Tuesday, February 8, 2022

Farewell Todd Gitlin. If Only We'd Listened to You Back in 1995!

I'd always been a fan of Todd Gitlin's work so I was sad to sse he passed away. RIP. John Halpin at The Liberal Patriot reminds us how prescient Gitlin was about the way culture wars could ruin left politics--way back in 1995! In his piece he excerpts two passages from his 1995 book, The Twilight of Common Dreams: Why America is Wracked by Culture Wars. Read them and weep that we did not pay closer attention back then.
Excerpt #1:
"On campus, today’s obsession with difference is distinguished, too, by the haughtiness of the tribes and the scope of their intellectual claims. Many exponents of identity politics are fundamentalists—in the language of the academy, “essentialists”—and the belief in essential group differences easily swerves toward a belief in superiority…
The cultivation of difference is nothing new, but the sheer profusion of identities that claim separate political standing today is unprecedented. And here is perhaps the strangest novelty in the current situation: that the ensemble of group recognitions should take up so much of the energy of what passes for the Left. It is often for good reason that differences have multiplied, making their claims, exposing the fraudulence of the universalist claims of the past. Not everyone is male, white, hearing, heterosexual. Very well. But what is a Left if it is not, plausibly at least, the voice of a whole people? For the Left as for the rest of America, the question is not whether to recognize the multiplicity of American groups, the variety of American communities, the disparity of American experiences. Those exist as long as people think they exist. The question is one of proportion. What is a Left without a commons, even a hypothetical one? If there is no people, but only peoples, there is no Left."
Excerpt #2:
"A Left that was serious about winning political power and reducing the inequality of wealth and income would stop lambasting all white men, and would take it as elementary to reduce frictions among white men, blacks, white women, and Hispanics. Could it be more obvious that the Left and the Democrats alike are helpless unless they offer all these constituencies something they benefit from in common? At the same time, a Left is not a Left unless it defends the scapegoated poor, tries to deliver for them (along with the not-so-poor) training, decent jobs, and provision for children, acknowledging that the present welfare state is not kind to the poor. But multiculturalism by itself does not contribute to that political revival. The most insistent multiculturalists do not seem to recognize that there is no Left, there is only more panic, unless a plausible hope emerges for a greater equality of means. The right to a job, education, medical care, housing, retraining over the course of a lifetime—these are the bare elements of an economic citizenship that ought to be universal."
Read the whole thing at The Liberal Patriot....and subscribe, it's free!
A Politics of Commonalities, Not Differences
A Politics of Commonalities, Not Differences
Todd Gitlin’s prophetic book "The Twilight of Common Dreams" laid out the problems of identity politics—in 1995.

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