With some reservations, I tend to agree with much of what Pierre Corneille says here:

I don’t see an incipient American revolution. As a normative proposition, I don’t want to see one. Revolutions that deserve the name “revolution,” even ones that are justified and have good outcomes, come with a lot of danger and create a lot of collateral damage.

The reservations begin with the language.  We cannot adequately theorize “revolution” from a utilitarian perspective, since the revolutionary’s “utilities” are by definition different from the counter- or pre-revolutionary’s.  Revolution includes revelation, the creation or advent of new meanings and values:  Otherwise, “revolution” is just “big reform,” as Corneille’s use of the phrase “deserve the name” implicitly acknowledges.  Revolution would include and embody the revelation of its own new norms and uses or would not really be revolution at all.  Put differently, if those new norms and uses could operate, be fully realized, within the set of previous norms and uses – the “nomos” of the pre-revolutionary polity – there would be no need or justification for, or possibility of, revolution.  Put differently again, revolution is in this precise sense always both self-justifying and unjustifiable.

Corneille’s comment appears in a discussion under Elias Isquith’s second post on Cory Booker.  The Booker embarrassment or discomfort – of a Democrat “nauseated” by the critique of “private equity” – in part emanates from the leftist recognition that revolution may not be possible anymore, if indeed it ever really was, whether or not it or some “revolution-like” super-reform would be desirable from whatever perspectives.   In the meantime, a large part of the reaction to Booker – at least what hasn’t already been explained by Mr. Isquith, by Jonathan Chait (who like Isquith has also done at least two posts on the subject), by hardballing TV liberal Chris Matthews – what appears as nausea and counter-nausea, as the just almost unspeakable eruption of class conflict, as remnant reflex hostility to finance capital next to a seeming absence of practically implementable alternatives to financialized neo-liberalism, suggests phantom pain in the left’s amputated revolutionary Marxist limb.

I’ll drop the metaphor here before it gets too grotesque, but will note that the revulsion, like Booker’s nausea, may also be symptomatic.  The anxious uncertainty over the uncertainty – whether to feel merely uncertain, or something worse – is of a piece with the uncertainty over the meaning of the word “liberal” and the extent to which it overlaps with “left,” “progressive,” or “Democrat.”  We would need a shared theory of history, or of historical change, to go much further on this theme.

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Noted & Quoted

TV pundits and op-ed writers of every major newspaper epitomize how the Democratic establishment has already reached a consensus: the 2020 nominee must be a centrist, a Joe Biden, Cory Booker or Kamala Harris–type, preferably. They say that Joe Biden should "run because [his] populist image fits the Democrats’ most successful political strategy of the past generation" (David Leonhardt, New York Times), and though Biden "would be far from an ideal president," he "looks most like the person who could beat Trump" (David Ignatius, Washington Post). Likewise, the same elite pundit class is working overtime to torpedo left-Democratic candidates like Sanders.

For someone who was not acquainted with Piketty's paper, the argument for a centrist Democrat might sound compelling. If the country has tilted to the right, should we elect a candidate closer to the middle than the fringe? If the electorate resembles a left-to-right line, and each voter has a bracketed range of acceptability in which they vote, this would make perfect sense. The only problem is that it doesn't work like that, as Piketty shows.

The reason is that nominating centrist Democrats who don't speak to class issues will result in a great swathe of voters simply not voting. Conversely, right-wing candidates who speak to class issues, but who do so by harnessing a false consciousness — i.e. blaming immigrants and minorities for capitalism's ills, rather than capitalists — will win those same voters who would have voted for a more class-conscious left candidate. Piketty calls this a "bifurcated" voting situation, meaning many voters will connect either with far-right xenophobic nationalists or left-egalitarian internationalists, but perhaps nothing in-between.

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Understanding Trump’s charisma offers important clues to understanding the problems that the Democrats need to address. Most important, the Democratic candidate must convey a sense that he or she will fulfil the promise of 2008: not piecemeal reform but a genuine, full-scale change in America’s way of thinking. It’s also crucial to recognise that, like Britain, America is at a turning point and must go in one direction or another. Finally, the candidate must speak to Americans’ sense of self-respect linked to social justice and inclusion. While Weber’s analysis of charisma arose from the German situation, it has special relevance to the United States of America, the first mass democracy, whose Constitution invented the institution of the presidency as a recognition of the indispensable role that unique individuals play in history.

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[E]ven Fox didn’t tout Bartiromo’s big scoops on Trump’s legislative agenda, because 10 months into the Trump presidency, nobody is so foolish as to believe that him saying, “We’re doing a big infrastructure bill,” means that the Trump administration is, in fact, doing a big infrastructure bill. The president just mouths off at turns ignorantly and dishonestly, and nobody pays much attention to it unless he says something unusually inflammatory.On some level, it’s a little bit funny. On another level, Puerto Rico is still languishing in the dark without power (and in many cases without safe drinking water) with no end in sight. Trump is less popular at this point in his administration than any previous president despite a generally benign economic climate, and shows no sign of changing course. Perhaps it will all work out for the best, and someday we’ll look back and chuckle about the time when we had a president who didn’t know anything about anything that was happening and could never be counted on to make coherent, factual statements on any subject. But traditionally, we haven’t elected presidents like that — for what have always seemed like pretty good reasons — and the risks of compounding disaster are still very much out there.

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