Tag Archives: Liberalism

Racism in Sport

Brian Phillips compares soccer hooliganism to American fans’ troubled relationship with black NBA players. A taste:

Unlike American racism, which can be seen as an internal social problem transformed by changing attitudes within one overarching culture, the history of European nationalism was decided by relatively recent battles between armies whose sources of legitimacy were external to one another. Thus, to forestall the unanswerable shame that attaches itself to overt expressions of prejudice in American sports (Rush Limbaugh on Donovan McNabb, even Shaq when Yao first came into the league), prejudice in soccer can fall back on the dim memory of concrete populist ideologies. That’s not to say that the shirtless gentleman holding the corner of the “Filthy Gypsy” banner is a learned proponent of any identifiable right-wing philosophy, but there’s at least a vaporous sense that attitudes like his loathing for Ibrahimović were not long ago articulated by governments and embraced by respectable people. Which is enough to give them a perverse air of community justification, even when all the institutional forces in the sport are consciously trying (again, much more emphatically than the NBA) to eradicate racism and sectarianism from the game.

Read the whole thing. The standard response to this sort of unpleasantness is something along the lines of “nationalist hooligans, Nazi skinheads, signs that read “Filthy Gypsy” – these are the last gasps of Europe’s ancient history.” But I’ve always sensed that something beyond aging racists is at work here, and it’s striking that many of Europe’s youngest, most dynamic politicians – Jorg Haider, Geert Wilders, the late Pim Fortyun – all hail from the reactionary fringe.

Is Europe’s liberal gentility a carefully-constructed facade that cracks as soon as foreign footballers take the pitch? Or are sports hooligans a relic of the past, refugees from Europe’s impending “End of History?” A few weeks ago, Will Wilkinson suggested that liberal habits are mutually-reinforcing, pointing to Europe’s ability to sustain a liberal democratic order despite rapidly expending its reserves of cultural capital. I worry that liberal habits are too shallow to keep the peace, and that football riots and race-baiting banners tell us more about the fundamentals of Europe’s political culture than placid economic conferences in Brussels.


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Filed under Culture, Liberalism, Sports

Southern Comfort

If you’re looking for some interesting (and occasionally infuriating) liberal commentary on the South’s political and cultural influence, I recommend this diary from OpenLeft, this article from Salon, and this entry from the Democratic Strategist.

Here’s a provocative excerpt from the Salon article:

Today the division is no longer between slave and free states, or agrarian and industrial states, but between two models of industrial society — the Northern model, based on adequate public service funding and taxation and unionization, and the Southern model, based on low-tax, low-service government and low-wage, non-unionized, easily exploited labor. If the industrial North and the industrial South compete for global capital investment, then the industrial South is likely to prevail, because Northern advantages in the form of a skilled workforce and superior public services are unlikely to overcome the South’s advantages of low wages and low taxes and state and local tax subsidies. The result, sooner or later, will be the Southernization of the North and Midwest, as states in the historic middle-class core of the U.S. are forced by economic pressure to emulate the arrangements of Alabama and Mississippi and Texas.

The alternative to the Southernization of the U.S. is the Americanization of the South — a process that was not completed by Reconstruction and the New Deal and the Civil Rights era, which can be thought of as the Second Reconstruction. The non-Southern states, through their representatives in Congress and the executive branch, and with the help of enlightened Southerners, need to use the power of the federal government to put a stop to the Southern conservative race-to-the-bottom strategy once and for all.


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Filed under Culture, Liberalism (Left), The South

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

It’s Just Wrong

Does it make sense to work your way back to first principles with a preferred outcome in mind? For example, I agree entirely with JL Wall when he writes:

Basic status as human beings: this is distinct from the concept of universal human rights. It is not a statement that there is a basic natural right held by all humanity to have counsel, or see evidence against them, or receive halal meals if they want them. It is a statement that there is a basic standard expect of us—you and me—in how we treat our fellow human beings; that so long as we acknowledge their mere humanity, we are morally—so much more morally than legally—obligated to treat them as more than animals. At its core, this is what the torture debate is about, has always been about, and will always be about.

But I’m not sure if a liberal, rights-based framework recognizes a universal standard of humane treatment. A purely utilitarian calculus includes all sorts of pragmatic objections to torture – it’s unreliable, it demoralizes military personnel, it has a tendency to bleed into other areas of society – but I’m less confident that it accounts for a hard-and-fast prohibition against certain techniques. And from a purely utilitarian standpoint, I think that torture is probably justified under certain carefully prescribed circumstances. If a terrorist suspect possessed critical information about an imminent, large-scale attack, and there was no time to develop alternative sources of intelligence, would liberals really object to torturing someone to extract valuable information?

I find this deeply troubling because until very recently, I would have placed myself squarely on the liberal end of the political spectrum. My views on economics have drifted rightward in recent years, but I always assumed that an open, tolerant society that does its best to nurture a happy, prosperous citizenry is the most desirable form of social organization. I’m still not entirely convinced that this is not true, but I do think that torture reveals something of a moral blind spot within liberalism’s broader ethical framework. When things go bad, we inevitably carve out exceptions to our rights-based approach, justifying it all under the rubric of “extenuating circumstances.” Once again, Koestler said it best:

“There are only two conceptions of human ethics, and they are at opposite poles. One of them is Christian and humane, declares the individual to be sacrosanct. and asserts that the rules of arithmetic are not to be applied to human units. The other starts from the basic principle that a collective aim justifies all means, and not only allows, but demands, that the individual should in every way be subordinated and sacrificed to the community – which may dispose of it as an experimentation rabbit or a sacrificial lamb.”

“In times of need – and politics are chronically in a time of need – the rulers were always able to invoke “exceptional circumstances,” which demanded exceptional measures of defense. Since the existence of nations and classes, they live in a permanent state of mutual self-defense, which forces them to defer to another time the putting into practice of humanism . . . .”

And while I understand the logic of “exceptional circumstances,” I’ve always found Rubashov’s gut reaction more compelling:

“Admit,” he said, “that humanism and politics, respect for the individual and social progress, are incompatible . . . But look where the other alternative has led us . . .”


Filed under Conservatism, Liberalism, Morality

I’m so hood

I couldn’t resist. The introductory segment of the neighborhood’s 40th anniversary pamphlet describes Hollin Hills as a revolutionary community on par with the PRC and the German Democratic Republic. My dad assures me that this is entirely tongue in cheek, but it’s difficult to detect any hint of irony from the text. In 20 years, this will undoubtedly inspire a Weekly Standard cover story on my shady left-wing associations. Until then, here are a few more photos (the bottom one is of my parents’ backyard):


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Filed under Culture


Having already written the best “federalism good” impact turns known to man (if you’re a policy debater, throw your hands up!), Steven Calabresi now turns his attention to the coming Obama Administration apocalypse:

A whole generation of Americans has come of age since the nation experienced the bad judicial appointments and foolish economic and regulatory policy of the Johnson and Carter administrations. If Mr. Obama wins we could possibly see any or all of the following: a federal constitutional right to welfare; a federal constitutional mandate of affirmative action wherever there are racial disparities, without regard to proof of discriminatory intent; a right for government-financed abortions through the third trimester of pregnancy; the abolition of capital punishment and the mass freeing of criminal defendants; ruinous shareholder suits against corporate officers and directors; and approval of huge punitive damage awards, like those imposed against tobacco companies, against many legitimate businesses such as those selling fattening food.

If this is indeed the case, conservatives should hope and pray for an Obama victory. I can think of no better tonic for our ailing Republican coalition than a massive Democratic over-reach. Of course, I’m sure Obama has also considered this scenario, which is another reason why the prospect of a McCain defeat fails to excite me.

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Filed under Conservatism, Policy Debate, Presidential Politics

Required Reading

Everyone should check out this excellent Ben Smith post on the road not taken by Republican operatives in 2008. I’ve expressed my frustration with this phenomenon before, but Smith does a fantastic job of explaining why the naked cultural appeals of McCain’s media enablers are so politically ineffective.

It’s also worth noting that it didn’t have to be this way. Our worsening economic recession does not mean a Democratic win was written in the stars. If Joe the Plumber can articulate a coherent, effective critique of Obama’s economic policies, why can’t John McCain explain his response to domestic problems without sounding like a complete moron? For all her charisma, Governor Palin’s approach is hardly an improvement – someone really ought to tell her that crying “socialism” is not a compelling rejoinder to Obama’s tax proposals.

In 1992, Ross Perot (of all people) made an effective case for fiscal austerity in the midst of an economic downturn. The appeal of small-government conservatism – particularly in a country that most characterize as “center-right” – does not disappear when the stock market takes a dive. It does, however, require an effective political messenger. On that count, the McCain/Palin ticket – and the conservative media – have failed miserably.

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Filed under Conservatism, Presidential Politics, The Media