The first two paragraphs of Mr. Ganesh’s exercise in History Made to Measure utterly disappoints: where are those arresting aperçus, that at times make his essays resonate with an intensity, that directs the readers attention away from its political content. The reader is swayed by mere stylistic embellishment. Not so in this essay, that is not just a undeveloped Polaroid of FDR’s New Deal, but of a possible ‘Jazz Age meanness’ , and an actual Hollywood prudery.
Even the greatest democratic leader of the past century chose his battles. As Franklin Roosevelt shaped a New Deal in economics, he preserved much of the old deal in culture. The cause of civil rights was deferred for another generation. Tight immigration laws were retained, even as Europe’s huddled masses petitioned for entry. If there was a post-Jazz Age meanness in the air, it did not confine itself to Washington. Hollywood, the other capital, began to enforce its code against risqué themes.
It is hard to account for the blend of material reform and cultural retrenchment in those years. But one theory suggests itself. There is only so much change a society will bear at one time. If the rules of economic life are in flux, people crave stability and even regression in other areas. Seen from this angle, the strife of the 1960s might be read as the spasms of a nation attempting too much change on too many fronts in too little time.
The proffered choice between cultural and economic radicalism is self serving. Mr. Ganesh cites ‘evidence’ for his claim, roughly described by this collection. Note that ‘French philosophes took a postmodern turn in the 1960s’ are not just the precursors, but, indeed, gestators of American Identity Politics. The Rainbow Coalition was born of Post-Modernism?
Violent crimes have been going up in US cities… At the same time, the country’s southern border has been the site of anguish and disarray for much of the year. …a third source of cultural insecurity … there is the inchoate set of issues that come under the neologism of the day, “woke”, with all its implications for the first amendment right to free speech. Even taken together, these social rumbles hardly constitute a revolution. … Identity politics has been gestating inside the western left since French philosophes took a postmodern turn in the 1960s.
There is a blurring of the lines of argument, he presents his economic/cultural :
Americans are being asked to absorb a break in economic doctrine at the same time as the social context changes.
Mr. Ganesh continues to construct his essay about the politically unpalatable ‘too much radicalism’. Not, of course, mentioning the utter collapse of the Neo-Liberal Swindle’s in 2008, whose point of fracture began with the Clinton/Summers/Biden final straw of Gramm-Leach-Bliley ?
Even a quote from Gustave Flaubert can’t save Mr. Ganesh’s essay from its weak duel radicalisms premise, via his self-serving History Made To Measure.
Gustave Flaubert’s rule that a person can only take so much radicalism (“be regular and orderly in your life”, said the writer, “so that you may be violent and original in your work”) applies as much to the body politic. Had Biden won one of those landslides, such as 1932 or 1980, when the public audibly demands a new course, he might have the license for all-round change.
The Landslides of 1932 and 1980: FDR, transformative reform, in response to the Depression vs. Reagan, political/cultural reaction against the Civil Rights Era. It’s compelling, that Mr. Ganesh can’t quite exercise the political imagination, to consider that this is Joe Biden’s last act: what he offers is a pastiche of reform/radicalism. The reader need only consider that Biden’s Radicalism, as argued by Mr. Ganesh, will not include Medicare For All, a $15.00 minimum wage, Debt Forgiveness, a Corporate Tax rate of 90%, an end to Foreign Wars, and a slash of 50% to the Pentagon budget, or Police Reform at a Federal level. These imperatives would define an actual political radicalism in America!