One the distinguishing features of modern liberal democracy is the personal nature of political fights. Disputes are no longer disagreements over policy or clashes between interest groups over the spoils of government. Instead they are highly personal matters, in which both sides are defined by their unwillingness to compromise. In fact, the unwillingness to find any compromise with the other side is what comes to define the partisans. Everyone is defined by their enemies.
The term “partisan” in the way it is used in modern politics was coined by Lenin as a counter to bourgeois objectivity. The Marxists argued that since class interests determine ideology, there is no point in thinking about non-partisans politics. The partisan should fight for the interests of his class, or in the modern sense, his identity group, even if that contradicts the interests of society as a whole. The modern partisan is supposed to care only about winning for the good of his group.
Obviously, the partisan has a personal stake in his politics, in that he is fighting for his class, tribe, identity group and so on. The partisan stands to benefit personally if his class carries the day, but that’s not the point of politics. The union activist, fighting to unionize a shop, benefits from the spread of unions, but his reason for unionizing is it is good for his class. Similarly, the member of a minority group would advocate for his people, because it is good for his tribe.
That is another strange aspect of modern politics. There is a disconnect between the partisan and the cause he champions. Affluent white female liberals, for example, have no practical connection to the issues they champion, other than the nonsensical concept of intersectionality. In the partisan sense, they should be on the side of those defending the cultural hegemony of bourgeois white people. Instead, they champion causes that threaten their lifestyle.
This combination of deeply personal politics and disconnected partisanship results in a highly emotional, disembodied politics. The upper middle-class female who is overly officious with the lazy sales clerk is mocked as a “Karen” by the sorts of people who should be the defenders of order. The epithet is liberally tossed around by people claiming to be conservatives. The result is two sides defining themselves by their hatred of the other, despite their shared interests.
One reason for this is partisan politics only makes sense when the stakes are high for the partisans in the fight. A century ago, when union activists were fighting for worker rights, the workers had a lot to gain. The employers had a lot to lose in the practical sense, but also in terms of their political position. In a post-scarcity world, the stakes are low, often non-existent. Black Lives Matter has nothing to gain or lose. The most they can hope for is a temporary trophy on social media.
Another reason for the highly personal partisanship is the long shadow of second wave feminism on our politics. Feminism in the second half of the last century not only came to exert greater influence on the culture, but it became highly personal. Just as ideological partisanship triumphed over objectivity, personal politics triumphed over dispassionate issue advocacy. Feminism not only feminized our politics, it turned into an emotional hair-pulling contest. It’s always personal.
Personal partisanship is highly negative. The modern partisan no longer is defined internally by his class, tribe or identity. He is defined by his enemies. Modern political identity is a dynamic between adversaries. The woke are defined by their opposition to imaginary racists. Because they are imaginary, they end up attacking normal people, who respond by attacking imaginary communists. Everyone must be defined by who they oppose, making them a slave to their enemies.
The reason the political class has been silent on the urban unrest this summer is from their perspective, they have no dog in the fight. The woke warriors pulling down statues are not threatening the ruling class. They are threatening the invisible Nazis. The BLM people pulling people out of their cars and killing them are not threatening to attack the ruling class this way. In a world where political action can only occur in the face of an enemy, the ruling class has no reason to stop the madness.
The irony of liberal democracy is that it is supposed to result in the public will being expressed in the laws passed and enforced by the state. Instead, it results in the general will being sublimated to petty squabbles and negative identity. The people in power are free to act without fear of public disapproval. Even if the voters are unhappy with the politicians, they are going to spend all of their time attacking imaginary adversaries, because that is the source of their identity.
In theory, the way out of this is an impersonal partisanship. A return to the old style politics where activists work on behave of the interests of their group, indifferent to the interests of others, unless there is conflict. The point of conflict always being the advancement of group interests. In reality, the attraction of personal politics is probably too great to overcome. It is simply natural to respond in a personal way to personal assaults from those who stand in the way of your cause.
Impersonal partisanship, therefore, must start with the disengagement from the political, both formal and informal. The successful groups in the future will be those who have organized outside the system, defined their interests and seek to advance them without regards to the interests of other partisans. That will mean successful outsider politics habituates an indifference to other identity groups. They simply become objects to overcome or navigate around, but otherwise uninteresting.
The impersonal partisan will be one who invests his time in building the strength of his own group, without regards to the actions of others. Instead of reacting to the actions of other tribes, he acts only in the interest of his group. The healthy identity group does not have friends or enemies, only interests, so the partisan is one who has no investment in personal politics, only the interests of his group. By resisting the main weapon of liberal democracy, the impersonal partisan can effectively fight for his cause.
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