Left 3.0

The left side of the American political spectrum has undergone an extraordinary transformation over the past dozen years. Perhaps because it remains a work in progress, the extent of this transformation has gone largely unremarked and seems underappreciated even among those who have been carrying it out. Forty years after the forces of the “New Left” managed to deliver the Democratic presidential nomination to their preferred candidate, George McGovern, only to see him lose the general election to Richard Nixon in a 49-state landslide, the United States is home to a newer Left. Its political hopes repose not in a man able to muster less than 40 percent of the vote nationwide, but in the convincingly reelected president of the United States, Barack Obama. This newer Left is confident in itself, united both in its description of the problems the country faces and in how to go about addressing them. This Left is conscious of itself as a movement, and believes it is on the rise. It has already managed to reshape American politics, and its successes so far have hardly exhausted its promise. Policies are changing under its influence. And its opponents do not seem to have found an effective way to counter it politically.

It’s beyond my purpose here to explore the history of the Left in American and its relation to American electoral politics. One story is its ideological evolution, from the socialists and anarchists of the early twentieth century, through the battles of the communist and anti-communist Left of mid-century, on to the birth of the New Left in the turbulent 1960s, through the quiescence of the Left during the period of neoliberal (i.e., conservative) dominance for the generation following the election of Ronald Reagan. Or one could tell the story in terms of the progressive movement at the end of the nineteenth century, through fdr’s New Deal, to lbj’s Great Society, on through the primary challenge Sen. Ted Kennedy launched against Jimmy Carter, its failure, and Bill Clinton’s emergence as a “New Democrat” distinct from the old liberal partisans of an expansive role for the federal government.

Both stories, however, come together with the emergence of the newer Left — call it Left 3.0, tracing the ideological progression from old Left to New Left to today’s newer Left. Left 3.0 is not only an ideological movement, but also effectively controls (or rather guides) a political party fully competitive at the national level. Left 3.0 is an entity whose internal divisions are minuscule in comparison to the shared convictions that hold it together. Left 3.0 is a creature of its times, well-organized and fully synced to the digital culture out of which it emerged. And Left 3.0 has come into its own at a time, not coincidentally, when its political rival, the gop electoral coalition, already under strain because of shifting demographics, is deeply divided over vexing social issues on which Left 3.0 offers clear answers.

Continuities

Before we take a serious look at what is new with Left 3.0, we should first have a look at its continuities with the Left (or Lefts) of the past. The most important of these, surely, is that its animating passion remains equality — the defining principle of modern democracy, in Tocqueville’s judgment.

If classical liberalism emerged in part as a rebellion against hereditary privilege, modern American liberalism is foremost a rebellion against the privileges of wealth. The most important innovation of the Left, a principle held fast from the time of the French Revolution onward, has been its insistence that political rights could only be meaningful if accompanied by a degree of economic equality that systems based on political rights alone would not automatically create or protect. Thus, the Left finds the most important element on its agenda: the achievement of a greater degree of economic equality by means of politics. It’s an agenda that has proven adaptable over time to various levels of intensity in the passion for equality. Some have insisted that nothing less than a global proletarian revolution will suffice. Others have advocated socialism or social democracy. The mildest iteration (that of Left 3.0) centers on redistribution of wealth through higher taxes on the rich and the provision of public benefits for all, combined with the diminution of dynastic wealth through inheritance taxes.

Implementation of the animating passion for equality requires the power of government. The Left shares the suspicion of government power at the heart of classical liberalism, but only up to a point. Individuals need rights to protect them from overweening government intrusion, true, but government power in the proper hands can do good, and indeed the proper hands must wield the power of government in order to do the good of pursuing equality. The proper hands are the Left’s, it hardly needs saying.

Implementation of the animating passion for equality requires the power of government.

Republicans sometimes complain that Democrats tolerate conduct by Democratic administrations that they would never tolerate from Republican administrations. This is true, but it assumes a neutral standard of judgment should apply. The Left understands perfectly well that it must advance its agenda against resistance, often considerable. It follows, therefore, that progress may be halting, or indeed impossible — beyond the control of the people pursuing it. What matters in that case is precisely the character of those people. They can and must and do prove their virtue in other ways.

One can, of course, be rich and Left: Once again, it’s a matter of attitude — what you are for and what you are against. In the view of the Left, rich conservatives are conservative because they want to defend the privileges of wealth; they are therefore solely self-interested. Rich men and women of the Left, on the other hand, want to ensure that all people have health insurance regardless of their means; once this and other basic egalitarian imperatives have been fulfilled through political action, the rich are free to use their money as they please (including by finding themselves the best doctors).

The Left’s passion for equality begins with the pursuit of greater economic equality, but it doesn’t end there. The Left has also long been in pursuit of equality in the matter of identity. “Identity” is a concept that substantially modifies the principle that individuals have rights. An identity is something one has in common with others. Identity puts people in groups, and societies have long assigned status on the basis of identity — in many instances, in the view of the Left, improperly so. Some statuses have been improperly privileged, for example, white males in racist and sexist societies. And some statuses have been improperly denigrated, for example, gay men in homophobic societies. The Left has long sought to bring down the status of the privileged and elevate the status of the denigrated. This, too, is the pursuit of equality.

The pursuit of greater equality of identity is very much a matter of the particular circumstances of a society. The Left, from its earliest days, has had a knack for knowing where to press. Suffrage in the United States was once limited, de facto and de jure, to white adult male property owners. The requirement of property went first; then the franchise was extended formally to blacks; then to women; then in fact to blacks, with the civil rights movement; then to eighteen year-olds. In the United States, it’s hard to see how that sequence could have been rearranged. Similarly, for generations, gays remained closeted and underground to avoid persecution. Then came the successful demand for an end to enforcement of and repeal of laws prohibiting homosexual (and certain heterosexual) acts; then the (largely) successful demand for respect for uncloseted homosexuality; then the demand for “domestic partner” rights equivalent to those enjoyed by married couples; then the demand for gay marriage, or marriage equality, per se.

The Left has often styled itself as “progressive,” which implies not only improvement over time, but a progression.

The Left has often styled itself as “progressive,” which implies not only improvement over time, but a progression: Correct the perceived injustice most immediately at hand, then move on to the next one. In some cases, the next injustice comes into focus only once a previous injustice has been removed. During the Stonewall riots in New York City in 1969, generally regarded as the birth of the gay rights movement, it seems doubtful that participants had the goal of marriage equality in mind. The community had more immediate needs that, once satisfied, would in turn reveal its next-most immediate needs.

It’s noteworthy just how “conservative” the statements of progressives of the past often sound today. Sometimes the progressive cause has been served by progressives specifically repudiating in advance positions that progressive successor generations will openly embrace. If a conservative critic of gay rights in the 1970s claimed that codifying protection for gays would one day lead to a demand that gays be allowed to marry, no doubt many gay rights advocates at the time would have scoffed at the alarmism and foresworn any such possibility.

Critics have often claimed the Left supports “group rights” over the rights of individuals — for example, affirmative action programs offering special consideration to members of minority groups or women in employment or contracting or for college admissions. The Left’s contention, however, is not typically that blacks deserve special consideration because they are black, for example, but that an individual black candidate applying for a job may deserve special consideration because white applicants have benefited from improper privileges in the past. You could say that the unselected white applicant was denied on the basis of his or her race; but you would then be obliged, in the view of the Left, to take into consideration all the ways in which being white has provided and still provides advantages. Special consideration for minorities or women in employment or admissions is not, in this view, the point at which discrimination starts, but the point at which broader social discrimination begins to be remedied.

One of the most important developments in the thought of the Left in the past century was its newfound appreciation for “difference.”

The Left does think in terms of groups in the sense of “cultures”: hence multiculturalism. This, too, represents a kind of pursuit of equality, in the sense of recognition of the worth of cultures different from one’s own. Multiculturalism is the newest major element of the “old” Left carrying forward into Left 3.0. The Left in its earliest years believed in universal history: one story about movement in one direction toward one endpoint, or if not an endpoint, at least toward one goal — greater equality. One of the most important developments in the thought of the Left in the past century was its newfound appreciation for “difference.” Ironically under the influence of the most anti-progressive philosopher of the modern era, Friedrich Nietzsche, the Left began to flirt with and eventually largely embraced a relativistic view of the world, according to which judgments presupposing the superiority of one culture over another were no longer acceptable.

The Left’s multiculturalism is connected to its older tendency to think in terms of rectifying injustices based on identity. But the presumption in the case of the latter was that the overcoming of these injustices would lead in one direction only, that of equality. With multiculturalism, it became necessary to think in terms of equalities as the final result or goal. No culture has the right to impose its standards on another.

In theoretical terms, this relativist perspective has considerable difficulty explaining itself: What is the ground of the judgment that one must not judge other cultures? How could such a prescription not itself be cultural-bound, if everything is culture-bound? But that would make non-judgmentalism no more than a cultural prejudice — and no better than a cultural prejudice groundlessly asserting the superiority of the particular culture.

Theory aside, the Left’s practical solution to the problem of multicultural relativism has been to opt for a “soft” multiculturalism that centers on affirming the value of the contribution of other cultures to an ongoing civilizational dialogue. It’s a multiculturalism tamed to accompany the Left’s overarching vision of universal progress.

The Left’s critics have often claimed derisorily that the Left believes in the “perfectibility” of human beings. If that was ever true, it hasn’t been for a long time. Utopian transformation is not on the Left’s agenda, and the Marxist proposition that dialectical materialism would eventually achieve what utopian socialism could only imagine is no longer a serious element of the Left’s calculations about the future. The Left now gets by on the more classically liberal faith in improvement — in the habits of individuals and in the justice of society as a whole. There is no certain endpoint, whether “perfection” in the form of universal satisfaction with perfect equality or something short of that. But a permanent condition of the potential for improvement seems reasonable to the Left, even if it occasionally or often entails two steps forward followed by one step (if not two steps) back.

Few on the Left are willing to grant that their critics are reasonable — in other words, that the Left has anything to gain from taking its critics seriously.

The Left also has long held a low opinion of critics of the Left, not least as impediments to the improvement of society the Left wants to engender. The Left regards its evolving egalitarian agenda as self-evidently reasonable. Few on the Left are willing to grant that their critics are likewise reasonable — in other words, that the Left has anything to gain from taking its critics seriously. That leaves the Left in search of an explanation for why it hasn’t won over its critics. The Left has three main explanations. The first is ignorance, in the sense that its critics lack sufficient knowledge of how society could be improved and why what the Left seeks would constitute improvement. For this category, there may be hope in the form of remedial education. The second is stupidity; its critics are simply unable to understand superior wisdom when they face it. There is little hope for them, alas. The third is venality — that its critics know better but seek to defend their position of personal privilege anyway. The only way to deal with these critics is to defeat them politically.

Having traced the principal continuities in what it has meant and means to be Left, we arrive at the inescapable conclusion that the Left regards its desire for greater equality as the source of the moral superiority of its position and therefore of its members. Although this sense of superiority may seem out of keeping with a passion for equality, it is not. The first reason is that equality is a work in progress. Perhaps there will come a day when people are sufficiently equal and content in their equality that the demands of justice will no longer require anyone on the Left to speak up. At such a time, everyone will be on the Left (in the view of the Left), meaning there will be no further resistance to improvement. But that’s far-fetched, if it is achievable at all. In the meantime, leadership is necessary. The Left provides it, and the fact that a quality of superiority attaches to leaders over their followers (not to mention their opponents) need not constitute an offense against equality.

In a deeper sense, however, the Left’s view of its own superiority serves notice that a passion for greater equality has limits. Rare is the vision of equality that requires its adherents to debilitate themselves in order to achieve it. To pay more in taxes, certainly, but not to render oneself abject in the sense of the poorest of the global poor, nor of those so mentally ill they require institutionalized care. The Left mostly chooses to leave the limits of its egalitarianism unexamined, perhaps because so much more in the way of the promotion of equality can be done and needs to be done before society even begins to rub up against those limits.

READ ENTIRE ARTICLE HERE: http://www.hoover.org/publications/policy-review/article/139271

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commented 2013-03-07 13:07:33 -0500 · Flag
Spartacus writes:

if Darwinism truly existed people like Bernake, Greenspan, Rubin, Weill, Buffet and all the useless tools at Goldman would have been purged long ago, they only exist because of Corruption, so is this survival of the fittest, what ever is necessary, what ever it takes to protect my sense of entitlement and privledges, Please spare me
the the justifications, this is nothing but BASE, Corrupt Behavior there is No Enlightenment or Enrichment about Any of It, the Renaissance, I Think Not ! say good-bye to country that we once all admired, it nothing but a 3rd world bazar with a bunch of low lifes (self-appointed of course) in charge of the concession stands.
commented 2013-03-07 13:05:20 -0500 · Flag
Chris writes:

We are thoroughly 3rd world now — entirely lawless — under the rule of men, not law. And majoritarian human nature here in the US has shown itself to be no different than anywhere else or any other time: weak, easy to herd, easier to co-opt, and ignorant.

Bush43 was an outright curse upon us, invoked by us, bought and sold by deep pocket interests, ushering in with him stalactites (delay, mcconnell, rove, etc.) that sullied the republican party for at least a generation; the magic o and his low-rent factotums are the logic coup-de-grace POX that succeeds an executive dwarf like bush43.
commented 2013-03-07 13:03:23 -0500 · Flag
Spartacus writes:

But the 1% who control the corporations (the machines)
couldn’t care less who is in power Lefty’s or tired Conservatives,
they are the Pay Masters, and Obama is nothing but a 2-bit tool
that move around in the dirt to secure there Kleptocratic power,

same thing with Bubba, Ok bubba you president, but Me Boob Rubin
controls the spoils and privileges, same thing under Bush,
you try and do your job, speak truth to the titular head,
like Paul O’Neill (i.e. question the Kleptocracy hierarchical rule)
and your Ass is shown the Door.

The Middle Class is being ERASED from American Society,
BOTH parties are guilty of that – hopefully they all join Hugo C.
at the earliest possible moment ! ping-ping gotta go Overhead Drone
on the way !