Summary: Here is the last chapter of anthropologist Maximilian Forte’s series about America’s New Victorianism. It explains many of the otherwise baffling aspects of Campaign 2016. This essay is worth a ton of journalists’ reporting about the sound bite circus that dominates the news.
Against the Labouring Classes: Identity Politics in the New Victorian Age.
By Maximilian C. Forte. Part 4 of 4.
From Zero Anthropology.
Reposted with his generous permission.
The New Victorianism serves to not only divert politics into issues of morality and identity, it works to obfuscate the bases of increasing inequality. Focusing on the Democratic Party, and its abandonment of the working class over the past forty years, Adolph Reed Jr. (professor of political science at the University of Pennsylvania) would appear to have seen from early on how these issues are linked — though he does not use the phrase “New Victorianism,” he describes it in other words. Speaking of Democrats and liberals in general, he wrote of,
“their capacity for high-minded fervor for the emptiest and sappiest platitudes; their tendencies to make a fetish of procedure over substance and to look for technical fixes to political problems; their ability to screen out the mounting carnage in the cities they inhabit as they seek pleasant venues for ingesting good coffee and scones; their propensity for aestheticizing other people’s oppression and calling that activism; their reflex to wring their hands and look constipated in the face of conflict; and, most of all, their spinelessness and undependability in crises”.
— “Liberals, I Do Despise” by Adolph Reed, Jr. in The Village Voice, 12 November 1996.
Twenty years ago he criticized “their refusal to face up to the class realities of American politics” and how liberals “avoid any linkage of inequality with corporations’ use of public policy to drive down living standards and enhance their plunder”. Instead, when it comes to the marginalized within the US they opt for a maudlin “save-the-babies politics” that demonizes working-class parents, much the same way that the right-wing has done. He concluded that liberal politics are “motivated by the desire for proximity to the ruling class and a belief in the basic legitimacy of its power and prerogative. It is a politics which, despite all its idealist puffery and feigned nobility, will sell out any allies or egalitarian objectives in pursuit of gaining the Prince’s ear” (Reed, 1996).
Reed’s critique later expanded beyond the confines of the Democratic party, moving to include left activists and the labour movement, raising an issue that I recently touched upon when I wrote that, “it now seems clear that every single sector and shade of the US left has made some sort of peace with neoliberalism, with the basic structure of the status quo, from which their hopes hang even if by the thinnest of humanitarian, cosmopolitan and reformist threads”. This is how Reed argued the point…