Naomi Klein

Is an angry fish, wondering where her water went. Naomi Klein is a Catholic without a Pope. Naomi Klein cannot believe it all turned out this way. Naomi Klein wants to sell you a better buggy whip. Naomi Klein is brought to you by the objects of her confused contempt. Naomi Klein “believes her own bullshit.”

On the topic of Naomi Klein’s recent contribution to human ignorance, Brad DeLong offers Keynes’ retort to Trotsky. Let’s freshen this up a bit and ask Klein to consider the thoughts of another disappointed hereditary communist. Here is the late Richard Rorty in “The End of Leninism and History as Comic Frame” speaking to Naomi Klein and her comrades:

The events of 1989 have convinced those who were trying to hold on to Marxism that we need a way of holding our time in thought, and a plan for making the future better than the present, which drops reference to capitalism, bourgeois ways of life, bourgeois ideology, or the working class. We must give up on the Marxist blur, as Marx and Dewey gave up on the Hegelian blur. We can no longer use the term “capitalism” to mean both “a market economy” and “the source of all contemporary injustice.” We can no longer tolerate the ambiguity between capitalism as a way of financing industrial production and capitalism as The Great Bad Thing that accounts for most contemporary human misery. Nor can we use the term “bourgeois ideology” to mean “beliefs suited for societies centered around market economies” and “everything in our language and habits of thought which, if replaced, would make human happiness and freedom more easily realizable.”

Rorty, regretfully agreeing with Alan Ryan and Jurgen Habermas that market economies appear to be part of the best we can hope for, suggests other dissappointed Marxists should just go ahead and drop their jargon, which turns out to be good for little more than signaling to one another. “It would be a good idea,” Rorty argues “to stop talking about ‘the anticapitalist struggle’ and to substitute something banal and untheoretical — something like ‘the struggle against against avoidable human misery.'”

Naomi Klein did not get this memo, or she burned it. Naomi Klein took 1989 with less honesty and grace than did Richard Rorty. Indeed, a yearning for the restoration of 1988 rises from every page of Naomi Klein oeuvre. Indeed, that’s a decent account of her project: to restore, in the early 21st Century, the sense that one can be a real intellectual, and not something like a young Earth creationist, while believing what even Richard Rorty could not believe after 1989.

But let’s not give Rorty too much credit here, either. To see “the struggle against avoidable human misery” as “banal and untheoretical” is ridiculous. That human beings should not suffer, that suffering is avoidable, that we should not simply reconcile ourselves to its inevitability and retreat to the consolations of mysticism, is an invention of modernity, and central to the ideology of progressive liberalism. The struggle to improve human welfare is banal only in contrast to the expectation of something much more romantic, dramatic, and stupid, such as the consummation of history through the revolutionary remaking of human society. And that is precisely what Rorty rightly says that it is baseless to expect and wrong to want.

But Klein wants it. And Rorty’s bourgeois petty reformism must seem anything but untheoretical; it is certainly ideological. And the struggle against avoidable human misery is evidently still not good enough, for Klein exhibits a rare genius in carefully avoiding the ample and well-understood body of knowledge about how human misery is best avoided.

Conspiracy theory will always find an audience among the ignorant, but there is no real chance that Naomi Klein matters much in the end. There is Naomi Klein and then there is the way the world is. Well-functioning market institutions will continue to lift the world’s poor from misery. It remains that Milton Friedman did immensely more to avoid avoidable human misery than did three generations of Richard Rortys and Naomi Kleins, who in stark contrast helped drive tens of millions of human beings straight into it. And Naomi Klein is a  dishonest, self-infatuated hack. With a little help from people who know what they are talking about, it all works itself out.

[Next up in the “What You’re Searching For” series: “Mormon”]

Author: Will Wilkinson

Vice President for Research at the Niskanen Center