Let's Read The Overton Window pt. 6: Herbert Croly, Social Justice Warrior

The Patriotic All-American Rainbow Coalition (Where Only White People Get Speaking Roles) continues its meeting.

The jukebox abruptly faded down to silence and a female speaker took the stage. She was maybe fifty-five years old, with a bright, easy confidence in her eyes. The honest beauty she must have enjoyed in her younger days was still shining through, but mellowed and matured with the years.

Stop with this "natural" and "honest" beauty shit. 

The speaker quotes James Madison, one of the signatories of the Declaration of Independence, about how awesome and wonderful America is. 

“The U.S.A. was that example for many years, my friends, and I promise you, we can be again.

When, specifically, was America an example of "the hope of liberty throughout the world"? It was founded on the dislocation and massacre of the original inhabitants of the land. Then came centuries of slavery, then the disenfranchisement and subjugation of the inhabitants of both groups, then a foreign policy that's caused hundreds of thousands of deaths worldwide, persecution of immigrants, the oppression of sexual and gender minorities...

The period between Obama's inauguration and Trump's election was the most progressive time in America's history, and even that represented a tentative half-step towards the kinds of advances other nations have achieved at best. They still had drones blowing up innocent families, they still had foreign citizens in indefinite detention, they still had police officers shooting innocent people by the score and getting away with it, they still had a society infested with hatred and cruelty, and throughout all of its history, always, for every second, were hordes of people who would enthusiastically pull every single bit of progress down and go right back to the beginning if they had the chance.

I'm getting legitimately worked up here, because this isn't fiction. People really believe this, that America has to return to some past golden age.

But that golden age never existed. Classic old-school American "liberty" only ever meant liberty for wealthy white men; at the time of its founding, that was better than most of the rest of the world had, and Americans never noticed when the rest of the world caught up to it and then comprehensively outpaced it. It took the blood of countless courageous people to drag the country kicking and screaming toward actual freedom, and the work isn't even close to done yet. America needs to look towards a future that's never been allowed to exist, not the past.

...Whoo boy. Deep breath. Let's continue.

The speaker continues, saying that she knows there are devotees of various conspiracy theories in attendance and that they're all secretly recognizing the same enemy: corruption. I assume she's leaving out the chemtrail people. And the people who think Denver International Airport is a landing base for UFOs. And the flourinated water people. And the flat earthers. And all the JFK conspiracies. And the Time Cube guy. And the--

Actually it turns out conspiracy theories are kind of bullshit, but let's just go with it for now.

“The enemy we now face is the same enemy that’s always sought to enslave free people.

White people?

Our founding documents established this new form of government to protect us from the sickness that has destroyed freedom since the dawn of civilization: the inevitable rise of tyranny from the greed and gluttony of a ruling class.

Oh wait, it's capitalism and white people. Okay, makes sense.

“You don’t need to create a conspiracy theory to explain what’s going on around us today. The ruling class has written and published their plans and their history, as plain as day.”

It's in a document that Noah's dad was reading like an hour ago. He's probably still in the conference room with his cronies, Noah could bring you to them right now.

She's actually talking about Tragedy and Hope, a book that was mentioned previously as well. And which is, uh, real, as it turns out. According to the Wikipedia page:

The book has attracted the attention of those interested in geopolitics due to Quigley's assertion that a secret society initially led by Cecil RhodesAlfred Milner and others had considerable influence over British and American foreign policy in the first half of the twentieth century. From 1909 to 1913, Milner organized the outer ring of this society as the semi-secret Round Table groups.[1]

I'm beginning to see why this chapter was so friendly to conspiracy theorists.

A man behind her reached out and exchanged that large book in her hands for an older, thinner one, and she held it out. “If that’s their history, then this is an early, published example of their plan of action. The Promise of American Life, by Herbert Croly, first printed in 1909, before the beginning of the great decline.

The "great decline"? When exactly did this decline begin, and what did it consist of? Because you know all those tepid, hard-fought advances I was ranting about earlier? Pretty much all of them except the abolition of slavery happened after 1909.

Its author advocated what he called a New Nationalism. Big government, ever-expanding programs and departments, a nanny state with confiscatory powers and jurisdiction over every aspect of our lives.

I have a pretty comprehensive rebuttal to the argument being floated here, but I have a feeling Beck is going to expound on it at much greater length over the rest of the novel, so I'll save my hot takes for the relevant sections.

“Croly renounced his own life’s work in the end, when he saw what he’d helped to set in motion. But his writings lived on, and they influenced every fundamental change brought on by what became known as ‘the progressive movement’ in the first half of the twentieth century,

She's got us dead to rights there, fellow progressives. I've got a Herbert Croly body pillow on my bed right now.

No seriously though, who is this guy and why does Beck think a book from 1909 that most people have never heard of is the source of the progressive movement? 

The (still unnamed) speaker goes on to castigate the federal reserve act, income tax and the New Deal. Ah yes, I can feel the bipartisanship radiating from the story. It's not that these are all things that right-wingers exclusively hate.

“But Herbert Croly was not an evil man.” This declaration was met with silence from the crowd, and she let it hang for a while.

They're all too busy trying to figure out who the fuck Herbet Croly is.

The danger comes when good intentions are hijacked and perverted by the culture of corruption—when those elected to represent us begin to act not for your own good, but for their own gain.

Yes, that's true. But income tax and the New Deal weren't examples of politicians and business elites acting in their own interests. 

“It’s the same today. People who, for their own gain, would replace equal justice with social justice,

Glenn, buddy. I just did a big angry rant.

This is that meritocracy thing I talked about in the first post, coupled with aspiration replacing reality. Equality doesn't just happen; If you remove all the safeguards and let things run on their own, the majority will oppress the minority. This happens more or less without fail, everywhere in the world, and it always has and always will. The only thing that can reliably guarantee the rights of minorities and vulnerable populations is a strong central government upholding those rights with the force of law.

trade individual freedom for an all-powerful, all-knowing central government, forsake the glorious creative potential of the American individual, the beating heart of this nation, for a two-class society in which the elites rule and all below them are all the same: homogenized, subordinate, indebted, and powerless.

Yeah, the time before social justice became a thing sure was a classless society where everyone was on an equal footing. Those were the days.

The filibustering takes a brief pause for an absolutely hilarious scene where Noah scans the crowd and uses his awesome PR detective skills to spot the government infiltrators in the room. And then:

And at least half of them were fiddling with small digital videocameras.

How could he possibly have known that they were spies??? He's such a genius!!!

The speaker continues, launching into a tirade against corporate lobbyists who prop up the elites. And the thing is, she's right. That is a bad thing. But somehow, Glenn Beck wants to convince us that progressive leftists are the root cause of this.

“This country was founded as a representative republic, but you’re no longer represented here, are you?”

A resounding No! was shouted from the back, and that triggered a chorus of more shouts from every quarter of the bar.

YEAH! Take down the elites! Clean up Washington! Make America Gr--

Oh God. Oh no.

The speaker holds up a copy of the Constitution and expounds on how adorably smol it is.

“And do you know why it’s so small? Because the government itself was meant to be small.

Remember how the original Constitution made slavery legal? 

“What the Founders knew is that governments go bad.

You know what the founders didn't know about? Fucking nuclear weapons. And high-powered rifles that can shoot a dozen bullets a second. And the internet. And the novel idea that certain groups of people should have rights.

What I'm saying here is that basing your whole country on a document written before the invention of electricity is maybe not a good idea.

Next, the speaker holds up a book of tax codes and mocks it for being really long. Which is a bad thing. Because reasons.

There’s no due process when the Internal Revenue Service comes to kick in your front door.

There...is, actually.

There's some more castigation of evil, evil taxes, and the speaker finally starts to get within binocular-range of her point.

“Those of us gathered in this room tonight aren’t simply fighting taxes, out-of-control spending, or unsustainable debt, we’re fighting for something much larger: equal justice. We’re fighting for the end of special exceptions and perks for those who have the right people on their speed-dials. There’s no reason why the person who runs the IRS, the congressman who writes our tax code, or the CEO who has friends in the White House should get a free pass when you and I must pay the consequences for our decisions.

That's the loud part. You know what the quiet part is?

No "special exemptions" for black people. No "special circumstances" for Native people. No special privileges for gay and bi people, like the special privilege of being able to marry who you want or adopt children. No special privileges for trans people, like the special privilege of being able to use a public bathroom. 

Your income, your family name, and your connections matter more than ever. They can help you succeed or they can ensure you fail. How can that reality coexist in a society where all men are created equal?

Yes, but the thing you're actually angry about is capitalism.

And it’s also why our message of equal justice is impossible for any honest person to refute. How do I know that? Because it was the message of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.”

Oh, fuck off.

“Americans are still a fair and just people. They know the difference between racism and race-baiting, between violence and accusations of violence, between hatred and patriotism.


The woman urges everyone to renounce violence, just like noted pro-capitalism, free trade proponent Martin Luther King Jr. Just in case you were having trouble figuring out who you were meant to root for in this story.

Instead of Bill Ayers, give them Benjamin Franklin. Instead of Malcolm X, give them Rosa Parks. Instead of bin Laden, give them Gandhi.

I'm sorry, what? Why is she bringing up bin Laden and Gandhi as though they're counter-parts? Does Glenn Beck know that bin Laden wasn't Indian? Does he think all hot places with brown people in them are the same country?

Also, Benjamin Franklin... started a war. A war where lots of people died. 

“Don’t be fooled, ‘transformation’ is simply a nice way of saying that you don’t like something! If you live in an old house that you adore, do you talk about ‘restoring’ that home or ‘transforming’ it into a modern-day McMansion? Same goes for an old car or an old painting—things that have real value aren’t changed or transformed, they’re preserved.”

This is the worst anti-progress argument I've ever heard.

“I don’t know about you, but I happen to believe that the America our Founders created is still worth preserving. Thank you, all, God bless you, and may God bless the U.S.A.”

Hell yeah! Restore America! Make it like it was! Make America Great Ag-- GOD DAMN IT.

“So what do you think?” Noah took a thoughtful sip from his glass, then shrugged as the room quieted down.

"It was okay, but not as good as that speech my dad gave like an hour ago about how he wants to take over the country and turn it into a nightmarish 1984 dystopia."

Noah and Molly argue a bit, and in true polemic fashion Noah doesn't really offer any substantive counter-arguments to what the speaker (Molly's mother as it turns out, although we still don't learn her name) said, except to protest that changing things is a waste of time because everything has always been bad. Molly storms off, fed up with him for not instantly embracing her viewpoints.

A quick glance at the next chapter reveals that we're still in the Freedom Bar with absolutely nothing happening, so I'm going to call it here for today.