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Down with the therapeutic left and the managerial right! (Part One)

By Mark Wegierski
web posted June 22, 2009

The Next City was in the mid- to late-1990s, a prominent Toronto-based Canadian magazine (which is now no longer being published), although the website archive may still be extant. In his editorial commentary in the Spring 1997 issue,  "Down with left and right", Lawrence (Larry) Solomon, the editor-in-chief of the magazine, suggested that those terms had definitively outworn their usefulness. Among the responses published in The Next City (Fall 1997), Michael Taube, then publisher of a small conservative zine From The Right (which in the end lasted only three issues) had argued that those terms continued to mean something significant. Nick Ternette, editor of The Left Fax (another small zine) had claimed that "the left as defined by socialists, Marxists, and greens does not believe in more government intervention, but less -- it believes as some of the new right does that people should do things for themselves instead of relying on government, and it sees an alternative to free markets...and...government interventionism, namely communalization." [emphasis in the original].

Mr. Solomon's response (Fall 1997) can be summarized as a reiteration of the call made in the initial piece, for paying less attention to outward ideology. The implicit hope expressed was that there would be more of the practical working-out of difficult modern-day problems and dilemmas by persons of good will regardless of ideology. Although this is certainly a fine sentiment, one finds that in practice there will often be some kind of partisanship.

Nick Ternette's statement is indeed curious, in that it can be read in a very traditionalist way. Is this in fact “socialism” -- or some kind of “anarcho-communitarianism”? Could this be seen as a call for the abolition of the managerial-therapeutic state, on the understanding that persons should depend on their own resources (or rather perhaps those of their immediate locality)? Is this an advocacy of the devolution of power to smaller municipalities and rural areas, as against the big cities? Should neither provinces nor the federal government in Canada set any general standards for health, education, welfare, human rights laws, etc?  Should only local taxes be collected, and should any resources collected stay within the locality? Should one only be bound by the rules, laws, and customs of one's locality?

Nick Ternette was probably thinking mostly of clusters of left-wing activists in large and multicultural urban centers when he made his argument. But it could be argued that most of the communities of the country are in fact not the various components of the urban-based “rainbow coalition” continually trumpeted in the media, but rather smaller municipalities and rural areas typically despised and marginalized by left-liberalism today. One could conjecture that in a situation where local authority became paramount, left-liberal influence in Canada would be confined to a few large cities (or perhaps just a few trendy and/or grungy neighbourhoods in the largest cities) – rather than being projected upon the country as a whole (through mass-media, mass-education, and consumerism) as it is today.

The possible ultra-traditionalist take on Mr. Ternette's writing may strongly suggest the obsolescence of the Left-Right dichotomy. According to many theorists, the prevalent current-day political reality is the "managerial-therapeutic regime". That term is carefully chosen, for it could be argued that there is a "managerial Right" and a "therapeutic Left" which -- although in apparent conflict -- in fact represent little more than a debate as to the most effective application of consumerist desires and/or “market discipline” and/or mandatory sensitivity-training to keep the “subject-citizens” in line.  The "managerial Right" represents the consumerist, business, economic side of the system, whereas the "therapeutic Left" represents redistribution of resources along politically-correct lines, and ongoing "sensitization" for recalcitrants.

The Left is also identified today with the pop-culture, which, in a somewhat different way from the therapeutic, seeks to reduce to non-existence traditional social norms of nation, family, and religion. While ferociously struggling for its vision of social justice and equality, much of the Left before the 1960s felt that many such notions were simply a natural, pre-political part of social existence, which it had no desire to challenge. The profit motive of the corporations, and the rebelliousness of the cultural Left and of late modern culture in general, feed off of each other, as Daniel Bell has argued in The Cultural Contradictions of Capitalism. North American pop-culture (which most definitely includes very reckless and irresponsible academic and art trends), and the consumer-culture, are tightly intertwined. What is fundamentally missing is the sense of an integrated self and society, where a more meaningful kind of identity can be held by persons, and in which real public and political discourse can take place.

It could be argued that the real division of late modernity is between supporters and critics of the managerial-therapeutic regime. The latter include genuine traditionalists, as well as various eclectic center and left persons. It may be noted, for example, that Christopher Lasch, one of the most profound critics of late modernity, continued to identify himself as a social democrat to the very end of his life.

This kind of coalition is prefigured in the words of the nineteenth-century aesthetic and cultural critic John Ruskin, who, in an age of a pre-totalitarian and pre-politically-correct Left, could say with some confidence, "I am a Tory of the sternest sort, a socialist, a communist."

To be continued. ESR

Mark Wegierski is a Canadian writer and historical researcher.





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