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Occupy: History Repeats as Reality Show

by Christopher Chantrill
December 26, 2011 at 11:56 pm


MARX FAMOUSLY wrote that history repeats itself, first as tragedy, then as farce. He was pointing up the difference between Napoleon Bonaparte, emperor of France and scourge of Europe, defeated at the battle of Waterloo, and his less impressive nephew, Louis Napoleon, also emperor, defeated at the battle of Sedan in 1870.

Here’s the full quote from The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Napoleon:

Hegel remarks somewhere that all great world-historic facts and personages appear, so to speak, twice. He forgot to add: the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce.

With the appearance of the Occupy movement I think we can improve on that. How about this:

Marx remarks somewhere that history repeats itself: the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce. He forgot to add: the third time as reality show.

We can see the truth of Marx’s dictum, as amended, in the rise of the Occupy movement. In the tragic 1840s generation of Marx, we can say that they certainly had read their Hegel. In the farcical 1960s generation of Bill Ayers, at least they had read their Marcuse. But what can we say of the Occupy generation of the 2010s? That they have read their Naomi Klein?

Let us reset the clock to the 1840s when Marx and Engels were young revolutionaries. There was turmoil in Germany, as people were starting the trek from farm to the factory. There was starvation in Ireland from the Potato Famine. There was general economic depression. Even so, Marx and Engels admitted that capitalism was amazing, conjuring up wonders “far surpassing Egyptian pyramids, Roman aqueducts” and so forth. The only trouble was that the bourgeoisie would put everyone out of work with its efficiency. So capitalism had to be strangled in its cradle.

In the 1960s Marcuse’s readers sneered at the workers that saw their “soul in their automobile, hi-fi set, split-level home, kitchen equipment.” He gave the sons and daughters of post-war liberals just the snobbish ideas they were looking for.

But now the left has produced the Occupy movement, a bonfire of the dysfunctions in which reality shows specialize. After all, these folks aren’t rebels, reading transgressive ideas in defiance of their teachers. They are mind-numbed robots vomiting undigested the ideas retailed by their tenured, sinecured government teachers.

And the ideas behind the movement have spiraled into reality-show dysfunction too. In the lefty Empire-Multitude-Commonwealth trilogy Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri realize that the old idea of the mass-producing “masses” is a bit old hat. So they have renamed the “masses” as “multitude.” They ache after a life “in common” in a multitude that creates a social product in creative “performance” rather than mechanical mass production. But they do not want to see that their dream is already realized in democratic capitalism, the bourgeoisie dignified and free, as Deirdre McCloskey writes, inspired to creativity and service, working within a framework that transcends political power, identity, fear, and force. That’s because, like Marx and Marcuse, their world-view reduces to a lust for the moment of Kairos, the “moment when a decision of action is made... a radical insurrectionary demand” in the streets.

They don’t want capitalism to work, because if it did, it would rob them of exciting teenage street action.

Thus we can say that Marx’s misreading of capitalism was a tragedy, Marcuse’s blind faith in the left was a farce, but that the Hardt and Negri multitude forgot the porta-potties.

By the way, what do you call a system that has raised mankind from $3 per day to $100 per day prosperity in a mere two centuries, and been hounded and sneered at for its pains all the way? Corporate greed? OK, who’s the greedy one? Occupied Macy’s, with a 2011 operating margin of 7.58%? Wal-Mart, with a 2011 operating margin of 6.05%? Or Apple, with a 2011 operating margin of 31.22%?

Arthur Brooks generously calls for dialog with the Occupiers. Occupiers are dead wrong on inequality, he writes, for inequality is not much different from 20, 40, 60, or 80 years ago. And if we are going after Wall Street and crony capitalism, let’s not forget that “crony capitalism is statism’s co-dependent wife,” cuddling up to Big Daddy government for the free lunch. People that don’t like bailing out Wall Street need to abate the hurricane of government debt that waterlogged the economy.

But I think that conservatives would waste their time talking to Occupiers; we should be reaching out instead to moderate women. We should ask them what they think about a political movement that doesn’t keep its members safe, that doesn’t clean up after itself, and that seems to marginalize women.

Women understand that, while it’s fun to chat about reality-show shenanigans with your best friend, you wouldn’t want such dysfunction in your own family. And that goes for tragedy and farce, as well.

Christopher Chantrill blogs at www.roadtothemiddleclass.com.

Buy his Road to the Middle Class.

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presented by Christopher Chantrill

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