Why Bernie Sanders Is a Moderate

| No TrackBacks
           Jonathan Schlefer, in Sunday's "Ideas" section of the Boston Globe wonders whether Bernie Sander's ideas are unpalatable to a majority of American voters because of the residual  liberalism that is embedded in the American ethos. He invokes Louis Hartz's The Liberal Tradition in America, for the proposition that our politics are derived almost wholly from the classical liberalism of John Locke.

            The root of Locke's politics, as interpreted and modified by the Jefferson, Madison and  others, is a virtual celebration of extreme individualism in which society is seen only as an aggregation of competing individual interests. Because of our collective inability to see beyond the self, many in the punditocracy and the chattering class dismiss Senator Sander's brand of democratic socialism as unattainable.Not surprisingly, given the often irrational nature of Lockean consensus that Professor Hartz described, a number of the right-wing "liberal" critics have characterized Senator Sander's ideas as un-American.

            Schlefer is correct is his observation that American politics stands in distinct contrast to the communitarian politics of Aristotle. That traditional conservatism continues to find expression in the social thought of the Catholic Church from Thomas Aquinas to Pope Francis.  

            But Schlefer may be too pessimistic. The liberal paradigm of individuals competing against one another equally for the fruits of this earth no longer explains social reality. Because of the lax regulations, loophole -ridden tax laws, and virtually no limit on inherited wealth, with each passing generation, American society has become increasingly unequal. With ever greater concentrations of wealth and power in the 1%, the rest of us are in danger of becoming road kill.

            In a sequel to Louis Hartz's book, I have also argued that Locke's politics unconsciously shape our collective worldview but that the antidote to that which is unconscious is a conscious reexamination of what Americans understand to be the purpose of politics. European liberalism arose in cultural context in which the residual communitarianism of the conservative tradition reminds citizens that they all a part of something more important than our individual selves. Later, the rise of the industrial revolution caused many of the tenets of classical liberalism- especially laissez-faire - to be abandoned as democratic socialism arose to address the issues of economic inequality, poverty and powerlessness.

            By 1912, the ideas that Bernie Sanders espouses were accepted as conventional wisdom in Western Europe. It is testimony to the backwardness of American politics that 20th century ideas, viewed through the prism of Locke's politics, could be viewed as radical.

            As a nation, we need to adapt our politics to address new realities. Otherwise,like the French ancien regime, we may invite something far worse. 



No TrackBacks

TrackBack URL: http://www.politicsofselfishness.com/cgi/mtype/mt-tb.cgi/215