THE POLITICS OF RAGE….I’m still not sure how I’m going to come down on Nordhaus and Shellenberger’s specific environmental arguments in Break Through, but in a way it’s too bad the book is being sold as an environmental manifesto in the first place. It’s really about liberal politics writ large, and they have a lot of interesting things to say about it. Here’s the conclusion of Chapter 7:
In America, the political left and political right have conspired to create a culture and politics of victimization, and all the benefits of resentment and cynicism have accrued to the right. That’s because resentment and apocalypse are weapons that can be used only to advance a politics of resentment and apocalypse. They are the weapons of the reactionary and the conservative — of people who fear and resist the future. Just as environmentalists believe they can create a great ecological politics out of apocalypse, liberals believe they can create a great progressive politics out of resentment; they cannot. Grievance and victimization make us smaller and less generous and can thus serve only reactionaries and conservatives.
Granted, this makes more sense if you’ve read the rest of Chapter 7 first, but it’s still something that ought to be etched onto every liberal forehead in the country: we can’t beat conservatives at their own game. Appeals to besiegement and rage make people more sympathetic to conservatism — “smaller and less generous” — no matter what words happen to be coming out of our mouths at the time.
I forget this too often. We all forget it too often. We shouldn’t.