Saturday, September 2, 2017

Leftism; Background

Confused about the Left, the Old Left, the Old New Left, the New New Left? This article is quite incisive on the subject and is congruent with my own observations through the decades - although including historical notes I hadn't observed in depth, myself, as is presented here.

So far as I can tell, the ideology of the new campus Left was born from a shotgun marriage of critical legal studies, a postmodern enthusiasm at elite law schools (particularly Harvard, just when Barack Obama was studying there) in the late 1970s and 1980s, and radical feminism. What drew them together was the discovery that formal or legal equality, by then essentially achieved for blacks and women, did not guarantee equality of results, and above all did not guarantee the most essential aspect of equality of results, the feeling of equal recognition and respect. They joined together in pursuit of that comprehensive equality, and of the high that only that feeling could give, and dared any man to put asunder what Harvard Law School had brought together.
The author points out that the Old New Left went from "the summer of Love" to radical destruction in just two years. And these terrorist Leftists could not imagine anyone being to the Left of themselves, since they were Marxist/Maoists. And yet here came the New New Left, the Snowflakes, entirely without intellectual underpinnings and devoted to feelz, and only feelz.

It is all quite dreary. Consider the “basic tenets” of the position. First, in America (and the theory seems to be purpose-built for this country) racism is pervasive, inescapable, “ordinary” and “not aberrational,” the “common, everyday experience of most people of color in this country.” Only “most”? That equivocation is one of the many slips in this slipshod argument. But it pales beside the refusal to define “racism.” Does discriminating against people on the basis of race mean denying them equal rights, or objecting to the imposition of equal results? The second principle is “material determinism” or “interest convergence,” meaning that whites (but not other races?) are guaranteed to pursue their own economic interests as a race, thus ensuring and perpetuating “white supremacy.” Third, the “social construction” thesis, which holds that race and races are not “objective, inherent, or fixed” and correspond to no “biological or genetic reality,” but are social inventions. But how can there be “material determinism” if races are immaterial?

You begin to see the problem. The fourth tenet, “differential racialization,” presumes “that each race has its own origins and ever-evolving history,” which the powers-that-be exploit and manipulate. But now races are the real substratum under the constantly changing interpretations of society, not mere artifacts of those interpretations. Fifth, “intersectionality and antiessentialism.” Identity politics has to recognize that “no person has a single, easily stated, unitary identity,” the authors declare. This notion traces to black feminism’s big discovery, that you can be black and a woman (and gay, Democrat, Episcopal) at the same time, and have to deal with the potential conflicts lest there be a nasty crash at the intersection. Notice that the ugly new terms contribute nothing to the solution of the problem of who should yield to whom.

, the “unique voice of color.” “Coexisting in somewhat uneasy tension with anti-essentialism,” the authors admit, “the voice-of-color thesis holds that because of their different histories and experiences with oppression,” minorities have “a presumed competence to speak about race and racism” that whites are “unlikely” to have. Check your white privilege at the door, in other words, because whiteness implies a presumed incompetence in matters of justice, at least regarding anyone who is non-white. This is passed off as a matter of history and experience, but the (acknowledged) tension arises precisely because, as the name suggests and everyone realizes, the “voice-of-color” thesis keys off the color of your skin, not the content of your character or experiences.

It is hard to believe how many contradictions are papered over in this catalogue of “basic tenets.” To take the most obvious example, for something that calls itself “critical race theory,” it has no consistent theory of race and no critical distance from its political agenda. Is race something real, indelible, and fundamental, which shapes the soul itself and commands opinions, passions, and interests across society? Or is it all in our heads, a social construction that we could do without? It is as if Marxism proclaimed both that the history of the world is the history of class struggle, and that it isn’t. Or that the Communist revolution is inevitable, or maybe not.

The new New Left can live with its contradictions because of its postmodernism. It finds each part of the contradiction politically useful, and that is the standard that matters. Sometimes it is useful to say that whites are objectively privileged and therefore oppressors, and that blacks, say, cannot be racist because they objectively lack power and are the oppressed. But other times it is useful to deny this, and to say that anyone can be a racist because racism is a state of mind. Sometimes it is useful to claim, as Justice Harry Blackmun did (adopted as one of the volume’s epigraphs), “In order to get beyond racism, we must first take account of race.” At other times it is useful to insist that in America it is never possible to get beyond racism.

Is it any wonder that liberal idealism, or any sort of idealism, is in short supply on today’s campuses? Postmodernism isn’t about justice—because there is no justice “out there”—it’s about the will to power. Add that to an invidious racial consciousness that might have made the antebellum South proud, and you have an ugly combination. Having run that banner up their flagpole, it’s clear why young people who salute it can be vicious and violent in packs on and off campus, while despondent and fragile at heart. Idealism depends on transcending self-interest, and today’s protestors expect every ethnic, racial, class, and gender group to follow its interest, and the most powerful to win. We are a long way from utopia and hope.

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