The Cultural Paradigm of the Democratic Party

I want to start with a quotation from Bill Clinton at the Democratic National Convention this past August:

This Republican narrative — this alternative universe … says that every one of us in this room who amounts to anything, we’re all completely self-made….

We Democrats — we think the country works better with a strong middle class, with real opportunities for poor folks to work their way into it … with a relentless focus on the future, with business and government actually working together to promote growth and broadly share prosperity. You see, we believe that “we’re all in this together” is a far better philosophy than “you’re on your own.” ….

This assertion by Clinton is false, for two reasons:

First, most Republicans — at least conservatives, and that’s what he really means, I believe — don’t champion a “you’re on your own” ethic. In fact, we relish a “we’re all in this together” ethic, especially we Christian conservatives. We know we’re not islands. We know that all Americans have a vested interest in working together to make this a great country. Our difference with Clinton and the other Democrats isn’t that we deny that “we’re all in this together.” The difference is that we deny that the State should determine how “we’re all in this together.”

According to politically liberal ideology, there are only two options: (1) “you’re on your own,” a naked individual, in a selfish, self-centered, avaricious, uncaring society, or (2) “we’re all in this together” in a State-sanctioned and State-maintained collectivist society directed by political elites. Those are the only two options some liberals seem to see.

There is, however, a third way — a “we’re all in this together” ethic that looks to civil society — the family, the church, friendships, businesses, other “private” associations — for its social cohesion. In other words, we deny the “you’re on your own” ethic, but we also deny the “we’re all in this together” ethic that looks to the State for social cohesion.

The Collectivist Paradigm

I want us to ponder a deeper point. Clinton (and especially Obama, for whom he was a surrogate) isn’t proposing chiefly a political policy; he’s offering a cultural paradigm. Let’s call it the collectivist paradigm. It’s a paradigm in which government works together with business “to promote . . . broadly shared prosperity.” This means that the State guides the market, the State “justly” redistributes the goods of the market, the State shapes “the good society.” When Clinton says, “we’re all in this together,” he means that the State (that is to say, leftist elites) get to decide how we’re all together. This is the collectivist paradigm. It’s only different in degree from Marxism. The State is the great cohesive factor of a society. The State is the institution that holds us all together.

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