Over the next few days, I’m going to point out some quotes from Nick Cohen’s book subtitled ‘How Liberals Lost Their Way‘, and then add some comments of my own. It’s a book that truly infuriated me as no book has in the last year. Why?
Because it’s one of the few books I’ve ever read that I genuinely wished I’d written. Edward Tufte’s books are there as well, but that may have to do with the fact that he can come to Los Angeles, give three canned five hour lectures, and walk away with a million dollars…
Seriously…it’s an excellent book about a subject that’s near and dear to me. Where the hell has my Left gone?? If you read this site, you ought to get the book. If you read this site and are nodding in agreement, get it and give it away as a gift. If you read this site and are pissed off at me all the time for not toeing the progressive line, buy the book, or send me your name and address and maybe I’ll even buy it for you.
Here’s a long quote that sums up the crux of the problem as he sees it…and so do I (from p 203).
..The previous thirty years had seen an estrangement between the classes. If the murderous fantasies of Shaw had vanished, the snobbery of Virginia Woolf was flourishing albeit in a more politically acceptable manner.
With the old factories gone, it became fashionable to talk as if the working class didn’t exist, even though millions lived in humble circumstances with nothing to sell but their labor. A priceless leader in the left-wing New Statesman, which had once seen the working class as history’s vanguard, announced in 2004:
Socially and culturally, most Britons feel more European than ever, being more likely to spend a weekend in Perpignon than in Harrowgate. Many could name the best restaurants in Barcelona and the best clubs in Rome [and] recommend truffle suppliers in rural France.
My colleagues on the New Statesman could indeed advise you on where to stay in rural France, and I may be able to answer your questions about the truffle market if you let me make a few calls, but I’m not sure those who continued to work in menial jobs after the collapse of heavy industry would be as helpful.
Other commentators accepted that the working class lived on, but were obsessed by identity politics and patronized the living daylights out of those who didn’t fit in. They failed to see that while it was commendable and essential to fight racism, sexism, and homophobia, taking account of diverse identities could strengthen the pecking order if they forgot about class.
Spotting trends and selling them was turning into a big business in post-industrial societies. But each new wave carried high culture further away from the working class. Rose quoted the opinions of young working-class men of theaters and art house cinemas. ‘Theater goers? Someone well off,’ said one. ‘It’s a class thing.’ Then he searched the Modern language Association of America’s international database of academic books published between 1991 and 2000. He got 13,820 hits for ‘women’, 4,539 for ‘gender’, 1,826 for ‘race’, 710 for ‘post-colonial’, and a piddling 136 for ‘working class.’ He tried the list of periodicals and couldn’t find one academic journal anywhere in the world devoted to proletarian literature, and concluded:
In Tony Blair’s Britain as in many other Western nations, professionals in the creative industries have successfully reconciled bourgeois and Bohemian values. Affluent and ambitious, profit-motivated and style-conscious, they are sincerely committed to women’s equality and genuinely interested in the literature, music, art and cuisines of non-Western peoples. But the boutique economy they have constructed involves a process of class formation where the accoutrements of the avant-garde are used to distance and distinguish cultural workers from more traditional manual workers.
From the theorists in the universities to the pundits in Canary Wharf, the intellectuals weren’t interested in the working class and the working class wasn’t interested in the intellectuals.
You could not have found a more lethal way to kill left-wing politics if you had tried.
I have talked about ‘Skybox Liberalism‘ and pointed to articles about Bourgeoisophobia. It’s all the same process in which the intellectual workers manage to convince themselves that they are somehow above and apart from their grimy-fingered parents.
In so doing they sell themselves and their parents down the river.
I’ve asked in the past – in the last decade, what, exactly, has the Democratic Party done for a single mother in Los Angeles making $35,000/year or a working couple with kids making $50,000??
In either case they can barely afford housing, send their kids to mediocre schools, and are two or three lost paychecks or a serious illness from homelessness.
The Democratic Party neither appeals to their interests nor in many cases to their values – since the values that matter to the modern Democrats are all too often those of the folks snacking on exotic appetizers in the skyboxes.
Next, I’ll discuss his dissection of the antiwar Left – anti-World War II that is.