Sunday, September 3, 2017

#246 / Democracy And The Paranoid Position

Pictured: Phyllis Schlafly
On Saturday, August 26, 2017, I read an article by Vivian Gornick that mentioned Phyllis Schlafly. For any who may not remember Schlafly, here's a brief biography from Wikipedia

[Schlafly] was known for her staunchly conservative social and political views, her opposition to feminism and abortion, and her successful campaign against the ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Her 1964 book, A Choice Not an Echo, a polemic push-back against Republican leader Nelson Rockefeller, sold more than three million copies. She co-authored books on national defense and was highly critical of arms control agreements with the former Soviet Union. Schlafly founded the conservative interest group Eagle Forum in 1972 and remained its chairperson and CEO until her death.

Gornick's article, which I recommend, was published in Boston Review, and was called "Feeling Paranoid: Phyllis Schlafly, Trump, and the Terror of Difference." 

Gornick's article discussed a book I had never heard of, The Honey and the Hemlock: Democracy and Paranoia in Ancient Athens and Modern America. That book was written by cultural anthropologist Eli Sagan. I can't recommend a book I've never read (at least not responsibly), but based on Gornick's article, the Sagan book is wending its way towards my "must read" list. 

On Saturday, August 26th, I also read a commentary published in my hometown newspaper, the Santa Cruz Sentinel, by one of the Sentinel's favorite cultural commentators, Stephen Kessler. Kessler's column was called "Open letter to a so-called 'white supremacist'," and was a pretty much unexceptional and rather condescending denunciation of those persons who would fit that category. 

As I said in my blog posting on August 25th, I am no fan of white nationalists or white supremacists, and it may be that the Kessler column wouldn't have struck me as perhaps a bit off-base if I hadn't just read Gornick's thoughts about Schlafly.

Schlafly exemplifies another politically objectionable species (at least from my point of view), as an outspoken, right-wing, pro-military anti-feminist. Gornick, though, in this article, was kind of "soft" on Schlafly, and this was somewhat surprising, because I feel certain that Gornick largely shares my own political point of view, and certainly would not be positive about Schlafly's political positions, any more than Kessler or I would be warm and friendly to white supremacists. is Gornick's point (which I believe she has drawn from Sagan's book):

The struggle of any society—but especially that of a society that calls itself a democracy—is to honor the existence of the one not like ourselves. Now, much like in ancient Athens, our own democracy is teetering: a moment when so many of us have become unreal to one another.

Can we "honor the existence" of the white supremacists and the right-wing, pro-military, anti-feminists, even while we reject their views? Gornick suggests that our ability to maintain democracy in our country may hinge on the answer to that question. 

As we debate whether or not "free speech" should include our ability to tolerate objectionable, hate-filled arguments that we abhor, it's a question worth thinking about!

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