Friday, October 19, 2012

Progressive-Left Authoritarianism

  Mike L.

I was thinking today about writing a piece on how the progressive-left sometimes slides into a type of authoritarianism that progressives claim to oppose when I remembered that I had already written such a piece for buhdydharma's blog, Docudharma, in early June of 2009.

If I were writing the piece below, today, I would focus less on certain trends and more on others.  Specifically, I would focus more on the tactics that are used to silence oppositional speech such as deflection, defamation, demeaning the individual and bullying.

In any case, what was true in 2009 certainly remains just as true today.


I want to take a moment to speak about a phenomenon that I have become concerned about since I started reading political websites: the emergence of something that I will call left-authoritarianism. There has always been a trend on the left, a trend quite distinct from what we typically call liberalism or progressivism, that has tended toward authoritarianism. This trend found its fullest and most unfortunate expression in the rise of the Soviet Union and in that country's betrayal of socialism early in the twentieth century. I am of the firm conviction that the viewpoints of people who think along these lines must be distinguished from those who hold liberal or progressive views.

So, what's the difference? The United States was founded as a liberal country. The principles of Enlightenment-Rationalism, principles of freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of the press, and the idea that the authority of government derives from the consent of the governed, are at the core of what the Constitution stands for. Liberals, both of the classic 19th century variety, as well as current ones, still hold to these principles.

Left-Authoritarians, however, do not.

With the failure of the New Left, in the early 1970s, and with the rise of the Conservative Movement, from Reagan through the administration of George W. Bush, a certain number of liberals have slowly migrated from liberalism to authoritarianism in their reaction to the conservative movement and the policies of the previous, if not current, administration. Because of war, the "bundling" of corporate and political power, and Bush administration attacks on civil liberties, these individuals have responded in a manner that can be, and should be, characterized as authoritarian and therefore anti-liberal.

The individuals who make up this trend on the left do not believe either in freedom of speech, nor in democracy. Those who truly believe in freedom of speech are willing to listen to those who may disagree with them without making of those people "the enemy." Only authoritarians insist that anyone who disagrees with their views are some hideous other, some enemy to be opposed, rather than someone to be reasoned with. Those who truly believe in freedom of speech do not whine and cry that the presence of speech they oppose is evidence that they, themselves, are being silenced. Whatever else we might make of people who display this characteristic, they are not liberal because, in their opposition to freedom of speech, they cannot, by definition, be liberal.

Another tendency of the authoritarian-left is to denigrate electoral politics as a device designed to deceive the stupid masses, the sheeple, into believing that they live within a democracy. While it is obviously true that the US has, and has always had, huge problems with ballot tampering and other forms of election cheating, it is also true that the ballot is at the center of what it means to have a democracy. Those who believe that electoral politics is worthless are not reformers, nor liberals, nor progressives. They are putting forth an idea that undermines the Constitution, yet they usually seem to have no idea what in the world they would replace the Constitution with. They are "revolutionaries" with no plan, whatsoever, and no actual revolutionary ideology. For a revolution to happen there must be certain organizations in place devoted to fostering that revolution, such as unions or political parties. There must be a foundation, in other words, to promote the revolution. Without any such foundation, no revolution can take place. However, even if there was such a foundation, and even if the American people were in a revolutionary spirit, we still do not know what these people, these left-authoritarians, would replace the Constitution with? Whatever they would replace it with, it would not include elections because they oppose electoral politics, which they believe is a fraud.

The bottom line is this: if you oppose elections and you oppose freedom of speech, then you are something other than a liberal or a progressive. You may hold many policy views that liberals and progressives might agree with. A left-authoritarian may, for example, favor a woman's right to choose. A left-authoritarian may oppose the war in Iraq and favor universal health care coverage. Nonetheless, anyone who stands in opposition to the most fundamental principles upon which liberalism is based (freedom of speech and the ballot) cannot, in any meaningful way, be considered a liberal.

Finally, in case anyone thinks otherwise, this is not a condemnation of liberalism, in general. Hell, I am a liberal. It is simply a recognition that there is an element on the left, wittingly or not, that has moved beyond liberal values into something poisonous and anti-liberal.

I have not seen much of that here, thankfully, but it's definitely out there and we should be aware of it.


  1. As the great philosopher David Wooderson would say - "The older you get, the more rules they're gonna try and get you to follow. You just gotta keep on livin', man. L-I-V-I-N."

    I don't know why, for sure, but I heard that line in my head when I got down to the part about 'revolution.'

    I think you should update this for the current moment...

    1. You may be right.

      When I wrote the above I counted among my political acquaintances any number of people who might best be characterized as left-wing radicals, i.e., people who wanted to overthrow the current system, but in favor of what, exactly, I could never seem to extract from them.

  2. Good points expressed in this article, Mike.

    But just a point/note:

    "Progressivism" is not "liberalism". I think that the "Progressive" movement was, and always has been, a Leftist -- Socialist -- (and, therein, totalitarian) political movement, and began in the early twentieth century.

    I think that "liberals" and/or "Progressives" began to use the term "progressive" instead of the term "liberal" some time in the 1990's, when the concept of "liberalism" and the term "liberal" began to be having a strong negative connotation in the U.S.

    And, then, there is Classical Liberalism and there is Social Liberalism. And what for the past several decades has been called "liberal" is Social Liberalism -- "modern Liberalism".

    1. And, BTW: Until just a few years ago, I considered myself to be "liberal" -- that is: I, took for granted that I was "liberal". I no longer consider myself to be "liberal". However, I agree with some of the "tenets" about life and politics that self-professed "liberals" hold and think of as being part and parcel with being "liberal" (help to those who need help; protecting the natural environment).

      However, I now agree with more views that are held by contemporary "Conservatives" than I agree with views that are held by contemporary "Liberals".

      Now I'm not "Liberal". Now I'm not "Conservative. Now I'm not "Left-Wing". Now I'm not "Right-Wing". Now I'm not "Socialist". Now I'm not "Libertarian". Now I try to discern what is the most beneficial action to do with regard to any particular situation and try to do that action -- with regards to "politics" and with regards to all other things.

      But, I think that the political views that I hold are a balance between Classical Liberalism and Social Liberalism.

      But it's not about "identity". It's about doing what will be of benefit -- what will be of benefit for oneself and others. It's about protecting oneself and others from harm.

      "The liberal project began to fail when it began to lie."
      -- Daniel Patrick Moynihan

  3. A great interview with Andy Bostom & Joe Sabag about the current political situation and Jewish people in the U.S.:

    However the audio quality of the video is bad. The audio is distorted and loud. But the audio is less distorted, and less loud, in the latter part of the video than it is at the beginning of the video. And the interview is great. (Just turn down the volume.)

    Andy Bostom & Joe Sabag

    22m33s to 27m34s: about Jewish support for "a 'Two-State Solution'" versus the current U.S. administration's "support for a 'Two-State Solution'"

    29m10s to 34m10s: about the history of the issues involved with the proposition of, and concept of, 'a Two-State Solution'

    34m10s to 56m16s: about the Democratic party's current agenda toward Israel, and about American Jewish people's response to the Democratic party's current agenda toward Israel -- includes video footage from the recent Democratic National Convention, including video footage of Democratic National Committee Chair, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, at the Democratic Nation Convention

    And BTW:

    Why was the using of the term "God" in the Demoratic Party Platform and the recognizing of Jerusalem as the capital city of Israel included together as a unit to be voted on as a policy to be kept or rejected by the Democratic party at the Democratic national convention -- A POLICY WHICH WAS REJECTED BY VOTE AT THE DEMOCRATIC PARTY AT THE DEMOCRATIC NATIONAL CONVENTION?

    What does the inclusion of the term "God" in the U.S. Democratic Party Platform have to do with inclusion of the U.S. Democratic Party Platform recognizing Jerusalem as the capital city of Israel?

    What would the inclusion of the term "God" in any U.S. political party's platform have to do with the inclusion of that U.S. political party's platform recognizing Tokyo as the capital city of Japan?

    And why was the inclusion of the Democratic party recognizing Jerusalem as the capital city of Israel PUT UP TO VOTE AT THE DEMOCRATIC PARTY AT THE DEMOCRATIC NATIONAL CONVENTION?

    Jerusalem is the capital city of Israel; Tokyo is the capital city of Japan: These two things are the case regardless of what the U.S. Democratic Party votes about at the U.S. Democratic National Convention and regardless of what any U.S. Presidential administration expresses it's view of what is the case about whether or not Jerusalem is the capital city of Israel and about whether or not Tokyo is the capital city of Japan.

    Jewish people are a group of normal human beings -- an ethnic and cultural group -- an ethnic and cultural group of normal human beings. Israel is the nation of the Jewish people. Just like Japan is the nation of the Japanese people. And just like Ireland is the nation of the Irish people. And just like Thailand is the nation of the Thai people. And just like Italy is the nation of the Italian people. Israel is a normal nation. Israel is a normal nation of normal human beings.

    Jewish people have to realize this. Only then will other people realize this and then, as a result of that, start to treat Jewish people like normal human beings and start to treat the nation of the Jewish people, Israel, like a normal nation -- that is: only then will other people start to treat Jewish people, and the nation of the Jewish people, with at least normal human decency.

  4. I meant to post my previous comments on this post, instead, on the post titled "Obama, the Brotherhood, and the American Jewish left".

    But I think that my previous comments on this post are appropriate also for this post.