Benjamin Studebaker

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

Category: Miscellaneous

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:

Here’s his piece:

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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Coronavirus Is Coming for Education

I have a new piece out at The Bellows on the effects coronavirus is likely to have on the American public school system. You can read it here:

Coronavirus Is Coming for Education

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Liberal Hypocrisies and the Alternatives to Them

All social orders are supported by “legitimation stories”. These are the reasons orders give us to support them, or at least to stay out of their way. Legitimation stories don’t have to be true, but they have to be persuasive. The social order has to create a set of conditions that are similar enough to the stories that we mistake what we have for what we were promised. Legitimation stories are chiefly about “good order”. Order is straightforward–social orders promise to protect us from violence, starvation, instability, and precarity. They promise to make us feel secure. “Good” is less obvious, because “good” tends to mean different things to different people in different contexts. Liberal legitimation stories understand “good” in three senses:

  1. A good order is one in which the subjects of the order are “free” or have “liberty” in some relevant sense.
  2. A good order is one in which the subjects of the order are treated as “equal” to one another in some relevant sense.
  3. A good order is one in which the order “represents” the subjects in some relevant way.
  4. A good order is “dynamic”, it is capable of delivering real change.

The trouble is that terms like “free”, “equal”, and “representative” don’t have stable social meanings. Our understandings of these terms can easily slide out of alignment with the understandings we need to have for legitimation stories to work. If we understand “equality” to mean “a fair distribution of resources” but the liberal order wants us to understand “equality” as “everyone gets to have their say”, the order has to convince us that we’ve misunderstood the meaning of equality. It has to get us to think about it in a whole different way. When gaps open up between the conditions the order produces and our expectations, it is often because the order has lost control over how we understand the words it uses to tell its stories. When this happens, the order appears “hypocritical”–it appears to say one thing and do another, to tell stories it has no intention of realising. That’s what today’s post is about–the liberal order’s hypocrisies.

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