I am not saying that those principles were ever perfectly implemented but they were taken seriously and there was a sincere, widespread faith in progress and rational political discourse. Now we have a staggering 30% of the electorate obsessively, even voluntarily divorced from the empirical reality. We have amazing concentrations of wealth that cannot but corrupt the political process. We have an alliance of primitive fundamentalist religion and cynical corporate elites that has created a very permanent seeming corrupt populist logic to the political process. Yes, there might be a polite, housetrained Democrat elected to the presidency in 2008, the majorities of polite, housetrained Democrats in the Congress might increase. There might be some temporary, marginal tinkering of the system before the orchestrated media onslaught and the unavoidable burdens of office will create a new, hysterical and irrational backlash.
We would desperately need a fundamental shift of the political constellation everywhere in the West but it is very hard to see any such transformation happening with the current distribution of power. There is an irrational and atavistic lock on political power that seems in many ways organic and natural concequence of the structures of the modern Western society. I'm no longer that sure that the system works anywhere: the wheels are slowing down and once coherent political traditions are gradually disintegrating into corruption and meaninglessness. History has always followed power and the highest form of power are increasingly in the stupendous concentrations of capital that we now have in the modern world economy. Once capitalism was best protected by a (limited) selection of enlightenment values and protestant Christianity but now it does quite well with just the entertainment industry combined with the increasing demands of "work place efficiency" and painkilling doses of primitive religion purged of any genuine thought.
I really wonder what permanent improvement any progressive movement can accomplish in these hostile circumstances (certainly at their most hostile and most powerful in the USA but in existence everywhere in the West). The deep currents of social and economic change seem mostly to be against any serious reform and return to enlightenment values and to the discourse of progess and reason. Perhaps this is a too pessimistic and in any case unhelpful, impractical contribution. Still, I would think that the modern left is quite in need of the broad perspectives and coherent, holistic approaches to the political process. These chaotic skirmishes and daily battles with the irrational and atavistic opponents are invaluable, a civilizational defence indeed, but on this ground, with this balance of forces, can they be anything more than holding actions? Inch by inch we seem to lose real ground even when having scattered local successes and apparent reversals of fortune. Can we turn the tide?
(A cross post from DK.)