(A version of this article was published first in Blogcritics, Politics section)
It's arguable that every successful movement in our long and checkered history was infused with, if not inspired by, an idealistic component. Even freedom or liberation movements looked beyond the immediate gains that would benefit the oppressed masses, to the idea. And the same goes for the Civil Rights activists, or the pacifist movement spurred by Gandhi and adopted by Martin Luther King, Jr., the abolitionists or the suffragettes. It was the idea that fired them all, from Lenin and Castro to Chez Guevara and Daniel Ortega (and yes, even Hitler and Mussolini, because we can't ignore the negative examples since they, too, prove the point) – an idea that was bigger than life, bigger than the immediate circumstances of the moment, however deplorable, and which stood in need of correcting, bigger than the people themselves.
For better or worse, that's the nature of the beast; the pen is indeed mightier than the sword. Ideas rule, and the New Left is an example par excellence. The million-dollar question is: Can it sustain itself?
Don't forget that the New Left and the ensuing ideology – the heightened consciousness which has since spread throughout the globe to become a universal or mass consciousness – was a child of prosperity. A child of the unique conditions in America and the industrialized West, which made it possible for bourgeois offspring to disavow their own self-interest and to embrace instead the interests and the plight of the many who have been left out by the system, to rebel against the very principles which made it possible for them to think progressively and altruistically. Concern for others is a luxury that only a few can possibly afford; and if material conditions deteriorate to the point than every man or woman must fend for themselves in the interest of their own survival, then idealism is indeed a shaky proposition and it stands on no less shaky ground.
It is thus that capitalism, the very (by some estimates) "inhumane" system which has given rise to the most humanistic philosophy ever and made it the exclusive domain of the common man, carries within itself the seeds of its own self-destruction. It's something to think about.
Which brings us back to the million-dollar question: Can we continue in this vein and retain this idealistic strain while the conditions which made idealism possible, a level of general prosperity for a great many, are about to become extinct? What would it do to mass consciousness if the masses themselves will be forced to become more and more concerned with the business of making a living? Isn't there a danger here that once again, the humanity might revert to its primitive self and selfish and unenlightened thinking? Is the progress we've made a fleeting phenomenon, no different than any other accomplishment peculiar to a particular epoch or period of history? Civilization is indeed a very thin veneer; but does that have to mean that all the gains we've made in the past fifty years or so, the idealistic thinking which has fired the imagination and focused on the plight of the disadvantaged and the have-nots, is going to dissipate and become just another episode in our long and sorry history? And for what good reason? Just because our own comfortable existence is likely to disappear, taking with it any inclination to concern ourselves with our brothers and sisters? Because the "take care of the number one" rule, the matter of sheer survival, will invariably take precedence over all other fine feelings we might have towards our fellow men? I'd hate to think we're as limited as all that.
These are relevant questions; and they're not to be taken lightly as the capitalist system of production – the very source which made idealism possible and indirectly, the explosion of mass consciousness as well – far from having spread throughout the rest of the globe, is itself undergoing all kinds of stresses and fissures from within as it fights for its own survival. Our future is very far from certain. It's all up to us, it seems, and the kind of courage we're about to display, whether it's going to be a dog-eat-dog or being-your-brother's-keeper kind of attitude.
I'd like to take a positive view and think that once a state of enlightenment is reached, it's rather difficult to undo. The human spirit shall prevail. It's certainly true of individuals, for when you do acquire a third eye, it becomes a part of you wherever you go, no matter how your circumstances change.
It's somewhat trickier, however, when applied to a collective and when mass consciousness is at stake, for then other factors are at play, again, the notion of "critical mass" being the most important. Indeed, it would appear that if mass consciousness is to sustain itself or at least not to suffer a setback, it must acquire sufficient push and pull to become the prevalent ideology worldwide, which makes it imperative to spread prosperity, and the message, to all corners of the globe in the hope that they'll take root – again, an iffy proposition considering the uncertain future of capitalism.
At the end of my "Hidden Dimensions" series, I suggested that we put our ideological differences aside and work towards the common goal. That goal, as I conceived of it then, was none other than to keep our government on the straight and narrow so as to preserve our freedoms and way of life.
Nothing has changed except that the situation has become even more dire. Indeed, as one of the commentators had suggested of late on the BC thread (see "Chrysler Bankruptcy: Political Payoff?" comment #42, as per link below),
what I see happening is a schism in the Corporate Statist establishment between those seeking to socialize corporations and those seeking to privatize the government. We've breached [too] many walls between corp[orations] and the state. . . . It may be too late to back off and separate state from business.
I find it disconcerting, in fact the greatest challenge facing us today, that present crisis notwithstanding, we're are being confronted with two equally unpalatable alternatives: a move toward socialism or the privatization of government – which is to say, a near total merger of public and private interest and the reinstatement of the dreaded Establishment as the military-industrial complex.
One should hope that these are but remedial measures, designed to deal with the crisis at hand, but there's no telling, as you and I both know. Either way, it's cause for concern. If you have any doubt, read George Will's article, "Upside-Down Economy" (see link). It's the best treatment thus far.
If there is anything that I'd like to impress on both my fellow travelers from the New Left and those from the antagonistic Right, it is this. Let's forgo all our differences because our freedoms are at stake: the freedom to excel in any area whatever or not to excel; the freedom, in other words, to pursue whatever we wish to pursue, without regard to anyone else's definition of what we ought to be.
That's the essence of the American dream – the freedom to do what we damn well please – so long, of course, that we don't impinge on anybody else's freedom to do likewise.
"Live and let live" is America's motto, economic differences be damned. We're all equal. If you have a problem with this concept, I feel sorry for you. In my mind, you just lack in self-esteem.
In conclusion, I'd like to reiterate that it's our freedoms that are worth fighting for and preserving, including our economic freedom. Our political institutions may change. And if the message of universal justice is going to take hold in the world, the likelihood is that we may yet end up relinquishing some of our national identity and way of life and become more subject to the rule of international law.
I could live with that, I suppose, because on my view of things, this would be tantamount to progress. But what I definitely couldn't live with is the eventuality that our political and economic decisions would emanate from one and the same quarter, because that would mean a totalitarian government. And under a totalitarian regime, no matter how benign, there would be neither freedom, nor justice, not even "expanded consciousness" on any scale worth talking about. It would mean reverting to the Dark Ages. That's why Corporate Statism alluded to earlier – whether in the form of socializing the corporation or privatizing the government – must be fought tooth and nail by the Left and the Right alike. Our future is at stake.
Capitalism is very far from perfect, and it does produce economic inequality. But economic inequality doesn't and shouldn't trump a far more basic notion of equality grounded in freedom and universal justice. If the system were to be made subject to sufficient oversight so as to prevent potential abuses and rid itself of the unscrupulous and immoral practitioners, it may yet work to reduce this inequality. Thus, for all the contradictions presumed to be inherent in the idea that would leave most economic decisions in predominantly private hands, capitalism is still the best system we've got to promote the spread of freedom and justice and yes, prosperity, too, throughout the rest of the world (provided of course its self-destructive tendencies are held in check).
Let's just hope we can escape the present crisis unscathed and resume humanity's progress towards a better and more equitable world.