Varn Vlog

Celebrating the Global Socialist Vision of Michael Brooks

February 19, 2024 C. Derick Varn Season 1 Episode 243
Celebrating the Global Socialist Vision of Michael Brooks
Varn Vlog
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Varn Vlog
Celebrating the Global Socialist Vision of Michael Brooks
Feb 19, 2024 Season 1 Episode 243
C. Derick Varn

Join the conversation as we honor the extraordinary Michael Brooks, with guest Dr. Matthew McManus, whose latest work "How to Guide to Cosmopolitan Socialism" celebrates Michael’s legacy and his unifying vision for a globally inclusive left. Delve into the heart of Michael's approach to politics, one that wove together the threads of diverse ideologies into a tapestry of progressive thought and action. We reminisce about his contributions, reflecting on the need for unity in contemporary leftist circles and the void left by his untimely departure.

Navigating the murky waters of left-wing foreign policy, we grapple with the complexities that movements like Bernie's 2016 brought to the fore, blending political ideologies into a vibrant coalition. From the decline of socialist internationalism to the bipartisan consensus on American military power, we confront the challenge of crafting a coherent foreign policy that speaks to our global responsibilities. Brooks' nuanced perspective on these issues reminds us of the intricate dance between domestic and international politics, and how critical it is to maintain this balance for the sake of a progressive global vision.

In a world where domestic and international fronts are inextricably linked, we scrutinize the American Left's approach to global politics. How would a socialist United States shape its relations with powers such as the EU or respond to anti-socialist governments? We consider the role of religion in leftist movements, looking at historical alliances, the spiritual underpinnings of activism, and the transformative power of religious discourse in forging paths toward social change. Join us as we explore these pressing questions, inspired by the profound insights and humanity that Michael Brooks brought to the political landscape.

Support the Show.


Crew:
Host: C. Derick Varn
Intro and Outro Music by Bitter Lake.
Intro Video Design: Jason Myles
Art Design: Corn and C. Derick Varn

Links and Social Media:
twitter: @varnvlog
blue sky: @varnvlog.bsky.social
You can find the additional streams on Youtube

Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

Join the conversation as we honor the extraordinary Michael Brooks, with guest Dr. Matthew McManus, whose latest work "How to Guide to Cosmopolitan Socialism" celebrates Michael’s legacy and his unifying vision for a globally inclusive left. Delve into the heart of Michael's approach to politics, one that wove together the threads of diverse ideologies into a tapestry of progressive thought and action. We reminisce about his contributions, reflecting on the need for unity in contemporary leftist circles and the void left by his untimely departure.

Navigating the murky waters of left-wing foreign policy, we grapple with the complexities that movements like Bernie's 2016 brought to the fore, blending political ideologies into a vibrant coalition. From the decline of socialist internationalism to the bipartisan consensus on American military power, we confront the challenge of crafting a coherent foreign policy that speaks to our global responsibilities. Brooks' nuanced perspective on these issues reminds us of the intricate dance between domestic and international politics, and how critical it is to maintain this balance for the sake of a progressive global vision.

In a world where domestic and international fronts are inextricably linked, we scrutinize the American Left's approach to global politics. How would a socialist United States shape its relations with powers such as the EU or respond to anti-socialist governments? We consider the role of religion in leftist movements, looking at historical alliances, the spiritual underpinnings of activism, and the transformative power of religious discourse in forging paths toward social change. Join us as we explore these pressing questions, inspired by the profound insights and humanity that Michael Brooks brought to the political landscape.

Support the Show.


Crew:
Host: C. Derick Varn
Intro and Outro Music by Bitter Lake.
Intro Video Design: Jason Myles
Art Design: Corn and C. Derick Varn

Links and Social Media:
twitter: @varnvlog
blue sky: @varnvlog.bsky.social
You can find the additional streams on Youtube

Speaker 1:

Hello and welcome to VARMVlog. And today I'm here again with friend of the show, Matthew McManus, Dr Matthew McManus, and we are talking about his recent ish zero books release how to Guide to Cosmopolitan Socialism, and tribute to Michael Brooks. You knew Michael pretty well, right.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, reasonably well. I mean, I watched the show. Obviously, I read his book, I reviewed it. We corresponded pretty regularly after that. But you know most of the professional stuff. Probably the most intimate kind of chat we had was I actually did an interview with him for his zero books. I think it's still up right now. You can probably find it. It was about two hours. But he was a fantastic guy. You know he was really receptive to me, asking him all kinds of questions, you know, talking to him about his work and of course I knew Ben was one of his best friends and Ben is a good friend of mine. So, like everybody else, I was pretty devastated when I found out he had passed, and still I'm in a lot of ways because there's no replacing them.

Speaker 1:

Yeah, it's interesting to me. I've talked a lot about my relationship to Michael and how big of a break it was when he, like asked to come on my show and when he was trying to reach out to all different kinds of socialists who don't normally talk to one another I mean, particularly in the period of, say, 2015 to 2017, and it was interesting because I remember my first words to him was like kind of why do you want to talk to me? I hate Democrats and you know almost exactly. That actually is like why are you interested?

Speaker 1:

You work with Sam Cedar, and Michael made a big pitch about a broader view of inter-socialist discourse and dynamics and, like of, roughly speaking, united Front in regards to at least how we dealt with socialism towards outsiders, and we got into a pretty rich discourse around that and him, me and Ben Burgess all like met each other in person at the same time. So I think I've been corresponding with Ben online for probably about five years and so it was kind of a big deal. And it was a huge deal when he died and one of the things that I predicted would happen when he died did happen, which was like a bunch of people that had been getting along, because Michael was around to convince us to get along, immediately took knives out within like a few months of his death.

Speaker 2:

Well, you know, there's nothing left us like more than standing in a circle, aiming inwards and then firing right.

Speaker 1:

Yeah, sometimes blindly. It's not even like, it's not even a circular fire system. Scott would aim.

Speaker 2:

Hey you know class raiders are everywhere, you know yeah.

Speaker 1:

So I wanted to talk to you a little bit about this book, this tribute to Michael, and you know his vision of cosmopolitan socialism and what do you think comprised his vision of what that was? You know, how could Michael talk to someone like Aaron Montay, then me, then Ben Burgess, then Sam Cedar, like people who normally do not get in the same room with one another without yelling? I mean, me and Ben can because we're personal friends, but like politically we probably would be argumentative.

Speaker 2:

Well, I think that's in part because Michael really embodied the cosmopolitan ethos both in his personality and his own life philosophy, right, that nothing human would be foreign to him. Because he was kind of interested in everything that everyone had going on, you know, whether or not it was their philosophy, their sociology, their art, their spirituality. You know very famously like he was interested in that quite a bit, and I think that this reflected this deep-rooted humanism on his part. You know, this fascination with what human beings were capable of and what our potential happened to be under the right circumstances. Now, that doesn't mean he was, you know, a rube or naive in any way, shape or form. In fact, you know he could be pretty fun when he was acidically taking down the right and I kind of was reminded of that recently because obviously the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has broken out again and people probably know that that famous clip of Michael has been making the rounds of him taking down the very, very pro-war, very pro-Israeli kind of, you know, dupe, and that's a lot of fun, right.

Speaker 2:

But generally speaking right, what cosmopolitan socialism meant for Michael, beyond just this kind of personal curiosity and this belief that nothing human would be foreign to him, was this commitment to the idea that any kind of left movement needed to be global and needed to drive insights from people wherever they happened to come from.

Speaker 2:

And what I really liked about this is he was very democratic in this kind of outlook. So if he would take insights from Cornel West, amar Cheson Brazilian philosophers, you know, and politicians you know, famously love Lula and a lot of people, especially academics like me, would say that doesn't make a lick of fucking sense. Right, you know, these things are conceptually incoherent, historically, from very different contexts. You can't put that stuff together, right, you'll get blasted for it in a million footnotes. But for Michael it all made sense and I think that, really, that's in part because of the force of his personality and his ability to see links and human links, especially between different ideas, where a lot of other intellectuals would just see discord or dissonance. But it's also because he really thought that was strategically the most valuable thing to do, because, of course, like we were just saying, left us like nothing more than to focus on what divides us. Michael, at his core, I think, was just somebody who really wanted to focus on the things that he needed us.

Speaker 1:

Yeah, I think one of the interesting things about you're thinking about what cosmopolitan socialism meant to him. To me, the interesting parts about my conversations with Michael were always like how bizarrely and expected they can go. So the first time we ever spoke together on a panel, we were talking about, we were arguing with Doug Lane actually about the influence.

Speaker 2:

That never happens.

Speaker 1:

Yeah, I'm not famous for doing that and Michael and I were both actually weirdly on the same side, which I was surprised at, because we were both like, yeah, there is a right wing intellectual movement, this dangerous dude but what would tie us together was actually not.

Speaker 1:

That was when we were both talking about, like Robert Green of all people, the 48 Laws of Power guy, and going like, yeah, I don't know that that book teaches you how to be anything but a sociopath, but, like, robert Green's politics are actually not terrible. And for a person who writes a book called how 40 Laws of Power and there are things that he speaks to that leftist need to speak to, such as self cultivation, self care, and it was specifically in the terms of talking about, like, how everybody wanted to focus on Jordan Peterson being a para fascist or quasi fascist and in 2018, I think it was a consensus amongst us who studied him that actually that was a slight overstatement he was an obnoxious right wing liberal and, from my perspective, like and that shows you that there's you know, the right wing liberalism and fascism are on a similar spectrum.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, which, in surprise, anybody has been like following Richard Hanani, as I can't, recently, right, but I mean absolutely. I mean Michael and I first got to know each other because you know I wrote about his book against the web, which was pretty famously a book criticizing the intellectual dark web and talking about why all these conservative figures were, you know, full of crap.

Speaker 2:

You know to put it in a very technical sense, and that's obviously something that I've always been very interested in and in, because I am always very engaged by leftists who write about conservative figures. But what really struck me was when we can burst, or, you know, when I read more of his stuff or watch his videos, he was a lot more than just somebody who wanted to prick at Sam Harris or Ben Shapiro or Jordan Peterson even though I love to do that, you know, he's also somebody who was really interested in the kind of issues I think that leftist should care about, like people's individual spirituality, right? What's the meaning of life? How is it that we form communities on a communal basis of solidarity when so many of us have different views about the highest kind of priorities in existence? That kind of stuff. And that really again testified to the democracy that was his soul and the fact that he just had this deep insight and deep interest in all kinds of human affairs.

Speaker 1:

One of the things I found really fascinating and I think is a principle from Michael was his interest not just in other points of view domestically, and you know, whatever left we're talking about, it always has like a memory of about I don't know, six months, so to go back to 2017.

Speaker 1:

No longer than the right I gotta say, yeah, that's true, but if you go back to like 2017, the left's interest in farm policy, for example, was pretty minimal during that time period, except, you know, basically stopping Trump from bombing Iran. That was like there was a lot of focus on that. It was a time period where, like the situation with Israel, palestine, for example, had been not static but was not at the heights that it had been during, say, the second period of the Obama administration, during the silent and defata, or the entirety of 1998 to 2011. I bring that up because Michael was really good at keeping foreign issues in view even when they weren't part of the active news cycle, and he was also really fair, minded about having people who often, from the socialist perspective, would probably call each other intelligence assets According to one another, at least indirectly, through him, and he was about the only person I knew who could do that, I mean who could get people with radically different opinions. I mean people who would be aligned to the gray zone, aligned to the Democratic Party, aligned to some form of Marxist Leninism, aligned to Lula.

Speaker 1:

These are not normally groups of people that not only talk to each other.

Speaker 1:

I mean, they don't tolerate each other, and I think even in a deeper way than the normal leftist circular fireling squad we've been hinting at this entire time.

Speaker 1:

Yet Michael had a way of disarming people, in a way of learning how to listen to what you needed to hear, to get you to talk, and this is why a lot of people can't replace it. He could get people in dialogue who would not, in a million years, normally talk to each other, and he would do it by picking up on the things that you could agree on. Now I do wonder and this is something maybe we can talk about in the terms of your book, michael what did you think Michael would have to do to maintain the spirit now, because a lot of things have actually that we're able to be kind of forgotten about when we're all focusing on the GOP being empowered, trumpism developing whatever that ends up being, even and I feel like we still don't know but to what happened under Biden, where I think interestingly and there are pupils to back this up the left actually feels more adrift now that we aren't in clear opposition anymore. I mean, you know. So how do you think it would have affected him?

Speaker 2:

Well, I think there's a lot of evidence to back up what you're trying to say, right? I mean, you just need to look at declining DSA numbers. Right, there was a big spike with the Bernie 2016 campaign. There's no doubt that Hillary Clinton's presence, and also Trump's presence, played a role in that, and then there was a huge spike around 2020. Covid played a role in that, but the fear that the country might slip into right wing autocracy also motivated a lot of people to participate in the country's largest left wing movement.

Speaker 2:

Right, and this kind of concern about a potential right wing takeover even a permanent right wing takeover is a great glue to bring a lot of people together who otherwise wouldn't speak to one another.

Speaker 2:

And I think that Michael was, in many ways, an ideal person for that era, or an ideal spokesperson for that era, if you want, because he was a community builder.

Speaker 2:

Again, he was able to recognize the elective affinities between a variety of different positions that a lot of intellectuals would say could not be overcome, and, through the force of his personality and his willingness to listen, he was able to make them make sense together, even sing together, in a way that very few other people can, and I think this reflected a deep, almost instinctual insight on his part, which is that political ideologies and political coalitions are built right. They aren't a priori constructions that you have to feel bound to or restricted by if you don't want to. But I think that there's also a point that you're getting at with the international issue which we should talk about and this is a major theme of the book, so it's also worth diving into a little bit and I think that one of the major reasons so many people on the left get so heated about foreign policy issues is that I don't think there is actually an overlapping consensus or a shared viewpoint about what a left-wing or a policy approach looks like right now.

Speaker 1:

Or you have three, is one Exactly right.

Speaker 2:

And I think that this partly reflects the collapse of the socialist international in the 20th century, which for a long time kind of served as the list, broadly speaking, international or approach to international affairs right. Eventually there'd be a union of socialist countries and workers' movements that would overcome the capitalist states and imperialist states. Nobody really buys into that any longer because there aren't really many socialist states left and certainly the attempt to build the kind of international working class movement has moved a lot more complicated in practice than certain kinds of vulgar Marxists, at least, might have predicted it in theory. But it's also because since the 1960s what we've seen, especially in the United States, is a broad consensus between the Democratic Party and the Republican Party about the proper approach to international relations, which is that one should militarily use US power to advance American interests abroad. Now there's a lot of different iterations of this and a kind of Trumpist iteration that can take on a more isolationist hue. But it's important to stress that even though Trump was isolationist in a lot of moments, he still very much was willing to use the US military to advance American interests wherever it is that he could, and he wasn't afraid to use America's economic and cultural clout to bully other Western powers or other foreign powers to try to advance America's economic agenda that way either.

Speaker 2:

And of course, the Democrats to a certain extent abide by exactly the same kinds of principles and they just have a kind of different rhetorical gloss that they'll throw over that.

Speaker 2:

And the fact that the two major parties in the United States both share this outlook on what America should do and how it should exercise its power has really put the left in a difficult spot, because it means that we can't turn to the Democratic Party and just say, okay, there's a built-in ideology there and what we're going to do is radicalize it or move it in a different direction. It's really incumbent upon us to construct an entirely different way of thinking about international affairs that neither of the two parties really embodies at this point, and that's an extremely difficult thing to do without becoming essentially reactionary or reactive. And I think there's a lot of work that's left to be done. And it's a shame we don't have people like Michael around any longer because, precisely because he was so attuned to a lot of things that were going on in the world, he would have been a really positive presence in trying to come up with a constructive left vision for what a future international order should look like.

Speaker 1:

Well, I mean, this is actually a huge part of the cosmopolitanism and Michael's vision. He was one of the people in a time that you know because I'm hinting before we're leftist for pretty happy between the first and second burning campaign, mostly focusing on domestic affairs, and I used to complain about it all the time. I used to complain about it to Michael Leven and it's one of the reasons why we initially became interested in each other, because we were both actually thought that dealing with domestic affairs required dealing with international affairs. Otherwise, you're, it wouldn't be a simple case of like, oh simple, capital flight. But there was all kinds of problems that could easily emerge and that leftist, if they ever were going to have power, needed to have a better foreign policy than just and this is interesting because even many reformists like yourself, yeah, Yeltia Sharj.

Speaker 1:

Yeah, when asked about foreign policy abroad and about what it responsible of West Vision would be, would either be isolationist or, weirdly, world revolutionist everywhere but heurist. And I have always found this to be like no, like how should we be if a socialist power, let's say, somehow became in charge of the United States by any means? What should their relationship be towards a state like the Russian Federation or the EU? And how do you deal with not just obvious Middle Eastern imperialism or any of that, but also, like, what do we do about the Monroe Doctrine? What responsibility do we have? The Latin American state, how do? What's fair integration? What happens if Mexico for some reason elects an anti-socialist government? And we, like, what do you do?

Speaker 1:

And Michael was willing to at least think about that and for so many other people that was just not even on their way of thinking like, okay, you want to end US imperialism if you get in charge, how do you do that and not get killed by the military? I mean, in a very simple like, in a very simple sort of blunt, vulgar equation, and these are things that you have to think about and if you don't, you can end up, if not internally in trouble, then at very least very isolated from former allies, and Michael very much thought on those terms and I found that a whole lot of people today, now that the left is paying attention to international issues again, which they tend to when Democrats are in power, I don't I have my own reasons for saying that it's very suspicious that the left always looks domestically when they're when the liberals are losing and internationally when liberals are winning but progressive or socialist domestic policy is not being adopted. I have my own suspicions as to what happens, but it is an interesting thing to notice that Michael was attuned to it and he did push back in ways that didn't drop either. It wasn't like Michael quit talking about domestic issues when he was talking about foreign policy issues, and he's one of the few people I knew that I would say in the leftist newspaper who could quote talk into bubblegum at the same time.

Speaker 1:

Unquote. I actually I actually One of my compliments to him once was you will find this funny, matt, but I said you know you're a dirty reformist, but as a dirty reformist at least you can talk Walk into bubblegum at the same time, like you could pay attention to two things at once, which is very seemingly hard for people to do and in an international.

Speaker 2:

Especially in this country.

Speaker 1:

Yes, for sure. And in international politics he was not just good at it, he was good at following up. He kept up with stuff that was going on in Brazil when it was not particularly in the news cycle. For example, he kept up with what was going on in Israel when Netanyahu was not on the front page of the New York Times and that's not always true for other groups Like I. And he also didn't just talk about it ideologically, and I think this is another thing, maybe to kind of get into a point you made in your book and something that I think is something we have to look at today.

Speaker 1:

It wasn't just like he was talking about the need to think about, say, israel, palestine, because it was the message of your. It was really important to him. I mean, there's something he spoke a lot about, but he would follow up when it was not necessarily in the main of the news cycle, which is important to do. He didn't do it all the time, but he did do it. And one of the things that I always talk about like we talk about, for example, people get all excited about whatever's going on in Latin America and we have the quote New Pink Titan quote, and if there's a crisis, people are paying attention and then acting like they knew who, like, say, borek was in Chile before a year ago. And when they are, when they win, they pay attention, but in the interim period, they're not paying any attention to what is going on. And Michael was good at that. Michael was good at paying attention when it didn't look like you needed to.

Speaker 2:

No, you're absolutely right, and I think that this is partly because the dirty secret of the American left is that it's still very America-centric in its international outlook, even though its view of America is almost uniformly negative. And I see this all the time, where the number one foreign policy prescription that American leftists will offer is we need to end American imperialism. We need to stop engaging ourselves in all these kinds of interventionist wars. We cause a huge amount of disruption. We need to back off. Now, don't get me wrong. I'm very supportive of that, but my follow-up to that is okay. Well then, what then?

Speaker 1:

How should we do that? There's different ways to do that Exactly.

Speaker 2:

If America backs off, then what are we going to do? Just return to an arena of international realism where various nation-states compete with one another, backed by the power of capital or motivated by the power of capital, to try to accumulate as much as they can and dispossess everyone else. That's not a particularly benevolent world that I would like to see, and I think, aligned with this America-centrism that you see on the American left, is an incapacity to understand that other political actors elsewhere in the world can be malignant and have agency independent of American interests and independent of American determinants. So a good example of this recently that I got into a big debate with some people about was Russia. So don't get me wrong NATO played a major role in catalyzing Russian aggression against Ukraine. It did this by expanding Eastward for many, many years, violating various different formal and informal treaties and agreements that we had signed with the Soviet Union and the Russian Federation, particularly not to expand NATO Eastwards, and George W Bush was particularly bad at this during the war on terror. So in many ways we bear a lot of responsibility for what's happened.

Speaker 2:

When Vladimir Putin decides that he's going to engage in an interventionist war to try to put a stop to Western expansion Eastward, saying that it's very important to understand that Russian politics is extremely complex and a lot of the motivations for the Ukraine war have very little to do with a deep concern with NATO.

Speaker 2:

There are extraordinarily right wing forces operating within the Russian Federation at this very moment. Many of them have had imperialist designs for a very long time, including this desire to transform Russia into an imperialist power to rival the US, and this project is part and parcel of that. So when I see people defending the Russian intervention in Ukraine as part of a kind of anti-American, anti-imperialist war, my response to that is always to say I don't necessarily think so at all. I think this is an instance of Russian imperialism against a very troubled state. Let's be clear I'm not trying to defend Ukrainian politics at all, but Russian imperialism is not the answer to American imperialism. What we need is to reconceive the world order on a much more radical kind of basis than that, because I don't want to turn to some kind of world where we just decide that if various non-Western countries are invading their neighbors, that's good as long as it somehow harms US interests.

Speaker 1:

I mean, one of the things that you have to ask yourself in regards to NATO would say that we that either Trump or I don't know here, comrade, I don't know, I don't know like Bernsteinist Sanderson, like I'm just going to combine a bunch of stereotypes, that comes in and we disband NATO immediately. That doesn't actually necessarily to peaceful world at all. I mean, like how you would wind that down, what you'd wind down, who you'd make agreements with, what kinds of agreements will be made? And I'm gonna say this this is not a new problem for the left and just not a problem for the American left of the hegemon power left always has an issue with this because they're in the hegemon and weirdly, being in the hegemon tends to make you not as aware of other people, because you kind of know what have to be. But and the US has a less hegemonic power these days is also true although it's still a regional hegemon. I don't think that anybody thinks that's just gonna change overnight.

Speaker 2:

Oh, no, yeah, I mean, I lived in both Mexico and Canada and I can attest that in both countries the attitude of citizens is that living next to the United States is like living next to an elephant. Right, you can scratch and occasionally gets attention, and every now and then there might be good things about living next to the elephant, but boy, if the elephant is pissed off at you, do you know it?

Speaker 1:

immediately Right, yeah, ironically, I've also lived in both Canada and Mexico and can say that they're very aware.

Speaker 2:

North Americans come quite essentially.

Speaker 1:

Yeah, and I think this is you know, and even when I talk about internationalism, I'm always like how much do you actually understand the powers that we even like almost integrated with already, like Canada and Mexico, and I mean beyond knowing who the president or prime minister is at any given time Like, do you actually understand how the Canadian system works? And trust me, I mean it's not as a person who does it's not easy to necessarily rock. It doesn't work anything like the US system.

Speaker 2:

It is fun, though, and when I talk to Americans about Canada, particularly the white wing Americans, they're like oh, come on, trudeau, there I'm like God. I wish If only the Liberal Party of Canada was left-wing in any meaningful sense, then, boy, oh boy, I would have grown up in a very different environment.

Speaker 1:

That's true. I mean are just explaining fun stuff like what redtorrism was in Canada in the 80s, because they're like what they were like. Yes, there was a thing.

Speaker 2:

Oh no, I mean, if you read George Grant's work, which is kind of a signature work of high-torrism in Canada, you'll find that he's a lot more friendly to Marx than he is to most classical liberals. And if he was very much conservative thinker, that might seem just fucking strange beyond belief to anyone in the United States. Maybe not now, though, post-2016, with the post-liberal movement emerging, but it made a lot of sense to you know a lot of Canadian conservatives between you know the 1950s and the 1960s, when their biggest fear was that American Empire was gonna swallow them up and destroy our beautiful English culture with its manicured red hats.

Speaker 1:

It was a. It's funny because I'm like you know the people who love the British and Canada tend to be the conservatives until Harper, and the people who love the British and America tend to be liberals. So it's just real strange. In Mexican election I've always talked about you need to understand like ammo is popularity, but also its limits and how it's had to make allegiances with the pre, even though the pre's not in charge anymore. And do you actually understand the regional governments? Can you even tell me like what the states of? If you think people don't know the states of, I mean the provinces of Canada can you tell me what the states of Mexico are, or even the actual name of the country? And they're like you know, like what I'm like it's the United States of Mexico or the Estados Unidos de Mexico. It's not. That's the name actually of the country. It's had many different names.

Speaker 2:

It's got a lot of different political systems. I mean, one of the things that I love teaching is 19th century Mexican politics, because I'm like, wow, we've gone from an empire, out of a public, to a dictatorship, back to a public, back to a dictatorship, and then we go through a different empire, but this one imposed from afar by the French, which is a whole other category of worms. Now we have a very long dictatorship, followed by a gigantic war and kind of a republic, but then eventually just one party rule for a very, very long time.

Speaker 2:

And everybody was happy to a certain extent with one party rule, because they're like, at least there's some semblance of order. That's fucking finally been achieved.

Speaker 1:

Yeah, I mean the OG Obrador, not the current AMLO. They achieved a lot in the single party dictatorship. That didn't do that much, but it was stable. But it's interesting, you know, trying to explain to people, for example, who watch Vicente Fox commercials on YouTube and not realize that he was a right wing politician.

Speaker 2:

It was so gratifying seeing him take Trump down a little bit, though, like when he'd just sit there and like he was like we're not building a fucking wall. Even I was like, yeah, get him, vincent, get him, fucking, tell him. And then I was like, oh yeah, you killed a couple of thousand people because of your fucking stupid, misguided policies, so now yeah or, yeah, called their own, called their own, really accelerated those awful policies with the cartels.

Speaker 1:

But you know, I mean that was the thing Michael's. You know. I know we're saying Michael books praises and it's a few years out now. I mean he's now been gone for three years. Yeah, it's interesting. I was thinking about it recently. We became aware of each other in 2016, 17. And we met in person in 2019. And I'm now like he's almost been gone as long as I knew him.

Speaker 2:

Man, that's surreal, isn't?

Speaker 1:

it. Yeah, and there's, his enduring popularity has been interesting to consider for because I don't know a whole lot of other left-wing figures who were media figures, who have, who united people, who often, like I said, turned on each other, and some of them turned on him too once he died, and that was very real.

Speaker 2:

But I mean even in life, right. I mean if you read against the web, right. It's a very nicely written book and it's not long, so I advise everyone to check it out. Sadly, it's the only major kind of political track he ever wrote and published, although I wanted to write more but most of it is criticisms of conservatives. But there's also some barbs directed against the left, particularly people who will always evoke cultural appropriation, saying we should never actually learn or develop our own culture through borrowing from other ones. For somebody like Michael, that was just a ridiculous idea, so it's not a surprise that some people would take issue with the fact that he could be prickly when pushed.

Speaker 1:

I want to talk a few things about some of the you mentioned the spirituality part of that. I mean Michael and the other thing that. The other reason Michael and I were budges actually we both were tied to Theravada Buddhism in some way form or another. Michael was not a formal practitioner. I way back in my late teens I was a novice vow holder, believe it or not, but really only for a few months. I gave the vows back pretty quickly, but that concern often struck people as strange and kind of hit against the kind of-. I mean, it was always funny because I was always like, well, ben Burgess everyone's favorite, not quite a new atheist, she's just been she's like not a new atheist, almost as a new atheist was good friends with Michael and we talked a lot about this inability of the left to speak to people's personal needs and practices, ethically speaking and that and one thing Michael and I both actually agreed with against both liberals and Marxist and normally I was usually the more over-opened Marxist as a tube.

Speaker 1:

This thing I agree with Michael with is that having your political ideology substitute as your personal morality was a disaster for both.

Speaker 2:

So no, I would agree with that. I mean, here's where I think we need to make a distinction as leftists, right? So without a doubt, there are various ideological forms that religion can take, where it serves as a defensive power and hierarchy and even as the handmaiden of reaction. I mean, I was raised Roman Catholic and there's no doubt that the Catholic Church has historically played that role very well in terms of upholding, for instance, the ancient regimes of Europe. Or you can even look at the American Catholic Church now and how it's desperately trying to align itself with the American right, even with the goddamn Pope Right, since you're trying to pull the church further left, right. So I'm very aware of this and I'm very sympathetic to this, and this is why Marx is a perennial kind of call to engage in the critique of religion is something that we always have to answer.

Speaker 2:

On the other hand, I think that Paul Tillich, the great Protestant theologian, is absolutely right when he says that there is a kind of religious yearning in all people to understand what he called as ultimate concern. Right, and he pointed out that everybody has something that they take to be of ultimate concern, whether it's money or love, or friendship or world domination in the case of egomaniacs and narcissists, or you can take call it God right, which is, in his understanding, some kind of sense of the intrinsic meaning to being itself right, and I don't think that there's any reason why the left needs to be resistant to trying to answer. Or people trying to answer are yearning emotional, spiritual and intellectual for what is of ultimate concern. And I think that we've really deprived ourselves of a really human element when we constantly castigate people for wanting answers, to call it existential or spiritual questions, by saying that those aren't materially important or they're secondary or they're decadent questions that maybe we can indulge in after the revolution has established an ideal society, but they're not the kind of things that we should focus on right now because they have nothing to do with class or gender or sexual politics.

Speaker 2:

Now I think that, again, there are many problematic forms that answering those questions can take. Lord knows. I spent plenty of time criticizing post-liberalism you know, national conservatism, you name it right On exactly this basis. But one of the things that I really admired Michael for was being very candid about his own spiritual hunger to answer questions of what was ultimately of concern to him, and related that back to, as you put it his own personal code of ethics, and I think people found something resonant in that and more leftists would. The left would be better off if more of us would do the same kind of thing.

Speaker 1:

Well, you know, and he was he was ascending in a time where people were literally basically taking morality and political morality and personal morality to be the same thing and Michael was pretty clear that they couldn't be. I mean, like you know that sometimes you had to operate in coalitions with people who have personal grievances that you might actually be really uncomfortable with, and that's something that you had to do to be politically effective and to be political but viable. And that could mean, as you were talking, you know, in the beginning Michael was well aware that political movements are political. I'll just stick with movements and political coalitions that make up movements are made up before an ideology overcomes all of them. They are aligned off of mutual self interest, mutual moral interest, mutual bunch of different things. Actually, you know, hopefully class interest ultimately is the dominant one if we're good Marxist and socialist, etc.

Speaker 1:

But there's a lot of things that can get people on your side in a situation that you might not want them on your side on everything, but if you can't work with them at all because they hold some position that you fight a parent and you don't even have a way to like figure out what the line of that is. Yes, you know the example. Everyone gives us always the extreme example all the time. So we can't work with people who want us dead and I'm like, okay, yes, of course you can't Right.

Speaker 2:

Oh yeah.

Speaker 1:

Duh. But why is that like the first thing you go to whenever we talk about any kind of political coalition building? That isn't like just automatically vote for whatever progressive liberal candidate that you see. Because there are times where you're going to have to make agreements with people who you dislike. There's no way around that, whether you're a formist or a revolutionist. Honestly and Michael was aware of that, and Michael you know that was his appeal to me was like you know, you know that you have to deal with people you don't always agree with. So there are times where maybe, you know, calling certain left-wing figures Uh, me names are calling certain magazines Giorgian, just to be an asshole, um, uh, maybe, maybe, derek, you should stop doing that. And, um, in some ways he, uh he convinced me to at least tone it down.

Speaker 2:

Oh yeah, no, I think he was really good at that, right. So there are two things I want to say about that right. One is that, michael, so what he'd be able to say to that and what those people are doing for the quierenund み, george Washington Welker has left the program in the past year or two has been like you pull your jednakout. Well, of course, that does quite well, and� we wouldn't want to achieve that. Um, we are not equal in terms of freedom, mackenzie, and it still just doesn't change right now.

Speaker 2:

I mean, I think that we I think it it did believe his as a political phase, as a political power. It gave us an opportunity to kind of change it, based on because in Correct, right or intellectually salient and maybe in an ideal world, people would do that. But we don't live in that world, we live in this one, and if people think that campaigning with you means that they're gonna have to fucking hate your guts every single day I just wish that they were someone else then they're probably not gonna do it for very long, right, whereas you know, if they think that they want to get a beer with you after work and talk about spirituality or talk about how they're being Exploded working at the dollar store, or talk about how misogyny is a horrible thing, that's wrecking their relationships with men or women, then that's something that you can build on, right. That's how you form bonds of Solidarity that run deeper than just material interests, right?

Speaker 2:

The second thing that I'd like to say is that I think that we have been really Disadvantaged in the struggle against the right by our unwilling to consider various kinds of Alliances that might be extremely fruitful, because we differ with people on various kinds of ideational points, and the one that I continuously come back to is, again, the religious issue. So I always point out to people in my class that far and away the most successful left-wing movement in this country's history Was the civil rights movement, you know, embodied and by the figure of Martin Luther King, malcolm X, you know. You know all the people, I don't need to list them.

Speaker 1:

Right, I know every one of those names are religious, by the way.

Speaker 2:

Yes, exactly, I know there was a firm spiritual foundation for many of these movements and that was part of their mass appeal. And I think what Michael was really good at was understanding that sometimes being able to Speak in the idiom spirituality, not strategically or Instrumentally, but because you sincerely are interested in those questions, is a way of reaching out to those communities. That can be extremely Powerful. And I think that a lot of people on the left just aren't particularly interested in doing that because they think that Religion is just, you know, the ideology of the bourgeoisie, or it's a kind of ideological illusion that will disappear. And we really handicapped ourselves in this respect because we've seeded Tens of millions, if not hundreds of millions, of people to the political right on that basis.

Speaker 1:

Well, you know, I used to talk to Michael about this a good bit. We talked a lot about the weird trajectory of evangelical Christianity over the 20th century which, for people who don't know, fundamentalist Christianity being aligned is where you're gonna come out as an evangelical be like no, no, no, I'm not, don't worry, there's no secret, like I've been a secretly evangelicals whole time, if anything, sadly I have a bigotry, but uh, which, michael, would slowly encourage me to get over.

Speaker 1:

But we would talk about the evangelical Movement and how it went.

Speaker 1:

From Williams Jennings Bryant, who there's two ways people know him as, the fact as, like the founder of progressive movement, also kind of guy who killed the populist party and and the silver money Leader, etc.

Speaker 1:

The guy who kind of started what we would later call the popular front with the Democratic Party. How did that guy, who was a representative of of when evangelical Christianity in the main was, in the time period that we're talking about, which is late 19th century, early 20th century, particularly if, if the you weren't part of the evangelical community that supported slavery, which was, you know, 50% of it, admittedly. But how did that? How did he go from being the leader of that movement to people like the birchers being a leader of that movement and politicizing evangelical Christianity to the point where even someone like Mark a, no, who's an evangelical Christian himself, would say that they actually killed the intellectual heft of the evangelical movements so thoroughly in doing that that they had to find thinkers from other movements, like you pointed out. I'm like, yeah, you know all your religious reactionaries to the evangelical words Loves our ironically Roman Catholics these days. And if I read, just if you know anything about the history of Evangelism and Roman, Catholicism is just fucking nuts, absolutely goddamn nuts.

Speaker 2:

Yeah that that is a one of my evil plots when I when.

Speaker 1:

I give up on trying to build solidarity in the leftist, just like. How can I make the right go crazy as, like, just remind evangelicals Is they actually hate the pope? Yeah, anyone who's engaged in popery, yeah, whatever happened all these people. Conspiracies. We need you guys to get back to that right.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, like for real, though.

Speaker 1:

And but, but I do think we have to speak that language and, yes, there it can be reactionary at times. I mean, so can I mean?

Speaker 2:

I mean so can I?

Speaker 1:

I mean so, can I? I Just want to tell people to look up the history of civil rights issues, and I don't mean this as it. Like the Bolsheviks were the most progressive government on earth when they started but, like by the 1950s, that was not always true anymore. On these issues, you don't have to be religious to be reactionary, and it's not for ordained and all circumstances. And it's weird to me about American leftism in some ways, because they see that with some religions and not others, admittedly. But I Think even now, even though you know, yes, 50% of People millennial age or younger are not, are not church doesn't mean they're atheist, they're just, they're not anything, really no my friend Galen Watts.

Speaker 2:

We're really good. Book for Oxford University Press come out a few years ago called the spiritual turn. Right, it's based on his own ethnographic research into Millennials and older gen are older zoomers in Toronto. But you know there's a wider array of empirical texts that he relies on to try to make the claim that this is a more general phenomena. And what he points out is that younger generations have tended to Construct their own spirituality in a way that older ones would have received their spirituality.

Speaker 2:

So people will do pretty much what Michael did right say look, there are things in Cornell West version of socialist Christianity. They're like there's also a lot in Buddhism that I happen to find a pure elected peeling. And you know, I also think that there's a lot to Marxist materialism and atheism and the critique of religion that we still need to swear by. And again, somebody from an older generation might say none of that makes a fucking load of sense together. Right, you can't put these things together. But what Watts points out in his book spiritual turn is that it made sense to Michael and he was actually doing a pretty good job of integrating these things together and show how, showing how there was a kind of ethical core that Align them and what says that? You know many people and our generation and younger Do just that right. You know I fall into that category. I know, based upon what you said, that so do you, and you know there's a fucking million other examples I can point to.

Speaker 1:

Yeah, I mean, I am a, I'm a rigid methodological materialist, but that's, you know, that's where we're stopping. Like, if you start asking me my metaphysical beliefs, so I'm like uh, um, so I down it, yeah, kind of um it's, I think it's uh, I think it's important to To understand also just people who think this is new, I think historically, like, um, this kind of a collecticism happens, uh, as institutions age, break down and reform. Um, if you try to figure out like the religious world of the third century in europe, good luck. Um, like you start seeing people who are both christians and pagans. It's like bizarre, um oh yeah, definitely.

Speaker 2:

I just wrote a really good book, um, by rh Tawny, uh, which was talking about the Protestant roots of Um capitalism. You know where have we heard this thesis before? Uh, but our funny was, you know, a christian socialist in britain Writing in the early 20th century. Uh, one of the things that he points out about 15th and 16th century europe was exactly what you said that it was a time period when the old mold of production was breaking down, a new mode of production and a new kind of um world order was emerging and people felt liberated to try to reinvent their spirituality In ways that they might not have. When the old mode of production, the feudal system, was relatively stable and enduring, and in some ways I don't want to make too many intimations about this Uh, we might be something seeing something somewhat similar going on On a more micrological scale right now. Um, if what watt says is true about this spiritual turn that millennials and zoomers are undergoing.

Speaker 1:

Well, uh, matt, um, thank you so much for coming on the show. Uh, I, um, would definitely tell people to pick up this book as a way to kind of, if you, you know, pick up this book and they and against the and against the web. Um, I, those two I'd read together. Um, I think this book will make a lot more sense when she read against the web. Uh, um and uh, where else can people find your work?

Speaker 2:

Yeah, so I write for a number of different outlets.

Speaker 1:

Uh, jackman magazine, a lot of people dude. Anyway, go ahead.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, jackman magazine, common wheel, uh, liberal currents are the ones that I publish them probably most frequently. Uh, and I have a new article coming out soon and uh, aon magazine, um, kind of unpacking my version of liberal socialism Relatively thoroughly for the first time, sweet uh, we might have you back on eventually talk about that, so I can argue with you about it. Oh, you and everybody else.

Speaker 1:

Yeah, yeah, um. Thank you so much, matt, and have a great day. People should check out your book. Thanks again.

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The Challenge of Left-Wing Foreign Policy
The American Left's International Outlook
Reconceiving World Order and Leftist Politics
Religion in Leftist Movements