Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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March 14, 2007
By: Paul Glastris

THE GOSPEL OF CHARLIE....Blogger and Washington Monthly contributing editor Jonathan Rowe sent me an email today. In it he reminded me of a distinction I failed to make in my last post. That is, the distinction between Charlie Peters' view of the world, which we editors liked to call The Gospel -- and which Charlie summarized in the essay I linked to, "A Neoliberal's Manifesto" -- and the spirit that drew so many writers and readers to Charlie's magazine, even when we disagreed, often hugely, with various parts of The Gospel:

The journalistic approach is the heart and soul of the Monthly because it is more than a journalistic approach. It is a mandate for continual self-examination and ruthless intellectual honesty. Face up to the strongest arguments against your own position, not just the weakest ones. Be willing to look contrary evidence squarely in the eye and not hide under your desk a la Dick Cheney or the WSJ editorial page. This is the gospel within the gospel -- and yes it does have roots in the more traditional meaning of that term.

The basic text here is "Get the beam out of your own eye so that you can see clearly to get the mote out of your brother's eye." (Or maybe it's mote and beam; I always forget.) These words are posted beside the front door of every honest journalist and thinker. It is a part that somehow got left out of the text consulted by brothers Dobson, Bush, Reed et al.

This inner gospel requires ongoing revision of the outer one. Times change. We get new facts. The excesses of conventional liberalism pale today against those of the messianic Right. (I do NOT say "conservative" because it is NOT conservative.) Thus the founding thrust of the Monthly in 1969 -- inspector general for the liberal establishment -- did require a change in direction.

The inner gospel not only has room for that; it requires it. Just as it will require another one when the conventional wisdom finally turns against the market worship of the last six years and beyond. This is why, I think, the Monthly attracted, and weaned, so many great journalists; and why it holds a key for those in the future.

It was when the inner gospel hardened into an outer one -- a doctrine -- that the trouble started. Thus it always has been.

Paul Glastris 2:15 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (26)

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Comments

I admire the Monthly. At one point I'm fairly sure I was the one and only subscriber in Rapides Parish. Honestly.

Posted by: MsNThrope on March 14, 2007 at 2:34 PM | PERMALINK

I am pretty sure I was the only subscription in Mercer County, Missouri.

Posted by: Blue Girl, Red State (aka Global Citizen) on March 14, 2007 at 2:48 PM | PERMALINK

I think where "neo-liberalism", or at least it's public form, went wrong, is when it started to give more creedance to attacks from the right than attacks from the left.

Posted by: Karmakin on March 14, 2007 at 2:54 PM | PERMALINK


ROWE: It is a mandate for continual self-examination and ruthless intellectual honesty.

If this distinction as described by Rowe is truly something to which you subscribe, then why have you left standing the clearly false premise upon which you built your previous post--namely, that: "many otherwise well-informed people had not until recently even heard of the term "neoliberalism"?

No one interested in "ruthless intellectual honesty" could possibly have come to that conclusion in the first place, much less let it stand when it's been challenged and when the record shows no basis it.


Posted by: jayarbee on March 14, 2007 at 2:54 PM | PERMALINK
The journalistic approach is the heart and soul of the Monthly because it is more than a journalistic approach. It is a mandate for continual self-examination and ruthless intellectual honesty. Face up to the strongest arguments against your own position, not just the weakest ones. Be willing to look contrary evidence squarely in the eye and not hide under your desk a la Dick Cheney or the WSJ editorial page.

Everyone, including Dick Cheney and the WSJ editorial page, active in political advocacy claims they do this. And everyone active in political advocacy claims their opponents don't. And perhaps the Monthly does a fair job of that, and to the extent it does it certainly deserves praise.

But in describing a policy movement like "neoliberalism", that "inner gospel" is less relevant; someone who comes to a radically different set of policy conclusions based on honest self-examination of the type you describe won't be considered a "neoliberal" for long by other neoliberals, outside observers, and quite likely by themselves (just as traditional liberals and Trotskyite socialists who became neoliberals and neoconservatives view themselves as distinct from, and often define their own policy identity in opposition to, those groups from which they came.)

So, I don't see that its something that is "forgotten" in your last post that should have been included; I don't see how it is relevant to neoliberalism except tangentially.

The excesses of conventional liberalism pale today against those of the messianic Right. (I do NOT say "conservative" because it is NOT conservative.)

Yes, it is. It is exactly, precisely what conservatism has been since conservatism was defined as a negative response to classical liberalism centuries ago.

I'm sick and tired of this reflexive habit to pretend that all the bad ideas of the Right are somehow "not conserative".

Its dishonest self-serving crap coming from self-described conservatives trying to maintain their tribal identity while the ideas that define conservatism are being roundly rejected.

But its just inexplicable coming from "liberals", perhaps especially neoliberals that are trying to rebut the idea that they are acting as a tool, voluntarily or not, to legitimize conservatism.

The inner gospel not only has room for that; it requires it. Just as it will require another one when the conventional wisdom finally turns against the market worship of the last six years and beyond.

If the "inner gospel" was anything more than an excuse for political opportunism and reactive policy weathervaning, it would have required a new change in direction as the facts and evidence mounted against the neoliberal market orthodoxy, rather than waiting until conventional wisdom had turned against it.

Posted by: cmdicely on March 14, 2007 at 2:56 PM | PERMALINK

Continual self-examination and ruthless intellectual honesty is not a trait exhibited by neoliberals, which their support of the military industrial complex demonstrates.


Posted by: Brojo on March 14, 2007 at 3:02 PM | PERMALINK

Chris ROCKS!

See, no dumb phony inter-generational bias here, folks. Move along.

Posted by: MsNThrope on March 14, 2007 at 3:07 PM | PERMALINK

continual self-examination and ruthless intellectual honesty.

Perhaps neoliberals should intern for Toyota, where they can learn how continuous incrmental improvement is the key to success of delivering quality products to their clients.

"Continual self-examination and ruthless intellectual honesty" is like an authoritarian party motto used to intimidate questioning acolytes.

Posted by: Brojo on March 14, 2007 at 3:08 PM | PERMALINK

To summarize his three-part series regarding neoliberalism, here is a shorter Paul Glastris: I assert that we neoliberals have good ideas and good motives, and here are some assertions which prove it. Here are some more assertions which prove it. And if you don't believe all of those, here is another assertion which really proves it!

Posted by: jayarbee on March 14, 2007 at 3:22 PM | PERMALINK

Odds currently 8-1...

Posted by: MsNThrope on March 14, 2007 at 3:25 PM | PERMALINK

On an Abu resignation?

Posted by: Blue Girl, Red State (aka Global Citizen) on March 14, 2007 at 3:27 PM | PERMALINK

Neoliberal? Paleoliberal? New Deal liberal? Rights-based liberal? Identity-politics liberal?

Perhaps the real question is, What kind of liberal is required in order to win elections, forge effective policy changes in Congress and the administration, and solve the real problems facing America and the world?

There may not be a one-size-fits-all answer. Jon Tester might be a great candidate in Montana, and Nancy Pelosi in San Francisco, but I don't know how well either one would do if they had to trade places.

That said, liberals should stand for something. I believe that George Lakoff is basically correct in his view, detailed in Moral Politics: How Liberals and Conservatives Think, that these polarized factions of the American electorate are held together by moral visions. Conservatives believe in strict-father morality and liberals believe in nurturing-parent morality, and everything flows from there.

It's easy to criticize conservative morality. It is hypocritical because it derides liberalism for practicing relativism, when it is in fact far more relativistic than liberalism. It stresses domination over cooperation, which is a formula for expensive failure in an inter-dependent world. It elevates man above woman, which is harmful for both for men and women. It elevates humanity above nature, which is creating a climate crisis that they continue to deny. And it's not even a particularly successful model for child-rearing.

It's harder to define what we liberals do stand for and make it compelling and winning. But that's what we have to do. The initial success of the 2007 "100 hours" program in the House of Representatives is a sign of progress.

I don't need a neo or paleo label right now, but America needs to reject conservative strict father morality and embrace liberal nurturing parent morality.

One of Lakoff's key observations is that we have a two-tier economy. About 25% of the work force does jobs that are not well paid and not particularly fun, pleasant, or interesting, and these workers make life pleasant for the rest of us. A "liberal" program that doesn't do justice for these people is unworthy of liberal support.

Posted by: Joel Rubinstein on March 14, 2007 at 3:28 PM | PERMALINK

Against Paul Glastris ever setting foot over here again...

'“They were without a doubt the world’s greatest living criminals, but their hands were clean, their expressions were normal, they could have been people you meet on the street,” he [Richard W. Sonnenfeldt] said. “You think what kind of a man can do this, can serve someone like Hitler, and you realize, it’s very simple. A yes man. A toady. Someone doing it for rank or uniform or money or glory.”'
Veteran of the Nuremberg Trials Can’t Forget Dialogue With Infamy
By PETER APPLEBOME
http://select.nytimes.com/2007/03/14/nyregion/14towns.html

Posted by: msNThrope on March 14, 2007 at 3:46 PM | PERMALINK

One of Lakoff's key observations is that we have a two-tier economy. About 25% of the work force does jobs that are not well paid and not particularly fun, pleasant, or interesting, and these workers make life pleasant for the rest of us. A "liberal" program that doesn't do justice for these people is unworthy of liberal support.
Posted by: Joel Rubinstein

You also rock. Big time.

Currently 'surplus value' = $66K per worker per year...

'But to the adolescent mind, everything is owed and nothing is owed in return. To the adolescent mind, it’s all about what can you do to feed a bottomless maw of self-regard. How else to explain the collapse of ethical standards in terms of excessive C.E.O. compensation, backdating of options, spring-loading, lavish-beyond-words severance packages for failed C.E.O.’s?' - Ben Stein
Where Are the Grown-Ups When You Need Them?
http://www.nytimes.com/2007/03/11/business/yourmoney/11every.html?
ref=business

Posted by: MsNThrope on March 14, 2007 at 4:12 PM | PERMALINK

Crickey, I can't believe Ben Stein wrote those articles. He sure came across as a self-absorbed Neocon in the television interviews I saw of him in the recent past.

Perhaps he's grown, or maybe he's sensed a change in the political winds.

Posted by: Dr. Morpheus on March 14, 2007 at 4:27 PM | PERMALINK

Dr. M - yeah, man, I'm reeling too - but at some point intelligence will out.

That's not the half of it:

'There is another interesting aspect to this: the immense mass of stock that is owned by the wealthiest 10 percent of families in this country — by some measures as much as 80 percent of all stock. And a very, very large portion of it is owned by the wealthiest 1 percent of families. In fact, the upper 1 percent owned about 44 percent of financial assets in 2001, the most recent year for which I could get data.

If you said that the $2.6 trillion of cash owned by American corporations was yet another asset of the very rich, you would not be terribly far off. This makes it a bit sad — no, heartbreaking — for the roughly 80 percent of Americans who have no or virtually no savings.' - Ben Stein 'It’s a Great Country, Especially if You’re Rich' http://www.nytimes.com/2007/02/11/business/yourmoney/11every.html?
pagewanted=2&ref=business

Posted by: MsNThrope on March 14, 2007 at 4:31 PM | PERMALINK

Its dishonest self-serving crap coming from self-described conservatives trying to maintain their tribal identity while the ideas that define conservatism are being roundly rejected.

Excellent comment, Dicely...The whole post, not just this one snippet.

....

From where I sit, 'Neoliberalism' is just another self-aggrandizing term that describes ideas on how to resolve traditionally liberal issues using a conservative toolbox...While 'Neoconservativism' is just another self-aggrandizing term that describes ideas on how to use a conservative toolbox to solve traditionally liberal issues.

Almost the same thing, really. Just depends on which direction you are coming from.

Posted by: grape_crush on March 14, 2007 at 4:39 PM | PERMALINK

I've been a subscriber since ~1990. Tilting at Windmills was my favorite blog before there were blogs, so why doesn't Charlie have one?

Posted by: Chas on March 14, 2007 at 4:50 PM | PERMALINK

Re:Stein, I noticed his Spectator article (which was heavily Dugg, may I add) yesterday. Either he's ready to flip, in that someone has gotten to him and we're looking at someone who's going to go pretty radical (unorthodox?) when it comes to the economy as a whole, or he's floating a trial balloon for a new type of conservatism that mixes social conservatism with economic populism (or radicalism. But something different).

Or maybe a mixture of the two.

Posted by: Karmakin on March 14, 2007 at 6:09 PM | PERMALINK

Yes, that constant searching, constant demanding, constant examination in the cruel light of facts and reality is what has kept me reading cover-to-cover for 26 years, even when I was the only subscriber in the rural red-state counties where I have lived.

Back in the 80s, the Monthly's honesty and professionalism was simply the best example of its kind among media that generally still met the definition of journalism. Today it is unique.

Posted by: Yellow Dog on March 14, 2007 at 6:38 PM | PERMALINK

I think one has to distinguish between neoliberal policies and neoliberal attitude. Howard Dean is a guy who subscribes to neoliberal policies but has very old-Democrat, proudly partisan attitudes. It was his attitude that got him beloved by the netroots and scorned by the New Republic/Slate crowd.

Dean's neoliberalism can be seen in his support for military interventions in Eastern Europe during Clinton's administration, and (if I remember correctly) his support for Gulf War I. He supported welfare reform, perhaps THE signature neoliberal issue. He courted business in Vermont vigorously enough to alienate the alternative-weekly left.

But by the late '90s, neoliberalism was more about an attitude than a set of policies. Specifically, it was about reflexive hostility to liberals. So because Dean was loud and proud about his Democratic identity, the kool New Republic/Slate kids decided that he was a dirty hippy. By the same token, the netroots loved him. Yet his actual policy ideas are, by the standards of 1970s or 1980s Democrats, quite conservative.

I think that neoliberalism has been quite successful in terms of policies, but as an attitude of reflexive hostility to liberalism it has failed and become a positive obstacle to necessary change.

Posted by: ChristianPinko on March 14, 2007 at 6:50 PM | PERMALINK

I would describe Dean as pragmatic. His lack of a gun control regime is an example of this, and one I could understand from an electibility point of view. I do not think intervention in Bosnia or Kosovo were neoliberal causes, but a standard New Deal liberal policy to use military force to protect civilian populations at risk of annihilation by a regime in the neighborhood of European nations.

Welfare reform, however, is the neoliberal appeal to the Reaganites that most Democrats, including Dean, could not oppose. Dean at least created a decent healthcare program for children in Vermont, and I do not think that was neoliberalism but good old fashioned liberalism.

Posted by: Brojo on March 14, 2007 at 7:06 PM | PERMALINK

Am I the only one who saw the header "The Gospel of Charlie" and instantly thought of Joe Haldeman's Worlds Apart?

Posted by: RT on March 14, 2007 at 9:11 PM | PERMALINK

This is exactly how philosophy made itself irrelevant--by parsing words and arguing semantics. No wonder the "liberals" in all their variations are often considered loony. You guys really need to do some mental flossing with Mencius.

Posted by: NeoLotus on March 14, 2007 at 11:23 PM | PERMALINK

My question is whether Dems want the libertarians, or not. I saw a chart that showed that in the US, 30% are conservative, 30% progressive, 15% libertarian, and some don't knows. Especially in the Western states, libertarianism predominates. And half of them have been voting with the Jesus-and-National Front block, for some dumb reason.

What would it take to woo most of the libertarians to the Dem camp? A balanced budget? Restoring Habeas? Holding up on Affirmative Action, Hate Crime laws? Backing off on some progressive ideas that aren't very crucial. Lowering trade tariffs, corporate subsidies?

I'm guessing each libertarian would require something different, but now's the best chance to split them from the GOP. After all, where's the GOP's "End of Big Govt as we know it" talk now?!

Posted by: Absent Observer on March 15, 2007 at 4:00 AM | PERMALINK

'After years of gains for the poor, women, minorities, and labor throughout the Twentieth Century, a champion arose for America's White Capitalist Patriarchy in 1980. When Ronald Reagan took the driver's seat, he wasn't content to simply return justice and compassion to the back seat. He threw them in the trunk and left them there to rot.' - Of Faustian Bargains and Disposable Human Beings - Jason Miller

Posted by: MsNThrope on March 15, 2007 at 10:53 AM | PERMALINK




 

 

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