Who could not identify with their anger at the unfairness of it all – of an economic order that favors the rich; of politics that is utterly unresponsive to the needs of the citizenry; of a culture that celebrates the trivial at the expense of serious engagements in the affairs of our time. More than anything, the protests in American cities, and similar protests in many other cities all over the world, testify to the failure of our democratic process. People are taking to the streets because we lost our faith in our institutions and elected officials. All of us feel powerless. We can do nothing to change matters. We know that our votes are statistically meaningless and that the day after the elections the politicians that courted our vote will serve the lobbies that paid for their campaigns.
The crowds that gathered to protest, however, will only make matters worse. The more I learn about them, the less I’m impressed. Their devotion to consensus and belief in some mythical collective will is not only silly and impractical. It represents the worst historical amnesia possible. Weren’t we there before? Don’t they know that the worst crimes of the 20th century were committed in the name of such ideals? Have they totally forgotten how the very same idealism of the New Left in the 1960s gutted the left and led to the rise of popular conservatism? This kind of amnesia testifies to profound lack of forethought and seriousness of the protesters and their supporters.
Most alarming is the utopian aesthetics of the protest. Utopian aestheticism is the enemy of humanity. Aesthetics is about symmetry and clarity. People can’t conform to such categories. Check the declaration of principles they posted on line. http://www.nycga.net/resources/declaration/
The protesters imagine some transcendent universal solidarity. They are engaged in a moral battle against a grand conspiracy that has subverted justice and freedom. Every evil on earth, from economic inequality to cruelty to animals is blamed on Wall Street. Apparently Wall Street bankers get together in secret (in cemeteries, perhaps) to coordinate quite a bit. Small wonder they are losing billions. They are too busy manipulating the banks and media, murdering prisoners, subverting freedom of the press in the US, manufacturing poisonous products, and "perpetuate colonialism at home and abroad." Oh, but if they were not there? If we could be rid of the subversive element that oppresses humanity, wouldn’t the world be a beautiful place?
The trope is unmistakably antisemitic. And while only a few of the protesters fingered world Jewry, (and yes there are Jews among the protesters and huge protests took place in Israel over the summer,) the logic and aesthetics are familiar to every student of antisemitism. We’ve been there before. We have a great deal of experience with these fantasies.