Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is causing quite the stir since her election to the House of Representatives. Among her laundry list of “achievements” are the Green New Deal, the wealth tax, the war against Amazon, and her latest stunt, shaming fellow Democrats for bipartisanship.
It certainly appears that Ocasio-Cortez enjoys positioning herself at the top of the morality hierarchy. With the Green New Deal, she has implicitly defined herself as a potential world savior. With the wealth tax, she’ll help the people win their desperate battle with the rich. The war against Amazon was her standing tall to defeat the “evil” millionaires and billionaires. And by publicly shaming fellow Democrats, she is attempting to purge her party of political corruption.
I suspect, however, that this is all a delusion. There is no moral high ground with Ocasio-Cortez; it’s actually quite the opposite. I suspect that her political philosophy is fueled by hatred of the other; it is the politics of resentment.
The concern of resentment was brought to light by 19th-century philosopher, Søren Kierkegaard. Instead of accepting responsibility for our own existence, we pass the buck onto someone else. We create fictitious external enemies that are the reason for our perceived inferior condition. But this is all an illusion. It is simply a means to blame someone else rather than ourselves.
The 20th-century existentialist, Jean Paul-Sartre, called this “bad faith.” Freedom is difficult; it implies self-accountability; it requires that we accept the blame for our own failures. This freedom can be a burden, and it’s why Sartre termed it, “the anguish of freedom.” To escape this anguish, our natural tendency is to position an enemy as a public scapegoat.
Ocasio-Cortez is pandering to this human vulnerability brilliantly. By focusing her vitriol on the rich, she is giving her base an easy target. After all, the American ideal is to become rich and successful, but that’s a difficult task to accomplish and not everyone
is going to get there. Ocasio-Cortez, however, is giving her base an excuse for their inability to achieve this ideal. She is relieving them of the burden of their freedom. She is using this philosophy to consolidate her own power within the Democratic party.
But at what cost? Kierkegaard acknowledged that resentment could stifle creativity within individuals who dared to think differently. Political philosopher, John Stuart Mill, described this in even greater detail. In On Liberty, speaking of our impulse to impose our will upon the other, Mill rightly noted that resentment suppresses the human intellect. At the fear of being shamed for a contradictory opinion, the individual would “dare not follow out any bold, vigorous, independent train of thought…lest it should land them…of being considered irreligious or immoral.”
Ocasio-Cortez’s public shaming crusade perfectly reflects this human tendency to silence contradictory thoughts. She does not want the Democratic party to listen; she wants them to defeat. She wants them to impose their will rather than acknowledge a reasonable opposition. But this is one of our absolute darkest and most shameful characteristics as human beings. It is our impulse towards tyranny.
Mill pointed out that mankind’s natural tendency is our tyrannical impulse to impose our will on others. This is the entire basis for Mill’s defense of individual liberty. Individual liberty is to protect us from ourselves, but the politics of resentment is an absolute detriment to this cause. Ocasio-Cortez creates a villain, and she ignorantly embraces the role as the hero. By continuously shaming the opposition on moral grounds, she makes the incorrect assumption of her infallibility.
But she has been highly effective. She maintains a regular presence on the national news cycle, and she continues to grow her power within the Democratic party. Her politics, however, are a direct assault on intellectual freedom, and it’s why we must remain a vigilant and determined opposition.