It is liberalism that is now bookless and dying. . . Here and there, of course, a university personage appears to assert a small didactic point and proves it with a vast and intricate academic apparatus. In any case, it is the apparatus that is designed to persuade, not the idea.And to his credit, Peretz is particularly alarmed about the left's dead-end foreign policy:
Ask yourself: Who is a truly influential liberal mind in our culture? Whose ideas challenge and whose ideals inspire? Whose books and articles are read and passed around? There's no one, really. What's left is the laundry list: the catalogue of programs (some dubious, some not) that Republicans aren't funding, and the blogs, with their daily panic dose about how the Bush administration is ruining the country.
American liberals no longer believe in the axiomatic virtue of revolutions and revolutionaries. But let's face it: It's hard to get a candid conversation going about Cuba with one. The heavily documented evidence of Fidel Castro's tyranny notwithstanding, he still has a vestigial cachet among us. After all, he has survived Uncle Sam's hostility for more than 45 years. And, no, the Viet Cong didn't really exist. It was at once Ho Chi Minh's pickax and bludgeon in the south. Pose this question at an Upper West Side dinner party: What was worse, Nazism or Communism? Surely, the answer will be Nazism ... because Communism had an ideal of the good. This, despite the fact that communist revolutions and communist regimes murdered ever so many more millions of innocents and transformed the yearning of many idealists for equality into the brutal assertion of evil, a boot stamping on the human face forever. . .Peretz also is clear-eyed about more equitable Republican racial attitudes:
It is typologically the same people who wanted the United States to let communism triumph--in postwar Italy and Greece, in mid-cold war France and late-cold war Portugal--who object to U.S. efforts right now in the Middle East. You hear the schadenfreude in their voices--you read it in their words--at our troubles in Iraq. For months, liberals have been peddling one disaster scenario after another, one contradictory fact somehow reinforcing another, hoping now against hope that their gloomy visions will come true.
[I]t is a condition related to the desperate hopes liberals have vested in the United Nations. That is their lodestone. But the lodestone does not perform. It is not a magnet for the good. It performs the magic of the wicked. It is corrupt, it is pompous, it is shackled to tyrants and cynics. It does not recognize a genocide when the genocide is seen and understood by all. Liberalism now needs to be liberated from many of its own illusions and delusions.
[A]s deep as the social and economic gains have been among African Americans, many liberals prefer to maintain their own time-honored patronizing position vis-à-vis "the other," the needy. This is, frankly, in sharp contrast to President Bush, who seems not to be impeded by race difference (and gender difference) in his appointments and among his friends. Maybe it is just a generational thing, and, if it is that, it is also a good thing. But he may be the first president who apparently does not see individual people in racial categories or sex categories. White or black, woman or man, just as long as you're a conservative. That is also an expression of liberation from bias.Still, Peretz fundamentally misunderstands, and thus distrusts, the free market that have let most Americas join the "ownership society":
There is . . . a rapacious capitalism in our own country. Of course, it is not as brutalizing as it is in China. But it is demoralizing and punishing. Moreover, it threatens its own ethical foundations. The great achievement of U.S. capitalism was that it became democratic, and the demos could place reasonable trust in its institutions. The very extent of stockholding through mutual funds, pension funds, and individual holdings is a tribute to the reliability of the market makers, the corporations themselves, and their guarantors. We now know that much of this confidence was misplaced and that some of the most estimable companies and financial institutions were cooking the books and fixing the odds for the favored.Fraud -- such as at Enron and MCI -- is and remains unlawful, just as selling swamp-land as seashore estates was two generations ago. The undiminished but infrequent incursion of crooks (currently on trial) no more undermines capitalism than forgery diminishes fine art.
Though his language is temperate and his assessment intended as modern, Peretz seems stuck in the 1930s America of Let Us Now Praise Famous Men:
Surely there are some matters on which the regulatory state can relax. Doubtless also there are others that can revert to the states. Still, liberals know that the right's ideologically framed--but class-motivated--retreat of the government from the economy must be resisted. There will simply be too many victims left on the side of the road.This steadfastly ignores improvements in luxury, longevity and lifestyle enjoyed by Americans regardless of social standing. Sure, there's more "equality" in Europe: EU citizens have an equal right to slow growth and high unemployment. While acknowledging the collapse of the "European model" ("even in the morally self-satisfied Scandinavian and Low Countries, the assuring left-wing bromides are no longer believed"), Peretz still presupposes market failure and paternalistic bureaucratic intervention.
Still, Peretz has penned a useful warning. Any solution will come from next generation Democrats -- such as Kurt Anderson.