Does the word quixotic define Mr. Ganesh extended exercise in typing, that comes to rest in this sentence, and two paragraphs, that acts as an indictment of both ‘Right’ and ‘Left’? On their ‘cultural declinism’ presented as ‘stark news‘? Yet the very notion of a concomitant political declinism, better yet named the corruption, of the whole of America’s political class remains outside the Ganesh ken?
This stark news I address to conservatives but also to the left, as both sides have come to traffick in versions of cultural declinism.
For the first, the problem is several decades of irreligion, permissiveness and the debasement of a national way of life through immigration. For the second, the problem is several decades of unfettered markets and the commodification of people. But both converge on the same bleak picture: an atomised and decadent society, less than the sum of its parts, brittle for all its outward riches. Both are nostalgic for the mid-20th century, when most western nations were more homogenous and more equal.
Theirs is an analysis that makes intuitive sense. In fact, it is strange that it is not true. If liberalism means anything, it is that society has limited claims on the individual. Collective action must therefore be harder to pull off.
In the hermetic world of the pundit Mr. Ganesh is not a Copernican, but a Ptolemaic! Self-congratulation this writer’s ambit, yet where does the argumentative ‘they’, of the above morph into the writer’s voice, and then back again?
If Mr. Ganesh, had spent less time reading the latest best selling pop fiction, and intoning on the genius of the late Tom Wolfe. Or the latest craze of the reactionary literati for his successor, he might have read Daniel T. Rogers ‘Age of Fracture’ published in 2011, and winner of the Bancroft Prize: from the Epilogue 9/11, page 261
It was in the nature of the crisis to throw up into the air all the culture’s voices and intellectual fragments, old and new. Antagonisms and sentiments forged in the culture wars, preexisting ideas and identities, premade global strategies manufactured after the ﬁrst Gulf War, newfound commercial ambitions, rage, and crisis-made yearnings for unity and solidarism all swirled together. But after three decades in which the very language for society had grown thinner, in which the “little platoons” of freely choosing selves commanded more and more of the social imagination, in which block identities seemed to have grown more fractured and ﬂuid, in which power and history seemed to have become more pliable and diminished, what was most striking was the suddenly resurgent talk of solidarity, unity, and the public good. Amalgams of ideas have their countermotifs as well as their dominant strains, their points of hesitation and resistance. In the wake of 9/11, a powerful recessive strain assumed new power and urgency. It looked, Appleby mused, like the mindset of the Cold War all over again.
As a reader of Mr. Rogers book , he squanders all that he has argued in the preceding chapters, in a search for bourgeois academic respectability, but the above paragraph marks something worthy of quotation. That presents a very different argument than Mr. Ganesh.
Dose the last paragraph of this essay, in praise of ‘liberalism’, in small caps, seeks to obscure the fact that this ‘liberalism’ is in fact Neo-Liberalism? In a Keynesian inflected panic, in the face of Covid-19 Pandemic? Austerity has reentered the political conversation, even as we are in the earlier stages of the Pandemic.
It turns out that liberalism does not by definition breed egoism and irresolution. A lot of the easy calumnies against it (“We could never fight a war now”) appear less certain. And if the “horizontal” bond among citizens is a bit stronger than assumed, so is their “vertical” cord with government. Anti-elitism — the spirit of the age, we thought — is broad but it can also be shallow, or at least selective. The speed with which people deferred to the medical and bureaucratic establishment was telling. The crisis has found nothing more wanting than our cynicism.