Thursday, October 9, 2008

Tell 'em they're dreaming

Wendy Brown argues that one way to understand the American Right is to leave aside the desire to see it as a social formation bearing a homogeneous ideology and instead sit it on the couch and listen to its fantasies as 'dreamwork'. In the process she also suggests that the Left might also have to move beyond Left Melancholy and face the loss of aspects of Liberalism:

However, the figure of dreamwork taken up for political analysis also promises to puncture the conceit of our innocence and virtue: dreams often tell us things we would rather not know about ourselves, in particular revealing identifications and desires we consciously disavow. Patterning political analysis after dreamwork thus threatens to puncture a left political moralizing impulse that wants everything the right stands for to be driven by nefariousness, smallness, or greed, and everything we do to be generously minded and good, an impulse that casts Us and Them in seamless and opposing moralpolitical universes.

[T]he problematic of thinking together American neoconservatism— a fierce moral-political rationality—and neoliberalism—a market-political rationality that exceeds its peculiarly American instantiation and that does not align exclusively with any political persuasion. The aim is not to understand the project of the American right tout court, as if there were such a unified endeavor or entity behind it, but to apprehend how these two rationalities, themselves composite, inadvertently converge at crucial points to extend a cannibalism of liberal democracy already underway from other sources in the past half century. Nor is the aim to sentimentalize liberal democracy as such, but rather to grasp the implications of its waning as a political form, and even to pose a question about whether democracy continues to have meaning as a term or aspiration. If, as I have suggested elsewhere, the institutions as well as the political culture comprising liberal democracy are passing into history, the left is faced both with the project of mourning what it never wholly loved and with the task of dramatically resetting its critique and vision in terms of the historical supersession of liberal democracy, and not only of failed socialist experiments.

Tom Frank in today's Wall Street Journal seems to be edging toward a dreamwork analysis as he attempts to come to terms with the contradiction of a Republican party simultaneously calling for smaller Government, claiming that Government is the problem, all the while wanting to get into Government so that it can stuff Government which only goes to prove that Government is the problem - lookit how it makes things worse. Gosh darn it and Sheesh.

Conservative misrule, prompted by conservative disdain for government, proves that government cannot be trusted -- and that the only answer is to elect another round of government-denouncing conservatives.

"Cynicism" seems too small a word for this circular kind of political fraud. One reaches instead for images of grosser malevolence. It's like suggesting that the best way to recover from pneumonia is to stand in the rain for three hours. It's like arguing that the way to solve nuclear proliferation is by handing out weapons-grade plutonium to everyone who asks for it.

Consider also the perverse incentives that such a logic would establish. If we validate Mrs. Palin's thoughts on federal bungling by electing her to the high office she seeks, we are encouraging her to bungle everything that comes her way. After all, by her thinking, such bungling will not discredit her doctrines but rather confirm them, demonstrate the need for more Sarah Palins down the road. We will be asking for it, and it's not much of a stretch to predict that we will get it.

No comments: