Janan Ganesh on ‘Liberal Self-flagellation’ and other political inventions. American Writer comments

For a moment I thought I was reading either Ross Douthat or David Brooks at the New York Times, such was the purposeful ideological misreading of the political present, as a failure of ‘Liberalism’ a political description of a ‘climate of opinion’, to borrow Auden’s phrase,  that no longer exists. It is Neo-Liberalism that became the currency of both New Labour and the New Democrats, with the rise of political opportunists Blair and Clinton. And that Neo-Liberalism crashed in 2008, and produced in its wake economic misery, that is of no concern to Ganesh and his coterie, if such a collective exists.

What brought me back to the reality of Mr. Ganesh’s exercise in disdain, for all those who are not Ganesh, was this paragraph:

Imagine that Hillary Clinton had swung 100,000 votes across three US states — Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania — that elected and re-elected Barack Obama. The world would now be stifling a yawn at the resilience of mainstream politics against reactionary stresses.

Mrs. Clinton won the popular vote but lost in the Electoral College. But the startling statistic, ignored by Ganesh and his fellow ‘technocrats’, is that 46.9 % of voters who cast ballots in the 2016 election did not vote for either Trump or Clinton! An inconvenience to  political chatterers across the political spectrum. And therefore ignored as politically irrelevant, to the apologists for Free Market Capitalism and its corollary of the Self-Correcting Market. These two myths died in 2008, yet still are the motor of Capitalist Apologetics in the year 2016, that acts as backdrop to Mr. Ganesh’s wan polemic, aimed not at the dread Populists but at the Ghost of Liberalism Past.

American Writer


My reply to @Urania C, posted November 17, 2016

@Urania C

I must dissent on your estimation of Roth’s anti-fascist novel The Plot Against America. It was the usual collection of Roth obsessions: masturbation, voyeurism, the joy and wonder of being Jewish, not to speak of coming of age in what amounted to a ghetto in pre-war New Jersey. (Can the Claude Lanzmann’s film Shoah have played a part in the beginnings of Roth’s novel? As in a climate of opinion?)

Compare Plot to Portnoy’s Complaint  was a wonderful send up of his obsessions, with the extra added attraction of Psychoanalysis and his castrating mother! A brilliant satire! But in Plot the featured player is his own unrelenting narcissism, he makes his younger self the hero of the novel, and a winning  hero he is: Scout comes to mind in To Kill a Mocking Bird. Despite the muddle that results in keeping track of the younger self, as character and the older, political/moral conformist of Roth’s running commentary .

Compare Roth’s novel to popular entertainments like Cukor’s  1943 MGM potboiler ‘The Keeper of the Flame’. Starring the celebrated Tracy and Hepburn, playing their respective roles, as brave inquiring reporter, and the anguished wife of a politician secretly allied with Fascism. Script by Donald Ogden Stewart, who was eventually Blacklisted. Premature Antifascist? The great advantage of ‘Keeper’ is that it had two actors of high reputation, and a script that kept the melodrama moving. The only thing that keeps Mr. Roth’s novel moving is the character of his younger virtuous self. The question that nagged me while reading this counter-factual novel is how can he end it.

Also compare Plot with Elia Kazan’s parable  A Face in the Crowd . Script by the notorious friendly witness Budd Schulberg , call this ‘project’ the alliance of two friendly witnesses. But it offers a portrait of an American demagogue:his rise and fall offers  stark lessons on the abuse of power. Both these Americans were complicit, they knew the territory!   

I would argue that the most accomplished, compelling counter-factual, anti-fascist novel was written by Robert Harris, Fatherland. Although not located  in an American context, it is compelling reading, and his re-imagining of the world remade by a stalemate between the Allies and Hitler’s Germany, offers a kind of imagined verisimilitude, utterly absent from the tepid, and tepid is the apt descriptor, of Roth’s novel.



About stephenkmacksd

Rootless cosmopolitan,down at heels intellectual;would be writer. 'Polemic is a discourse of conflict, whose effect depends on a delicate balance between the requirements of truth and the enticements of anger, the duty to argue and the zest to inflame. Its rhetoric allows, even enforces, a certain figurative licence. Like epitaphs in Johnson’s adage, it is not under oath.' https://www.lrb.co.uk/v15/n20/perry-anderson/diary
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