Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Too dumb

I don't get this criticism of Chris Hedges and his newest book. It was cited in comments here, and John Caruso replied that it was basically self-refuting, referring to the criticism, I think. But when Shivani cites twenty-odd philosophers and cultural critics of the mid-20th century in arguing that Hedges' argument is half a century old, I don't know enough to keep up, so I sort of half-nod and don't know what he means.

I go into it assuming Shivani, like this critique from SMBIVA, is attacking Hedges, one of the few public liberals I actually like, from the left. Indeed, he hits the essential incoherence of the "liberal class" idea, and attacks the idea that at some point, this agglomeration was a responsible part of the citizenry, on the side of the working class, not crackpot realists for endless war, or something. But he goes off twice on Hedges for not supporting globalization, which he maintains is vastly improving the economic situation of South to East Asia. And suddenly I have to recalibrate my conceptual apparatus (where I handily box in commentators because classifying things is great). Shivani claims globalization and the theory of comparative advantage as one of the great victories of liberalism, and I realize two things (or think I do).

1. Shivani is here using "liberal" in the original sense, still prevalent outside the US, not the sense of "social democracy."

2. Shivani is not the socialist I expected, but a social democrat of some stripe with an unusual faith in the efficacy and justice of the "free market."

To me, globalization has resulted in convenient new ways to distribute wealth upward, and contributed to the exploitation of workers on six continents. I would expect that the evidence he would adduce for the beneficial effects of neoliberalism would not actually establish a causal connection — some of most of the advances in the standard of living would be in spite of, not because of, capitalism. He advocates "the free movement of capital and people," but in reality, it is only the capital that moves freely; the people cannot. To me, this part of "globalization" is a lie. And my understanding is that many economies, notably South Korea's and that of the US, were built up by protectionism.

But I am not convinced that I could defend these views of mine at any greater length than I just have. I could not give an opinion on whether Hedges has gotten it utterly wrong about American art. Nor could I say in what way Hedges' views follow those of the people Shivani claims in various parts of the article:
Reinhold Niebuhr, Theodor Adorno, Hannah Arendt, Walter Benjamin, Umberto Eco, Neal Gabler, Aldous Huxley, Walter Lippmann, C. Wright Mills, Ortega y Gassett, George Orwell, Neil Postman, David Riesman, William H. Whyte, Noam Chomsky, Sheldon Wolin, Dennis Kucinich, Edward Bernays, Dwight MacDonald, James Howard Kunstler, Nouriel Roubini, Naomi Klein, Paul Krugman, Jared Diamond, Malthus, Neal Gabler, Russell Jacoby, Mark Helprin, Jaron Lanier, and Arthur Schlesinger.
In short, I know nothing and rely on others to provide me my opinions.

Surprisingly, Shivani thinks that Hedges' views should instead be informed by Immanuel Wallerstein, Tzvetan Todorov, David Harvey, Ulrich Beck, or Slavoj Žižek," at least three of whom I know to be Marxists, and assume not to be huge fans of globalization. Finally, I admit that I don't know where this author is coming from, nor can I debate him. I can merely, stubbornly and without justification, disagree.


  1. Shivani is incoherent and a shameless name dropper. You hit the most glaring incoherence squarely. Neoliberalism is upward redistribution. There is no honest argument to be made in its favor.

    The name dropping is pure charlatanism. It's akin to saying someone has been influenced by carbon-based life. Every well-read liberal is going to show signs of influence from most or all those writers. Every well-read person, of whatever ideology, will too.

    Hedges is a blossoming curmudgeon with flaws. I've plenty of disagreements, but I like the direction he's taking.

  2. Thanks, Al.

    I feel like I have to do a lot of reading to figure out who I've been influenced by, though. Crap.

  3. Ha! That's delicious. I like.

    I've found that I'm most influenced by interaction with people who read the same stuff I do, less so by the authors. Unless I interact with them too. The exception would be Arthur Silber, who is attuned to his readers like few other writers and authoritative in his basic human decency.

  4. I've definitely been influenced by my blogroll more than by books, but that's probably because I don't read enough books. Thanks for your comments, by the way. It's somehow reassuring that someone's been reading my effluvia.