The recent article, "A liberal Who Remembers" by Traldi reads as a laundry list of my own grievances against the present state of left of center politics. Among the things Traldi remembers about being a liberal in the George W. Bush years was a respect for science, human decency, the search for objective truth, a respect for due process, opposition to war and a general disdain for neo-con linguistic chicanery, authoritarianism, hawkishness and puritanism. The article laments the recent decline of the once proud liberal tradition in America into the fever swamps of SJW hysteria and regressive left hypocrisy.
He will get no argument from me on any of that. I suspect Mr. Traldi and myself would agree on way more than we'd disagree on, and the internet definitely needs more voices such as his.
|They've Always Been This|
While there are certainly many aspects of previous iterations of progressive politics that are preferable to today's, we should be careful not to romanticize our own past too much. The left has a rather long and sorry history of its own brands of smugness, self serving doublethink and ideologically driven denial of reality.
Perhaps it was the old left, that of the early to mid 20th century, with its corrupt unions and municipal party machines. While these institutions did do much good, they're far from beyond reproach. What of the old left's dogmatic and sectarian socialist and communist parties, some of whom took orders from Moscow, and whose internal quarrels in places like Wiemar Germany actually helped right wing authoritarian regimes come to power? Soviet apologists both in and out of the Kremlin used a lot of the same kinds of whataboutism that we now see from SJWs. It was the mystical proletariat and their revolutionary vanguard party rather than feminist and critical race theorists who claimed carte blanche to act entirely as they wished, but their rationalizations were remarkably similar. No rules apply to the self described marginalized revolutionary. It was the old left of Great Britain as much as the totalitarianism of Stalin's Russia that George Orwell satirized in his classic 1984. It would be well into the postwar years that these types would catch on to the fact that the USSR was not the worker's paradise that they'd been hoping for, to put it mildly.
Was the new left of the turbulent 1960s any better? College students would gradually supplant organized labor, the deeper cultural analysis of the Frankfurt School would likewise supplant stale Marxist-Leninist economic reductionism, and impoverished minorities and women at home and abroad would succeed where the blue collar proletariat had failed and usher in an era of non hierarchical participatory democracy that would bring liberation from both capitalism and stale bureaucratic socialism alike. Or so they hoped.
The results in actuality would plant the seeds of what we're seeing on college campuses now. Radical groups like the Students for a Democratic Society would idealize despots such as Mao Zedong and Fidel Castro, whom one could argue were not significant improvements on Stalin or even Khrushchev''s USSR. Their own groups were rife with the kinds of purity spiraling, virtue signaling and eventually violent protest that we're now seeing. The Weather Underground of the late 1960s make today's antifa groups look tame.
While the radical "spirit of '68" would gradually taper off over the course of the 70s, the feminist migration into the universities was well underway. The ideological foundations of all of the regressivism we're now seeing: postmodernism's denial of a common reality and the resulting ascendance of authoritarian and opportunistic "Standpoint theories", the view that speech offensive to "marginalized peoples" - or their self appointed representative vanguard - constitutes a kind of oppression that warrants censorship, the erosion of the boundary between activism and scholarship and the self serving denial of the possibility of being racist towards whites (try telling that to a white South African farmer) or sexist towards men (try telling that to a divorced father) were all securely in place on university campuses across the western world by the late 1980s.
Thus, I do not remember the left of the Bush era being quite so liberal as Traldi recollects. What I do remember is the emergence among progressives of the new Atheism - the popularity of authors such as Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris, and YouTubers such as TJ Kirk, then called the Amazing Atheist. The problem, as far as they were concerned, was too much church attendance in red state America. All of the problems of the Bush White House were simply reducible to uneducated bumpkins who believed in an invisible man in the sky.
Religious belief systems are not beyond criticism, of course. I'm an agnostic myself. But what was truly odious about the religious right was not that they believed in God per-se. It was that they so flagrantly used religion in such self aggrandizing ways. They bear much more resemblance to the kinds of people whom Christ actually contended with in the gospels - money changers in the temples and self righteous pharisees who, thinking themselves without sin, were more than happy to cast the first stone, than with Christ himself.
None of this exonerate religious belief from the very real problems presented by a reading of the bible, of course. But it also represented a troubling shift towards preoccupation with people's private beliefs among outspoken progressives. The left of the Bush years was much more worried that rural Mississippians were praying in conservative churches than they were about the hawkish foreign policies and regressive economic policies of the Bush White House and its largely captive congress. An air of smug superiority over the common people, as opposed to solidarity with the common people, increasingly became a trait of the Bush era left.
What I remember about Bush era liberals is how unwilling they were to discuss comparable problems with the theology of Islam, or the glaring racism and authoritarianism of the nations in the middle east we were at war with. I even remember UK author Nick Cohen writing a book denouncing Islamist apologism on the left in 2007, while still remaining critical of neo-con hawkishness. Very much while Bush was still in office.
To these noble and intrepid Bush era liberals, this came across as being a tad bit victim-blaming, if not outrightly racist. I distinctly remember Bush era liberals reacting with similar anger to observations that college feminists could be no less sexually puritan and censorious than the True Love Waits and Purity Balls crowd that they so loved to make fun of, were. Clerical celibacy and waiting until marriage to have sex were so repressive and unhealthy, but crying sexist over men complimenting women and hosannas of praise sung to lesbian separatists were as much a staple of "progressives" in 2006 as they are of progressives in 2017. They just didn't yet have tumblr and twitter to further extend their reach.
At the end of the day, what most offended Bush era liberals about all the odious things that the Bush White House was engaged in: middle east wars, erosion of civil liberties, science denial, sexual repression, a black-and-white world view, religious fundamentalism, censorship and the circumvention of due process was that whites, males, Christians, conservatives and Republicans were the ones doing them. And they were no less obnoxious, arrogant and condescending in their tone towards anyone who disagreed with them. Argue with the Bush era progressive about anything, no matter what your actual beliefs, and expect to be lumped in with Pat Robertson, Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck. The basket of deplorables of not so long ago.
And even then, none of it was new. While there have always been principled liberal and egalitarian voices and causes on the left, and I do count the authors and editors at Areo among these, regressive hyper-partisanship and bigotry turned against the self have always been a part of the left in the western world, and likely always will be.
And I should know. I too am a liberal who remembers.
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Read The Regressive Left: Theory, History and Methodology beginning with part 1, Recent Regressions