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Deadly Sins Of Left & Right

(Photo by JIM WATSON,SAUL LOEB/AFP via Getty Images)

American Compass runs a couple of interesting features from partisan thinkers criticizing their own side.

Here’s leftist academic Ruy Teixeira talking about the Five Deadly Sins of the Left. Even though the Left is probably going to win this next election, that’s a sign of Trump’s weakness, not the Left’s strength, says Teixera, because the truth is, “the public just isn’t interested in buying what the Left is selling.” Excerpts:

The Left has paid a considerable price for its increasingly strong linkage to militant identity politics, which brands it as focused on, or at least distracted by, issues of little relevance to most voters’ lives. Worse, the focus has led many working-class voters to believe that, unless they subscribe to this emerging worldview and are willing to speak its language, they will be condemned as reactionary, intolerant, and racist by those who purport to represent their interests. To some extent these voters are right: They really are looked down upon by elements of the Left—typically younger, well-educated, and metropolitan—who embrace identity politics and the intersectional approach. This has contributed to the well-documented rupture in the Democratic Party’s coalition along lines of education and region.

What makes this sin so strange, counterproductive, and perhaps unforgivable, is that popular views on basic issues of tolerance and equality have become much more liberal over the years. The very things the Left was originally fighting for have become less controversial and more accepted—from gay marriage to women’s and racial equality to opposition to discrimination. The Left won.

Of course, that argument was prosecuted in the familiar language of fairness and civil rights; universal principles that have wide appeal and a deep foundation in the nation’s discourse. The same cannot be said for the boutique, academic-derived ideas and language favored by the identity-politics Left, or for the distinctly illiberal attitudes displayed toward dissent from those ideas or use of dis-approved language. Indeed, such emphasis and behavior is antithetical to the universal political and moral principles that have typically animated the Left and underpinned broad coalitions for social change. So long as the Left appears more interested in finding new enemies than in seeking new friends, it will fail to advance its many important priorities.

Identity politics is only one of the deadly sins of the Left, according to Teixeira. Read it all to see his full list.

His point is that the Left really could speak to what most American voters want — but it will have to overcome its own elites and their preferences to do it. He says:

A Left that promotes universal values, a better model of capitalism, practical problem-solving on climate change, and an economy that delivers abundance for all has a great opportunity. But first the Left has to decide if it wants to be popular or Brahmin, only one of which is likely to succeed in a democracy. That is a debate not currently happening.

Meanwhile, conservative think-tanker Henry Olsen shares his Three Deadly Sins of the Right. He begins by asking why it is that for the last 90 years, more Americans have said they are Democrats than Republicans, even when Republicans when national elections? The first Deadly Sin is free-market fundamentalism. Excerpt:

A commitment to individual freedom cannot, however, transform into a dogmatism that blinds its followers to the misery that individual human beings can cause to one another, including misery delivered by private means. Human history teaches us that the vast majority of people do not aspire to greatness, are not entrepreneurial risk takers, and will submit to bad deals to avoid death or penury. The very virtues that lead to good in the hands of the talented and the virtuous can, and too often do, lead to exploitation at the hands of the callous and the corrupt. Human civilization does not present the simple binary choice between public and private action that ideologues Left and Right want, with all good on one side and all evil on the other.

Too often, the Republican Party falls prey to market dogma and exalts private action and choice as goods in and of themselves regardless of the circumstances or the effects. Thus, the poor are undeserving of help because they are to blame for their plight; those who see their livelihoods cast aside and their communities destroyed by globalization deserve no consideration; minorities who are subject to discrimination on the job just need to take their lumps and persevere, perhaps even content in the knowledge that such inefficient human-resources practices will surely lead to their employers’ demise. This attitude is what I label “free-market fundamentalism,” the notion that whatever happens in private affairs is good per se and that government action can never be countenanced to restore justice to our lives, nor will it succeed if tried.

That’s true — but it’s also easy, and obvious. Still, I’m glad he said it, as I think it is the biggest problem facing the Right. A more interesting Deadly Sin of Olsen’s is Hubris, which expresses itself, he says, in part through the GOP fetishizing two personality types: the Businessman and the Pious Man. Excerpt:

Mitt Romney exemplifies the first category; much of his support was attributable to his business success. One Republican activist told me in 2012 that he backed Romney because his background meant he could make the necessary tough decisions. “He’s fired his friends,” this person exclaimed, seemingly oblivious to the fact that friends want help, not dismissal. When I warned another GOP leader that Romney was losing because voters perceived him as the scheming Mr. Potter from the classic film It’s a Wonderful Life, that person responded that the film’s hero George Bailey, was a simp, and that Mr. Potter was a praiseworthy “value creator.” It was this sense that led Romney and many others in the GOP to embrace the morally obscene “makers versus takers” argument, the exposure of which arguably sunk Romney already floundering campaign.

Many in the Republican camp likewise elevate the believing Christian, seeing all others as fallen not only theologically, but also politically. Increasingly, Republican presidential nominees courting Iowa’s dominant religious conservatives feel obligated to proclaim fealty to Jesus Christ before the caucuses. Ted Cruz said during his presidential campaign that, “any president who doesn’t begin every day on his knees isn’t fit to be commander-in-chief of this country.”

Read it all. 

What do you think? What do you believe are some deadly sins of your own side? Or if not deadly sins, then at least things that make the party less successful or appealing than it really ought to be?

One I would add to the Right side — and I don’t know if this is a Deadly Sin, or a sin at all; it might just be an annoyance — is how the Right deals with patriotism. The Left comes across as ashamed to be proud of this country and its history. That’s repulsive to ordinary people. But the opposite extreme in the Republican Party is pretty off-putting too. This is probably the voice of a middle-aged guy who grew up in a period in which American greatness and military might was a constant message in popular culture (read Andrew Bacevich’s 2013 book about American militarism for good insight into this era and its psychological consequences), and who watched America launch a disastrous war in Iraq and an inconclusive forever war in Afghanistan. I don’t suppose it really costs the GOP much to be superpatriotic, but in the aftermath of these wars, this conservative voter finds it really off-putting. I feel like they’re trying not only to sell me something, but to sell themselves something. It’s political kitsch. Milan Kundera, talking about communist kitsch, says:

Kitsch causes two tears to flow in quick succession. The first tear says: How nice to see children running on the grass!

The second tear says: How nice to be moved, together with all mankind, by children running on the grass!

Kundera elsewhere defines kitsch as “the absolute denial of shit.” That’s pretty good. Republican kitsch absolutely denies that America is capable of shitty things. Democratic kitsch absolutely denies that American is capable of non-shitty things, except for when it admits its shittiness. I hate both forms of kitsch. They’re unreal, and they seem more about managing partisan emotions than saying anything true about our country and its people.

Again, I’m pretty sure that’s a boutique complaint. But as a conservative, I get so tired of the phony, manufactured emotionalism on my side. The first time I ever had a good thought about Donald Trump was the moment in the 2016 GOP candidates’ debate in South Carolina, when he said the Iraq War was a bad idea, breaking a taboo among major Republican candidates (Ron Paul had honorably said the same thing in his past runs, but he was always a fringe figure). Why was this taboo until Trump said it? The answer to that, however you define it, is a sin of the Right, possibly a deadly one.

Anyway, let’s hear it from you, about your own side: What are some deadly sins?

about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. A veteran of three decades of magazine and newspaper journalism, he has also written three New York Times bestsellers—Live Not By Lies, The Benedict Option, and The Little Way of Ruthie Lemingas well as Crunchy Cons and How Dante Can Save Your Life. Dreher lives in Baton Rouge, La.

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