Sunday, May 22, 2011

Political Commentary on American Politics by Bertrand Russell

I was reading the section in Bertrand Russell's A History of Western Philosophy on Protagoras, the Sophist. I found this paragraph interesting because it provides some social commentary about America written by a very smart guy with the perspective of 1945. It makes clear the changes in the political life of America over the last 65 years. I've bolded the key bits:
In many cities, however, and especially in Athens, the poorer citizens had towards the rich a double hostility, that of envy, and that of traditionalism. The rich were supposed -- often with justice -- to be impious and immoral, they were subverting ancient beliefs, and probably trying to destroy democracy. It thus happened that political democracy was associated with cultural conservatism, while those who were cultural innovators tended to be political reactionaries. Somewhat the same situation exists in modern America,where Tammany, as a mainly Catholic organization, is engaged in defending traditional theological and ethical dogmas against the assaults of enlightenment. But the enlightened are politically weaker in America than they were in Athens, because they have failed to make common cause with the plutocracy. There is, however, one important and highly intellectual class which is concerned with the defence of the plutocracy, namely the class of corporation lawyers. In some respects, their function is similar to those that were performed in Athens by the Sophists.
The world has changed. The plutocrats today are not cultural innovators. They have aligned with social conservatives. The technocratic and cultural elite, who are definitely not the plutocracy, are the ones advancing cultural innovation. Whereas in the 1940s the plutocrats of the Gilded Age had set up foundations such as the Rockefeller Foundation and the Carnegie Corporation which funded liberal causes, today the big money is funding right wing think tanks and socially reactionally organizations like the Tea Party.

Today Catholics and Evangelicals and fundamentalists of all stripes have formed a conservative political coaltion like Tammany Hall to push a reactionary agenda of kirche, küche kinder (specifically an anti-abortion, anti-feminist, anti-gay agenda).

Progressives, the "enlightened", are seen as impious and immoral and are thought to be limp wristed New York elite liberals. They continue the rainbow nation agenda of the 1960s with a hope for "peace and love" with inclusion for all segments of the population. They push an agenda of tolerance and understanding. They still stand for the ideals of The Age of Enlightenment with respect for science and a distrust of traditionalism and old hierarchies.

The real plutocrats in America are Wall Street, big corporations, and the top 1% of the population. Through the Republican party they use social consevatism to get the reins of power to run the government for the benefit of the plutocracy. The progressives, who are painted as New York liberals, in fact are not aligned with the plutocracy, so they are politically weak and have gotten much weaked over the last 40 years as Nixon used the "Southern strategy" to co-opt the conservative right as the base of the Republican party.

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