Saturday, February 6, 2016

Unstoppable

Unstoppable: the Emerging Left-Right Alliance to Dismantle the Corporate State
© 2014 Ralph Nader
224 pages



George Carlin groused that when he heard the word bipartisanship, he knew a larger than usual deception was in the works. Ralph Nader's Unstoppable offers a different kind of bipartisanship -- cooperation, not conspiracy. Written primarily to a progressive audience, Nader draws on his reading of Russell Kirk and F.A. Hayek to share the good news:  there are people who share the similar values in both political wings, and plenty of room to work together against a common enemy. What common enemy? The crony-capitalist state, the nemesis of both progressives who fear the power of modern-day robber barons, and of libertarians and conservatives who value free markets, the rule of law, and civic order.

Nader opens Unstoppable with a victory several decades old: the termination of a particular nuclear project based on a alliance between progressive environmentalists and fiscal conservatives.  Although joining forces with conservatives was initially a pragmatic move, in the decades that followed, Nader familiarized himself with both conservative and libertarian literature.  Nader deserves kudos, for while it's not unusual for those passionate about politics to learn their opponents' arguments merely to demonstrate to them while they are wrong, Nader seems to have gained a genuine sense of empathy for those on the other side. Humanistic concern runs through each political camp considered here, a commonality that can be the basis of cooperative action.  What most progressives think of as conservatism, Nader writes, is a new thing, the product of decades of slow corporate corruption of the political state.  Its subsidies to multinationals, the benefaction rendered by regulations that smother competition, conserve nothing -- and nor do they promote liberty. Nader may still disagree those on the right, but underneath the ideology, he writes, we are still human beings who, when confronted with abuses, want to help one another.

The alliances that can be created vary. Progressivism's opponents may agree on opposing the State's growing activity in everyday life, but they don't agree with one another.  Take the environment: some of the United States' most sweeping conservationist legislation was enacted by presidents like Theodore Roosevelt and Richard Nixon, and environmentalism lends itself well to the language of conservatism; think 'stewardship'.  Progressive horror at the inroads consumerism is making in the lives of children can find kindred spirits in the ranks of social conservatives, especially the religious who fear their children becoming selfish and materialistic.  Libertarians who swear more by the market than moral order may object to progressive-conservatives limiting choice by barring certain kinds of advertising, for instance, but when it comes to forswearing money given to corporations they're stalwart allies. Another area of progressive-libertarian camaraderie is ending the drug war, which even Old Right types could be convinced to join if shown how the war has completely destroyed civil law enforcement in favor of pseudo-military police enforcement.  Free trade is a particularly thorny issue: libertarians may be for it, and paleo-conservatives against it, but there's a fuzzy thin line between protectionism (which progressives might  back) and cronyism.

In the latter half of his book, Nader puts forth a list of twenty-five issues that progressives can work with either libertarians or paleo- and populist conservatives on, or both. Some of them involve the federal government doing more, which I don't think will sell well in allying with groups who view federal overreach as the entire point of opposition. It's a let's-get-the-Wehrmacht-out-of-Paris-before-we-strengthen-it-against-Stalin situation.  Others involve a heart dose of localism. like promoting 'community self reliance', and distributive electrical grids. At one point Nader quoted Who Owns America?, the classic agrarian-distributist critique of the then- nascent plutocracy, and I may have swooned.  Considering that two of the major contenders for the presidency have nebulous connections to their respective parties -- the independent socialist Sanders and the populist Trump --  Americans' frustration with the reigning RepubliCrat scheme seems ripe for this kind of cooperation. I only wish Nader had put more emphasis on local cooperation, which is further removed from ideology, and more motivated by  having to work with the facts at hand. Non-progressives will find Nader's repeated assertion that progressives have less interest in ideology than facts to be  dubious, and  for the record I think that comes a little too close to holding that the ends are more important than the means.  It's not enough to take steps to take care of what ails us:  we should have some idea of where we are going. If we allow power to accrete in the name of "doing something", then we'll simply pave the way for future abuses.

Quarrels withstanding I found Unstoppable to be an immensely heartening book, a reassuring dose of civility and cooperation. I think if more Americans read it -- progressives, liberals, conservatives, and even those power-enabling rascals in the middle, the liberals and neocons, we might see each other more as people with genuine convictions, and not merely wrongheaded enemies who need to be defeated and driven from the field.   When the talking heads on TV, both the announcers and the candidates, drive one to despair, consider Nader's humane rebuttal. Genuine hope for America may not be forlorn.

(And where else are you going to find a book with a Green party progressive hailing decentralism and lamenting over the problems of regulatory capture and bureaucratic quagmire?)

Related:
Crunchy Cons, Rob Dreher
Citizen Power, Mike Gravel
What's Wrong with the World?, G.K. Chesterton
We Who Dared Say no to War, ed. Murray Polner and Tom Woods. (Men of the left and right, respectively.)

2 comments:

  1. I don't know which is more surprising: (1) Nader is still alive? (2) Nader is still complaining? (3) Nader still has publishers who will publish and readers who will still read his efforts. As you might guess, I have never been in Nader's corner. Shame on me!

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  2. This is my first time reading Nader, and he proved to be far more interesting than I'd anticipated.

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