Friday, 16 July 2010

The Liberal Elite?

It's Ideology, Stupid!

It is often pointed out by those on the Right that most left-wing figures and representatives are intellectuals, writers and politicians - the liberal elite that Fox News reviles. The implication being that the Left is out of touch with the "grass-roots" folk, that their views and theories do not resonate with hard-working families and average blue-collar citizens. This is the typical reactionary populist device, which turns it's opponents into an exploitative and oppressive "elite" from which only a right-wing rebellion can save us. The irony of all of this is that the Right are more likely to believe in a "vanguard" today. When arguably it was once the Left that embraced such ideas, as seen with Lenin, and have long since abandoned them. Whereas today, it is neoconservatives who believe in the use of "noble lies", which presupposes an embrace of elitism, to achieve political goals that are for the good of society.

Of course, the idea of an enlightened elite acting as the guiding force of the masses goes back further than the Left-Right labels which emerged from the French Revolution. It probably originates in Plato's notion of "philosopher-kings". Though it is true that the most prominent leftists are intellectuals, writers etc. but that is not a testament to the "dissonance" between radical ideas and the working-class. As the working-class is the origin of such ideas and has been the driving force of radical politics in the past. The strange way that right-wing views have become common among the working-class is down to the mass-media and it's involvement in propagating ideology. For decades there was a staunchly radical press in Britain and America, which was popular among working-people, which has been decimated over the last 50 years. As the media became dependent on advertising revenue, and by extension "Big Business", dissent was drowned out.

Consequently, as the radical press has been marginalised, a reactionary press has emerged to propagate the prevailing ideology of our times - which could be described as state-capitalist. Ideology being a belief system, which extends to how the world and life is interpreted, which does not necessarily require the belief of participants. If the ideology is all pervasive this is definitely the case, as it shapes the environment in which we live and is almost totally inescapable. In the case of South Africa, during Apartheid, say you come across a bench designated only for whites to use. In you're mind you go over the reasons that this is utterly despicable and racist, you express your opposition to the racism of the state and so on. But, because you are white and tired, you sit down on the bench anyway and the dominant ideology remains intact.

Common Sense?

Most right-wing views can be delivered from a simplistic "common sense" position, deeming it's reactionary conclusion to be "obviously" correct and rational, usually with little to no opposition. The Right has little need for intellectuals for this very reason, at best intellectuals serve merely to stamp out dissent and disguise policy. The task of leftists is to break apart the dominant ideology, creating a space in which to "form" a new ideology to radically transform society. This is the same reason that there are left-wing political parties explicitly called "Communist" and "Socialist", whereas right-wing parties are never called "Capitalist". The task of the Right is not to radically "change" society, at least not the same way as the Left, but to maintain and reinvent the status quo. So "Capitalist" is often replaced with "Conservative" as the name for such political parties.

As class has become an ignored issue in today's world, ignored by politicians and by the media, class consciousness is greatly diminished. At the same time issues relating to social policy, where the Right specialises in peddling easy answers, such as abortion, gay rights and immigration etc. become major areas of debate. Appealing to bigotry is typically the way right-wing political parties win votes amongst the working-class. In the US the white working-class typically vote in relation to gun ownership and religiosity. George W Bush won over these voters in 2004 by backing gun permits, which allow people to carry concealed firearms into churches, whilst opposing abortion and gay marriage on "moral grounds". Whereas, the upper-classes tend to vote according to economic policy, taxes and health-care.

Only people with enough time, motivation and resources can commit to the kind of research and reading necessary to understand the Left's arguments. Meanwhile, we are constantly bombarded with right-wing views and commentary through the media, the internet and even in popular culture. The majority of the population has to work, to earn money for the basics but also to save up for luxuries and pay-off debts, therefore they cannot commit to such research projects. Exceptions being occupations where there is a great deal of freedom for the worker, academic positions are an instance of this. This is the reason that teachers and students have been at the forefront of dissent and activism for decades. Slavoj Žižek, Noam Chomsky, Howard Zinn and David Harvey have all held, or still do hold, an academic position of some sort. All are writers, a tradition of great freedom in the "work place".


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J.T. White said...

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