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An Anatomy of Radicalism - American Affairs Journal
In Young Radicals, Jeremy McCarter explores the lives and views of five American radicals, who thought that society had to be remade in fundamental ways. John Reed, Alice Paul, Raymond Bourne, Max Eastman, and Walter Lippmann are his cast of characters. I want to use McCarter’s account to cast light on five enduring radical “types”: Manicheans, democrats, identitarians, propagandists, and technocrats. All of them should be immediately recognizable today, especially on the political left. (Importantly, we can find analogues on the right as well.)

I will suggest, with some qualifications, that we do not need Manicheans, propagandists, and identitarians. (I will be especially hard on the first and last of these.) But we do need democrats, or at least a certain kind of them. Insofar as she opposed something like a caste system, Alice Paul was an American hero. We also need technocrats, whom we will not be able to categorize in ideological terms. In a period in which expertise of all kinds is under serious pressure, we are past due for a Lippmann revival. Some of his work is clunky, and some of it seems dry and desiccated; it is not exactly teeming with life. But it speaks directly to our current situation. [...]

But Lippmann was on to something important, and too often neglected. We are used to thinking that large-scale questions legitimately split people with different political convictions, and that what separates citizens, and nations, are values, not facts. But think about air pollution, food safety, infrastructure reform, the opioid epidemic, increases in the minimum wage, and highway deaths. If we can agree on the facts, it should be possible to agree about what to do, or at least narrow our disagreements.

We live in an era in which experts and technocrats are in disrepute. Obviously they can be arrogant or mistaken. They might act on the basis of their own values and interests, rather than their expertise. But good technocrats are aware of their own fallibility; they have a duty to disclose what they do not know (and to stay in their lanes). It is important to ensure, through institutional design, transparency, and democratic accountability, that they are not empowered to act on the basis of private or ideological interests. All that is true and important. But we need expert help to fix a broken train, to deal with a serious medical problem, or to figure out how to build a skyscraper. Many policy problems are very similar, or even the same. To deal with data privacy, health care reform, and infrastructure improvements, we need specialists who can resolve difficult issues of fact.
Technopoly  politics 
august 2018 by ayjay
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