Good speech. Pity about the speaker.

My immediate reaction: Trump hasn’t changed at all, isn’t going to tack even a little from his position during the campaign. He’s genuine. It was a pretty good speech, I thought, for his audience. I kept imagining it spoken in 1930s German: the content was very similar. Leftists could, or should, agree with a lot of it. The tragedy is that it was mouthed by a quasi-fascist and socially reactionary American nationalist. He touched on grievances that, rightfully, should be being exploited by the socialists: people like Saunders and Corbyn – but weren’t by Clinton. And of course – I guess – he won’t be able to achieve half of what he has promised. What happens then is anyone’s guess. Hopefully not what happened in 1939.

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One Response to Good speech. Pity about the speaker.

  1. This post stimulated an interesting discussion on Facebook:

    Marie Clausén: “Leftists could, or should, agree with a lot of it.” Well, yes, but that’s because far right-wing politics has a great deal in common with left-wing politics. A messianic tone, a certain emotionalism, a certain degree of acceptance of force to achieve one’s goals, an idea of historic evolution, an idea of fate or destiny, and to a certain extent a negation of (the full spectrum of) human nature. They are both equally impatient with the complex, muddy, contradictory, paradoxical, ambiguous reality of human life. National Socialism of course epitomized just this marriage between right-wing and left-wing political thinking.
    I argued this successfully in a poli-sci class in the very early nineties, by the way, claiming that a linear left-right continuum was an erroneous way of looking at the political spectrum. It turns out this idea has since been given a name – horseshoe theory – and has been credited to French philosopher Jean-Pierre Faye. Another missed opportunity for me, obviously…

    Bernard Porter: I’m sorry, Marie, but I find this response extraordinary. I take your points that ‘far’ right-wing opinion mirror-images ‘far’ left-wing opinion in many ways, and about the unsatisfactory nature of the rigid ‘right-left’ spectrum; but why should you appear to assume that all kinds of ‘socialism’ equate to this ‘far’ left-wing kind? Socialism can also be empirical, unemotional, fully cognisant of the imperfectibility of human nature, and unmessianic, recognising the possible or even likely failure of its hopes and ideals. Mine is of that kind, together I guess with that of most socialists since the decline (in Britain) of the welfare state, like Corbyn and (I guess) Saunders. To dismiss it because of some theoretical generalisation of this kind does less than justice to practical socialism as it exists – in theory, and in partial practice in Sweden – today; and is – of course – one of the obstacles to its ever being even partially achieved. God save us, and society, from theoreticians.

    Marie Clausén: Keep your hat on, Bernard! 🙂 I suppose first of all that I don’t really think of socialism as being all that far to the left. Certainly social democracy e.g. is quite a distance from Communism/Marxism/Leninism and would be quite close to being centrist in my book, which is mostly how it’s been viewed in Sweden for the past 80 years or so.
    I concede that much of the Western world seems to have swung so far to the right that perhaps socialism seems like an extreme position these days to many, but I don’t hold it to be so.

    Marie Clausén: And I didn’t say that *all* left-wing politics is the same as *all* right-wing politics; merely that as you start sliding towards the extreme reaches of the respective philosophies you do interestingly end up in much the same kind of territory.

    Bernard Porter: So what, if you don’t make that slide, just as most Conservatives don’t ‘slide’ into Fascism? Most of us don’t. So what is your practical point?

    Marie Clausén: I suppose I just thought, in light of what you wrote about Trump’s speech consisting of many phrases that would appeal to leftists, that it would be interesting to jump in with an attempt at explaining why that might be, why some of what he said would seem to tally so very well with what a (not even very) far left-wing demagogue would say.
    On a very practical level, if we don’t want a situation again where Saunders supporters in such appalling numbers become Trump voters, it might be useful to take a good long look at why they felt comfortable making that switch, why they thought those two offered roughly similar things, how this perception was formed, through a certain brand of rhetoric, e.g. If we want to stop this kind of thing from happening again, that is. And again and again…

    Bernard Porter: We have the same thing in Britain – Labour voters switching to UKIP. The explanation is straightforward: since Blair, Labour hasn’t dared to target the main cause of people’s discontent, which is the phenomenon of unrestrained late-stage capitalism – usually known today as ‘globalisation’ – causing their material and cultural impoverishment; so leading them to lash out blindly at ‘aliens’, who are the obvious – because more visible – scapegoats. The real solution is for democracy to control and discipline capitalism more, directing this wonderfully creative force to benefit society generally, rather than just a few. That’s socialism.

    Marie Clausén: The far left and the far right have always fought over the same demographics – those who feel themselves to be particularly disenfranchised by society, usually young, unemployed or underemployed men, some with a chip on their shoulder and some with a serious and dangerous anger management problem. Their fealty is usually up for grabs by demagogues on both far left and far right. Given that, it can be important to acknowledge and analyze the similarities between the two camps to see what if anything can be done to avoid this ever larger group of the disenfranchised from becoming Nazis or fascists. (Just as an example.)

    But quite aside from any potential practical use, the horseshoe theory is merely an attempt at creating a more truthful illustration of how the spectrum of human political thought can be represented than the linear one (which was also a theoretical construct of course). But we don’t make adjustments to our models of ‘reality’, based primarily on the possibility of their being put to practical use. That’s all good and well in STEM research perhaps or engineering, but Darwin’s theories of evolution and selection weren’t devised with a specific practical purpose in mind, nor was Einstein’s theory of relativity. They are merely expositions of an unquenchable desire to get to the bottom of ‘how things are’ and it is that which drives theory-making. Eventually a use can usually be found for theories that stand the test of time, but that is not their original impetus for existing.

    Bernard Porter: No historian, or, I think, political scientist, any longer subscribes to the simple ‘left-right’ linear view of politics. Most of us shudder when we see the popular press regarding party politics only in these terms, usually in order to castigate Corbyn. (“An old-fashioned Leftie – Say no more.”) That’s why it’s important not to assume your ‘slide’.

    Marie Clausén: We are unfortunately going to see more and more of this everywhere. Precisely because a certain category of undereducated voter will be duped and confused into believing that what they are hearing being offered from the far right-wing is what they are after. Their concerns are legitimate, but they don’t have the ability to gauge who is likely to be able to fix things to their advantage.
    I agree with you that it would be jolly nice if capitalism could be put back in its box and we could retreat from being a capitalist society to merely having a capitalist economy once again. How to achieve that, though? Because all political parties, at least in the Western countries with which I’m familiar, now fall within this Neo-Liberal Fundamentalist Capitalist system. The only difference between ‘right and ‘left’ is the difference, as Michael Sandel put it, of who is to get a share of what. It’s a scrap over a bone in a dog yard. But no one escapes the System, because it is now all-pervasive. There is no ‘outside’ the system anymore, a horrific existential situation which the Marxist philosopher Giorgio Agamben describes so well.

    Bernard Porter: Ah – there speaks a Marxist of my own persuasion entirely! – base and superstructure! – EXCEPT that I still retain some hope in the neo-liberal base’s being superseded by something better, if only through its self-destruction at the hands of its internal contradictions: which seems to be happening now. Then we (democratic) socialists might get a toe in again. Might this not be the ultimate historical significance of the last 10 years, from Lehmann Bros to the Donald?

    Marie Clausén: I didn’t mean a slide in terms of an individual’s move from one political position to another. Perhaps slide wasn’t a good word to use. I meant the scope of possible political views.

    Marie Clausén: With regard to not subscribing to the left–right linear spectrum, yes, certainly many political scientists now subscribe to the horseshoe theory, but outside of the corridors of political science it seems to me rather that the reason left–right thinking has lost in popularity has to do with things like the rise of single-issue politics and the decline of political philosophy, certainly as represented by political parties but also in general. The average person’s rejection of left–right is not based on the acknowledgment that political views can be represented on a fairly circular diagram.

    Marie Clausén: Possibly, yes. One can always hope. In fact, sometimes it’s all one can do…

    Bernard Porter: But it was always thus. It was usually foreign (or earlier imperial) policy which muddied the spectrum. My first research was on the way ‘imperialism’ and ‘anti-imperialism’ distracted both Liberals and Labour from the Left-Right thing around 1900. Then it was the H-Bomb. Now Europe. Foreign affairs just don’t fit.


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