Jean Hyppolite – If you are right, Mr. Freund, and the friend-enemy category determines politics, all that’s left for me is to just tend my garden.
Julien Freund – Mr. Hyppolite, as with all pacifists, you believe that you can choose your enemy, but that is incorrect. You believe that if you don’t want to have enemies, you will not have them. But it is the enemy who chooses you. If he wants you to be his enemy, so you will be. Your fine protests of friendship will be for naught. You will not even be allowed to just tend your garden. – From El Manifiesto – Julien Freund o la imaginación del desastre. (1)
For decades middle American whites, having fled to the suburbs, hoped to “all just get along” – with disastrous results. Especially after the election of Ronald Reagan, the grassroots resistance of the 1950s-1970s quickly faded away and the MARs phenomenon celebrated by the late Sam Francis largely disappeared. Focused on “tending our gardens” we lived in a state of denial, naively trusting “our” elites to protect our interests. Decades passed and, with only a few exceptions, we slept while the transformation of the country continued around us.
With the economic crisis which began almost 10 years ago we began to wake back up, initially leading to the false start known as the Tea Party. It has been, however, the increased aggressiveness of the our enemies and the overt betrayal by our “friends” under Obama which created the basis for the Trump revolt at the grassroots.
There was no better example of this than the campaign of Hillary Clinton, a campaign that reflected almost explicitly the belief that a new hegemonic block had successfully been consolidated based in a large part on the identification of white middle America as its “enemy”.
As it turned out, HRC’s approach was premature and she has been roundly criticized for her over-confidence. Much of this criticism, however, has been of her strategy and tactics rather than the neo-liberal core of her politics(2) and there is always some danger that the Democrats will adopt a more subtle approach until the balance of power has shifted further in their direction.
Thus, the risk of course is that, as was the case following Reagan’s election, the MARs 2.0 movement that brought us victory in November will dissipate. And so we should be grateful for the completely unconcealed and unrelenting hostility of the other side. Fortunately, as much as we might wish that our enemies would just leave us alone, it is clear that there is no returning to tending our gardens in peace.
Notes: (1) For Spanish speakers, a useful collection of articles on Freund can be found in issue #84 of Elementos which in turn can be found at the unfortunately now-inactive New European Conservative.
(2) For example, see the widely-discussed essay by Mark Lilla The End of Identity Liberalism, which, after denouncing the “repugnant outcome” of the presidential election, rejects the bludgeoning approach involved in the identity strategy which mobilizes minority constituencies in a direct assault on whiteness. Instead, Lilla advocates a liberalism based on a more gradual and inclusive “hearts and minds” approach, advising the avoidance of unnecessarily direct conflict:
As for narrower issues that are highly charged symbolically and can drive potential allies away, especially those touching on sexuality and religion, such a liberalism would work quietly, sensitively and with a proper sense of scale.
A post-identity liberal press would begin educating itself about parts of the country that have been ignored, and about what matters there, especially religion. And it would take seriously its responsibility to educate Americans about the major forces shaping world politics, especially their historical dimension.
In other words, to Lilla it’s still more about boiling frogs than breaking eggs.