Ari Armstrong's Web Log (Main) | Archives | Terms of Use

Self in Society Roundup 37

Mounk and identity politics, Deneen and authoritarian populism, the West Bank, Caplan's Rufo alliance, and more.

Copyright © 2024 by Ari Armstrong
November 12, 2024; ported here on January 8, 2024

Crider on Mounk

I have not (yet?) read Yascha Mounk's book on identity politics. Yet I found Paul Crider's comments on the book interesting in their own right. I think this is basically right:

One can appreciate how Foucault perceived power in every social relation without believing that power is the only variable. Our social locations can shape the contours of our understanding without implying anything like mutual unintelligibility. . . . The indisputable fact that race has profoundly shaped American history and even today powerfully influences an individual's life prospects hardly implies that race is the only or even the most important aspect of an individual's life.

Nevertheless, Crider cites or summarizes enough of Mounk's examples to convince me that Mounk is talking about some real problems, such as racially segregated classrooms. I think a good rule of thumb is that, if your policies are indistinguishable from what a neo-Nazi would advocate, you should be very nervous.

I also think that, whatever the errors and excesses of today's "identity politics," Crider is right about this, at least for the most part.

Racial justice, feminist activism, and LGBTQ liberation do not arise from Foucault or even CRT. They spring from the natural human impulse to seek freedom from inequality and oppression.

Throughout most of human history, and often today, various ethnic and racial minorities, women, and LGBTQ people have in many contexts faced severe oppression, often murderous in nature. Obviously, to overcome such injustices, we have to recognize their reality.

Crider doubts Mounk's thesis that left-wing identity politics fuels right-wing reactionary politics. Crider writes:

The authoritarian right only appears dormant when the dominance of traditional hierarchies—men over women; whites at the top and Blacks at the bottom; queers, sex workers, and other deviants in the closet; and trans people non-existent—is secure, when the unfreedom of disfavored groups enjoys broad support across party lines. . . . When some progress is made toward equality, rightwing resentment activates and racism, misogyny, and authoritarianism turn very impolitely overt.

He's clearly right, largely. But I do think that, insofar as elements of the left become obsessed with race, gender identity, and the like, they help to promote comparable obsessions among the right. The anti-individualist left and the anti-individualist right are superficially enemies but more fundamentally aligned.

See also Crider's outtakes.

Tracinski on Deneen

Here is Robert Tracinski (more) on Patrick Deneen's book, Regime Change:

The title of the final section of the book—"What Is To Be Done?"—is consciously copying Lenin, who despaired that the working people would never make a revolution on their own and called for an elite "vanguard" of intellectuals to make it on their behalf. Similarly, Deneen calls for a "people's party," but one led by "an elite cadre skilled at directing and elevating popular resentments."

He does not champion "the people" against "the elites," but instead calls for a new elite that will rule in the people's name—a sort of "Conservatism-Leninism" in place of Marxism-Leninism. The difference is that this alleged elite will be conspicuously religious. . . .

I won't call Deneen's book a blueprint for authoritarian populism because it is not that specific. It is a wish for authoritarian populism, a fantasy in which he and people like him will be granted power by a strongman.

In building the metaphor of "Chesterton's Freeway," Tracinski indicates that today's authoritarian "conservatives" are less interested in conserving important American traditions than in tearing down liberal institutions.

Chotiner on the West Bank

Isaac Chotiner interviews West Bank settler Daniella Weiss for New Yorker. He provocatively writes about "why [in her view] human rights should not be considered universal, and why she should not be expected to mourn for dead Palestinian children." Weiss comments about "rights" in the delimited context of voting. Regarding the children killed on both sides of the recent conflicts, Weiss says, "I go by a very basic human law of nature. My children are prior to the children of the enemy, period. They are first. My children are first." So she doesn't quite say what Chotiner claims, but neither does she express sympathy for dead Palestinian children.

Weiss believes, as Chotiner summarizes, that the Jewish state also should "include the territory of multiple Middle Eastern countries." Weiss remarks, "The first nation that got the word from God, the promise from God—the first nation is the one who has the right to it." Insofar as religious dogmatists make the relevant decisions, it's hard to see how the region ever could settle into a lasting peace. The only hope is secularization.

Chotiner writes:

According to a report by Btselem, an Israeli human-rights group, parts of Kedumim, where Weiss lives, were built on private Palestinian land; in 2006, Peace Now found that privately owned Palestinian land comprised nearly forty per cent of the territory of West Bank settlements and outposts.

Quick Takes

Hamas: Jake Tapper offers good context. See also Sam Harris's essay.

Caplan's Alliances: Bryan Caplan takes a libertarian stance with respect to education (i.e., privatize it). Caplan therefore likes many of Chris Rufo's policy proposals regarding education. In a recent post, Caplan proclaims that "Rufo is Reason." He writes, "Libertarians should love his education reform agenda even if they don't love him." He grants that "Rufo rubs many libertarians the wrong way" and that libertarians may have "minor issues of disagreement" with him. He warns his fellow-libertarians against "tone policing." I think Caplan is completely mischaracterizing Rufo's agenda, which I would summarize as promoting religious authoritarianism. That Rufo also wants the educational equivalent of the trains to run on time is, in my book, no reason to openly ally with him.

More Abortion Paternalism: I replied to Bryan Caplan's abortion paternalism. Recently Greg Gutfeld said, "For most people," abortion "is based on a fear that is greater than the actual reality." He's claiming, as Caplan did, that women don't know their own minds. Also, having a baby causes a "transformational change" in the woman, such that she no longer favors abortion, Gutfeld suggests. One data point that quickly dispatches Gutfeld's claims is that many women who get an abortion already have children.

Bateman on Montessori on Work: Matt Bateman, who heads a Montessori company, writes, "Montessori has a deeply positive view of work—the child's work of self-creation, but also the adult's work of shaping the world, of commanding nature, of adding to civilization, of helping along human existence in ways big and small."

Reading: I enjoyed Brad Delong's description: "[W]e take durable squiggles and from them spin-up and run on our wetware sub-Turing instantiations of the human minds that made the squiggles."

Substack: Brad DeLong writes on Substack although he is not a huge fan of the business's right-wing ties.

Foster System: "States lose track of thousands of foster children each year." Nada Hassanein's article opens with an account of horrible abuse by a foster mother. Unfortunately, it seems, state bureaucrats often are too quick to remove children from families and too slow to ensure that foster placement is decent.

Art: Michael Heumer writes on "The Emperor's New Art."

Ari Armstrong's Web Log (Main) | Archives | Terms of Use