If any civilization is to survive, it is the morality of altruism that men have to reject. – Ayn Rand
The political philosophy of the New Left is weak, shallow, and in its expression by some of its gurus, patently absurd. But it has won the West. It has won the academies of the pan-European word, and through them generations grow up steeped in the creed.
What is the creed, and why has it won?
It has won because it echoes a Christian teaching, to which some 8,000 generations (reckoning 4 generations per century) of Europeans have been subjected.
It is the notion that to be a good person you must pity other people and make sacrifices for them. Only if you do that, are you worthy and virtuous.
It has been drummed into every Christian from his earliest years, so even if he rebels against his religion, his class, his culture, his race, his nation, he clings to that idea as to the moral kingpin of his universe. Take it away, and the center will not hold.
The New Left was a rebellion by affluent, middle-class adolescents (some of them well advanced in middle age) against their class, culture, race, and nation, starting about twenty years after the end of the Second World War (1939-1945).
The old Left, a secular version of Christianity, won the support of middle-class intellectuals by directing pity on to the working-class. The intellectuals would, at whatever cost to themselves, lead the oppressed and exploited workers in revolution. In Russia to start with, they did just that before the end of the First World War.
By the late 1960s, the old Left, in the person of dictators and their henchmen, was actively oppressing millions, including the populations of the Eastern European countries and a part of Germany.
So the old Left lost its appeal partly because the Leftist regimes could not easily be held up as models of paradise on earth. In addition, the working-class in the West had generally become prosperous enough to be content with its lot.
The New Left found new victims to feel sorry for. It found them first abroad, in the Third World, which was not prosperous. It declared the people of Third World countries to be exploited and oppressed by European colonialism and imperialism, even if their countries were no longer colonies or parts of empires. Its concern extended to Third World descendants who lived in the First World.
Then it declared that in the First World, women were victims of male-dominated societies. Many women volunteered for the role.
Next, homosexuals were declared, and many declared themselves, victims of heterosexual-dominated First World societies.
The main thing was, New Left intellectuals found new groups to pity, and so new sources for pride in a feeling of self-worth.
After 1991, with the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War – of which the West was the immediate winner – the old Left was held by Western intellectuals (whom Thomas Sowell calls “the self-annointed”) to have been the wrong Left. The New Left, they maintain, is the politically correct Left.
The strange thing about the (new or old) Left’s remedy for human suffering is this: While only the individual can feel pain and suffer distress; while no masses, no group, no class, no race as such can suffer or feel anything at all; yet the Plan of the Left to remedy suffering is always one that sacrifices individuals for the sake of the group. It is always a Plan that is implemented regardless of individual suffering. So important is the Plan itself, that any number of individuals may be persecuted, silenced, tortured, enslaved, killed for it.
There is no collective remedy for human suffering. The only prescription that works is individual freedom; leaving people alone to serve their own purposes in the manner they choose for themselves. (Nothing need prevent an individual from aiding other individuals if that’s what he wants to do.)
John Schindler, who calls himself “a traditional leftist”, writes about why he believes the New Left has won in an article titled Who Really Won the Cold War?, in The Federalist. I quote it in full.
While he makes some points I do not agree with (chiefly the idea he takes for granted that Leftism ideally serves the cause of “human freedom”), he makes many more that bear out what I have said about the old Left and the New Left, and how and why the New Left has won the Cold War. I found this surprising. But it explains why an essay by a “traditional leftist” appears in The Federalist.
He starts with a figure from the old Left who has just recently risen to prominence:
The election of Jeremy Corbyn as leader of the Labour Party has sent shockwaves far beyond Britain. There has been disbelief that the United Kingdom’s storied left-wing party opted to be led by a man so obviously contemptuous of his own society. In the wake of their recent electoral debacle under the uninspiring Ed Miliband, Labour has chosen as its leader an activist who resembles a walking leftist cliché. Corbyn’s radicalism is not in doubt. Aside from his embrace of socialist-throwback platitudes that linger on his party’s left flank on the full range of domestic issues, in adamant rejection of Blairism, Corbyn’s foreign-policy views merit attention. Openly hostile to NATO and Britain’s longstanding “special relationship” with the United States, Corbyn adds overt sympathy for numerous authoritarian regimes.
He blames the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, not the Kremlin, for the Ukraine crisis and has endorsed Russia Today, Putin’s TV propaganda network. Corbyn opposes essentially all overseas military operations by Britain and wants to parley with Bashar al-Assad, four years into Syria’s fratricide, while viewing Tehran as a partner for Middle East peace.
That said, leftist infatuation with foreign dictators is hardly new. For decades a crush on “progressive” despots safely far away from their own free country has been a staple of the Western far-Left diet. Corbyn is simply a paid-up member of his ideological tribe.
Yet Corbyn surpasses his predecessors in his fervent embrace of the social-justice message at home as well as abroad. He exudes hostility towards the Britain that made the historic Labour Party. This, after all, is a man who celebrates Hamas, Hezbollah, and related Islamist extremists as freedom-fighters, while explaining the death of Osama bin Laden was “a tragedy”.
Unsurprisingly, Corbyn enthusiastically espouses multiculturalism and says Britain should “celebrate” record numbers of immigrants entering the country — a position not popular with many voters, who see the European Union being overwhelmed by waves of migrants from Asia and Africa. Between his crush on the West’s enemies and his desire to change his country’s population, Corbyn wants to abolish Britain, not reform it.
Yet we should not regard Corbyn as a particular outlier. In truth, his cocktail of trendy “progressive” opinions, which rejects virtually everything about their own society, is commonly found among postmodern Western leftists. The only difference is that Corbyn makes no effort to mask his views. Many of his fellow travelers obscure their take, which would be considered extreme by most voters, behind moderate-sounding language.
Unlike Barack Obama, who once assured us that he did not see a Red America or a Blue America, rather a United States of America — then proceeded to govern through two terms as a highly partisan liberal Democrat — Corbyn states openly that there is only one “real” Britain, and it is deep red (which in Britain, as most of Europe, means left-wing).
Corbynism is no sudden or shocking development, but the natural culmination of 50 years of left-wing views that have shifted from a desire to reform Western democracies to an unconcealed wish to kill them, or at least change them so fundamentally that they bear little resemblance to themselves.
The Old Left, for all its sometimes horrific flaws, sought socioeconomic change to benefit average citizens, not all-out social revolution. They, in their own way, were very much a product of Western culture. After the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917, which split the Left worldwide into communist and social democratic groupings, the latter worked within the socioeconomic system, embracing democracy while seeking minimal deep changes to society itself.
Even the communists were hardly social revolutionaries in practice. In the initial euphoria of the revolution there was experimentation. The Soviet Union became the first society ever to allow abortion and easy divorce. In Hungary, during the short-lived red revolution at the end of World War I, Bolsheviks embraced social radicalism and introduced sex education to undermine the traditional family.
However, once firmly in power, the Soviets dropped any pretense of social revolution to mirror the politico-economic one. While religion was persecuted and mild feminism got lip service, Stalin banned abortion and the party frowned upon sexual immorality. After all, the revolution needed soldiers and workers, and who but communist women could make those?
Although the abortion ban was dropped after Stalin, Soviet social practices remained highly “heteronormative,” with homosexuality being criminal while men and women were strongly encouraged to marry and be fruitful. In its most extreme form, Nicolae Ceaușescu nearly banned abortion and contraceptives altogether in his effort to build his highly fecund socialist Romania.
Many were the Western progressives who visited the East Bloc during the Cold War, having been fed propaganda about the wondrous “new society”, only to discover that communism was actually behind the West in matters of family, sex, and gender.
While the Soviets and their clients remained mired in traditional social models, the West moved on — or forward, depending on your viewpoint. The great social revolution of the 1960s, which passed the East Bloc by because communism had insulated the countries, brought forth a New Left in the West that was interested in matters of sex, gender, and race rather than who owns the means of production.
Their “long march through the institutions” after a half-century must be judged wholly successful. While the Right has won the battle for economics across the West — calls for public ownership now seem quaint rather than threatening to capitalists — the New Left has triumphed on the social front in every arena.
In the United States, which was more resistant to the New Left agenda than many Western countries, the Obama years have witnessed the victory of social justice on all major matters of race, gender, and sexuality. Thanks to activists, politicians, and courts, Americans today are living in a very different social and sexual world than their parents and grandparents.
More than a few communists saw all this coming. Beginning in the 1970s, East Bloc secret police began to notice the impact of the New Left on their Old Left countries. Cries for radical individualism from dissidents under Western influence troubled the communists, who didn’t know what to do about this trend, which they dismissed as a bourgeois affectation.
By the 1980s, the more perceptive East Bloc security services were denouncing this Western poison, which took the form of radical feminism, sexual freedom, environmental activism, and gay rights. To traditional communists, who barely understood this new ideology, it was a scary Western import, according to the secret police. Some in Eastern Europe termed this decadence “anarcho-liberalism”, and they considered it a disease of an affluent late capitalist society burdened with excessive consumerism and leisure time.
In the end, of course, the communists lost. Lots of average people in the East Bloc wanted the freedom to own cool shoes, while some pined for the social-sexual liberties that the West offered. In many ways, the revolutions of 1989 to 1991 that changed the map and politics of Europe and beyond can be viewed with a quarter-century of hindsight as the defeat of the Old Left in the East by the New Left in the West.
We are living still with the consequences of this seismic political shift. With the sudden disappearance of the communist threat, the Right lost interest in socioeconomic fairness, a Cold War necessity to keep reds at bay on the home-front, while oddly so did the Left.
The obsessive interest of the New Left in social justice has come at the expense of economic concerns, with the result that on a wide range of topics their positions, barring lip service, differ hardly at all from the Right. Few on the Left question our basic economic arrangements; tearing down our social foundations has been their core program.
Barack Obama is the most left-wing president ever on social justice, yet he is a darling of Wall Street. Hillary Clinton, despite her belated interest in social issues, is deeply enmeshed in high finance and will never challenge it. Thus Bernie Sanders, who is an amalgam of Old and New Left, is treated like an atavism by mainstream liberals when he opens the economics can of worms.
It’s all enough to make the few traditional leftists among us want to pull their hair out. The broad alliance of cultural Left and corporate Right, which questions none of our economics, has triumphed in our politics — or at least had until Donald Trump came along to question “settled” issues such as mass, often illegal, immigration. The cultural Left favors this because it gradually dissolves the traditional culture, which they despise, while the corporate Right favors it for the cheap labor. Postmodern capitalism is at least as revolutionary a force as anything cooked up by any Marxist, as well as something any Social Justice Warrior can live with.
For more than a generation we have sorely lacked mainstream contributions from social democrats who seek to make our society better, not destroy it. There ought to be no illusions about what the cultural Left seeks: a full revolution of our society and its history, which they see as benighted by irredeemable racism, sexism, and Old Think. Their opponents are objectively evil and on the“wrong side of history,” as Obama himself has assured us, and they must disappear. “Error has no rights,” the mid-nineteenth-century Vatican formulation, has oddly been adapted by our postmodern Left.
As communists once predicted the state itself would wither away, resulting in complete human freedom and progress, the New Left expects that all traditional societal arrangements will wither away, thereby allowing full human freedom and progress. One offered discipline and order and sometimes gulags; the other offers sexual liberty, anti-racism, and iPhones.
Both these beliefs are illusions, and dangerous ones, rooted in a Marxist sense of “knowing” where history is going. The working class was once revered by leftists as uniquely virtuous, while for the New Left that vanguard role is played by minorities sexual and racial, who are allegedly untainted by the dominant group. The essential willingness to ignore inconvenient truths remains the same.
Let us give the Old Left, particularly its social democratic guise, credit that they did not seek the extirpation of our whole society and culture, but instead its transformation. What the New Left today fights for is far more revolutionary and utopian. A Europe that seeks a future where actual Europeans are a dying remnant, replaced by more vigorous immigrants, is but one manifestation of this worldview.
Leftists once heartily sang the “Internationale,” which promised “This is the final struggle” (C’est la lutte finale). Communists were quite wrong about that. History has moved on and left them behind everywhere but Cuba, North Korea, and Western universities. Yet their social-justice descendants believe the same thing, with a different favored fantasy class.
They will be proved wrong, too. The Corbyn vision has no future to offer most Britons. It would be incomprehensible to generations of Labour patriots who fought for Britain, her values, and her allies. The only question is how much damage to what is left of the West will be inflicted before the New Left is vanquished, too.
I wish I could share his optimism that the New Left will be vanquished (in the foreseeable future).
And what I miss in the essay is any reference to the human misery that “traditional leftism” of the redder kind has caused wherever it has had power to cause it. Of course, his focus is on the British Left, which was never – until now? – as red as all that.
I dislike his implication that collectivism (aka Leftism) of his favored – or any – kind is a valid recipe for improving what Leftists have called “the human condition”.
But I applaud his recognition that the New Left “seeks the extirpation of our whole society and culture”, and that he deplores that terrible aim.
If only he could also see that it is logically, even necessarily, derived from the old socialist collectivist thinking to which he remains faithful!
Jillian Becker September 18, 2015
Adding this to test comments opening