Wolcott pointed me to this interview last night. This interview with Emmanuel Todd was conducted by Le Figaro, just after the Katrina disaster glaringly pointed up the failure of the Bush Administration (and the country as a whole) to marshall its forces in any meaningful way to save New Orleans.
This is the money paragraph, in my opinion.
Would such a crisis be the consequence of Bush Administration policy, which you stigmatize for its paternalistic and social Darwinism aspects? Or would its causes be more structural?
American neo-conservatism is not alone to blame. What seems to me more striking is the way this America that incarnates the absolute opposite of the Soviet Union is on the point of producing the same catastrophe by the opposite route. Communism, in its madness, supposed that society was everything and that the individual was nothing, an ideological basis that caused its own ruin. Today, the United States assures us, with a blind faith as intense as Stalin’s, that the individual is everything, that the market is enough and that the state is hateful. The intensity of the ideological fixation is altogether comparable to the Communist delirium. This individualist and inequalitarian posture disorganizes American capacity for action. The real mystery to me is situated there: how can a society renounce common sense and pragmatism to such an extent and enter into such a process of ideological self-destruction? It’s a historical aporia to which I have no answer and the problem with which cannot be abstracted from the present administration’s policies alone. It’s all of American society that seems to be launched into a scorpion policy, a sick system that ends up injecting itself with its own venom. Such behavior is not rational, but it does not all the same contradict the logic of history. The post-war generations have lost acquaintance with the tragic and with the spectacle of self-destroying systems. But the empirical reality of human history is that it is not rational.
This echoes, in more specific terms, arms inspector Scott Ritter’s question, “Are you a citizen or a consumer?”
This celebration of the myth of Total Self-Reliance and its corollary set of values (“I got mine”-ism) is at the heart of the commodification of American life. There is this tacit assumption that drives consumerism: Happiness can be purchased. If, for some reason, one is too poor to buy happiness, then you’ve somehow failed as a citizen. Unions? “Pointless Bolshevism.” Societal safety net? “What, are you too lazy to go out and earn a living?” Mass transportation? “Can’t you get yourself a car?” The reduction of society to a collection of individual consumers is, I think, the great post-World War 2 trend which will eventually be the breeched levee that drowns us all.