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April 02, 2008

A Progressive Creed

By: Bernard Chazelle

A few months ago, Jon featured an interesting post by The Scanner about the ideological vacuum on the left.

I mostly agreed with The Scanner's insights, but I thought I should try and figure out why things are so bad and what can be done about it.


by Bernard Chazelle

The American left is in the throes of an existential crisis. Some say it's a failure of nerve, others a loss of belief. It is the latter. Neoliberalism has sucked the oxygen out of the left by deflating the political sphere to...

To what? Click here to find out.

—Bernard Chazelle

Posted at April 2, 2008 03:14 PM

Bernard - Since when do blog entries have footnotes? If I wanted footnotes, I would be doing my actual job!

Posted by: Aaron Datesman at April 2, 2008 05:36 PM

I was pleasantly surprised to find your exceptional,thought-provoking essay on my daily visit to Counterpunch(it really is America's best political newsletter).
My daughter is currently working for a progressive Democratic congressional candidate in Des Moines(Ed Fallon)who's trying to unseat a blue dog,Bush-leaning Democrat in the primary.I sent her the link asking her to share it with her candidate.

Posted by: BobS. at April 2, 2008 06:15 PM

Almost half a century ago, SDS issued the Port Huron statement, a creed for young, progressive Americans. Then,in 1962, they saw much in the USA that "oppressed or rankled our conciences."
No more. That audience, exempting a few pockets at places like Evergreen or Oberlin, is pretty much gone. So, who's gonna present the creed to blue-collar and white-collar Americans, screwed by the establishment's sytem? And after at least thirty years of a culture of greed and self-absorption--Oprah tastes and Wall Street values--who could still listen and care? The do "want" things, but for themelves and not within the context of the common good. WTF is that? A creed? Don't the Boy Scouts have one of those?
Look how well the Right has done its job: most Americans believe the Sixties were a period in which students committed "excesses."
We can only dream of such "excesses" now. In the global economy, we're all good Germans together.

Posted by: donescobar at April 2, 2008 06:24 PM
Such cartoonish ontological moorings induce in many the despair of the void.

Good lord, what is that? This despair of the void? Need I point out that BestBuy is filled with HDTV cornucopia. Most of prime time is in HD too.

I suggest that despair of the void comes from the expectation/disinformation that greatness, fame, statues celebrating us, ambition, are for all of us, missing the point that we are mortal, petty and wrapped in self-absorption and deserve none of it. And shall get none of it if not doled out by our betters.

Do you have anything in stewardship creeds? If you can make stewardship sexy, we may be onto something.

Americans can love their country or they can turn a blind eye to poverty and segregation: they cannot do both. Patriotic citizenship is the commitment to a society that grants all of its members the means to belong. It is an affirmation of solidarity.

Huh? Citizenship is a term of exclusivity, not much more nuanced than George W's, "you're with me or against me".

The conservative notion of patriotic citizenship is based on sacrificing one's life for high principles seldom attained by trailer park class -- To throw oneself on that grenade without deliberating on who will raise your offspring or bed your wife once you're a pink mist cloud. That's patriotic citizenship of the conservatives; not this overwrought "live your life with empathy" drivel. Sure, it sounds grand, but...

It's easy to leap onto that grenade. It's hard and tedious to help quell inequality a little each day.

Otherwise a nice essay.

Posted by: angryman@24:10 at April 2, 2008 07:51 PM

that's odd. i could've sworn there was an actual pressing need for popular engagement.

Posted by: hapa at April 2, 2008 07:54 PM

nice essay! tho. very hmm provoking.

Posted by: hapa at April 2, 2008 07:55 PM

to clarify: i am not angryman@24:10.

Posted by: hapa at April 2, 2008 07:57 PM

Hey, I'm all down for nationalizing Halliburton and KBR, selling their shit and using the money to fix the levees and pumps, at least, so those folks in NOLA can get insurance. BUT YOU KNOW nothing good is going to happen as long as George and Dick are around. Its a fact. (1-202-225-0100)

Posted by: Mike Meyer at April 2, 2008 08:17 PM

I realize that may have sounded a bit harsh; but I want you to realize that, if I had not thought it to be a worthwhile article, I wouldn't have bothered wasting my time.
And if I did not consider you to be a worthwhile writer, I wouldn't have bothered giving you feedback as to how to improve your next article with this subject matter.

As the Proverbs state:
As iron sharpens iron, so is a man to the countenance of his friend.

I meet you with iron, because I consider you as a companion along the same path.

Posted by: Progressive Traditionalist at April 2, 2008 09:40 PM

Not a hell of a lot of interest in the "existential crisis" of the Left. Maybe existential crises are a province of the French. Maybe the Left has become a thing of the past in America, as dead as the Soviet Union it used to get mentioned with knee-jerkishly.
Maybe Woody Allen spoke for Americans when he said Dissent and Commentary might as well merge, and we'd get Dissentary.
We got it. Enjoy.

Posted by: donescobar at April 3, 2008 01:05 PM

PROGRESSIVES today have the greatest cause ever to fight for in an effort tt "save" mankind from himself. Get rid of GEORGE BUSH AND DICK CHENEY. That ALONE could "possibly" bring back Habeas Corpus and the 5th AMENDMENT, not to mention a "chance" for some sense of privacy in one's daily life.

Posted by: Mike Meyer at April 3, 2008 01:55 PM

I would like someone to write an essay on how neoliberalism, while being (it seems) highly unpopular, has become synonymous with 'democracy'.

Sure, I understand - progressive-schmogressive, american left, crisis, all that - but what it sounds like to me, all's needed is to install a musharraf-style dictator who will stop bribery and corruption and implement some obvious policies favored by 60-70% of the population.

Do I sound progressive? Left? Well, yeah, left, maybe. But left without any existential crisis, I hope.

Posted by: abb1 at April 3, 2008 02:27 PM

I'm not chiding, angryman, but voicing sadness. A few people (Lasch, Riesman) saw what's coming about thirty years ago. Now we're here, and Joe Bageant captures the absence of rage on Counterpunch. In the halls of Ivy, no more Riesmans and hardly any interest in anything beyond the self.

Posted by: donescobar at April 3, 2008 02:34 PM

I also see a search going on now for a progressive creed, philosophy, or more deeply for a set of principles or even more deeply an articulated set of progressive values. Many people are offering up their set of progressive values. I think it's more of a process to get all progressives sharing their values and seeing what emerges. To that end, I've been working on a Progressive values documentary and been posting daily Progressive Values Stories. see

Posted by: edwin rutsch at April 3, 2008 06:33 PM

Blind shoving the fucking blind---again. YOU do NOT see what YOU really ARE or what YOU are capable of, ya just seem to want to cry over what happened to Noam thirty years ago. UNDERSTAND, THE INTERNET IS THE NEW THIRD PARTY AND THE BLOGOSPHERE ITS POLITBUREAU. Sadly, today's politician will NEVER love you because its too easy to find facts about YOUR politician and they are ALL old school. (lie alot) YOU are a party without a candidate because they fear both moonbats and wingnuts EQUALLY. The BLOGS (both bat and nut)have NO candidate they can trust because THE TRUTH seems to ALWAYS show up sooner and more detailed here than any where else. I'm voting for Michael Meyer.

Posted by: Mike Meyer at April 3, 2008 06:57 PM

i'm voting for stabilizing CO2 at 350 ppm, with a 450 ppm peak, because i believe children are the future.

Posted by: hapa at April 3, 2008 08:52 PM


Thanks for sharing. I have forwarded the link to several others, and will spend more time with it myself as well.

Progressive Traditionalist referred obliquely to your post at another site in the course of a dialogue with another poster. May I recommend that you visit this site for its educational value, particularly in matters economic? The site in question is The Dark Wraith Forums:

The Dark Wraith is a Curmudgeon, and I mean that in the most complimentary way; he offers sound information on various topics and takes no guff from those blinkered by uncritical adherence to memes from either the Right or the Left. But he sure as hell is no David Broder; rather, to my mind, he is a pragmatic populist, someone whose fundamental sympathies are with the fabled little guy. But don't worry overmuch about my inadequate characterization, just drop by and see it you might find his offerings to be of use.

My respects to all. Well, maybe not xyz...

Posted by: JerseyJeffersonian at April 3, 2008 09:03 PM

The Dark Wraith had some videos of him, teaching economics that popped up some years ago at various sites. I think I may have seen them on Economist's View and Dispatches from the Culture Wars and I note them now on the left bottom of his blog. At the time, the consensus discussion may have settled on his hairstyle. Mullet perhaps? A variant of the mullet? For some reason during those drive-by viewings of some videos, I got the impression that he tended towards libertarianism, if left leaning at that.

His site is lucid, but I think there are fundamentally two types of blogs: observational and pontificatory (assertion based).

Closing lines like, "The Dark Wraith has spoken" gives one an inkling to the type. But professors in general would tend to fall into that category, no?

Posted by: angryman@24:10 at April 4, 2008 09:03 AM

"inspiring the masses to share our worldview"
(quoted by hapa, above)

But first, you gotta understand the daily frustrations, thwarted ambitions, capitalist dreams and ultimate resignations of "the masses."
Without living among them and working alongside them, can't be done. Even the visits and resulting books by the likes of Barbara Ehrenreich
don't get you there. Joe Bageant gets closer.
Small victories, in small places; combining little pieces of "social justice" with large doses of sports, patriotism, bad beer and bad jokes. Who, proclaiming a democratic-socialist "worldview," is willing to spend his or her life doing it?

Posted by: donescobar at April 4, 2008 11:17 AM
I'm not chiding, angryman, but voicing sadness. A few people (Lasch, Riesman) saw what's coming about thirty years ago. Now we're here, and Joe Bageant captures the absence of rage on Counterpunch. In the halls of Ivy, no more Riesmans and hardly any interest in anything beyond the self.

I'm probably speaking to myself, but donescobar, what do you attribute this to? I reviewed Lasch, Reisman and Bageant's recent piece. Two guys asserting, one observing more than asserting. If you've written more about this elsewhere, I'd like to see it.

I personally don't care if people get rich while contributing clear value. On the other hand, I care deeply when they do it off the backs of the exploited -- here in the US, or elsewhere. But what is the progressive to do -- step outside of day-to-day, mind-numbing reality facilitated by rule of law that concentrates power in the few and fleeces by design? What makes us passive is availability of comfort and easy credit that enslaves even educated Americans.

And hapa, your comment on learning from the cultural conservatives?

Do you think it has to do with 1) an authoritarian bent on conservative decision making, and 2) the concentrated application of money (larger sums, fewer contributers, clear focus with shorter term gains) in that group?

We're making inroads -- but uneasy inroads according to Bageant. So we (progressives) are becoming homogeneous enough by the necessity of looming catastrophe....what's there to be optimistic about if catastrophe is what binds us?

Posted by: angryman@24:10 at April 4, 2008 11:33 AM

good questions, angryman

For me, the Seventies were the key--politically and culturally--leading, gradually, to abandonment of social commitment and cultural standards. RR's election a signal, the faux conservative revolution, which conserved nothing, and pushed only the phony dream of a society where everyone could become rich. The profs had their revenge and made curricula into buffets of bullshit and jargon. Self-esteem, not rigor, ruled the campus, everyone is an A under Oprah.
Writing about it, yes, but publishing it (despite praise from agents and editors) is another matter. Can't tell you more than that.
I like Bageant. Riesman should be read together with C. Wright Mills. Those were heady days. Now we're into transgendered bathrooms.

Posted by: donescobar at April 4, 2008 12:01 PM

Great post---deep thoughts, but can YOU make a phonecall and CAN YOU talk a hell of a lot of other people (Humans) to call. SIMPLICITY is the essence of successful revolution. (one step, one day at a time)1-202-225-0100

Posted by: Mike Meyer at April 4, 2008 04:44 PM