Politics Foreign Affairs Culture Fellows Program

Ideology Binds And Blinds

Do people on the left actually understand why their views frighten conservatives?

Elizabeth Bruenig is an intelligent left-wing columnist for The New York Times. Yet this from her, in response to Friedersdorf’s tweet, knocked me flat, and made me wonder if there is something broader happening with the Left:

(Verdun? Huh? That’s the far right?)

But seriously: imagine believing that conservatives see the “major threat of the far left” as “higher taxes”! Is this really how left-wingers regard the right at the current moment, or is this just a Liz Bruenig thing?

I’m trying to think of any conservatives who have expressed fear of higher taxes as the greatest threat from a Democratic takeover of the White House. Maybe the libertarian gazillionaire Charles Koch thinks that, but I believe that is way, way down the list of concerns among most conservatives.

As I see it, the “major threat of the far left” to us on the right — the major threat, not the only threat — is that in power, they will go pedal to the metal on a soft totalitarian “social justice” regime that would punish dissenters by costing them their livelihoods, and ruining their churches and other institutions. The major threat is the empowerment of ideologues who believe that all white people are racist, by virtue of their being white, and that the state should intervene to arrange society to suppress those disfavored by the left (whites, non-feminists, religious traditionalists, social conservatives, etc). The major threat is that they wish to erase American history and foundational principles of our constitutional order. The major threat is that the state will use its power to force parents to allow their minor children to take cross-sex hormones, and will seize those children if they don’t. The major threat is that the left in power through professional associations (law, medical, and so forth) will make it impossible for dissenters from the social justice credo to earn a living. The major threat is that violent social justice mobs will overrun cities and even suburbs, demanding that everyone assent to their ideology, or be looted or burned out. The major threat is that the left is propagandizing the young to despise their religion, their family, their country, their history, and themselves.

In sum: The major threat is that the state, aligned with powerful US-based global corporations, an ideologized mass media, and universities — basically, all the elites in the ruling class, distributed throughout institutions — will accelerate its current evolutionary path towards a coordinated totalizing system that will seek to crush any dissent or opposition to it.

My forthcoming (9/29) book Live Not By Lies is based on the belief that this is where we are headed as a nation and as a civilization, and that dissenters need to prepare themselves and their communities for resistance. Trump and the Republicans have done little or nothing to stop it, but they have not accelerated it. This fight is not primarily a political one, but insofar as it takes place on the battlefield of politics, this is what the right fears most of all.

Fascism? The alt-right exists, of course, but I feel confident in saying that what most of the right wants is to be left the hell alone. The left can’t do it. They have to re-engineer us towards utopia.

It boggles my mind that someone as smart as Bruenig, a democratic socialist, can’t recognize this. Maybe people on the right are paranoid. Maybe we are too excitable. Maybe we are misreading the situation. All of that is possible. But the idea that the greatest threat faced from the left is higher taxes? That’s just bananas.

Look, this is part of the major threat from the left is. It’s a clip from a 2018 debate about political correctness. At the point I have cued up here, Jordan Peterson asks the leftist panelists, NYT columnist Michelle Goldberg and Georgetown Prof. Michael Eric Dyson, where they would draw the line on the left — meaning, at what point can the left be said to have gone too far:

Goldberg says “violence and censorship,” but gives no real details, and doubles back on how the right is the real threat. For his part, Dyson huffs and puffs and mocks Jordan Peterson for being a privileged white racist for even asking the question.

This is the threat: that we won’t even be able to ask questions like this without being denounced as racist pigs. And more to the point, that the left itself doesn’t ask these questions of itself, because its leaders are so convinced of the movement’s virtue that it doesn’t occur to them that the left could go too far.

This afternoon I listened to a lengthy NPR interview about fascism. Michel Martin queried Yale philosophy professor Jason Stanley about the topic. Stanley wrote a book about fascism. My ears pricked up when I heard Stanley’s name. He and I have a history. I encourage you to see (in order) this post, and this post, and this post. The combustible Prof. Stanley seems to believe that anybody to the right of Adlai Stevenson is a goose-stepper who deserves a good Ivy League cussin’. Anyway, there’s not yet a live link on the NPR website to the interview, but given that NPR recently published a puffball interview with the author of In Defense of Looting, and given how NPR right now is describing antifa riots in Portland like this

… the Stanley interview went exactly as I expected it to. Again, I’ll post the link when it becomes available, but the whole thing was absurd. Stanley yammered on about the fascist nature of Trumpism, and how Biden and the progressive movements offer us hope of pulling away from fascism. I have no objection at all to scholars or anybody else criticizing Trump as an authoritarian. I think it’s silly to call him fascist, but I can see some elements of classic fascist discourse in Trump’s way of talking and acting. What made me angry listening to this was that so many of the things Stanley identified as “fascist” are absolutely the way the contemporary left behaves. I don’t have access to the interview as I write this — again, check this space later for it — but I recall him saying that the real aggressors in Portland are the pro-Trump people who drove through town shooting paintballs at others. He also said that fascism requires us to think of the world as Us vs. Them — not people with whom we share a common space, and can live together in rationality and tolerance, but as evil people who must be overcome.

Jason Stanley is a left-wing academic who teaches at a notoriously intolerant university. Remember the 2015 confrontation between Prof. Nicholas Christakis and a campus social-justice mob? Watch the video, and tell me who is behaving in a fascist manner. The university ultimately sided with the mob. Jason Stanley co-authored an essay in the Chronicle of Higher Education chiding the Christakises and those who criticized the mob, which was black.

What was so interesting about the NPR interview is that host Michel Martin accepted everything he claimed without pushback. It was a long interview as public radio goes — about eight to ten minutes, I think. Was it not possible for NPR’s producers to find a single other source for this story about fascism — someone who might have given a more balanced take? Who could have shone light on how a lot of people on right don’t like Trump, but see him as the only thing standing politically between them and left-wing authoritarianism, even a soft form of totalitarianism.

Understand that I’m not trying to make a “whatabout” point here. I’m talking about the inability of prominent people on the left, particularly in the media, to recognize how frightening the left is to Americans on the right, and why it is frightening. The fact that the strong pushback to NPR’s marshmallow interview with the looting defender caught NPR by surprise tells us that they are really out of touch with people who are not deep inside the left-wing bubble. The Bruenig comment, then, seems entirely consonant with Stanley’s interview (in which none of his claims were contested by the NPR host), in revealing a left-wing media that genuinely does not grasp how and why half the country thinks what it does.

The prominent social psychologist Jonathan Haidt has talked about his research showing that conservatives and moderates are much better at understanding liberals than liberals are at understanding them. Haidt said that conservatives have a broader “moral matrix” within which they interpret the world, and that prevent liberals, who have a narrower moral matrix, from grasping how they think. Haidt:

You might even go as far as Michael Feingold, a theater critic for the liberal newspaper the Village Voice, when he wrote:

Republicans don’t believe in the imagination, partly because so few of them have one, but mostly because it gets in the way of their chosen work, which is to destroy the human race and the planet. Human beings, who have imaginations, can see a recipe for disaster in the making; Republicans, whose goal in life is to profit from disaster and who don’t give a hoot about human beings, either can’t or won’t. Which is why I personally think they should be exterminated before they cause any more harm.

One of the many ironies in this quotation is that it shows the inability of a theater critic-who skillfully enters fantastical imaginary worlds for a living-to imagine that Republicans act within a moral matrix that differs from his own. Morality binds and blinds.

I believe that this is what’s happening to our media, and within all institutions dominated by the left. They really and truly don’t see what’s in front of their faces. They really seem to think that it’s uncontroversial to claim that “all white people are racist.” They really don’t understand how frightening it is to normal people when a communications professor can be removed by his university from teaching a class because he explained to his students that a commonly used Mandarin word sounds like the n-word in English — and black students protested this to the administration, which suspended the professor. These stories are happening all over, as the left’s ideological hegemony grows, and people have to worry about losing their livelihoods for violating left-wing orthodoxies. As Caitlin Flanagan, a stout Trump-hater, observes:

“The major threat of the far left is higher taxes.” This is not just dumb, it’s crazy. Leaving aside the 100 million dead worldwide from Communism, and focusing only on the USA in 2020, the idea that the worst thing anybody has to fear from the left is higher taxes is so blind that you realize we live on the same planet, but different worlds. I’ll leave you with this, from the left’s biggest intellectual rock star of the moment, the author of the huge bestseller How To Be Antiracist:

Anybody who thinks these Critical Race Theory advocates, like Kendi, welcome critical thinking is out of his mind. Any white person listening to Ashleigh Shackelford’s racist bilge in that classroom (see photo above, which I first saw on James Lindsay’s Twitter feed, @conceptualjames) would have been risking her job to offer criticism. In the clip from the presentation, Shackelford begins by saying she’s not going to argue the point (and won’t “coddle white tears”). I think people, white and otherwise, ought to have stood up and walked out at that point, as Solzhenitsyn advised in his essay on which I based Live Not By Lies. That might be too risky for them. What they’re more likely to do, if they’re not already deep in the liberal tank, is to sit there quietly, and having no way to fight back against this insulting racist garbage from a bully, resolve that at least they can stick it to the bullies by voting for Trump.

Liz Bruenig, Michel Martin, Jason Stanley and the others won’t see it coming.

UPDATE: I’ve posted this before, but this 1980s-era cartoon from SPY magazine really captures the kind of arrogance and blindness I’m talking about here. There’s a straight line connecting Ashleigh Shackelford and the artist satirized in this cartoon:


UPDATE.2: Here’s a clearer clip of the same Shackelford talk. She says that white people “are born into not being human” and are born “to be demons.”

UPDATE.3: Here is a link to the NPR transcript of the Jason Stanley interview. Excerpts:

STANLEY: So the calling card of fascism is lawlessness in the name of law and order. You have to ask yourself, when the president has the RNC at the White House, the convention, and his acceptance speech in violation of the Hatch Act on television, you know, that’s a violation of law and order. But yet there’s a vocabulary of law and order.

So there has been property damage. There has been a tiny bit of violence, although by far, the greater violence has been far-right violence. The vice president had a moving testimony to a murdered police officer, but the police officer was murdered by a far-right activist. So there’s a tremendous amount of far-right violence. Trump’s supporters went through Portland in a caravan shooting paintballs in a clear attempt to intimidate the counterprotesters.

So protests in favor of Black Lives Matter have been largely peaceful. It is a longstanding American tactic to represent protests for racial justice as riots. I mean, I grew up in America, and I – it took me decades to learn that, you know, what happened in Detroit and Harlem and Watts were protests about police violence because they had been misrepresented. Their actual nature had been misrepresented to me.

A tiny bit of violence from the left. Just a smidgen. But look! Trump violated the Hatch Act, and Trump supporters shot paintballs!

An example of the hard-hitting, critical questions from NPR’s Michel Martin:

MARTIN: As a scholar of fascism, as a student of history, what do you want people to think about as they head into election season? And I’m particularly interested in what you say to people who say to what you just said, look, I don’t like the tweeting, but the president’s been good for the economy? I don’t like the tweeting, but he’s taken overdue steps toward reining in China, or who say he’s appointed pro-life judges, and that’s what’s important to me.

STANLEY: I would say that democracy should be the unifying lifeblood of our country. The Democratic Party appointed a centrist as their standard bearer. This person is regards Republican – Joe Biden regards Republicans as a legitimate opposition. When you say it’s this issue and nothing else, you’re giving up on democracy, really, because democracy is about compromise. Democracy is about living with people with fundamentally different values and recognizing that their difference in value is not a threat to you but is the lifeblood of our country.

And when you have a leader that won’t compromise, that promises deliver on one issue and one issue alone, that’s not a democratic leader. And when you lose democracy, you’re going to lose control eventually even of the issue you care about.

Yes, if there’s one thing we can say about the contemporary Left, it’s that they regard people of the Right as “legitimate opposition,” and are eager to compromise. Why, it seems like just yesterday that Jason Stanley, the Jacob Urowsky Professor of Philosophy at Yale University, responded to a lecture given by Oxford’s Richard Swinburne, one of the world’s leading scholars, with the irenic and thoughtful, “F–k you, a–holes. Seriously.”



Want to join the conversation?

Subscribe for as little as $5/mo to start commenting on Rod’s blog.

Join Now