Can the Left Govern?


Recently I was asked to participate in a symposium on Michael Berube’s “The Left At War” for the journal “Politics and Culture.”  I took the author to be scolding those he calls the “Manichean Left” because they threatened the ability of the Left to govern in what might be a dawning Progressive age.  I took the opportunity to reflect on whether the Left can govern in the United States.  You can read the entire essay here.  Below is a sample:

Berube sketches a moral outline for his version of the social-democratic left.  He makes his case in normative language and wants the left to work toward a wide variety of policies that improve the nation and the world relative to these moral ideals.  But serious progress on this policy agenda, seemingly possible after the election of 2008, requires connecting with the people of Kansas.  Berube wants a politically savvy left to take this opportunity and persuade the broad middle of America that the left’s policies are the best expressions of the American self.  Drawing from Franklin Roosevelt’s four freedoms, Berube believes that a caring social democracy that protects the vulnerable and that moves closer to international governance rooted in these moral principles is a reasonable expectation.

For Berube’s high moral agenda of a world made just, I detect NOTHING that approaches a story.  Conservatism 2.0, however historically thin, nonetheless tells a story of America that allows citizens to play a role in a comprehendible reality.  Being American matters to them because it situates them in a particular, understandable, laudable narrative.  Who could love something as abstract as humanity—cold, faceless, and, one has to assume, eventually bland?  I may not find a story about natural rights and a city on a hill to be sufficiently rich with historical texture to satisfy my needs for roots, but this “conservative” story is amazingly attractive to people who want to believe that their nation’s story has cosmic purpose, and that its flaws are not so much a result of evil as of a well-meaning but naïve people.  The problem with the left is not that they critique this story—it is that they have no story of their own that allows the people of Kansas to find a role to play.  For this purpose (to say nothing of his great many failings as a historian), Howard Zinn has nothing to offer Americans. Because the left cannot tell a story of America, they cannot govern.

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Ted McAllister is a native of Oklahoma, now living in Moorpark, California with his wife, Dena, and his two children, Elisa and Luke. He yearns for his own chunk of land and for those bits of nature that please him, but not for farming or for unnecessary drudgery of the sort that involves physical labor.  He is an aesthetic agrarian, not a practicing one. Educated as an Intellectual and Cultural Historian at Vanderbilt University, he now teaches at Pepperdine University’s School of Public Policy where he pursues with his students the enduring questions rather than the particular answers.  His book, Revolt Against Modernity:  Leo Strauss, Eric Voegelin, and the Search for a Post-Liberal Order launched him into the study of political philosophy, though his epistemological orientation is much shaped by his training as a historian.  Working presently on Walter Lippmann as well as a US History textbook, he expects soon to write a multi-volume history of the Baby-boomers.


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