The liberal is truly a surprising creature. A liberal believes in reform but does not wish to confront the fact that the problems in our society implicate its very constitution – capitalism, patriarchy, etc – despite speaking the inherited language of “human rights,” “equal outcomes,” and so on. They believe they can endlessly feast on hypocrisy without getting indigestion as though the rest of society will tolerate their nonsense indefinitely. Trump’s election demonstrated how out of touch Harvard’s liberals are from the realities of the society they presume to lead.
During the election watch “party” in Belinda Hall I witnessed students’ reactions as a Trump victory became more certain by the hour. Some drifted listlessly around the lounge. Others drank themselves to a stupor or cried. Yet just the day before, many of them were utterly apolitical and content with the general direction and organization of America – many the same kids who didn’t breathe anywhere near a picket line when HUDS was on strike. The harsh truth is that most Harvard liberals orient their ambitions toward a lucrative and comfortable life – a sort of life that is only possible within the context of a general system of exploitation. As such, the Harvard liberal is totally complacent in perpetuating the sort of society whose immanent tendencies produced a Trump presidency. Thus, what truly happened on election night wasn’t really so much disgust at the nasty state of affairs in the country but terror in realizing that the accustomed logic with its rewarding prerogatives for the Harvard liberal is not guaranteed after all. For I refuse to believe that those who already stomach so much injustice and yet proceed toward their sweet corporate gigs are genuinely revolted by a Trump presidency. Anybody with half a brain knows that the injustices Trump represents are injustices that are constantly reproduced in throughout the country (and world).
Liberalism was a progressive ideology when it first emerged. It courageously faced the absolute authority of the monarch and church, and it declared itself in opposition to these powers. Resolutely it created a new language of justice that transgressed and pushed for a better world – in a way that had potential for universality. The revolutionary liberals knew that a higher future required sacrifice, and they put their freedom and bodies on the line for a better world. For nothing worthwhile has ever been accomplished in the realm of struggle for freedom without blood and tears; that is the nature of facing the prevailing structures of oppression.
But as liberalism became the prevailing ideology, it calcified. Its language became dry filler that lost its revolutionary and transgressive edge, and it instead turned into a commonsense lexicon that demanded nothing and committed nobody to anything. That is why the liberals can, with a good conscience, work their lives away for Cravath.
But while the language of liberals remained static, the world continued in its inexorable movement; because for the subaltern, struggle does not end. Every day the subaltern are pitted against their oppressors and are forced into violent contestations – contestations that continue to re-mold society. Opposing these tendencies, we witness a trend towards unchecked power – an aggregation of wealth in massive conglomerates that have made a joke of the executive and legislative branches. Meanwhile, liberals take a hands off approach, chirping mindlessly about pseudo-reforms while reaping the benefits of exploitation. Sure they propose a modification here and there, but they do not question the general arrangement – first and foremost by their steadfast refusal to renounce the benefits of exploitation and the logic upon which it is premised upon. Is it so surprising that liberalism is suffering a crisis of legitimacy? That its message fails to resonate with the millions who reap no benefits from its false promises?
But that is not all! Liberalism is a cancer that robs genuine left-wing politics of its platform and energy with its monopoly on discourse coupled with its non-confrontational posture. Genuine progressive politics shoots towards a higher future by creating a language that transcends the presents and opens up the realms of political possibilities. A politics that no longer does this has become so many fetters. It must be burst asunder.
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