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« Free Reads -- Theodore Dalrymple on Paris Crime | Main | Free Reads -- Righties and Pleasure again »

October 24, 2002

Philosoblog and Envy reredux


To make my own pathetic little addition to your brilliant discussion of the current alliance between notions of pleasure and Left-wing politics, I offer the following scattered observations:

1. Modern Lefties (in contradistinction to more Traditional Lefties) can be intensely materialistic and focused on conspicuous consumption--both in their personal and professional lives--without this interfering with their self-image as egalitarians and citizens of the republic of virtue. I'm convinced after much thought that the guys who run the New York Times Magazine were not being hypocritical (no matter how much it may look like this to a Rightie) by running a lengthy article by Op-Ed Columnist Paul Krugman on the evils of increasing income inequality--advertised on the cover as “The Class Wars Part I: The End of Middle Class America and the Triumph of the Plutocrats”--while simultaneously running a 48-page advertising section on "The Best of Luxury Homes and Estates" in the same issue. The ability to do something like this without hypocrisy is the very essence of the Modern Left-wing Attitude--and just because Right-wingers and Traditional Lefties don't "get" how it's possible doesn't mean it isn't real.

2. There is an affinity I can't spell out but I sense exists between people who are trying to mirror the masses back to themselves (TV personalities, advertisers, movie execs, magazine editors, politicians like Bill Clinton) and a left-wing point of view.

3. Ralph Nader's consumerism has become the dominant strain in modern Leftist thought, the key principle of which is making sure that the powerful corporations that deliver the essentials of life to the average consumer are policed in this activity by the Nanny State and the plaintiffs' bar. This movement is NOT at root hostile to corporate America, but is rather symbiotic with it (by which I mean that corporate America gets something out of this, too).

4. The current vogue of celebrity-worship and the hushed attention paid to their fabulous personal trappings is definitely tied in to all this somewhere.

I think I'm on to something here. Do you agree?



posted by Friedrich at October 24, 2002


I absolutely agree, though I'm at a loss to make any kind of deep sense out of it. I wonder whether there is in fact one explanation for it, and suspect there isn't -- that it's a bunch of things existing on different levels. Wariness of corporate power on one level, love of the goodies on another; an attraction to beauty and fashion on one level, an love of moral lecturing on another...

Do you discern one single ground underneath all this? I'm not sure I do. My little contribution to the "how to explain lefties" conversation was meant to open up the possibility that maybe they don't make entirely consistent sense, and that maybe we shouldn't expect them to. I certainly don't; why should they? Jim Ryan's theory that leftism is driven by envy certainly has something to say for it. My hunch that many people are attracted to leftism because it has succeeded in associating itself with culture and attractiveness has, in my experience anyway, something to say for it too. Which suggests there are probably other perfectly, if not exclusively, valid explanations just waiting to be elucidated. I think you've hinted at some new ones with this posting.


Posted by: Michael on November 1, 2002 11:41 AM

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