The Progressives and the Tea Parties


I love essays.  I love the essays of E.B. White and Joseph Epstein.  Some authors who have fine bodies of work in other fields, I know mostly through their essays: Cynthia Ozick and Stephen King come to mind.  They are enough to stimulate, while leaving enough room as an exercise to reader to keep from totally satisfying.

Every year, I try to get a hold of the latest Best American Essays edition.  Yesterday, with serious CFA studying closed to me because I can’t take notes or work problems, I hauled up the 2007 number.  There I found Loaded, an essay by one Garret Keizer, in favor of gun rights.  What makes the essay interesting is that, as a self-proclaimed Progressive, he argues in favor of basic self-reliance, the necessity of firearms in lightly-policed rural areas, and the racial history of gun-control laws.  Make no mistake, Mr. Keizer is pro-gun.

He begins the essay with a well-known quote from Orwell, “That rifle hanging on the wall of the working-class flat or labourer’s cottage is the symbol of democracy.  It is our job to see that is stays there.”  Keizer believes that Orwell was “anticipating a time when the rifle might have a revolutionary purpose,” although it’s as possible that the gun could be used to defend ancient rights as to inflict new ones.

In fact, much of the essay could have been written by a libertarian, or by a Tea Party member.  “I am not the first to point out the sleight of hand that bedevils us: the illusion of power and choice perpetuated to disguise a diminishing sphere of action.”  Mark Steyn would say, has said, exactly the same thing.

So far, so good.  Then, this, bringing the essay full-circle back to the political uses of (as opposed to debates about) firearms:

In that regard, it may be instructive to look at the political history of violent confrontations in America. None has been pretty; perhaps a few led to reform.  But of the later, not all or even many have involved guns…

He then goes on to praise, in order, the Boston Massacre, Haymarket Square, Kent State, Stonewall, and Watts, only one of which, as near as I can tell, ended up achieving anything positive.  Then, jarringly, this:

Saul Alinsky liked to say that a liberal is someone who leaves the room when an argument is about to turn into a fight.  We are currently in need of a liberalism that goes back into the room and starts the fight.  We are possibly in need of some civil unrest.  This is not a conclusion I come to lightly.  I have always believed in the superiority of nonviolent non-cooperation…But the likelihood of achieving that kind of solidarity brings us back to the subject of weeping.

Mind you, while Best American Essays looks to many publications for its material, this particular edition was very New York-heavy.  And this essay appeared not in a small, out of the way lefty publication, but in a large, mainstream lefty publication, the December 2006 Harper’s, written and published just before the Democrats took over Congress.  Keizer’s appeal comes from his willingness to confront his liberal audience with truths they may not want to hear.  But at the heart, progressivism still feels the need to violence; if people won’t listen, they must be made to listen.

Keizer is quite clearly and explicitly calling for the sort of “civil unrest” that we saw in Greece, which resulted in deaths.  The rioters were largely unarmed, the damage they inflicted nonetheless real.  Ironic, coming from a man who, in a later, April 2010 essay also in Harper’s says that, “The trick is to create a society in which the privilege of disposable income is not contingent on the existence of disposable people.”  Yet evidently, whomever happens to get caught in the crossfire of his “civil unrest,” is quite disposable.

Remember, much of this article could have been written by a large-L Libertarian.  This paragraph, for instance:

If the Second Amendment is a dispensable anachronism in the era of school shootings, night not the First, Fourth, and Fifth amendments be dispensable anachronisms during a “war on terror?”  Small wonder if some of those who readily make the first concession were equally ready to queue up behind the Republican right in ratifying the second.

This is a progressive who, from what I can glean from the rest of his writing, really believes that privacy is the fundamental key to protecting our liberties, truly values those political liberties, is able to talk the talk about political liberties, but has no respect whatever for property rights except, perhaps, for the individual as against other individuals.  How else could he write:

A grown up body politic will acknowledge its children, set them strict rules, and let them play with their credit ratings and their hedge funds, their light sabers and their cap pistols, in a well supervised back yard so the adults can get down to what adults are meant to get down to: the pleasurable socializing of their resources and the passionate coupling of their best ideas.

I think we’re likely to see more of this sort of thing.  Having failed to ridicule, silence, or physically beat the Tea Parties into submission, a logical next step is for the left, not the right, but the left, to try to co-opt it through talk of the Bill of Rights ans political freedoms.  Unfortunately, what looks at first like an attempt to re-form the political landscape so we can all disagree while holding common ideas, instead turns out to rest on writing many of those ideas out of the discussion.

Plus ca change…

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