Friday, July 19, 2002

I've been thinking recently about symbols- the symbolism of events and how they shape the relative growth or weakness of different political ideologies. The left has been symbolically connected with socialism (for better or worse- most liberals are not at all socialists) More to the point, however, they are connected with the power of the state and the suitability of the state as a force in the economy and in society, and since the Russian system is seen as the symbolic endpoint of that, the end of the Soviet Union was by extension a hammerblow to the left- even if the left didn't support the Russians there was a symbolic connection, and the end of one weakened the other.

By extension, however, there must be a symbolic connection on the right. Not necessarily the religious right, but the economic right- the anti-state, lowered taxes, radical economic individualist ideas that have glued the right together since Norquist started having his Wednesday meetings. The symbolic connection of this is, of course, the business world and the stock market- they are supposedly the highest achievement of mankind, the engine of progress, and the greatest strength of the United States. More importantly, however, they provide what is almost a Hobbesian "leviathan"... which is, of course, the market and the economy. The economy (and markets) are described as living things, entirely seperate from the people that make them up and most powerful and useful when least fettered. This notion of the economy is what many call "market fundamentalism", and it is pretty much inextricably tied to the right, no matter how many farm bills Dubya passes. If a leftist tried pushing this sort of idea people would look at him funny... it just wouldn't seem quite right.

If this is the case, then the important question becomes simple: will the symbolic connection between the market and the right hurt the right to the extent that the failure of Communism (and by extension "statism") hurt the left? I think this is quite possible, and worth watching. This isn't likely to mean that people will start overtly proclaiming the death of economic conservatism, but the enormous problems that this supposed Leviathan faces is going to subtly affect the way that people look at the right and its ideas, because the idea that the market is some sort of alien being that we depend on for our safety and prosperity and that is best left alone is looking less and less appetizing these days. This is important because it means that the fundamental disparity that existed between the "discredited" left and "triumphant" right is dropping faster than the Dow Average, and we're once again moving back to a position of parity.

The old symbols are dying or dead, so the question becomes: what will the new symbols be? What is the face of the new left? What is the face of what will have to be a new right?

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