Thursday, October 6, 2011

Scenes from the Modern Class Struggle

As night follows day, every redistributive sound liberals make is denounced by conservatives as needlessly divisive “class warfare.” Liberals get a little prickly when they’re called “class warriors” because they detect an insinuation of guilt by association. That they prefer, say, raising tax rates in the upper brackets over cutting Medicare benefits, they'll remind you, doesn’t mean they’re plotting the dictatorship of the proletariat.

Point taken, yet perhaps liberals protest too much. There’s no point calling yourself a liberal if you aren’t ready to make well-off people somewhat worse-off in order to make worse-off people measurably better-off.  The idea that well-off people’s enjoyments come at the expense of worse-off people is embedded securely in the liberal world-view.   If that’s “class warfare,” then liberals should take conservatives calling them “class warriors” as a backhanded compliment. And in fact, although they're reluctant to admit it, in their heart of hearts liberals do just that.

You can see that from the giddy reaction of prominent Democratic politicians and liberal pundits (see, e.g., Paul Krugman here) to the “occupation of Wall Street." Conservatives have a hard time keeping a straight face watching a bunch of aging adolescents assembled in the streets demanding . . . well, nothing in particular, but demanding it now! They break into fits of hysterical laughter when they hear the Wall Street occupiers being compared to the Tea Party. Tea Partiers, after all, aren’t shy about telling you exactly what they want, like repealing ObamaCare, cutting government spending, keeping taxes low, etc.

Yet watching the occupation of Wall Street gets the blood coursing through liberal veins, apparently because it conjures up images of the industrial actions of the 1930s. Granted, the people in the streets then had no trouble telling you what in particular they wanted (collective bargaining rights, public employment, banks they could depend on, etc.).  In comparison, the occupation of Wall Street is at best an inarticulate grunt. But its unifying theme— that it’s time to do something about the top 1% being richer than it should be because the bottom 99% is poorer than it need be —is nothing if not a call to arms in the modern class struggle. Indeed, it’s nothing but that. I guess the demonstrators will get back to us when they figure what, if anything, they'd have us do about it.

So you tell me: does the fact that class warriors are again getting their marching shoes on signal a revitalized liberalism or that liberalism’s decaying into an empty gesture?


Perry said...

I'd go with "empty gesture." The people occupying Wall Street have been around for years, demonstrating against globalization at G-7 summits, etc. The difference now is that Democrats and liberals are finally getting desperate enough to take them seriously

Anonymous said...

This class warfare angle could really backfire. Is this what the country needs now? How will it solve our many economic problems? Big mistake for the dems.

As to Occupy Wall Street, I think these people just look silly. They should all be required to read Dodd-Frank and figure out what it says so they can explain it to Congress. I think they are protesting in the wrong town.