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July 01, 2014

Jonah Goldberg on the Epistemic Closure of the Left

Charles Murray had written a piece distinguishing between "liberals" and "progressives," noting that while the former are in favor of state control over the economy, only the latter are outright in favor of state control over the citizen's mind. (One notes, however, that the former has always -- and will always -- necessarily lead to the latter.)

[P]hilosophically, the progressive movement at the turn of the 20th century had roots in German philosophy ( Hegel and Nietzsche were big favorites) and German public administration ( Woodrow Wilson's open reverence for Bismarck was typical among progressives). To simplify, progressive intellectuals were passionate advocates of rule by disinterested experts led by a strong unifying leader. They were in favor of using the state to mold social institutions in the interests of the collective. They thought that individualism and the Constitution were both outmoded.

That's not a description that Woodrow Wilson or the other leading progressive intellectuals would have argued with. They openly said it themselves.

It is that core philosophy extolling the urge to mold society that still animates progressives today--a mind-set that produces the shutdown of debate and growing intolerance that we are witnessing in today's America. Such thinking on the left also is behind the rationales for indulging President Obama in his anti-Constitutional use of executive power. If you want substantiation for what I'm saying, read Jonah Goldberg's 2008 book "Liberal Fascism," an erudite and closely argued exposition of American progressivism and its subsequent effects on liberalism. The title is all too accurate.

Jonah Goldberg, who literally wrote the book on this (as Murray notes), disagrees.

First, leftists refuse to raise their hands when called upon as such. Over the last ten years or so it has become very difficult for those of us on the right to tell the players apart in the opposing league.

Let me amplify that: Not only do the "leftists" (progressives, communists, socialists, other totalitarians of the mind) refuse to self-identify, but less totalitarian liberals lie on their behalves, absolutely rejecting the notion that any such persons exist as part of the liberal/Democratic coalition at all.

They do this for several reasons, including ideological loyalty and political strategy (leftists never admit that there are actual leftists among them, as their entire political strategy is based on covertly burrowing into non-leftist institutions).

So there is less of a split that Murray postulates -- yes, there are plenty of true liberals who are repelled by the hard left's totalitarian bent, but few so repelled as to call them out for it.

Goldberg goes no to note second major infirmity of this distinction: There is practically no disagreement on the left at all, except for minor bitchy catfight quibbles among self-important bloggers over tactics.

...


We talk a lot about fusionism on the right, but the real fusion has been on the left. Barack Obama’s intellectual lineage comes directly from the 1960s left (Ayers, Wright, Allinsky, Derrick Bell, SANE Freeze etc). But he is an altogether mainstream liberal today. To the extent mainstream liberals complain about Obama it is almost entirely about tactics and competence. When was the last time you heard a really serious ideological complaint about Obama from, say, EJ Dionne or the editorial board of the New York Times?

I'll go further. When was the last time you heard liberals have a really good, public, ideological fight about anything?

...

The best way to get the measure and value of ideological distinctions is to see what the ideologues are willing to fight for, in public, at some reputational risk. On the right today, those metrics are on full display. Not so on the left. Everyone gets along, all oars pull in the same direction. And what disagreements there are -- between liberals and leftists or liberals and progressives -- they’re overwhelmingly about tactics or insufficient zeal toward "common goals" and they are kept to a dull roar.

That's quite right -- while there are the usual bite-and-scratch fights over whether it is more important to stay united in pursuit of The Cause or to punish those who have strayed from The Cause, you'll rarely hear any disagreement at all over what, precisely, The Cause should be.

Indeed, due to their determination to hide the particulars of The Cause from the public, they rarely announce what The Cause is at all.

The fact that they largely refuse to discuss the actual mission of The Cause publicly (for fear their opponents will attack The Cause) aides the mission of keeping united by never actually having a fight over policy.

If one of your highest missions is to keep The Cause relatively secret, after all, this helps tamp down on any internal infighting about The Cause.

You can't fight about something you're barely even permitted to acknowledge.


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posted by Ace at 04:38 PM

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