Monday, April 22, 2013

Postpartisanship, classic Daniel Bell version (2): All the big problems are solved ("in the West")

Part 1 of this post looked at the political environment in which Daniel Bell was writing the essays collected as The End of Ideology: On the Exhaustion of Political Ideas in the Fifties (1960; I'm using the 1965 revised edition here). He was very much a part of the Congress for Cultural Freedom (CCF) and others associated with their outlook. As discussed in Part 1, the CCF was covertly funded by the CIA to provide a highbrow counter to anti-Cold War advocacy by prominent intellectuals.

Daniel Bell (1919-2011)

Simply dismissing Communism and Marxism as we see today in the popular press was not an option for such a grouping of intellectuals in the 1950s. With the Communist world  - or the "socialist camp" as they themselves preferred to call it - then including the USSR, China and the Warsaw Pact nations, an effective Cold War approach for such a group would have to address their doctrines more directly. The End of Ideology represents Bell's attempt to perform just that task.

On one level, it seems odd to think of the 1950s as an "end of ideology" period. There were intense political controversies in the US at the time over issues like civil rights, the Korean War, and alleged Communist infiltration of the federal government (McCarthyism). Under their high risk nuclear doctrine known as Tripwire/Massive Retaliation, the Eisenhower Administration kept a lid on military expenditures, while the Democrats heartily criticized them for doing so. When the Russians put Sputnik into orbit in 1958, there was no shortage of bitter recriminations against each other among American politicians.

But the kind of Cold War end-of-ideology consensus represented by a group like the CCF didn't deny those differences. It included conservatives and left-liberals. And the focus of the CCF on combating Communism and promoting the Cold War in western Europe and the US meant that it couldn't be restricted to narrow conservatism. Ex-Trotskyists like Norman Podhoretz and Irving Kristol who later became famous as neoconservatives fit well into that niche, because they could address Marxist ideology on its own terms and also make arguments that liberals couldn't simply dismiss as die-hard anti-New Deal grumping. The more conservative among the CCF-type intellectuals might be more attentive to arguments from business for lighter regulation, the more left-leaning to efforts at establishing American-style democracy in the segregated Deep South states. But they were united in a triumphal narrative that considered any fundamental challenge to the American brand of democratic government and capitalist economy to be fully settled.

In the US, there was also the particulars of the two-party arrangement. Defenders of Southern segregation and champions of Keynesian economic policy were united in the Democratic Party, while the Republicans also had their conservative hardliners like Robert Taft but a President generally considered a moderate, and there were actual liberals within the Party. Ideological differences didn't break down obviously along party lines in many instances, and the need to fudge them within both parties was an incentive to fuzzy, non-ideological rhetoric around them.

Bell's The End of Ideology is not an argument that such controversies as civil rights or labor disputes were unimportant. It is an argument against any kind of fundamental criticism of the Cold War or the American political and economic system. Criticisms that fell outside that consensus were not respectable, not ones that would be recognized as valid by what Paul Krugman today calls the Very Serious People.

The End of Ideology is reminiscent of a Tom Friedman column. But without the taxi drivers. There are strains in society, he argues, but the comfortable assumptions of the society have moved beyond serious question. "The intellectual rehabilitation of American capitalism is being completed while the reality itself is rapidly changing," he writes. (p. 94)

The first essay in the book is called "America as a Mass Society: A Critique," based on a 1955 paper for the CCF. The 1950s saw a great deal of what became known as "mass society" analysis focused on the homogenizing tendencies of modern societies, a matter that was given new urgency by the rise of powerful mass communication instruments like radio and television and the mass mobilizations seen in Germany, Italy and the Soviet Union. One might think an argument that modern society had such homogenizing effects would be attractive to someone wanted to demonstrate an "end of ideology." But Bell rejects the notion:

The moralist may have his reservations or give approval - as some see in the breakup of the family the loss of a source of essential values, while others see in the new, freer marriages a healthier form of companionship - but the singular fact is that these changes emerge in a society that is now providing one answer to the great challenge posed to Western - and now world - society over the last two hundred years: how, within the framework of freedom, to increase the living standards of the majority of people and at the same time maintain or raise cultural levels. For these reasons, the theory of the mass society no longer serves as a description or Western society but as an ideology of romantic protest against contemporary life. [my emphasis] (p. 38)
Postwar US society, we might say, was the best of all possible worlds. It was certainly solving the problems of capitalism that had given rise to the classic Marxist challenge to that system. To admit that some fundamental problem exist in capitalist civilization, or in "modernity", would open the way to fundamental criticism that could not be allowed within the Cold War dichotomy.

But this wasn't a killer-capitalism or Gilded Age perspective in which the losers were losers because of their moral failures and the rich wealthy because of God's favor or their superior personal qualities. What looked to other like a threat to the integrity of individual people or even a menace to self-government was for Bell a virtuous solving of the problems of the last 200 years: "The mass society is the product of change - and is itself change. It is the bringing of the 'masses' into a society, from which they were once excluded." (p. 38)

And the problems of that society are reassuringly manageable:

The key question remains one of political economy. On a technical level, economic answers to the organization of production, control of inflation, maintenance of full employment, etc. are available. Political answers, in an interest-group society like ours, are not so easy. But in the long run the problems of the distribution of burdens and the nature of controls cannot be deflected. The "statist" needs of a semi-war economy with its technical imperatives must clash with the restless anti-statist attitudes of the corporate managers. The first Republican administration in twenty years, even though it represents these anti-statist corporate managers, is not able to change drastically the course of government spending. The international situation imposes the same imperatives on Republicans as on Democrats, and the semi-war that is made necessary by it inevitably casts government in the role of controller and dominator of the economy. The real political question in domestic affairs will then become which of the groups will bear the costs of the added burdens. [my emphasis in bold] pp. 93-4)

The Cold War is beyond respectable challenge in that view. Democrats and Republicans are agreed on the basic size and function of government. And the Cold War - forced entirely by the "international situation" and certainly not by some class interest, military-industrial complex or cynical political calculation - has the happy effect of keeping Republicans and Democrats in line with respectable opinion, the "conventional wisdom," as John Kenneth Galbraith dubbed it in The Affluent Society (1958).

He devotes a chapter to attacking C. Wright Mills' widely-known book The Power Elite (1956), pronouncing Wright to be "a 'vulgar' Marixst" (p. 62) for suggesting that there might be a dominant economic class in the US that also seeks to exercise political power. Mills, Bell argues, "is motivated by his enormous anger" because, after all, "Many people do feel helpless and ignorant and react in anger." He specifically objects to Mills' suggestion that there might be any internal business or other interest that might have some less-than-completely-patriotic interest in the Cold War. He writes (emphasis his), "United States foreign policy since 1946 ... was not a reflex of any internal social divisions or class issues in the United States but was based on an estimate of Russia's intentions." (p. 72) The Vietnam War would eventually make such criticisms much more prominent, however much Daniel Bell and the Very Serious People of 1960 might have wished to ban them from respectable discussion, as uncouth "anger" on the part of the "helpless and ignorant."

The chapter on "The Failure of American Socialism" makes an argument that is a staple of what American Republicans today proudly call American Exceptionalism, a phrase apparently invented by Joseph Stalin. The core of Bell's version of the argument is that socialists and anyone of similar inspiration are essentially religious fanatics, like the leader in the German Peasant War of 1524–25, Thomas Münzer, or the "radical Anabaptists," known for their theocratic city-state in Munster of 1533-5. Bell argues that "not only the anarchist, but every socialist, every convert to political messianism, is in the beginning something of a chiliast," which in Bell's understanding is someone engaged in "the ecstatic effort to realize the Millennium at once." (pp. 280-1)

Anabaptists, Commies: Daniel Bell thought they were all the same
Here Jan van Leiden (1509-1536) prepares for the beheading of one of his 16 wives, Elisabeth Wantscherer for criticizing him

His argument comes down to the fact that Communists and socialists are inherently fanatics and can't operate in democratic politics because they are determined to be Anabaptists hacking off heads. The "twentieth-century Communist" is completely stuck with Anabaptist fanaticism. "He is the perpetual alien living in the hostile enemy land. ... His is the ethic of 'ultimate end'; only the goal counts, the means are inconsequential. Bolshevism thus is neither int he world nor of it it, but stands outside." A socialist may step out of that rigid fanaticism, but then he cease to be serious about his inherently Utopian goal. He praises US Socialist Party leader Norman Thomas for being what he seems to regard as an amiable loser. "If [Eugene] Debs was, at bottom, the sentimentalist of American socialism, Norman Thomas has been its moral figure." Thomas, he says, was "a man whose instincts are primarily ethical" and that has made him "the genuine moral man in the immoral society." But as such, he found himself "caught inextricably in the dilemmas of expediency, the relevant alternatives, and the lesser evil." (pp. 289, 290)

Somehow in Bell's presentation, Thomas both retained his moral purity, making him like unto a religious prophet, but nevertheless avoided doctrinaire purity and engaged in ethical behavior by entering into the practical compromises of real-world democratic politics, and apparently both things made him an ineffectual figure. Because this whole socialism business is just un-American. Or something. He concludes, "For the socialist movement, living in but not of the world, [compromise] was a wisdom which it could not accept. Doctrine remained; but the movement failed." This being a highbrow presentation, it wouldn't have been prudent for him to add the implied, "And thank God for that! Dang Commies!!" But the tone fits.

A chapter taken from a paper presented to a 1958 CCF conference, "Two Roads From Marx: The Themes of Alienation and Exploitation and Workers' Control in Socialist Thought," indicates how central Cold War concerns were to Bell's end-of-ideology position. The paper has some nice things to say about social-democratic attempts to improve workers' control of the workplace, and even gives a nod to the unorthodox experiment in that regard then taking place in Yugoslavia, which had broken away the Soviet Union in 1948 in its foreign policy. He also praises in a limited way Georg (György) Lukács and his work on Hegelian influences on Marx' thought. Lukács had fallen out of official favor in the Soviet bloc, serving as he did as Hungarian Minister of Culture during the revolt of 1956. The postwar Soviet philosophical line strongly de-emphasized Hegel's influence on Marxist thought, which caused some amount of upheaval in East Germany philosophy and, in a perhaps surprising twist, retarded the study of physics in the Soviet bloc. Lukács and Ernst Bloch were particular targets of criticism for their Hegelian emphasis in Marxist philosophy.

But Bell wasn't going very far down the road of praising dissident East European thinkers:

What is remarkable, in fact, is that in the last few years in Europe, a whole school of neo-Marxists, taking inspiration from Lukacs, have gone back to the early doctrines of alienation in order to find the basis for anew, humanistic interpretation of Marx. To the extent that this is an effort to find a new, radical critique of society, the effort is an encouraging one. But to the extent-and this seems as much to be the case-that it is a form of new myth-making, in order to cling to the symbol of Marx, it is wrong. For while it is the early Marx, it is not the historical Marx. The historical Marx had, in effect, repudiated the idea of alienation. [my emphasis in bold] (p. 365)
That last idea is highly questionable, as his insertion of "in effect" indicates. It's notable that in this essay he undertook to show some grasp of the German philosophical background of Marxism, though he makes sure to tell us that even on his philosophical insight on alienation, "Marx's followers drew the 'vulgar' implications from these conclusions." And Marx "in effect" repudiated them anyway, in Bell's view. He concludes the essay by arguing that enlightened management techniques can address whatever problems might be bound up with the nature of work. "The fullness of life must be found in the nature of work itself," he argues, and "the work place itself ... must be the center of determination of pace and tempo of work." (p. 392) Whatever psychological-social problems of "alienation" might exist, they could be addressed as a technical management issue. Neither the class structure of society nor the organization of economic enterprises were especially relevant.

His epilogue is called "The End of Ideology in the West," and is several pages of polemics against Anabaptist Marxism. Here he's explicit about what he means by the famous phrase of the book's title: "The end of ideology closes the book, intellectually speaking, on an era, the one of easy 'left' formulae for social change." (my emphasis) American Exceptionalism has obviously triumphed, the great economic problems of depressions have been solved, American and European capitalism justified as the Hegelian end of history, and we can finally be done with those abominable "'left' formulae for social change."  Also all the troubling griping about modernity and class conflict and alienation and the truncating of democracy by the power of wealth and so on. From now own, we can follow the Very Serious People in contemplating "individual issues on their individual merits." (pp. 405-6)

Bell's concept of the end of ideology indeed envisioned an end of ideology "in the West," a West united in an open-ended Cold War and nuclear arms race, a West in which questions about serious dysfunctions in society, even calamitous ones, are just not raised. A West in which the bases of even screaming economic disparities, overt militarism and blatant social injustice are not seriously questioned in respectable thought.

Bell's "end of ideology" is framed in Cold War terms primarily as a criticism of the Other Side and its official Marxist ideology. But it's also very much a quietism perspective that rejects the possibility that there may be any kind of deep-rooted or fundamental problems in the societies of the United States and Europe. This at a time when African-Americans were largely denied the vote and other basic civil rights in the Deep South, when Spain and Portugal were ruled by dictatorships, and even France and gone through a six-month period in 1958 when the National Assembly handed full power to Charles De Gaulle to avert a civil war over Algeria, which at the time The End of Ideology was published was still colonized by France. Bell framed his perspective as anti-Communism. But it was "anti" more than that.

The hope for such a convenient state of affairs for the One Percent is alive and well today. The advocates of neoliberalism internationally seek to achieve that end but taking the most decisive economic questions off the table of public discussion, leaving only technocratic questions as to how much public money to spend on education. Or the exact terms of international trade treaties, so long as the their basic antilabor provisions and their protections for the uninhibited movement of capital are beyond question.

Andrew Bacevich has suggested that the Cold War is usefully seen as a phase of a Long War that is still continuing. Daniel Bell insisted that US actions in the Cold War in the 1950s were driven by the actions of the nuclear-armed Soviet Union. Now that the Soviet Union no longer exists, the Long War clicks right along with wide bipartisan support and an amorphous enemy known as The Terrorists. And our Very Serious People today also consider it beyond the pale of respectable opinion to suggest that the Long War might be driven even in part by anything so worldly as war profiteering.

Like Bell's End of Ideology theory, neoliberalism and the Long War are also end-of-ideology ideologies. Just before the 2012 election, President Obama laid out his own end-of-ideology ideology of postpartisanship and the Grand Bargain to cut benefits on Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. Sabrina Siddiqui reported in Obama, In Morning Joe Interview, Predicts War Inside Republican Party If He Is Reelected Huffington Post 10/29/2012:

"There are a whole range of issues I think where we can actually bring the country together with a non-ideological agenda," Obama said in a pre-taped interview on MSNBC's "Morning Joe." ...

"I truly believe that if we can get the deficit and debt issues solved, which I believe we can get done in the lame-duck or in the immediate aftermath of the lame-duck, then that clears away a lot of the ideological underbrush," he said. "And then now we can start looking at a whole bunch of other issues that, as I said, historically have not been that ideological." [my emphasis]
And yet those "vulgar" ideological problems keeping coming up, no matter how badly the Very Serious People want them to go away.

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