“A society that does not see its own situation clearly, and is in denial about vital aspects of what is happening to it, must be storing up problems for its own future, and no doubt for others,” observes Godfrey Hodgson, an associate fellow at The Rothermere American Institute at Oxford University.
Hodgson makes these observations in his book “More Equal Than Others: America from Nixon to the New Century” (2004, Princeton University Press).
The book is still relevant today because the world’s only superpower, instead of trying to come to grips with its situation, is busy sending rovers to Mars.
Being an unapologetic liberal, Hodgson dissects the rise of conservatism in the US during the last quarter of the 20th century and finds much to lament in this period.
He points to the great and growing inequality that has been the salient social fact about the America of the conservative ascendancy.
Reduced equality of opportunity translates to the re-emergence of rigid social classes and that the very nature of American democracy has been altered for the worse by the deification of free markets.
With hindsight today, we would still agree with most of Hodgson’s observations, though the dynastic changes suggest that the widening inequality probably has little to do with the conservative vs liberal labels.
These labels, obfuscating and misleading, trivialize the political debate, and give American politics an idealistic look.
Right or left, they are equally myopic about what makes the US sick, and dangerous.
Any Chinese necessarily reared on such values as thriftiness, humility, sincerity and responsibility cannot but see that the first problem with the Americans is their way of life that makes spending almost the only virtue imaginable.
The second problem is that their readiness to spend is not sustained by honest work.
As we know, Americans spend on borrowed money. To make this possible, they have to aggressively preach the American way of life to every corner of the globe.
In converting every person on the planet into devout consumers, the Americans get the things they crave from the new converts, willingly. The things in question can be resources, skilled workers, or cheap labor.
Those who refuse to respond will be lectured on such universals as democracy, market fundamentalism, or the inalienable right to pursue happiness and freedom.
Those who still refuse to change will be labeled as suppressive, despotic or extremist.
The most adamant will be simply wiped out.
So although the US sustains its affluence by refraining from productive work and borrowing generously from others, it does so often with the pained and resigned look of a martyr.
Such zeal and confidence can only have come from fearlessness.
Unlike unsophisticated peoples who have eked out a living on Earth for tens of thousands of years in fear, the Americans are manifestly unafraid.
This freedom from fear – whether of divine retribution, ancestors, or other superstitious nonsense – enables them to stay in the moment, which they regard as an unending source of ever-heightened pleasure.
Judging by the vehemence with which the US scolds its neighbors, we are apt to think it must be exemplary in the management of its own household affairs. That is not always true.
China Central Television (CCTV) reported on Tuesday that during the past weekend, within 36 hours, 10 people were killed and more than 30 wounded in more than 20 shootings in Chicago, Illinois.
Professor Leonard Cavise from DePaul University College of Law, in an interview with CCTV, blames “guns, drugs and poverty” as the three major reasons.
“If you arrest a young man on a street corner for selling drugs, put him in jail the next day and then you go back to that street corner, you will see 10 other young people waiting to take his job selling drugs, because there is nothing else to be had,” the professor said.
As the author claims, the growing inequality of opportunity is turning America into a deeply stratified, class-bound society and the deification of free market capitalism and the influence of money in politics threaten to undermine American democracy.
Hodgson’s greatest contribution to the political discussion may be his examination of this time period from so many angles, exposing myths and misconceptions about each facet of society, especially the much-ballyhooed prosperity of the 1990s.
He points to the need of empowering democratic government to address challenges at home and abroad.
As the author still has faith in the American political system, he is optimistic about the future of America.
The trouble with American political system is that it does not produce policy makers who are interested in the future.
The politicians are interested in the current term of office, while the voters are interested in their standard of living, abortion and gay rights. The melting glaciers and diminishing rain forests are no one’s concerns.
Americans have an institution nominally ruled by the numbers, but essentially ruled by money. As money and influence tend to stay within the clan, when deprived of its fine trappings, the American political alternation of generations is barely different from dynastic changes, and much more expensive.
As the author observes, in the money game money goes not to those who need help most but to well-heeled and well-represented constituents. At this juncture, democracy and inequality are mutually reinforcing.
The thinking few have deep-seated contempt for this money game, but their voices invariably get drowned in the cacophony of the multitudes clamoring for more.
The only option left them is to escape practical politics and avoid public life.
Aristotle once frankly expressed his distaste for the democratic form of government and his lack of belief in the sovereign abilities of the common people.
But Hodgson is more optimistic.
He wonders whether the US will return to entrepreneurial capitalism, outliving its worship of free-market capitalism; and will US citizens turn back to the older American ideal and strive to share their bounty in a society built on equal opportunity and equal protection under the law?
Wen Lixin, http://www.shanghaidaily.com