Posts Tagged ‘Ressentiment’

Greenwald v. Larison & Douthat

Wednesday, April 28th, 2010

I had felt compelled to respond to Glenn Greenwald’s slander of Ross Douthat in his trademarkable relentless and dogmatic style — but thankfully, Daniel Larison had a thoughtful but sufficiently angry response.

Greenwald, stuck in his ideological wind tunnel, is extremely sloppy in this piece. He confuses all matter of “discrimination” and “censorship” and “threats of violence,” lumping them all together into one undifferentiated mass. His main thesis is supposedly about the equivalence of Christian censorship and Muslim censorship — but his real aim seems to be to slander Ross Douthat as an anti-Muslim bigot based on the fact that Douthat is more outraged over the prominent example of bowing to censorship regarding South Park than over an obscure case of a play in a particular Texas town.

Greenwald — in his ressentiment – loses his sense of the forest as he focuses on the trees. Larison though makes the essential point that Douthat does miss:

The far greater problem we have today is not that we are too inclined to yield to Islamist demands in Western countries, but that we are far too ready to disregard the lives, property, dignity and political rights of Muslims in their own countries if we think it might marginally enhance our physical security.

[Image by Pink Fluffy licensed under Creative Commons.]

Obama: You’re Calling Me a ‘Bolshevik’ for Using Republican Ideas for Democratic Ends

Monday, February 1st, 2010

I wrote a post a few months ago listing some similarities of the Dole-Chafee bill presented as an alternative to Bill Clinton’s 1994 reform effort to the health care reform effort today which has recently started to get some attention thanks to Obama’s referencing exactly this fact in response to questioning by the House Republicans on Friday:

[I]f you were to listen to the debate, and, frankly, how some of you went after this bill, you’d think that this thing was some Bolshevik plot…

[But] if you look at the facts of this bill, most independent observers would say this is actually what many Republicans — it — it’s similar to what many Republicans proposed to Bill Clinton when he was doing his debate on health care.

So all I’m saying is we’ve got to close the gap a little bit between the rhetoric and the reality.

I’m not suggesting that we’re going to agree on everything, whether it’s on health care or energy or what have you, but if the way these issues are being presented by the Republicans is that this is some wild-eyed plot to impose huge government in every aspect of our lives, what happens is you guys then don’t have a lot of room to negotiate with me.

Obama adopted this Republican framework to meet some Democratic goals. (Though I shouldn’t give all the credit to him, as his general framework was created by a number of liberal thinkers including Jacob Hacker, Peter Orszag, &tc, and was adopted by John Edwards and Hillary Clinton in the 2008 primary.) Obama’s approach represents a synthesis of the core conservative critique of Reagan, Hayek, &tc with an empirical approach towards government generally favored by liberals. In other words, Obama saw the limits of centralized planning and the power of markets that lay at the core of Reagan. But he did not adopt Reagan’s visceral hatred for government. Instead, he believed government could be useful. Rather than seeing government as something that needed to be attacked, he adopted Hayek’s view that “we needed to think of the world more as gardeners tending a garden and less as architects trying to build some system.”

While I described this as evidence of Obama’s attempt to seriously grapple with Republican ideas while pursuing Democratic ends, a number of commentators – specifically pm317 on Hillaryis44 and Ann Althouse’s blog, seemingly a PUMA – used the post as proof that Obama is a sell-out, encouraging people to:

Tell your bluest of blue friends who are still supporting Obama to read this little piece…

My piece was actually positive in its description of how Obama was grappling with Republican ideas – but pm317 read it to mean the opposite, seeing it as yet another proof of Obama’s awfulness. pm317 wants Obama supporters to reject ideas because they are labeled “Republican” or once were supported by Republicans – and while this may happen,  she presumes these Obama supporters are driven by the same politics of ressentiment and identity that seemingly motivate him/her. Confronted with the fact that I am an Obama supporter, and that I wasn’t condemning Obama for using Republican ideas, pm317 responded:

Obama’s base supporters cheerleading his GoP stunt ARE highly partisan and they want single payer system or at least a public option and don’t want any of the republican ideas. They must see how Obama is sneaking in republican ideas into his plan.

Which is just an odd response. Do he/she presume that “Obama’s base supporters cheerleading his GoP stunt” didn’t notice that he explicitly said in that same event they are “cheerleading” that his health care plan is “similar to what many Republicans proposed to Bill Clinton when he was doing his debate on health care” – which is what started this whole conversation in the first place? How is that “sneaking”?

It seems likely to me, given the evidence available to me, that the accuser is describing themself – describing someone motivated by the politics of ressentiment and someone who is extremely partisan and rejects the ideas of Republicans and Obama supporters out of hand.

I only bring this particular example up to illustrate the seemingly visceral reaction against Obama and his health care plan – and how in this instance at least – it seems motivated primarily by ressentiment rather than any attempt to grapple with the issue.

The problem, in other words, is about politics rather than policy.

[This image is not subject to copyright.]

Ressentiment Redux

Thursday, January 7th, 2010

Julian Sanchez:

But national-level political communities really are communities now, in a fairly robust sense. Between dedicated cable and radio channels and the Internet, you really can live in them in a pretty literal and immersive way… What’s really pernicious about a politics of ressentiment is that it cuts that tether—it enables a political identity that’s generated and defined by political conflict itself…

Part of the problem is that politics is no longer seen as a narrow tool for addressing some well-defined set of problems, but a kind of all-purpose machine for the satisfaction of human desires…

We don’t need to do some kind of probing psychoanalysis, because this stuff isn’t subtext; it’s text.  Remember Palin’s infamous “death panels” post? It wasn’t just a claim that the government would deny care; the fear was that this was Obama’s “death panels” getting to decide how worthy you are. Liberals treated it as a generic argument about “rationing,” but by its own terms it was an argument about being judged. Conservatives’ favorite photo of Obama has him with his nose in the air looking down on the hoi polloi, testifying to his purported arrogance. Then the outrage over a strained reading of an Obama remark about “putting lipstick on a pig”: He’s calling Sarah (and therefore you!) a pig! The message is pretty insistent: They think they’re better than you. It’s not, again, that I’m asking why people hold certain policy views and concluding that it’s really about this kind of cultural resentment. I’m asking why the political coalition organized around this set of views is putting so much emphasis on this frame, and whether it isn’t ultimately a bad idea to.

Glenn Greenwald and the Politics of Ressentiment

Friday, December 18th, 2009

Reading Julian Sanchez’s quite intelligent piece on the politics of ressentiment and how they underpin Sarah Palin’s popularity among the Republican base, I realized why certain passages that I had highlighted but not had the space to go after in my most recent piece on Greenwald had bothered me so much.  Sanchez discuses the philosophical/psychological concept of ressentiment. Wikipedia defines it as:

[A] sense of resentment and hostility directed at that which one identifies as the cause of one’s frustration, an assignation of blame for one’s frustration. The sense of weakness or inferiority and perhaps jealousy in the face of the “cause” generates a rejecting/justifying value system, or morality, which attacks or denies the perceived source of one’s frustration.

One of the symptoms of ressentiment is to justify and perhaps even determine one’s moral positions by way of rejecting one’s enemies moral positions. In other words: Sarah Palin is hated by liberals so she must be great. My opponents on a bunch of issues believe in the right to bear arms, so I don’t. &tc.

This is how Greenwald began his piece “just asking questions” à la that other Glenn about the opinions people had of Obama’s Nobel prize acceptance speech:

Why are the Bush-following conservatives who ran the country for the last eight years and whose foreign policy ideas are supposedly so discredited  — including some of the nation’s hardest-core neocons — finding so much to cheer in the so-called Obama Doctrine?

And from there Greenwald goes on, exploiting the politics of ressentiment in order to justify his increasing hysterics about Obama, as his rant rises in volume:

Obama puts a pretty, intellectual, liberal face on some ugly and decidedly illiberal polices.  Just as George Bush’s Christian-based moralizing let conservatives feel good about America regardless of what it does, Obama’s complex and elegiac rhetoric lets many liberals do the same.  To red state Republicans, war and its accompanying instruments (secrecy, executive power, indefinite detention) felt so good and right when justified by swaggering, unapologetic toughness and divinely-mandated purpose; to blue state Democrats, all of that feels just as good when justified by academic meditations on “just war” doctrine and when accompanied by poetic expressions of sorrow and reluctance.  When you combine the two rhetorical approaches, what you get is what you saw yesterday:  a bipartisan embrace of the same policies and ideologies among people with supposedly irreconcilable views of the world.

If you read the piece, it seems an extended exercise in exploiting the politics of ressentiment to avoid actual argumentation. And you’ll know this politics of ressentiment running throughout Greenwald’s work, though often more subtly than this glaring example.