Issue #36, February 1998
This is the first issue of Bad Subjects since "What is Left?" to deal specifically with a particular political orientation, namely conservatism. Bad Subjects continues to critique conservatism. Indeed, we have always done so under the guise of our critique of capitalism writ large across the face of everyday life. Yet, given the strength of conservatism as a hegemonic ideology and powerful social movement, we felt the need to confront it directly and explore its significance for contemporary leftist politics.
To this end, we offer a variety of articles on aspects of contemporary conservative politics and culture. Joel Schalit and Jason Myers deal most explicitly with conservatism as a political, social and economic phenomenon which looms large over every aspect of US political life. In his essay, Jason confronts the economic program of fiscal conservatism and the paradox that although the US is swimming in money, the country can't seem to find the funds necessary for social programs and other projects that do not have an immediate economic benefit. What is more, he confronts the dominant justification for such social penny pinching, that is, the idea that the market is a much better provider of goods like health care and education than the state is. If we follow the ideology of the market, he warns, we face an even greater divide between the rich and poor than we have even now.
But of course you can't keep a good market down, and that's why Joel can't seem to stop writing about the pervasiveness of conservative ideologies in US life. In "Right as Reign," Joel denounces the Left for being far more conservative than it should be. The thrust of his piece is that in the absence of a real political left, the United States has forgotten what conservatism really means. They lack an understanding of conservatism not only as a highly complex and highly differentiated set of social movements, but also an extremely insidious virus-like consciousness which infects the entirety of the American body politic.
Megan Shaw, our newest editor, and Annalee Newitz look to the radical right in order to explore possibilities for social transformation located there. Megan brings us back to the federal government's siege of the Branch Davidian compound in Waco in 1993, which she looks at as an example of how right-wing public interest organizations such as the CAUSE foundation and Soldier of Fortune magazine manipulate news for their own conservative ends. The most important lesson we learn from Megan's piece is how events like the Mount Carmel tragedy are manipulated by the right for conservative ends, while the left ignores them. Annalee reviews the documentary Blink which tells the story of former White Aryan Youth leader Greg Withrow's conversion from Aryan nationalism (TM) to anti-racism. In his story, she sees a powerful example of how certain highly politicized racist individuals can overcome their own extreme right-wing socialization. Annalee finds a great deal of hope in Withrow's conversion narrative.
John Brady reviews two public events he attended late last year, dealing with the Frankfurt School, easily the most influential Leftist social theorists during the Cold War. In reviewing a talk at the University of San Francisco by the social theorist Jürgen Habermas and a documentary about the philosopher Herbert Marcuse shown later that evening at UC Berkeley, John is interested in the issue of political and social progress, and whether it is still possible to renew our faith in them. He uses these events to consider what resources are needed to fuel political progress in a period of conservative ascendancy and dramatic leftist retrenchment and how we as Leftists can best foster these resources.
Of course no issue of Bad Subjects would be complete without autobiographical essays exploring politics and everyday life. In "I was a Teenage Reactionary" longtime BS contributor Doug Henwood not only reveals the truly lurid and unseemly side of Skull and Bones campus life at Yale, but also documents his brief dalliance with the forces of evil, i.e., paleo-conservative economic thought in the heart of blue blood academia. Like Greg Withrow, but to a far less severe extent, Doug traces his own personal demythologization out of his right wing intellectual life as a young Ivy League adolescent with his usual wit and insights. On a more serious but still personal note, Elizabeth Hurst and Peter Ives take us north of the border to Bad Subjects' second home, the Federation of Canada, and provide a view into conservative politics, Canadian-style. Elizabeth gives us a blow by blow account about working a temp job in downtown Vancouver during the Asian Pacific Economic Conference this fall. There she got to experience the vicissitudes of the new international security state guiding the integration of the Pacific Rim economies while being interrogated by American FBI agents on the way to work on an unusual Vancouver morning. Sovereignty sure ain't what it used to be, as Elisabeth's rather troubling dissection of the APEC conference shows us.
Writing on the other side of Canada, American ex-pat Peter describes in personal detail the effects of the draconian cuts to higher education undertaken by Ontario's Tory government. By way of doing so, Peter explains the crisis of transition he as an American has undergone in trying to escape the decline of the US welfare state by immigrating to Canada, only to find himself rudely subject to the very same cold hearted economic logic upon moving North.
With this issue we are also proud to announce the Bad Subjects debut of New York artist Ellary Eddy Schalit's disturbing graphic talents. We're honored to have her along for the ride. Enjoy the issue.