The funny part of France's latest round of riots is what they're rioting about. These rabid rebels smashing their way through people and property alike, shouting revolutionary slogans and playing Robespierre in a FCUK hoodie are demanding ... continued job security with paid vacations. Gone are the days of tearing down the system. Now is the time to burn a car for better dental benefits.
A similar, though for the time being less violent, transformation has taken place here in the United States. In the 1960s, the American leftists and liberals used to talk a big game about revolutionary change. "There are those who look at things the way they are, and ask, 'Why?'" Bobby Kennedy famously declared. "I dream of things that never were, and ask, Why not?" Kennedy borrowed the line from George Bernard Shaw, another titan of the left's desire to upset the applecart of history and start radical-fresh.
Howard Dean's scream notwithstanding, today's liberalism is a lot of slide-rule wonkery. The smartest and most passionate thinkers of American liberalism are more actuary than revolutionary. Scan the pages of the New Republic or the American Prospect and you will learn that the sunny uplands of history can be reached not by sticking it to the man but by expanding the earned income tax credit and jiggling around some obscure provision of Medicare Part B. They're the rebels with a clause.
Even on the "serious" left, the revolutionary spirit is oddly bifurcated. On the one hand, we hear a lot about radical autonomy and the need for individuals to get beyond good and evil so that each of us can have our own personally defined morality and sexuality. On the other hand, a fat 401(k) would be nice too. Call them "ubermenschen mit subventionierter vaterschaftsurlaub" - supermen with subsidized paternity leave. It's all a bit reminiscent of Irving Kristol's observation that a liberal believes it's all right for an 18-year-old girl to perform in a pornographic movie as long as she gets paid minimum wage.
So where are the real radicals today? Who are the folks who want to rethink the status quo and truly liberate the masses? Pretty much where they've always been: on the libertarian right. Witness Charles Murray's exciting new book, "In Our Hands: A Plan to Replace the Welfare State." It's an elegant little tract that makes a sustained, sober and fact-driven case for scrapping the whole calcified edifice of the welfare state.