Episode Summary

As America barrels toward the 2022 midterm elections, polls have been indicating that Democrats could be in for some very bad news in November. Party strategists now are openly contemplating the likelihood of losing both the House and the Senate, which could lead to all sorts of other consequences.

As many people know, the president’s party has historically done worse in off year elections, but it’s worth considering the possibility that Democratic leaders are also rather responsible for the party’s apparent predicament. The rules of American politics have favored small rural states since the country’s beginning, and party leaders seem to have done little to counter Republicans’ efforts to siphon away less-educated voters using religious controversies.

Do Democrats know what they’re doing? It’s a question that’s worth asking. In this episode, I’m joined by Luke Savage, he’s a writer for the socialist magazine Jacobin and the author of a new book “The Dead Center: Reflections on Liberalism After the End of History.”

The video of our conversation is below. The transcript of the edited audio follows.


MATTHEW SHEFFIELD: Thanks for being here today, Luke.

LUKE SAVAGE: Thanks for having me.

SHEFFIELD: All right. So, there’s a lot of words in the title there. But I want to discuss each aspect. So first of all, this is a collection of writings that you’ve done or columns and articles for Jacobin magazine over the years. but your overall overall thesis, you’re trying to organize it as a thematic sense looking at a larger argument, and then that focuses on the “dead center.” What do you mean by the dead center?

SAVAGE: Well, the dead center, I suppose, refers to a number of things, but broadly speaking the dead center is the political consensus that we’ve been living in, globally, but especially in the west and even more, especially in the kind of Anglo-American west.

So in, in Britain and North America, I think quite acutely it’s the consensus we’ve been, we’ve been stuck with since roughly the early 1990s which was. A very significant and, and formative period in global history, I think in some ways, quite unique period in global history where liberals broadly defined and also in European context, people who’d called themselves social Democrats or, or even socialists in many cases essentially capitulated to to the zeitgeists of the 1990s, to this kind of world of unfettered markets hyper financialization deregulation range of kind of means tested social policies and things like that.

And there’s, there’s a lot, a lot of different things we could discuss in relation to all of that. But I think as far as the, the title and the theme of my book is concerned the most important thing about that moment was that it really disregarded. A broad notion of progress which people had held in one way or another, I mean, strongly at different points in the 20th century, but really going back running throughout the modern age, there’s there were a variety of beliefs broad currents of belief that the future could be something better than the present qualitatively different and, and transcendent of the problems and injustices found in the present.

Something that’s unique. I think in many ways about the 1990s which you know, is, is contained in things like the phrase, the end of history. Was the idea that this world we have, now is this is as far as it goes we’ve reached, this is the end, this is the end of the rainbow. There’s nothing beyond or outside of this. And I think that even in a world, just finish my thought here, even in a world where we’ve had this consensus we live in has been disrupted and upset now many times by many different things.

And yet we’re still very much living in a sort of undead version of it. So that’s the, that’s the dead center in the kind of broad sense as as construed in my book.

SHEFFIELD: Yeah. And for those who hadn’t heard the phrase, “The End of History,” it was the literal title of a book. And it was basically that book by this guy named Francis Fukuyama sort of became almost the Bible of the global emerging neoliberal corporatist consensus after it came out in the, in the 1990s after the fall of the Soviet Union.

And so, but it’s weird though, that as much as that book was adopted wholesale by centrists You could call them conservatives, frankly, I think you should. But people on the left didn’t really respond to it as much, not nearly as much. And it just sort of took everything by storm in universities. And I mean, do you want to talk about that a little bit? Or is that, I don’t know, too far afield?

SAVAGE: Well, I, I do think it’s relevant actually. I mean, so I’ve been, I’ve been engaged with and involved in the political left in, in one way or another, since I was a teenager.

And when I was a teenager in the early two thousands, the left really was very different from the left as it exists now. And I would argue that actually the left was was bludgeoned pretty hard by neoliberal corporatism in the eighties and nineties and not just the institutions of the left.

So there were all kinds of obvious ways. And that happened, trade unions being battered and things like that. But also in a kind of deeper and, and in some ways more insidious kind of ideological sense. I think, when I entered the political left, it was it was a pretty, pretty sad place really.

And it wasn’t a place. I mean, people might still have talked they, might’ve referred to kind of horizons beyond the world we lived in, but I don’t think most people really believed in them. It really was about grappling with the world as it was, and just trying to make it a little bit less inhumane and that kind of thing.

In the past, kind of 5, 6, 7 years, there’s been a really quite inspiring attempt to push beyond that. And it’s one of the reasons why the political left today is much more vibrant and and dynamic than I think it was 20 years ago.

SHEFFIELD: Yeah. Well, and, and it was, ultimately, you had this idea that, that set in that this is as good as it gets. And that we, we can’t expect more. We shouldn’t expect more. And of course, but the problem is that, like, if that’s the sentiment that is dominating the political left, well, then it’s not actually on the political left. That’s fundamentally conservative said because I mean, ultimately, I think the other thing is that people’s political compasses got miscalibrated after the fall of the Soviet Union in that what was the conservatism of, let’s say the Edmund Burke type variety or English Canadian conservatism their ballast, if you will, their center of gravity is kind of a, ‘Let’s just keep things how they currently are. We don’t need to do other stuff. We don’t need to be reactionary. We don’t need to be more socially democratic. Let’s just keep things how they are.’

And so like that’s a, in some cases like a non-ideological conservative, moderate type centrist attitude and that attitude and people with those beliefs basically kind of took over the political left in a lot of countries in the United States. And then effectively what that meant is it created this vast room for reaction on the, on the right. And which did not really exist outside of the United States, I would say. You’re a Canadian though. You tell me.

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