Symposium

Symposium

The question is malposed. Unless and until things change dramatically for the better, here and abroad, there will be bright dreams and hopes for a different order. Dissent’s particular contributions to those dreams come in many ways, not least out of its alertness to the appalling economic injustices that most American intellectuals now seem to take as inevitable. Yet politics in this country is a piecemeal and pragmatic business, rooted in democratic values we respect and wish to enlarge upon. Now that communism is dead, it seems like the ultimate folly to revive the old project of political utopianism, our utopianism, while casting aspersions (as the question quietly does) on less transcendent pursuits. Leading a political double life, between bright dreams and piecemeal reforms, is risky. It easily gets labeled half-hearted and hypocritical—and may actually become half-hearted and hypocritical. But in view of where the left has been and is now, the risk is acceptable.

Dissent and its friends confront, I think, a different problem. For nearly forty years, the magazine has occupied an honorable if precarious place between liberalism and extreme (or revolutionary) leftism. To the liberals, Dissent has insisted that capitalism’s cruelties are not aberrations but built-in features of a system badly in need of repair. To the extreme left, it has insisted that liberal democracy, whatever its existing flaws, has fundamental virtues. It was an anomalous position during the cold war decades, but a carefully examined one—and, to those who held to it, a familiar one. For all of our worrying, and for all of the surprises that came our way, there was a certain predictability to the world shaped by the superpowers.

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