nord's Francesco Speroni, who described multiple murderer Anders Breivik as someone whose "ideas are in defence of western civilisation."
And yet UKIP's Farage won't ally with Marine Le Pen and her National Front in France because Farage thinks Le Pen is too anti-Semitic. Le Pen has allied her party with with Dutch Muslim-basher Geert Wilders; she's compared the presence of Muslims praying in France's streets to living under Nazi occupation; she's said that if Muslim veils are banned, the Jewish skullcap should also be banned.

This is about a wee bit more than family, faith, and community.

I look at the rise of these parties and see fascism, though possibly dialed down a bit for maximum electoral appeal. (The National Front was far more overtly racist years ago, under Le Pen's father; UKIP is less overtly racist than the party it has effectively superseded, the British National Party. This has done wonders for the poll numbers of the UKIP and the new National Front.) Douthat? He sees nothing but sunshine:
And somewhere in this pattern, perhaps, lies the beginnings of a more ideologically complicated critique of modern capitalism -- one that draws on cultural critics like Daniel Bell and Christopher Lasch rather than just looking to material concerns, and considers the possibility that our system's greatest problem might not be the fact that it lets the rich claim more money than everyone else. Rather, it might be that both capitalism and the welfare state tend to weaken forms of solidarity that give meaning to life for many people, while offering nothing but money in their place.
That's the lesson Ross Douthat derives from the rise of neo-fascism in Europe. The mind reels.


aimai said...

Oh for crying out loud. This column is a rehash of a badly argued, college level, aquaintance with Marx, Lasch, Bell with a sprinkling of Marshall Berman's book "All That Is Solid Melts Into Air." The puffery and self regard of this is pure undergraduate bloviation. The guy hasn't really read or thought about anything since Soc. Stud 10 or whatever department he was in.

Ken_L said...

It's a common view amongst conservatives: the poor were much happier when they had the consolation of religion. A bit like the duck guy claiming the darkies were always happy when he was a boy, singing their gospel songs n'all. But I do resent the parochial way he bases his argument on his observations of the USA. If he bothered to look a bit further afield, he might find the masses were far from "doing well enough to be wary of" radical political movements.

Victor said...

What aimai and Ken_L said.

Plus, Douthat is an insipid bore - much like his mentor, Bobo Brooks.

ForceCrate said...

Why is this guy working when monkeys abound who can type the same things?