NETFLIX’S FLAGSHIP series, “The Crown”, has done a fine job of telling the story of post-war Britain through the prism of the monarchy. The previous series left viewers in the mid-1970s, mired in the miners’ strike and the three-day week. The new one, which begins streaming on November 15th, introduces us to two women who were destined to change the country in profound ways—Margaret Thatcher and Lady Diana Spencer.
Lady Thatcher made it clear from the first that she was in the business of changing the nation. Lady Diana Spencer was a bird of a very different feather—a shy girl who had failed all her O-levels twice and had no interest in politics. She was brought onto the national stage for the sole purpose of producing (male) heirs to the throne. Yet the country is still living with her political legacy as surely as it is with Lady Thatcher’s.
Princess Diana’s genius was to mix two of the most profound forces of modern politics—emotion and anti-elitism—into a powerful populist cocktail. She was one of the modern masters of the politics of emotion, feeling the people’s pain just as they felt hers. She repeatedly outmanoeuvred Prince Charles during the long “War of the Waleses” because she was willing to bare her soul in public. Her interview with Martin Bashir of the BBC in November 1995 is now the focus of controversy, as her brother, Earl Spencer, claims that it was obtained under false pretences, using forged documents. Whatever the reason for giving it, the interview was a masterclass in emotional manipulation. At one pivotal moment Princess Diana acknowledged that she would never be queen but hoped that she would be “queen of people’s hearts”.
The princess used her mastery of the politics of feeling to turn herself into a champion of the people against the powerful—the “people’s princess” in Tony Blair’s phrase. She patronised charities that helped marginalised folk such as HIV patients, and kept company with pop stars and celebrities rather than with the usual royal waxworks. The most memorable music at her funeral was not an historic hymn but a song by Elton John, adapted for her but originally written about another icon-turned-victim, Marilyn Monroe.
Her anti-elitism was directed not at the monarchy’s wealth—she happily lived in Kensington Palace and received a £17m ($23m) divorce settlement plus £400,000 a year—but at its stunted emotional state. The traditional deal to which royals signed up allowed them to behave as they liked in private—kings have almost always had mistresses because they marry for reasons of dynasty not compatibility—so long as they behaved with decorum in public. Princess Diana regarded this as humbug.
She succeeded in reconciling the most jarring of opposites. Despite being a top-tier aristocrat (her family, the Spencers, looked down on the Windsors as German carpetbaggers) she was universally known as “Di”. Her death in a car crash won her a spectacular posthumous victory against the royal court. It produced the greatest outburst of public lacrymation Britain has ever seen and led to widespread demands that the royals should display more emotion, as if the damp cheek had replaced the stiff upper lip as the definition of Britishness. “What would really do the monarchy good, and show that they had grasped the lesson of Diana’s popularity,” an editorial in the Independent thundered, “would be for the Queen and the Prince of Wales to break down, cry and hug one another on the steps of the Abbey this Saturday.”
Since her death, her emotional populism has threaded through politics. Tony Blair presented himself as the people’s prime minister. He championed “Cool Britannia”, surrounded himself with pop stars and urged his staff to “call me Tony”. The next Conservative prime minister, “Call me Dave” Cameron—a distant relation of Princess Diana’s—adopted this combination of compassion-signalling (hugging hoodies instead of cracking down on juvenile delinquents) and studied informality (chillaxing and kitchen suppers replacing previous Tory premiers’ stiffness).
Both men were too responsible to let emotional populism interfere with the affairs of state. Domestic and foreign policy choices continued to be conducted according to the icy dictates of reason and evidence. Brexiteers, by contrast, followed the Diana-script. They appealed to the heart rather than the head; to win their arguments they used feelings of patriotism and resentment rather than facts about trade flows. They denounced the elites for trying to frustrate the wisdom of the people in much the same way as Dianaphiles had denounced the Palace for ignoring the people’s emotions. They turned on the nation’s core institutions—Parliament, the civil service, the Supreme Court—when they suspected attempts to frustrate their wishes. They succeeded in defeating the establishment in much the same way as Princess Diana had, by claiming to stand for emotion rather than reason and the people rather than the elite. Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson has reconciled the opposites he embodies just as she did. A card-carrying member of the metropolitan elite, he has managed to sell himself as a man of the people. As she was Di, so he is Boris.
The first series of “The Crown” shows a young Queen Elizabeth studying Walter Bagehot’s “The English Constitution” under the guidance of Sir Henry Marten, the vice-provost of Eton, who kept a pet raven in a cage and addressed the young princess as “gentlemen”. Bagehot’s great work distinguishes between the dignified branch of the constitution (the monarchy) and the efficient branch (elected politicians). Implicit in that distinction is Bagehot’s perception that emotions pose a dangerous threat to the proper conduct of politics. The monarchy provides a controlled outlet for them, thus enabling responsible people to get on with the difficult task of running the country.
By using people’s feelings as the fuel for her astonishing career, Princess Diana broke that safety valve. Britain will be living with the consequences of the emotional populism that she helped to release for years to come. ■
This article appeared in the Britain section of the print edition under the headline “A populist in the palace”
How Doug Ford changed our politics | TheSpec.com – Hamilton Spectator
The dismal environmental record of the Doug Ford government in Ontario is well documented. Despite some recent moves on “greening” the steel sector and electric vehicle manufacturing initiatives, the province is on track to see major increases in greenhouse gas emissions, particularly from the electricity sector.
The Ford government’s record on environmental issues is best understood as an extension of its wider approach to governance. This can be understood as being organized around four themes.
1. Reactive governance
The Ford government came to power with scant vision for what a provincial government should do other than cut taxes, red tape and hydro rates. It’s struggled when confronted with more complex problems that required the province to play a much more active role.
The resulting governance model has been fundamentally reactive and grounded in relatively short-term perspectives. The government has tended to act once a situation reaches the crisis stage, rather than identifying potential problems and taking action to prevent them.
This pattern has been most evident in the government’s hesitant responses to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Issues like the environment and climate change are destined to do poorly under such a reactive governance model. They require taking action now to avoid problems in the future.
2. Creeping authoritarianism
The government’s run-up to the election has placed a strong emphasis on “getting it done” — it’s the Progressive Conservative party’s campaign slogan — in areas like housing and highway and transit construction.
The flip side of this emphasis has been increasingly aggressive exercises of provincial authority, particularly over local governments. One of the government’s first moves was to arbitrarily cut Toronto City Council in half.
Ontario’s planning rules have also been rewritten, not only at the provincial level, but down to the level of site-specific development plans within individual municipalities, almost universally in favour of developers’ interests. Ministerial zoning orders — which circumvent local planning processes and public consultations, designating land use without the possibility of appeals — are no longer the exceptions they once were.
3. Friends with benefits
While the Ford government has gone to great lengths to silence voices of critical constituencies, it’s been extraordinarily open to the voices that support it.
The government has demonstrated a distinct tendency to uncritically accept whatever its favoured industry lobbyists tell it to do. This has been evident in its approaches to COVID-19, housing and infrastructure, mining, aggregate extraction sites like gravel pits and quarries, energy and long-term care.
4. Spend but don’t increase taxes
A final defining feature of the Ford government has been a tendency to disregard the fiscal consequences of its decisions. The focus instead has been on short-term savings for consumers.
The cancellation of the previous Liberal government’s cap-and-trade system immediately following the 2018 election cost the provincial treasury billions in foregone revenues. Hundreds of millions more were spent cancelling renewable energy projects.
Hydro rates are being artificially lowered through an annual $7 billion in subsidies from the provincial treasury, money that could otherwise be spent on schools and hospitals. The cancellation of vehicle licensing fees will cost the province an estimated $1 billion each year.
It isn’t clear yet to what extent the potential political success of a governance model organized around these four themes represents a fundamental break from the traditional norms of Ontario politics. If Ford wins again, will it be due to the weaknesses of the alternatives being offered to Ontario voters, or does it signal a permanent realignment in the province’s politics?
Either way, June 2 could be a watershed moment in the province’s history, defining a “new normal” for politics in Ontario.
Politics Briefing: Western premiers to press Ottawa for more sustainable health care funding – The Globe and Mail
Western premiers decided at their meeting in Regina on Friday to press Ottawa for more sustainable health care funding, with British Columbia’s John Horgan expressing hope that momentum from the gathering will help make that happen.
The issue will be on the table this July when the 13 provincial and territorial premiers in the Council of the Federation meet in Victoria. Premiers have said Ottawa should increase its contribution to the Canada Health Transfer at a level that would amount to about $28-billion more this year.
“We’ll see what the council comes up with in July,” Mr. Horgan said in an interview Friday. “But the message coming out of Regina is really clear, and is consistent with where we’ve been for a long, long time: Ottawa, you need to get to a table. We need to sit down and work these things out.”
Friday’s annual meeting was convened for representatives from British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Northwest Territories, Yukon and Nunavut.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said earlier this year that discussion on the issue should wait until the pandemic is over.
Mr. Horgan, the chair of the Council of the Federation, said at the conclusion of the Friday meeting that he is “optimistic,” noting he has met with federal Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Domenic LeBlanc and Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos.
“We’re making progress, but it’s just not fast enough to meet the emerging crises we’re finding in virtually every element of our delivery and in every part of the country,” said Mr. Horgan.
“We need to address these issues and now we’re being clear we need to address them now, not next year, not the year after that.”
Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe said additional federal health care funding would ensure that existing services are sustainable into the future.
“I think, in fairness, the federal government agrees on the priorities. What we need to do now and sit down and agree on what the funding level is to ensure these are sustainable into the future,” he told a news conference earlier Friday.
This is the daily Politics Briefing newsletter, written by Ian Bailey. It is available exclusively to our digital subscribers. If you’re reading this on the web, subscribers can sign up for the Politics newsletter and more than 20 others on our newsletter signup page. Have any feedback? Let us know what you think.
NO LIFE WITHOUT PAROLE FOR MASS MURDERERS: SUPREME COURT – The Supreme Court of Canada has unanimously struck down the punishment of life without parole for mass murderers, retroactive to the time it was enacted in 2011 – giving a large number of sentenced killers hope of release some day. Story here..
DION TO BE NEW AMBASSADOR TO FRANCE – Former federal foreign affairs minister Stéphane Dion is to be Canada’s new ambassador to France, according to a report here in La Presse. Mr. Dion, also a former federal Liberal leader, has been Canada’s ambassador to Germany since 2017. The ambassador’s post in France has been vacant for about a year.
NEW FIREARMS LEGISLATION TO BE INTRODUCED MONDAY: LAMETTI – Justice Minister David Lametti is telling CTV that his cabinet colleague Marco Mendicino, the public safety minister, will table new firearms legislation on Monday. The plan is to see the new bill unveiled shortly after MPs return to the Commons on May 30 to kick off their last four-week stretch of sitting before adjourning for the summer. Story here from CTV.
TUMULTUOUS SPRING SETTING ENDS IN ALBERTA – Alberta’s legislature has wrapped up a tumultuous spring sitting highlighted by a balanced budget and overshadowed by Premier Jason Kenney announcing his long goodbye. Story here.
TORONTO AIRPORT CEO ASKS FOR FEDERAL ACTION ON MOVING PEOPLE – Deborah Flint, the CEO of the Greater Toronto Airports Authority, is calling on the government to streamline the movement of people through the terminals by such measures as dropping some of the checks for COVID-19, and using biometrics to identify and expedite check-ins for trusted travellers. Story here.
TARGETED GOODS RELEASED – The only shipment of goods impounded by Canadian authorities since Ottawa banned imports made with forced labour in 2020 was later released after the importer successfully challenged the seizure. Story here.
LUXURY TAX TO HAVE $600-MILLION IMPACT: PBO – Parliamentary Budget Officer Yves Giroux says the federal government’s planned luxury tax will reduce sales of autos, boats and planes by more than $600-million a year. Story here.
ONTARIO ELECTION – Kelly Cryderman reports here on Ontario’s Doug Ford, a polarizing politician who has positioned himself as a steady leader and a friend of the working class. Meanwhile, in the ONTARIO ELECTION TODAY: Party leaders on the campaign trail are focusing on the Greater Toronto Area, and Hamilton region. And, in a bit of Ontario election history: TVO’s Jamie Bradburn here looks at how a “petulant and nasty” half-hour shouting match debate between Progressive Conservative leader Bill Davis and Ontario Liberal leader Robert Nixon changed the 1975 election. “
CONSERVATIVE LEADERSHIP RACE
CAMPAIGN TRAIL – Scott Aitchison is in Toronto. Roman Baber is campaigning in the Vancouver region over the weekend, with a Saturday meet and greet in Vancouver and a second event in Coquitlam. Jean Charest is campaigning in Montreal. Leslyn Lewis, on Friday, is in Woodstock, Ontario. On Saturday, Ms. Lewis is going on to campaign in St. Catherines. And Mr. Poilievre is campaigning Friday in Woodstock, New Brunswick and then holding an event in Edmunston at the Grey Rock Casino at the Maliseet First Nation. There’s no word on the whereabouts of Patrick Brown.
THIS AND THAT
TODAY IN THE COMMONS – The House is adjourned until Monday, May. 30.
APPOINTMENTS TO NATIONAL SECURITY AGENCY – Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has announced a series of appointments and changes at the National Security and Intelligence Review Agency. Matthew Cassar and Foluke Laosebikan have been named members for five-year terms. Meanwhile, Craig Forcese becomes Vice-Chair for the remainder of his current term ending in 2024, and John Davies has been reappointed executive director. Details here.
TEACHING ASSIGNMENT FOR FORMER PRIVY COUNCIL CLERK – Ian Shugart, the former clerk of the Privy Council and secretary to cabinet, is to take on a new role as an educator, teaching in the Munk School of Global Affairs & Public Policy’s Master of Global Affairs & Master of Public Policy programs. He begins his assignment, in a part-time capacity, in September 2022. Details here.
Friday’s edition of The Globe and Mail podcast features Dr. Kisha Supernant , one of the people at the forefront of the effort to look for unmarked graves at former residential schools. She’s a Métis archaeologist and chair of Unmarked Graves Working Group with the Canadian Archaeological Association. She explains how she does this work, what happens after potential graves are found, and what needs to happen next. The Decibel is here.
PRIME MINISTER’S DAY
The Prime Minister has a “Personal” day in Nova Scotia according to the itinerary provided by his office.
No schedules released for party leaders.
The Globe and Mail Editorial Board on how Ottawa wants to search your phone at the border, but its proposed rules are unreasonably suspicious: “Reasonable general concern” is the Trudeau government’s proposed threshold for allowing a border guard to access the contents of your cellphone, laptop or other digital device, any time you enter the country. It’s in a bill, S-7, that the government has weirdly introduced in the Senate rather than the Commons, provoking the first of many questions about this legislation. The proposal has also raised eyebrows for the fact that the legal standard it applies appears to have been created out of thin air. Unlike “reasonable suspicion” or “reasonable grounds to believe,” which are well established legal standards that police must meet in order to arrest someone or conduct a search, “reasonable general concern” is making its international debut. And it’s already not earning rave reviews.”
Andrew Coyne (The Globe and Mail) on the notion of getting rid of gatekeepers, for real: “The thing is, Pierre Poilievre has a point about the “gatekeepers.” Only it’s about much more than just a few blinkered municipal bureaucrats standing in the way of needed housing development. If he were serious, and not just test-driving applause lines, he’d broaden the discussion out to the other gatekeepers at work in other areas of the economy. As with housing, their function is to protect the interests of those already in the market at the expense of those who would like to enter it. Or, as the economists Assar Lindbeck and Dennis Snower have put it, of insiders over outsiders.”
John Ibbitson (The Globe and Mail) on Canada being inexcusably absent from another Indo-Pacific initiative: “Once again, governments of the Indo-Pacific region have agreed to co-operate with each other to contain China’s influence. Once again, Canada has been left out of the agreement. Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government is responsible. He must fix this.”
Gary Mason (The Globe and Mail) on the inexcusable gong show at our passport offices: “As COVID-19 vaccines began to do their work last year, more Canadians began to venture out and allow themselves to imagine vacations to exotic locales – or even just to the United States. Surely, the federal government was aware of this. It must have known that the demand for travel after two years of being cooped up at home would be unprecedented. Airlines began preparing for this eventuality months ago, when it was evident COVID-related travel restrictions were being lifted around the world. You would assume the federal government would have brainstormed as well: What should we be prepared for, when the travel surge occurs?”
Konrad Yakabuski (The Globe and Mail) on how Quebec could play kingmaker in a Conservative leadership race: “Now, as Conservatives prepare yet again to choose a new leader, Quebec could play kingmaker anew, with surprising results. While former premier Jean Charest’s political network in the province should make him the hands-down favourite among Quebec Tories, Pierre Poilievre is catching the same populist wave that has turned the formerly fledgling Parti conservateur du Québec (which is independent from its federal Conservative Party namesake) into a player on the provincial scene.”
Grant Bishop (Contributed to The Globe and Mail) on how Alberta Court of Appeal ruling is preview of future constitutional challenges for Ottawa’s climate policy: “The Alberta appeal court’s opinion raises nagging questions about the extent of federal jurisdiction to regulate greenhouse gases (GHGs). Indeed, this case is likely a preview of further constitutional challenges, as Ottawa pushes ahead on a Clean Electricity Standard and a cap on oil and gas emissions. A critical unresolved issue is whether the federal government has jurisdiction to micromanage industries and projects in pursuit of national climate goals.”
Tony Farrell, Tillmann J. Benfey, Mark Fast, Kurt Gamperl, Ian Gardner, Jim Powell, Crawford Revie, Spencer Russell, and Ahmed Siah (Contributed to The Globe and Mail) on a defence of Canada’s peer-reviewed science advisory process on salmon farming: “As scientists who have contributed to many peer-reviewed analyses on salmon conservation and farming for the DFO, we’re compelled to respond to prevent propagation of any misinformation. Canadians can trust the scientific facts and advice presented by CSAS, the science evaluation body of the DFO. Home-grown, ocean-farmed salmon is a valuable food resource for Canadians. It is an affordable, highly nutritious protein with year-round access. Such salmon – which is currently front and centre as the federal government is deciding whether to renew British Columbia salmon-farming licences – is affordable, in part, because it taps into renewable and free tidal power (driven by lunar cycles) for renewing oxygen and seawater.”
Shachi Kurl (The Ottawa Citizen) on how the Ontario election 2022 will be remembered as the Battle of the Bleah: “If Doug Ford’s ludicrous insistence that the building of highways somehow combats climate change has you worn down; if the Ontario Liberals’ bizarre fixation on chicken (the rotisserie kind, the seizure-inducing six-foot dancing, trolling kind) has you fed up; if you too, were tempted, every time you heard Andrea Horwath utter the words “fix what’s broken” to take a drink — take heart, dear readers. This campaign is almost over.”
Did Elites Really Take Over Identity Politics? – Jacobin magazine
Across the political spectrum, it has become difficult to engage in any discussion without running into the subject of identity politics. Its definition and its value — progressive force or enemy of egalitarianism — are hotly contested. What were previously niche academic debates have now become mainstream talking points. Somehow millions now seem to have a view on critical race theory, wokeness, and the 1619 Project.
Elite Capture: How the Powerful Took Over Identity Politics (and Everything Else) by Olúfémi Táíwò, a political philosopher at Georgetown University, is his second book-length intervention in these debates. The first, Reconsidering Reparations, published by Oxford University Press in January, provided a sweeping defense of reparations, reinterpreted as climate justice. Working within the tradition of liberal political philosophy, Táíwò advanced a critique of liberalism’s nationalistic assumptions.
By focusing on distributive justice within idealized closed communities, theorists working within the tradition of the American political philosopher John Rawls fail to think globally about the relationship between nation-states and historically about the causes of inequalities, Táíwò argued. The result of this shortsightedness is that Rawlsianism is incapable of developing a theory of justice that seeks to address historical wrongdoing across borders. As an alternative, Táíwò proposed what he termed a “constructive” theory of reparations, the aim of which was to organize a political project seeking to create a more just world order rather than simply distribute cash or goods to victims of oppression. An attentive look at history, he showed, reveals a picture too complex for identarian blame games. The most urgent goal of this project is nothing less than a global coordinated response to climate change, targeting the world’s poorest nations.
Unlike mainstream philosophy, largely bogged down in provincial puzzles, Táíwò’s work has always been characterized by an engagement with history and the social sciences. Though idiosyncratic and selective in its focus, his attention to postcolonial movements has put some meat on what are often abstract discussions about concepts like justice. The aim of Reconsidering Reparations is constructive — offering an account of what Táíwò calls a world-making project. In his second book, Táíwò attempts to outline the practical hurdles to accomplishing this task.
Táíwò’s chief explanation for the weakness of coalitions in favor of redistribution and against oppression is what he calls elite capture. The generality of this term is, in his view, its strength. Where Táíwò seeks to distinguish his essay from previous criticisms of identity politics is by attempting to show that the supposed conservative turn in identity politics is not unique to it but rather a subspecies of a more general phenomenon. This is a compelling line of argument. But Elite Capture does not deliver on its promise. Instead, Táíwò’s essay describes a series of problems without providing a plausible explanation of their cause.
Who Are the Elites?
Divided into five sections, Elite Capture outlines its title concept and then attempts to apply it to a series of cases — focusing largely on weaponization of marginal status by certain identarians. At the heart of the book are three chapters, all structured around an architectural metaphor: “Reading the Room,” “Being in the Room,” “Building a New House.” In these sections he applies a conceptual framework largely taken from the philosophy of language, which sees social structures as governed by rules of communication, to the institutions that he sees as falling victim to elite capture.
Whereas mainstream liberal understandings of social structures interpret society as, to quote Rawls, a “cooperative venture for mutual advantage,” Táíwò’s more critical variant recognizes that societies structured around relations of oppression are anything but. In this respect, his work develops on a line of argument advanced most notably by the late Charles Mills, a former Marxist who felt that liberalism offered better resources for addressing racialized and gendered forms of oppression than his old ideology. Similarly, Táíwò’s aim is “to change the common ground — to change what information [is] usable by people in their daily interactions.”
His understanding of this common ground or social system is decidedly vague; so too is his conception of an elite. The latter he defines as a small group of people who have power over a larger group. Crucial to this definition is that the concept of an elite is nonessentialist: there is nothing about a specific racial or ethnic group that classifies it as an elite. This is a good corrective to the excesses of identity politics, which encourage an obsession with combating the dangers of “whiteness” and men, heterosexual or otherwise. It is, nevertheless, hard to avoid asking the question: Where does this broad notion of an elite leave the Marxist definition of capitalists, defined by control over the means of production?
In providing an account of elite capture, Táíwò relies on a number of theoretical approaches, some of which are liberal and others Marxist. Undoubtedly, pluralism can be a virtue, but it is unclear exactly in what mechanism he locates the cause of elite capture.
Is it, as Wolfgang Streeck, who he makes references to suggests, that decades of slow growth have hollowed out the capacity of liberal states, providing them with no means of ensuring profitability to capitalists other than by directly distributing resources to them via tax cuts and other forms of corporate welfare? Is elite capture a contingent phenomenon, resulting from the continued existence of predemocratic institutions within democratic states who seize power during moments of crisis, as another of Táíwò’s sources suggests? Is elite capture another term for antidemocratic tendencies and institutions such as the World Bank and the IMF, which Táíwò blames for the indebtedness of nations in the Global South? Or is elite capture a cultural phenomenon, referring to the ways the formerly radical movements for queer or minority liberation have been defanged by conservatives?
Táíwò answer is, dubiously, all of the above. Elite capture is a general term that describes these disparate phenomena. Yet the effects of any of these processes would be felt so differently that comparison only serves to obscure what distinguishes the mechanisms underlying global stagnation or the continued existence of predemocratic institutions. The aim of social theory should be to home in on differences, producing as conceptually rich a picture of reality as possible, rather than to provide general terms for describing at times unrelated phenomena.
Carrying forward this nebulous definition of elite capture into the essay’s main sections, Táíwò then seeks to lay out tools that activists can use to check if elite capture is happening and to combat it. His arguments in these sections are informed by a combination of structuralism and voluntarism. In everything from social media to “capitalism” — understood as just another system among others — elites structure what is and is not acceptable to do or say. Táíwò makes this point through an extended “Emperor’s New Clothes” metaphor, where he tells us that “perhaps [the citizens can] see the emperor’s ass quite clearly — but change their behavior anyway because their livelihoods depend on it.” Similarly, social media influencers “structure which topics are trending” so that when “the rest of us make choices about what to watch or read or respond to, we’re mostly making choices in an environment shaped by elites.”
The idea here is that social interactions are organized around rules, similar to a game. “The game objective may be viscerally and irreducibly personal for each player,” Táíwò tells us; its goals may be “self-esteem, security, life itself — but the rules and the context that determine which actions make sense have been created by others who benefit from the outcome of those rigged systems.” Again, broadness of definition and generality of application make it difficult to assess the value of these insights. What is gained by comparing the “game” that social media users play for esteem with the “game” that workers “play” on entering the labor market?
Much of Táíwò’s discussion speaks to an activist milieu in which using perceived microaggressions as currency for social advantage has become an acceptable form of intraorganizational politics. Diplomatically, he seeks to disabuse his readers of the belief that they ought to kowtow to the platitudes built on standpoint epistemology. The theory, which draws attention to the subjective origin of knowledge claims, is one that Táíwò takes to be justified but often overextended.
Deference to perceived minorities or marginal groups can, Táíwò argues, serve to further social oppression. “Centering the most marginalized” in practice usually means “handing conversational authority” and what he, referring to esteem and recognition, strangely calls “attentional goods,” “to whoever is already in the room and appears to fit a social category associated with some form of oppression — regardless of what they have or have not actually experienced.”
These prescriptions serve as helpful guides for activists negotiating many left-wing spaces in which working-class members are few in number. Their primary aim is to draw the attention of “thought leaders” and “change makers” away from a politics that will further entrench the marginality of these organizations. The world of Elite Capture is, like our own, one in which the popular classes have been thoroughly expunged from the political stage. Subsequently, the task which Táíwò sets himself is to provide a way of pushing back against anti-majoritarian tendencies given this political climate. In this regard, Táíwò’s arguments are well taken and should prove useful to the social cohort to which they are directed, well-meaning activists easily led astray by the latest identarian fashions.
More broadly, however, one may wonder if the painstaking work of engaging with the misconceptions of identitarians is worth the effort. The pathologies of these forms of politics — well observed by Táíwò — result from their marginality. It is, as he makes clear, because these organizations do not have a foothold in any popular constituency that they allow themselves to be held hostage by deference politics and other elite fads. Without a proper analysis of the social and economic structures that have locked the working class out of power, Táíwò’s theory comes across as one-sided.
A tendency to flatten the differences between social structures, itself a hallmark of liberal political theory, runs through Táíwò’s essay. This explains why he can so easily jump from discussions of capitalism to discussions of systems of affirmation and recognition. Ontological pluralism of this kind is ill-suited to adjudicating which social structure has priority over another, a problem that comes to the fore when one enquires into the ultimate cause of elite capture.
The malleable understanding of social structures presumed throughout Táíwò’s analysis encourages the conclusion that bad decisions and choices on the part of individuals are to blame. Although reference is made to capitalism, Táíwò’s conception of agency relies on a view of constraining structures incompatible with the dull compulsion of the market. In the essay’s concluding sections he writes:
Creatures like us have a special power. Despite all our social programming, we can just do things. We can ignore the sidewalk and walk in the street; we can carry the bag with handles from its underside. We can do the thing that will be punished; we can ignore the potential reward, choose the smaller prize. Moreover, we can accept the rewards and the punishments without accepting the “lessons” they are meant to teach us about who and what is worthy. . . .
This power is one of the many that helps explain why our social systems are not fixed — even ones as complicated as our current global system of capitalism.
As with many of Táíwò’s claims, it is hard to disagree with them, made as they are at such a high level of abstraction.
Changing the Subject
More important, from the perspective of socialists today, is how to understand the emergence of the outlook and set of problems to which Táíwò wishes to respond. His own theory is too unreflexive to answer this question. This shortcoming is not a unique feature of his work. Over the past few years, a number of books have sought to figure out what’s wrong with, or what has happened to, identity politics.
Predominantly written by authors on the Left, these outpourings have all taken as their starting point a recognition of separate forms of oppression. Often, this position has been used to then problematize the assumptions of mainstream liberalism, as is the case in Táíwò’s work. However, the fact that this set of issues have come to concern the Left in the first place is worthy of explanation.
A plausible explanation of this phenomena is that politics, at least in the lifetime of most of the pro–Bernie Sanders left, has existed in conditions of economic stagnation after the end of what Adolph Reed has termed “growth liberalism.” Within the context of slow growth, the redistribution of an ever-increasing pie — the economic model on which social democracy was dependent — is harder for progressive forces to ensure. In place of a politics of growth-based redistribution, what exists is one concerned with the allocation of ever-decreasing resources to specific sections of society.
On the Right, attacks on citizenship, subsidies for unproductive small businesses, and tariffs, are policies created to direct resources to a Republican base without a growth model of its own. The Democrats have also advanced their own redistributive agenda, supporting a wave of neoliberal initiatives aimed at different parts of their voting base. Identity politics has come under criticism not because it is some key to unlocking a new socialist movement — as some of its more sanguine defenders allege — but because it has been the means through which the Democratic Party has sought to maintain its legitimacy.
In this context, the excesses of identity politics should not be understood, as Táíwò suggests, as an error in need of correction. A politics that seeks to redistribute resources and power to minority groups, defined in increasingly arbitrary ways, is a rational response to a world plagued by stagnation and the defeat of class solutions to social inequality. If there is no way to put out the fire inside of a burning house, the second-best thing to do is get out.
Yet there is still, though increasingly distant, hope for a different sort of politics. If socialist policies are able to put redistribution, spurred on by productive investment, back on the agenda, then the forms of identity politics that have come to dominate our politics may recede. This will at least give us something else to talk about, and a new, more promising battleground on which fight.
Kamloops ranch that refused vaccinated guest but kept their deposit now says they'll issue $3.2K refund – CBC.ca
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