Jon Stewart’s keynote speech for the “Rally to Restore Sanity” no doubt addressed a vital issue.
The media, which often finds spectacle more advantageous than discourse, has added unnecessary confusion in an already difficult time.
Stewart, who has long fought against the degradation of public discourse in the media, nevertheless revealed himself to be ingrained in the problem.
In his speech, he said that it is no wonder no one wants to “work with Marxists actively subverting our Constitution.” This statement abounds with ignorant assumptions and contradicts what is most noble in his plea for sanity. It is taken as given, for instance, that Marxism stands absolutely opposed to the Constitution.
Similarly, it is taken for granted that Marxism is some sort of rigid, inherently alien dogma that could not accommodate the rights and freedoms Americans value.
This fantasized Cold War image of Marxist theory, an image antithetical to the American spirit, amounts to the sort of irrational nationalism that Stewart often ridicules.
Without flinching, he writes off America’s anti-capitalist left’s rich legacy. The number of great Americans and contributors who supported socialist or anarcho-socialist positions is considerable.
Think of Paul Robeson and what he meant for the growth of the nation’s values. Consider that Albert Einstein professed socialism as an alternative to capitalist barbarism. Think of great teachers like Howard Zinn and Noam Chomsky. Consider all those who fought the McCarthy witch hunts in the name of freedom.
Langston Hughes, Allen Ginsberg and Kenneth Rexroth, all supporters of a radical alternative, are no less important. Should we dismiss these people, and many more, as un-American?
Can we afford to amputate such a significant portion of our history? To do so would be to embody the insanity Stewart tries to overcome.
Stewart is right to insist on a reasonable, open and cooperative discourse between people of different beliefs. However, his concept of reason prevents him from attaining any such goal. To be sane and reasonable is not to occupy some inoffensive neutral space well within the status quo.
Taking a perceived norm, namely conservative and liberal politics within a capitalist economy, as the measure of reason is to undermine the truth of reason itself. To be reasonable is to engage in a thorough and honest critique of the world around you.
One does this for the sake of freedom and to uphold the legitimacy of democracy, which Marxist political economy takes as its goal.
Marxism, for those who bother to actually understand it and its dynamic history, may have valuable insights for the present day.
One need not agree with it, but let us at least take the best part of Stewart’s message — that of acceptance, compassion and reasonable dialogue — and realize it more fully than he himself has.
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