Friday, October 19, 2012
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.