This issue of Dissent continues our reconsideration of what it means to be “left,” with contributions by Anne Phillips and Amos Oz. Both pose sharp questions and recognize that these are difficult times for defining the left. Still, they uphold strong commitments to equality-friendly democracy.
Oz urges a sense of balance in the postcommunist world, rejecting the social cruelties of neoliberalism—today’s Economic Correctness—as well as the spiritual totalitarianism of religious fundamentalism. He speaks for moderation while angrily protesting the West’s “pornography of consumption.” Although “half of humanity is impoverished and without hope,” the well-to-do rush “to earn more than they need so that they can purchase things they don’t really want so as to impress strangers they don’t care about.” Phillips is an egalitarian who believes the abolition of all distinctions among people is undesirable. She argues, however, that “differences and inequalities have to be detached from the accident of being born male or female, so that the choices we make and the inequalities we condone reflect individual rather than sexual variation.”
The social consequences of the “birth lottery” is an underlying theme in Richard Rorty’s discussion of William Julius Wilson’s efforts to determine “why millions of American children are leading miserable lives in the ghettos.” He says that readers of Wilson’s latest book will become contemptuous of those talking heads who tell us that all would be well if inner-city youth would just be rugged individualists.
Such punditry is all too current these days, raising questions about how we achieve “public understanding.” Robert Dahl looks for ways in which citizens can pursue thoughtful public conversation. Susan George addresses a corresponding matter. For a quarter-century, right-wing money has wisely invested in intellectuals, journals, and think tanks. Not so on the left. (Try to fund-raise for a small, independent magazine of the left.) Long ago Antonio Gramsci insisted on the importance of the war of ideas, of undermining the intellectual dominance of the right. George asks: what happens when the right, but not the left, is Gramscian.
Surely, the quality of public debate declines. Dissent, on the other hand, has never been shy about intelligent argument. In this issue, Zelda Bronstein suggests that feminists have been insufficiently critical of Hillary Clinton, with ramifications for feminist politics—and some leading feminists dissent from her claims. Critical issues are raised: for example, does a feminist by definition stand on the “left”?
Certainly the First Lady’s husband doesn’t stand there, having backed the worst social legislation in six decades (welfare “reform”), and a budget combining tax breaks for the privileged and cutbacks in domestic programs. He is a willing prisoner of Economic Correctness.<...
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