YDS: The Clare Spark Blog

December 16, 2009

Perceptions of the enemy: The “Left” looks at the “Right” and vice-versa

 
 [Added 1-10-11: This blog is about rhetoric on both sides of the great divide over statism and the New Deal. But it is not my view that the incident in Tucson is about hate speech at all, but about the failure to prevent such atrocities owing to a malfunctioning mental health-law enforcement establishment.] [Added 3-5-11: I am wondering if some Republicans are reacting to Democratic Party accusations that they are grinding the face of the poor and of the hard-working "middle class" by excessive politeness and silence, for instance in not fully explaining state initiatives in Wisconsin and Ohio that would rein in public sector unions, letting the opposition control public opinion.]
  

Cindy Sherman, Untitled, 1990

Some mistaken identities.

I don’t think that some “Right-wing” partisans understand Leftists, often conflating revolutionary socialists, anarchists, and [anticommunist] social democrats. And yet media pundits constantly refer to “the Left” as if it still existed in its historic 19th and 20th century red-hot formulations and in the same numbers. What is lost is the memory of moderate conservatives or conservative reformers like FDR (descendants of New Dealers, now called “the Left”) and their practices of lopping off those who were to their left, that is, the structural reformers, unless there was a “Popular Front” against looming internal and external fascism, as did exist from 1935 until the Hitler-Stalin Pact in 1939.  At what point did these “moderate conservatives” as they called themselves  metamorphose into “the Left” as sole defenders of the little guy? I am guessing around 1919 (but following antimodern protest such as Victor Hugo’s melodramatic Les Misérables in the late 19th century). More on that another time, or see chapter two of my book on the Melville revival or my blog on Disraeli’s contribution to social democracy (http://clarespark.com/2011/07/16/disraelis-contribution-to-social-democracy/).

From long experience with leftists and the entire socialist-communist-social democratic traditions, however, despite their sharp differences in goals and tactics, I can generalize about them as follows:  All factions of “the Left” believe themselves to be the true bearers of morality and that conservatives are heartless fascist* murderers. By contrast, as progressives they see themselves as sacrificing their own personalities, economic interests, and happiness for “the public good” or “suffering humanity”; to be one of them, you must “stand with the oppressed,” even if that means helping Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood. In other words, they seek to uplift those whom “the Right” (e.g. Israel) knowingly and viciously victimizes. And many prominent “liberals” may accomplish this grand goal “by any means necessary (e.g. hear the cry of 1960s black nationalists or see Trey Ellis in HuffPo, 12-16: “The Obama administration needs to course-correct immediately. He needs to make a series of bold, muscular, ruthlessly political moves immediately (reconciliation anyone?) to put the fear of god into all those puny adversaries out there that have been pushing him around with impunity”).  So they are the true humanitarians in their own eyes and the antitheses of the “fascists” they valiantly oppose.

Also, do not minimize both continuities and ruptures between the factions of what is loosely called “the Left.” Anyone who has studied or had contact with revolutionary socialists knows about their history of sectarianism. It makes Protestantism look demure and pure. They have killed or sacrificed  each other without hesitation: just look at what the Stalinists did to Trotskyists and Anarchists during the Spanish Civil War, or the notorious Stalin purges of his former comrades, not to speak of other communists with Jewish backgrounds, a process that ceased only with his death in 1953. But mixing them in with social democrats is absurd, for the motley Marxist-Leninists inhabit mostly such outposts as Pacifica Radio, a few journals, and increasingly-criticized departments of comparative literature and other humanities.

But most crucially, “right-wing social democrats” (as some Leftists call them, distinguishing them from the Second International left-wing social democrats favoring incremental reforms on the way to socialism) have an entirely different lineage from the Marxist-Leninists.  As I have shown in other blogs, European aristocrats, following Bismarck and before that, reformers in Great Britain, “christianized” the new ["jewified"] industrial society with social insurance that we now call the welfare state. (See http://clarespark.com/2009/10/29/the-enigmatic-face-of-philosemitism/.)

Stand-ins for the controlling parent? Conservatives must read their antagonists without caricatures and without mistaking their objectives.  Revolutionary socialists and social democrats are not simply “elitists” who think they know what is best for others (though many think that “the Right” is not only monolithic, but racist, selfish, square, dumb, Islamophobic, xenophobic, indifferent to environmental degradation, gun-totin’ and fanatical, unlike, say, those who run National Public Radio, while many on the Right return the favor, frequently lumping all leftists and social democrats together as elitist conspirators/fascists–Glenn Beck for instance, though I am finding his analysis of increasing statism consistent with a view of the Obama administration as stealth Leninists). It is more complicated than that, though reds and “liberals” do favor various degrees of statism/redistribution to rectify social inequities and achieve what all call “social justice.” In the end, we could make the public discourse on politics more rational by specifying competing theories of the good society:

Libertarians find wealth creation through free markets a good thing and, in the case of the better educated, believe that the state should protect this process through sound monetary policy. The social democratic Left (a.k.a. the moderate men, see http://clarespark.com/2010/11/06/moderate-men-falling-down/) sees the state as planning rationally to compensate for what they believe to be a weak and unstable system: capitalism. Nothing is so scary as great gaps between rich and poor, for that portends another bloody French Revolution. If that means that everyone is relatively poor in the quasi-socialist utopia, such asceticism is better than the suffering of the victims du jour while the ever libertine rich feast and thoughtlessly indulge their animal appetites for glitter and other luxuries, hence “bourgeoisifying,” i.e., corrupting, the tastes and desires of the working-class who are now beset by “false consciousness.” And some conservatives, angry combatants in the culture wars, even as they invoke the Constitution as written by the Founding Fathers, seek to impose their own morality on those who don’t share the same “values,” (e.g. pro-life, anti-gay marriage, opposition to stem-cell research using frozen embryos, creationism or intelligent design, the superiority of a rural way of life to decadent cities), thus nullifying the separation of Church and State that has served us so well. But I caution my readers who remain somewhere on “the Left” that conservatives are not evil or demented when they find such developments as the hyper-sexualization of women and children to be dangerous and destructive, or wonder, as I do, how it happened that sadomasochism became acceptable, even fashionable. And remember that Lord Maynard Keynes thought that his measures to relieve a depression were not to be permanently institutionalized.

POPULISM. According to Rasmussen Reports, 55% of the American public is populist, i.e., they believe that government and big business are in cahoots, which makes sense if you understand that small business and big business are in conflict. Interestingly given our generally anticommunist polity, this is the analysis of the Marxist-Leninist Left: the state is an executive committee of the big bourgeoisie (as opposed to the state being an independent institution with its own interests, see sociologist Michael Mann’s books). Populism is a subject I have written about extensively on this website. It claims to speak for “the people” against “the special interests” or “Wall Street” or “the military-industrial complex” or some other dread agglomeration such as “the Jews” or “white males.”As such, it speaks to class resentments and is irrational. Whether of the Left or of the Right, populism is not good for analyzing concrete institutions and their policies. Moreover, as indicated above, it does not distinguish between fractions of those who make decisions for the rest of us, each of which has different and possibly clashing interests with others in the so-called “ruling class.” Populists are incapable of writing accurate histories, but seem content to follow their leaders. And their leaders, insofar as they resort to demagoguery, don’t really care about “the folks.” (Who are the folks? Rural residents and small producers or small businessmen, or these and the industrial working class, including those in the state sector or service occupations? It is this vagueness that marks the demagogue. For more precise definitions of populist demagoguery and its techniques see http://clarespark.com/2012/09/10/index-to-blogs-on-populist-demagoguery/, or Lowenthal and Guterman’s book on right-wing agitators, still valid.)

*Contending definitions of “fascism.” By “fascists” the social democratic ‘left’ generally means a society practicing “laissez-faire” economics, militarism, hypernationalism (“national chauvinism”), the manipulation of public opinion through heavy-handed propaganda, and imperialism/racism. This absolves social democracy of continuities or comparisons with statist fascism and Nazism, not to speak of their zealousness in attacking “rugged individualism,” the American unpardonable sin that is imagined to persist beyond the pioneer period. By contrast, revolutionary socialists generally refer to the rule of finance capital or monopoly capital or “late capitalism” when they write of fascism and Nazism. Social democrats, true to their Platonic Guardian-philosopher-king heritage, tend to see fascism as the revolt of the masses, as noted above. Much psychiatry/psychoanalysis seeks to manage these “id-forces” and may be more powerful than we think in influencing the medical culture of postwar America. For more on the practice of psychoanalysis at a distance, see http://clarespark.com/2009/12/13/klara-hitlers-son-and-jewish-blood/. The importance of the father as leader and as commander of a tight militarized family unit with high morale cannot be overemphasized, a point forcefully made in the last section of the blog just cited, where I analyze the politics of The Man in the Grey Flannel Suit. I am all for keeping the family together, but caution against families keeping their children in a regressed state of mind, that is, either in a state of hero-worship (idealization) or of demonizing “the enemy.” The sane alternative is to look at competing interests, policies, and programs with enough detachment to take on the responsibilities of citizenship in a would-be democratic republic, examining a warring world characterized by every kind of uneven development.

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13 Comments »

  1. “All factions of “the Left” believe themselves to be the true bearers of morality and that conservatives are heartless fascist* murderers.”

    OK, now I see your problem. You’re just delusional, or perhaps well-paid for writing fiction.

    -dlj.

    Comment by David Lloyd-Jones — May 12, 2014 @ 10:47 am | Reply

    • So far I have not been diagnosed as delusional, nor am I paid for these blogs.

      Comment by clarelspark — May 12, 2014 @ 1:25 pm | Reply

  2. […] (See http://clarespark.com/2012/08/05/hating-finance-capital/.)  For more on populism see http://clarespark.com/2009/12/16/perceptions-of-the-enemy-the-left-looks-at-the-right-and-vice-versa…. And right-wing populism was undoubtedly the decisive factor in Hitler’s rise to power and to […]

    Pingback by Petit-bourgeois radicalism and Obama | YDS: The Clare Spark Blog — June 11, 2013 @ 2:17 pm | Reply

  3. Reblogged this on YDS: The Clare Spark Blog.

    Comment by clarespark — September 7, 2012 @ 8:17 pm | Reply

  4. [...] I was very critical of this movie, but on its own terms as an example of left-liberal interpretation of native American fascism, and in light of its excellent performances, I must single out Andy Griffith, who outdid himself as Lonesome Rhodes. R.I.P. Andy Griffith. (These paragraphs are taken from a prior blog, http://clarespark.com/2009/12/16/perceptions-of-the-enemy-the-left-looks-at-the-right-and-vice-versa….) [...]

    Pingback by Andy Griffith’s greatest performance « YDS: The Clare Spark Blog — July 3, 2012 @ 7:56 pm | Reply

  5. [...] internal incoherence of the Democratic Party. For a look at differences inside their opponents, see http://clarespark.com/2009/12/16/perceptions-of-the-enemy-the-left-looks-at-the-right-and-vice-versa…. Note especially how populism can appear anywhere and is always destructive to sane political [...]

    Pingback by Diagnosing POTUS « YDS: The Clare Spark Blog — April 18, 2012 @ 8:16 pm | Reply

  6. [...] history (for a definition of “right-wing social democrat” see my comment below or go to http://clarespark.com/2009/12/16/perceptions-of-the-enemy-the-left-looks-at-the-right-and-vice-versa…. For instance, some persons on “the [far] Right” think that everything a progressive [...]

    Pingback by Dumbing down: when did it begin? « YDS: The Clare Spark Blog — March 13, 2012 @ 11:42 pm | Reply

  7. Many have attempted a taxonomy like this and generally they fall short. This rewarded my time (a rarity on the internets) and I intend to give it a closer read at greater leisure. Thank you.

    Comment by Ken Watson — August 10, 2011 @ 8:13 pm | Reply

    • Many thanks for this compliment. There are things about a left-wing education that have served me well, even though I have defected to a nest somewhere in the 18th century.

      Comment by clarespark — August 10, 2011 @ 8:18 pm | Reply

  8. [...] to radio); i.e., to “the revolt of the masses.” I have written about such claims here (http://clarespark.com/2009/12/16/perceptions-of-the-enemy-the-left-looks-at-the-right-and-vice-versa…; and here: http://clarespark.com/2011/06/19/index-to-links-on-hitler-and-the-big-lie/).   (I have [...]

    Pingback by “Network” and its offspring « YDS: The Clare Spark Blog — July 7, 2011 @ 8:21 pm | Reply

  9. I do not agree that both sides would legislate their own “values.” Examing history shows us that there has never been a “Christian” country, as the stereotype says traditionalists want. They WISH everyone would follow their beliefs, but mainly want to be left alone (i.e., not to have their tax money spent on abortions.)They are much more likely to support school choice and states’ rights, where one can choose the system one prefers.

    On the other hand, the left is consistent in wanting legislation passed to see that everyone does what THEY believe is “just,” whether or not there are differences of opinion. They want the schools to teach THEIR values and everyone to do what THEY believe will “save the planet” (assuming as they do that it needs saving.) They are not content to be left alone or choose to be with those who share their values. Instead, they insist on impressing them on everyone.

    Comment by vladdy — March 7, 2011 @ 2:08 am | Reply

    • There are authoritarians in both Left and Right. The point of my essay was to show that the political discourse of today is blind to the actual factions within both political parties, and also blind to political history and the origins of the welfare state. I was also strongly opposed to following the leader/demagogue and all forms of authoritarianism.

      Comment by clarespark — June 13, 2011 @ 6:32 pm | Reply


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