Friday, 15 October 2010

The Enragés of the Right

Following a link from the Open Democracy website to a Roger Scruton article about "the political class" lead me to the American Spectator site, a truly fascinating expedition that I would never otherwise have made. Scruton's article started out fairly interesting, in a Weberian sort of way, but abruptly degenerated towards the end into a shameless pandering to the Tea Party public. But the really fascinating part was reading the comments, some of which verge on the deranged.

My first experience of America was in 1970, staying with friends on New York's upper west side, where they introduced me to two utterly crucial books - Norman Cohn's "The Pursuit of the Millenium" and Richard Hofstadter's "The Paranoid Style in American Politics". Both books are more relevant today than when first published, but I fear that much today's audience is too dumbed-down to get much benefit from either. If you want empirical evidence that the paranoid style is now in the ascendant, the comments on American Spectator offer a mere nibble: there are thousands of websites with far stronger stuff, up to and including bomb-throwing fascism.

In a country where a principal health problem is obesity and where a significant slice of the world's energy reserves are consumed to drive air-conditioning, it's faintly surreal to read comments from citizens complaining that they are "unable to breath" because of the weight of Washington tyranny bearing down upon their backs. This hysterical exaggeration is of course metaphorical, but it's also suspiciously familiar. That's because it closely mirrors the overheated rhetoric of the Left in the 1960s, on which much of it is - consciously or not - based. It's both paranoid and millenarian, which makes reading those two books I mentioned more relevant than ever.

As I noted in a review of a compendium of neo-conservative essays a couple of years ago:

"The neocons are conspicuously more erudite and cosmopolitan than traditional right-wing thinkers and delight in head-to-head combat with liberal orthodoxies. [...] many of the essays share this same clarity, intensity and suave (even glib) assurance that was once a strength of writing from the Left, but has been notably absent from it in recent decades. These are not people out to conserve anything, but rather out to overthrow an existing order that they detest, only they've substituted the Declaration Of Independence for the Communist Manifesto. And as in older revolutionary tracts there's a certain reticence about real outcomes: jobs lost, people thrown off welfare or taken out by air-strikes. Beneath the muscular, hard-headed prose there lurks a thread of purest Idealism, and like all Idealisms it's destined to be brought low eventually by the diversity and perversity of human nature."

All I would change in that is perhaps to substitute Jacobins for Bolsheviks in that last comparison, which would then make Tea Partiers into the "sans-culottes", or perhaps the "taille-élastique-culottes", de nos jours.

2 comments:

  1. Haven't read either of the books in question, but the sentiments expressed are frighteningly easy to identify. Worse, some of my otherwise sane and educated American friends are now openly espousing 'Tea Party' dogma as if it were some kind of political panacea. Perhaps needless to say, they are both ex-hippies (albeit of the comfy middle class variety) who've become fat capitalists anxious to kick over their traces.

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  2. I rather fear that most of the Tea Party support is coming from the "boomers" generation.

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