Monday, August 14

Your Left is My Right

I’m intrigued by a quote by Tom Nairn that I found on Brian Sholis’s blog, In Search of the Miraculous. Here’s a sliver of the clip:
… the elevation of economics into a new popular faith. It passed from being the necessary condition of socio-cultural development into something approaching the sufficient condition of all human welfare and hope. As philosophy, the old left-wing formula of “historical materialism” may have been better known. But the right now took this over, to outdo it with the vengeance.
What caught my attention was the notion that “the old left-wing formula of ‘historical materialism’ ” has been appropriated by the Right. I’m reading only the fragment on Sholis’s blog, but Nairn uses the label neoconservative for this particular right-wing. I would argue, rather, that what he’s referring to here is neoliberalism. Because just prior to this he states that economics “passed from being the necessary condition of socio-cultural development into something approaching the sufficient condition of all human welfare and hope.” This to me sounds like neoliberalism, an internationalist economic ideology of free trade. Neoliberalism is typically placed on the right side of the political spectrum and, in keeping with Nairn’s formulation (if not his labels), it generally approaches all social issues in terms of economics (economic liberalization specifically). But all this is not what interested me in this quote. What interested me was the suggestion, advanced by Nairn, that “historical materialism” has been coopted by the Right. Nairn writes: “Trostkeyite mince reprocessed into neoconservative sausage.”

In his review-essay of The Making of the American Conservative Mind and The Disappearing Liberal Intellectual, Brian Doherty notes that James Burnham, one of the founders of National Review and the author of The Managerial Revolution (1941), “was an ex-Trotskyist, a former editor of The New International and [an] early contributor to Partisan Review.” Of course this makes me think of Irving Kristol. I don’t know how many times I’ve read recently of the fact that Kristol, the “godfather of neoconservativism,” founder of Commentary, father of William Kristol (the editor of The Weekly Standard), was also a Trotskeyite in his youth. The isolationist Right probably makes the most of this. But Nairn is of the Left.


brian sholis said...

Please post more frequently. I like the few that I see here.

The Hanger-On said...

This blog was just started. All postings have been made this week, but falsely backdated to coincide with the writing (or conversation) of the original thoughts. Expect a couple older posts soon and, as soon as the art world rises from its August slumber, expect more.

The Hanger-On said...

De Selby, I find this cooption of the left by the right interesting, and not in the typical way that, for example, the Republicans took on prescriptions drugs.

I've been struggling with my own political and economic beliefs, which run from liberatarian to socialist. There's presently not a party or position that can maintain that, at least in this country. I view the political spectrum—admittedly a bad word choice—not as a straight line running from extreme right to far left, but rather as a rubber band stretched horizontally, so that both ends eventually meet again around the back. But that seems illogical. I like how The Economist describes its position: extreme center.

The Hanger-On said...

I must correct myself and say that "my own political and economic beliefs ... are either liberatarian or socialist."