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The 2,000-Year-Old Men
What do you fear most? Coronavirus -- or a debate between Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders?
Click here to read this post at Public Seminar.
Occasionally, we are struck by why good political consultants are worth their weight in bitcoin: they come up with memorable lines. Last night in the South Carolina debate, Pete Buttigieg unburdened himself of a good one. “Picture spending the rest of this year in a Bernie Sanders-Donald Trump election,” he quipped.
We have had this guilty thought long before Mayor Pete articulated it for us in his unique tone, one in which he manages to convey optimism, despair and his own brand of aggression simultaneously. Lately, as Sanders’s actual policies seem to be impressing more and more voters, and an extraordinary number of pundits seem to be simply conceding the inevitability of a Sanders candidacy, Buttigieg has increasingly volunteered himself as the one man who is bold enough to demand that the shouting stop.
Normally we perceive the feisty young mayor as the Eddie Haskell of the election season, and we distance ourselves from his platitudinous style. But in this instance, however reluctantly, and even as we prepare to see Bernie Sanders seize what he has wanted for at least five years, we admit that the little fellow has a point.
We understand the shouting during the Democratic primary: it’s crabs in a barrel time, people. But Mayor Pete voiced what we all know. Donald Trump started shouting at us in 2015, and we are sick of it. Democrats now have four other old guys – Sanders, Mike Bloomberg, Joe Biden, and Tom Steyer (why is Tom Steyer still here? And why does he wear that tie?) -- and we must face reality square on. The shouting is not stopping any time soon.
The dread that our immediate political future is reduced to a Mel Brooks and Carl Reiner sketch doesn’t mean we are any less committed to socialism than the next guys. But it does mean that we wouldn’t be surprised if, instead of shouting at us about a political revolution, or his D- rating from the NRA, Sanders suddenly blurted out: "I was married over 200 times!" or Joe Biden looked into the camera and bellowed, "I have over 1500 children and not one of them ever comes to visit!"
So, this week we begin by retreating briefly from the chaos of the political present and reflecting on our classical heritage. In our Culture section, philosopher Simon Critchley reflects on an article he published 25 years ago that unpacked the idea of philosophy’s Greek origins. After a short preface, in which Critchley situates “Black Socrates” (Theoria: A Journal of Social and Political Theory, October 1995) in his own intellectual history, we are pleased to re-present this essay, which “suggested that philosophy itself is a hybrid ensemble or mongrel assemblage.” We follow this excellent long read with a podcast about the meaning of our classical heritage to present-day conservatives. Our Past Present podcast crew explores legislation being considered by the Trump administration that would mandate that all federal buildings be built in a neo-Classical style – and without annoying input from architects in the planning stages.
Next, our Politics section begins with many Democrats’ great anxiety: that Bernie Sanders’s growing chances of seizing the presidential nomination will hand a second term to Donald Trump. Bruce Miroff looks at a specter that haunts the party: George McGovern’s disastrous defeat in 1972. But the parallel between Sanders and the ultra-liberal McGovern, Miroff argues, is ahistorical. “The Democratic coalition of 2020 is very different than that of 1972,” he writes. Voters “that were most opposed to McGovern — southerners, workers, foreign policy hawks, cultural traditionalists — have mostly become Republicans.” Andrew Arato follows with a meditation on Sanders’s populism: it’s temptations, and the hurdles it presents to a successful campaign and a possible presidency. Finally, Anna-Karin Selberg turns to Hannah Arendt to explore the “lies and secrets have always been part of the political game.”
Finally, we return to our series on Democracy, beginning with a look at the Bolsonaro regime in Brazil where, as Daniel Peres writes, an attack on the education system is underway that undermines a “common culture” that this diverse nation has long prized. Peter Dreier pauses on a moment in United States history when Americans are discussing socialism more seriously and broadly than they have in a century. Because of the success of the Sanders campaign, he argues, “these ideas are now baked into our political culture and won’t disappear.” Finally, Elzbieta Matynia asks how, in the face of illiberalism, we hold onto one of the most important building blocks for rebuilding and renewing democracy: freedom.