Benjamin Studebaker

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

Category: Politics

American Democracy is in No Imminent Danger

In 2014, I finished an MA thesis at the University of Chicago. In that thesis, I argued that as economic inequality increased, American politics would return to the sharp political divisions of the 1930s, with both left-wing and right-wing radical movements popping up all over the place. Recently, I finished a PhD thesis at the University of Cambridge. In that thesis, I argued that while economic inequality does cause legitimation problems, those problems are fundamentally different in kind from the problems of the 1930s. I reversed my position from 2014, and I did so even as most people in the American media and intelligentsia arrived at the position which I formerly held. If I stuck by my old position from 2014, it would be advantageous to my career development. There is increasingly a lot of appetite for expert accounts which play up the threat Donald Trump poses to democracy. Any well-credentialed political theorist or political scientist who can compellingly tell stories about executive coups from the 20th century and draw parallels to Trump can now sell many books without much trouble. The issue is that these parallels are rubbish. Here’s why.

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Liberalism’s War on the Internet

Over the past few weeks, the occupation of the capitol building by pro-Trump demonstrators has legitimated a raft of security measures. The War on Terror is now the War on the Internet. In the wake of Brexit and the election of Donald Trump, liberalism has become aware of the danger posed to it by the internet. On the internet, discourse proliferates rapidly, in an uncontrolled and unmediated way. Many web users begin to develop positions which are incompatible with liberal pluralism, which paint their political opponents as enemies who must be comprehensively destroyed. During the 90s, 00s, and early 10s, the internet was not treated seriously by liberal theory. The triumph of the populists in the mid-10s forced liberalism to reckon with it. Now liberalism is trying to change the internet into something compatible with liberalism.

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Jimmy Dore, AOC, and Medicare-For-All Strategy

The American left is finally discussing Medicare-For-All strategy again, thanks to Jimmy Dore’s suggestion that House Democrats could demand a floor vote on the legislation in exchange for backing Nancy Pelosi’s next term as Speaker. For too long, we haven’t been discussing our substantive goals and the available strategies for pursuing them. We’ve been locked in grim, repetitive discussions of coronavirus and the presidential election. But Dore got Medicare-For-All back on the front burner. And how have we rewarded him? He’s been subject to a slew of malicious, personal attacks. Instead of engaging with Dore’s argument, many of Dore’s opponents have turned to ad hominem, arguing that we shouldn’t listen to the argument simply because it comes from Jimmy Dore.

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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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