[Marxism] Morris Berman?

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Fri Mar 9 07:09:25 MST 2012

This guy's new book "Why America Failed" has garnered a lot of 
favorable buzz on the left. This interview with him by Nomi Prins 
on Alternet has an exchange that makes me wonder why:

NP: Most political analysts place the blame for our current 
situation on major institutions, whether it is Wall Street, 
Congress, the Bush or Obama administrations, and so on. You agree 
with them to a great extent, but you also seem to place a lot of 
emphasis on the American people themselves—on individual values 
and behavior. Why is that? How do you see that as a factor?

MB: The dominant thinking on the left, I suppose, is some variety 
of a “false consciousness” argument, that the elite have pulled 
the wool over the eyes of the vast majority of the population, and 
once the latter realizes that they’ve been had, they’ll rebel, 
they’ll move the country in a populist or democratic socialist 
direction. The problem I have with this is the evident fact that 
most Americans want the American Dream, not a different way of 
life—a Mercedes-Benz, as Janis Joplin once put it. Endless 
material wealth based on individual striving is the American 
ideal, and the desire to change that paradigm is practically 
nonexistent. Even the poor buy into this, which is why John 
Steinbeck once remarked that they regard themselves as 
“temporarily embarrassed millionaires.” Hence I would argue that 
nations get the governments they deserve; that the wool is the eyes.

In addition, all of the data over the last 20 years show that 
Americans are not very bright, and not even the bright ones are 
very bright—it’s not merely a question of IQ. A Marist poll 
released on July 4, 2011 showed that 42 percent of American adults 
are unaware that the U.S. declared its independence in 1776, and 
this figure increases to 69 percent for the under-30 age group. 
Twenty-five percent of Americans don’t know from which country the 
United States seceded. A poll taken in the Oklahoma public school 
system turned up the fact that 77 percent of the students didn’t 
know who George Washington was, and the Texas Board of Education 
recently voted to include a unit on Estee Lauder in the history 
curriculum, when they don’t have one on the first president. 
Nearly 30 percent of the American population thinks the sun 
revolves around the earth or is unsure of which revolves around 
which. Etc. etc. How can such a population grasp a structural 
analysis of American history or politics? They simply aren’t 
capable of it.


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