The Far Left in A

The Far Left in A Nutshell — The antiglobalization postmodernist left is easy to understand if you see the position as a way to bring the following unstable convictions into equilibrium.

Old Left:

(1) Logic, reason and evidence (science) is good.
(2) Progress is good.
(3) Socialism is supported by logic, reason and evidence (it’s scientific!).
(4) Socialism is good.
(5) Capitalism is evil.

Together with Unavoidable Data:

— Socialism is undermined by logic, reason and evidence (see Mises, Hayek, history).
— Capitalism leads to progress, while socialism hinders it.

Leaves these options for the leftist:

(a) Reject (3), (4), and (5).
(b) Reject (1), (2) and (3).

The PoMo left takes option (b), rejecting logic, reason and evidence (it’s an oppressive, patriarchal, capitalistic construct, etc.) and rejecting the desirability of progress (let’s have “sustainable” stasis instead.) Further, they must abandon the claim that socialism has rational support. Thus you get:

PoMo Left:

(1′) Logic, reason and evidence (science) is a myth.
(2′) Progress is destructive.
(3′) Socialism is supported by ????.
(4′) Socialism is good.
(5′) Capitalism is evil.

But clearly, (b) is the much more desperate option. What about (3′)? Having dispensed with rational grounds for support, how can one argue that this bundle of convictions isn’t just arbitrary? Well, you can’t. And, strangely, it seems that original impetus to support socialism came from a more or less earnest belief in the desirability of material progress. Giving up on the desirability of progress is like setting one’s heart on driving to Miami, discovering that one has gotten on the wrong road, and therefore deciding that Miami’s a lousy place to go. You’d think you’d just switch roads. Why did people do this?

My hypothesis:

The earnest, progress-loving left came to identify support for socialism and rancor against capitalism as the criterion for personal virtue. So people in this coalition built their identity around this attitude, took pride in themselves as moral, and identified as immoral outsiders people who supported capitalism. When the case for socialism collapsed, coalition members were faced with a crisis. First, their sense of identity and virtue was threatened. It is hard enough to admit that you were wrong when you thought you were right. It’s really, really hard to admit that you were in fact bad when you thought you were good. Second, if one were to change one’s mind about socialism, then one would lose one’s network of social support, and that’s frightening. So, anything that allowed the maintenance of one’s sense of virtue, and one’s belonging in the virtuous community, was welcomed — although from the outside, it appears ridiculous and desperate.

This suggests that the views of the PoMo left won’t really stick to generations that came up after the theoretical and historical collapse of socialism — even though the PoMo left is largely in charge of educating the young. A vague feeling that leftishness has something to do with goodness does hang in the air, but the kids don’t really grasp the animus against reason, progress and the market, and so they are relatively easily swayed by experience and argument.

Well, it’s a big nutshell. What can I say?

Author: Will Wilkinson

Vice President for Research at the Niskanen Center