Banking on Despair: The New Great Depression - sociopathic politics since 9/11
By Bernie Quigley
- for The Hill on 2/12/09
Directly after the destruction of 9/11 a cry arose from a very few but very prominent artists and writers of Great work! – What a mastery of political performance art – blowing up the World Trade Centers; the primary symbol of American greed and capitalism! This is “independence day” – the revolution starts today! These brief episodes can be easily documented as they were reported in such august periodicals as The Atlantic. The idea was, that 9/11 – “liberation day” - the revolution, whatever it may be, can finally start today. This is what we’ve been waiting for.
These voices were quickly, correctly, squished by mainstream media but the paradigm of welcoming despair that would reach such depths of human sadness was apparent. It was a deep trigger response. I myself received such emails and calls from friends, now former friends.
After such depths of human tragedy as 9/11 came the few voices in academia recently wishing and hoping for a new Great Depression, so’s that the arts can flourish as they are imagined to have flourished in the real Great Depression. It will be all Zora Neale Hurston, Studs Terkel, Kenneth Patchen and Richard Wright hopping freights with Woody Gunthrie again: Workers – and writers and artists – of the world unite. You have nothing to lose but your government bailout.
Time to read Elie Weisel’s Night.
Time to read Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn Cancer Ward.
And most important perhaps, time to read Arthur Koestler’s Darkness at Noon, about the vast number of Europe’s middle class intellectuals who readily and willingly signed on with Joseph Stalin.
Time to get back in touch once again with the real depths of human despair.
As in the early days of the Bush administration post 9/11 and possibly before, where there were undeniably wishes for a Great War so we could be great too like the Greatest Generation (Are we not men?), so the Democrats today get to the other side of the coin with nostalgia for the Great Depression.
It won’t hold up long because it is basically sociopathic.
It is almost astonishing that these two directions have taken hold here at the turn of the millennium. Perhaps we really are, as Charles Krauthammer and Francis Fukiyama said 17 years ago, at the end of history. But what comes to my mind is some old reading of Norman O. Brown, political theorist and sociologist of the 1950s, who borrowed from Freud: Neurotics don’t remember, he wrote, they repeat. By which he meant that when the politics and the culture, like the individual, loses the will or the ability to go forward, it returns instead to the past. It repeats itself. Much as neurotics, he said, continue to return to the safety of early obsessions rather than engage their fate and plow forward.
There is something inherently wrong with the widespread execution of press and politics in the Obama moment which increasingly is coming to resemble the Jimmy Carter moment. And it was correctly assessed by The Hill Pundit, John Feehery: John Maynard Keynes, on which the Obama spending policies are based, is irrelevant to the times.
Keynes is not a set piece, like an antique porcelain vase on the fire mantle, as he is daily presented now in the pages of the mainstream press. He said himself that economists are soldiers for dead ideas and scholarship should change as the times change. He was, like his doppelganger, Karl Marx, relevant to the great mass movements of mankind across Russia, China, the United States and Europe a hundred years back. Those days might be characterized as a struggle between Keynes and Marx.
But applying them today in America makes the mistake of leaving out one major economic element: The rise of the red states in America to economic vitality since the Second World War.
The attempt to apply Roosevelt era economic applications to present day America sees America as Roosevelt did in the 1830s: As an extension of New York moving into an empty heartland of farmland and forest. That characterization may not have been far off in 1930. The industrial regions spread west to Michigan and Ohio and were about to head South, but much of the heartland was empty compared to today.
To apply that formula today is to ignore the economic rise of the South, the Southwest and the West including California and the Pacific Northwest since war’s end.
American economy has advanced, matured and vastly diversified since wars end and the Southern states in particularly have found cultural relevance in many ways in opposition to the North and the extended sensibilities of the New Yorkers.
These states – primarily the red states - do not come from the factory-worked tradition, nor do they have as much in common with Europe as the northeast states do. They have evolved economically over longer traditions and more diverse and indigenous traditions. And they are not today conquered provinces of the North as they were in the 1870s and even in the 1920s. They have their own organically grown cultures and traditions and they are different cultures from the extended New York culture.
As Feehery says about politics today: “This is a philosophical struggle more than a political struggle. It is a battle of Keynes vs. Hayek. Keynesian economic philosophy puts more power in the hands of politicians (so they tend to really like it) by saying that the way to economic salvation is to spend more money. Hayek’s economic philosophy puts more money and power in the private sector, to create private-sector jobs.”
This succinctly explains the political party conflict in America today. It is, as he says, a philosophical struggle. It can also be considered a territorial difference today between red states and blue states.
The Obama campaign and its advisors followed a “whistling past Dixie” strategy in their winning campaign, believing that it could dominate and territorialized the South and the red states without consequences.
This is a mistake of judgment that will cost. As historian Frank Owsley pointed out, conflict between North and South was always philosophically based. The same philosophical differences can be seen today in the Keynes approach of the blue states – and Maine’s two Senators have always been “kind of blue” (Miles Davis again . . . he keeps popping up). They are now thoroughly blue. While the Blue Dog Gang; the conservative Democrats in the House, are actually red and should be called the Red Dog Gang.
This is the inherent conflict in American today what will grow over the next 20 years.
Radicals today like Bill Ayers, who wants to do a dog and pony show with Sarah Palin, are laughably out of time; leftover from the Sixties, leftover from the 1930s. But there are today real radicals and they are new voices. Like committed radicals of the past – like Arthur Koestler - they are responsible adults and fearless and potentially threatening to the status quo in that their points of view would change everything manifesting in the conditioned reflex of press and politics. They bring forth new beginnings. One, on the left, is Thomas Naylor, a Duke economist who lives in Vermont and has sponsored the Second Vermont Republic, which was covered recently by The New Yorker and The Nation. The other, on the right, is Ron Paul, spirit father of the Free Staters here in New Hampshire, which has similar objectives. What is interesting is that both reject some of the major traditions of both Marx and Keynes and call for a return to a gold standard.
The last historical cycle – the Hoover/Roosevelt era - was as struggle for dominance between the views of Marx and Keynes. It ended with Roosevelt. Our historical cycle today is and will continue to be a struggle between the Keynes/Marx hybrid of the Obama Democrats and the theories of Friedrich von Hayek known as the Austrian School of economics, which is growing among Republicans. It is too late for Keynes but possibly too early yet for Hayek.
When new movements start there is always a "wild one" who inspires the more staid to new ideas and to action. It was James Otis, the Boston revolutionary lawyer who went mad later in life, who inspired John Adams. It was the half-mad John Brown who inspired Emerson and the Transcendentalist and brought them to the Civil War. Ron Paul is the “wild man” and vocal voice of Austrian economics in our time and increasingly some of his themes are being picked up by more institutional players, like the very eloquent Mark Sanford, Governor of South Carolina, who speaks in opposition to the Obama bailouts.
Sanford speaks in Sacramento at a Republican Convention this month - it could bring a turning point.