Abandoning the Left for a move to conservatism is a tactless and dangerous response to its relapse. It’s time for us to reform the Left.
Brexit in the UK, Trump in the US, the Northern League, and the 5 Star Movement in Italy’s recent parliamentary elections, Viktor Orbán winning another term as Hungary’s prime minister.
In barely two years, the populist Right and, in some cases, the out-and-out far Right have made gains not only in winning power but in winning a philosophical contest over where they believe their societies should go.
The Pitfall of Identity Politics: Division and Consequences
On the Left side of the political spectrum, the contest has been different. Instead of greater engagement with the Right and the direction of society, the Left has become a trojan horse for 90s multiculturalism (not initially a poor idea) and evolved into the almost personalized division in and among demographics of identity politics. Suppose more and more of the Left side of the political spectrum continue down this path into the political wilderness. In that case, more and more of the Left will become disempowered, whether it be taking office or winning referendums.
Instead of greater engagement with the Right and the direction of society as a whole, the Left has become a trojan horse for 90s multiculturalism
As someone who, from the time I became interested in politics, considered myself Lefty, all I can say is this cannot continue. This commitment to identity politics has already subdivided so much of the Left. ID politics’ capability to produce endless further division is more than just the context of a philosophical debate. It has real-world consequences, including possibly putting lives in danger.
In the US and especially the UK, the main opposition parties have become increasingly preoccupied with meeting a predetermined definition of the Left. “Blairites” have been named and shamed by Momentum in the UK Labour Party. In the US, it’s “corporate” Democrats against “progressives,” a contest that has only become fiercer since the election of Donald Trump. Mountains of difference of small degrees have been created when the subject turns to gender and sexual orientation. Gender, for example, when thought to go beyond biology, seemingly has an ever-renewing list of categorizations and is seen as an elementary concern of the Left. Far from solely acknowledging human differences, these differences have been taken up as exclusionary weapons to the exclusion of other human beings who are barely discernibly different.
In no other area does the philosophy underpinning what is known as ‘Regressive Leftism’ – a section of the left committed to reactionary and postmodern views – betray itself as much as religion. And one religion in particular. Going miles past opposition to anti-Muslim bigotry, the Regressive Left has made sniffing out “Islamophobia” its mission. This has entailed a refusal to even name the phenomenon of politicized Islam as “Islamism” or to acknowledge that terrorist acts carried out by those identifying as Muslim have anything to do with Islam.
Going miles past opposition to anti Muslim bigotry, the Regressive Left has made sniffing out “Islamophobia” its mission
This has been coupled with accusations of bias and bigotry being thrown at, for example, anyone questioning, much less expressing concern over, immigration. And, doubling down, the very people best placed to critique both Islamism and anti-Muslim bigotry have met with some of the most vehement condemnation, the condemnation that has far too often bloated into racist terms. Those willing to “critique their own,” ready to say that self-examination and change are needed, are the very ones being met with accusations of inauthenticity and varying degrees of “Uncle Tom” status.
Those on the Regressive Left have managed to stifle criticism of Islamic doctrine, conflated attempts to do so with bigotry towards Muslims, and made sure that liberal reforming and ex-Muslims have met with prejudice and the laughter of Islamists.
But you may know much of this already. If I am a progressive Leftist, you might ask yourself, a liberal in the classical sense or even center left, why should I fight for the Left itself? Why shouldn’t I go the Left to the identity politics warriors, the subjective truth arguers, and the Left-wing racists?
Here’s why I believe the Left must be fought for. Abandoning the left side of the political spectrum entirely for a move to some form of bastardized conservatism is a response to the Regressive Left and identity politics. It is a response – not a solution nor a counter to them. A counter to jihadist terrorism being argued to have “nothing to do with Islam” is not to suddenly find a place in your heart for supply-side tax cuts or ‘sink or swim’ economics. A counter to authoritarianism, de-platforming, the bigotry of low expectations, is not yet another version of us vs. them – the Regressive Left vs. everyone on the “Right.”
Identity politics is based upon division. But, to break its increasing stranglehold, what is needed is not fake unity or friendly calls that paper over large cracks but an end to ongoing fragmentation. The bottom line for our new division must be liberal and secular democratic values plus the multiple identities we all, individually, have. We have to embrace division by fitting into many categories all at once.
We have to embrace division by fitting into many categories all at once
Embracing Division and Free Agency
The future of the Left is in free agency, free agents not bound by mercenarism nor by party. What is most important is not an ideology of convenience, an ideology of party, or the ideology of someone on a separate issue if they are in alliance with you on the subject in question, so long as they share liberal secular democratic values. This may well mean reaching ‘across the aisle’ to someone one week and being on opposite sides from them the next, something that can be done if everyone’s multiple identities are recognized instead of putting (and leaving them) in one box.
How does this make winning power and referendums more likely? This overturns seeing general elections or popular referendums through the immediate prism of the established political parties (maybe the most prominent ID politics category). This does not mean abandoning your political principles. It means reinforcing them by standing upon them and accepting the support of those in agreement, even if there would be broad disagreement on another issue. This political fluidity can be the key to outmaneuvering the Regressive Left. While ID politics waits for action, stands on ideology, and refuses alliance with or aid from anyone who does not fall entirely into lockstep, the free agency stands on values, embraces action when and where support has come, and accepts disagreements can and will happen, even issue by issue.
The liberal value of free speech, the liberal value of respect for science, and the liberal value of equality of opportunity are not being upheld by today’s Right. Trump-style populism, much less further right politics, has not addressed the reasons why so many have gone from the Left. Leaving the Left was a response. The politics of even the populist Right has been a counter. Today’s Right is not a home. It is a temporary option that temporarily improves upon complete political homelessness. Free speech, combating climate change, equal rights under the law, fighting against social Darwinian economics — these will not be accomplished from a temporary home. These will be accomplished by coming home and turning the Left back into the force that only it can be – A truly inclusive, disagreeing part of politics that upends the political status quo.