I love Walter Russell Mead. He says the most outrageous shit, and still maintains a veneer of liberal respectability. In this post he lays out current American politcs in disturbingly frank detail.
He makes some distinctions that aren’t usually made. He updates the David Hackett Fischer categories with a “New York” or “Hamiltonian” category, and he notes that the “West Virginian” (or Borderers) category like stuff from the government, just not control.
He doesn’t take comments anymore, and didn’t approve my comments when he did. But a few remarks on his appraisal-
“Meanwhile, the white working class—a group that has troubled the New England mind ever since rowdy sailors and economic immigrants threatened to disrupt the social harmony of the Puritan colonies in the 17th century, trouble which only intensified as mass immigration from Ireland filled sober New England with rowdy Catholics—threatened to rebel against the gentry liberals and their various agendas for social betterment. The southern rednecks and northern ethnics rejected the Democratic Party and progressive social ideology in the Reagan years. Worse, perhaps, populist America began to turn against experts; ordinary people challenged the wisdom of the social and economic planners who advance the agenda of the New England state.”
The Puritans can only just barely admit that they are moralistic, because in their mind anything moralistic is suspect and to be immediately challenged. Beyond moralistic, their ideas have to be presented as rational, scientific, and so good-hearted as to be beyond question. But simply the fact that Mead uses the phrase “white working class” is a radical departure. It admits the racial, social and economic position of these people in a neutral way and implies that they have legitimate interests. As we will see Mead does not admit that those interests can be expressed in any way contrary to or outside of the umbrella of Puritan leadership, which saves him from perdition.
“Liberalism 5.0 isn’t about going back to the smaller state of the 18th and 19th century. The United States remains a complex society in which many complicated trade-offs have to be made about the rights and interests of many actors, and government will have to extend its reach in some directions if our lives are going to improve. We will need, for example, an appropriate legal framework so that individual health information can be pooled to allow researchers to evaluate the effect of different medical treatments on large numbers of people. We are probably going to have to increase federal jurisdiction in health care as more and more health care professionals work at a distance or collaborate in many states.
“It is also true that the state will continue to have social responsibilities beyond those of the Victorian era. Many of our fellow citizens are in real need and those needs cannot be met by purely voluntary efforts – though voluntary, civil society organizations should be encouraged to step in wherever possible.”
Mead’s real critique of “blue model” leftism is that it relies too much on money to work, and will have to rely more on telling people what to do rather than paying them to do or not do things. This isn’t a great insight, I figured it out some years ago and I didn’t even go to Yale. But somebody in the establishment has to face reality, and I’m surprised some more prominent intellectual hasn’t taken this position. The New Republic used to be the organ of realistic liberalism, but I haven’t read it in years so I don’t know if that’s still the case. This might also describe the current campaign of Andrew Cuomo- gun control doesn’t cost anything.
Mead is right to say that those who see the current crisis as the end of Puritan rule – both those against it and for it- are misguided is somewhat right. Power tends to stay in power. The hole in his argument though is that Puritan rule is based on lies- lies about race, gender and human sexuality. For two generations we have been told millenia of human wisdom on such things was all filthy, evil lies. At first it was sort of plausible. After the first generation it could be seen it was pretty doubtful, but we were told it only needed time. After two generations the lies are obvious, everyone knows, but almost no one is willing to say so. Might that change?
I think it may, because Mead discounts the power of the purse to buy cooperation. He writes as though the American masses were deeply grateful to have twits from Harvard telling them what to do and how to live their lives. We feel no such gratitude, Professor Mead. We were willing to put up with it as long as the system provided basic prosperity, and it doesn’t do so any more.
On a more crude level, the sexual revolution was offered to the masses as a bribe to accept the racial revolution. You will lose your communities, but you will be able to have free sex and leave your spouses if you find them constricting. As a child in southern California in the 70’s I saw this in full swing. The adults were having a hell of a party for themselves, and the kids were just trying to get by. But people have been seeing how this worked out, and don’t like it too much. Children of divorce in particular see how badly it all goes. Kids now have seen free and open homosexuality, and for all the political correctness I think they probably see that in general homosexuals are not happy or well-adjusted individuals.
Mead can see that the blue model is financially tired, but he doesn’t see or won’t admit that it has lost credibility in much wider sense. It cannot replace its financial authority with more moral authority, because the moral authority it had is very threadbare.
Something is going to happen. It might not be dramatic, but the smooth transition Mead hopes for is not going to work. It may have worked with concerted effort some years ago, but the people running have never wanted to change and will not be able to unite in the worst crisis.
Obama is a symptom of this. He took over in the midst of the financial crisis, and had the power to do all sorts of things. He didn’t reform the financial system of course because financial corruption supports liberals. He didn’t take any of the social control initiatives Mead wants because those are already in place, to the extent the liberal imagination can come up with them. His one big initiative was Obamacare, which I’m pretty sure will lead fewer people having insurance and those that have it, having worse. But government employees and favored unions will be free to do what they want, and that’s all who really matters. People will notice, of course. The other thing was gays in the military, which will turn off the kind of young men it needs not for logistics, or even for drone units, but for the combat units that make the whole thing work. Elite special ops forces will remain white and straight, but I think that when they find they need to put a few infantry divisions somewhere- as they will someday- they don’t get the results they need.
Mead still has the deep, sincere belief in the Easter Bunny of sincere liberals- “The questions of poverty and social justice are very much on my mind; I grew up in a pro-Civil Rights family at a time when that wasn’t always a safe or popular thing to be in the Carolinas and some of my first jobs involved things like going out into rural farm homes to sign families up for a new government program called Project Head Start. There may not be a lot of evidence that Head Start does what its designers hoped, but I won’t forget talking to American kids who didn’t have shoes, whose houses didn’t keep out the cold, and who were clearly undernourished.”
Not only isn’t there a lot of evidence Head Start doesn’t do what its designers hoped, there is lots of evidence- all the evidence that has been collected- is that it does absolutely nothing. But Mead believes, and that’s the important thing. At least he didn’t say anybody against Head Start is an evil racist, so I guess we should be grateful for small mercies.
“I’ve also worked in urban high schools with low income kids and spent time in housing projects and worked with families where lives had been shattered by drug violence and gangs. These problems are real, they are part of American life, and no serious political program for America’s future can ignore them.”
I don’t need to tell you “urban” and “low income” mean “minority”, but I may need to remind you that “we” in this case- as it usually does with a leftist- means “you”. But all the “solutions” for these problems that can be tried have been tried, and there is no more money to be extracted to pay for them. Any real solution would involve dealing with reality, and Mead isn’t suggesting that- he’s not a Nazi.
“In my home borough of Queens, more than 100 languages are spoken and my walk to the subway takes me past people of all faiths and backgrounds from all over the world. This is also America, and the next iteration of the American dream has to work for my neighbors; this assumes a flexible, competent and well managed state.”
The creators of the blue model achieved one great thing, the application of HNU, or human neurological uniformity, to a European population. It worked. Mead now wants to apply a new version
To answer my question, Mead is not a reactionary. The phrase “realistic liberal” seems to fit well. He is conservative in the old sense, in the sense of recognizing and working with human limitations. This may come from his Episcopalian background. As a conservative of the old sort, he has confidence in the institutions of his society. But his cautious, hopeful optimism in the future of liberalism is unrealistic.