Why the American Left is not, and never has been, populist.
When Elizabeth Warren went on MSNBC to deny that she was a member of the 1 percent despite her nearly 15 million dollar net worth, the denial had a cultural element to it. Despite being a millionaire, Warren did not see herself as "wealthy."
The current debate over the 1 percent and the 99 percent is notable mainly for the shifting boundaries that are not based on economics, but on identity. For all its 'Power to the People' antics, American liberalism is not a movement of struggling people; there is a reason why the word limousine so often comes before liberal. Its roots lie in an upper class New England strata that relentlessly fought against Southern Baptists and working class Catholic immigrants. Those roots define modern day liberals much more so than the Jacksonian populism that they occasionally try to imitate.
The American liberal is not a populist, he is still a New England preacher, but without a religion to preach. He has a great faith in the virtues of an ordered moral society, even if that ordered moral society would have been completely incomprehensible and unacceptable to his forebears. It is a society based on the virtues of tolerance and the rule of the enlightened.
The inflow of the European left has brought in a strain of power to the people populism, but that has not made the American liberal take seriously the notion that the people whose rights he defends are his intellectual or social equals, no more than the 19th century New York Republicans patting African-Americans on the head while stomping on the Irish viewed either group as equals.
American liberalism has traveled a slightly altered road to get to the same place. But its place is still at the top and everyone else's place is still at the bottom. Its persistent denial of this basic truth leads to the perennial absurdity of millionaires like Elizabeth Warren playing class warrior when the only class they represent is the class of people who work for the government.
The oligarchy which is busy bleeding the country dry does not represent any group of working people anywhere in the country. Not Protestant or Catholic, black or white, or of any other creed or identity. Like every ideology incarnated in a system, it represents its own interests. The Democratic Party is the government party. It exists to create jobs in government, to dispense government subsidies and to expand the power and scope of its organization. It is not fundamentally any different than Putin's United Russia or Israel's Kadima or similar political creatures around the world.
The strange intermarriage of New England moralists, New York merchants and European radicals eventually led to a system of pushing immigrants into government service, mandating tolerance and running every aspect of human life through Washington D.C. It took a while to get there, but the system is a decade or two away from being complete. When it is complete then all our lives will be run in every possible way by the Elizabeth Warrens who will smile condescendingly at us, nudge us in the direction we are supposed to go, and when we don't go there, then the fines and the tasers come out.
No matter how far back you go, the roots of American liberalism lie in a fear of the people, a distrust of the great unwashed. American liberals have championed voting rights, so long as they were confident that those voting were their inferiors and could be herded into voting the right way. They have always distrusted the instincts of the public, no matter how much pious ink they spilled fighting on their behalf.
That view of man's sinful nature still informs their deepest thinkers, and the sins are still the same, the failure of fellowship, the refusal to consider the welfare of others and march in lockstep to create that ideal society. The New Jerusalem of universal brotherhood. Those ideas have been dressed up in modern clothing, transmitted as denunciations of racism and bigotry, immigration advocacy and hate crime laws, but underneath is the same notion that a society of good will to all can be forced through rigorous regimentation by the truly enlightened.
The populism of the American liberal is a cynical dumbshow where representatives of the oppressed gather in conclaves to demand more oppression by their liberal oppressors. This spectacle is at the heart of a political oligarchy, which like every oligarchy is built on government subsidies and special access to power for the privileged. And like all oligarchies it must disguise its nature by playing the protector of the people. Unlike them it must also disguise its true nature from itself.
The convergence of the ideal society and the government society was inevitable from the start. It took a while to overcome the technological and cultural barriers to running an entire country from a central point. Those barriers have never been truly overcome, but the technocratic mirage makes it seem as if they have been. And the ongoing faith in a perfectible society run by the saints makes it seem as if it must be.
The American liberal would still like to play at being humble, a 99 percenter fighting against the chimera of a 1 percent oligarchy. But the entire 99 percent theme is that the 1 percent isn't paying enough taxes. And whom do those taxes go to but to the administration and employment of the professional class warrior millionaires.
It is the very Everest of hypocrisy for the members of the oligarchy to be bemoaning all the extra tax money that could be used to pay their six figure salaries, while passing off their naked greed as a crusade on behalf of the oppressed.
There is nothing of working class advocacy in a government party looking to shovel more tax revenues into the insatiable gaping maw of its bureaucratic machinery. The idea that those monies will be used to help the downtrodden is a delusion that a brief glimpse at how much money went to connected companies and to the expansion of the government bureaucracy should easily cure. This isn't any 99 percent at work here. It's the 9 percent against the 63 percent.
Warren thinks of herself as not wealthy because despite her millions, she is engaged in the pious practice of public service. However big her financial resources may be, they are part of the collective whole of the oligarchy and in a different category altogether from the wealth that is earned or inherited.
To the American liberal, riches are not a matter of economics, but of identity. Wealth is a moral entity, not an economic one. What distinguishes pious millionaires like Warren from the heathens who make their money the old fashioned way is that the former achieve it through the moral pursuit of the public good, which is all the more pious for taking them to a Harvard professorship or a job in government, while the latter achieve it through economic transactions in the private sector. The former is a form of public service, the latter is public exploitation.
But a closer look at the bones and carcass of this system turns those definitions on their head. It is the Warrens who are the exploiters, consuming the wealth of a nation and spawning more committees, regulations and regulatory committees to keep on feeding off the wealth. What they give to us in exchange for what they take is not a service, it is oppression masquerading as feudal protectionism.
The American liberal is eager to protect us from powerful interests, but who will protect us from his protection, and who will turn off that protection and the money it costs us to pay for it, and worse still the freedoms that are consumed in order that we may be properly protected from ourselves.
No tyrant looks in a mirror and sees an oppressor. Tyrants are always protectors of the people. And our own American Tyrants are equally certain that they are the protectors of a people who would otherwise run off cliffs, throw lawn darts at each other, tear the tags off mattresses, make racist jokes, open pill bottles too easily, have inappropriate opinions and reinforce the oppressive heteronormative patriarchy which they have thoughtfully replaced with a vast echoing bureaucratic state in which everyone is free to be different in the same way.
The American liberal does not like the people very much. Most disguise it a bit better than Elizabeth Warren but that discomfort is always there. And the discomfort comes with a distrust. They don't like us and they don't trust the sort of shenanigans we might get up to when they aren't looking. Instead they are always looking, always nudging, always telling us what to think and how to live and otherwise protecting us from ourselves.
The tyrannical impulses were always there in American liberalism and like water on lilies, power brought them forth. Now we live under a system which strangles us to protect us from ever getting rid of it. The men and women strangling us smile awkwardly and tell us that it is for our own good. This tyranny for our own good requires that they toss aside our laws and replace them with their own. It requires that they spend us into bankruptcy, with much of the proceeds going to them, but in the name of a higher cause. And it demands that we praise them and if we won't do that, then it demands that we shut up and stop broadcasting our dissatisfaction. There is no place in their ideal national community for people like us.
Freedom Center pamphlets now available on Kindle: Click here.