Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Ross Douthat’s Critique of Modernity

12/30/2015—Last Sunday, New York Times columnist, Ross Douthat, published an op-ed entitled Cracks in the Liberal Order. The column was widely republished, including appearing in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. The point of the column was that in the twenty five years since the fall of the Berlin Wall in November, 1989, there has been a liberal consensus about capitalism, the rule of law and democracy. (Douthat does not actually describe the prevailing consensus). But now, all that is under pressure and even if it survives, it will not look impregnable.

In Europe especially, the elites of modernity have pushed continental integration, which is now under pressure from violent Islamic extremism, on the one hand, and massive immigration, on the other. No longer can these elites keep political movements of the right and left at bay.

Another part of the crack up is the decline of the Pax Americana, which has never looked so weak.

In America, Trump on the right and the new New Left of Black Lives Matter and the socialism of Bernie Sanders, shows that also in America, extremism is on the rise. Illiberal politics is growing.

Now, quite aside from the slipperiness of all Douthat’s terms—modernity goes back a long way and all but Islamic extremists are quite modern—this is a very irresponsible column. I don’t mean it is inaccurate. I don’t mean that Douthat should have kept such bad news under wraps. And I don’t mean that Douthat had a responsibility to come up with some alternatives.

No. By irresponsibility, Douthat should have acknowledged his own guilt. How has he contributed to all this? That is the responsibility all of us have. For example, the real source of the crack up in America is not Black protest and flirtations with socialism, but the inability of capitalism to deliver benefits to most people. It’s the growth of the 1% that Douthat is not particularly bothered about. And in Europe too, the deal was wealth to the rich as well as security to everyone else. The deal has broken down.

Now, how do I practice what I preach? How do I contribute to the crack up? Well, part of the crack up is the weakening of organized religion and I left Judaism. Part of the crack up is the inability of secularity to imagine flourishing social structures for people or to develop even understandings of hope and transcendence that would make sense in a secular world. I certainly have not solved that problem.

Yes, undoubtedly a crack up. Much more needs to be said that Douthat is willing to say.

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