Tuesday, July 19, 2016

TheIllusionist on the Cultural Left and Neoliberalism

Once again TheIllusionist has written a thought-provoking comment about the cultural left and neoliberalism:
“Here’s an interesting something that I’ve been talking about with people recently: maybe the cultural left is actually PART OF neoliberalism.

I started thinking this after the Brexit debate. I hang around in London finance circles and what struck me was that the exact same rhetoric that was being used by the cultural left types on my Facebook feed was being used by the finance people. It was 100% identical. Right from the anti-democratic tone to the complaints about racism and all that.

I think that both of these groups are actually the same people. They’re sort of embodied in that person who you actually see an awful lot: the Guardian reader who voted Thatcher/Major/Blair/Cameron. There are literally tons of these people.

They care about the ‘environment.’ They want open borders and free trade (although they’ll buy fair trade coffee to boost their egos). They strongly dislike high taxes – especially when they are at the stage in their careers (aged 35+) when those higher tax rates impact them. They dislike poor people and think that anyone who works for a living is a racist. But they generally support welfare handouts much in the same way as Victorian snobs supported soup kitchens; so long as the poor stay poor and exercise no social control they make nice pets.

Maybe this is the key. Maybe we’re wrong to think about the ‘contradiction’ between cultural leftism and leftism. Maybe cultural leftism is actually the IDEOLOGY OF NEOLIBERALISM.”
Now I assume these people are a few late Baby Boomers (the old ones), Generation Xers, and some early Millennials (born in the 1980s and early 1990s).

The trouble is that the same cultural leftism infects the Millennial generation too, and they seem more left-wing on economics. And I have a hard time believing the extreme SJW mentality that many of the Millennials have is found amongst these middle class, elite Baby Boomers and the younger Generation Xers.

But at the same time it seems difficult to deny that a kind of cultural liberalism/leftism is also prevalent amongst middle class, elite professionals, who are the natural supporters of neoliberalism. Many of these people are well educated, are doing well, and in good jobs, and probably deeply ignorant of the economic consequences of neoliberalism, because they mainly don’t see it. (Except perhaps when they complain bitterly about the high cost of rent or housing in London?)

So I think it is better to say: the people whom TheIllusionist is talking about here are one important wing of the cultural left/liberal cultural left, the neoliberal wing. They are no doubt a natural constituency for neoliberal economics.

The other wing is the millennial generation, who, by contrast, are more left-wing on economics.

I’m on Twitter:
Lord Keynes @Lord_Keynes2


  1. Yeah!

    Even I see such things on my Facebook feed. These people echo neoliberalism. Someone on my FB comments (definitely leftist) even said that people opposed to neoliberalism are conspiracy theorists and that they believe that "full employment is bad for inflation" is a genuine belief and not an ideological lie.

    I mean these people are also arguing that the referendum is anti-democratic. Unbelievable, really.

  2. Open borders is a free market position. It can't be anything else.

    But it is also an expression of extreme possessive individualism, which is of course the singular hallmark of neoliberalism.

    These people believe they should be able to do whatever they want without reference to anybody else whoever they are. That's why they go on endlessly about 'rights'.

    The idea that you owe a responsibility and a duty to your fellow humans in return for the rights they grant you just doesn't seem to register.

    1. Gene Callahan has an interesting post on the 'three languages of politics':


      It seems we're too busy speaking in the languages of liberalism and postmodernism, and have lost sight of the common good.

    2. Presumably you mean civil rights. The UN charter makes no distinction between civil, political, social and economic rights. Government obligations include economic rights, such as the right to work.

  3. The millenials have taken over the narrative with the older generation that I'm talking about. I think you're right that they're turned off by the very fringe SJW stuff. But they fully buy into more extreme versions of political correctness. They absorb the ideas second-hand by the millenials who have made the cultural ideas more extreme. So extreme third-wave feminism is fully accepted.

    I suspect that many of the millenials who are pushing this stuff will also not have a hard time getting professional jobs in the future. But we'll see.

  4. If people are cultural leftists for reasons orthogonal to their thinking on economics this is exactly what you would expect. This will be the case on most topics. There are cultural leftists who like Beethoven and those who don't, those who like broccoli and those who don't.

  5. In America, these people are Clinton/Kasich primary voters. Formerly, they were the core of the Reagan-era Republican Party. They shifted to the Democrats in the early 1990s and most likely voted for Obama in the 2008 general election.

  6. Michael Lind wrote an article in 2014 explaining some of the differences between New Deal Democrats and New Politics Democrats (think the Clintons and Obama). Here is a key statement on the demos of the New Politics Democrats:

    "The New Politics Democrats, in class terms, are an 'hourglass party,' uniting the disproportionately nonwhite working poor with affluent whites who are drawn to the Democrats by non-economic issues like environmentalism and feminism and gay rights, not the bread-and-butter issues of the older Rooseveltian New Dealers"

    This is the cultural left/economic neoliberal nexus.

    The whole article is worth a read, I think: http://www.salon.com/2014/12/09/democrats_vs_the_new_deal_who_really_runs_the_party_and_why_it_might_surprise_you/

    I suspect similar changes occurred in Europe with the rise of New Labour and the changes in the composition and policies of center-left parties on the Continent.

    I suspect that Millennials will just replicate the class nature of this divide with affluent Millennials supporting neoliberalism and cultural leftism (with some exceptions among those who remain socially conservative due to religion or some other factor). I think working-class Millennials are able to see beyond the cultural left/neoliberal nexus, though.

    1. Nice article. Lind is very interesting. It's a pity that he fell in with the neocons back in the day.

      This analysis of the cultural left is scattered around a variety of writers. It's a terrible pity it has never become widely known on the educated left. But then maybe that would run counter to their interests.

      Also of interest:


    2. Great article:


      Him and Michael Brendan Dougherty are the only political commentators in the US worth listening to today. The rest are tired hacks - all trying to replicate Paul Krugman's mealy-mouth defence of baby boomer liberalism.

    3. Also worth a look and of some interest:


  7. TheIllusionist,

    Thanks for those links. I am glad you mentioned "Conquest of Cool." Thomas Frank is among the best critics of the Democrats and the establishment Left right now. His current book "Listen Liberal" is a must read. He also notes that the Democrats and the modern Left are dominated by the professional class who are mostly concerned with left-wing cultural issues and not populist economics.



  8. neoliberalism has always been a form of center-left social/political/cultural views and center-right economic views. Obviously, some out there take it to the extreme, but usually neoliberalism concedes some ground to its opponents and is often pragmatic, as long as it's hegemonic. Thus, it'll easily accept Germany's welfare state and large unions as long as it can do some "structural adjustment" and export that to the rest of the Europe along with austerity.

    Those on the "cultural left" are undoubtedly influenced by neo-liberals, and will more often be more concerned with social, political and cultural ideas rather than economic ones, even if they may hold left-leaning views itself.

    It is important to point out that until very recently, the cultural/social "left" had basically the same ideas as Libertarians. Obviously, Libertarians broke away from it as they began to inject heavy doses of redistributionism and collectivism into it, along with identity politics (Libertarians tend to be younger white males as a whole, so are more apt to dislike identity politics extremity).