Benjamin Studebaker

Yet Another Attempt to Make the World a Better Place by Writing Things

A Realistic Left-Wing Strategy for Red States

In recent years, the left has been excited about electoral breakthroughs in college towns and big cities. But these regions aren’t enough. To pass signature legislation like Medicare-For-All, the left must establish a Senate majority. This means that somehow, rural red states have to elect senators who are willing to get behind these proposals.

The left hates thinking about this problem, because it requires acknowledging the limitations of its existing approach. The strategy that seems to work well in New York and California has no traction at all in Middle America. Proponents of the coastal strategy love to daydream about circumventing the problem. They indulge in idle fantasies of abolishing the Senate and electoral college, they delude themselves about demographic shifts, and they mock red state voters for choosing their cultural values over their economic interests. Of course, they never consider making cultural concessions to red state voters because they themselves care more about progressive cultural commitments than securing economic rights. They have the same priorities they mock.

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An Argument with Nathan Robinson about Whether the Left Should Support Joe Biden in the General Election

Nathan Robinson and I have written two very different pieces about whether the left should support Joe Biden in the general election. We got together to debate the issue, and our discussion is now available to you on YouTube:

Here’s my piece: https://benjaminstudebaker.com/2020/08/31/the-left-case-against-supporting-joe-biden-in-the-general-election/

Here’s his piece: https://www.currentaffairs.org/2020/08/an-ineffectual-biden-presidency-is-better-for-the-left-than-an-actively-authoritarian-trump-presidency

The Left’s Nationalism Dilemma

I want to talk about the American left’s relationship with nationalism. I’ll start by making a distinction between two different ways of understanding what America is:

  1. Some people think of America as a federal republic. In a republic, citizens are thinly united by a commitment to a shared political system. They may be very different from each other in many other respects, but despite cultural differences they share the same political status as citizens, and the republic recognises their shared status.
  2. Other people think of America as a nation-state. In a nation state, citizens are thickly unified by a shared culture, built around things like language, religion, ethnicity, and other values. If citizens don’t partake in the shared culture, they may be citizens of the state but they are not part of the nation. In this way, they can be thought of as second class citizens, or even internal enemies.
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The Rump Professional Class and Its Fallen Counterpart

I’ve been thinking about the professional class–the class which sits between the wealthy billionaires and the ordinary workers. The professionals are college-educated and they are traditionally paid more than ordinary workers. But as economic inequality grows and the position of workers becomes more precarious, the professionals are less secure than they used to be. A university degree no longer guarantees a stable, robust standard of living, but it still separates those who have it from those who do not. Why? Because college students are socialised to pursue the degree as a means of demonstrating their merit. When that merit goes unrewarded, young would-be professionals grow very cross. They want their virtue to be recognised. Unable to earn more or enjoy a higher living standard than the workers, the would-be professionals retreat into the cultural realm. They use the language and ideas they learned at university to assert their moral superiority, gaining an imaginary victory over the workers. This condescension leads the workers to resent the professionals in turn, and makes it very difficult for these downwardly mobile professionals to form political alliances with the workers. All of this, of course, perpetuates the dominion of the rich.

To use a metaphor, the professionals are the house slaves of capitalism–they identify with the owners because they live better than the field slaves and are invited to participate in and contribute to the culture of the owners. But once they are deprived of their superior living standard and opportunity to culturally contribute, they can defend their feeling of superiority only by mocking the field slaves for being unable to read.

This is not to say that the whole of the professional class is going this way. Some college educated people still enjoy the economic and cultural advantages which historically belonged to all or most college-educated people. I want to explore how this group–what I call the “rump professional class”–interacts with the downwardly mobile group, which I call the “fallen professional class”.

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The Fear Surrounding the Death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg is Unhealthy

Over the past week, there has been a very strong emotional reaction to the death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg. I am not talking about the grief–it is perfectly normal for Ginsburg’s many admirers to grieve her loss. But it has gone beyond grief. There is a climate of intense fear surrounding Ginsburg’s death. Over the past few months, the Democrats have tried to make the 2020 election feel existential. They want us to feel that we have to vote for Biden, because otherwise democracy itself will be destroyed. This has led to a lot of exaggeration. I have been reluctant to write on it, because the reactions people are having are so extreme. But contrary to the increasingly hysterical narrative, there is little reason to think that Ginsburg’s death will have massive political consequences. Here’s why.

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