Tod Lindberg On the Left’s Success

Read the whole essay. He views the Left as animated by egalitarianism. This is close to my thesis that progressives use the language of oppressor-oppressed. Some excerpts:

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.

I have written that progressives believe that what their goals require is sufficient moral authority. Getting government to do good things is just a matter of summoning enough moral authority.

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.

Lindberg notices, as I do, that this is not the New Left of the 1970s, with its revolutionary rhetoric and anti-establishment ideology.

The Left’s ambition is to obtain majority political support — no more, no less. The Revolution has been canceled. “The system is the solution.” The Democratic Party is the sole legitimate representative of the aspirations of Left 3.0.

Lindberg also notices the hard-line stance of today’s left. This may be the key quote of the essay:

The notion of an invincibly center-right electorate was anathema to the emerging Left 3.0. A key moment in its reconciliation with the Democratic Party was the latter’s abandonment of policies designed with a center-right electorate in mind. For the foreseeable future, the party would lay claim to the center not on the basis of adopting positions to appease moderates and independents, but on the basis of winning more than 50 percent of the vote on election day for candidates congenial to Left 3.0 and garnering majority public support for positions congenial to Left 3.0.

I see this hard-line stance evident in the progressive’s resistance to any suggestion for reducing government spending. You cannot suggest cuts in the short run, because that would mean austerity. You cannot suggest trimming entitlement promises, because Social Security is sacred and control over health care spending is a job for technocrats.

As an aside, possibly related, I find Venezuelans’ grief at the passing of Hugo Chavez to be fascinating and frightening. If nothing else, it suggests that earning popular support does not vindicate a politician’s wisdom or benevolence.

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11 Responses to Tod Lindberg On the Left’s Success

  1. I have to say that this:

    “For the foreseeable future, the party would lay claim to the center not on the basis of adopting positions to appease moderates and independents, but on the basis of winning more than 50 percent of the vote on election day for candidates congenial to Left 3.0 and garnering majority public support for positions congenial to Left 3.0.”

    is bizarre and patronizing. If your positions garner majority support and you receive the majority of the vote on Election Day, then how is that distinguishable from “adopting positions to appease moderates and independents” to “lay claim to the center?” You would have to presume that more than 50% of the electorate is well to the left of the “moderate” “independent” “center” and certainly there’s no evidence for that.

  2. Also, all these terms – “moderate” “independent” and “center” – are often used interchangeable but mean very different things:

    “moderate” – having views on issues and political questions that are moderate

    “center” – being in the middle of the distribution of political views

    “independent” – not being affiliated with or a member of a political party

    There is absolutely no reason to think that any of these are mutually inclusive with the other two.

  3. kzndr says:

    I have also found the reactions to Chavez’s death on the radical left in the U.S. to be fascinating. I suppose I just don’t pay enough attention to the discourse of the socialist, anti-imperialist left–in part, I guess, because it’s so marginal–but reading the various eulogies to Chavez written by writers at places like Jacobin, or the criticism of people like Freddie deBoer of liberals’ scorn for Chavez, was quite eye-opening.

  4. R Richard Schweitzer says:

    There is probably something much larger at issue here underlying all these discussions and opinions.

    We are reviewing observations of a process. Democracy is a process, not a condition.

    Regardless of the labels “left,” “progressive,” or some other politically flavored attribute, there has come to be a sufficient trend to determine that the Process should have a “purpose,” or end. This trend is to replace the use of the democratic process to reflect, or even to attain, the “purposes” of individuals making up the democratic society, with a “purpose” for the process.

    The real objective in political effectiveness is to control the determination of the purpose of the democratic process. The current weight of that determination is toward a purpose of “equality.” That is the “Tree of Purpose” on which all other political fruits are expected to hang.

    It is not unlikely that history will prove that the great error of Western Civilization has arisen in the attempts to assign a purpose to the Democratic Process, rather than allowing that process to reflect the purposes of the individual members of the various social orders making up that civilization.

  5. roystgnr says:

    The tone of that paragraph suggests that it is describing a false trichotomy… yet I admit I’m failing to see the missing option. If I see someone whose actions are wrong, then either their goals are wrong (veniality) or they don’t have enough information to realize that their actions are advancing the wrong goals (ignorance) or they do have enough information but are not integrating it correctly (lack of intelligence).

    Is the missing option supposed to be “their actions are not wrong”? But even if I am wise enough to recognize that I am probably often incorrect about the rightness or wrongness of something; on each *individual* boolean question I must think that I am more likely to be right than wrong; otherwise I would change my opinion to the right one. And if I see someone who disagrees with me on N questions, then even if I recognize that he’s probably right and I’m probably wrong about some M questions, I must still believe that M is less than N (otherwise I’d just change my mind and start agreeing with him all the time), and I’d still need the above trichotomy to explain his remaining N-M errors.

    • Jeff says:

      There ain’t no good guy,
      there ain’t no bad guy.
      There’s only you and me and we just disagree.

      • Arnold Kling says:

        obscure Dave Mason reference caught. I prefer his earlier work.

        • cthulhu says:

          “(you’re) feelin’ alright / I’m not feelin’ too good myself…” is closer to my current thinking.

  6. Lord says:

    What ‘left’? The Democrats have successfully seized the center while Republicans have become radicalized trying to distinguish themselves from them. Their only use is as the loyal opposition, generally an incoherent one since they lack any rational framework within which to integrate their conflicting goals but which they hold in a attempt to build a large enough coalition to rule but doomed to do so since most of their positions are unpopular. At one time these were pragmatic, realistic, and coherent and so could overcome unpopularity, but these were abandoned with the center.

  7. Steve Sailer says:

    “The Left’s ambition is to obtain majority political support — no more, no less. The Revolution has been canceled.”

    The Democrats discovered that — rather than the people electing a new government — the government could elect a new people through immigration policy. Anybody who complains that that’s not fair is automatically a racist.

  8. Floccina says:

    Speaking of Social Security and the left, I find it interesting that the left believes they must buy off and fool the rationally ignorant voters to keep them from destroying the program. The belief is that even though it is absurd that SS pay out bigger pensions to the rich they fight to keep the program as it is to by off the voters because they do not trust the voters too keep programs that are targeted at helping the poor. They also feel the need to fool the voters by hiding half of the tax by making employers right the check so that it does not show up on pay stubs but they like it that half of the tax is visible so they can tell the retirees that you deserve SS because you contributed. (Though to me “contributed” implies volition so to me it is not a contribution buy a tax.)

    I think that we can trust Americans more but perhaps I am wrong, seeing that there is more support for Medicare than for Medicaid.

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