A Conservative Who Was Right About Occupy


Nathan Schneider in Waging Non-Violence:

In the heady early days of Occupy Wall Street, there was a lot of talk about whether this thing was really a movement or something else, something presumably less worthy of attention. In an early Room for Debate discussion at The New York Times, for instance, the eminent social movement scholar Stephen Zunes stressed that “protests are not a movement”; I insisted, in the same discussion, on calling Occupy an “occupation-turned-movement.” To me, the evidence was this: Occupy was confounding the normal political spectrum. It wasn’t just people aligned with what are normally called the left or right, but an assemblage of people who reflected the inadequacy of the right-and-left spectrum for reflecting people’s longings — libertarians and anarchists, socialists and liberals, veterans and peaceniks, conservatives and utopians.

Over time, a more familiar leftist activist culture came to dominate the movement; at right about that time (with the help of coordinated repression) it started losing steam. But I’m reminded of that early movement moment by the release of Joseph Bottum’s new book, An Anxious Age: The Post-Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of America. I once met Bottum around his dinner table when he was editor of First Things, an organ of religious neoconservatism; he’s also a writer for The Weekly Standard and an avid science fiction reader. He explains in an interview on the book’s Amazon page (which Paul Elie points to at Everything That Rises):

In some ways, An Anxious Age really began when I was sent out to report on the protestors at Occupy Wall Street — and couldn’t finish the assignment. I could feel a spiritual anxiety about modern civilization radiating from nearly all of them, but I could find no easy way to explain it.

Now, two years later, this book is my answer: Not just those protestors, but nearly everyone today is driven by supernatural concerns, however much or little they realize it. Radicals and traditionalists, liberals and conservatives — together with politicians, artists, environmentalists, followers of food fads, and the chattering classes of television commentators: America is filled with people frantically seeking confirmation of their own essential goodness. We are a nation of individuals desperate to stand on the side of morality—anxious to know that we are righteous and dwell in the light.

More here.