What Liberalism Has Become

Liberalism, an endlessly perplexing beast. What exactly is it?

One interesting perspective is that of Domenico Losurdo. As a Italian left-winger, he doesn’t share the biases of mainstream Anglo-American thought. He takes liberalism as a larger worldview that appears to include even what Americans think of as conservatism. It’s not just a narrow ideology limited to a political party or social movement but an entire system, a paradigmatic worldview.

I found this a strange interpretation at first. It has since grown on me. This both explains the often reactionary nature of liberalism (anti-radicalism, anti-communism, etc) and explains the often liberal tendencies of conservatism (individualism, free markets, etc). They really are two varieties of the same post-Enlightenment social order, mainstream liberals and mainstream conservatives working in tandem to maintain the dominant system and worldview.

A main focus of mine has been on conservative(-minded) liberals. It’s common here in the Midwest, as part of the cultural norms. I particularly associate it with Democrats who are or were raised working class, typically having spent formative years in areas that included unionized factory towns and small farming towns.

It’s a weird mix of social liberalism and social conservatism, of workers’ rights and work ethic. It’s about taking care of those who deserve it, the emphasis being on who gets perceived as worthy and who doesn’t. In the Midwest, this takes shape through a heavy emphasis on family and community. But on social issues, it is mildly libertarian in having a live and let live sensibility, such that being perceived as lazy is worse than being perceived as gay. In the South, a person is praised by a statement that, He’s a good Christian. It’s different in the Midwest where the praise, instead, will be that, He’s a hard worker.

I personally associate it with the Midwest because that is where I’ve spent so much of my life. But I imagine it might be similar in other areas outside the South, such as the Northeast.

This isn’t a form of conservatism that is spoken about much in the mainstream. You won’t find it regularly discussed in the dominant spheres of politics, academia, and the media. It is a liberalism on the ground that remains largely hidden in plain sight. Few in the mainstream, left or right, want to acknowledge its existence. It doesn’t fit the established social and political narratives.

Still, some scholarship touches upon it, if you look for it. It’s fairly well known, for example, that mainstream liberalism when it was most dominant in the past more than relented to conservative tendencies, including working class racism such as in labor organizing and communist witch-hunts. Conservative liberalism often took the form of liberalism for whites, men, and the economically well off while maintaining a reactionary stance toward everyone else.

There was a class component to this, not just about working class but the right kind of working class, respectable and not radical (in a recent post about fascism, I quoted Barbara J. Steinson: “From its beginning in Indiana the Farm Bureau made it clear that the organization was composed of respectable members of the farming community and that it was not a bunch of radicals or troublemakers”). In the past, this was the working class aspiring to be middle class with hopes that their children would go to college and become professionals (and, yes, in the Midwest many farmers also sent their kids off to college). They sought bourgeois respectability, to be the right kind of people.

College-educated professionals have existed for centuries and they’ve played a pivotal role in the past. But something changed when college suddenly became available to large numbers of people. The once small professional class became significantly large. That new generation of mid-20th century professionals formed what others have called the liberal class (related to the recent category of the creative class, i.e., the knowledge workers). They are the ones that made it, the members of the self-perceived meritocracy.

Over time, this liberal class has become more and more disconnected from the working class they came from, specifically as upward mobility declined. The liberal class has increasingly turned into an inherited rather than achieved social status. The line between working class and middle class has become drawn sharply. There is no longer a respectable working class, according to mainstream society. Those who aren’t able to escape their humble beginnings, at best, might deserve pity and not much more. It is assumed that the losers of society represent a permanent underclass of Social Darwinian inferiors, the trash of society. The working class aspiring to middle class has been left behind, as I noted in a post about the demographics of supporters of the main presidential candidates:

“It would be reasonable to assume that Trump’s supporters have felt these changes in their lives, as have so many other Americans. Many people characterize these people as the white working class, sometimes even portraying them as outright poor and ignorant, but that is inaccurate. They aren’t that unusual. In fact, they were once the heart of the middle class. Their status in society has been downgraded. They have become the new broad working class, the downwardly mobile and the trapped. They are outraged because they’ve lost hope that the world will get better for them and for their children and grandchildren, and they are likely correct in their assessment.”

It’s not just that those people once were part of the middle class or perceived themselves as such. These people represented the broad base upon which was built the progressive movement, labor organizing, and the New Deal. These people proudly inhabited the vast stretches of suburbia, once the location of the American Dream but now a reactionary backwater. They are the despised losers of the neoliberal order. The good liberals look down upon them, as liberalism takes a Hamiltonian turn.

This liberal class is the focus of Thomas Frank’s new book: Listen, Liberal. I read some of it, but I quickly realized it wasn’t a book I needed to read. I’m already familiar with the subject.

It’s not new territory. Still, it’s important as it is presenting the issues in an accessible form that is getting widespread public attention at a time when it is needed more than ever. It’s part of a debate that finally is entering mainstream awareness. Frank is one of those authors that the liberal class can’t ignore and so his message is able to hit its mark. A thousand more academic tomes could describe the same problem in greater detail and they would be mostly ignored. What is needed is a popular writer who can communicate the obvious in straightforward language, and that is what Frank achieves. He simply explains what everyone should already know, if they were paying attention.

My curiosity was more about the response to Frank’s book. It’s only been out a couple of months and already has hundreds of reviews available online. One review that interested me is by Wojtek Sokolowski, “Excellent yet wanting“. One thing that the reviewer clarifies for me is that, despite his criticisms of the liberal class, Frank is coming at it from a liberal angle of attack. He isn’t a radical left-winger opining on the failures of liberalism. Rather, he is a disgruntled liberal. There are limitations to the liberal analysis of liberalism, as the reviewer points out:

“Yet this moral explanation and moral remedy that Frank offers is somewhat disappointing when we consider the fact that similar transformations occurred in socialist and social democratic parties in many European countries as well. This coincidence cannot be simply explained by the change of heart of the people leading those parties. We must look into the structural determinants.”

Structural determinants have always been a major weak point for liberalism, even among many liberal critics of liberalism. Standard liberalism by itself can’t go very far. There are old radical strains of liberalism that do deal more with the structural aspect, but you would hardly know that from the mainstream media and mainstream politics. Liberalism, at least in its primary American form, is a defanged ideology. And, though Frank is no radical, he would like to give some bite back to the political left. But it’s not clear that he succeeds.

The reviewer of Frank’s book asks, “What structural elements are missing from Frank’s narrative, then?” A great question and, in response to it, a great answer is offered:

“One clue can be found in his bibliography – despite impressive documentation of his claims, his bibliography misses a rather obscure, to be sure, work by Walter Karp titled “Indispensable Enemies”. This book attempts to answer the same question as Frank’s work does – why the US political parties do not represent the interests of their constituents – but the answer it provides emphasizes the structure of the party system rather than preferences of their leaders. Karp’s explanation is a variant of what is known as Robert Michels’ “iron law of oligarchy” which in essence claims that the leadership of an institution is first and foremost concerned about its own power within the institution rather than the power of the institution itself. In case of US political parties, the party bosses are more concerned with keeping their control of their respective parties than with winning elections, and they tacitly cooperate by excluding any challenge to their leadership by dividing up their respective turfs in which they maintain their respective monopolies. Paradoxical as it may sound, such behavior is well known outside politics where it is referred to as oligopoly or niche seeking.

“Karp’s thesis offers a much better explanation of the abandonment of the working class and middle class constituents by both parties than the preference for meritocracy claimed by Frank. Even from Frank’s own account of the Democratic Party’s ‘soul searching’ in the aftermath of Humphrey’s defeat in 1968 it is evident that that the emerging party leadership was not afraid of losing a series of elections (McGovern, Mondale, Dukakis) before they could cement their hold on the party under Clinton. Clearly, a party whose leadership’s main goal is to win elections would not make such a cardinal mistake as losing elections for 20 consecutive years by abandoning their core constituency. Likewise, Obama’s abandonment of the “hope” promise led to a spectacular loss of both houses of Congress and numerous state legislatures, but that did not persuade the party leadership to change the course. Au contraire, they are determined to keep the course and undermine any challenge to the party leadership (cf. Sanders). This is not the behavior of a general who wants to win a war (cf. Robert E. Lee), but of one who wants to keep his position in his own army (cf. George Brinton McClellan).”

I have never before come across that exact explanation, although the general idea is familiar. It cuts straight to the heart of the matter. So much that didn’t make any sense suddenly makes perfect sense. I had been intuiting something like this for a while now. Early on in the campaign season it occurred to me that the establishments of both parties might rather lose the election than lose control of the respective party machines. But why might that be the case? Karp suggests a reason and I find it compelling.

As this campaign season goes on, I find this kind of viewpoint every more compelling. Standard narratives no longer make any sense, assuming they ever did. In particular, the actions of the Hillary Clinton campaign and the DNC only make sense when you think of a political party as a bureaucratic organization that first and foremost seeks to maintain its own existence, just as those who control it seek to maintain their power. All else is secondary. The blatant resistance to reform is a result of this, blatant not just in the party machine itself but also through its representatives in the mainstream media. The entire elite, public and private, works together so closely that they operate as a single entity.

Everyone knows that Clinton is the weaker candidate against Trump. She is one of the most unpopular candidates in US history. Everyone knows the only reason she did so well was because of a political establishment backing her, a media biased toward her, and a system rigged in her favor. Everyone knows that Sanders would have easily won the nomination if there were open primaries not excluding Independents. Everyone knows Sanders would win vastly more votes than Clinton in a general election.

So, if the DNC and Clinton don’t care about risking a Trump victory, why is it the responsibility of everyone else to bow down to their corruption out of fear? If Clinton gave a shit about either the Democrats or the country, then she would step down and hand the nomination to Sanders who is the only candidate certain to beat Trump. If she is that egotistic about winning and that cavalier toward the threat of Trump, then more power to her. But the point is she doesn’t care about any supposed threat from someone like Trump, a decades old friend and crony.

The elections are irrelevant except as controlling them represents power.

Corey Robin brought in another element to this, careerism. He posted about it on Facebook, in linking to a recent WP article that mentioned an old LRB piece by him. In that piece, he concludes that:

“The main reason for the contemporary evasion of Arendt’s critique of careerism, however, is that addressing it would force a confrontation with the dominant ethos of our time. In an era when capitalism is assumed to be not only efficient but also a source of freedom, the careerist seems like the agent of an easy-going tolerance and pluralism. Unlike the ideologue, whose great sin is to think too much and want too much from politics, the careerist is a genial caretaker of himself. He prefers the marketplace to the corridors of state power. He is realistic and pragmatic, not utopian or fanatic. That careerism may be as lethal as idealism, that ambition is an adjunct of barbarism, that some of the worst crimes are the result of ordinary vices rather than extraordinary ideas: these are the implications of Eichmann in Jerusalem that neo-cons and neoliberals alike find too troubling to acknowledge.”

I find it sad that liberalism is so caught up in careerism, along with the bureaucracy of party politics. There is an obvious class element to this, as careerism is the defining feature of the professional class, which has come to be seen as the liberal class. This society is becoming a technocracy where the highest praise to give someone is that they get things done. Pragmatic realpolitik is what rules. Constrained by this worldview, liberals end up being more conservative than conservatives. Liberals are now the ultimate defenders of the status quo.

That is what it means to live in this liberal age.

35 thoughts on “What Liberalism Has Become

  1. Here is a central point I was trying to get at.

    Liberalism has been many things. Still, there has been a dominant strand of thought in liberalism with roots in the Enlightenment Age. It had to do with the rise of a middle class that challenged aristocracy and monarchy. In place of the ancien regime, it offered a vision of meritocracy which sadly too often meant plutocracy.

    The old system was where power led to wealth and the new system was where wealth led to power, but in practice they were far more alike than different, a defense of hierarchy from those who would challenge it from below. This is the reactionary cancer that has been growing within liberalism for centuries and some would argue it’s the very seed of liberalism.

    It was maybe inevitable that liberalism would develop into what we now see, a technocracy of bureaucratic professionals. Everything is ruled by those with college degrees, which wasn’t true not that long ago. It once was common for the uneducated to start businesses, including businesses that became highly profitable. Yet now businesses, like governments, are dependent on professionals. The penultimate professional in this bureaucratic nightmare is the lawyer, from lawyer politicians to tax attorneys.

    Nearly every aspect of our society, including education, has become extremely bureaucratic, hierarchical, and centralized. This technocracy is the vision that so many liberals have come to embrace. This is why a technocrat like Hillary Clinton is so appealing to the liberal class. One of the greatest aspirations of our society is to become a middle class professional and then to become a functionary of the technocracy.

    I understand the appeal of this vision, at a time when ignorance seems so rampant. The danger, however, is that technocrats are often just as ignorant as the rest of us, as their expertise is so narrow. The Achilles Heel of the technocracy is a hubris that takes a number of forms: smart idiot effect, groupthink, etc. The system becomes self-perpetuating and it shuts down out-of-the-box thinking.

    There was once a liberalism that was radical enough to challenge the status quo. It still exists in small pockets, but it has become silenced and neutralized.

    The liberalism we now have is in some ways more powerfully and violently oppressive than was the ancien regime. Some have noted, for example, that it was only with the fall of the ancien regime in England that there was a sudden increase in punishments such as public hangings. The new liberal order offered a kind of freedom for some while demanding more rigid conformity from everyone else. That is seen now in the United States, the supposed beacon of freedom that has the largest military and prison system in the world.

    This hits me hard, as I’ve identified as a liberal for so long. I feel betrayed by those who talk pretty and then resort to great evil or look the other way while it’s being committed. I don’t just mean the liberal ruling elite. I feel most betrayed by the average liberal who blinds themselves to the cruelty and deafens themselves to the cries of suffering. Without the complicity of the average liberal, the ruling elite would never get away with most of what they do. There is no evil that liberals can’t and won’t rationalize with the best of stated intentions.

    This makes me angry. I’ve come to realize liberals are my enemies, not my allies. I will treat them as such from now on. Liberals are not to be trusted. They are one of the greatest dangers to a free society. It’s taken a while, but I’m now fully radicalized.

  2. I’ve come to one basic conclusion. It contributes to my perplexity.

    Liberalism and conservatism are simply two varieties and/or degrees of the reactionary mindset. Furthermore, there seems to be a strong correlation and possibly a directly link between the reactionary and the authoritarian. It’s not necessarily that the reactionary and authoritarian are the same thing, but maybe they somehow require each other or form a vicious cycle.

    This is why liberals, for all their good intentions and inspiring rhetoric, end up contributing to and rationalizing all of the problems they presumably are seeking to solve. That this is largely unconscious and systemic makes it all the more dangerous. It’s not liberals as individuals that are dangerous. It’s the entire system and worldview of liberalism that poses a threat, specifically in how it becomes institutionalized and self-perpetuating.

  3. “One of the reasons that big business hasn’t been able to step in and reverse the electoral train wreck that is the Trump campaign is not that the racist rank and file of the GOP base has so much power that big business is helpless. It is instead that big business feels relatively assured that even if the GOP goes down to defeat, it will have a friend and ally in Hillary Clinton’s administration and neoliberal elites within the Democratic Party.”


  4. “All of which, of course, is fantastic news for the mainstream media and social liberals. Imagine the emotional strain they’ve been under, having to pretend to feel uncomfortable about Clinton’s shady Wall Street ties, or pretending to approve of some of Sanders’ ideas … like single-payer healthcare for all Americans, free or affordable college tuition, and regulating the investment banks.

    “Put yourself in their shoes for a minute and imagine being forced to pretend to care about Obama and Clinton fomenting coups, and otherwise destabilizing other countries, or assassinating pretty much anyone they like, anywhere they like, with complete impunity, or unequivocally supporting the State of Israel, and our friends in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, and whichever other despotic regimes we happen to be supporting at the moment.

    “Not that Sanders was ever going to change the nature of U.S. foreign policy, or be able to achieve his domestic agenda. As Jeffrey St. Clair wrote in his recent piece, this was always “a rhetorical revolution.” Words, however, do not amount to nothing … not completely nothing, anyway. And Sanders has been saying a lot of stuff that folks in the international spotlight are not supposed to talk about publicly, and definitely not on television.

    “See, the thing about being a social liberal is, it’s incredibly important to convince yourself that you actually care about other people, and that you’re not just mouthing whatever platitudes are making the rounds in liberals circles as you enjoy the fruits of global Capitalism, which at some level you know are being made possible by destroying a lot of other people’s lives, which you need to deny or rationalize somehow. Oh yes, it’s extremely complicated, and stressful, being a social liberal. It’s so much simpler for folks on the Right, who can come right out and admit they have no qualms about killing and exploiting other people, as long as they can profit from it.

    “Social liberals do not have this luxury. No, in order to continue to feel good about themselves, they have to twist themselves into emotional pretzels and tell themselves all kinds of crazy stories. One of their favorites is the one about “reality,” and being “an adult,” which means being a capitalist, as Capitalism, for them, is the only reality … it’s more or less a religious thing.

    “Mostly, these stories do the trick, as social liberals — like most other people — tend to socialize with others of their kind, and so reinforce whatever narrative their social circle is telling itself, which, of course, is how “reality” is created.”


  5. Sadly they have managed to make the right-wing accusations of a wealthy elitist, out of touch with the common people accusation true.

    They tend to be socially left wing, but economically conservative, and willfully ignorant of class privilege.

    • Yep. That is sadly the case. I’ve long wanted to believe in the liberal dream. It’s such a lovely dream. But as long as it remains a dream that hides a dark reality, I don’t want anything to do with it.

      I’d love for it to be proved that the liberal dream has real moral currency in challenging unjust power and oppression. I just don’t see it happening, at least not anytime soon. Liberals have grown too comfortable and their social position too well entrenched.

      There are some morally principled and even radical liberals out there. They do exist. I don’t want to discount them. But they are fighting against the entire liberal class and it seems like a losing battle. Maybe they’d be wiser to fight a different battle.

  6. It is sad, but I think that knowing human nature, probably not a surprise.

    The sad thing is that so many wealthier people look down on working people. That is the part that really disturbs me. Say what you will of Marx, but his critiques of capitalism were quite accurate.

    • There is no doubt that class analysis explains quite a bit. Not everything, but more than the average liberal appreciates. In fact, class analysis explains much of liberalism itself.

      Most Americans hold liberal positions on major issues. If not for being mired in class conflict, liberalism should be dominating politics and the liberal dream should be a reality. Liberals have no one to blame other than themselves. As long as liberalism is more of a class than a movement, it will remain dysfunctional and a failure according to its own stated ideals and values.

      If liberals understood that, we wouldn’t have a so-called liberal party like that of the Democrats. But maybe most liberals do understand on some level and they are content with the class hierarchy. Maybe they’d rather maintain their privileged social position than risk losing it in actually achieving the supposed purpose of the liberal vision of society.

  7. If you think about it, the Democratic Establishment has helped create Trump as much as the Republicans.

    They don’t care about the working people that really add value.. Working people realize that they see the Establishment has sold out on them.

    I do not believe that many of the Establishment realizes true implications of Trump. Others do, but will never admit it because deep inside they knew they sold out.

  8. This post has received a lot of attention lately. Bringing more than a thousand hits to my blog in a single day, along with some new subscribers. It first got linked in the comments section of a Naked Capitalism post:


    Then Yves Smith added it to a post of links, also on Naked Capitalism:


    From there, it was linked elsewhere as well:




    This post seems to have resonated for some reason. I always wonder why some posts get attention and others don’t. It doesn’t necessarily have to do with the inherent quality of the post. There isn’t much to this post in many ways, but what is in it hits a nerve that is particularly raw at the moment.

    Still, it didn’t perfectly resonate for everyone. As some comments demonstrate. That was particularly the case in the last link. In the comments section, there were some questions and criticisms. Responding to this part from the above post…

    “Everyone knows that Clinton is the weaker candidate against Trump. She is one of the most unpopular candidates in US history. Everyone knows the only reason she did so well was because of a political establishment backing her, a media biased toward her, and a system rigged in her favor. Everyone knows that Sanders would have easily won the nomination if there were open primaries not excluding Independents. Everyone knows Sanders would win vastly more votes than Clinton in a general election.”

    …Cleek asked,
    “am i reading this wrong, or do you and i have vastly different concepts of what “everyone” means ?”

    wj commented,
    “I guess I’m not part of “everyone” either. Because I’m far from sure of that. Independents might have shifted the ground, but I suspect that they would have shifted it in directions other than Sanders.
    “And, FYI, California did have exactly the kind of open primary (i.e. open to independents) for the Democrats that you describe. Clinton won easily.”

    bobbyp concurred with cleek,
    “I would agree with your assessment about ‘everyone’. Pure fantasy. Clinton did have all those advantages, and she beat Sanders fair and square.
    “I have put out an APB for “everyone”. Are they armed and dangerous?”

    I stand by my comment, on psychological grounds. It seems to me that people know more than they’re willing to admit. So, I was exaggerating for effect and yet was speaking to a deeper truth.

    There are some fully ignorant people out there, but I’m willing to bet that these three commenters are more well informed than that. At some level, they probably know what I said is true. The information and evidence is all over the place for anyone who wants to see it. And even if you didn’t want to see it, it would be extremely difficult to ignore it and pretend you didn’t notice.

    I refuse to believe that most people really are that ignorant. I’ve come to have great respect for the human capacity to simultaneously know and not know even the most blatantly obvious of realities. Everyone knows lots of things, even as most people talk and act as if they don’t know. That’s just human nature and politicians understand it well enough to use it to their advantage.

    I probably won’t respond to their comments at that post, though. I’ve learned that is (usually) a pointless activity. It most likely would just lead to the backfire effect. I only comment here to set the record straight on my own view of things. I’ve looked at the what’s going on and much of it is reported in the mainstream media. It’s not secret info hidden away from public view. The average person comes across this reporting, even if they don’t fully take it in and appreciate it for what it is, much less put it into a larger frame of knowledge and analysis.

    That is how they can know about it and yet not know or not fully realize what they know. Their knowledge isn’t integrated into their consciousness. That is the way most knowledge operates, implicit and context-dependent while being constrained by dissociation, unawareness, and intellectual laziness. Very little of what humans ‘know’ is conscious. The more difficult the knowledge, the less the consciousness. And no one can doubt that the knowledge I speak of is difficult for many to deal with, bringing doubts to fundamental beliefs about our social order and social reality.

    I’ve many times written about dissociation, about knowing and not knowing. I won’t bother to link to them all here (they can easily be found using the search function). I will simply point to this post from a couple of years ago, in which I quote Cass R. Sunstein:


    “True, surveys reveal big differences. But if people are given economic rewards for giving the right answer, the partisan divisions start to become a lot smaller. Here’s the kicker: With respect to facts , there is a real difference between what people say they believe and what they actually believe.”

    That post also brings up the issue of ideology, liberal vs conservative. Most Americans are pragmatic liberals while being symbolic conservatives. That is to say Americans knowingly hold liberal views while not knowing how liberal are their views.

    In my comment at the last linked piece, I discussed a bit my views of liberalism, as that is what this post is about. One person disagreed, from another comment by wj, in response to my having written,

    “on social issues, it is mildly libertarian in having a live and let live sensibility, such that being perceived as lazy is worse than being perceived as gay.”

    …to which wj commented,

    “describes what I’d consider a true conservative (not liberal) point of view. (That’s conservative, as opposed the the reactionary views which currently masquerade under that label.)
    “It is also about valuing what we have, but recognizing that it isn’t perfect. About making changes to address the imperfections, but keeping them as small as possible while still dealing with the problem. And it’s about taking a basically life-and-let-live view on social issues, when the individual behavior doesn’t harm others.
    “It’s what one of my liberal friends once called “being a tolerant conservative.”
    “It’s a philosophical view of the world that is also almost invisible in the media. But, for all that, seems quite widespread in the real world outside the media and the political arena.”

    Nope. That’s not it. These people still are strongly liberal. They tend to vote Democrat, support not just civil rights but also unions and the welfare state. But they tend to be working class, to have grown up working class, or else have spent a lot of time around the working class, often having lived in working class communities. They are conservative-minded in some ways, with a heavy emphasis on family, community, and work ethic. But that in no way constrains their old school progressivism and surprsing degree of social liberalism.

    Let me counter one last issue from that was brought up in the comments I shared above. The issue of elections. Anyone who has been paying attention realizes how much the DNC and MSM have rigged the system against Sanders. It’s one of those things that I’m sure that most Americans on some level understand. They might not want to admit it because of the cognitive dissonance it would create, as the political reality is in conflict with our professed national ideals.

    The DNC refused to have many debates, especially at times when most people would see them. The MSM ignored Sanders for a long time, giving most of their time to Trump and Clinton—and, when they did finally start acknowledging Sanders, they did so only to dismiss him. During the campaign season, people were voting for Clinton partly because they didn’t know who Sanders was, because his campaign had been systematically blacked out. On top of this, odd incidents and results kept coming up in the caucuses and primaries, and they just didn’t make sense in terms of a well functioning, transparent and accountable democratic process. It doesn’t take a genius to figure this all out.

    I don’t know what has been going on. But I do know that even to this day Democrats are afraid to admit that the Republicans stole the election in 2000, the most obvious stolen election in US history. If they can’t admit that, they certainly wouldn’t admit when such rigging happens within their own party. This is dangerous knowledge. Americans are genuinely afraid of what it all means and so they deny the obvious, but that doesn’t mean they don’t actually know. The low ratings of Congress and of the two main presidential candidates proves how little faith people have in democracy, even if they can’t always consciously admit it in a more direct way.

    Anyway, for those who care, here is some info to chew on:













    • This comment isn’t intended to be dismissive of those who disagree with me. It’s just something I’ve given years of study and thought. I’ve always been fascinated by the social sciences. And the social science research shows strange things about human nature.

      Besides dissociation and backfire effect, there is also the smart idiot effect. This is why I’m careful about claiming people are merely ignorant. Sometimes confidence on what people think they know is based on actual knowledge they have from being well educated or well read or an expert or authority figure in a field. But it doesn’t mean they know as much as they think they know or that they can differentiate what they know from what they believe.

      Research shows conservatives are particularly prone to the smart idiot effect. And I suspect the same would be true of any conservative-minded person, including conservative-minded liberals—and I’d point out that there are a surprising number of conservative-minded liberals.

      Maybe related to this is the surveys of political knowledge. Viewers of particular conservative news sources such as Fox News are simultaneously more well informed and more misinformed. So, they know more than the average American while they are wrong about what they know more than the average American. Their knowledge is genuine, but they have a lower than average ability to differentiate true from false claims.

      The post I linked with the Sunstein quote really got me thinking. It showed that conservatives actually knew what was true information, when they had a monetary incentive. Otherwise, their claims of what is true would appear to be more determined by partisan groupthink, maybe as cheerleading for their team. It’s probably not that they’re lying about what they know. Their minds are just split. All of consciousness exists within diverse contexts, and as the context shifts so does what exists within the reach of consciousness.

      I’ve followed climate change debates for years. What always struck me is that the denialists are actually well informed. They’re arguments aren’t legitimate, but they could only formulate that false rhetoric by knowing in intimate detail the best arguments based on the best evidence. But it’s not about knowledge, per se. It’s about their team winning. Still, it’s not necessarily that they’re consciously lying. People can convince themselves of almost anything, even that which contradicts what they know at some level.

      I had a more direct experience of this phenomenon in terms of racism and race realism. There was a guy who I ‘debated’ with off and on for years. It never went anywhere, but something about the guy’s thought process fascinated me. He was obviously smart and, from his comments, I could tell that he read at least some of what I wrote, taking in some of the evidence I had shared. Somewhere in his mind existed all the info that contradicted his beliefs. If he admitted it, he’d have to admit to being not only a racist but also having been wrong for so long. The cognitive dissonance about what he knew and what he believed was too great that it couldn’t be bridged. It was total dissociation.

      I’ve seen this same phenomenon in spades this campaign season. Not just among the political right but also among the political left, specifically mainstream Democrats. Much of my recent writing has been an attempt to wrap my mind around this. It’s further shaken my faith in humanity. The ability to dissociate and rationalize away is one of the greatest talents of humans. It’s as impressive as it is depressing.

  9. Liberals are masters of class warfare. They gripe about the wealthy not paying their fair share in taxes. Some of them want to politicize gun-related tragedies as a catalyst for a gun control agenda.

    • I should emphasize the point that I’ve sent most of my adult life identifying as a liberal. I still sort of do, although with reservations. It doesn’t stop me from being critical of liberalism and liberals.

      From my perspective, I see our entire society as being built on class warfare since before the American Revolution. Liberals, like conservatives, have indeed found their niche within this social order. Without griping, there would be little politics on either the left or right.

      The fact of the matter is most Americans agree on most issues, such as the majority simultaneously supporting BOTH gun rights AND gun regulation. There no contradiction in holding these two thoughts in one’s mind. It’s the minority at the fringes and among the political elite, on both sides, that are polarized by creating false dichotomies.

      I attack liberals as a liberal, although not as what goes for liberalism in the mainstream. I have no interest in defending what some call the liberal class.

  10. Liberals’ idea of fairness for the most part is absurd. From an economic standpoint, if they want people to be better off, they should support the flat tax or the Fair Tax.

    • I agree that we need tax reform. I’m sure most Americans agree. But it’s hard to get people to agree on the details.

      The biggest problem seems to be that it’s too complex, designed to only benefit people wealthy enough to hire tax lawyers to figure out all the rules and requirements, exceptions and loopholes. There are many countries with various kinds of tax systems that manage to keep it easy enough for the average person to comprehend.

      I was reading a book written by a Finnish journalist who says that in Finland the tax forms are so simple and straightforward that it only takes a moment to fill out. But when she moved to the US she had to hire a tax accountant because she couldn’t figure it out.

  11. I call out both sides of the political aisle on some issues. Maybe I should not use generalizations regarding liberals with too much frequency. However, both sides of the political spectrum need to get their acts together.

    • Yeah. I’m like that. I have my biases. I try to be upfront about them, to the point of being vocal. But my biases allow me plenty of room to criticize both sides and, when appropriate, to offer praise or at least understanding.

      Even as I get frustrated and at times angry, I ultimately want to understand and not just dismiss. I was raised by conservatives, for example, which has led me to spend a lot of time trying to make sense of what shapes and motivates how my parents think about the world. But lately it’s liberals that have obsessed my mind, as I live in a liberal town.

      Anyway, I don’t necessarily mind generalizations. It depends. They can be useful. I sometimes find myself generalizing about liberals or conservatives, even as I know there are many exceptions. Sometimes a generalization is useful in making a point. There are broad patterns that are fair game for discussion.

  12. Benjamin David Steele, when justified, I bash both sides of the political aisle equally. As far as taxes go, I oppose progressive rates. Personally, I prefer a flat tax or a national sales tax.

    • I don’t have a strong opinion about taxes, other than wishing US taxes were simpler. My lack of a clearly articulated position is largely because I’m not well informed enough to be able to offer a worthy opinion. I’d like to know more about what kinds of tax systems are used in well functioning social democracies. Or else a detailed comparison of tax systems as they’ve been implemented in different countries around the world, social democratic and otherwise. But presently I’m too ignorant of on this topic. I could state my ideological biases, not that such would be all that helpful. So, I’ll just invoke my right to remain silent.

    • All I know is that our entire country was founded on class warfare. Without it, there would have been no American Revolution, no public debate between (pseudo-)Federalists and Anti-Federalists (AKA real Federalists). Everything we know has been shaped by it. We live in a class-obsessed society and it’s been that way for a long time. It has never been about whether or not there is a class warfare, but who is winning it.

    • On gun rights, my position is similar to that of Bernie Sanders and the majority of Americans. I simultaneously support strong gun rights and more effective gun regulation.

      On minimum wage, I can go various ways. We have serious economic problems that neoliberalism has created and worsened, but a minimum wage is like putting a bandaid on a wound gushing blood. I suppose a bandaid is better than nothing in that at least it’s an acknowledgment that a problem exists and something needs to be done about it, not that it actually solves the problem..

      On same sex marriage, I’m a civil libertarian. Like my conservative father, I have strong libertarian leanings, although mine are more of the left-libertarian variety. I basically think government should get out of all marriage, same sex and heterosexual. There shouldn’t be any tax benefits to being married. It should be entirely irrelevant to the functioning of government. It shouldn’t even be the role of government to give out marriage licenses. Just get the fuck out of people’s private lives.

      On tax reform, we obviously need it. The devil is in the details.

    • If you really want to understand what kind of ‘liberal’ I am, read Anti-Federalist Founders like Thomas Paine. Not just his earlier writings but also from later in his life, such as “Agrarian Justice”. Paine was equal parts progressive liberal and anti-authoritarian civil libertarian. He came closest of any early American to express the hope and aspiration (and the fears) of American society.

      Like Anti-Federalists, I worry not so much about the size of the country, although that is a related issue. I worry, instead, about its imperial expansionism and authoritarian centralization, not to mention its anti-democratic tendencies toward oligarchy, plutocracy, and corporatism. There is probably little criticisms I could express that wasn’t already said better by some Anti-Federalist centuries ago.

      To put it simply,, I’m not of the liberal class that the Democratic Party represents. I’m an old school working class liberal.

  13. Benjamin David Steele, 2 people with liberal views I found interesting to listen to are Juan Williams and Bob Beckel. I disagree with their political ideology. However, I have an open mind to opinions and views that differ from my own.

  14. I wonder if the very rich or a high percentage anyways, may be sociopaths without regard to consequences.

    • I’ve always assumed that is the case. There has been some research to indicate there is a disproportionate number of sociopaths in positions of wealth and power. But obviously it’s a hard population to study, as they don’t appreciate scrutiny.

    • I honestly don’t have any thoughts. MSM news isn’t something I spend much time watching. If anything, I try to avoid it. I only vaguely know of Juan Williams and Bob Beckel. They probably aren’t my kind of liberal. I’d rather listen to libertarians from Reason. Although many of my views are moderate and sometimes in line with majority opinion, I have little interest in mainstream punditry and news reporting. Even bland NPR can grate on me.

    • When I’m visiting my parents’ house, my mom will sometimes have on CSPAN. I can tolerate that better. They take callers and it can be nice listening to what people have to say. It also is amusing to watch the CSPAN host having to keep a straight face no matter how much the caller rants.

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