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Where has the world headed after 1989? (Ian Buruma, 21 November 2009, Times of India)
Twenty years ago, when the Berlin Wall was breached and the Soviet empire was collapsing , only die-hard believers in a communist utopia felt unhappy. [...]

Democratic idealism was once the domain of the left, including social democrats and liberals. But, in the late twentieth century, it became more important to many leftists to save "Third World" culture, no matter how barbaric, from "neocolonialism ," than to support equality and democracy. People on the left would defend brutal dictators (Castro, Mao, Pol Pot, Khomeini, et al) simply because they opposed "Western imperialism."

As a result, all politics that were derived, no matter how loosely, from Marxism, lost credibility, and finally died in 1989. This was naturally a disaster for communists and socialists , but also for social democrats, for they had lost an ideological basis for their idealism. And, without idealism, politics becomes a form of accounting, a management of purely material interests.

This explains why Italians, and later Thais, chose business tycoons to lead their countries. They hoped that men who managed to accumulate so much personal wealth could do the same for their voters.

Yet the rhetoric of idealism has not quite disappeared. It merely shifted from left to right. Once the left abandoned the language of internationalism - democratic revolution, national liberation, and so forth - it was taken up by neoconservatives . Their promotion of American military force as the strong arm of democracy may have been misguided, crude, arrogant, ignorant, naive , and deeply dangerous, but it was indisputably idealistic .

The allure of revolutionary elan has drawn some former leftists to the neo-conservative side. But most liberals were deeply alarmed by the neo-cons , without being able to find a coherent answer .

Having lost their own zest for internationalism, a common response among liberals to neo-con radicalism has been a call for "realism," non-interference in others' affairs, and withdrawal from the world. This may be the wiser course in many cases, but it is hardly inspiring.
Coincidentally, I just found and read a copy of Jedediah Purdy's infamous polemic against irony, For Common Things, not coincidentally published shortly after the End of History. Early on, he says the following, in trying to define irony and describe what's wrong with it:
It is a fear of betrayal, disappointment, and humiliation, and a suspicion that believing, hoping, or caring too much will open us to these. [...]

In roughly the past twenty-five years, politics has gone dead to the imagination. It has ceased being the site of moral and historical drama. It has come to seem petty, tedious, and parochial.

This change would signify less if politics had mattered less than it has in recent decades. However, for more than two hundred years, politics has been among the great sources of inspiration and purpose, giving shape to many lives. From the radical period of the French Revolution onward there has stood the promise that politics can change the human predicament in elemental ways. Politics, on this promise, could erase all the foolish, cruel, maddening accretions of history and replace them with fair and humane arrangements where for the first time people would live as free as they are born. For both the revolutionaries whose ambitions convulsed the world and the crusading reformers of Britain and America, politics was the fulcrum on which women and men could move the lever of history. They needed only a firm place to stand to take up Archimedes' old boast and move the world.

This extraordinary promise attracted the people with the greatest capacity and need for hope, the ones with the keenest sensitivity to suffering and cruelty and the strongest impulse to work against them. Politics was the means by which those who were most keenly aware of what should be could turn that moral truth into historical reality. Politics in effect took over the role of religion for many people in both this century and the last. It gave purpose to individual lives. Its aim of remaking the world carried the promise of redemption, both of whole societies and of the long labors of the individuals who worked to change them. Politics was the way to service, to heroism, and to sainthood.
There's something spine-chilling about a guy who laments the end of the mass-murderous period of ideology that the French Revolution ushered in and complains that liberal democracy has triumphed, ending the "drama." Sure, America is generally pretty boring. But our dramatic periods have come when we've been forced to crush chattel slavery, Imperialism, Nazism, Communism, Islamicism, all the isms that tried to replace religious morality with utopian politics.

We were fortunate to avoid most of the damage from these cancers of the Age of Reason here in the Anglosphere, precisely because our culture of irony immunized us to the delusions of the true believers:
[W]hat emerged was a re-articulation of a great American theology: the ironic strain of Protestant faith. In 1952, Reinhold Niebuhr described this part of American religious-political character in his book, The Irony of American History. Irony, as Niebuhr described, is not humor. Rather, it is an understanding that American history was full of unexpected twists, that the most innocent political intentions had often undermined virtue.

“If virtue becomes vice through some hidden defect in the virtue; if strength becomes weakness because of the vanity to which strength may prompt the mighty man or nation; if security is transmuted into insecurity because too much reliance is placed upon it; if wisdom becomes folly because it does not know its own limits - in all such cases, the situation is ironic.”

Irony runs deep in the Protestant soul, finding its original voice in St. Paul, who said, “We know that the law is spiritual, but I am flesh, sold into slavery under sin. I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.”
    The Rebirth of Irony (Diana Butler Bass)
It was thanks to our distrust of merely human ideas and our recognition of human frailties that we didn't get sucked into the great Rationalist experiments upon mankind. (A people whose God so badly screwed up His own Eden are hardly likely to make the mistake of believing they can create paradise themselves.)Indeed, it was the uniquely ironic disposition towards Reason itself that saved us.

While it is easy enough to understand why "Progressives" should be so disappointed that political thought has made no significant progress in hundreds of years and that the stuff we have right derives from accepting non-rational truth, that's no reason to take their whingeing seriously.

Turns out, Judeo-Christian theology is progressive; progressivism is retardant. Move on...

N.B.: Note too that it is the inability of the Left to accept the irony inherent in Creation that makes all humor conservative.


Grade: (D)


See also:

Jedediah Purdy Links:

    -WIKIPEDIA: Jedediah Purdy
    -Jedediah Purdy (New America Foundation)
    -Jedediah Purdy (Center for American Progress)
    -Jedediah Purdy (Duke Law School)
    -BOOK SITE: For Common Things (Random House)
    -GOOGLE BOOK: For Common Things
    -EXCERPT: from For Common Things
    -EXCERPT: from A Tolerable Anarchy
    -DIALOGUE: The State of Irony (Jedediah Purdy & Michael Hirschorn, Sept. 23, 1999, Slate)
    -ESSAY: Community (Jedediah Purdy, Winter 2009, Democracy Journal)
    -ESSAY: Community in Barack Obama's America (Jedediah Purdy - January 20, 2009, TPM Cafe)
-ESSAY: Intellectual climate change: Preventing environmental disaster is just the latest of many supposedly unachievable ideas that have since been proven possible (Jedediah Purdy, 11/20/07,
    -ESSAY: Can't talk the talk: The more US politicians speak about community and responsibility, the more Americans are coming to hate each other. (Jedediah Purdy, 10/25/07,
    - ESSAY: Suspicious Minds: Too much trust can actually be a bad thing—a polity of suckers is no better than a nation of cynics. But Americans' steadily declining faith in one another is a warning (Jedediah Purdy, January/february 2003, Atlantic)
    -ESSAY: Universal nation: Americans are genuinely shocked by the idea that they are an imperial power (Jedediah Purdy, 20th November 2001, Prospect)
    -ESSAY: After Innocence (Jedediah Purdy, September 18, 2001, American Prospect)
If terrorism produces a siege mentality, then terror has won. That is the sense in which the attacks represent a battle between civilization and barbarism.

The terrible irony of such a battle is that civilization loses only if it consents to become barbaric.

    -ESSAY: The New Biopolitics: How individual reproductive choices made around the world can destabilize the global economy and threaten our security–and what we can do about it. (Jedediah Purdy, Summer 2006, Democracy Journal)
    -ESSAY: The Legacy of Sept. 11... So Far: Unity, politics renewed, then squandered (Jedediah Purdy, 9/10/06, The Charleston Gazette)
    -ESSAY: Neoliberalism Comes to Domestic Policy (Jedediah Purdy, New America Foundation, 1/20/05, La Vanguardia)
    -ESSAY: The Young American (Jedediah Purdy, 12/01/02, Esquire)
    -ESSAY: Us and Them (Jedediah Purdy, 7/31/01, Die Zeit)
    -ESSAY: Shades of Green (Jedediah Purdy, January 3, 2000, American Prospect)
    -ESSAY: The Tragedy of King Coal: Mountaintop Removal (Jedediah Purdy, April 1, 2000,
    -ESSAY: The New Culture of Rural America (Jedediah Purdy, December 20, 1999, American Prospect)
    -ESSAY: From Purity to Politics (Jedediah Purdy, January 1, 1999, American Prospect)
    -ESSAY: The Chicago Acid Bath: The Impoverished Logic of "Law and Economics" (Jedediah Purdy | January 1, 1998, American Prospect)
    -ESSAY: The Libertarian Conceit: Political excess in the twentieth century gives libertarianism understandable appeal. But caveat emptor; the path from Isaiah Berlin does not lead to Charles Murray. (Jedediah Purdy | November 1, 1997, American Prospect)
    -REVIEW: of "George Soros on Globalization" and Joseph Stiglitz's "Globalization and Its Discontents (Jedediah Purdy, Ethics & International Affairs)
    -REVIEW: of Cass Sunstein's 'Infotopia' and Yochai Benkler's 'The Wealth of Networks' (Jedediah Purdy, The American Prospect)
    -REVIEW: of of William H. Goetzmann's 'Beyond the Revolution' (Jedediah Purdy, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of THE LOST ART OF DRAWING THE LINE: How Fairness Went Too Far by Philip K. Howard (Jedediah Purdy, NY Times Book Review)
    -PROFILE: Against Irony (Marshall Sella, September 5, 1999, NY Times Magazine)
    -PROFILE: A Super-Scholar, All Grown Up and Still Theorizing (Claudia Deane, 4/10/06, Washington Post)
    -PARODY: J E D E D I A H I N L O V E (TODD PRUZAN , McSweeney's)
   -AUDIO INTERVIEW: Jedediah Purdy (Mars Hill Audio)
    -AUDIO INTERVIEW: Jedediah Purdy (Diane Rehm, 10/22/99, WAMU)
    -PROFILE: Innocence abroad: Anti-irony crusader Jedediah Purdy, back from the Middle East, talks about terrorism, violence, the Calvinist heritage of Las Vegas and his new book about America's role in the world. (David Bowman, Mar 4, 2003, Salon)
    -INTERVIEW: Jedediah Purdy with Charles Wilson (Charles Wilson, June/July 2003, Brooklyn Rail)
    -PROFILE: Return of the Jedediah: A Talk With 'Being America' Author Purdy (Joy Press, March 11th 2003, Village Voice)
    -INTERVIEW: Jedediah Purdy (Suck, 9/23/99)
    -PROFILE: PURDY BOY: Don't tell Seinfeld about this (Angela Ashman, March 6th 2009, Village Voice)
    -PROFILE: Things that make you go hmmm ... Part 2: The missing link (Kirsten Edwards, 31 October 2000, Online Opinion)
    -INTERVIEW: Stray Questions for: Jedediah Purdy (BLAKE WILSON, 2/20/09, NY Times: PaperCuts blog)
    -ESSAY: Irony Scare: HOW DID A LITERARY DEVICE BECOME A PUBLIC ENEMY? (Benjamin Anastas, 05.18.01, New Republic)
    -ESSAY: In Defense of Irony (Joel Stein, 10/04/99, TIME)
    -ESSAY: No Kidding: Does Irony Illuminate Or Corrupt? (CHARLES McGRATH, August 5, 2000, NY Times)
    -ESSAY: A diet too rich in irony?: Americans apparently are either overindulging or seriously deficient (Jerome Weeks, September 3, 2000, Dallas Morning News)
    -ESSAY: About irony (Robert Fulford, September 18, 1999, Globe and Mail)
    -ESSAY: Irony is dead! Long live irony!: As jingoists call for a New Sincerity, we need irony -- the serious kind -- more than ever. (David Beers, Sep. 25, 2001, Salon)
    -ESSAY: What are you laughing at?: It's the oldest jibe in the book: 'Americans just don't get irony.' But they do, argues comedian Simon Pegg - our national senses of humour have more in common than we like to think (Simon Pegg, 2/10/07, The Guardian)
    -ESSAY: You find irony everywhere these days. But I want irony that cares, passionate irony, Third Way irony (Suzanne Moore, 10 April 2000, New Statesman)
    -ESSAY: Will We Ever Get Over Irony? (David Gates, 1/01/00, NEWSWEEK)
    -ESSAY: The Value of Humor?: You're not alone if you don't. (Frederica Mathewes-Green, 5/22/2000, Christianity Today)
    -ARCHIVES: Jedediah Purdy (NY Times)
    -ARCHIVES: "jedediah purdy" (Find Articles)
    -ARCHIVES: Jedediah Purdy (The Guardian)
    -ARCHIVES: Jedediah Purdy (American Prospect)
    -REVIEW: of For Common Things: Irony, Trust, and Commitment in America Today By Jedediah Purdy (David Glen, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of For Common Things (Christopher Lehmann-Haupt, NY Times)
    -REVIEW: of For Common Things (Caleb Crain, Salon)
    -REVIEW: of For Common Things (Michael McQuaide, Emory Report)
    -REVIEW: of For Common Things (Richard D. Kahlenberg, Washington Monthly)
    -REVIEW: of For Common Things (Isabell Lyman)
    -REVIEW: of For Common Things(Roger D. Hode, Harper's)
    -REVIEW: of For Common Things (Gary Dorrien, Christian Century)
    -REVIEW: of For Common Things (Jesse Walker, Reason)
    -REVIEW: of For Common Things (Stephen McGarvey, World)
    -REVIEW: of For Common Things (Benjamin DeMott, NY Review of Books)
    -REVIEW: of For Common Things (Julia Keller, Chicago Tribune)
    -REVIEW: of For Common Things (Walter Kirn, TIME)
    -REVIEW: of For Common Things (Preston Jones, Regeneration)
    -REVIEW: of
-REVIEW: of Being America: Liberty, Commerce, and Violence in an American World by Jedediah Purdy (Barry Gewen, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of Being America (Derrick Norman, BookPage)
    -REVIEW: of Being America (PJ Tigue, Flak)
    -REVIEW: of Being America (Anne Applebaum, Washington Post)
    -REVIEW: of Being America (Merle Rubin, CS Monitor)
    -REVIEW: of A TOLERABLE ANARCHY: Rebels, Reactionaries, and the Making of American Freedom By Jedediah Purdy (Gary Hart, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of A Tolerable Anarchy (James Bowman, Washington Times)
    -REVIEW: of Being America (Bruce Bawer, Frontpage)
    -REVIEW: of A tolerable Anarchy (John Stoehr, Independent Weekly)
    -REVIEW: of A Tolerable Anarchy (Art Winslow, LA Times)
    -REVIEW: of A Tolerable Anarchy (Chuck Leddy, CS Monitor)
    -REVIEW: of A Tolerable Anarchy (Bob Hoover, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)
    -REVIEW: of A Tolerable Anarchy (Orlando Patterson, American Prospect)

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