When Lambert sent me the link to a New Republic article, “The Onion Has Become America’s Finest Marxist News Source,” I first assumed that TNR was engaging in a bit of humorous flattery, as in taking a page from The Onion’s own book in highlighting its success. After all, The Onion is more widely read than The New Republic. Alexa ranks The Onion at 635 in the US, versus The New Republic at 3,237
Now I think this is meant to be funny…but it comes off as being serious enough that I’m left unsure at what the intent was. Key extracts:
From coffee shops to college campuses, this country still has plenty of publications dedicated to radical politics. But only one is breathing new life into a far-left movement mostly vanished since FDR dropped dead. It isn’t The Socialist Worker. It’s not The Militant, either. And it isn’t Monthly Review, Political Affairs, World Socialist Website, or Worker’s Vanguard. Rather, the vanguard of revolution—the paper most dedicated to the overthrowing capitalism in the United States today—is none other than The Onion.
Since their move to Chicago two years ago, “America’s Finest News Source” has taken on a decidedly darker—and more subversive—bent. Nothing in The Onion suggests explicit support for a communist solution, of course, but looking back on the humor magazine’s punchiest political barbs of late, one can’t help noticing that many of the jokes—what you’re meant to “get”—are just less obtuse, much funnier versions of capitalist critiques in The German Ideology and other Karl Marx classics.
The joke behind “Man Briefly Forgets Hotel Staff are Not Human” would provoke chuckles from even the most crass conservative, but the truth it gets at—that capitalist commodification not just of goods, but of humans’ subjective agency in the form of labor, is tantamount to the dehumanization of the working class—is straight out of young Marx’s Manuscripts of 1844…
It doesn’t stop with the obvious, communist-tinged class warfare gags. More often than not, The Onion delves into deep cuts from the Marx-Engels oeuvre. “Laid Off Man Finally Achieves Perfect Work-Life Balance” has traces of entfremdung, the contention that capitalism alienates the proletariat from their species-consciousness by making them participants without control in the economic relations of their culture…
But perhaps the most salient example of The Onion’s Marx-inspired skewering is last months’ “All-Knowing Invisible Hand Of Free Market Once Again Guides Millions In Profits To Nation’s Bead Stores.” The joke is far from subtle. But it wouldn’t be so obviously if you didn’t intuitively buy into the theory of commodity fetishization, and know that the natural use of capital as a convenient common denominator for the exchange of material goods has been supplanted by a system wherein commodities are little more than frivolous intermediates for the conversion of capital into itself.
OK, so you get the drift of the gist. This isn’t a mere superficial observation that The Onion is making class warfare jibes, no, this is a footnoted treatment of that thesis. And even though the bulk of the piece is devoted to documenting author Emmett Rensin’s case, notice again the set-up: this is “radical,” “subversive,” The Onion is even given credit for helping revive the “far-left movement”.
So while I trust this is meant to be tongue-in-cheek but fell a bit flat, it’s not out of the question that the Rensin isn’t kidding. The New Republic is full of young writers from top schools, the sort of place where students are now inculcated to identify with the elites (after all, you’ve gotten the pricey entry ticket; it’s up to you to decide whether to stay in the club or not). The magazine fetishizes clever contrarianism, to the point of sometimes losing the plot. So it is quite plausible for someone at The New Republic to miss the following:
Our elites are increasingly isolated, tasteless, boorish, ridiculous, and therefore great objects of ridicule
The country harbors more leftist views than the media would have you believe. Polls show consistent majorities or pluralities for preserving Social Security and Medicare, ending the wars, protecting the environment, and more progressive taxation
The US is destined to move to the left thanks to our failed economic policies. Young people poll as being more left-leaning than older cohorts. Funny how high levels of unemployment create a keen appreciation for the value of better social safety nets and curbs on predatory lenders and debt collectors
Places like The Onion are news-driven. Income inequality and its effects have been hot political and business news issues as a result of the “recovery” extending only to the 1% and their retainers
Marxism is now cool
So faithful readers, please tell me. Am I just tone deaf and missed the irony (we Americans are bad at irony), or was this piece serious? Because if it was, it’s yet another symptom of how out of touch our soi-disant elites are.
Sounds serious to me, unless the author is a humorless person attempting to pretend they understand funny.
When I looked last week, the NEW REPUBLIC was running a ‘serious’ cover piece critical of whistleblowers (Ed Snowden, Assange, Greenwald) for being ideologically incorrect. It attacks Snowden for being critical of/insufficiently respectful to the great Obama on old ARS TECHNICA message boards and for being a libertarian.*
So, yeah, they’re serious.
From our POV of course it’s comedy gold — gives THE ONION a run for its money in the comedy stakes.
* Snowden is a libertarian. I know this site has a doctrinaire position against libertarians. But outside the limited US context, they come in all sorts of flavors, not just pot-smoking Republicans. In the classical tradition, anarcho-syndicalists like Chomsky or the Scottish SF writer Ken MacLeod are libertarians according to Ken.
I think this post is why I have a huge problem with American Libertarianism,
Libertarian socialists and American libertarianism are 2 different creatures and the fact that American Libertarians keep trying to wedge themselves into the left libertarian camp is the most irritating aspect of the ideology.
American Libertarianism is pro private property and goes as far to say strong property rights protect freedom best. And they tend to support the more radical forms of capitalism, IE no government regulation except for things like contract law.
Left libertarians take a less favorable view of capitalism, tend to oppose things like contracts (IWW), private property (see syndicalists which I might add seeks to replace capitalism) and in general support things like mass action as the only way to secure freedom not property rights. And call for more radical forms of democracy in the work place.
Yes there is overlap but it is superficial, and the fact that the American Libertarians refuse to notice or acknowledge it leaves me with a few conclusions
Most of them are dumb and haven’t read anything beyond the world’s smallest political quiz politically.
Or they honestly know what they are doing when they attempt to connect themselves to the left libertarian movements by making the laughable claim that Chomsky is connected to Libertarianism, IE the American Libertarian Party. And they are using it to dupe or confuse people.
“Here Libertarian means supreme advocate of tyranny”
-Noam Chomsky on American Libertarianism
So in short when you wonder why people HATE American libertarians and their posts…
thank you LG. if there’s anything more annoying than the naive, callous, and right-wing Libertarian Party taking the term libertarian from the anarchists (in the us at least), it’s American Libertarians pretending they’re on the left. if you support capitalism, then you are not on the left, and i would contend that you can’t even call yourself a libertarian. the foundation of libertarianism is freedom and the absence of domination. capitalism (and more generally, private property) institutionalizes domination and makes true liberty impossible.
when you hear American Libertarians talking about private police and defense forces, the benefits of sweatshops, and their complete endorsement of representative government, you start to realize how ridiculous their claim to the term libertarian really is.
not to say that self-identifying Libertarians can’t do anything right. as LG mentioned, many Libertarians are so politically naive that they don’t understand the contradictions in the platform of the LIbertarian Party, and simply don’t realize that they would be better suited identifying with the genuine libertarian tradition. Others, and i suspect Snowden falls into this category, have no working-class experience, and truly don’t know the true face of capitalism. since late-stage capitalism in post-industrial countries can be a very subtle creature, many people not exposed to the realities of capitalist exploitation (essentially those that aren’t foreigners, racial minorities, or the poor) just don’t realize how awful it can be, and instead focus on the more obvious oppression, that by the government.
either way, these people can still be motivated a by genuinely powerful and important sense of justice, they just generally lack the awareness to truly critique the base of domination, exploitation, and injustice, and can’t be considered true radicals.
The second you claim to be anti state, and support capitalism you look like a raving loon to me.
A quick listen to the Assange clip here and gives us one sense of his “libertarianism,” on a typical day:
A cursory internet search for Emmett Rensin’s other stuff shows he’s into writing satire. I can see how at first glance the piece seems pretty serious, as good satire plays with emotions, but think about it for 5 seconds and it becomes clear he’s trolling TNR. Doesn’t seem clear at all that he’s really making an argument for The Onion per se so much as riffing off their own kind of satire in a serious venue to drive home a much needed point about agitating around class experience.
Onion Labs is the in-house advertising and marketing team of The Onion. And we are taking the Labs metaphor to a whole new level.
We create branded entertainment, integrated video series, and custom advertising programs. Solutions are all offered with targeted online distribution.
“If you’re not comfortable making fun of yourself then you’re going to have trouble appealing to that crucial 18-30 demographic”
I don’t see why people read The Onion when there’s the real news each day. How can it even compete? If any of you rich kids writing for The New Republic want to help humanity, send me $500,000 and we’ll get rich quick together trading volatility. Imagine the life you could lead if you didn’t have to work! Then put yourself in our shoes. attn: D. Tremens, President, Low Vol Trading Partners, “One Trade and Your Set for Life”, PO Box 88, Magonia
Some dude last weekend alerted me to the fact they don’t publish horse racing papers any more. Even the new Yak Post fired all it’s horse racing writers but one. Then the dude showed me a betting sheet. And some guys they published were up 40% for the year! That’s big money if you put enough down. Maybe that’s a paper we should all read.
The problem is, where do you find the “real news”? I’m not sure the Onion has any more of an agenda than the mainstream news sources.
The Onion is some of the best political satire going.
“I don’t see why people read The Onion when there’s the real news each day.”
We could all read “true stories that are so mind-blowingly ridiculous, that you could have sworn it was an Onion story” as a compromise.
” There’s no trick to being a humorist when you have the whole government working for you.” Will Rogers
They don’t publish the Daily Racing Form anymore? How sad! I remember well getting up really early once in a while to go down to the news stand with Uncle Gerry to get the Racing Form. Then he’d sit up for an hour or so handicapping. He did well too. Once made enough in one day to buy a new 67 Bonneville two door convertible, which he still has. (Results not typical.)
The Racing form is still being published. 7$ per issue.
If you can find coverage like this on CNN or Time magazine, let me know by sharing here! This is more fun than I dreamed possible in print from millenials. There is hope.
Obama: ‘Help Us Destroy Jesus And Start A New Age Of Liberal Darkness’
from the onion:
““My fellow Americans and godless infidels, I command you to join me as we cast an endless pall of far-left evil across the hills and valleys of our nation!” Obama bellowed from the stage, as thousands in attendance moaned in compliance and gyrated their hips and groins in a lascivious dance. “Together, as a barbarian people forged by the wicked flames of irreligiosity and united by visions of a liberal dystopia, we will rise up as one to scorch the earth with boundless amorality.”
“The streets shall run red with the blood of forced sodomy, performed daily upon every American man, woman, and child!” the commander-in-chief shouted, froth forming around his mouth as the crowd threw hundreds of aborted fetuses onto the stage. “Die, Christians, die!”
Slamming his fists on the lectern until his hands began to bleed, Obama proceeded to lay out a “three-point plan of sin and lechery” for his second term. If reelected, the president said, he would begin by banning organized religion entirely—starting with Christianity—and burning all churches to the ground, preferably “with their wretched, Jesus-loving congregants still huddled inside like rats.”
As members of the audience violently tugged at their genitals and howled like sex-starved, atheist wolves, Obama stated that his administration would then seek to make free, taxpayer-funded abortions legal at any stage of pregnancy, even up to one full year after birth, in order to supply his newly created “federal stem-cell harvesting plants” with raw materials.
In addition, the cackling president vowed to “end traditional marriage as we know it” by passing legislation that would allow only homosexuals to raise children, a longtime Democratic policy goal.
“A glorious new age of sinister, unconstrained liberalism is dawning! Oh, dear Satan, I can feel it coursing through my veins at this very moment!” shrieked Obama, ripping off his shirt to reveal an ornate tattoo of a pentagram, with a different homosexual act positioned at each of the star’s five points. “Agnosticism, contempt for human life, and radical sexual experimentation shall rule the day! Any good, virtuous, family-values-oriented Christian Americans who seek to topple our magnificent liberal kingdom of eternal darkness will be powerless to stop us! We will crush them!”
Added Obama, “Thank you, may Satan reward you all, and may God tremble in fear at the United States of America!”
The president was then handed an unbaptized, orphaned newborn baby drenched in the blood of 666 slaughtered Christians, which he handed over to its new, gleefully squealing homosexual parents.”
that sounds like a republican speech about Obama. I used to see that kind of thing in the newspapers or on TV, then I said to myself “I have better things to do that read this shiit. Why am I reading this?” I reached a point where I had no answer inside myself. And so I looked up at the sky and at the trees and I realized – – that’s where the real information is. haha
I think if here’s a way to follow the hot tipsters at the tracks around the country I could even start a hedge fund that invests in horse racing. 30% to 40% returns. You figure out who the hot tipsters are and you follow them. Some of the dudes I saw were winning $700 on $450 or $500 down.
You manage about $50 million at 2% fee and, to be nice, 15% performance fee. If you’re up 30%, that’s $15 million, then times 15% is $2.25 million, if you add the 2% fee that makes over $3 million. What are your expenses? A brown bag, a bottle of bourbon, a polyester suit and a hat. I have the suit already. You can live on $3 million a year. This could work.
You’re on. I got a guy, Joey bag-a-doughnuts from Two Street. He’ll cover all the action you can bring. They just locked up Rizzo’s son-law after the FBI dug up his lawn looking for the cash horde in the lawn sprinkler pipes. It’s wide open for the swells who don’t do the whole Melrose Diner scene. Call me. Etcum spirit 2–2–o.
I think it was serious. The writer seems pretty knowledgeable. Why would it show how out of touch elites are?
Did it not occur to you (and them) that a The Onion gets its grist from the news? Income inequality, how badly off ordinary people are, and class warfare are now regular items in the press. The Onion follows, rather than leads, the zeitgeist. The fact that TNR sees otherwise suggests it identifies with the head-in-the-sand elites.
Indeed. Satire flowers best when problems (and dumb solutions to them) abound. In an Utopia, there would be no satire (and I don’t mean it would be supressed by BB either :) ).
I’d say you can measure the problems society has by the level of satire present, and identify some of the worst problems by seeing what is regularly satirised..
I still consider Bird/Bremner&Fortune treatment of the crisis in 2008 (“Silly Money”) as the best TV documentary on the crisis, albeit entirely satirical (for a taste see http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9z70BKwfSUA ) … Pity John Forune died recently.
And that is what the article says:
With Americans continuing to struggle in the long wake of the Great Recession, and a populist wave taking aim at the country’s ever-widening economic inequality, the timing has never been better for dark humor about the failures of late capitalism. And so The Onion resonates. As the saying goes: It’s funny because it’s true.
This looks like having it both ways. Look at the headline and first para, which go on about how “far left” (meaning extremist) and “subversive” the paper is, and all the comparison of articles to specific ideas in Marx (not just the high concept of class warfare).
And even “populist wave” is a slap. This is the mood du jour of the great Unwashed. So you’ve got the piece taking a weak swipe at The Onion (there are still people who think Marxism is a dirty word) and then tries a save with “oh yeah, they might actually have a point”.
There are too many problems for satire. The Onion is far too predictive of future events to be labeled as satire.
I found it hilarious. Ok well I guess I’m easily amused.
New Republic and National Review: Ideology between the 45 yard lines. Establishmentsuck ups through and through.
Previously it was Dilbert who was in our corporate overlords line of fire (e.g. http://www.amazon.com/The-Trouble-Dilbert-Corporate-Culture/dp/1567511325/ref=cm_cr_pr_product_top/190-7266085-1575466) so I think The Onion should be flattered.
I think he’s trying to be both funny and serious which he thinks is satire but isn’t. He also wrote this treasure: http://www.salon.com/2013/08/09/ayn_rand_books_we_might_actually_read/
Or maybe he’s NSA undercover putting forth his best effort. whoop
In these troubled times there are plenty of sources of humor our there. As at least two have written above, reading the daily news provokes one to humor. Free daily entertainment.
Humor and satire are also good tools to bring light to questionable ideas.
Pretty sure the article is quite admiring of the Onion.
Also, Rensin– not Renshen.
But if you have to guess that it’s satire, it’s not very good satire. If it’s not satire, what is it? Marxist ideology disguised as humor? Seriously?
If The New Republican had included a slapshot or pander at our poor deluded Mr. Perkins, perhaps we could have figured out some sort of tongue in cheek snottiness. But this appears to be straight up ‘analysis’.
I don’t know how to classify it. What I read is that the Marxist critique of capitalism (as opposed to the Marxist prescription for capitalism’s ravages) resonates because we have the evidence that it is correct right before our eyes every single day.
I’m not sure why he brings in the term radical, though.
Easy: Because the writer is neoliberal. Its ‘radical’ because its a threat.
Whether he likes the Onion or not, he sure as hell dont like Marxism. You can read that from the article clear as day.
it is circle the wagons time in plutocracy land and they are paying the wannnabees to defend their privilege.
How do you know that he is neoliberal?
(I’ll just say here I consider TNR more cold war liberal than neoliberal.)
Seems to be this increasingly common refrain that while Marx developed diagnostic tools he fails in providing the prescription. There is a good reason for this. The approach of Marx was one of methodology, a critical theory based on a scientific analysis in which the critique presumes its dialectical opposite: if this is what domination, or alienation, for instance, looks like, then implicit in this is what it doesn’t look like, a society without domination, alienation, etc.. Marx didn’t provide a description of future society (other than superficial descriptions in the Communist Manifesto), as the critical theorist is not in the business of providing policy, platform or a painted picture to describe/prescribe what a future society (free of domination, alienation, etc.) will look like. That future is to be decided by praxis, by the very actions of those who make that future, and Marx did involve himself in this, at least for a time until he buried himself in a London library to write the three volumes of Capital.
People really mean “Marxism-Leninism” when they talk about Marx.
The problem with a lot of the rhetoric used in right-leaning (excuse the generalizing) news outlets, is that – much the same way you can’t parody them, because they just outdo your parody by themselves over time – they deliberately mix facetiousness with seriousness on a regular basis, so that both opponents and followers can’t tell one from the other.
This is useful for shifting the overton-window, because what today their followers shrug off as “nah, they don’t really mean that, they’re just joking”, over time becomes something their readers get used to (shifting the overton window – as well as causing followers to adapt these views themselves, through repeated exposure), until one day they don’t pretend to be facetious anymore, they make their previous statements in a serious way, and their followers response is “shure they’ve been saying that for ages now anyway – that’s old news”.
So, personally, I make a point to never give a propaganda outlet the benefit of the doubt, that they are ‘just joking’ or engaging in ‘intelligent trolling’ – it’s usually them being perfectly serious, but wanting the cowardly ‘out’ of saying “just joking!”; todays ‘intelligent trolling’ forms the public consensus, for tomorrows ‘serious and respectable’ narrative.
Ironically, this seems to be exactly what TNR is saying about The Onion – the difference being, The Onion is deliberately a satire website, not a ‘serious and respectable’ outlet like TNR.
Yes, I think you’re exactly right.
This is the first I’ve heard of the Overton Window. Yet I’ve been observing its shifts for a long time.
Wait, so which way is Rensin’s article shifting the Overton window?
He concludes, “it’s funny because it’s true” so you’re saying he’s pushing the discourse to the left?
maybe he just had an idea for an article and wrote it… He wanted to point out that the Onion says things the NYT can’t/doesn’t say, and people accept it because it’s the court jester saying it. Pretty straightforward…
On another note: what’s wrong with beads and the people who love them?? Looks like the Invisible Hand is working pretty well for them I’d say!
(now I’m not sure if *I’m* joking or not…)
What is said is worthless. What matters is what is shown. If you say “Black people are to blame for their socioeconomic status because they exploit the welfare system in order to buy luxuries” then it’s not going to get any traction; however, if you say “All these welfare queens, spitting out babies for the welfare check and driving around in Cadillacs!” then you create a very specific mental image for people to hate and to project onto a larger population.
Same dynamic at work (I think) in the self-consciously absurd – almost to the point that it feels like a taunt… – approach so many advertisers take nowadays. GEICO’s ‘Car Insurance Taste Test’ spot is a prime example. They want to be our schizophrenia.
That the Onion is using humor to point serious criticisms at our contemporary society and economic life is no news. That’s what satirical publications have always done, and the Onion is satire par excellence.
Whether the barbs are explicitly informed at some level from the authors’ reading of Marx, however, is debatable. You don’t need to read Marx to learn that our jobs are sometimes sucky and demoralizing, that rich people and corporate bosses sometimes treat working people as slaves or machines, and that the consumer-driven free market sometimes produces ridiculous outcomes in the way we allocate our resources.
I would bet big money that the Onion had no clue they were sounding Marxist.
And that the Onion, which is popular for its ‘zeitgeist’, if you will, sounds marxist to this TNR writer, that is an incredible compliment to Marx. It pretty much means that the same observations he made, can still be made of capitalism the better part of two centuries later.
The last time I checked we lived in a thoroughly capitalist society. So if you’re going to socially satirize at all, what else is there?
John Cleese said humor depends on the subject being inflexible. Crummy rulers usually are inflexible, and since neoliberalism economics is the order of the day any humorous critique would naturally sound Marxist. If there was widespread welfare fraud in a more prosperous era, conservative sounding humor would hit closer to home if liberal types were in charge.
“Before laughter, even the Bishops quake!”
Yeah, certainly there was never an instance in literature before Marx that made fun of the ruling class.
Calling awareness and criticism of inequality and mass impoverishment “Marxism” often enough may have the unintended side-effect of sending those unemployed, over-educated youth to the libraries to actually read the guy.
The article is indeed serious but its intent is to signal to this young writer’s tribal elders that he gets it, he is a safe pair of hands, and that he will do his best to lead away from class-based politics any left-leaning readership he may one day get the privilege to write for. By implication this means shepherding the left-leaning sheep towards the much more oligarch-friendly Identity Politics. After all, not many people read the New Republic; it is basically just a journalistic little league where young writers from very privileged backgrounds compete with each other over who can defend their oligarchs interests the best, for whom class-based thinking is a threat. The young writers who successfully gain their elder’s confidence get to someday move up to the journalistic big leagues.
Ding ding ding! We have a winner. That article is a pathetic dog whistle to the elders.
Yeah, this has been the MO of the new Republic since almost forever.
The main “center-left” folks who wrote for the New Republic when I was a college kid all became leading lights of the right: Kondracke, Barnes, Krauthammer.
Not forever. In my youth it was a very left-leaning magazine. Came out against the Vietnam War when it wasn’t fashionable (mid sixties) during the editorship of Gilbert A. Harrison (1956–1975). When Martin Peretz came on board he destroyed the magazine gradually until it became the POS rag it is today.
That’s what University of Chicago education buys these days.
WCN – as pointed out in comments, Rensin concludes that the Onion is “funny because it’s true.” This signals the elders how exactly?
For the most part The Onion is making fun of neoliberalism or classical economics in the articles cited, not spouting Marxism. For example:
Even many of the nation’s staunchest neoliberal economists, who have long advocated laissez-faire policies, acknowledged that the ideas of F.A. Hayek, Ludwig von Mises, and Milton Friedman cannot account for how Edible Arrangements operates from more than 1,000 locations in 13 countries, including Hong Kong, Italy, India, and Kuwait.
But Emmett Rensin cleverly reframes the discussion by basically labeling as Marxism even the softest criticism of the economic policies that are doing his oligarchs so much good. This shows his elders that for example if he is confronted with a series of articles that criticize, however meekly, Israel, Mr, Rensin will be able to contourn the details and instead deftly write an article about how widespread anti-Semitism is becoming.
So the fact that he kind of pretends to agree with some of the criticism in the end is only a way ingratiate himself with his left-leaning readership so as to avoid any pushback from the brighter lefties among them about labeling bland vanilla jokes about neoliberalism as Marxism. Partisans on both sides are very tribal and this is his way of signalling to the lefties that he is certainly not a right winger. His elders will ignore this subterfuge because they see the bigger picture, their boy has sent a strong message to journalists that even joking about neoliberalism can get you branded as a Marxist.
That comes at the very end of the piece, so it’s a partial walkback: “see, I really am giving them their due and not calling them a bunch of stealth ideologues.”
For Rensin to preserve his value to his elders, he need to be able to preserve credibility. Otherwise, he’d be too obvious a propagandist.
Basically, he’s trying to have it both ways. See this comment earlier: http://www.nakedcapitalism.com/2014/02/jealous-new-republic-takes-potshot-onion-marxist.html#comment-1855974
Someone at the NR has made a far more serious study of marxism than I ever will…
That’s too bad for you, because it is very interesting that this writer mistakes the clear and obvious criticisms of late-stage capitalism that come prepackaged for the Onion to mock in the days’ headlines, and confuses them completely with Marxist critiques. I’ll tell you right now that the Onion isn’t filled with Marxists, its filled with mostly 20-40 year old humorists who are very wary of every strong ideology. Yet somehow the critiques they find most salient find deep and profound examination in Marx’s writings. This is because Marx knew a thing or two, and was an excellent student of capitalism and its ills, and is really worth studying.
A capitalism that can’t at least laugh at its failures and admit its shortcomings is brittle and fragile. If it can’t reinvent itself to resolve its internal contradictions it will eventually fall apart. Allowing socialist insights into the capitalist sphere made it better, in that for once it actually started working for the majority (as its allegedly supposed to do). The greed that has gripped our age and has almost destroyed the manifestation of that insight now threatens to destroy itself. We are not in a recovery for the 99%, and as things continue to deteriorate for the vast majority, the jokes that make them laugh because they are effective critiques of a broken system will lead right back to Marx, and instead of laughing at jokes these young people will be looking for solutions. This is what TNR and its sad little scribe are frightened of: the overton window moves in both directions, and humor has a strong socialist bias, because it has a humanist bias. That’s what this little TNR stooge doesn’t get, what his “elite” education and indoctrination refuses outright: that a human being is not a set of “rational” transactions. We crave justice, balance, creativity and freedom of spirit. None of which can be purchased at the Apple Store. And just because Marx understood that and wrote deeply on the subject, doesn’t make that subject “socialism”. That subject is humanity, and humanity just doesn’t do too well when the not-so-invisible hand and markets uber-alles have had their way. Marx would be thrilled to have reality mistaken for his theories.
“what his “elite” education and indoctrination refuses outright: that a human being is not a set of “rational” transactions”
They still teach that Economic Man shit in elite institutions? I thought that was as dead as John Stuart Mill.
Glad I saved my money and went to a cheaper (and ostensibly better) school.
Are y’all reading the full article or just Yves’ excerpt? Maybe I need to reread it, I feel like I read a different piece.
IKR? As a casual wanna-be marxist myself im sort of impressed that this guy, probably a neoliberal, is so well read.
Know your enemy to combat him, I guess?
Yea, I had the same thoughts. :)
I would humbly submit to the author that the policies he lists are actually rather middle-of-the-road. Dismantling Social Security and Medicare, starting wars, destroying the environment and diverting more wealth into the pockets of the already-wealthy, I suppose, are what he would consider “centrist.”
Leftist–I don’t think that word means what you think it means…
Well, the middle of the road, and certainly The New Republican, have shifted way to the right. Hell, TNR says so…
right, all that stuff can coexist with capitalism (well possibly not true protection of the environment – as it’s the whole infinite growth on a finte planet thing – but EPA regs and the like are not a threat to capitalism as such), so it’s not really leftist, it’s not even anti-capitalist, not even anti corporate, corportaist , or financial capitalist really. Regimes considered historically reactionary have supported such things.
I think deliberately funny and serious. A commentary with a deliberately “oniony feel” (sorry, can’t do better than that) on inequality, other grotesque distortions of our society by capitalism, and the out of touch MSM (I would say, co-opted), and perhaps show off a bit his knowledge of Marx, too…
I didn’t see it as a potshot at all. I thought it a good piece, unusual for tnr.
(I thought your description of the TNR stable of young writers with their pricey entry tickets to the elite club was right on, by the way.)
Yes, I almost wrote a bit of showing off earlier. I agree with that. I am not sure why my reading of it is so at odds with the other commenters.
Something about the way the way Yves frames it? And no direct link to the full piece. And the second excerpt is not from the NR article, I think. So it’s all a bit jumbled feeling.
by the way, if you haven’t seen this onion piece…worth a quick look.
(golden globes juxtaposed with Syrian carnage)
Looks like the New Republic is attempting to link humor, especially political humor, as part of making its case regarding communist infiltration of the “far-left movement” otherwise known in mainstream (well, mainstream as in 3,237th place in that stream) liberal America as Marxism. Oh, the irony, as the New Republic attempts taking up the Siren call of post modern ConDem McCarthyism in a vain attempt to establish some standing in any genre or stream at long last.
Perhaps it’s time the New Republic invite Samantha Power and Cass Sunstein to contribute to its efforts in a more formalized way.
He’s definitely serious. And concerned. And he’s right. Unfortunately he misdiagnoses the root cause. The Onion is not actively trying to engage in subversive, Marxist thinking. It’s sit a sign of the times.
Political history and its narratives swing in wide, long arcs of 20-50 years. We are now in the beginnings of a reversal, swinging back against neoliberalism. Enough people have been around long enough and screwed enough by the current neoliberal system that they no longer believe the hype they are fed. Sure, 30% still cling to their chosen narrative, but these Tea Partiers still feel the same sense of “being wronged”, only misdiagnosed. The pendulum will keep swinging. THAT’S what this article is sensing.
People understand the absurdity, even if they don’t have the time or energy to really learn about the cause. The Onion is just capitalizing on that sense of the absurd that was created by the failure of The New Republic’s doctrine.
Firstly, I think theyre being serious.
And secondly, I dont think they have realized that one doesnt need to have Marxist inclinations to be opposed to Neoliberal Capitalism.
Even the goddamn Bible is against Neoliberal capitalism… God alone knows how many other things are.
But theyre so stuck in their bubble that Critique of Capitalism = GODLESS COMMUNISM!!! BURN IT WITH FIRE!!!!!
Oh, and that line about leftist ideas that haven’t been popular since FDR “dropped dead” is deeply disrespectful and crass. The man who led us out of the Great Depression and through to victory in WWII, and laid the groundwork for the most widespread prosperity the world has ever known, deserves a lot more than that. And its not just mean, its also wrong. The labor movement thrived for decades after FDR’s death, and would still if not for the government-led extermination program that’s been in effect since Reagan busted PATCO.
Great point. Sneering at FDR betrays a whiff of desperation, given that his New Deal legacy is more exquisitely and immediately pertinent than Marx to the dire existential straights the malefactors of great wealth now find themselves in. So who will now save them from themselves? Certainly not their faithful enabler, Barack Hoover Obama. Their cleverly-craftex Trojan Horse may, in the end, prove to be their fatal Achilles heel.
What’s with the right wing’s persistent fixation with Marx anyway? It’s time to study him, if he frightens them so much.
Like Darwin, I think there are enough doubt in the works that Marx, like Darwin, is held up as a pseudo religious figure by those threatened by the line of thought. To keep it simple natural selection is mostly correct, but Darwin has little if any understanding of genetics, genetic drift, mutation, and rate of mutation/evolution. If an anti-marxist can raise Marx/Darwin to cult status, poking holes in older arguments attacks the credibility of later and more refined views of admirers and successors without offering counter arguments or evidence for the newer and less error proved views.
If the debate is about the work of a scientist dead for 150 years instead of where the work has led, the critics win by default. The shallow will be impressed by certainty of those attacking Marx and other figures raised to religious levels by critics because fighting the man is easier than later developments of the argument.
Now that I think about it, this basically the Jesus story. Jesus’ philosophy was a threat to the class order, and they accused him of proclaiming himself king. Democratic types do the same thing with Reagan and his tax increases and removing the Marines without offering context just Reagan as the unquestioned demigod of the right wing.
Tribal identification and deference to tradition. Ian Welsh wrote a while back that every successful ideology has a strong irrational basis, as it is always potentially rational to defect for the right price. The idea of the family as the primary unit of society is unhinged, unless one believes that manipulation and coercion are valuable, fundamental social interactions.
Sorry but FDR saved the banking cartel with government deposit insurance when he should have stepped on its neck while it was down. Such as with ex post facto deposit insurance for all those whose banks accounts were lost in the GD? But deposited in the Postal Savings Service instead of the banks? Which might have then prevented WWII?
Money creation is a problem in ETHICS – NOT PRAGMATISM.
The idea of ‘Marx was prescient about unregulated Capitalism’s outcome’ is showing up in more outlets now.
David Simon’s talk at the Festival of Dangerous Ideas is a great example of this. See the 8 minute highlight reel below.
David Simon at the Festival of Dangerous Ideas, 2013.
Highlights, 8 minutes. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A7kjFQsLjSk
Full talk, 1 hour. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DNttT7hDKsk
Simon is a Moyers guest last week and this week.
There’s the Rolling Stone article:
This idea and related articles are creating a buzz that’s drawing in an audience. The TNR may simply be trying to capitalize on this with their own article. What is interesting is that they did do an article not completely dismissive of the idea (even as they use the Onion as a safe foil.)
I hear a common observation in Russia right now is “Marx was wrong about everything he said about communism, but right about everything he said about capitalism”. Of course, one could also say that while the Soviet Union was communist, it wasn’t Marxist; that Marxism requires an industrialized society, not an agrarian one.
And it hadn’t even mastered agrarian.
Soviet society was designed by Stalin. When Trotsky was fighting western imperialism, Stalin was picking Stalin loyalists not necessarily believers in socialism much like OFA versus the 50 state DNC. The purges targeted dynamic and very pro Soviet but not necessarily Stalinist individuals. This was big in Warsaw pact countries. Tito happened to survive, but there plenty of lesser Tito and potential allies who wound up in Siberia who would never go to the West.
Hmm… seems like that Simon article I read — the transcript of his talk– had several big wet kisses to capitalism. I did not find it particularly radical.
(The other thing I remember from the article was that he said Marx was a better diagnostician than clinician which went over like a thud with me since a diagnostician is a clinician.)
“So while I trust this is meant to be tongue-in-cheek but fell a bit flat, it’s not out of the question that the Renshen isn’t kidding. The New Republic is full of young writers from top schools, the sort of place where students are now inculcated to identify with the elites”
Oh, I don’t know. I got curious, as I frequently do with regard to goofy journalists, so I looked him up. (And it’s Emmett Rensin, not Renshen). No sooner did I google him than I pulled up this, which just makes him sound like four score or so other people, young and not so young, writing around here:
“Don’t Feed the Trolls, and Other Advice For Dealing With Libertarians”
They’re a dime a dozen these days. So aspiring journalists and bloggers, listen up!:
Find a new beat.
After reading the article you referenced, it looks like Emmett Rensin switched sides, or is writing for new masters.
I think deception is the order of the day, and that you don’t necessarily even know what side you’re on, because almost anything can be twisted into something you never wanted to see. We are all in danger of becoming useful idiots, and investigation of political history suggests that co-optation is the way extant elites work to secure their power.
So, I don’t even really care what side this young pup thinks he’s on. I’m just bored.
Although, it is true that I’ve always thought that libertarian bashing was the new modus operandi of the D-Party suck-tards, and more importantly, a cheap means of shoring up the legitimacy of a federal government in a very serious crisis of legitimacy, so I was over it before it even began.
Critiques of libertarianism can be made without lending support for the corrupt government we have presently. It all boils down to pointing out the fact that having a small government (or no government) is not much different from having a corrupt big government, at the end the “elites” will have their way over the rest of us. Its about having a government that works for the common interest and is accountable to we the people. I am dismayed that some “progressives” think that just because libertarian and leftist critiques of government are presently in alignment means that the two camps’ interests are the same. They couldn’t be further apart.
Yeah, I’ve more or less patiently entertained these critiques, not to mention a ton of drivel, and I’m still finding myself seriously unenlightened by it all in terms of describing the moment in which we find ourselves.
Meanwhile, as far as I am concerned it has become a distraction, but (to repeat) one that has become useful to D-Party suck-tards, and those for whom they work.
The federal government still is in a serious crisis in legitimacy, not just due to its (nominally, but not really) “laissez faire” sins of omission but also due to its overweening sins of commission, and that’s what’s important to me.
And as an advocate of Big Government it is important to you, because it means that you can’t trust the government to do jack shit.
And you can’t. You can try if you want, and we’ll see what happens.
Also, you’re clearly not listening to what I said, (which doesn’t surprise me).
What I said was, any ideology can be readily co-opted by a corrupt elite, and any serious reading of political history indicates that this is one of the, if not the, keys means by which elites consolidate their power.
That means your ideology too. Needless to say, also, a powerful government makes such co-optation all the easier. Seamless, really.
And Americans, frankly, have been spoiled. You don’t know what a really bad government is. But never say never.
Any ideology can be co-opted, that is true. You are the one who is not listening, I clearly stated that in my post in reference to the size of government. And the libertarian movement can and has been co-opted by the “elites” as well. What I don’t understand is, what do you propose to do about it? All I gather is that there can apparently be no legitimate critiques of libertarianism, that any and all critiques are simply the tool of legitimizing the status quo. That’s a complete BS. I am no fan of our present system of government, but I am not a fan of childish libertarian utopias either. Get of your high horse, your argument amounts to nothing more than orthodoxy meant to stifle any and all dissent. I was born in a corrupt “communist” Eastern European country (so you are also wrong about me not knowing what a really bad government is) and the sort of argument you make was one of the means used to stifle dissent.
You don’t have to agree with them to work with them. Political coalitions are filled with diverse and often times conflicting interests. Just as long as that support is reciprocated in areas of mutual agreement.
The current economic environment is going to convert a lot of Randroids back to their traditional left-wing roots. They all can’t be genetically superior at once in a contracting environment.
But why stop with libertarians? One of the main pillars of the Socialist Party in this country’s political history was Christians. There are more than a few indications that evangelicals are going to shift their political allegiance to the left wing too.
“So yeah, creationism is bad or something.” Divide and conquer.
Waiting for Godot came to mind when I read about the imminent transformation of the Randroids and the Evangelicals. They may not all be genetically superior, but they all THINK that they are. Especially in a country that is becominf increasingly brown and they feel that their white privilege is threatened.
The way to deal with Evangelicals is with the Bible. You know, that Book which is their ONLY final Authority and which has as a major theme social justice?
Jesus was no fan of the privileged classes. It’s about time people were reminded about that. I’ll happily welcome our Christian brothers and sisters into the fold when that time comes.
Technically, Christians are already in the fold – it’s Progressives who are wandering in the wilderness.
Yet it is beyond dispute that the Body of Christ needs to repent wrt usury and justice.
There is no white privilege when working class whites suffer as much as the minorities of various ethnic groups. It’s easy to rebel against white privilege, hierarchy, and patriarchy because they do not fight back. Unlike Wall Street, the NATSec State, and the oligarchy.
Race has often been used as a dividing influence among the lower classes throughout American history. “native whites” against the Irish, Irish against the Italians, Italians against the Jews, I haven’t even exhausted the people of European descent, but you get the idea.
I highly recommend you actually talk and try to find some common ground with people of differing political opinions. It’s enlightening. Start off with the line ‘Those elites in Washington…’ and then just listen to them. Only interrupt them when you agree with them.
There is and there isn’t. Its complicated. There is in the legal sphere, just look at the disproportionate number of black males behind bars compared to white males. Simple marijuana possession is a sap on the white wrists, handcuffs on the black wrists.
In the economic sense things are further complicated by the belief among poor whites that they are middle class when in reality they are working poor. Nonetheless they sense they are losing ground, but will blame the “black welfare queens” for their lot, even when they themselves are on food stamps or medicaid. Any effort at reform will be met by yells to “keep your gubmint hands off my medicare.” They will blame anyone other then the very people, elected or the “elite”, who are responsible for their misery.
Yes, “those elites in Washington” is a good conversation starter, but read the polls: most people believe their congressman or-woman is not the problem, its the others congressmen and -women. And good luck trying to agree on policies, it ain’t gonna happen. Even if you manage to close the distance a bit, you will still have to overcome the chasm created by identity politics, that greatest tool of division and co-option in this country.
Go ahead and try to win these people to your cause though. You will earn more frustration than converts.
That seems to jibe with the recent uptick in Tysonism among my wanna-bourgeois friends and unhingedness among UniteBLUE fanbois on Twitter. Why, it’s as if the Democratic Party were actively working to put the smackdown on socialism.
Ahh, Tysonism! Individuals who believe they’re an independent thinker are usually unaware of the sources that have influenced their thinking.
When people are stuck in this mode of thinking they lose all freedom of action. Manipulating them is all the more easier since they have no principles or ideology to stand for. Their identity is defined by what they’re standing against. Among liberals those are guns, creationism, etc. and on the right it’s secularism, marxism, etc. This converts them into a captive constituency who can be relied upon for support even if their self-interest is being actively betrayed. The individuals who realize they are cynically being manipulated often drop out of politics altogether.
The Reform Party gave both parties a good scare in the 90s. The ‘Blue-Green’ alliance that was at the heart of the populist anti-globalization movement was also a source of concern. Undoubtedly the Democrats are worried. We have no need for a Republican-lite bourgeoisie party.
Funny, one of the reasons why I left the democrat party in 2009 is that I saw the “big tent” strategy for what it is: giving a “leftist” cover to the right wing policies of the centrists and the blue dogs. It has already been tried and it didn’t turn out to well; or rather it worked only too well: the low information voter thinks that neoliberal policies such as Obamacare are “socialist” and clamors for more “centrist” right wing approach.
No, it’s intended to serious.
The elite really is this clueless.
Eric Cantor recently tried explaining the facts of life as lived by the vast majority of Americans to his caucus:
Ed Kilgore goes on to comment at the Washington Monthly:
Republicans don’t get it because, as Marx would have been the first to point out, it isn’t in their class interest to get it.
Similarly, the logic of the TNR piece really boils down to this: Marxism is self-evidently intellectually unacceptable, therefore anything that sounds like Marxism is equally unacceptable. QED.
A more broad minded person might realize that the parallels between the Onion’s satire and Marxism might actually suggest that Marx’s critique of capitalism has substantial relevance to the circumstances and lived reality of a large section of the American population today. But you obviously can’t expect that kind of broadmindedness from the right in general or TNR particularly.
After all, being prisoners to ideological dogma is a big part of what made them conservatives in the first place.
The New Republic has been self-satirical for over a decade. This article just adds to depth of its self-satire. A failed attempt to satirize satire.
And it fails primarily because the current reality has the cast of Marx’s Capital. Any satire automatically picks up on themes the old Cold Warriors (and the New Republic was in the thick of that back in the day) can point to as Marxist. As it that is a disqualifying term like it was in the 1980s.
I thought the New Republic lost its relevance when it was mindlessly plumping for the Iraq War long after it was clear that it was a disaster. How it continues to have the reputation of being on the left is an amazing amount of misplaced nostalgia.
I think the author is writing to his peers more than to the “elders” (though he know the elders will be reading it) and is a bit awkward at moving from erudition to snark to [his] reality and back. The elite in the elite schools have a certain appetite for self awareness and self parody without necessarily enlisting in the other side’s cause for life. The “since FDR dropped dead” remark isn’t trying to demean FDR, it’s trying to be cool. But when he says, “[…]but the truth it gets at —that capitalist commodification not just of goods, but of humans’ subjective agency in the form of labor, is tantamount to the dehumanization of the working class—is straight out of young Marx’s Manuscripts of 1844.”, he’s being erudite AND sincere (otherwise he wouldn’t have chosen “truth“) while at the same time attempting a pose of “clever contrarianism” to use Yves’ term. It’s awkward.
The last paragraph that Yves cites seems curiously straight forward, “Our elites are increasingly isolated, tasteless, boorish, ridiculous, and therefore great objects of ridicule“. This is why I think he is speaking more to his peers than to his elders. This is straight forward observation of social facts that the elders might find a little close for comfort. Indeed, if the plot is “contrarianism”, this tone of voice is a little more candid than necessary.
I suspect snark probably is intended when calling the Onion “Marxist” or radical, but the author himself is somewhat ambivalent at least in how he wants to be perceived in making the remark.
““Our elites are increasingly isolated, tasteless, boorish, ridiculous, and therefore great objects of ridicule“.”
But that’s not a CLASS analysis …
“Elites” may be code for “liberal elites” or “cultural elites” — latte-sipping Volvo-driving academics.
They’ve been coopted as well (see how much the academic doing real scientific research on pesticides was hounded – most fold before that point). Plus how many just issue apologies for the powers that be? But they aren’t the core of the power structure.
yeah, it’s a joke: a snarky appreciation, not a critique
This can’t be humor — there’s no punch line anywhere and it’s too on-the-nose. The observation is in earnest, IMO, and Yves’ closing comments are spot on.
We are marxist these days, following the method not the man. The utter failure to make me smirk tells me there was no irony. I once listened to a German explaining irony at great length with no humour. This might have been an ironic play on humourless Germans or a humourless German. Northern European humour is dark and slow – Kierkegaard is a fine example. The first nine episodes of Bridge 2 serve only to set up a few nob gags in episode ten. I am yet to see a punchline in The Onion. I think we can safely conclude it is just dull. My German, on the other hand, was a dead-pan humourist.
There is, of course, no left. Tony Blair stole it, later flogging it off as a religious icon. The radical challenge is to get people to realise how duped they are and I can’t think of any rag doing that.
Wait a minute. Subversive is BAD? I had it all wrong?
Remember Stephen Glass who fabricated articles for The New Republic 15 years ago? Perhaps that left such a bad name for them that they only hire well vetted, elite loving journalists now who believe anything “left” of neo-liberal is “radical”.
I’m completely confused by this entire debate. I hope this doesn’t come off as rude, but did any of you who are questioning the point of the piece read the entire thing? The piece isn’t about “The Onion,” it’s about the attitudes of its readers. The author is being ironic, but he doesn’t leave readers to imagine on what the irony turns. He spells it out in the final paragraphs.
Do a paragraph count. The overwhelming majority of the piece is devoted to a discussion of the content of particular Onion articles v. Marxist analysis, with a set up that calls the Onion “subversive” and “far left”. I see no claim about the attitude of the Onion’s readers. I see analysis of what the Onion wrote.
And Rensin says:
But perhaps the most salient example of The Onion’s Marx-inspired skewering is last months’…
So he EXPLICITLY claims that The Onion is taking its cues from Marx and ginning up stories accordingly, and not simply that the world is moving the way Marx anticipated it would and the Onion reflects that.
Now of course he then says that Marx has permeated the culture, and then says the Onion is the only one that can make the connection (“the radical meets the mainstream”).
So basically the opening 3/4 are too definitive and not consistent with the position he takes at the close. The piece is internally inconsistent. So what part do you buy, his first 3/4 or his close?
And how could the author know about the attitude of the Onion’s readers? Is he a telepath?
I find the Onion quite amusing – and that’s the problem for the elite. My wife is a special educator and knows a lot about how people learn and the connection between memory and emotion. It turns out that one tends to remember very well those things that touch your emotions. So, if the Onion say, makes you laugh at the plight of our overlords, there’s a good chance you will remember that you do have overlords. That is, it is completely possible that The Onion is a very dangerous, radical (did someone say commie?) publication and may be more effective in alerting we proles to our predicament than those humorless stuffed shirts at NC. Hey Lambert and Yves, don’t take offense, I’m way beyond that “laughter makes me learn” rubbish and am all-in on MMT and Keynesianism.
TNR’s new flag to plant:
“The magazine fetishizes clever contrarianism, to the point of sometimes losing the plot.”
I feel like the Onion has picked up an anti-Arab bias over the past couple years
Where else do you get the chance to casually drop the word “entfremdung” which probably cost a lot of class time at high rates to inculcate into the author but elude usefulness in daily life-too many letters for both Scrabble and Boggle, and too few opportunities to bring up Engels’ works at the hedge fund office.
It’s humor. But it’s also sorta true. Which is why it’s funny. And it’s not a potshot, but a compliment.
And it’s RENSIN. R-E-N-S-I-N
I fixed it in the post. You must be looking at the stale (embarrassing) RSS version or the email version.
I have name dyslexia.
I stopped reading The New Republic about the same time I started reading The Onion, in hard copy (in Madison) before it was online. I do not regret this decision.