[Cross-posted to In Medias Res]
This October, Front Porch Republic will host its annual conference in Geneseo, NY, just a short day’s drive from Burlington, Vermont, the home current presidential candidate, Bernie Sanders. Senator Sanders will not, I am confident, make an appearance. But if he did (and who knows? this is a self-identifying democratic socialist who has accepted an invitation to speak at the conservative evangelical school Liberty University, after all) I wonder if both he and those attending the conference wouldn’t be surprised to recognize all the small yet important convictions they have in common.
Obviously, there are some pretty large obstacles in the way of any FPR-Bernie Sanders rapprochement, the fact that Sanders in an aggressive and unapologetic defender of abortion rights being just one of them. But if you can look beyond those hot-burning cultural issues, one can see (as I’ve pointed out before) that Sanders’s almost-certainly-quixotic-but-nonetheless-still-valuable crusade to force the Democratic party to wrestle more seriously with economic and political inequality in this country potentially has important localist, small-d democratic, and even conservative (properly understood) aspects to it. His opposition to America’s military-industrial complex, his defense of unions, his suspicion of fast-track trade agreements, his firm support for environmental sustainability, his displeasure with a theory of capitalism premised upon every-expanding consumerism, his push for maternity leave policies, even his advocacy of single-payer health insurance system: all can be understood as approaches that can aid in keeping families, neighborhoods, communities, and our physical environments intact and strong. Many might reject that particular kind of populist, Jeffersonian democratic localism–and, of course, a lot of folks will quite reasonably ask why it even matters, since fighting over our nation’s top political prize will do little to affect real, local cultural change. On that final point, I pretty much completely agree: what happens in our school districts and city councils and state legislatures is almost certainly far more important than who happens to occupy the top slot in our dysfunctional national government. But at the same time, one of the great things about having an actual democratic socialist–or at least someone who isn’t afraid to make use of the label–on the national stage is because it can help clarify things–particularly, just where one’s priorities are, and that’s the sort of thing which really can matter locally.
So, consider the one of the latest in a series of reasons why Bernie Sanders–supposedly the most left-leaning serious presidential candidate to be found anywhere in the land–sometimes seems oddly (and, for some progressive liberals, off-puttingly) “conservative.” No, not the complicated case advanced by some activists that Sanders’s focus on social and economic justice implicitly makes him dismissive of racial issues (an accusation that more than a few Republicans have picked up and ran with). Rather, consider a recent interview in which Sanders was pressed to embrace the “international” perspective presumably baked into his own quasi-socialist views, and instead shocked his interview by making it clear that he believes the whole idea of an “open border” world, wherein immigration and global movement of persons could take place without much (or perhaps even any) regard to citizenship and sovereignty, is basically an idea that only those on the side of powerful corporations who benefit from cheap labor could love.
It was hard for his liberal interviewer to wrap his head around the idea that someone who supported the equal treatment of persons would structure that support in terms of defined community: in this case, in terms of the American nation-state. Sanders’s own words make it clear he’s no xenophobe (“I think what we need to be doing as a global economy is making sure that people in poor countries have decent-paying jobs, have education, have health care, have nutrition for their people…that is a moral responsibility”), but in failing to properly burnish his globalist bona fides, it wasn’t long before libertarians and the business-capital-friendly factions of the Republican party figured they had Sanders’s number. Turns out he’s a “tribalist,” a “nationalist” (and quite possibly a Nazi to boot), a “fascist,” and a “plutocrat who hates the [global] poor.” Even allowing for the hysterical and often at least partly tongue-in-cheek accusations which social media today invariably encourages, it is genuinely striking just how much disbelief and invective can be generated when someone on the national stage unapologetically argues that allowing the economic benefits of international capital to tumble forth upon all individuals in the aggregate might not, actually, be the best possible recipe for either a just society or a healthy democratic community.
I will happily grant that it is no more obviously an economic good to focus on the jobs and wages of a defined community than it is to explode those definitions so as to enabled goods and persons to travel everywhere that global capital calls them. The economics of immigration are complicated–and they aren’t done any favors when defenders of Sanders trot out statements like this one by Richard Eskow which include multiple easily disputable claims. Eskow’s piece isn’t nearly as bad as some online commentators suggest, but it does make some pretty egregious groaners, such as comparing the open borders concept to exploitative guest worker programs, which isn’t so much a case of comparing apples and oranges as one of comparing apples and barbed wire. Still, it’s not as though the attacks on Sanders’s priorities always make that much sense either; in this piece by Daniel Bier, the strict economic prioritarianism is so blinding that the man doesn’t need any cultural filters; he obviously can’t see the cultural variables and consequences at work in his open borders thought experiment even though they directly involve some of the most broadly and hotly discussed sociological realities in the world today.
(I’m thinking here specifically of Bier’s dismissal of the protectionist claim made on behalf of Sanders’s caution regarding the consequences of flooding a specific market with workers; Bier simply asserts that, since “the economy is a dynamic, organic system that creates jobs in response to supply and demand,” the market will always effectively handle any changes: after all, he snarks, “the dramatic increase in women’s participation in the labor force over the last 60 years did not drive men out of the job market.” Now, that’s technically true…if, that is, one looks at raw numbers and basically nothing else. However, even briefly perusing this or this or this or a hundred other studies which chart the gender-specific consequences of America’s movement towards a more egalitarian, post-industrial economy over the past two generations, makes it clear that, far from seamless adaptation, there have been huge externalities to this change. Please note: I am absolutely not suggesting a general reversal of those changes–there are far too many social benefits and historical factors involved for anyone who isn’t a determined reactionary to even pretend to such a posture, I think. By the same token, Bernie Sanders, even if he isn’t a complete enthusiast for unlimited immigration, absolutely recognizes the moral as well as economic need to be conscious of the global changes and pressures always ongoing around us. It’s just that he clearly feels a need to be responsible to other, cultural and communal priorities as well, and strives to strike balances accordingly.)
Insisting that cultural goods both should be and frankly are inseparably entwined with economic calculations is–for presumably pretty basic philosophical reasons–often simply infuriating to many liberal individualists. Poor people are starving, less-poor people are willing to pay them to mow their lawns, the poor people can get food money from those transactions, after which they won’t starve: QED! Therefore, allowing one’s culture to create obstacles to poor people getting to where the life-saving contracts can be found can only be labeled a tyrannical horror. And if human beings really did live at 35,000 feet, surveying the patterns which emerge below (“look, cultural disruption here, followed by a new local synthesis over there!”), I suppose I might agree that making policy judgments solely a matter of calculating aggregates is all that would be necessary.
But this is where the Front Porch comes in–we humans (most of us, most of the time, anyway) aren’t actually moral surveyors, but rather embedded creatures, whose affections and attachments and identities put limits upon our priorities and valuations: limits that need to be acknowledged for the meaningful phenomena they are. Cultures aren’t something that only “natives” have; we all contribute to and are shaped by such social patterns, and to treat such embeddedness as always and easily trumped by the suffering which exists in the world (especially given that our understanding of suffering is itself a culturally formed understanding!) is, I think, highly simplistic. Does that mean I agree it is always defensible to express cultural limits in terms of, say, national borders that have less than an absolute openness to all others who wish to immigrate to their country? Not in the least, because to refuse to acknowledge the ways that nationalism can become unjustly exclusionary is both stupid and immoral. Which is something Senator Sanders knows, a knowledge that is reflected in both his support for the DREAM Act but also his opposition to many de facto guest worker programs pushed, in his view, primarily by large corporations. You can dispute the effectiveness or morality of that particular balancing act, but at least its an acknowledgement of the necessary–even, in some way, the enriching–limitations on what it takes to build democratically expressed principles into the structures of society. Harold Meyerson defends this conservative insight from a social democratic perspective; the fact that it finds very little historical or theoretical defense from those who speak from a strongly neoliberal/capitalist or libertarian perspective (which are, of course, pretty influential strands amongst the mainstream of both the Republican and Democratic parties) is exactly the reason why Porchers, and others, may appreciate the clarity that Bernie Sanders’s crusade is forcing into our political discourse.
Not that I, or anyone who pays attention to such things, ought to expect Sanders’s campaign to actually change much about American political discourse (no more than we ought to expect that Sanders might actually, you know, win). Such radical changes in the direction of left conservative insights can only emerge from long, hard, patient, everyday work amongst ones neighbors and communities and friends. But for now, this particular localist-populist-egalitarian is happy we have a democratic socialist generating conversations–and not just about immigration. The more all this news coverage even just accidentally induces sproductive rethinking about both the social importance and the moral limits of communities (include national ones), the better. If nothing else, it may make the local and cultural arguments which need to happen that much easier to start.
At a minimum, the FPR should be able to get beyond (as I think we do) Left/Right, capitalist/socialist labels.
I fully agree, John. I am of the mind, though, that being able to see those labels more clearly (as a presidential campaign potentially allows) is a necessary step to getting beyond them.
I’m a lifelong registered Republican who recently switched to Dem just so I can vote for Sanders in my state’s primary. I vehemently disagree with him on several big issues (most notably abortion) but am supporting his campaign for some of the reasons articulated above. Perhaps, and I may be deluding myself here, his campaign will make it more likely that in my lifetime we’ll see a realignment of our national politics that brings forth candidates who combine Bernie’s brand of progressive populism with traditionalist views on family and culture.
Well spoken, Stephen. Your feelings are very similar to my own. Look, obviously presidential politics is something of a charade; mostly it only affects the way we live through all the indirect (and unnecessary) attention paid to it, and the few ways it does directly affect our lives is typically the result of structural influences that are far beyond any kind of popular or small-d democratic reach. So why bother? For exactly the reason you say: in the hope that Sanders’s push–along with many other pushes–may be part of a much-needed realignment in American party politics. That’s a goal worth working for, I think.
(Also, for whatever it’s worth, listen to the speech Bernie gave in Portland two days ago. I’m confident the man himself would probably never describe himself as having “traditionalist views on family and culture,” but when he gets to talking about his own kids and grandkids, and how important it is, in a world of two-income families, for mothers and fathers to be able to take time off from work and bond with their children, this Jewish socialist starts sounding like Pope Francis.)
I bravely started this article but when I got down to Sanders as an epitome of “populist, Jeffersonian democratic localism” I ran screaming for the exit.
In a July column I made this observation abut Bernie:
“Sen. Bernie Sanders says he’s “talking about what I believe is the most important issue facing the American people: the grotesque level of income and wealth inequality. The Koch brothers [Bernie’s proxies for Satan] and a few others are attempting to buy the United States government, and that should be of concern to everybody.”
“When asked (by Mother Jones magazine) why we should be concerned, the Vermont socialist replied with a rare allusion to religion. “I think this goes back to the Bible. There is something immoral when so few have so much and so many have so little.”
I don’t pretend to be a Biblical scholar, but I grant Bernie (who is Jewish) that the Torah expresses a deep concern that excessive economic inequality can lead to a loss of God-given freedom. But what passes for socialist morality in practice today is not so much concerned with the wisdom of the Torah, as with seizing political power.
In the relevant chapter of the New Testament (Mark 10:21), Jesus replied to the rich man who had faithfully obeyed the Ten Commandments “Sell what you have, and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven.” After hearing this proposition, the man “went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.”
“Note the contrast: The Christian morality says that the rich man who distributes his riches will enter the Kingdom of God. The socialist morality promises him no reward in heaven, or on earth. The obligation of socialist morality is to unite the masses, seize control of the government, wield its instruments of coercion to confiscate the riches of the unworthy owners, and distribute those riches to everybody not “rich”. That is, after the redistributors are well compensated for their morality enforcement.
“Another key difference is that under socialist morality the rich are not given the choice to divest themselves of their possessions, in return for which they may enter the socialist equivalent of the Kingdom Of God (whatever that may be). Instead, the all-powerful government plunders their possessions, after which the formerly rich find themselves not in the Kingdom of God, but in a reeducation camp, or on a steam grate with a tin cup.”
I won’t get into an argument about “socialist morality” and “Christian morality” and where and if they do or do not overlap, because that would require a lot more exegesis than I have time for at the moment, and moreover Senator Sanders, thankfully, does not present himself as someone who is primarily interested in instantiating any kind of Biblical law via the modern state. I feel I should clarify one point, though. I didn’t write that Sanders is “an epitome of ‘populist, Jeffersonian democratic localism'”; I wrote that his policy preferences can be understood as reflecting “a particular kind of populist, Jeffersonian democratic localism”–namely, the kind advocated by old Populists like William Jennings Bryan, or contrary conservatives like Christopher Lasch. That is, is a kind of Jeffersonianism which believes that preserving the economic integrity of neighborhoods, communities, and families requires a state capable of democratically challenging the power of the wealthy, who will centralize and outsource all productive wealth away from localities if they can. You can reject that as not really localist at all, since the state plays a major role (as Bill Kauffman points out, whatever decentralism is potentially implied by Sanders’s campaign, it’s definitely not a major selling point of his). But it can’t be denied, I think, that even with his “socialist” label, Sanders is arguing for something that overlaps with the populist, “left conservative” approach to FPR ideas well enough to take notice of.
While several of the characterizations of Sen. Sanders are both unneccessarily snark filled and inaccurate I am surprised to notice several insights that are spot-on.
To begin with , you are correct to suggest the left-conservative label applies in many ways. Bernie has run afoul of some women’s groups, gun control types and racial advocates because he thinks government policy should focus on economics (which is the focus of much of the text of constitution’s delineation of government responsibilities) and less on culture, religion and moral issues (which are the subject of some very specific “thou shalt not” language), and which he sees as more symptom and less the cause of many of our present difficulties.
Secondly, Bernie is a child of the ’60’s not the 30’s and the so called “New Left” as opposed to the Old. Whatever its downsides (narcissism, hedonism, etc.,) that New Left focused on Local control and on “participatory democracy” as exemplified by institutions as venerable as the New England Town Meeting and village where everyone was expected to take on some aspect of such governing as might be required. The New Left simply extended this idea into business and industry, celebrating the worker owed business and the local cooperative as worthy contributors to the local economy.
In many ways Sanders’s home state of Vermont epitomizes these values in action. Outside of the state’s bigger cities it is likely that the local grocery store is a coop, that the biggest business in town is a non-profit and that a significant number of local businesses (especially the tech firms) are stable, vibrant, gowing and worker-owned.
There is a reason a state as rural and as traditional Vermont embraces the Senator. They see his allegedly radical values as conserving the essence of their communities.
Apparently JVbryar has not visited Vermont since 1962.
This place has long been is under the control of Sanderista/Democrat/Progressives hell bent on centralization into an “administrative state”.
As I wrote last November: “there will ever be new proposals to centralize all power in the State. That is the central goal of modern (post-1912) Progressivism: put everything possible under the centralized control of enlightened experts, order ignorant and selfish citizens and their local governments to do their bidding, and extract the needed funds from taxpayers helpless to resist the power of the Great Administrative State. And if the disgruntled citizens are restive, restrict their political rights to make sure they cannot effectively resist.
The Great Administrative State leads to citizen powerlessness. It will ultimately crush citizen initiative, restrict liberty, and reduce its citizens to subjects.
Free Vermonters need to say: Not here. Not now. Not ever. “
An open question for John McClaughry, J.V. Bryar, or anyone else who wants to reply:
If someone pursues policies which have the consequence of centralizing social power in the hands of a government, but the government in question is not, in fact, the central government, but is rather a subsidiary one (as Vermont is in relation to the U.S.)…then is the action in question truly “centralizing,” or is it a harnessing of power for the sake of preserving a local way of life and resisting the true homogenizers on the national level? I ask this without having a clear answer myself, and in fact wondering if a clear answer is possible. Obviously it can play out in different ways depending on the ideological context–here in Kansas, our governor and his Republican majority in the state house and senate frequently trumpet their resistance to Washington DC in localist, decentralist language…and yet, they have repeatedly robbed counties and municipalities of the ability to make decisions on key issues for themselves. Has Sanders & Co., as progressive Vermonters, done the same?
That’s a fair question. There are many issues where local people need to retain and exercise the power to shape their own institutions and practices, and have enough understanding and ability to do so – chief among them education, health care, welfare and community life generally. There are other issues, like air and water pollution, public health and major highways, where a higher level equipped with more expertise is needed.
The Progs in Vermont celebrate local control by the people – but they almost never resist a scheme for centralizing power upwards to the state because only the state has the power to prohibit selfish, ignorant, venal or improper decisions made by local citizens not imbued with the Socialist Ideal. They did, fitfully, oppose statewide zoning. But they are keen on taxing the unworthy rich to finance a grand system of state-owned health care, and they are invariably in favor of mandatory unionism.
There is no hard and fast rule – but on this point I recommend Henry Calvert Simons, “A Political Credo” , in Economic Policy for a Free society (1948).
[…] admit it: At first I was piqued by the independent senator’s quixotic bid for the White House. Sanders refuses to have a Super […]
Mr. McLaughlin is well-known in Vermont as a tiresome crank who cribs poorly understood Wall Street Journal editorials and tries to pass them off as his original thinking. His one man Ethan Allen Institute used to be a regular feature of state supported Vermont Public Radio.
One of the reasons his fulminations have so little to do with reality is that Vermont, despite its anti-corporatist, Greenpeace-lite political rhetoric, is both determinedly localist and anti-authoritarian in actual practice. Local villages and small towns zealously guard their prerogatives against a state with the smallest capital city in America. Its plethora of locally based, employee-owned and non-profit businesses resist governmental regulatory oversight with all the vigor of their big corporate brothers, but they have the support of their neighbors that mostof America’s privately owned businesses could only dream about.
Anyone who conflates employee ownership with government control clearly has not the foggiest idea what they are talking about. Sometimes people here get that impression of Bernie , but they are never in any doubt about Mr. mcLaughlin.
Let me refer this poor chump, who can’t even spell my name, to Bryan and McClaughry, The Vermont Papers: Recreating Democracy on a Human Scale (Chelsea Green, 1989).
You’re that McClaughry? Well, heck, what a delight! I didn’t realize (though the essay by Bill Kauffman that I linked to above surely should have tipped me off). I have that old book of yours, and have made use of it multiple times over the years in classes of mine. I don’t agree with everything in it–as I suppose the above exchange probably makes clear–but I learned much from it, and I think it’s a valuable and important contribution to the ongoing argument about decentralization in the context of post-industrialized, economically globalized, financially centralized world. Pleasure to make your acquaintance!
So, in reference to my question above–that is, is it a true case of “centralizing” when effective political authority in invested in a subsidiary (that is, state-level, in the U.S. context) body, with the (perhaps unintentional) result of thereby protecting a more local body from over-regulation by a national one?–what is it, exactly, that you and Mr. Bryar apparently disagree about? Is it simply a matter of different perceptions over what constitutes “government control” vs. “employee [and, more broadly, democratic] ownership”? I agree with your concluding comment that “there is no hard and fast rule,” so maybe such arguments will always be contextual. I would point out that your comment, for example, suggests a similar sort of balancing act, where you put “health care” down as a concern that ought to be handled entirely by and within local communities, but at the same time list “public health” as an area where greater than local expertise and resources are needed. For my part, I suppose I am rather classically Populist in my socialism; from what I’ve learned of the Canadian single-payer health care system from an old friend of mine who has worked for years for an Ontario LHIN (Local Health Integration Network), for all its flaws–as every human system always has flaws–such “centralized” action frees up individuals and communities to use their time and resources in ways much more conducive to local action than is the case of our system, which even under the ACA still makes every ordinary middle-class citizen trying to raise their kids healthily a quasi-prisoner of the private health insurance industry.
Thanks for the generous comments. I don’t think I quite understand your question. “Invested” by what? Could you restate it?
Obviously jvbryar and I disagree. He believes he’s not an abusive left wing jerk.
Bah,, damned spellcheck thinks Mac misspells his name. outside of whining about that I notice that he doesn’t dispute any of the points I made, because they are accurate.
I understand for example, that our rabid verbal enthusiasm for environmental regulations sound like statism run amok, but the reality is that most communities in the state have no zoning, no ordinances about junk cars, no firearms ordinances, don’t enforce burning regulation and generally have none of the stuff found in the most libertarian Texas suburb. My town doesn’t have a police department, its fire and rescue squads are volunteer and subscription supported, half the roads here are private and half the public ones have never been paved, as a cost saving measure. The Soviet Union this is not.
Could you restate it?
How about this: “when effective political authority in invested in a subsidiary (that is, state-level, in the U.S. context) body” = “when state governments in the United States legitimately exercise the resources necessary to govern some particular area of public policy.”
what is the question ?
Very simply, in two parts. First, has Sanders and his comrades–who are mostly, in your stated view, centralizers–only ever contributed to expanding the national government’s power in Vermont, or have they at least sometimes contributed to strengthening Montpelier’s power over localities? Second, if you believe the answer is the latter, then doesn’t that mean he doesn’t always advocate actual centralization, because sometimes he is, whether he would recognize it or not, actively working against it, since any strengthening of states authority must be a challenge to the nation?
Off the top of my head, Bernie voted for Dodd-Frank, which the Dems passed in 2010 to protect Big Banks in the name of regulating Big Banks. (He has regretted the results; he wanted the Big Banks broken up, a decidedly anti-Marxist position (cf Das Kapital, which says History will cause ever bigger private enterprises until suddenly the proletarian can seize them.)).
He voted for Obamacare though he of course wanted a “public option” to turn into national single payer. He is ardently promoting global and national action to defeat “the menace of climate change”. I don’t know of any vote where Bernie voted to defend the states against Federal mandates, (except possibly federalization of National Guard to fight Big Business’s foreign wars). If a state lurched forward into Socialism, and the (Republicans) in Washington tried to rein it in, he would of course support the State.
If Socialism is to move forward most quickly, it must be propelled from the “commanding heights” by the powerful National government Reactionary States cannot be allowed to retard the advance of Socialism.
At the State level, Progressives hail grassroots civic action – but invariably seek to use State power to mandate that every municipality march in the approved socialist direction. (Example: state takeover of public schools, now under way.) They cannot bear the existence of pockets of reaction – especially when the policies in those pockets get positive results.
Bernie’s position on the Kelo decision (2005) is instructive: “I disagree with the Supreme Court’s decision in Kelo v. New London,” Mr. Sanders said. “I believe that the result of this decision will be that working families and poor people will see their property turned over to corporate interests and wealthy developers.” Mr. Sanders opposes the withdrawal of federal funding [from offending cities], but added that “there is no doubt Congress should address this decision.” (Washington Times 7/1/05)
This is a Sanders Straddle. The Black Caucus was outraged by Kelo, so Bernie was too; but Bernie was a Mayor, and cutting off federal funding to an offending city was too much for him to support.
Here’s another: Sanders will support anything to defeat “climate change”. Where does he stand when local people in Vermont oppose 500 foot tall wind towers on their ridges promoted by the “climate change” crowd and heavily subsidized developers and “corporate interests”? I don’t know. I’m pretty sure he wouldn’t approve wind towers along the (windy) Burlington waterfront.
This is a bit of a long winded reply – but my point is that Bernie is fiercely committed to the advance of Socialism, wherever there’s an opportunity. “Central” vs. “local” is not his prism. He’s for Washington advancing socialism, whether the locals like it or not, and he’s for the locals advancing socialism, whether the Center likes it or not.
Ugh, the abortion litmus test. Sanders is pro-life, meaning he cares about children once they exit the womb. He wants paid parental leave, universal health care and things the civilized world takes for granted. He is the only one talking about the important issues, like a living wage for people for American workers. He has my vote.
Chris’s comment makes me wonder what Marxism (and thus Bernie) has to say about abortion.
I would guess that Marxism favors many children for the rich, so their financial power will be splintered and hampered by family quarrels (like the Hunts and the Kochs).
I would think that Marxism would favor many children for the poor too, since that would mean more mouths to feed and thus more poverty and misery, which are the seedbeds of Marxist revolution.
Therefore Marxists should disapprove of abortion because by reducing the number of bodies it negatively affects the dynamics leading to Revolution.
This is just speculation. Does anybody know what real Marxists believe on this point?
Yes, we do need to work on a political realignment that brings together progressive populism with a thoughtful cultural conservatism. This new configuration is no longer a utopian aspiration – the Blue Labour movement in the UK has demonstrated the compelling coherence that it can generate (though it won’t appeal to ideologues of either left or right). The abortion issue looms large as an impediment, though with some common sense, that too can be managed. If only cultural conservatives could accept that arguments around prohibition of abortion lead us nowhere, and settle for a commitment to reducing the incidence of abortion by a third/a half/two thirds as an immediate goal, then perhaps we could come together. I am an anti-capitalist populist with a nuanced cultural conservatism, which means I am not a prohibitionist on abortion – trying to prohibit abortion seems to me as unachieveable as trying to prohibit consumption of alcohol, while a reduced incidence of both seems desirable. I know the difficulty that many pro-life folks have with this – but if there is to be a political convergence around the communitarian conservative centre (and we must converge there, across the Western world, in the interests of reforming politics), then we have to reach a settlement on the abortion issue.
Abortion is an issue of non-class origin. E.g., at various times in the history of the Soviet Union, it was freely allowed, almost encouraged, or, prohibited by law with severe criminal penalties. China has had wildly varying policies, although moving in the opposite direction, chronologically. There is no particular reason from a CLASS perspective why either the working class or the bourgeoisie needs to be firmly and irrevocably committed to either free availability or absolute suppression. The workers of the world can take control of the means of production, or find the Iron Heel on their neck, regardless of what the law says about abortion.
But what passes for socialist morality in practice today is not so much concerned with the wisdom of the Torah, as with seizing political power.
Well, by all means let us stop dealing with “what passes for socialist morality” and get to work on some real, honest-to-God red-blooded socialism with hair on its chest that will get back to policies that provide the working class a better return for its labor, and take the capitalist class down a peg or two. Political power can be useful for that purpose, but it is a means, not an end in itself. Even political power centralized in the hands of a powerful and ideological central committee can work against such noble and worthwhile goals, as the last few decades of Chinese history amply demonstrate. Yes, the Communist Party of China still rules — and it rules over the most ruthless capitalist economy in the world.
Bernie Sanders, unfortunately, isn’t going to be much of a socialist. But he has one virtue that Barack Obama shone with in 2008 — he’s not Hillary Clinton. His policies will probably do less damage to the majority of the people than anyone else on offer, and may even do some good. If he’s not the Democratic nominee, I may consider voting for Kasich, except he probably won’t be the Republican nominee. The man does seem to have learned something from the overwhelming vote of the people of Ohio, cancelling his vicious anti-union legislation. At least he has a brain in his head, and shows signs of a heart at times also.
Why speculate on the prospects of a Front Porch socialist? Surely it is better to explore what it will take to get a Front Porch communitarian on the ballot paper next time around. Whether a Front Porch communitarian would be a registered Democrat, Republican, Independent or third party candidate is not important at the moment. The first step is to begin the long-delayed project of putting together a program and a movement. The program is easy enough – a limitation of the power of both government and market, a package of measures favouring local ownership and a curtailment of corporate power, a devolution of social policy to communities and regions, a revived ethic of self-help and mutual aid, a rediscovered personalism that crafts institutions and social services around the personalised agendas of folk with disability, mental illness, addictions and homelessness, young people and students, parents and young children, and those with aged frailty. The movement can be crafted around this program, with an intentional emphasis on bringing together agricultural communities and hippies, self-employed contractors and small business entrepreneurs, worker cooperatives and social enterprises, home-schoolers and school reformers. The constituencies exist, the demand is clearly evident. The only thing missing is the will to start organising.
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