News+and+politics religion philosophy the cynic librarian: Fading into the Background?

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Fading into the Background?

A few weeks ago, an Argentine exile wrote at Glenn Greenwald's blog about his own experiences during the military takeover. He said (I paraphrase from memory) that all the time that the military consolidated its power and finally took over, the lawyers were saying to respect the law--the legal system will save us. They said this up until the time they themselves began to be disappeared. ...

I hate to add to the pessimistic rhetoric emanatng from recent comments, but I do not think that the courts will have much say in this. I think that the executive branch could simply continue to break the law, telling SCOTUS, "what're you gonna do?" And they could do nothing.

Only Congress can legitimately bring the executive to task for its crimes. People expect that to happen in a representative form of government where people "hire" their elected representatives to enforce the public will.

This last point may simply turn out to be academic, however. Given the Dems' lack of clarity on where they stand on this issue, even were they to win both houses of Congress one wonders whether they'd simply try to mollify the executive branch through compromise and mealy-mouthed platitudes.

There's something seriously wrong here--and what it is is difficult to pinpoint. Someone talked about "soft theocracy" in another posting. Richard Sennett, on the other hand, calls it "soft fascism." This is a situation in which the fear and terror don't dress up in brown shirts and jack boots. It's one where social conformity and a prevailing culture of fear color our entire existence.

This description only captures the emotional tone of the threat. It doesn't explain why or how the liberals have simply given up in their fight against this new form of fascism. Sennett's analysis is important because it explains how and why the liberal side of the American political spectrum refuses to engage this soft fascism.

According to Sennett:

For a long time the American intellectual left has been out of touch with the American people. It has spoken in the name of the people but not to them. Now, in the reconfigured landscape of economics, class and culture, however, the educated, cosmopolitan liberal is a social victor. Even the sculptor in Fanelli's struggling to make ends meet is a social victor; nobody can rob him of his work and worth.

The right has perhaps understood that victory better than the victors themselves, in giving fresh life to the taunts of "cultural elitism" aimed at the intellectual left. The attack embodies a classic dilemma: when a young man with a good degree and an expensive lap-top attacks injustice, the ordinary person feels patronised.
For the past four years, the rich and powerful in America have capitalised on just this social distance, between the cultural elite and people beset by anxieties about personal insufficiency and mutual respect. The victors have defended themselves by saying, but we are just like you, loyal Americans; the defence rings false because they aren't domestically the same. Those bewildered glances out of Fanelli's window, the knowing sniggers at Cooper Union, are signs of an inequality as ambiguous as the word "American".

Sennett's comments have been echoed even more strongly and radically by Slavoj Zizek, in his work on "liberal communists" like Soros and Gates. Both analyses point to the nature of the effete alienation of those who might fight for the dispossessed and exploited lower classes. They belong to a professional class that is rootless and cannot connect either emotionally or cognitively to those who've lost out in our society.

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