In the United States, the rapid growth of the Tea Party movement represents what Lilla calls a “populist insurgency” against government and regulations in virtually all forms. It’s the “politics of the libertarian mob.”
Yet this mob is driven in large part by fury over a financial implosion whose root lay in a murky universe of collateralized debt obligations and credit default swaps that escaped all government control — and served in the end as a reminder that some problems are so big they do demand a collective response.
This is the schizophrenia I alluded to above: I want my freedom undiluted, and unhitched to responsibility, up and until the moment I need Big Brother to rescue me.
We have entered what Tony Judt has called “an age of insecurity.” By any measure, at least in the West, we are living a crisis of the market economy, or at least of the pure market-driven individualism (with the spiraling debt that accompanied it) that predominated in the first two decades of the post-Cold-War period. The binge has reached its limit and the tabs are in.
But some new balance between state and market, one that provides toilets as well as cellphones, awaits definition. Dignity should not be incompatible with opportunity. We don’t need to look too far back in time to see the violent consequences of financial collapse and social disaggregation. The Garbo retreat is not an answer. Private networks alone cannot salvage the commonwealth.