“One of the most distinctive features of politics in the United States in the last 30 years is the inexorable move away from the promise of equality, human dignity, racial justice and freedom – upon which its conception of democracy rests – to the narrow and stripped-down assumption that equates democracy with market identities, values and social relations. Hollowed out under a regime of politics that celebrates the trinity of privatization, deregulation and financialization, democracy has been replaced by a politics of disposability and a culture of cruelty.”
Farewell Mon Amour: Prospects on Democracy’s Electoral Defeat
Tuesday 26 October 2010
Something is profoundly wrong with the way we live today. For thirty years we have made a virtue out of the pursuit of material self-interest: indeed, this very pursuit now constitutes whatever remains of our sense of collective purpose. We know what things cost but have no idea what they are worth. We no longer ask of a judicial ruling or a legislative act: is it good? Is it fair? Is it just? Is it right? Will it help bring about a better society or a better world? Those used to be the political questions, even if they invited no easy answers. We must learn once again to pose them. -Tony Judt
In the midst of one of the greatest economic disasters the United States has ever faced, the Gilded Age and its updated “‘dreamworlds’ of consumption, property and power” have returned from the dead with zombie-like vengeance.(1) Poised now to take over either one or two houses of Congress, the exorbitantly rich along with their conservative ideologues wax nostalgically for a chance to once again emulate that period in 19th century American history when corporations ruled political, economic and social life, and an allegedly rugged entrepreneurial spirit prevailed unchecked by the power of government regulations. Wild West, casino capitalism, unhampered by either ethical considerations or social costs, has reinvented itself and become the politics of choice in this election year. Enthusiasm runs high as billions of dollars flow from hidden coffers into the hands of anti-public politicians, whose only allegiance is to power and the accumulation of capital.
In spite of almost unprecedented levels of inequality, hardship, human suffering and widespread public despair caused by the financial robber barons of Wall Street, the politics and values of Gilded Age excess are now celebrated by conservatives and Tea Party politicians, who define their retrograde politics as “having a flair for business, successfully [breaking] through the stultifying constraints that flowed from the New Deal” and using “their successes and their philanthropy [to make] government less important than it once was.”(2) There is more at work here than a neo-feudal world view in which the future can only be measured in immediate financial gains and the amassing of colossal amounts of economic and political power. Massive disparities in wealth and power along with the weakening of worker protections and the destruction of the social state are now legitimated through a set of market-driven values in which politics is measured by the degree to which it evades any sense of actual truth and turns its back on even a vestige of moral responsibility. Under casino capitalism, politics increasingly becomes a front for the legitimation and exercise of ruthless corporate power. As politics loses its social purpose, not only does the state increasingly resort to modes of punishment, but the rules of politics are eviscerated of any moral and social responsibilities. Robber barons now decide the rules, and one consequence of such actions is that politics loses all sense of moral direction.