Progressives Lack a Vision

Here is a really great post by a very talented blogger about the need to create a grand narrative for progressives. He gives some great suggestions as to what that narrative might be.

I also have a suggestion for an overarching progressive narrative: the nation-state is dying and a new liquid state is arising. We need to mobilize and make a supreme effort to ensure that up to 60% of the population isn’t kicked off this train and lumpenized.

Gay marriage, abortion rights, etc are great causes but in the new liquid world they won’t be a concern. It will all be about money and resources. For many people,  marriage us not going to be a concern at all. This is already true for a significant number of people. Let’s work to ensure that as many people as possible retain the capacity to worry about their marriage and contraception choices. Because we are going in the direction where a minority will have all of the choices in the world and the majority will have none whatsoever.

And please don’t come to me with the defeatism of how this is a foregone conclusion anyway. Let’s be active agents of our own existence. Let’s find a new narrative and start advancing it.

21 thoughts on “Progressives Lack a Vision”

  1. “Progressives” had a grand narrative in the past, but it pretty much died with the collapse of the USSR. Revolutionary socialism as a heroic and romantic alternative to the technocratic liberal welfare state went through several grand narratives, First the USSR, then China, then Cuba, for some Albania, but in the end having a narrative and being unable to deliver results left nobody believing in the narrative. But, really there is nothing romantic or heroic about the Scandinavian social welfare model favored by “progressives” today. So there is nothing to construct a grand narrative out of. Just how can Olaf Palme compare to Che Guevara or Ho Chi Minh as a mythic figure? Also what was revolutionary or even exciting in the sense of constructing a new society about Sweden or Norway or Denmark? Life there was still and never promised to be anything but the same drab, bourgeois existence that the middle classes enjoyed in other capitalist states. That is not something that can inspire people to engage in revolutions to achieve.

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    1. ““Progressives” had a grand narrative in the past, but it pretty much died with the collapse of the USSR.”

      – Curiously, this is precisely what I’m saying right now in the book I’m writing. 🙂

      “But, really there is nothing romantic or heroic about the Scandinavian social welfare model favored by “progressives” today.”

      – Agreed.

      “Life there was still and never promised to be anything but the same drab, bourgeois existence that the middle classes enjoyed in other capitalist states. That is not something that can inspire people to engage in revolutions to achieve.”

      – Revolutions are dead. Let’s drop that crap forthwith. Let’s adopt the narrative I’m proposing instead.

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      1. The current “progressive” idea of remaking the US as a giant Sweden or Denmark can’t even inspire people to go out and vote for it. Really, the idea that you will be living in a society almost like the one you have now with almost all the same problems, but some of them will be ameliorated by government spending is not an inspiring vision. Especially when you factor in the fact that they generally can’t even deliver anything more than slightly ameliorated. That is why the Democrats lost the mid-term elections so badly. As for most of the rest of the world it doesn’t even pass the laugh test. There is a reason why Cuba was at one time taken as a serious model of development by some Africans while Scandinavia never was.

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        1. “The current “progressive” idea of remaking the US as a giant Sweden or Denmark can’t even inspire people to go out and vote for it. ”

          – That’s not a progressive idea. This is actually the idea proposed (in these very words) by Francis Fukuyama in his most recent book. And he is hardly a progressive.

          “Really, the idea that you will be living in a society almost like the one you have now with almost all the same problems, but some of them will be ameliorated by government spending is not an inspiring vision.”

          – The welfare state model is gone.

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      2. Well all of the radical academics who call themselves progressives or socialists on the internet now such as the people at LGM or Crooked Timber all promote Sweden as a utopian Social Democratic/Democratic Socialist model of what the US should become. Given that the self described progressives that actually dominate western Academia have downgraded from the USSR and Cuba to Sweden and Denmark I think we can safely say that Fukuyama not withstanding that the welfare state as it was is the newest idea of the Left today. So one more reason not to be a progressive or even respect them. It almost makes me long for the days when the movement was dominated by revolutionary Marxist-Leninists. At least they were a respectable enemy rather than a joke.

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        1. Soon enough, conservatives will be the main defenders of the welfare state. The whole issue is entirely trivial. Wealthy developed societies don’t let anybody die of starvation. That’s a great achievement. But now we have a whole new set of issues. Let’s concentrate on them and leave these outdated discussions in the past.

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      3. I know a number of rightwing academics besides myself. There are even a few allowed to work in the US still. Not everybody woriking in my field is a revisionists following Sheila Fitzpatrick’s project to normalize the USSR under Stalin as a Russian speaking version of Sweden. Some of them are are strongly anti-Soviet and anti-socialist.

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      4. I am pretty sure I am an extreme right winger compared to US academics. I recently gave a paper here on comparing Soviet and South African ethnos theory and practice and there were three US professors in the audience from very prestigious US universities. All three of them said that I couldn’t compare the two situations because apartheid was infinitely morally worse than anything Stalin who they claimed was not very bad at all had done. So yes as somebody who thinks the deportation of the Crimean Tatars was as morally bad as anything ever done by the US or South Africa I am an extreme, extreme, extreme right winger by US standards.

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        1. I find the comment these pseudo – academics made to be extremely offensive. I don’t care what their political opinions are. Honestly, they don’t rise to the level of being capable of generating opinions.

          Freaks. Stupid freaks. I wouldn’t have believed this story if it had been told to me by anybody other than you. But I know you wouldn’t invent this.

          But I thank you for continuing your research on this crucial topic.

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  2. It doesn’t count any more if Americans or other developed nations want to “share” the world, or not. Companies outsource their jobs with the speed of a comet, sooner or later immigration will be their least problem.

    Here’s some of my narrative :

    The global population in 1968 was around 3.5 billion which doubled in the last 45 years. Meanwhile the resources of the Earth didn’t double, which basically means that on average today everyone can consume the half that their parents and grandparents consumed 45 years before. If people refuse to cut back their consumption at least by half (which we apparently do), then humanity has to choose a different path which is reducing the population of the planet. That can be achieved in two ways: either killing current people in wars or epidemics, or giving birth to less kids, so we won’t run out of resources. People can be motivated to have less children in three ways. The first is the administrative way which is chosen by China and not a very popular one however still results in a 1.6 reproduction rate. The second option can be perceived in Eastern Europe: make the whole nation depressed, desperate and hopeless and then families won’t want to have children at all. Well, it’s a more successful policy, as in EE it has resulted in a 1.3 reproduction rate in the last 20 years. The 3rd option is raising the general education level of everyone, as educated people usually want less children. The children raised by educated people will also be better aware of their environment, and try to find new solutions to the resource problems of the world. I know my narrative is not yet interesting enough, but I think a less numerous and much better educated humanity has to be put in the centre of a progressive narrative.

    A shorter version of the litany above: Decrease overpopulation by spreading education. Increase the awareness of environmental protection by spreading education. Increase the need for contemplative, resource-saving hobbies by spreading education.

    An extrashort version: Spread education.

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    1. “A shorter version of the litany above: Decrease overpopulation by spreading education. Increase the awareness of environmental protection by spreading education. Increase the need for contemplative, resource-saving hobbies by spreading education.

      An extrashort version: Spread education.”

      – Hear, hear! I don’t even know what to add. It’s exactly what is needed and the only thing that will move the world in a positive direction.

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  3. There’s a big problem, a narrative has to be charismatic to be successful and liquid isn’t very charismatic.

    “Let’s all be middle class and obsess about the minutiae of bourgeois life” is not charisatic either (though it’s probably a more virtuous goal than most charismatic narratives).

    “the nation-state is dying and a new liquid state is arising”

    Not charismatic either. The key of charisma is allowing the listener to tap into something bigger than themselves (even Randian rugged individualists need a social setting to stand out in).

    “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country!” is charismatic.

    After WWII in the US “We have to build up the economy” was charismatic considering what preceded the war (the depression and the dustbowl).

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    1. You use the term charismatic where I used romantic, heroic, and mythic, but I think we are talking about the same thing. The romantic, heroic, and mythic of revolutionary socialism collapsed leaving only nationalism and political Islam as ideologies still appealing to these emotions. Obama is not in the same league as Che, Ataturk, or Khomeini. He doesn’t have as you mention the charisma and frankly nobody of his ideology has ever had. Can you name any Swedes, Norwegians, or Danes that had the leadership of a revolutionary communist like Mao, a revolutionary nationalist like Ben Bella, or a revolutionary Islamist like Nasrallah? No of course not Obama and Scandinavian social welfarism are boring they don’t inspire people to do anything.

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  4. To paraphrase from a quote I like: “Imagine a person living on a block of ice in a dessert and carefully planning out every possible future on that ice and making dozens of contingency plans for possible things that could happen on the block of ice. And once the ice is melted that’s all irrelevant.”

    non-figurative language: There’s no way to prepare for a real major social change and most of what people think is preparation is based on present realities that may or may not be relevant in the future.

    We have no way of dealing with large scale coming changes, all we can do is be ready and the more you know in general the bigger the chance that you’ll have useful knowledge in a situation you can’t imagine right now.

    side note: I looked up Zygmunt Bauman on wikipedia and a lot of what I saw about liquid modernity greatly resembles advice I used to give Anglophones arriving in Poland back in the 90s. I don’t come into contact with new arrivals much anymore but I doubt my advice would change.

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    1. A political movement needs a program. There is no movement without a program. Conservatives will also have to abandon their old and useless program of “let’s turn back the clock.”

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  5. I don’t know. It seems to me there is an inextricable element of irony in liberalism that doesn’t quite allow for seamless mythical thought. Even as we speak, we’re operating on a level of “what we need is a myth”, rather than “what the true nature of the world is”…

    The only thing that feels like a genuine liberal/modern myth, rather than a deliberate construction for practical purposes, is the idea that you can deliberately and freely construct anything, including yourself. But that’s a myth that is about exploring possibilities rather than facing problems head-on. Not quite usable in the narrative as is.

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    1. “Even as we speak, we’re operating on a level of “what we need is a myth”, rather than “what the true nature of the world is”…”

      – Yes, we have a functioning brain. 🙂

      “The only thing that feels like a genuine liberal/modern myth, rather than a deliberate construction for practical purposes, is the idea that you can deliberately and freely construct anything, including yourself.”

      – You are spot-on. This will be the central idea of the new times. Those who can’t adopt it as theirs will not have a good time.

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