Tuesday, March 16, 2021

The Return of Universalism

The road forward for society in general and the left in particular has been, is and will continue to be universalism. John Halpin explains at The Liberal Patriot.
"Every political or intellectual movement needs a theoretical label—not just for branding purposes but as a way to concisely summarize the main ideas that hold a particular faction together.
In today’s fractured politics, there is an emerging pool of political leaders, thinkers, and citizens without an ideological home. They come from the left, right, and center but all share a common aversion to the sectarian, identity-based politics that dominates modern political discourse and the partisan and media institutions that set the public agenda.
Let’s call this new group of political exiles and wayward souls the “neo-universalists”.
Some are traditional liberals alienated by the ideological shift among progressives toward confusing ideas promoted by academics and activists that heighten rather than reduce racial, ethnic, gender, and religious conflict. Others are traditional conservatives repulsed by Trump’s takeover of the Republican Party, replacing a Reaganite commitment to limited government and individual rights with the ethno-nationalism and faux-populist rhetoric of an immoral billionaire. And a third wider group of people are regular citizens—both working class and professional—who find contemporary politics mostly useless and not about them, and just want people to be treated fairly and to get the help they need to lead a good life.
What unites this new group of people is a vision of American citizenship based on the core belief in the equal dignity and rights of all people. Ignored by the political extremes today, neo-universalists have a real chance to band together to reshape American politics by pushing aside unsolvable cultural fights and shifting public attention toward a common view of democratic citizenship and national economic development that benefits everyone....
Given The Liberal Patriot’s mission, our main focus is to return the center-left to its intellectual and moral home in American liberalism—a universal perspective focused on the rights and opportunities of individuals as a means to overcome overt discrimination and social divisions based on race, gender, religion, and parental background.
Moving beyond the center-left to a wider group of ideological outliers, there certainly will be political disputes about the proper role of government, markets, regulations, and levels of taxation and spending. These differences don’t need to be resolved in order to bring people together to confront sectarian politics.
Our goal is not to speak for others but rather to offer a vision of liberal values that might appeal to those interested in building a united front against the tribal, identity-based, culture war obsessions of recent years. Without this vision, basic governance itself becomes practically impossible. Lacking a core commitment to equal dignity and rights for all, politics is little more than a pure contest for power—a battle that never ends well for anyone on the losing side of the struggle....
It’s time for neo-universalists to unite around a common national vision of equal dignity and rights for all people—and to reject those forces seeking to divide Americans based on their group status.
American politics—and the country as a whole—will be better off with this ethos underpinning our future public discussions and debates."
Read the whole piece at The Liberal Patriot! I also call attention to this excellent piece on universalism by Jesse Singal on his subtack, spurred by the debate around vaccine hesitancy:
"It is an important sign of progress that within American society, which was ruled by de jure racism for the vast majority of its history, we can now speak openly and honestly about racial discrimination. This is an absolute prerequisite for understanding the country’s wrongs and how to right them.
But lately, I’ve gotten the sense that to many progressives, the only right framing for talking about injustice is race. Universalist claims are neglected and sometimes downright denigrated. This is bad from both the perspective of understanding the world in all its nuanced hues, and from the perspective of trying to convince others that the progressive cause is worth fighting for. After all, if lack of opportunity (or whatever else) is framed endlessly as a “black problem” specifically, you can’t really blame other groups of people for tuning out. Self-interest is the most effective motivator in politics.
For a good example, take a column that ran in the New York Times recently, “Black People Need Better Vaccine Access, Not Better Vaccine Attitudes,” by Dr. Rhea Boyd, a pediatrician and public-health advocate. As the column notes, overall, black people have been vaccinated at a lower rate than other groups, and are also more vaccine-hesitant than many other groups, at least by some measures (there’s at least some evidence otherwise, but I think this racial gap is a pretty solid finding and little of what follows really depends on this one claim, anyway). Boyd quickly brushes off the possibility that differences in vaccine hesitancy can tell us much about differential rates of vaccination, and chides those who would argue otherwise: “this hyper-focus on hesitancy implicitly blames Black communities for their undervaccination, and it obscures opportunities to address the primary barrier to Covid-19 vaccination: access.”
Of course, it isn’t an either-or thing, and of course saying “This group is suffering as a result of a false belief” is different from saying “This group is culpable for holding a false belief.” But set that aside: What’s interesting about this column is the way it seems to almost go out of its way to sidestep the possibility of drawing a connection between black vaccine hesitancy and other groups’ vaccine hesitancy (plenty of other groups suffer from vaccine hesitancy of one sort or another, after all), or between blacks’ lack of access and other groups’ lack of access.....
There’s also the political issue here. Even if a lack of access to solid vaccine information and vaccines themselves are problems disproportionately experienced by black Americans, is it good to present this problem in a racialized way? After all, while at the level of individual averages, a given white person is (much) less likely to face these problems, tens of millions of white Americans still do! It can be true both that there is a large raw number of white Americans who suffer from subpar healthcare and healthcare information, and that at the level of averages, an individual black person is significantly more likely to suffer from these problems than an individual white one.
This stuff worries me because it broadcasts to the country that certain issues are, fundamentally, “black” issues. You see this with criminal-justice abuses too — another area where class and race are hopelessly confounded. Yes, in some areas there is solid evidence of straight-up racial disparities in treatment, even after controlling for everything that should be controlled for. But based on the tenor of mainstream coverage of justice issues since George Floyd’s killing, you could almost be forgiven for thinking it’s only black people who are unfairly arrested or prosecuted or sometimes even killed by police and the courts. Which is just not true. Many millions of white Americans — overwhelmingly, the poorer ones — deal with similar treatment. On average, a white American is less likely to be so victimized, sure, but again, raw numbers: millions of white Americans deal with unfair entanglements with the legal system. Just read the New Yorker’s stories on civil forfeiture or Reason’s on the insanely reckless no-knock raids that all too often kill Americans (or their pets).
I worry that many progressives are letting their universalism muscle atrophy. So many of these situations — dying of a preventable disease because you couldn’t get, or refused to accept, a vaccine; being arrested on the thinnest of pretenses and then railroaded in a trial so stacked against you it’s borderline Soviet; having access to only the lowest-quality schools and parks and cops — trigger a deep-seated sense of unfairness in those who read or hear about them. And while in many of these cases blacks suffer more than any other group, it’s nonetheless true that millions and millions and millions of people of every color face these problems in the richest nation on earth, and that we should be able to do better. That belief is the whole backbone of contemporary American progressivism!"
Universalism: the wave of the past.....and the future!

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