Thursday, July 14, 2016

TheIllusionist on Millennial Regressive Leftists

TheIllusionist recently wrote this interesting analysis of millennial cultural leftists and the current political situation in the comments section, as follows:

I fear that the identity stuff will actually proliferate more and more [sc. amongst millennial cultural leftists]. It probably won’t take over the economic radicalisation that is occurring. I think that will stay. But it will greatly impair their ability to govern. They will hold fast to fringe causes that will alienate the rest of the population. As I think is happening in Canada.

The question of the commitments to these causes is interesting. Many started as genuine issues that, while I won’t go as far as to say they were civil rights issues as they are currently advertised, were pretty close to. So, gay rights pre-1967 was a genuine issue. I think it remained an issue during the AIDs pandemic of the 1980s. But today it has morphed into something else. It now seems to be an ideology in and of itself. Strangely it does not appear to be an ideology designed to do anything except hassle people who don’t conform. So we see all these stunts about wedding cakes in the US.

As this is pushed to its limits the cultural left start to try to find ever more fringe ‘identities’ and promote these, also misleadingly as civil rights issues.

The question is: why? I’ve come to think that this is a new form of morality. It really is about separating society into ‘good’ and ‘bad’. The ‘good’ support these causes. The ‘bad’ are painted as evil, hateful people – usually racist, misogynistic, backward and so on. They are not just wrong. But actively evil.

By this reading the causes that are sought out don’t matter much in and of themselves. So long as they annoy the ‘bad’ Other they should be actively pursued. The ideology seems designed to be divisive and is really all about painting the adherent as (i) virtuous and (ii) engaged in something resembling a ‘moral war’. I’m sure that these sorts of politics lift peoples’ self-esteem but they are anti-political in the sense that they are geared toward alienation of the Other.

I do not think that the left will be able to move away from this. The Brexit result brought that out to me particularly strongly. And since they won’t be able, they will not be capable of governing. I think that what will largely happen is that left economic ideas will permeate the right and be deployed by them. We’re seeing this now with Theresa May calling for an end to austerity and a promotion of industrial policy and worker involvement on company boards. I think that we must basically get used to the fact that this is what victory looks like. To my mind, it could be a lot worse.”
Yes, there is a lot of truth to this. TheIllusionist has put his finger on a lot of good points here that need to be said.

I only disagree on one point: I think the regressive left is doomed to collapse, and the Left will radically reform soon, maybe within the next 10 years. As young leftists age, they will come to see how stupid, petty, irrelevant and even unhinged most of their current cultural leftist concerns are now.

To be clear: I think the Old Left from the 1940s to the 1950s had a lot of things right (certainly on economics), and only needed moderate reform on certain social and cultural issues.

Take gay rights: the active persecution and criminalisation of gay people was cruel and immoral. Take the case of Alan Turing.

But now the regressive left has turned gay rights into obsessive gay identity politics, and totally trivial things – like the refusal of some conservative Christian baker to bake a gay wedding cake – are treated as the second coming of Adolf Hitler.

The regressive cultural left is often about virtue signalling and a Stalinist culture of political correctness to demonise not just conservatives, but even leftists who profoundly disagree with the excesses of cultural leftism.

This is especially pronounced in Third Wave Feminism, in which last year we had the comical spectacle of the regressive left turning around and eating members of the old 1960s New Left, as Germaine Greer discovered:

But TheIllusionist raises another issue about the possibility that the Right might capitalise on the inability of the cultural left to govern:
I think that what will largely happen is that left economic ideas will permeate the right and be deployed by them. We’re seeing this now with Theresa May calling for an end to austerity and a promotion of industrial policy and worker involvement on company boards. I think that we must basically get used to the fact that this is what victory looks like. To my mind, it could be a lot worse.”
This is certainly a possibility, and the new populist Right has clearly taken a lurch in this direction.

It’s well known that, say, Marine Le Pen has transformed the French National Front (FN) into anti-EU, anti-neoliberal, protectionist party. I think perhaps other populist European parties could be described as broadly social democratic on economics (e.g., the Danish People’s Party or Sweden Democrats?), though I could be wrong on this.

But the rest of them seem to be neoliberal or even libertarian on economics, e.g., UKIP or Alternative for Germany (AfD). I’m not holding my breath for these parties or even the mainstream Conservative parties to come around to sensible interventionist economics, or to speak sense on economics given their libertarian fringes.

In the end, I think it might be quite likely that the left can and will reform itself. That means throwing out all the regressive left insanity.

A reformed Left would look more like this:
(1) it would abandon neoliberalism. Return to strong Keynesian, full employment, and social democratic economic policies. It would become protectionist, and promote some kind of industrial policy to rebuild manufacturing. Labour market protectionism for our citizens in the First World, and of course no matter would their ethnic background is;

(2) it will abandon regressive left nonsense: ditch cultural relativism, identity politics, race-baiting leftism, identifying culture with race, and the incredible abuse of the word “racism,” which is applied to trivial things that are not racist, such as wearing sombreros or “culturally insensitive” Halloween costumes. End the witch hunting which inevitably accompanies cultural leftism. Abandon the extreme social constructivism and the “blank slate” view of human beings, because it is simply not true: e.g., there are only two natural genders in genetically normal human beings, male and female, and encouraging this type of thing is neither healthy nor desirable;

(3) to put it bluntly, it will ditch the bizarre anti-white racism that characterises the cultural left in its the endless cultural leftist conspiracy theories that blame the capitalist, white-male patriarchy or universal “institutional racism” for all the West’s problems;

(4) it will end open borders and mass immigration, and end the bizarre cult of “diversity,” which seems to think that multiculturalism is some great good in and of itself (which it most certainly is not);

(4) it will promote the strong assimilation of immigrants who are here in the West, and abandon failed multiculturalism. Also, there is nothing wrong with sensible, liberal cultural nationalism. And, yes, even though it might provoke slanderous screams of abuse from the usual suspects, it will be strongly but sensibly anti-Islamist, and reject all regressive and illiberal values promoted by the conservatives and fundamentalists in that religion;

(5) it will totally re-assess the ideas of Third Wave Feminism, many of whose ideas will have to go.

(6) do something about rebuilding the nuclear family. This might require redesigning the welfare system to encourage stable marriages, and discouraging single parent families. No hateful rhetoric or demonising of single mothers, however. That B.S. belongs on the Right;

(7) it will be anti-imperialist and non-interventionist on foreign policy, but not isolationist. Anyone proposing any military intervention in the Third World would require a brutally strong burden of proof and anything proposed must be legal under international law. Paradoxically, anti-imperialism would require confronting and countering the brutal aspects of Chinese imperialism in the Third World.
I would be happy to see a Left like this by the 2020s.


  1. LK, are you opposed to same-sex marriage?

    1. No.

      But I regard it -- in the grand scheme of things -- as a trivial issue whose importance for the modern cultural left is so bizarrely out of proportion to its real significance.

  2. You seem to have a habit of dashing off to the side those issues that don't affect you directly. It suggests a degree of privilege that you may not consciously acknowledge.

    But setting aside that issue for a moment, don't you see this as tactically problematic, too? In one breath you say "let's build leftism" and in the next you scoff at the very idea of solidarity or coalition-building outside of your extremely narrow view of what "left" means.

    Circular firing squads don't exactly have a sterling track record for advancing movements.

    1. lol.. cultural leftism is the epitome of an "extremely narrow view of what 'left' means."

    2. Perhaps. But that still speaks to my point.

      Ten or even a hundred individually narrow perspectives have a far greater hope of achieving some portion of their aims if they fixate less on what makes them different and more on what they hold in common. Otherwise you get the People's Front of Judea, the Judean People's Front, and all the others.

    3. In the battle of narrow world views, we have already seen regressive leftism play itself out. The consequences are Trump, Farage and all the rest.

  3. Hmmmm....
    (1) I think LK's political position is somewhat similar to Tony Judt. LK, Have you read Tony Judt's ''Ill Fares the Land'' (excerpt: )or other writings? (for example, "What Is Living and What Is Dead in Social Democracy?" or "Edge People" )
    Could you comment about Judt's opinion?

    (2) About Postmodernism, Brad DeLong wrote some blog posts.

  4. I broadly agree with the Illusionist. I disagree with LK's optimism about the Left and agree with Illusionist that identity politics and moral worth through political identity is baked in to the modern left.
    The right is always more open to ideas and correction, so he is probably right about the better left ideas being accepted increasingly on the right.

    1. (1) "Moral worth through political identity" is embedded in every political movement to some extent. It can result in different beliefs, some good or bad.

      Even a humane liberal nationalism requires this to some extent.

      (2) "The right is always more open to ideas and correction, "

      On economics, this is overblown. Since the collapse of Classical liberalism in the early 20th century, conservatism is simply the natural home free trade, laissez faire economics.

    2. The right is always more open to ideas and correction

      On what planet? The one where Trump nuked every other GOP candidate?

    3. Not sure I agree on 1. I think Illusionist is pointing out this is a much more important than previously. Rather than politics as just a tribal marker, but as tribal identity and the source/imprimatur of moral worth. We see that with the now ubiquitous meme that saying all lives matter is racist. It isn't, but it is a sign of dissent.
      BTW I have long said the Cultural Left is based on two axioms. Dissent is error; error is sin.

  5. Given the changing nature of the job market, wouldn't a basic income be a better anti-deflationary policy than a return to Keynesian full employment (ex. Job Guarantee)? I've honestly always have had a little bit of an internal battle in my mind as to which policy would be better for the future.

  6. I think I disagree on some things with you ...
    The regressive Left it has nothing to do with Stalinism or some kind of Marxism-Leninism. In fact, during the Stalin regime homosexuality was banned in the Soviet Union. You compare them because both are intolenrantes (I agree on that) but that does not mean they are the same.
    In fact many postmodern leftists hate Stalin and everything that has to do with the USSR. (They believe that the Soviets were like a kind of left-wing conservatives)
    The differences between Marxism and the regressive left is like the difference between classical liberalism and neoliberalism, one is an old cult fashion that will not admit that their theories are now obsolete, and the others are almost identical except that they adapted to the modern times (in the case of neoliberalism they are a bit more interventionist in the economy)

    Anyway, I hope that the left leave the postmodernism and feminism SJWs...

  7. I am afraid the cultural Left will be with us for a while. It is a very useful narrative for the wealthy since it does nothing to really adversely impact their interests (see how many corporations came out in support of gay marriage). This is the kind of Left rich people want because it is a safe one from their perspective. Better to blame the white, male patriarchy than the capitalists.

    I would like to see the return of the populist Left but it will be attacked by everyone (the media, politicians, the corporations, the cultural Left) as racist and misogynist. Hence why it is the populist Right that is shaking things up, not the Left. But things may change. You never know.

  8. This is surprisingly comprehensive. Might be useful:

  9. Ken B says above that the cultural left is actually an outgrowth of the left. I totally agree and I think that is where LK and I disagree. I think that this 'blank slateism' is in the DNA of the left going right back to, well, the French Revolution.

    The modern left is a social project. It's goal is to transform society and to create a New Man. The Jacobins tried to do this, so did the Marxists and the Bolsheviks and now the cultural left are doing the same thing. The social democrats also tried to do this although they typically used softer methods (but not always, as the vicious eugenics programs in Scandinavia and India among other places attest).

    There was a faction of the 20th century that did not care much about social engineering. Basically, I'm referring to your average Labour voter in the 1940s, 50s and 60s. They just wanted a better life and a fair shake.

    And, as LK correctly points out, there were more moderate elements within the party -- often Christian Socialists whose religious worldview led them to wholly reject the whole notion of a New Man or changing human nature or whatever as inherently and irreducibly evil. But they were always a minority.

    The more I think about it the more I think that this position is actually not Christian Socialism at all. It much better fits with Burkean paleoconservativism. Burke himself absolutely believed in a strong, reformist State and favoured government intervention in the economy. But he saw it as a means to make a better society in which individuals could flourish; not a means by which to engineer the individuals for the good of society. It is an ideology that tends to be non-pacifist but highly skeptical of war. This is the type of ideology that Peter Hitchens and Christopher Lasch, for example, espouse and I think I could absolutely get on board with it.

    But this speaks to my point: I think that the cultural left, blank slate, New Man stuff is actually in the DNA of the left. So maybe what we're going to see is the right swing away from neoliberalism -- a thoroughly 'constructivist' program born out of the totalitarian ideology of utilitarianism** -- and toward paleoconservatism. But that will be a tough line to walk. I can just as easily see them swing heavily authoritarian. Still, the developments in the UK post-Brexit are very interesting to watch.

    ** See:

    1. (1) Geez, I told you ages ago that the social constructivist/blank slate vision of human beings was always wrong and a serious mistake. And, in point of fact, there are influential leftists even today who disagree: e.g., Noam Chomsky.

      But I seem to get no credit for saying what you now say.

      (2) "The more I think about it the more I think that this position is actually not Christian Socialism at all. It much better fits with Burkean paleoconservativism. Burke himself absolutely believed in a strong, reformist State and favoured government intervention in the economy. But he saw it as a means to make a better society in which individuals could flourish"

      Fair enough.

      Except the right is the natural home of free trade, privatise everything, laissez fair economics, whether Thatcherism, neoliberalism or more extreme laissez faire ideology. This is a severe problem for the Right ever getting a sensible economics.

    2. (2) Maybe this need not be the case. The obvious counterexample is, say, Gaullism which is now seeing a return in France.

      (1) Chomsky views blank slateism as incorrect in the field of linguistics and psychology. By he is a card-carrying blank slater in terms of politics. He is an anarcho-syndicalist, FFS!

      Again, you think that because Chomsky opposed postmodernism he opposes blank slateism. This is where I fundamentally disagree. Blank slateism is a MODERNIST political project that goes right back to the French Revolution, the philosophes and the Enlightenment.

      Blank slateism, the New Man and constructivism is a rationalist, modernist project -- as Burke highlighted so well:

    3. (1) "Chomsky views blank slateism as incorrect in the field of linguistics and psychology."

      Illusionist, no, it isn't.

      If human Darwinian evolution and genetics isn't the major cause of our natural language ability, please explain to me why no other animals can even remotely approach the complexity of human languages. Explain to me why all those decades of teaching chimps language were miserable failures, and why chimps can never progress behind the language ability of a 3-year-old human child.

      (2) you seem not to understand the difference between (a) Rationalism and (b) Empiricism.

      The blank-slate social constructivism is the outgrowth of extreme empiricism, not Rationalism.

      Chomsky, as people who have actually properly read about his political or even linguistic views, is profoundly influenced by Rationalism, not empiricism.

      (3) you also seem to me to be irrationally terrified of any sensible Darwinian explanation of aspects of human nature as, for instance, gender differences.

      The fact that men and women are anatomically different is genetic and evolutionary. It's very likely there are cognitive and behavioural differences between men and women too explained by biology and evolution. E.g., we know for a fact men are more prone to violence than women. This is a fact. It's mostly probably biological.

    4. "Chomsky views blank slateism as incorrect in the field of linguistics and psychology."

      I misread that comment, forget comment 1.

    5. "By he is a card-carrying blank slater in terms of politics. He is an anarcho-syndicalist, FFS!"

      Define what you mean as "card-carrying blank slater in terms of politics".

    6. Very quickly. I support Chomskyian grammar. I think neo-Darwinism is pseudoscience. I have no emotional or ideological problem with neo-Darwinism and fully subscribed until I studied it. I simply found that based on the facts available and the falsifiability of the theory that it was much more similar to Marxism or Orthodox Freudianism than it was to, say, Newtonian or Einsteinian physics... or even Post-Keynesian economics. From close study I have concluded that neo-Darwninism is clearly an ideology much like neoclassical economics.

      Finally, you need to improve your intellectual history. The French Revolution was the outgrowth of the philosophies of Rationalism (Voltaire etc) and Romanticism (Rousseau). This is simply a fact. Empiricism was never popular on the continent. Marxism was also an outgrowth of Rationalism and Romanticism.

      Empiricism was established in Britain (Locke, Berkeley, Hume). It came in two forms. Extreme 'blank slate' empiricism of the type promoted by Hume. And non-blank slate idealism promoted by Berkeley. The Fabians, the eugenicists and the Darwinians are an outgrowth of Humean empiricism which is currently the default philosophy in the Anglosphere.

      Almost everyone today is a social constructivist of some form or another. It is built into the Enlightenment project (recall that Berkeley is counter-Enlightenment). It IS the modernist project. What you call 'postmodernism' is simply you watching the modernist project brought to its end-point and collapse before your eyes.

    7. Re: Chomsky's politics. He is a syndicalist. They are social constructivists who, like the Marxists, wanted to create a new 'post-buorgeois' Man:

      They merely disagreed with the Marxists on how it should be done. Today Chomsky and pals pretend like if the syndicalists had been in charge in Russia in 1917 we would be living in Utopia. But that is nonsense.

  10. btw lk what is your opinion about edmund burke?

    he looks like really interesting person

  11. Guys beware of the tendency to focus on "-isms", general ideas and words.

    To discuss politics in a sensible way we certainly need theories about the way things behave. Like econometric models, demographic "laws" or tendencies, climate change models etc.
    But then I think we are left with common sense and some kind of peacemeal engineering : you want employment to soar, you try fiscal stimulation, if it is not enough you might go for ELR programs of some sort. For example we know for a fact that there won't be plenty of cheap energy in the futur and that natural hazards will be more frequent and more extreme. We have millions of unemployed. Would it not be simply common sensical to have those unemployed making houses easier to warm, building collective transportation facilities, etc. instead of being very poor doing close to nothing useful ?
    We do not need a fully articulated "worldview" to agree on some basic policies that neither neoliberal machines nor far right demagogues care to implement.
    Once you have disposed of the "-isms" debate, what you see are common needs and wishes (who seriously wants a shorter life expectancy ?) and scarcity constraint.
    How we are to deal with it is the real political question.