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Where have you gone, Albert Einstein?

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Headlined to H3 3/19/10

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In a recent diary by Daily Kos user Cassiodorus, one point of his in particular struck me:

Thus the comparison between the Great Depression and the current Great Recession falls flat, because the popular upheavals of the 1930s are only in evidence today among the least helpful segments of the population. This of course is a major reason why we can expect no FDR-like President to save us from the...economic collapse...

...During the 1930s...intellectual figures such as John Dos Passos, John Steinbeck, Kenneth Burke, and Richard Wright were actual socialists and not just mere liberals offering occasional plugs for John Kerry.

Another prominent socialist, albeit a bit later than the Depression, was Albert Einstein. He was an all around brilliant man, someone whom I admire greatly. And he wisely said this, although today it would probably be considered way too radical for anyone respectable to utter:

[I am] a passionate pacifist and anti-militarist. I am against any nationalism, even in the guise of mere patriotism. Privileges based on position and property have always seemed to me unjust and pernicious, as did any exaggerated personality cult.

Where are our Einsteins today? It seems that even ordinary citizens with in an interest in politics bare a greater resemblance to James Carville than Einstein or Martin Luther King or John Steinbeck. Radicalism has waned in politics, and although moderation is frequently what uncreative thinkers in the media salivate over, this is a terrible shame.

Less radicalism means less ideas on the fringe of mainstream politics and less people radically involved in politics. Now, the "fringe" is often derided as a place that not many people want to be and of those people that are there anyway, many are crazy. That's an unfair characterization. Before an idea reaches mainstream acceptance, it must pass first through the fringe - in fact, almost every good idea in politics first emerges from some fringe before it reaches mainstream acceptance and then possibly societal acceptance.

Founding Father John Adams understood this idea. He realized that it was not bullets and combat that made independence from Britain inevitable, but a radicalization of the people of the American colonies.

"The Revolution was effected before the War commenced. The Revolution was in the minds and hearts of the people; a change in their religious sentiments of their duties and obligations ... This radical change in the principles, opinions, sentiments, and affections of the people, was the real American Revolution."

Unfortunately, today there are few prominent and openly radical leaders - like John Adams and George Washington and Ben Franklin were in the early 1770s - in the political world. We have let ourselves be consigned to a surprisingly partisan world, in which the two major political parties and a sympathetic media, for the most part, determine what is acceptable discussion in politics. One of the great radical leaders of our time, Noam Chomsky, does a good job of summarizing what is wrong with this in his famous lecture "Manufacturing Consent."

Perhaps this is an obvious point, but the democratic postulate is that the media are independent and committed to discovering and reporting the truth, and that they do not merely reflect the world as powerful groups wish it to be perceived. Leaders of the media claim that their news choices rest on unbiased professional and objective criteria, and they have support for this contention in the intellectual community. If, however, the powerful are able to fix the premises of discourse, to decide what the general populace is allowed to see, hear, and think about, and to "manage" public opinion by regular propaganda campaigns, the standard view of how the system works is at serious odds with reality...

...The mass media are not a solid monolith on all issues. Where the powerful are in disagreement, there will be a certain diversity of tactical judgments on how to attain generally shared aims, reflected in media debate. But views that challenge fundamental premises or suggest that the observed modes of exercise of state power are based on systemic factors will be excluded from the mass media even when elite controversy over tactics rages fiercely.

The significance of Einstein is that when figures as prominent and well-respected as him are vocally in favor of radical ideologies like socialism, they can get through a media blackout and radicalize and mobilize the population. That's what Cassiodorus was talking about - there were proudly radical intellectuals, which meant there was a large section of the populace that was proudly radical, as well.

Just read some of Einstein's famous essay "Why Socialism?" - it does not offer the same creed of compromising with those in power and bending to their prejudices in order to succeed as "Taking on the System." That may be an unfair comparison, but Moulitsas is often portrayed as some kind of radical on the fringe of acceptable political debate (in fact, "radical" is in the subtitle of his book).

Another unabashed radical in today's political discourse, Chris Hedges (a man who recently called for a return en masse to socialist philosophies and the Green Party), addressed this idea in his most recent column from a slightly different angle. Liberals in particular, he says, have been neutered by the ruling political class, and that is preventing any sort of useful rebellion, like the kinds seen in the late 1800s, early 1900s, 1930s, and 1960s, to name a few notable times.

Those in power have disarmed the liberal class. They do not argue that the current system is just or good, because they cannot, but they have convinced liberals that there is no alternative.

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Ross Levin a young activist who also writes for keystonepolitics.com, operationitch.com, independentpoliticalreport.com. He first became active in politics in the 2008 presidential campaign through Mike Gravel's quixotic run for the Democratic (more...)
 
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