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Patrick S. O'Donnell

As others have pointed out, the parameters of acceptable political discourse appear to have shifted irrevocably toward the Right such that any genuine Left discourse is effectively excluded from public conversation by both the major political parties and mass media This is what Judt refers to as the de facto suppression of genuine debate. Relatedly, the government has been thoroughly demonized in a manichaean manner that extols the ostensible virtues of “free markets” and the thoroughly privatized pursuit of individual “interest” and happiness (what Judt rightly refers to as the ‘degradation of public life) at the expense of conceptions the public interest and the common good that historically served as, and are absolutely necessary for, requisite conditions of human welfare and flourishing. The paucity of public leadership in civil society is disconcerting, to put it feebly. In such a socio-cultural climate the political realm rules out any meaningful attempts to even raise what Judt terms “the social question,” let alone provide a space wherein we make sincere efforts to “answer” this question.

Judt argues that if “social democracy is to have a future, it will be as a social democracy of fear,” a belief predicated on an appreciation of history: of the New Deal, welfare states, the Great Society, and social democracy itself. But such historical awareness is utterly absent from contemporary political discourse among elites and masses alike. In other words, such fear is premised on knowing the socio-economic and political reasons that were motivationally and causally responsible for such institutions, politics, and policies in the first place. Revisionist histories, on the other hand, trace the explanatory roots of what ails us IN the New Deal, for example, or IN the provision of general welfare, indeed, in ANY government-led efforts to articulate and instantiate the common good. The Left does indeed have something to “conserve” but there are far too few conservators and trustees, especially in our public national life. Such “defensiveness” is otiose in the face of the apparent widespread belief that our current economic morass is attributable to the very politics and institutions we hope to conserve. In a society hypnotized by the trope of novelty, such a politics appears utterly bereft of the sort of vision that inspires progressive political action. Things look dark, certainly in the short- and medium-term, and I confess to seeing no way out, no signs on the horizon that point to alternative feasible or even potential possibilities. It’s all rather depressing…. All the same, I, and no doubt others as well, alone and occasionally in concert, will feel morally compelled to persevere.

Steve Shiffrin

Very well put Patrick. I too emerge without any optimism about the
future for social democratic politics. If social democracy emerged
from catastrophic events, it may need such events to revive. But, as
Judt points out, such events can also lead us back to fascism -
though we currently already live in a form of friendly fascism.

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