Monday, May 28, 2001

Bushism vs. republican virtue

[This is a fragment from an e-mail exchange with a friend in May 2001. The ideas here are hardly novel, but readers who are acquainted with (or part of) what we might call the Berkeley School of Virtue Theory may find them especially familiar. --Jeff Weintraub]

And speaking of George W Bush and the decadence of American politics ... you may recall W's constant refrain during the 2000 campaign, supporting his tax cut proposals, that "it's not the government's money, it's the people's money." What was most shocking to me about this formulation (not so much that he said it, but that it apparently made sense to a lot of voters) was that its assumption that the only alternatives are "the government," seen as a bureaucratic apparatus, and "the people" seen as a mass of isolated individuals with purely private interests. What this rhetorical framework does is to abolish the whole notion of "the people" as citizens who are members of an active and self-determining political community with common concerns and common responsibilities, and who can (potentially) use government as a means to deliberate about and act on collective issues. Instead, it expresses the world-view of a simplistic market utopianism that ignores any question of the common good (or simply equates the common good with an unfettered market economy). In short, what this represents is the triumph of the crudest utilitarian liberalism and the startling decay of any serious civic discourse. (John Adams would agree with this diagnosis, I'm sure.)

Yours in struggle,
Jeff Weintraub

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