To The Barricades

Liberal writer Ezra Klein is confused by libertarian writer Will Wilkinson‘s lack of sympathy for anarcho-socialist-something-or-other Naomi Klein’s anti-statist tendencies. I’m afraid I don’t find this very confusing at all. Naomi Klein is something of a romantic – witness her schizophrenic ideology, distaste for traditional political organizing, and general infatuation with any breakdown of social order – whereas Wilkinson and Klein share certain basic assumptions about the desirability of liberal political organization. As such, Wilkinson’s “suspicion” of state intervention is purely instrumental, while Naomi Klein’s is rooted in some instinctive distrust of the status quo. The New Yorker profile gets at this tension by comparing her approach to the melioristic, politically-oriented activism of her husband and family:

In the end, despite all his suspicion of leaders and certainty, Lewis [Klein’s husband – my edit] loves and honors his family tradition. The N.D.P. regularly approaches him about running for office (as it does Klein), and he thinks seriously about doing so (she does not). During the recent election campaign in Canada, Klein advocated strategic voting—voting for either the Liberals or the N.D.P., depending on which had a better chance of winning in a particular district, to promote the greater goal of unseating the Tories. “I don’t believe enough in the N.D.P. to really care,” she says. Avi tried to talk her out of it . . . But Klein doesn’t have much use for political parties. When she is asked about this, she explains that she has seen liberation movements betrayed by the politicians they fought to get elected, but her impatience appears to be rooted in something more than that: she seems to dislike parties and, indeed, governments, in a visceral way, almost the way that Milton Friedman does. In principle, she is a Keynesian, but she distrusts centralization, institutions, platforms, theories—anything except extremely small, local, ad-hoc, spontaneous initiatives. Basically, she really, really doesn’t like being told what to do.

I can’t find the post now, but I’m pretty sure Helen Rittelmeyer once observed that radical leftists and conservative reactionaries share one central conviction: the premises of the status quo are fundamentally wrong and need to be changed. What makes Naomi Klein interesting is that although she distrusts incremental political reform, she doesn’t have the vocabulary to describe whatever radical alternative she’s searching for. She’s stuck trying to articulate her goals using outdated terminology – stuff that should be coming from traditional activists like her husband or parents – without really buying into any political project. After reading the New Yorker profile, I think this is the closest Klein gets to describing her ideal endgame:

The only kind of protest she likes is the Yippie kind, theatrical enough to be entertaining and self-mocking enough to dilute the earnestness to a level that she can tolerate. At the protests in Quebec City during the Summit of the Americas in 2001, for example—when the officials surrounded themselves with a tall protective fence, a group of activists built a medieval-style wood catapult and lobbed Teddy bears over the top. “Quebec City was just madness,” she says. “It was one of those times when nobody knows what’s going to happen, and there are these breakthrough moments, these liberated moments, these moments of euphoria. It was mostly young people, and they were getting gassed, but they were still enjoying themselves tremendously, playing cat and mouse with the police. What I loved about it was that the whole city joined in—people working in cafés on the main streets, and neighbors got buckets of water to wash out people’s eyes. It was like an alternative reality.”

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Filed under Liberalism, Political Philosophy

One response to “To The Barricades

  1. Pingback: A Tea Party for Nihilists – The Politics of Scrabble

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