The anti-liberal moment
September 9, 2019 8:08 AM   Subscribe

Critics on the left and right are waging war on liberalism. And liberals don’t seem to have a good defense. On the right, the anti-liberals locate the root of the problem in liberalism’s social doctrines, its emphasis on secularism and individual rights. In their view, these ideas are solvents breaking down America’s communities and, ultimately, dissolving the very social fabric the country needs to prosper. Left anti-liberals, by contrast, pinpoint liberal economic doctrine as the source of our current woes. Liberalism’s vision of the economy as a zone of individual freedom, in their view, has given rise to a deep system of exploitation that makes a mockery of liberal claims to be democratic — an oppressive system referred to as “neoliberalism.”
For a word that’s so omnipresent, liberalism is notoriously difficult to define.

In the context of political philosophy, liberalism refers to a school of thought that takes freedom, consent, and autonomy as foundational moral values. Liberals agree that it is generally wrong to coerce people, to seize control of their bodies or force them to act against their will (though they disagree among themselves on many, many whys and hows of the matter).

Given that people will always disagree about politics, liberalism’s core aim is to create a generally acceptable mechanism for settling political disputes without undue coercion — to give everyone a say in government through fair procedures, so that citizens consent to the state’s authority even when they disagree with its decisions.

This foundational liberal vision is typically associated with a group of European and American thinkers — from John Locke in the 17th century to John Rawls in the 20th — and thus often treated as a Western political inheritance. But seeing liberalism as a product of a particular cultural tradition is a mistake.

As Amartya Sen argued in a brilliant 1997 essay, many of the core principles we identify with liberalism today — religious toleration, popular sovereignty, equal freedom for all citizens — can be found in writings from pre-modern Europe, the ancient Buddhist tradition, and a 16th-century Indian king, among a range of sources. Liberalism has taken root in diverse societies across the globe today, from Japan to Uruguay to Namibia.

Sen’s paper suggests that instead of defining liberalism by books written by dead white men, it makes more sense to treat it as a set of parts: a grouping of principles and animating ideas that, when combined, add up to an overarching framework for understanding political life.

Of these components, at least four political principles are common to the various species of liberalism (all of which relate to its core moral premise about freedom). They are familiar to most citizens in liberal regimes: democracy, the rule of law, individual rights, and equality.

These ideas — the minimalist core of liberalism — are so foundational to political life in advanced democracies that they’re simply taken for granted, with debates about public policy taking place inside liberalism’s parameters.
To challenge liberalism is thus to not merely engage in ordinary political argumentation. It is to call into question the entire operating system that defines the world’s democracies. It is, by its nature, a radical claim.
posted by Homo neanderthalensis (183 comments total) 52 users marked this as a favorite
 
Government surveillance and regulation belongs in the boardroom, not the bedroom.
posted by Faint of Butt at 8:22 AM on September 9 [22 favorites]


No matter where you are on the political spectrum, someone to the left of you and someone to the right of you both think you are a moron.
posted by chadlavi at 8:27 AM on September 9 [61 favorites]


I think for a lot of people who spent their entire life identifying as "liberals" it has come as a bit of a shock to learn that this term is not currently defined as "opposite of conservative."
posted by soren_lorensen at 8:32 AM on September 9 [56 favorites]


They are familiar to most citizens in liberal regimes: democracy, the rule of law, individual rights, and equality.

These ideas — the minimalist core of liberalism — are so foundational to political life in advanced democracies that they’re simply taken for granted, with debates about public policy taking place inside liberalism’s parameters.


I want so badly to live in that world, and a lot of people I sympathize with pretend that we do. But... the fact that (in the U.S., at least) a lot of people vote for people who want to prevent others from voting introduces a bit of the paradox of tolerance into the situation.
posted by Jpfed at 8:36 AM on September 9 [18 favorites]


Secularism is pretty clearly holding its own in the marketplace of ideas, though.
posted by Selena777 at 8:37 AM on September 9 [2 favorites]


This article isn't really a "both sides have extremists" take, given how much he goes after people like Jonathan Chait, who may be liberal but is a moral scold (especially on the so-called "threat" of campus activism) who is far closer to David Brooks and Bari Weiss than he is, say, David Klion.
posted by zombieflanders at 8:46 AM on September 9 [5 favorites]


I sure hope the left anti-liberals know what they're doing. Because from my perspective it looks like they're engaging in a sort of intellectual Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, making common cause with the sort of people who would happily see them all sent to death camps given the opportunity.

Generally speaking: if you find yourself arguing a position and notice that the Christian Taliban are your de facto fellow travelers, I think you should probably step back and take a hard look in the mirror. Maybe imagine how you'd look unironically nailed to a crucifix on the side of the road or something. (Who knows, maybe the militia members with the pneumatic nailer would have the self-awareness to appreciate the irony. Though the far right has always struck me as a bit lacking in the humor and self-awareness departments. That's never been a blocker in terms of killing others, though.)

I have always found it a bit surprising how readily some people will attack the very system that keeps them from being pogromed. Perhaps the current political climate and the rise of visible Christian chauvinism, white supremacism, and bog-standard Nazism will serve as a reminder that this is not an academic dispute.

Secularism is pretty clearly holding its own in the marketplace of ideas, though.

Is it? I am not sure I am so optimistic. Yes, nobody is openly calling for the establishment of a state religion in the US, but de facto anti-secularist policies are widespread and in some cases popular. School vouchers are a transparent way of funding religious schools at the expense of the public school (which is to say, non-religious) system. "Deeply held belief" laws allow people in positions of power—doctors, nurses, pharmacists, and increasingly other people offering services to the public—to legally impose their religion on others.

In other parts of the world the rot is more advanced: Turkey was a model for secularist government, and shows that democracy does not necessarily imply or naturally protect secularism. There are probably other countries that were on a trajectory towards secular government and religiously-unimpaired judicial systems that will now never see it, because of the tide that seems to have crested and turned in the last ~15 years.

This is admittedly not a new struggle. In the US it has been continuous, if not since the country's founding, then at least since the Second Great Awakening of the 19th century. Although I think much of the political anti-secularism active today is the direct descendent of anti-communist fervor in the early 20th century, and the devil's bargain made by some Liberals to accept and tolerate Christian antisecularism—e.g. the corruption of the Pledge of Allegiance in the 1950s—as a bulwark against Communism. As it turns out, if you're a Liberal, the enemy of your enemy is definitely not always your friend.
posted by Kadin2048 at 8:56 AM on September 9 [61 favorites]


Here in Canada, conservatives dominate basically only because of the division between liberals and socialists. The problem is gradually being overcome with voters learning to switch between the NDP and the Liberals according to circumstance. The Greens, of course, are a whole new factor.
posted by No Robots at 9:05 AM on September 9 [11 favorites]


Sometimes us in the more socialist flavored left get accused by other leftists of just promoting 70s style left-liberalism as opposed to radical change. These accusations ignore the following: 70s style left-liberalism was itself part of a response to the failure of both the authoritarian soviet system and top down social democracy, there are basically no liberals left with any political power in the USA since Bill Clinton’s election jammed a stake through their heart and finished the process of remaking the Democratic Party in the image of moderate Republicans, and most crucially we do not consider 70s style left-liberal reforms to be the end goal but a necessary first step : we can’t seize the means of production or expand democracy inti the Workplace if people are starving or dying in the street. Revolutions are a romantic idea but it’s more unusual thatbthe established order becomes eroded over time, which is hiw the far right aligned with capital interests gained power in the last 40s years and shifted the political possibility so far far far to the right we have to consider American liberalism as a dangerous unknown.

This is why I think the first and most important goal should be reviving of the labor movement, since we are all workers compared to the owners and the capital hoarders have spent the last hundred years trying to undo the gains of the movement. They know, deep down, where all value comes from but they want to make sure you don’t.
posted by The Whelk at 9:08 AM on September 9 [80 favorites]


> I sure hope the left anti-liberals know what they're doing. Because from my perspective it looks like they're engaging in a sort of intellectual Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, making common cause with the sort of people who would happily see them all sent to death camps given the opportunity.

Generally speaking: if you find yourself arguing a position and notice that the Christian Taliban are your de facto fellow travelers, I think you should probably step back and take a hard look in the mirror.


who is doing this. point me to them. are you talking about tankies? because if you're talking about tankies, please do so specifically rather than subtweeting at them, and do remember that tankies have been (rightly) marginalized since, well, 1956. if you are not talking about tankies, who are you talking about. are you talking about left accelerationists? because if so, please be more specific.

one cannot take horseshoe theory as an axiom and pretend that everyone who is not a liberal is a fellow-traveler against liberalism. especially since most of the real arguments for horseshoe theory are roughly analogous to the argument that because cats are not dogs and cats are not alligators, that therefore dogs are alligators.
posted by Reclusive Novelist Thomas Pynchon at 9:09 AM on September 9 [63 favorites]




I can't see how mutliculturalism is part of the answer going forward. It's effectively a rights-balancing exercise (no right has precedence over another, worked-out on a case-by-case basis), and overlaps with many of the ideas of intersectionality. It's more than just than a liberal enumeration and proclamation of rights, as mediated by courts, it's explicitly about fitting those rights together for inhomogenious populations. That's a major problem the drafters of liberalism didn't face: ethnically, philosophically, linguistically, culturally distinct sub-populations that have to be considered as full members of the whole.
posted by bonehead at 9:15 AM on September 9 [1 favorite]


I often find myself identifying more with liberal values than contemporary leftist ones in the current environment. Freedom of expression as an enshrined value of the state. The value of representing the interests of a community through democratic representation. The value of strong state institutions and legal processes. Demonization of our institutions is rampant among populists in both wings, and what a number of new American leftists seem to be missing is that once you weaken the reputation and power of our state processes, you will have broken the tool that you will need to fight poverty, to fight climate change, to fight injustice, beyond easy repair.

The current obsession I see among the Extremely Online left in decrying any semblance of "The Status Quo" in our systems is in my mind setting themselves for failure. Or maybe even something worse than failure. And 'liberals' have been afraid to defend themselves - lest they be cancelled for punching left as the populist right is ascendant. It's time for people who believe in the power of democratic institutions, and people who desire the least destructive and violent path available to stop being trampled. Liberals need to start hitting back much harder than they have been.
posted by the_querulous_night at 9:27 AM on September 9 [22 favorites]


I see a parallel here with the what seems like a rise in support for left-wing authoritarianism. In times of turmoil and uncertainty, there's going to be a strong desire for someone who can take control and just fix things. (The things that need to be fixed vary depend on what you feel is broken, of course.) And authoritarianism is great, as long as you and the authoritarian are aligned, and the authoritarian is cracking the whip on the "right" people and doing the "right" thing for you.

The problems with this should be readily apparent to anyone who's studied authoritarian regimes, whether left or right wing authoritarian.
posted by SansPoint at 9:28 AM on September 9 [6 favorites]


I sure hope the left anti-liberals know what they're doing. Because from my perspective it looks like they're engaging in a sort of intellectual Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, making common cause with the sort of people who would happily see them all sent to death camps given the opportunity.

Ok, this is a really incendiary take, and it seemingly comes out of nowhere. I don't see it reflected anywhere in the article, and quite honestly the only people I can see making common cause with the death camps are people on the right.

Generally speaking: if you find yourself arguing a position and notice that the Christian Taliban are your de facto fellow travelers, I think you should probably step back and take a hard look in the mirror.

Again, I don't know where you're getting this from. It's not leftist Jews who are siding with anti-Semites and even actual Nazis on modern-day concentration camps, for instance.
posted by zombieflanders at 9:29 AM on September 9 [47 favorites]


I see a parallel here with the what seems like a rise in support for left-wing authoritarianism.

Now it's just getting ridiculous. Where do you see this?

I see a lot of riffing off the article's headline here, almost all of it in direct contradiction to its content.
posted by zombieflanders at 9:31 AM on September 9 [15 favorites]


I sure hope the left anti-liberals know what they're doing. Because from my perspective it looks like they're engaging in a sort of intellectual Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, making common cause with the sort of people who would happily see them all sent to death camps given the opportunity.

Substantive elaboration needed here.
posted by Dark Messiah at 9:34 AM on September 9 [13 favorites]


I see a parallel here with the what seems like a rise in support for left-wing authoritarianism Where? Who? Provide sources.


Anyway the biggest failure of American liberalism, if it can be said to exist anymore which I doubt, is the failure to name an enemy.
posted by The Whelk at 9:36 AM on September 9 [14 favorites]


zombieflanders: In some of my online leftist circles, there is a strain of thought that is solidly "tankie," in the sense that you can only get change through direct action and violent revolution—democracy be damned, we need to fix this shit now and we need a Dictatorship of the Proletariat to make it happen. I'm sympathetic to the feelings behind this belief, I just don't believe that an authoritarian, even one who is sympathetic to my goals and ideals, is a viable solution due to the nature of political power. Some people, though, believe ideology will triumph over our baser human instincts... and those people are tremendously naive.
posted by SansPoint at 9:36 AM on September 9 [18 favorites]


I'll preface this by saying I neither argue for nor subscribe to "libertarianism" but I utterly fail to understand how "Trump's America" can be called "illiberal" or even "less liberal" (in the classical sense) than, say, Obama's America, Sanders' America, Canada, the EU, or anywhere else you care to mention. Reactionary? Sure I guess. Populist? That term makes little sense to me but why not. But illiberal? How exactly?

From the article -

In recent years, serious thinkers on both the left and right have launched a sustained assault on the United States’ founding intellectual credo.


Who from the "right" has done this?

liberalism refers to a school of thought that takes freedom, consent, and autonomy as foundational moral values. Liberals agree that it is generally wrong to coerce people, to seize control of their bodies or force them to act against their will

Explain to me how the Green New Deal, Gun restrictions, regulation, progressive taxation (including wealth taxes, inheritance taxes, leaving aside however you'd like to define "democratic socialism") and "population control" (as raised by Bernie) are in any way consistent with "liberal values". You may think these or similar policies are necessary, or desirable, but they are not "liberal".

democracy, the rule of law, individual rights, and equality.

Leaving aside politics, personal feelings and rhetorical nonsense, by this definition in what way has the US become "illiberal" in the last 3 years? Or again, less "liberal"? Again, compared to Obama's America, or any other western country you care to mention.

On the right, the anti-liberals locate the root of the problem in liberalism’s social doctrines, its emphasis on secularism and individual rights. In their view, these ideas are solvents breaking down America’s communities and, ultimately, dissolving the very social fabric the country needs to prosper.

What? People on the "right" have a problem with individual rights? Really? I think that's far more a trait of the "left". If this is a sideways reference to abortion (I guess?) it's a gross oversimplification of the position to the point it's laughable. Are we talking moral majority stuff from the 80's or 90's? Ok, I think that strain of religious illiberalism hasn't been relevant in decades - point to any serious policy/legislation that has reduced individual freedom in the name of religion over the last say, 40 years.

Left anti-liberals, by contrast, pinpoint liberal economic doctrine as the source of our current woes

No. Socialists/communists have been doing that for 150 years. "Left" anti-liberals are the ones now clamouring for ever-more restrictions on personal freedoms. On speech, on consumption, on thought, on gun ownership. They are advocates of re-writing the constitution, eliminating the electoral college, of invoking the 25th amendment, of removing elected officials from office on extra-(or at least highly suspect) legal grounds, of mandating government-provided healthcare and education, blah blah etc. This is no longer an "extreme" position. The mainstream in America is now "anti-liberal", following in Canada's and Europe's footsteps.

However you want to slice it, classical liberalism is fundamentally about the individual vs. the state/group. You may not like it, but Trump's America is a far more "liberal" place than it was, and a far more liberal place than most of the rest of the world, maybe all of it. I am a liberal, I love liberalism and I'm terrified about its future, but I find the premise of the article extremely bizarre and backwards. I know we do this semantic dance over and over, but it's just crazy - if you don't like "liberalism" in favour of statism or collectivism or socialism or fascism of Maoism or whatever your flavour of choice of government control is, just say so! Stop pretending you give a damn about rule of law, individual rights or equality under and freedom from the state and we can all move on with our lives.
posted by Mirax at 9:37 AM on September 9 [4 favorites]


and those people are tremendously naive.

Those people also don’t exist in anything resembling real numbers and are not organized and are not worth discussing except as a fringe microsect.
posted by The Whelk at 9:38 AM on September 9 [14 favorites]


In some of my online leftist circles, there is a strain of thought that is solidly "tankie,"

Ok, but tankies aren't even popular among most other socialists, let alone the left as a whole.
posted by zombieflanders at 9:39 AM on September 9 [6 favorites]


What? People on the "right" have a problem with individual rights?

Same sex marriage, up to a few years ago. Obviously, abortion. Drug use... are you even trying?
posted by Jpfed at 9:45 AM on September 9 [65 favorites]


Glenn Greenwald or Angela Nagle goes on Tucker Carlson, 95% of the online socialist/harder-left (including most tankies) say "Jesus Christ you idiots, stop enabling Strasserism": exactly like the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact

Speaker of the House fully funds child concentration camps, continually looks forward to working productively with fascists: nothing at all like the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, why are you dividing the left

What? People on the "right" have a problem with individual rights? Really?

Genocide and ecocide are rough on the ol' individual rights

The Right's all about individual human rights, it's just that most of the people in this thread don't count as human.
posted by Rust Moranis at 9:45 AM on September 9 [34 favorites]


I wonder if this conversation would be going differently if the pullquote was, "the intellectual critics of liberalism opponents do not typically challenge democracy itself. But they are united in believing that American liberalism as currently constituted is past its expiration date, that it is buckling under the weight of its contradictions." It seems hard to cast that as somehow leaning toward "leftist authoritarianism" (lol).
posted by entropone at 9:51 AM on September 9 [8 favorites]


Leaving aside politics, personal feelings and rhetorical nonsense, by this definition in what way has the US become "illiberal" in the last 3 years? Or again, less "liberal"? Again, compared to Obama's America, or any other western country you care to mention.
I'd argue that the Trump administration's war on the free press, and their persistent attempt to undermine their credibility entirely using the amplifying power of the White House is at odds with liberalism. Their attempts undermine from within independent institutions like the judiciary, the Federal Reserve and even the FDA is indicative of a new American conservatism interested in consolidating power toward a single executive rather than one claiming to be in favor of reducing executive power. Though I wring my hands above regarding a new authoritarian streak among a certain sect of online leftist, the Trump administration is an authoritarian streak elected to the highest office, wielding their power with wild abandon as they seek to destroy independent institutions wherever they can.
posted by the_querulous_night at 9:51 AM on September 9 [38 favorites]


Explain to me how the Green New Deal, Gun restrictions, regulation, progressive taxation (including wealth taxes, inheritance taxes, leaving aside however you'd like to define "democratic socialism") and "population control" (as raised by Bernie) are in any way consistent with "liberal values".
  • GND: Restrictions almost entirely on corporate entities, not private individuals. Also gives us the freedom to, y'know breathe.
  • Guns: The individual right to bear arms is a relatively new concept in jurisprudence, never mind that guns do not equal "freedom" in any meaningful sense
  • Regulation: Yes, laws have been part of society since its creation.
  • Progressive taxation: Regressive and flat taxation has been proven multiple times to be more of a hindrance to democracy and liberalism than progressive taxation.
  • "Population control" (as raised by Bernie): Not sure what you mean here, and I don't see Bernie advocating for something like a one-child policy.
What? People on the "right" have a problem with individual rights? Really?

Yup. Right to medical choice, right to marriage, right to vote, right to live without police violence, right to go to school and not get shot...the list goes on and on.

I think that's far more a trait of the "left". If this is a sideways reference to abortion (I guess?) it's a gross oversimplification of the position to the point it's laughable. Are we talking moral majority stuff from the 80's or 90's? Ok, I think that strain of religious illiberalism hasn't been relevant in decades - point to any serious policy/legislation that has reduced individual freedom in the name of religion over the last say, 40 years.

The last 40 years on the abortion issue alone show a consistent reduction in freedoms. In fact, it's quite probably one of the best examples one could give for "policy/legislation that has reduced individual freedom in the name of religion," not the worst.
posted by zombieflanders at 9:52 AM on September 9 [66 favorites]


I'd argue that the Trump administration's war on the free press

Manifested how? Via tweets and combatitivness? What laws have been passed limiting the free press? What restrictions have been imposed?

attempt to undermine their credibility

Really? Trying to win an election is "illiberal"? What did Obama say about Fox News? But of course, I guess he was right and Trump was wrong?

Their attempts undermine from within independent institutions like the judiciary, the Federal Reserve and even the FDA

The Democratic Party just sent a letter to the SCOTUS threatening them with court packing if they didn't rule according to their wishes. I've read countless articles calling on Powell to screw over trump to save America. Let alone the National Popular Vote Compact. If you think Trump is the first or only president of any side to try to undermine "independent" institutions you're wrong, and it hardly relevant to the discussion of whether or not the US has flipped to "illiberal" under him.

wielding their power with wild abandon as they seek to destroy independent institutions wherever they can.

I don't know what to tell you. This sounds like every democrat's presidential platform. Isn't that the point of "progressivism" vs "reactionaryism"
posted by Mirax at 10:00 AM on September 9 [2 favorites]


It's funny, the way I learned "liberalism" as an ideology, it was about the attitude toward markets and how they should be regulated far more than about individual preferences, and more about the distinction between pre-Great Depression laissez-faire people, the labor-peace liberals of the mid-century and the neoliberals of the eighties onward. The "liberalism" that one discusses with nostalgia is the labor-peace liberalism of, eg, the sixties.

I notice that everyone readily buys into the "you can either be a conservative, some kind of liberal or an authoritarian socialist" framing, which really foolishly cedes the ground of "freedom" to liberalism.

The freedom of the labor-peace period was pretty decent if you were getting a slice of it, but it wouldn't be possible without all the wars fought to keep the "Third World" in line, and it wouldn't have been possible if, eg, everyone got a fair wage and housing and education and so on.

I guess I don't really see "liberalism versus the tankies" as an intellectual choice; it's a material choice about how to spread the unfairness around. Do you give some people ALL the freedom and some people basically none? Who does the state protect - international corporations or workers? Who do the laws benefit?

To my mind, the big question about running a society is how to keep power from concentrating and becoming detached from the needs and wishes of the people - it's the concentration of power and wealth, whatever the lip service given to "freedom", that really determines how good or bad ordinary people have it.
posted by Frowner at 10:01 AM on September 9 [35 favorites]


to my eye it seems like there is a rather sound argument that economic liberalism establishes a strong tendency toward de facto authoritarianism, as the inevitability of wealth concentration under liberal market rules enables a small circle of oligarchs to largely dictate the actions of nominally democratic electoral institutions. this tendency can to some extent be counteracted by social liberal and social democratic legislation... but enacting and enforcing that regulation can become quite difficult indeed in the face of concerted opposition by those oligarchs. in a democracy we wouldn't know the names of the koch brothers, because the koch brothers never would have become more politically powerful than any other person.

moreover, the 20th century and our young grim 21st century have painfully taught us that oligarchs are not at all reticent to ally with blood and soil fascists when it suits their purposes — and it quite often suits their purposes. this is why i've scooted over from supporting liberalism to supporting social democracy to supporting democratic socialism over the course of the last 20 years. at this point it seems the height of naïvety to assume that the liberalism that has consistently failed to defend democracy for at least two decades — the liberalism that acquiesced to the appointment of george bush to the presidency of the united states, that fumbled the fight against donald trump's elevation to power, that continues to excuse grotesque police violence except when forced by popular unrest to sing a different tune, the liberalism that prioritizes call time with wealthy donors over face time with constituents, the liberalism that has, to be blunt, squandered all popular support — is democracy's best bulwark against fascism.

the counter-argument that opponents to liberalism are all the same requires a great deal of support, which doesn't seem to be in evidence in this thread. i would encourage our friend kadin2048 to give the names of the people they're talking about. give the names of their organizations. tell us who they back. note that tankie organizations like the revolutionary communist party have precisely zero to do with mainstream democratic socialist organizations, and are anathematized by same. hell, they have precisely zero to do with even fringe trotskyist organizations, who (unsurprisingly, given their intellectual lineage) have no time for stalinists.

the right plays footsie with their extremists. the left, to be blunt, does not.
posted by Reclusive Novelist Thomas Pynchon at 10:03 AM on September 9 [42 favorites]


GND: Restrictions almost entirely on corporate entities, not private individuals. Also gives us the freedom to, y'know breathe.

Sure, whatever, it's a crisis, by any means necessary, so on and so on. But don't tell me it's consistent with "liberalism".

Guns: The individual right to bear arms is a relatively new concept in jurisprudence, never mind that guns do not equal "freedom" in any meaningful sense

Sure. Government confiscation (or what?) of private property is entirely consistent with "liberalism"

Regulation: Yes, laws have been part of society since its creation.

Like I said, I'm not a libertarian, but it's a matter of degree. More regulation, all else equal, less liberal. I'm arguing the terms here, and suggesting that those that might call themselves "liberal" are not, that that Trump's America, for better or worse, is *more* liberal.

Progressive taxation: Regressive and flat taxation has been proven multiple times to be more of a hindrance to democracy and liberalism than progressive taxation.

Again, not debating that, debating liberalism. Taxation in general is government coercion - from there it's a matter of degree.

"Population control" (as raised by Bernie): Not sure what you mean here, and I don't see Bernie advocating for something like a one-child policy.

I have no idea what he means or if he does himself but the term itself is maybe the least "liberal" thing you could possible utter.

The last 40 years on the abortion issue alone show a consistent reduction in freedoms. In fact, it's quite probably one of the best examples one could give for "policy/legislation that has reduced individual freedom in the name of religion," not the worst.

Look, I get it, and I'd rather not go on and on on abortion per se, but you cannot just ignore the "individuality" of the unborn child in that equation. Even if you yourself do not accept that premise, you have to understand that the anti-abortioners do not see themselves as restricting anyone's rights, but as preserving the rights of the child. Reasonable people can disagree, obviously, but that's why I say it's a bad example. The two side just don't agree on the fundamental issue in question. "They" would say you are infringing on that fetuses individual right to life. So we're back at square one.
posted by Mirax at 10:11 AM on September 9 [2 favorites]


Generally speaking: if you find yourself arguing a position and notice that the Christian Taliban are your de facto fellow travelers, I think you should probably step back and take a hard look in the mirror.

Generally speaking: if you find yourself equating two groups who are pretty fucking different, I think you should take a step back and take a hard look in the mirror yourself. Because if you think calling lefty anti-liberal folks "fellow travelers" of the Christian Taliban is any way a good idea, it's no wonder people are less likely to support liberalism over time. Jesus.
posted by 23skidoo at 10:12 AM on September 9 [14 favorites]


You may not like it, but Trump's America is a far more "liberal" place than it was, and a far more liberal place than most of the rest of the world, maybe all of it. I am a liberal, I love liberalism and I'm terrified about its future, but I find the premise of the article extremely bizarre and backwards.

You've either confused or conflated "libertarian" for "liberal," or removed the mask.

"Left" anti-liberals are the ones now clamouring for ever-more restrictions on personal freedoms. On speech, on consumption, on thought, on gun ownership.

They're clamoring for restrictions on personal freedoms such that others have freedom to live. "Your right to swing your fist ends where my face begins," and all of that.

* Speech is limited in the case of libel, slander, incitement, and the like. These limits are widely popular. The left wants hate speech rightfully recognized as incitement.

* Consumption is limited to preserve the environment and encourage safety. We don't allow, for example, burning of trash on properties, or dumping in the river. These limits are widely popular. The left wants environmental impact rightfully recognized as a cost.

* You're gonna have to elaborate on what you mean by thought. Ain't no one on the left who's a mindreader yet.

* Arms ownership is already limited in the case of tanks, missiles, cannons, knives, nunchucks, etc. These limits are largely uncontroversial, as the aim of public safety is a greater concern than someone's idea of fun. We also don't sell a wide variety of dangerous toys like metal-tipped lawn darts, and track large purchases of fertilizer. The left wants guns to be given the same rightful consideration instead of being enshrined as some special exception to the "well-regulated militia" clause of the 2nd Amendment.

What else? The desire for an effective FDA being considered an infringement on the right to manufacture and distribute dangerous food and drugs? Come on.
posted by explosion at 10:17 AM on September 9 [28 favorites]


Again, I don't know where you're getting this from. All you would have do do is read my brother's Facebook page, it is an encyclopedic list of every anti-liberal, or lib, trolling entity. This is a little hyperbolic, for sure, but the sheer viciousness of his links is worrying. Anti OAC posts that place her on the "short bus," Bernie Sanders as stealing his neighbor's wallet. His entire content besides family images in American flag t-shirts is hatred for "libs." I get his particular pathology, he can't survive without disability, medicaid, family help. His hard man stance is transparent. He doesn't even understand what liberalism is, I am not sure I do, but he turns on his computer and uses it like a hate shower. I recently unblocked him and the view of his views is terrifying, in that he is willfully ignorant, while others have no choice in the matter. The social sickness he manifests has some trickle down among his family as it is a rigid patriarchy. There are a lot of these believers as a percentage of Idaho's population. Someone, for gross profits is feeding these folks and I worry what their ad hoc army will come up with. Couple this with armageddon theology, and endtimes predictions, popular among my LDS family side, and it is a free pass to horiffic mayhem, for a large subset. The term "liberal," is the rally cry for senseless but tasty, emotional addiction.
posted by Oyéah at 10:19 AM on September 9 [9 favorites]


For a long time I was a liberal progressive person in the mold of a "labor democrat" then I went to Berlin and learned about Rosalux and Die Link and started the writings of Rosa Luxemburg and her critiques of centrally planned communism (she called it "phallic") and advocated for a dramatic restructuring of society from the home out, giving women a seat at the table of labor and including women's labor as labor that counted in the output of a nation and advocated for discarding bourgeoisie women from this labor class and called out for all proletariat women to align with global south...Her idea was that "workers councils" (including proletariat women) would all lead in a decentralized manner and was very much critical of any kind of central authoritarianism of any kind...Anyway I'm a leftist now in her mold and I'm kind of lukewarm about progressive/liberal politics that seek to use diversity as a way to make more capitalism available to more groups of people.
posted by nikaspark at 10:21 AM on September 9 [9 favorites]


Sure, whatever, it's a crisis, by any means necessary, so on and so on. But don't tell me it's consistent with "liberalism".

It's consistent with liberalism. Period, end of.

Sure. Government confiscation (or what?) of private property is entirely consistent with "liberalism"

Great misrepresentation of gun control. Are you even trying?

Like I said, I'm not a libertarian, but it's a matter of degree. More regulation, all else equal, less liberal. I'm arguing the terms here, and suggesting that those that might call themselves "liberal" are not, that that Trump's America, for better or worse, is *more* liberal.

The only term I see you actually arguing here is the main dictionary definition of liberal (i.e. "without restriction"), not the political definitions laid out over decades and described in this article.

Again, not debating that, debating liberalism. Taxation in general is government coercion - from there it's a matter of degree.

This is classic ancap hogwash. You're debating a strawman.

I have no idea what he means or if he does himself but the term itself is maybe the least "liberal" thing you could possible utter.

Here's the context (emphasis mine):
"Empowering women and educating everyone on the need to curb population growth seems a reasonable campaign to enact," she began.

"Would you be courageous enough to discuss this issue and make it a key feature of a plan to address climate catastrophe?"

Mr Sanders, who is running for the Democratic presidential nomination to face President Donald Trump in the November 2020 election, replied: "Well, Martha, the answer is yes.

"The answer has everything to do with the fact that women in the United States of America, by the way, have a right to control their own bodies, and make reproductive decisions.
So, yes, Bernie is in fact arguing for the more liberal stance here: the choice of a woman to control her own body.

Look, I get it, and I'd rather not go on and on on abortion per se, but you cannot just ignore the "individuality" of the unborn child in that equation. Even if you yourself do not accept that premise, you have to understand that the anti-abortioners do not see themselves as restricting anyone's rights, but as preserving the rights of the child.

LOL WUT. They couldn't be more obvious that they were trying to control women's bodies and women themselves if they tried. Literally every single anti-choicer who also supports war, the death penalty, and armed white supremacist police forces absolutely sees themselves as restricting rights. The worst thing about it is that they've apparently convinced people like you that women are the real fascists.
posted by zombieflanders at 10:24 AM on September 9 [45 favorites]


Why does Bernie get cited for saying population control, but Trump does not for claiming that the media is the enemy of the people, Mirax?
posted by Selena777 at 10:25 AM on September 9 [16 favorites]


I speak only for myself, but I can relate to this article. Both of the following are true (for me):
1. I subscribe to liberalism (which for me means pluralism, regard for laws and individual rights, and a system with checks and minority rights) basically because it's a great worldview for a person who is sometimes wrong about stuff and recognizes that others are sometimes wrong about stuff and likes the idea of having a society interested in adjudicating that fruitfully.
2. I think liberalism is a very bad framework for the way the world works in 2019, because privileging the pursuit of real solutions over killing everyone on the other team only works if the buy-in is evenly distributed across society.

In short, I am a liberal and I see liberalism failing before me. Not gonna win any coherency competitions with that, but here we are.
posted by Ignatius J. Reilly at 10:26 AM on September 9 [22 favorites]


"To my mind, the big question about running a society is how to keep power from concentrating and becoming detached from the needs and wishes of the people - it's the concentration of power and wealth, whatever the lip service given to "freedom", that really determines how good or bad ordinary people have it"

This is really important and cuts to the core of what the entire left project has been since .. I don't know the French Revolution: how do we prevent power and resources from being concentrated into two few hands? Which is why the D part of the DSA is the most important in my mind and its helpful to think of the whole thing as the expansion of democracy into everyday life, not just a restricted electoral use.

Or, the problem with liberal democracy is it it doesn't emphasize the democracy enough
posted by The Whelk at 10:28 AM on September 9 [21 favorites]


I came to complain about liberal men turning a blind eye to, or even celebrating, the harassment of feminist and lesbian women so long as they have been clumsily compared to Nazis but apparently we have to argue "Trump and guns are bad" and "access to abortion is good".

My representative is one of the scary evil socialist/muslim/etc. terrors that Trump and friends have fixated on in a genuinely terrifying way. I could complain about liberals all day but I will always prefer them over these dangerous assholes.
posted by seraphine at 10:28 AM on September 9 [15 favorites]


Like I said, I'm not a libertarian, but it's a matter of degree. More regulation, all else equal, less liberal. I'm arguing the terms here, and suggesting that those that might call themselves "liberal" are not, that that Trump's America, for better or worse, is *more* liberal.

Yeah, I think here is the crux of your problem. You can argue that people's positions diverge from some perfect ideal of liberalism -- I would argue this is inevitable, since liberalism encompasses a number of principles which will always conflict in certain cases -- but there are a few (dozen) missing logical steps between that and the claim that Trump is more liberal.
posted by bjrubble at 10:28 AM on September 9 [5 favorites]


Mirax, you're really not doing yourself any favours by trying to construct new definitions of "liberalism" in 2019, when you're talking to people who.. y'know, just know what the word means.
posted by howfar at 10:29 AM on September 9 [18 favorites]


Mirax: “but you cannot just ignore the "individuality" of the unborn child in that equation. Even if you yourself do not accept that premise, you have to understand that the anti-abortioners do not see themselves as restricting anyone's rights, but as preserving the rights of the child.”

Nice to know I’m not anyone with rights in this scenario.

Like, I know there are people out there who rank my importance to the world below a goddamn zygote, but could you be a little less callous when you remind me of it?
posted by Secret Sparrow at 10:31 AM on September 9 [49 favorites]


I think for a lot of people who spent their entire life identifying as "liberals" it has come as a bit of a shock to learn that this term is not currently defined as "opposite of conservative."

Why not? Conservatism has defined itself as "the opposite of what liberals want today, updated daily" for more than a decade now.
posted by Gelatin at 10:32 AM on September 9 [13 favorites]


i am heartened to see everyone arguing against the right-wing troll who has bombed into the thread. regardless of our serious ideological differences, social liberals, social democrats, socialists, and anarchists need at this moment to unite against the right.

nevertheless i wonder if we could redirect this conversation away from the interventions of risible conservative trolls and toward an honest and considered discussion of the distinctions between liberalism and — and also, more importantly — the resonances between liberalism and leftism. this seems at least to my eye like a much more vital conversation to have, especially since broadly speaking this is a liberal-and-left space where right-wingers are (properly) quite unpopular.
posted by Reclusive Novelist Thomas Pynchon at 10:32 AM on September 9 [37 favorites]


Also, Trump and friends want to strip me and millions of others of US citizenship because our bloodline isn't pure enough. You can argue dictionary definitions but it doesn't feel super liberal.
posted by seraphine at 10:33 AM on September 9 [19 favorites]


Look, I get it, and I'd rather not go on and on on abortion per se, but you cannot just ignore the "individuality" of the unborn child in that equation. Even if you yourself do not accept that premise, you have to understand that the anti-abortioners do not see themselves as restricting anyone's rights, but as preserving the rights of the child. Reasonable people can disagree, obviously, but that's why I say it's a bad example.

I mean I don't accept the premise of the divinity of Christ but that doesn't mean you can handwave it away as "agree to disagree!" when people are pushing legislation based in their own sect's Christian religious doctrine. You can't argue in good faith that trying to enshrine abortion restrictions in law is not eroding freedom in the name of religion, the entire fetal personhood argument is rooted in religious beliefs being pushed on the rest of us, and without the political clout of the religious groups pushing to outlaw abortion it would be a big fat nothing politically.
posted by jason_steakums at 10:36 AM on September 9 [14 favorites]


[OK, folks, let's see if we can't have a conversation not about a single person's stridency. Thanks. ]
posted by restless_nomad (staff) at 10:37 AM on September 9 [8 favorites]


What? People on the "right" have a problem with individual rights?

Same sex marriage, up to a few years ago. Obviously, abortion. Drug use... are you even trying?


The right also don't have respect for the individual rights of other religions (e.g. those who actively support same-sex marriage, like liberal religions), people who want access to birth control, the individual rights of LGBTQ people when it comes to employment, service, housing, or marriage -

also they don't respect the individual rights of people to even VOTE (see all the recent issues re gerrymandering, lack of polling stations in minority-majority jurisdictions, the spurious removal of African-Americans from voting registers without cause - and refusing to investigate voting machine corruption

and on a much less serious level: my local right-wing government's complete disregard of urban planning undermines much of my individual right to WALK places, which you would think would be a very basic right.

Genocide and ecocide are rough on the ol' individual rights

This also raises the issue about the rights of individuals to move around the planet. By closing borders, the right are restricting the individual rights of non-citizens who are reacting to ecological disasters caused mostly by the very countries that have locked them out.
posted by jb at 10:39 AM on September 9 [16 favorites]


The left wants guns to be given the same rightful consideration instead of being enshrined as some special exception to the "well-regulated militia" clause of the 2nd Amendment.

1) Gun rights are not human rights.
2) Again, the individual right to firearms was not considered an "originalist" position until about the 1970s, not coincidentally when the NRA jumped to prominence.
3) Your perspective seems to be entirely shaped by average un/misinformed 21st century American gun owner, not a that of anyone concerned with universal human rights, and certainly not one shared by most other governments since the invention of firearms.
posted by zombieflanders at 10:39 AM on September 9 [10 favorites]


Why does Bernie get cited for saying population control, but Trump does not for claiming that the media is the enemy of the people, Mirax?

Im trying to stick to the article, which stated that Trump's American is flat-out "illiberal", while giving several (reasonable) definitions or characteristics of "a liberal government/society".

Trump is president and has done nothing to limit or hamper the "media" despite his rhetoric - obviously, given their continuing coverage of him. Bernie is not president, so we have no idea what he will or won't actually do, but I'll cite him when he talks "illiberally". If that's your question, I'd say I was far more concerned about Trump's liberalism or lack thereof before he started governing.
posted by Mirax at 10:39 AM on September 9


So I recently experienced an online "We are more left than thou" fight. The people were saying that race issues are an effect of class issues, and (magic argument step here) thus talking about white fragility and privilege and microaggressions and even using PoC identities like white, black, Asian is just poor conceptualizing. I couldn't even mention myself "as a PoC", without cheap logical attempts to shut that down.

This isn't the first time I've heard leftists utter these rationalizations, but rare enough to happen that I don't know how to respond. The way they put forth these claims as truth was uncritical and dogmatic, I thought. But what I really wanted to know was where they were getting these leftist interpretations from? Not even once did they cite any leftist scholarship in support of a worldview that treats minority issues as second class. I had thought leftist scholarship since Marx had moved beyond such reductionism, but there it seemed well alive and utilized to allow that racism exists, but nothing need be done about it, least of all the implicit racism between me and them.
posted by polymodus at 10:40 AM on September 9 [12 favorites]


I think that, speaking seriously, there is a degree of responsibility to recognise that this sort of silly misinterpretation of liberalism is a problem, because although it's entirely intellectually spurious, it has a certain kind of cultural weight, largely because of unreasonable attacks on liberalism from the left. Now, I don't consider myself a liberal, but I'm not more left-wing on any policy issue than many people I know who do. Modern left liberalism is fundamentally Rawlsian in nature, and is capable of being consistent with almost any level of socialist policy. The conflation of the freedom to spend money with the a free life can obscure the common cause between left and liberal movements.
posted by howfar at 10:41 AM on September 9 [2 favorites]


Well, tankies certainly would fall into the category of "left anti-liberals", but at least in the US they don't seem to be taken seriously by anybody. One would hope they are and remain discredited.

I personally have more concern for the academic far left, in whom I have sometimes seen a sort of overzealous pursuit of neoliberalism that fails to separate the "neo" from the "Liberalism", and in doing so can provide intellectual cover for the illiberal Right. TFA specifically calls out Nancy Fraser from the New School, although I admit to not knowing her work well enough to say whether that's a fair accusation or not. (FWIW, the linked essay of hers, From Progressive Neoliberalism to Trump—and Beyond, seems fairly nuanced and does not seem especially offensive on first glance. I'm putting it aside to take a more thorough read later on.)

Peter Frase, also name-checked in the article, strikes me as treading on more dangerous ground. I'll give him the benefit of the doubt as not actually being personally anti-Liberal or anti-secular (after all I don't know the guy, so that would be inappropriate), but he seems to have a presbyopic Marxist focus on communism overtaking the Liberal order, such that he seems to ignore the very real threat that if we fail to continuously champion and promulgate Liberal ideas and values in the face of illiberal competition, we don't get to that point at all. It's like he's still stuck in the 1990s when neoliberalism didn't have any real competition. Well, now it does: fascism is back, and it's dangerous as hell. Maybe carving up the big tent of Liberalism into factions based on the order of battle in some future Communist revolution, or otherwise lecturing people on what it means to be "on the Left", can wait?

Generally speaking, I think there is too much of an emphasis in contemporary (particularly online) leftism in gleefully identifying the shortcomings of the current system—problematize all the things!—and what seems to be a near-complete absence of interest in celebrating and intellectually shoring up those aspects of the system on which the ability to hold the conversation itself depends. I think this encourages a sort of hopeless, discouraged "tear it all down" attitude that is basically indistinguishable from accelerationism.

Recently I saw a student on a college campus wearing a T-shirt, presumably created by a students' group, that had a big crossed-circle "NO" symbol with a bunch of words inside it: no to fascism, no to racism, no to intolerance, etc.—all good stuff, right on—but then it also contained the word "secularism" within the "no" circle. I wish I'd stopped the guy to ask what exactly it meant or if he was trolling or what, but it didn't register until he'd walked past. I'm still trying to decide if it was more likely a typo, ignorance of the word's meaning, or a considered statement. None are really great. I can't find an image of it online so hopefully it was a very limited run of shirts...
posted by Kadin2048 at 10:42 AM on September 9 [20 favorites]


OK, I'll bow out here. You can argue with me if you like and say I'm not a liberal, that's fine. But I'm sorry, if you advocate for more regulation, more government power/control, more taxation, etc etc you may well be a very fine person, you may well govern justly and fairly, you may solve all of the world's problems, but I can't understand how you can call yourself a "liberal" - which is fine! There's nothing magical about the word. You just don't think it works for XYZ reasons. It just makes it very hard to have a political discussion or read articles like this that cast "liberalism" as "good" then bend over backwards explaining how less of it is necessary.
posted by Mirax at 10:45 AM on September 9


FWIW, here are Sanders' actual remarks on "population control:"
"The answer has everything to do with the fact that women in the United States of America, by the way, have a right to control their own bodies, and make reproductive decisions.

"The Mexico City Agreement which denies American aid to those organisations around the world that allow women to have abortions or even get involved in birth control to me is totally absurd.

"So I think, especially in poor countries around the world where women do not necessarily want to have large numbers of babies, and where they can have the opportunity through birth control to control the number of kids they have, is something I very, very strongly support."
So, no one-child policy here, but rather give people the tools, and let them choose for themselves... so very very authoritarian!

Incidentally, population and environmental impact are indeed linked: Make a person, and you add another person's worth of environmental impact. But luckily, the data demonstrates that giving women access to education and birth control is a pretty universal brake on population growth... So unless you're a member of the quiverfull movement or similar, you get two positive outcomes at once: a better educated society and reduced environmental impacts, without having to engage in the morally reprehensible practice of deciding /who/ gets to have babies.
posted by kaibutsu at 10:47 AM on September 9 [36 favorites]


Bernie is not president, so we have no idea what he will or won't actually do, but I'll cite him when he talks "illiberally".

As I pointed out, you didn't cite him. As far as I can tell via a search, this viewpoint is more regurgitated alt-right propaganda than any coherent criticism.
posted by zombieflanders at 10:47 AM on September 9 [28 favorites]


Gut-wise, I disagree with just about everything in the article. To completely say why would become longer than the article itself.

The definers of modern liberalism are not old white males. Diversity defines modern liberalism. America's civil rights movement was not only an extension of "all men are created equal." The definitions of inequality and unequal opportunity were defined by those who experienced it. The same is true by extension to gay rights, trans rights, etc.

Secondly, an important part of modern liberalism is defined by scientific understanding versus conservative denial of science. This resounds true for the environment, for the rejection of religious-based principles such as creationism, the rejection of race as a scientific determinant, etc.

Furthermore, modern liberalism asks us to play catch-up with reality. Conservatism fails not because of its ideals. It fails because it fails. Tax cuts don't provide (much) stimulus. (Perhaps the best way to say this: tax cuts are a very inefficient form of stimulus.) Conservatives will always increase the debt. The trade deficit has gone up with the trade war. Immigration has always been healthy for our country.

Liberalism is not defined as the opposite of conservatism, although conservatism seems more and more defined as whatever pisses off liberals. (You might be able to say that modern liberalism in the US is conservatism without the nuttiness.)

I respect a form of conservatism. I remember an NPR interview with a Savings and Loans Manager who stood up against risky investments in the 1980s, the ones that would bring down many savings and loans.

As I said, I could go on. Others have made additional worthwhile arguments.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 10:55 AM on September 9 [5 favorites]


My representative is one of the scary evil socialist/muslim/etc. terrors that Trump and friends have fixated on in a genuinely terrifying way. I could complain about liberals all day but I will always prefer them over these dangerous assholes.

I wish I could find the quote, but it was something like:
"Antifa aren't all fighting for secular pluralism"

It was more eloquent than that, but the point was that you can't -- and shouldn't -- expect your political allies to all have exactly the same end goal. But right here, right now, we're not talking about the end goal. Right here, right now, we're talking about fascists in the government and in the streets, and whether you're a secular pluralist or social democrat or communist or anarchist -- all of them are opposed to fascism, so in the most immediately meaningful sense they're all on the same side.
posted by bjrubble at 10:55 AM on September 9 [11 favorites]


the difference between modern american social liberalism and leftism is on many points a distinction in strategy rather than a difference in aim — both social liberals and leftists broadly want a just, democratic, and egalitarian society.

there is, though, nevertheless a meaningful distinction in aims and not just in strategy: liberals tend to view the defense of property as an essential component of freedom, while leftists tend to view property, especially great swathes of property amassed into a few hands, as a threat to democracy. liberals think that it is okay to live off of inherited wealth, that it's okay to get one's daily bread from being a landlord or a stockholder or through other forms of "passive income" rather than through working, and so forth. leftists to some degree or another view these things as inherently oppressive, since passive income isn't really passive — it's taking profit off of the activity of others rather than one's own activity.

to my liberal friends — and i'm not using this in a false sense, even though my language right now is completely rekt by how i'm listening to the u.k. parliament in the background while i type this — anyway, to my liberal friends, i would like to note that at this historical juncture redistributive measures that undo the rule by the propertied and allow for more real freedom among ordinary people are very popular indeed, and that perhaps publicly supporting these measures — perhaps making common cause with the left — might be a good way for you to revitalize social liberalism. it is striking that the two leading candidates right now for the democratic party nomination — warren and sanders, biden is bleeding out support by the second — have largely similar platforms, even though sanders has approached his position from the direction of democratic socialism and warren has approached her position from the direction of social liberalism.

okay now i'll stop chuntering from a sedentary position and get back to work...
posted by Reclusive Novelist Thomas Pynchon at 10:56 AM on September 9 [30 favorites]


It's like three blind mice is back. God i hate 2019.
posted by maxwelton at 10:56 AM on September 9 [15 favorites]


I see a parallel here with the what seems like a rise in support for left-wing authoritarianism.

Now it's just getting ridiculous. Where do you see this?


Fox News uses it as a scare tactic every goddamn night. It's a right wing/corporatist talking point, and it's disappointing as hell to see it parroted here.
posted by ryanshepard at 11:01 AM on September 9 [33 favorites]


> Incidentally, population and environmental impact are indeed linked: Make a person, and you add another person's worth of environmental impact.

this is not entirely true, though, and it's meaningful to point out how it's not true: there's no such thing as "one person's worth of environmental impact." people in relatively wealthy nations tend to produce somewhat more environmental impact than people in relatively poorer nations, and (more importantly) a few wealthy oligarchs produce overwhelmingly more environmental impact than the vast majority of people everywhere. we know who these people who produce the lion's share of environmental impact are. as greta thunberg has observed, they have names, and they have addresses. the ceo of exxon, one person, is individually more responsible for much more carbon than any number of new poor people in the third world.

the promotion of rights to abortion and material access to abortion across the world are absolutely necessary to establish the equality of women and respect for the full personhood of women, and should be pursued on those grounds alone rather than instrumentalized as part of a campaign against the climate disaster.
posted by Reclusive Novelist Thomas Pynchon at 11:01 AM on September 9 [19 favorites]


How do those who identify as liberals imagine the conflict between different ideologies manifesting if not as at least criticism, harsh words and dislike?

Like there are a great many things where liberal and leftist interests align to some extent, and we've discussed a lot of them, and often there is cooperation. One thing I feel is that with the "Overton window" model, the right are happy to have people pushing to their right, but liberals seem to fear the same effect on their left.

I don't view liberals I meet as the enemy if they're not in power, I try and view them as potential comrades, people who have hope and love in their hearts but have been in a way denied the political knowledge that might allow them to be effective. But I'm not going to lie to anyone and say "I think liberalism is an ok thing" because I just don't, certainly not as it looks today.

I've seen some pieces which argue for a radically different, re-imagined liberalism, but they're even less on the public agenda than socialist utopias and overlap an awful lot anyhow.
posted by Acid Communist at 11:04 AM on September 9 [12 favorites]


This isn't the first time I've heard leftists utter these rationalizations, but rare enough to happen that I don't know how to respond. The way they put forth these claims as truth was uncritical and dogmatic, I thought. But what I really wanted to know was where they were getting these leftist interpretations from? Not even once did they cite any leftist scholarship in support of a worldview that treats minority issues as second class. I had thought leftist scholarship since Marx had moved beyond such reductionism, but there it seemed well alive and utilized to allow that racism exists, but nothing need be done about it, least of all the implicit racism between me and them.

My sense is that people are drawing on what you might call a "folk" left tradition more than on "scholarship", if by scholarship you mean dense argumentation published as a book or in The New Left Review, etc. This folk tradition is propagated more by polemic and conversation than by scholarship, and there's a throughline probably mainly from the late seventies/post-feminism where this becomes a really big deal.

Like, I've definitely encountered polemical left books of the "why identity politics are bad" variety, but they weren't scholarly books. On the internet, there are various left sites/aggregators whose politics are of the "class first, identity politics bad" variety. The only one I read with any regularity is Naked Capitalism. My perception is that the people who want to argue that "class" (which can be separated from and is prior to race and gender) comes "first" while something called "identity politics" is very bad indeed are not from a milieu where people read a lot of theory, or even a lot of popular leftist books. I don't think people are sitting down and chewing through some kind of anti-CLR James and some kind of anti-Federici to arrive at an argument.
posted by Frowner at 11:07 AM on September 9 [9 favorites]


/a liberal is just a comrade you haaaaven't met/

American liberals must feel very out in the cold since they haven't had real political representation in decades. I am okay with them being the center right flank of the movement.

Also it's ludicrous to be a class reductionist in a country founded as a white supremacist slave state
posted by The Whelk at 11:08 AM on September 9 [27 favorites]


[Mirax, you're done here. ]
posted by restless_nomad (staff) at 11:15 AM on September 9 [22 favorites]


Liberal Democracy is great! We should try it someday.
posted by LarsC at 11:45 AM on September 9 [5 favorites]


it is possible that the establishment of a liberal democracy will have to be accomplished by socialist means
posted by Reclusive Novelist Thomas Pynchon at 11:47 AM on September 9 [10 favorites]


Anyway the biggest failure of American liberalism, if it can be said to exist anymore which I doubt, is the failure to name an enemy.

I find the synonyms/antonyms for illberal (found at Merriam-Webster) help focus things somewhat:

Synonyms

insular, Lilliputian, little, narrow, narrow-minded, parochial, petty, picayune, provincial, sectarian, small, small-minded

Antonyms

broad-minded, catholic, cosmopolitan, liberal, open, open-minded, receptive, tolerant


And when things start getting intense and perhaps confused, when perhaps conflicting demands for rights start crashing into each other as they sometimes do in a broadminded, cosmpolitan, open-minded situation, my fallback is the old Rascals song. "All the world over, so easy to see. People everywhere just wanna be free." It can get noisy.
posted by philip-random at 11:51 AM on September 9


I see a parallel here with the what seems like a rise in support for left-wing authoritarianism.

Now it's just getting ridiculous. Where do you see this?

zombieflanders

Here. On this site.

I recall a thread a while back about the forced disappearance of a famous Chinese actress who then reappeared weeks later under house arrest with the Chinese government announcing it was due to tax evasion.

I was stunned, to the point of basically losing all respect for MetaFilter's politics, to see highly-favorited comments not only condoning but applauding the Chinese government's actions, despite others pointing out that this person had been "disappeared" by her government and that the "tax evasion" nonsense was a figleaf being employed in a wider crackdown on people seen as, at least potentially, against the government.

That really shook me. I had thought that, even if I disagree with someone on what being liberal or on the left means or requires, we can all at least agree that a government kidnapping someone, keeping them in secret for weeks, then holding them in house arrest without charge, trial, or access to lawyers or even their family is a bad thing.

SansPoint is more right than many here would care to admit when they wrote, "In times of turmoil and uncertainty, there's going to be a strong desire for someone who can take control and just fix things.", and that many here are far too glib, and even willfully naive, about the use of political violence. I really get the sense sometimes that the problem isn't authoritarian behavior, it's that the authoritarian behavior is being done by the wrong people.
posted by Sangermaine at 11:54 AM on September 9 [16 favorites]


I find myself using liberalism in the way of Mises.org is a classical liberal institution. In my reading of it, Reagan was a liberal.

Now I know in the US liberal in the mouths of Fox News means "tankie communist"

But I think in the context of this discussion we're using liberal to mean neoliberalism?

Help me calibrate?
posted by nikaspark at 11:56 AM on September 9 [2 favorites]


I am using liberal to be any sort of American good government Post New Deal social justice politics which is remarkably distinct from neoliberalist market fundamentalism. Which is why I say there really hasn't been any liberal politicians in the United States since the late 80s.
posted by The Whelk at 12:01 PM on September 9 [12 favorites]


Actually my brain has it all reversed lol. I hate growing up in the upside down of US politics. I mean libertarian is closer to neoliberalism aka Reaganism.
posted by nikaspark at 12:02 PM on September 9


@theWhelk yes that's what I see liberal meaning yeah, my comment had it reversed. ugh.
posted by nikaspark at 12:02 PM on September 9


The article in the FPP really is very good. It addresses all kinds of things, like the definition of liberalism and the nature of the criticisms of it from the left and the right. The discussion here so far hasn't really touched on most of the interesting ideas and arguments contained in the essay. A lot of us here seem to have different or even conflicting definitions of liberalism, and an argument could be made that the one in the FPP is not the best definition, but I think we're missing an opportunity by not at least engaging with it.
posted by biogeo at 12:04 PM on September 9 [9 favorites]


Sangermaine, I'm not sure it's fair to call what happened in that thread a defense of Chinese authoritarianism. I think most of it was US-centric ignorance, because tax evasion is rampant in the US among the rich, and so I think folks with US blinders on just assume China's no different from the US.
posted by factory123 at 12:07 PM on September 9 [2 favorites]


Help me calibrate?
Neoliberalism is not the same political philosophy as traditional "Classical Liberalism", and American liberal politicians are not meaningfully neoliberal in behavior. The propensity of the the term neoliberal to be slung at everyone to Sanders right shoulder (in my parts of the internet, I have regularly seen Warren called 'neoliberal', and I think the idea that Obama himself is literally meaningfully neoliberal preppy preposterous) is a contemporary phenomenon among the American online left flank. Reagan was a neoliberal, as was Thatcher. The legacy of Bush Jr. is one of neoconservatist imperial conquest, but his attempt to privatize Social Security was archetypically neoliberal in spirit and intent.

President Obama not having the necessary votes, or the speed to act, or the will to act in favor of Medicare for All rather than the ACA simply does not make him neoliberal. Words have meanings.
The ubiquitous epithet is intended to separate its target — liberals — from the values they claim to espouse. By relabeling self-identified liberals as “neoliberals,” their critics on the left accuse them of betraying the historic liberal cause.
posted by the_querulous_night at 12:07 PM on September 9 [11 favorites]


Here. On this site.

Well, see, that's your problem. A single point of anecdata from a website with a small and declining user base doesn't translate into "a rise in support for left-wing authoritarianism" in the real world. And that's assuming everybody who was supporting what you said they did were leftists and not the more centrist-leaning liberals.

I really get the sense sometimes that the problem isn't authoritarian behavior, it's that the authoritarian behavior is being done by the wrong people.

If it's the usual handwringing about College Kids These Days or the dangers of "cancel culture" or the like, the article we're discussing does a decent job of pointing out that those aren't actually instances of illiberalism on the left.
posted by zombieflanders at 12:08 PM on September 9 [9 favorites]


Yeah chait is not a good faith writer on this subject
posted by The Whelk at 12:09 PM on September 9 [11 favorites]


from the FPP:

"Now, it’s possible to oppose “neoliberalism” without opposing “liberalism” per se. But liberalism’s left-wing critics disagree; they claim that neoliberalism is not a distortion of liberalism, but rather its true face."

I kind of agree with that, actually, especially if you place it within the context of what we can learn from the formation of the Weimar Republic and the murder of Rosa Luxemburg and how fascisms emerge.
posted by nikaspark at 12:10 PM on September 9 [7 favorites]


Yeah chait is not a good faith writer on this subject
I think that piece for NY Mag is a compelling argument. The current generation of Jacobian / Washington Monthly leftist intelligentsia absolutely do go out of their way to paint the choices as a decision between a new era of Marxist first ideology and 'authoritarian technocracy'. I don't think it's out of line to suggest that a large number of American socialist activists view the EU member states as insufficiently 'revolutionary' and therefore an ideological model not to be praised or modeled after, thus setting them up as another villain to be knocked down. When in fact, the quality of life that many of those social democratic states offer would be in the clear interest of the majority of Americans.
posted by the_querulous_night at 12:19 PM on September 9 [5 favorites]


Yeah chait is not a good faith writer on this subject

And in fact, the pundit class themselves are about 90% of the reason that this kind of conversation goes so far off the rails. To them it's point-scoring, so keeping the discussion at the level of abstraction and cliques is fine - it's not like they're ever going to go without healthcare or nice apartments. We're all working from different definitions of liberalism - most of which have a lineage! We didn't make them up! - and sort of throwing things around from there.

I'm not sure whether it's best to nail down first principles before organizing or set goals first. Does it make sense to say, "let's let liberalism equal [whatever set of beliefs about humans] and decide if we're liberals or not" before starting work so that everyone is on the same page? This requires a starting point - like we all need to have a similar understanding of modern political philosophy, even if it's not a particularly deep and profound one. Or does it make sense to say, "we want health care for all, free at the point of delivery, let's go from there"? That sounds great in its way, but then you almost inevitably discover that things you believed were either central or utterly beyond the pale are seen as the absolute reverse to the people you're working with.

I guess I have to lean in the direction of Whelkism, or at least the kind of thing where you are constantly trying to get to know people and talk about your ideas and goals in order to deepen both; and that this kind of talking needs to have some structure and mutuality so that it's not just wheel-spinning.
posted by Frowner at 12:21 PM on September 9 [23 favorites]


Well, see, that's your problem. A single point of anecdata from a website with a small and declining user base doesn't translate into "a rise in support for left-wing authoritarianism" in the real world. And that's assuming everybody who was supporting what you said they did were leftists and not the more centrist-leaning liberals.
zombieflanders

No, that's you moving the goalposts. You've shifted from "that's absurd!" to "well sure it happened there, but that doesn't count!"

I was responding to your question asking incredulously where people have seen "a rise in support for left-wing authoritarianism" and providing an example. I didn't claim and don't pretend that this proves anything about the "real world", I just provided an example of where I've seen this kind of behavior. Nor did I claim that this was the only time or place I've ever seen this kind of talk.

I have no idea how widespread this sentiment is among people who identify as either leftists or centrists, and I doubt either you or I have any way or hard data to show anything of the sort. I'm just saying it's a sentiment I've seen expressed and that I get the impression it's more widespread than many would like to believe.
posted by Sangermaine at 12:36 PM on September 9 [13 favorites]


I find myself using liberalism in the way of Mises.org is a classical liberal institution. In my reading of it, Reagan was a liberal.

Now I know in the US liberal in the mouths of Fox News means "tankie communist"

But I think in the context of this discussion we're using liberal to mean neoliberalism?

Help me calibrate?


It's even more confusing north of the border: in Canada, we have political parties named "Liberal", so whenever we talk about "liberal" up here, the first question is always "big-L or little-L"? Not that they all have the same stances on things: in BC the Liberals are right-wing(?), and Ontario the Liberals are centre-left, and the federal Liberals are left on some things (gay rights), right on some things (pipelines) and at heart are really pro-Liberal Party (and yet, I may still vote for them).
posted by jb at 12:37 PM on September 9 [3 favorites]


The current generation of Jacobian / Washington Monthly leftist intelligentsia absolutely do go out of their way to paint the choices as a decision between a new era of Marxist first ideology and 'authoritarian technocracy'.

I could maybe see it with some of Jacobin's more outspoken columnists, but a quick glance at the Washington Monthly home page shows me nothing even close to anything resembling calls for a Marxist state, nor that (the presumably democratic socialist) European nations are reactionary dinosaurs that should be overthrown for being insufficiently revolutionary.
posted by zombieflanders at 12:42 PM on September 9 [2 favorites]


Sangermaine I have no idea how widespread this sentiment is among people who identify as either leftists or centrists, and I doubt either you or I have any way or hard data to show anything of the sort. I'm just saying it's a sentiment I've seen expressed and that I get the impression it's more widespread than many would like to believe.

Thank you. I don't doubt that leftist supporters of authoritarianism and state violence are a minority, but I do think there's more people who support it than a lot of us would like to believe, in part because of that normal human desire for someone to just fix things, how be damned.
posted by SansPoint at 12:56 PM on September 9 [4 favorites]


... does the mefi left have a party line on jacobin? i like 95% of the stuff they write, but then every so often there's some "identity politics bad!!" crap that makes me want to throw the whole thing in the compost bin.
posted by Reclusive Novelist Thomas Pynchon at 12:57 PM on September 9 [3 favorites]


I think it's a bit of a mistake to have so much of our political stuff consist of reading the internet and then assuming that what people do when they organize matches the internet - especially given how much content has to be generated to make a magazine functional.

Like, let's just imagine that tomorrow morning the entire Republican administration is mind-controlled by Bernie Sanders and immediately proposes both the most generous possible Green New Deal and socialized medicine. My bet is that virtually everyone less wealthy than Beto O'Rourke and to the left of Jonathan Franzen would immediately sign on - especially given the actual engagement that people to the left of center had with the actually existing New Deal. Very few people were, like, boycotting the WPA because it wasn't communist enough, and very few people to the left of center were refusing to work for the CCC because it was some kind of sinister Red plot. People were critical of those programs, but in the US we tend to fall into narratives about how well if we had [X desirable if imperfect program] then THOSE people would just SABOTAGE it because they are FEEBLE LIBERALS or else TANKIES.

When people have a practical campaign or success to engage with, the quality of their engagement changes.
posted by Frowner at 12:58 PM on September 9 [18 favorites]


Liberalism, as I understand it, is a compromise where the purpose of authority is to protect people from authoritarianism. It can never be perfect and needs constant correction, but if the alternatives are anarchy or totalitarianism, I'll take it.

The current leftist criticism of liberalism (or, at least, mine) comes from the balance being really broken right now and a perceived threat to the democratic process itself.

We have state violence against people in the form of racist police, ICE, etc. at the same time as there is very little restraint against corporate destruction of the environment, profits over health, and so forth. That is backwards.
posted by Foosnark at 1:03 PM on September 9 [13 favorites]


Frowner: There's also often a tone of "X program is shit, because it doesn't go far enough!" Rarely in politics do we get stuff right on the first try. It's often a gradual, iterative process to get from a program that does a little bit and improves slightly on what we had before to a program that is effective and covers all the bases...

...and then there's the other problem of rolling back those incremental changes to make things gradually worse.
posted by SansPoint at 1:05 PM on September 9 [2 favorites]


"One thing I agree with Jonathan Chait about is that the term ‘neoliberalism’ is thrown around as an epithet by a lot of people who really don’t know what they’re talking about. If you talk to ten people, you’ll probably get ten different explanations for what they mean when they use the word. It could fill in for Clinton/Blair Third Wayism in a better or less-defined manner. It could refer to Naomi Klein-style disaster capitalism. It could be an attempt to define support for free trade and international economic agreements. It could be primarily about the preference for public-private partnerships or the privatization of government functions. In some cases, it might be as unsophisticated as Chait describes it, as little more than an anti-capitalist word used by hardcore socialists.

Whatever any individual has in their own mind, they use the word as an insult." - Martin Longman in Washington Monthly.
posted by factory123 at 1:06 PM on September 9 [6 favorites]


> Liberalism, as I understand it, is a compromise where the purpose of authority is to protect people from authoritarianism. It can never be perfect and needs constant correction, but if the alternatives are anarchy or totalitarianism, I'll take it.

both sentences of your statement invoke a counterfactual.
  1. liberalism is not a compromise where the purpose of authority is to protect people from authoritarianism. liberalism is a system differing from other systems in that the defense of individual liberty, including the individual liberty to establish economic dominion over others through market means, is seen as the proper use of the state. the use of economic liberty to establish economic dominion is opposed in varying ways by social liberals, but these ways typically do not involve meaningfully restricting the influence of the market over the workings of the economy — regulating it, certainly, but not restricting it.
  2. it is flatly untrue that the alternatives to liberalism are anarchy or totalitarianism, and your assertion of such at this late date, even within an "if" clause, indicates a certain unserious quality to your participation in this thread.
posted by Reclusive Novelist Thomas Pynchon at 1:17 PM on September 9 [6 favorites]


I don't read Jacobin unless recommended an article, and can barely remember anything important from them. For getting into left stuff, I use lectures and books to the extent of time that I can, so I try to be selective as I am not a voracious reader. But, maybe I'm just lazy. In fact, from this week's jacobin on Foucault:

"His analysis is remarkable in that it represents one of the first attempts to closely study neoliberalism as a thought collective" articulates my own thoughts on what neoliberalism "is".
posted by polymodus at 1:17 PM on September 9 [1 favorite]


Rarely in politics do we get stuff right on the first try.

Which is why it's important to analyze how various Social Democratic states have failed and succumb to austerity and I would say that is that they didn't change the relationship to power
posted by The Whelk at 1:19 PM on September 9 [11 favorites]


> I don't read Jacobin unless recommended an article, and can barely remember anything important from them. For getting into left stuff, I use lectures and books to the extent of time that I can, so I try to be selective as I am not a voracious reader.

i mean, yeah, books 'n' stuff are better for theory, but it is nice having a print/web outlet that covers current events from an explicitly marxist perspective and also isn't trash.

except every so often it's trash? and i'm like "ughhhh."
posted by Reclusive Novelist Thomas Pynchon at 1:22 PM on September 9 [1 favorite]




Liberal is basically no longer a useful term. It's worn out, used up, and everyone thinks of something different when they hear it. Does it mean free markets? Yes. Does it mean gay marriage? Yes. Does it mean democratic elections? Yes. Does it mean money is the same as speech? Yes. It can mean all of those things because it has no meaning.
posted by Ray Walston, Luck Dragon at 1:28 PM on September 9 [5 favorites]


The thing we can't lose sight of is that America is at a demographic and democratic crossroads. We are in a new gilded age where money is political power, where political power knows no national allegiance and will subject itself to no laws whatsoever. It will claw for itself and its heirs whatever it can, however it can. And, in the wings, we have the the makings of a more egalitarian, fairer, system that hews closer to the (however flawed) ideals most on all sides ascribe to our republic.

It's naive and dangerous to think those holding onto power will just shrug their shoulders and turn over the keys. We are already seeing that they will do anything and everything to maintain their hold on power. Absolutely everything is at stake and the people with a death-grip on power (rightly) see it as an existential crisis.

We must also.
posted by sjswitzer at 1:33 PM on September 9 [6 favorites]


> Liberal is basically no longer a useful term. It's worn out, used up, and everyone thinks of something different when they hear it. Does it mean free markets? Yes. Does it mean gay marriage? Yes. Does it mean democratic elections? Yes. Does it mean money is the same as speech? Yes. It can mean all of those things because it has no meaning.

nah, there's some things — a lot of things — that "liberal" doesn't mean. it's only blurry in the united states because for the next like 60 years after mccarthy did his thing it wasn't entirely safe for anyone to identify as anything left of liberal, so everyone left of liberal called themselves liberals.

one thing that's often missing in discussions of "left" vs "liberal" in the united states is that, well, mccarthyism worked — sure, america fought it off, but the scars it left were deep and still haven't entirely healed. every time (for example) sanders supporters and warren supporters get into shouting matches with each other, i'm like "ughh fuck you joe mccarthy you did this to us this is your fault."

warren people! sanders people! you're on the same side! be like the candidates themselves and play nice with each other!
posted by Reclusive Novelist Thomas Pynchon at 1:34 PM on September 9 [10 favorites]


Also, I think I post these Guardian articles every time Neoliberalism comes up, and I'm not going to stop now

Neoliberalism – the ideology at the root of all our problems

The idea that changed the world
posted by Ray Walston, Luck Dragon at 1:35 PM on September 9 [7 favorites]


w/r/t jacobin, if i had infinite free time and a trust fund i would right now be founding a current events journal titled blanquist.
posted by Reclusive Novelist Thomas Pynchon at 1:43 PM on September 9 [5 favorites]


The tendency of liberalism to favor capital is to me a form of proto-fascism and provided we can put the right checks in power to keep fascism from rising within the right wing, I'm totally down with liberals in a very broad coalition of power, but the problem for me comes down the nature of how fascism leverages capital interests to ensure destabilization of a nation in order to consolidate power. From my readings of history, since liberalism ultimately favors the market over labor, when a fascism emerges, liberalism sides with fascism because individual property rights are favored too heavily over leftist calls for more communal spaces in society. That doesn’t mean all leftists want everyone to live on communes, it means looking at the society as more of a shared commonality. Basically, identity and individualism and a focus on guaranteeing individual property rights seems like it always lands on liberalism supporting the fascist when the fascism emerges. I don’t know how to break liberalism down in a way that serves as a check on this tendency. Hence my skepticism of liberalism.
posted by nikaspark at 1:44 PM on September 9 [19 favorites]


And within liberalism I see a lot of support for increasing the protections and rights of marginalized people as ultimately serving the means of making us more useful to capitalism so I'm skeptical of diversity and inclusion and identity politics in general because it seems to me to all centered on making it so that I am more available for making more money for the capital class. See Corporate Pride as evidence of my thesis.
posted by nikaspark at 1:52 PM on September 9 [9 favorites]


nikaspark: hard endorse to that.

something that left thinkers have going for them that liberal thinkers don't (or at least, generally don't) is an understanding of the broad arc of history and that, well, things were relatively recently different from how they are now, and will in the future likewise be different from how they are now. although most liberal thinkers aren't quite as ... bad... as francis fukuyama, there is this tendency among liberals to approach the world as if it were an eternal unchanging present, as if fukuyama's "end of history" is always here and has always been here. american liberals will sometimes invoke the specters of the founding fathers, but generally through a sort of patriotic haze that treats their world as similar to our modern one, and their words as straightforwardly applicable to our modern one. likewise sometimes past liberal thinkers — j.s. mill, say — will be cited, but if the difference between his time and ours is acknowledged, it's in the narrative frame of whig history: once things were bad, then they got better because people worked to make them better, and now they're gosh-darn good so no one should rock the boat.

this flattened-out perspective on the difference of the past is echoed by a flattened-out view of difference in the present; the ways that things work quite differently in other places than they do in the united states get systematically overlooked, and chumps like thomas friedman end up selling a lot of nonsense books by flattering liberals and their flattened-out views. there are some sort of things i could say right now about the institution of market rule requiring the people supporting it to view everything as flattened-out and interchangeable, but maybe that's a little facile.

to be fair: the bad thing about left historical perspectives is the tendency to over-valorize marx and lenin1 and luxemburg and gramsci, without actually reading any of them that closely. there are leftists who believe that they have historical perspectives who really just have a idiosyncratic set of wrongheaded assumptions about the past. see particularly the cod-marxists who desperately try to argue that the historical record indicates that capitalism is prior to and originally generative of racism and misogyny.

(that said: holy crap y'all read capital and read luxemburg and read gramsci. and walter benjamin. and read lenin, too, but first read some histories of the paris commune — lenin makes a lot more sense if you come to his writing with a clear sense of what he was desperately trying to avoid.)

1: yes, lenin was an asshole who killed a bunch of anarchists and squelched soviet democracy and set up the conditions of possibility for stalin's rise to power. but he also led the most successful underclass revolt since, like, the haitian revolution. so yeah land of contrasts that guy.
posted by Reclusive Novelist Thomas Pynchon at 2:03 PM on September 9 [15 favorites]


And within liberalism I see a lot of support for increasing the protections and rights of marginalized people as ultimately serving the means of making us more useful to capitalism so I'm skeptical of diversity and inclusion and identity politics in general because it seems to me to all centered on making it so that I am more available for making more money for the capital class. See Corporate Pride as evidence of my thesis.

And it's not just capitalism; the same sort of identity-driven liberalism seeks to diversify imperialist and white supremacist projects like the American military. Sure, America will keep drone murdering Muslim kids, but at least the operators will be women!
posted by Ouverture at 2:04 PM on September 9 [13 favorites]


And 'liberals' have been afraid to defend themselves - lest they be cancelled for punching left as the populist right is ascendant.

Could have fooled me, what with multiple respected national publications retaining columnists who do this constantly.

I see a parallel here with the what seems like a rise in support for left-wing authoritarianism.

I'm not sure you mean to imply that the opposite of liberalism is authoritarianism but it's worth noting that plenty of people who definite their politics as fundamentally anti-authoritarian - e.g. various flavors of anarchism - don't consider themselves "liberals." But then that gets the mess of meanings that word has - "classical liberalism" vs. the peculiar American definition of liberalism vs. the whole tradition of liberal political thought. I'm not sure it's worth arguing about that stuff - but it probably is worth learning to figure out what various people mean by the term in context.
posted by atoxyl at 2:07 PM on September 9 [6 favorites]


Yeah so to refine my concern, firstly I struggle to wrap my head around what I'm supposed to do when someone ostensibly uses a homophobic or anti-PoC slur at me, or treats me different because of what I look like, while accepting that x-isms can and do get coopted by the corporate state complex.

Secondly, the idea that leftists can be skeptical of "identity politics", is a convenient affordance: immanence and conflict are denied and class-pure arguments are neat and simple, and who does that serve? It has reminded me of what Chomsky ultimately rejected in his activism, when feminism during the 60's deeply conflicted with the kind of male-dominated antiwar justice he was involved in.

I remember a Judith Butler video where she was taking a walk with an activist in a wheelchair, and I didn't see Butler telling her, well, according to theory, the concerns of anti-ableism are false consciousness and solely explained by reification under capitalist relations.

Which goes to my third and original point in my prior comment. Leftists arguing against identity politics never cite current scholarly writing and research to convince others of such claims. It's like the humanities own version of being anti-science, repeated talking points over critical evidence and hard work.
posted by polymodus at 2:23 PM on September 9 [6 favorites]


It also gets into the (maybe more interesting ) conversation about "freedom from" versus "freedom to" and also the similar conversation about how to achieve "democracy." Court-packing could be considered a subversion of the process of American democracy, but it's proponents would argue it's a necessary corrective to a system that structurally disenfranchises people.
posted by atoxyl at 2:24 PM on September 9 [4 favorites]


A lot of my thoughts about identity politics comes from epistemological evidence, so I can see how it's irritating to folks who want more concrete cites. I'm also not getting paid to write any of this, nor am I getting a degree out of any of this, so my due diligence is absolutely lacking due to that and I rightfully do not care that it is lacking.
posted by nikaspark at 2:33 PM on September 9 [1 favorite]


I'm used to being hated by the right, but being hated by folks I thought were on my side is super duper fun!

Here's where I stand on things:

Organized religion doesn't always have to go bad. But it's a really effective delivery system, or mechanism, I guess, for humans to treat each other like shit.

Capitalism doesn't have to be bad. We made it up. The idea of "ever more growth" is something we... made up. Because we wanted to. It doesn't have to be terrible, but it's a great delivery system for evils that humans love to visit on one another. We can see that, left unchecked, it can do terrible things. We can also see that Stalin did terrible things in the name of a centrally planned economy.

I don't think a centrally planned economy could work well for the US, but maybe I'm wrong. I don't think anarcho-socialist socieities of mutual aid can scale here, either. I think we could emulate Western Europe and have a tightly regulated market paired with a generous social safety net. ...if we can also pair that with strenuous efforts at making white people in our country less racist, because we've seen how all that generosity in W.E. suddenly dries up once they have to share with "Others."

Humans like to hurt each other and revel in power over one another. Sometimes people do that by having more of whatever "it" is -- money, wives, slaves. Sometimes people do it through emotional, physical, sexual abuse. We will find any excuse to do this to one another. I want a society that actively works, every day and at every level, to curb those tendencies and incentivizes gentleness and compassion.
posted by pelvicsorcery at 2:36 PM on September 9 [10 favorites]


A lot of my thoughts about identity politics comes from epistemological evidence, so I can see how it's irritating to folks who want more concrete cites

No, no. On the third point, I am saying it's racist and privileged and anti-science and anti-literate, not merely pedantically irritating. It is a refusal to be responsible for what one says and to refuse an ethic of being intellectual. This too, taking responsibility for an intellectual commons, is a leftist value.

What even is epistemological evidence? Sounds like rhetoric used to justify anything.
posted by polymodus at 2:43 PM on September 9 [6 favorites]


What even is epistemological evidence? Sounds like rhetoric used to justify anything.

It's how I know I'm trans and I don't have to prove it to anyone. In other ways it's not very reliable.

I am saying it's racist and privileged and anti-science and anti-literate

I can see that and I agree with you. In ways that it matters where more is at stake I absolutely engage in a level of rigor that does my best to account for the ways that I engage in racism and upholding white supremacy, I'm a work in progress and I appreciate this critique and I'll do more to provide better sourced links to Metafilter when I engage in these conversations from here out.
posted by nikaspark at 2:54 PM on September 9 [3 favorites]


Which goes to my third and original point in my prior comment. Leftists arguing against identity politics never cite current scholarly writing and research to convince others of such claims. It's like the humanities own version of being anti-science, repeated talking points over critical evidence and hard work.

I think a problem (and I feel like I've said this before so forgive me, but at the same time I'm thinking it through in a slightly different way) is that people use "identity politics" to mean different things. I tend to think that for some people in some positions (not always privileged people) it's fairly easy to underestimate the depth of "identity" in how it shapes experience and therefore to scant the good kind of identity politics.

I'm not saying this very well, but I'll keep trying.

Like, corporate pride is not at all the same as queer people organizing to, eg, press for queer-competent medical care. "I would like queer competent medical care" does not necessarily follow from "medical care for all free at the point of service", nor is the depth of what queer-competent care means readily apparent to straight allies, because queer experiences are, like any experiences, extremely complex and specific. One could, of course, point to Stalin recriminalizing homosexuality, but one would not want to dot such a large i.

I think that if you are in particular circumstances as a minoritized person, your experience may be so unique that "identity politics" doesn't speak to you very strongly. I feel really fucking weird in union circles, to make a kind of analogy, and I don't fit in very well even though my entire adulthood has been spent in pink collar jobs. My union isn't some kind of hellhole of Trumpist straight white men, either, but my life was so strongly marked by being a queer nerd outsider that the unifying experiences of being working class have sort of receded for me.

For me "identity politics" are always going to be a real thing because I understand capitalism as something that emerges in historically specific ways from a whole bunch of different authoritarian structures and because I think that even if we could time travel back to the year dot and discover that Class Is The Primary Oppression, all the other oppressions have so deeply written themselves on us that there's no way to unpick things just by granting class primacy.
posted by Frowner at 2:55 PM on September 9 [11 favorites]


Also I think we can't access knowledge except through Having A Theory; it's like saying that we can only see color by having rods and cones in our eyes. So while there are some things that historical evidence definitely isn't, it's a bit tricky to be 100% sure of what it is, or to assert that you're sure and your surety precedes your theory.
posted by Frowner at 2:57 PM on September 9 [4 favorites]


there are some sort of things i could say right now about the institution of market rule requiring the people supporting it to view everything as flattened-out and interchangeable, but maybe that's a little facile.
I do think that there is an important link between a certain kind of blindness to historical difference that is common across various meanings of liberalism and the institution of the market, though. I have to start by saying that I struggle to define liberalism given its diversity of meanings, but I do think that certain ideas about market relations are part of any meaningful definition of liberalism.

The position on market relations that I think of as characteristically liberal is that those relations are logical, trans-historical, and natural. That is, there exists a thing called "the economy," and if you strip away all the accreted political, social, and historical contingencies, things like prices and money will become central to the functioning of the economy. It's the state's job to regulate the excesses of this thing that operates under its own laws. The state protects people's freedom, and the economy is then where that freedom is realized. It's this belief in the inevitability of market relations, which themselves exist outside of history, that contributes to the historical flattening in liberal thought.
posted by a certain Sysoi Pafnut'evich at 2:58 PM on September 9 [6 favorites]


I see now, I need to clarify something: The leftists who prioritize class as the only oppression are being racist and I have a major problem with the leftists who advocate that way, I get into very heated arguments with them on twitter and I don't have a good array of ways to disabuse them of their willful ignorance and racism on the matter, but I am trying.

My particular experiences and skepticisms with identity politics are more borne out a of a fear that my LGBTQ+ identity is being captured and co-opted by Diversity and Inclusion capitalism, I should have been more clear and specific on that. Apologies y'all.
posted by nikaspark at 3:10 PM on September 9 [9 favorites]


hah this thread is great because in Australia the "Liberals" are the bad right wing politics group with the Christians in their camp who want lower taxes, lower welfare, and less regulation. Basically everything Mirax is talking about from an economic point of view.

It's economic liberalism but they also advocate social conservatism - anti same sex marriage and anti abortion. But they label themselves liberals because the economics side seems more important.

The exact same sides of politics exist in the US but it sems in the US the social side is more important so the labels get switched around...
posted by xdvesper at 3:18 PM on September 9 [1 favorite]


> The exact same sides of politics exist in the US but it sems in the US the social side is more important so the labels get switched around...

it's less that the social side is more important in the united states, and more that economic liberalism was taken as obligatory in the united states from 1947 all the way until like 2016. any politician who broke from the economic liberal frame — or even tried to temper economic liberalism with more than the slightest bit of social democracy — got called a commie and a crazy and ended up politically marginalized for their trouble.
posted by Reclusive Novelist Thomas Pynchon at 3:34 PM on September 9 [8 favorites]


well and also establishing social liberalism was damned important here, since even well after the end of de facto slavery much of the economy of the nation ran off of (and still runs off of) the hyperexploitation of black and brown people. since we're a settler-colonialist nation that ran/runs on racialized hyperexploitation, it's not easy to cleanly disentangle economic issues and social issues.

i suspect this crops up in australia, too, though i don't know the details of your situation as well as i should.
posted by Reclusive Novelist Thomas Pynchon at 3:40 PM on September 9 [3 favorites]


hah this thread is great because in Australia the "Liberals" are the bad right wing politics group

so the Liberal that ...

"is basically no longer a useful term. It's worn out, used up, and everyone thinks of something different when they hear it." (thanks Ray Walston, Luck Dragon)

... is the one that comes with a capital L attached. I can agree with that coming from British Columbia where the local Liberals definitely resemble the Australian version, the ...

camp who want lower taxes, lower welfare, and less regulation.

But small "l" liberalism -- I'm not ready to give up on that yet. I'd even go so far as to say it's not a bad thing that there's so much confusion involved as I think it's perhaps important for folks to stumble over their political definitions, get tied up in them, confused. Because political certainty scares the hell out of me. Way back when in this thread, The Whelk said ...

the biggest failure of American liberalism, if it can be said to exist anymore which I doubt, is the failure to name an enemy.

and it rubbed me the wrong way. As if there's not something to be said for not being sure who exactly to aim your proverbial guns at, as if there's not something to the old Pogo line, which my dad, long dead, always liked to quote ...

"We have met the enemy and he is us."
posted by philip-random at 3:47 PM on September 9 [1 favorite]


Capitalism doesn't have to be bad. We made it up. The idea of "ever more growth" is something we... made up. Because we wanted to. It doesn't have to be terrible, but it's a great delivery system for evils that humans love to visit on one another.
In my not-super-referenced sense of things, I suppose I don't know what "Capitalism, but without requiring growth, and without being bad (exploitation, ignoring externalities, being prone to capture & supporting fascism)" could look like, or if such a thing could exist. Like, I used to be right there, thinking that some changes to fix things would fix a core that's not terrible; but the more I learn about how things are and how they function, the more it seems like the cruelty isn't "capitalism, but hijacked for greed" but fundamental to the operation.

I'm reminded of DOOM (2016) or Snowpiercer, that way. There's a very smart scientist on the holoscreen telling me that "Sure, harnessing demonic energy from the hell dimension has led to demons overrunning the facility, but you can't just go destroying the whole thing, we need that power to profit & sustain the growth which was built on that easy access to demonic energy." And maybe they're right. After all, they surely know more about the design of demonic energy capture than I do as a Doomslayer with nothing more than a shotgun and a set of power armor.

On the other hand, I'm kinda suspicious that they keep saying demons won't invade the material realm again but it keeps happening.
posted by CrystalDave at 3:52 PM on September 9 [18 favorites]


Capitalism doesn't have to be bad. We made it up. The idea of "ever more growth" is something we... made up. Because we wanted to. It doesn't have to be terrible, but it's a great delivery system for evils that humans love to visit on one another.

Capitalism, due to its historical foundation in slavery and colonialism, is always going to be bad.

And just like colonialism, there may be "less worse" variants, but at the end of the day, no amount of reform and control will ever make it anything than harmful to everyone involved except for those at the top of the power distribution.
posted by Ouverture at 4:12 PM on September 9 [3 favorites]


So, to try to engage with Beauchamp's essay here, he invokes a very broad definition of liberalism, which is definitely not the same definition as many people here are invoking:
As Amartya Sen argued in a brilliant 1997 essay, many of the core principles we identify with liberalism today — religious toleration, popular sovereignty, equal freedom for all citizens — can be found in writings from pre-modern Europe, the ancient Buddhist tradition, and a 16th-century Indian king, among a range of sources. Liberalism has taken root in diverse societies across the globe today, from Japan to Uruguay to Namibia. [...]

Of these components, at least four political principles are common to the various species of liberalism (all of which relate to its core moral premise about freedom). They are familiar to most citizens in liberal regimes: democracy, the rule of law, individual rights, and equality.

These ideas — the minimalist core of liberalism — are so foundational to political life in advanced democracies that they’re simply taken for granted, with debates about public policy taking place inside liberalism’s parameters.
I'm not trying to argue that Beauchamp's definition is correct, or more correct than the definitions people here have offered. But it's clear that whatever you want to call it, what Beauchamp is talking about is not the same thing as The Whelk's definition: I am using liberal to be any sort of American good government Post New Deal social justice politics which is remarkably distinct from neoliberalist market fundamentalism. Again, to emphasize: I am not arguing that The Whelk's definition (or any of the others advanced so far in this discussion) is wrong, just that this labels a different concept than the one Beauchamp is labeling, and it's useful to distinguish the two. For one thing, it's clear that Beauchamp is talking about liberalism in a global context, not a purely American one, and his concerns and arguments about anti-liberalism are framed in that context.

Beauchamp goes on to make clear that the liberalism he's talking about doesn't neatly match the American Democrat-vs-Republican political axis:
Bush-era American conservatism was a right-wing species of liberalism; what Americans call “liberalism” is a relatively modest form of left-liberalism. Germany’s Christian Democrats, India’s Congress, Cape Verde’s PAICV, and Argentina’s Republican Proposal are politically diverse parties, some more conservative by their country’s standards and others more left-leaning, but they’re all broadly liberal.
(My emphasis.) In other words, "liberalism" is broad enough that it encompasses a wide range of ideologies, both left-wing and right-wing. Now, the argument could be made that this definition is so broad as to be meaningless, but I think that may be more a function of the near-total triumph of liberalism in the West since World War II than anything else. Any definition of "wet" given to fish would also seem to them so broad as to be meaningless, because they have little or no frame of reference for anything else.

Nevertheless, despite this broad applicability, it's clear that there are illiberal elements within otherwise liberal political systems. Although many of the policies enacted even during the Bush presidency were consistent with broad-sense liberalism, the Republican party has for decades begun to embrace more and more positions and strategies that are fundamentally illiberal: the Southern Strategy, the anti-choice movement, etc. Occasionally the willingness of the Republicans to abandon any pretense of broad-sense liberalism in favor of cynical power-grabs has been thrown into stark relief: Bush-v-Gore, for example, was a clear rejection of democracy and the rule of law. But at least during the regular business of government, even highly conservative Republican administrations like that of Bush 43 preserved a core of liberal values. Now, in the Trump-era Republican party, broad-sense liberalism has been essentially completely driven out, and hardly anyone even bothers to pay lip service to the rule of law or equality.

What I think is really interesting in Beauchamp's essay is the presentation of both left-wing and right-wing challenges to liberalism. (Along with which, it should be noted, that liberalism is here again not identical to "centrism" in being between the two, rather it is like a circle in a political Venn diagram that intersects with both.) From the left:
Those on the left argue that liberalism’s failures were eminently predictable, the inevitable product of contradictions within liberalism long identified by critics in the Marxist tradition — that between the liberal commitment to egalitarian democracy and a vision of the market as a zone of individual freedom. [...]

The current crisis of liberalism, according to this narrative, dates to (roughly) the 1970s. Around then, governments across the Western world began deregulating their economies, selling off state-owned industries, and privatizing core government services. This turn towards economic “neoliberalism,” as leftists termed it, was not just a matter of economic policy, but rather a comprehensive ideological and philosophical project. [...]

Now, it’s possible to oppose “neoliberalism” without opposing “liberalism” per se. But liberalism’s left-wing critics disagree; they claim that neoliberalism is not a distortion of liberalism, but rather its true face.

Liberalism’s core error, in this view, comes from a mistake in its vision of democracy. Liberals support democracy as a matter of principle, believing that individuals have a right to shape decisions that affect their lives in deep and important ways. But liberals curiously excludes parts of economic life from this zone of collective self-determination, seeing the market as a place where people have individual but not collective rights. Liberalism sees nothing wrong with the heads of Amazon and Facebook making decisions that have implications for the entire economy.
To my mind, this is a substantive criticism, rooted in the fact that liberalism at its core is an individualistic political philosophy. But is it true that neoliberalism is the "true face" of liberalism? Or is neoliberalism the end result of liberalism combined with the corrupting influence of capitalism?

From the right:
Conservative anti-liberals question not only freedom in the economic sphere, but the value of pluralistic democracy itself — arguing that core liberal ideals about tolerance and equality actually produce an insidious form of tyranny that destroys communities and deadens the human spirit. [...]

The right’s starting point is the same as the left’s: our society is in dire straits, and liberalism is to blame. Like the left, they see the untrammeled market as part of the problem, a decisive break with the libertarianism or “classical liberalism” favored by traditional American movement conservatives and European right-wingers in the mold of Margaret Thatcher. [...]

Liberalism’s foundational premise is that the government must defend liberty: that people should be free to choose their paths in life, and that the state’s role should first and foremost be protecting and enabling the exercise of this freedom. Conservative critics believe this basic liberal picture is rooted in a false, impoverished view of human life — there is not, and never has been, such a thing as freely choosing, autonomous individuals.

Actual people are embedded inside social relations and identities — most notably, family, faith, and community — without which they lack meaning and purpose. Liberalism elevates the will of the individual at the expense of these pre-political bonds.
To my surprise, I actually also find this to be a substantive criticism of liberalism. Not in its details, of course, but the observation that individuals are always part of a social fabric, and that a narrow focus on the individual without a consideration of the communities to which they belong, which may be quite heterogeneous in a pluralistic society, will ultimately fail to serve the needs of the individual, seems to me to be on-point.

If Beauchamp is right about the nature of the criticisms leveled against (broad-sense) liberalism from both the left and the right, then it seems to me that both of them are fundamentally collectivist critiques of liberal individualism. Has liberalism been crippled by its own hyper-focus on individuals, rather than communities? Is there a version of liberalism that is more expansive in its approach, and can better balance the needs of the individual against the importance of communities? Or are the Leftists right that neoliberalism really is the inevitable endpoint of liberalism?
posted by biogeo at 4:21 PM on September 9 [14 favorites]


I read the article, and good lord, it's perverse. Basically it's bought the economic or European definition of "liberal"— the notion that gave rise to "libertarian" and "neoliberal"— and applied it to the US, where people use "liberal" very differently.
at least four political principles are common to the various species of liberalism [...]: democracy, the rule of law, individual rights, and equality.

Bush-era American conservatism was a right-wing species of liberalism; what Americans call “liberalism” is a relatively modest form of left-liberalism. Germany’s Christian Democrats, India’s Congress [are] all broadly liberal.
Now, the leftists here might blow past this, nodding vigorously, but as an actual American liberal I find it maddening. No, the center right is not liberal. Hell, half the Democratic party isn't liberal.

How do we know that? We ask them. 51% of Democrats identify as liberal. (34% moderate, 13% conservative.) And that's double what it was in 1994. Think about that a moment: liberals were only 1/4 of Dems, and thus 1/8 of voters.

In the American context, liberalism is pretty much FDR plus Martin Luther King. You cannot strip economic equality and civil rights from it. What it isn't is the plutocracy that took over in 1980 and shredded the social contract.

For my leftist friends who are worried that it wouldn't (if it got power again) do enough about capitalism, I'd remind them that there's a reason the capitalist class hated and feared FDR, just as they hate and fear Elizabeth Warren and AOC today. Actual liberalism reduced inequality, nearly defeated poverty, and had a marginal tax rate of 91%. Oh, and contrary to some of the insinuations above, we kicked fascism's ass.

I'm guessing that the article's writer is still stuck in the 90s mode where to get anything progressive done, you had to deal first with non-liberal Dems and then with 'moderate' Repubs. As Brad DeLong has pointed out, that moment is dead— there is no moderate right to deal with. And the moderate near-left, the Biden voters, have nothing helpful to say either.

I'm excited by the Democratic Socialists, not least because what they actually want to do is quite liberal. Heck, even "workers' ownership of the means of production" is not a deal-killer— Warren's platform is 40% of the way there.
posted by zompist at 4:33 PM on September 9 [14 favorites]


This sea shift is real. Even the more mellow parts of the left web (“Leftbook” pages like NUMTOT or subreddits like /r/chapotraphouse) have really popular cries of “kill the landlords” and “kill the centrists” and, like all meme era populism, its hard to separate the snarky commentators from the serious ones. I just finished a grad degree and the (self-proclaimed) “radical” student leftists pretty much came out of nowhere in the last year, disrupted a lot of shit and unironically held picnics celebrating socialist war criminals.

A piece of this puzzle that’s also not being discussed is that the liberal powers that be are very content to keep chipping away at their own base. Obama was damn quick to throw his own people under the bus such as the firing of Shirley Sherrod or his annual premature capitulation of federal worker salary increases to the Republicans.

I can speak from personal experience that that attitude trickled down. Obama’s Executive appointees made some great gains against gov unions during the Obama years that Trump is able to further exploit. The extreme left isn’t wrong about how center liberalism has abandoned the working class. What the extreme left is wrong about is their own ideological purity from being equally as reactive.

Liberals neglecting the left and the left vilifying the center are all part of the “Iron Law of (Left) Institutions,” which says that individuals would rather increase their power within an institution or political movement than to increase the power of the institution itself. Tankies increase their social credit by being edgy. Middle management liberals increase their social credit by weakening the status of their workers.

Trumpism amplified this because people can kind of see the crisis on the horizon and people instinctually will have an “every man for himself” attitude as peril comes closer.
posted by Skwirl at 4:46 PM on September 9 [9 favorites]


> “Leftbook” pages like NUMTOT [...] have really popular cries of “kill the landlords” and “kill the centrists”

holy shit numtot is left now? do i need to start looking at numtot again? i unfollowed them a while back in favor of a couple of the socialist splinter groups and never looked back...
posted by Reclusive Novelist Thomas Pynchon at 4:50 PM on September 9 [1 favorite]


Hell, half the Democratic party isn't liberal.

How do we know that? We ask them. 51% of Democrats identify as liberal. (34% moderate, 13% conservative.)


I mean, I could ask a bunch of people whether their favorite ice cream flavor is vanilla, chocolate or strawberry and get a bunch of data, but if those are the only three options I give people to chose from, then the data isn't as meaningful as it could be.
posted by 23skidoo at 5:02 PM on September 9 [6 favorites]


I think in Beauchamp's view it would be more like asking people whether their favorite ice cream is chocolate, Rocky Road, or Neapolitan. And also a lot of the people who like Neapolitan the best and eat all of it whenever they get it also frequently talk about how much they don't like chocolate ice cream.
posted by biogeo at 5:32 PM on September 9 [1 favorite]


let's be honest: the great mass of people in this difficult mean country are ideologically 100% all over the map. the labels we've used in this conversation are useful for figuring out what our own positions are, and what our own praxis is, and what the histories of our respective movements are, and the ways in which we can build tactical alliances... but they don't necessarily cleanly apply to most people.

we're a bunch of academics and activists and white-collar types investing a lot of time in discussion about politics on a website from the 1990s, and we are not most people. the political feelings in most of america run from psychopathic entitled rage about the existence of other people, especially other people who look or act or worship different from them, to smug satisfaction about one's own comfortable position in a difficult world, to (and this is the most common position i believe) a bones-deep tiredness about working long hours for shit bosses at shit wages and paying high rents to shit landlords for shit housing while (especially for poc) getting shaken down and roughed up by shit cops, all of which spills into a bones-deep tiredness about politicians and politics and democracy and economics and life that leads to a fairly justified feeling of absolute hopelessness and a sense of total disempowerment.

none of these things map directly to liberalism or socialism, though of course the first one maps directly to fascism.

it is the job of left and left-liberal politicians and activists to provide hope for the people in the final category, to help them1 find a way out of justified despair and to genuine liberation, and to in general help build real power for the really powerless. we absolutely must carry this out. first because we have an obligation to our neighbors and friends to help them make their lives better, to help them participate in the world as full human beings when the whole rest of the world tries to make them into tools instead of people. and second because if we don't more and more of them will see the easy answers provided by the fascists and decide to join the fascists.

liberalism as currently configured has failed these people. i would argue that any system acceptable to the moneymen who bankroll institutional liberalism in america will necessarily fail these people. that's why i'm a democratic socialist. but that's also why i rather like social liberals and social democrats (elizabeth fuckin' warren people she is so fuckin' good) who have managed to find ways to scare the moneymen despite being in a party that caters to them.

1: i say "them" instead of "us" because although my parents and most of my relatives are members of the lumpenproletariat and although i could tumble from my carefully hacked-out position in the middle classes at any time, i am at least right now one of those people with the liberty to spend a whole day arguing about the distinctions between liberalism and leftism on a website from the 1990s. i identify quite strongly indeed with the people ground down by life in this country, but i am for a second not myself being ground down all that hard.
posted by Reclusive Novelist Thomas Pynchon at 5:34 PM on September 9 [18 favorites]


I'm very close to throwing 100% behind Warren. But I'm also not anywhere near convinced that she's capable of solving the problem of kyriarchy or that she really understands millennial/Gen Z intersectional politics enough to ... (sigh... for lack of a better phrase) to "make liberalism great again."
posted by Skwirl at 5:52 PM on September 9 [1 favorite]


is this where i deliver my little speech about, due to how democratic party delegates are allocated proportionally, so long as both warren and sanders stay above the 15% threshold for receiving delegates there is no such thing as vote splitting on the left? and that despite their similar platforms they have radically different bases of support, with warren's base running white, hypereducated, and white-collar and sanders's base running poc, high school education, and blue collar)?

and that moreover because of this confluence of eventualities it is quite possible that neither sanders nor warren will receive 50% + 1 of the delegates, but that nevertheless the two of them combined may very well end up holding more than 50% of the delegates? and that although much of the Internet fanbases for warren and sanders spend time lobbing insults at each other, the two candidates themselves seem to be quite congenial indeed, almost as if they were running some kind of, i don't know, joint campaign?

because i will deliver that little speech anytime, anywhere.

i'm leaning slightly toward sanders at the moment because i think the way to achieve the possible is to demand the impossible. but also i think sanders has a somewhat low ceiling in the democratic party primaries, and that the only way he'll end up in the executive branch is on a warren/sanders or sanders/warren ticket.

and oh my god either one of those tickets would stomp the fascists flat.
posted by Reclusive Novelist Thomas Pynchon at 6:05 PM on September 9 [10 favorites]


Basically it's bought the economic or European definition of "liberal"— the notion that gave rise to "libertarian" and "neoliberal"— and applied it to the US, where people use "liberal" very differently.

From where I stand you're not especially strongly making the case that the idiosyncratic American usage of the term "liberalism" is helpful to the cause, except that at one point perhaps it provided cover to socialist and social-democratic ideas. But the whole wave that young socialist types are on now is believing that we don't have to disguise these ideas anymore.
posted by atoxyl at 6:23 PM on September 9 [5 favorites]


is this where i deliver my little speech about, due to how democratic party delegates are allocated proportionally, so long as both warren and sanders stay above the 15% threshold for receiving delegates there is no such thing as vote splitting on the left?

If I may indulge the derail a moment, the 15% threshold is per-state. If you live in a state where 1. your preferred candidate is polling below 15% and 2. your state doesn't use an IRV-style primary a la Kansas, it may be in your best interests to vote for your second choice. So, for example, I live in WI, which in 2016 at least was total Sanders country. If it's still that way (I don't know; I'll see what Marquette says) then a vote for my first choice (Warren) might be wasted and it would be a better move to vote for Sanders instead.

To repeat, the threshold is per-state. Mind your state's polls and, if possible, push your state party to use a Kansas-style IRV system to transfer votes to ensure the 15% threshold doesn't result in wasted votes.
posted by Jpfed at 7:02 PM on September 9 [4 favorites]


yes indeed it is per state. make your voting decisions based on how the candidates are performing in your state at the time of the election: if one or the other of them is close to the threshold, vote for that one, if one or the other of them definitely will not meet the threshold, vote for the other one. that's the rubric i'm using, even though i'm pretty sure both of them will be above the threshold in my undisclosed location.

i have a small amount of faith that both of them will be above 15% in most places by the time of the actual primaries, largely because warren is surging and because sanders will pick up a bunch of biden voters once biden finishes bleeding out.
posted by Reclusive Novelist Thomas Pynchon at 7:09 PM on September 9


I'm also not anywhere near convinced that she's capable of solving the problem of kyriarchy

If you are seeking a single person who can do this, I have got some bad news for you.
posted by soren_lorensen at 7:26 PM on September 9 [11 favorites]


To repeat, the threshold is per-state.

pedant: it's actually per congressional district, though there are statewide delegates as well.
posted by Justinian at 7:38 PM on September 9 [1 favorite]


Sure, harnessing demonic energy from the hell dimension has led to demons overrunning the facility

But that's what I'm saying. Capitalism, socialism, all of it, they're not demonic energy from a hell dimension running based on their own sentience and logic. We made them up. We made all of it up.

This isn't my rah-rah speech for capitalism. This is me saying that no one ideology is going to fix this, because "this" -- the worst parts of human nature -- are the problem. We can try to reform or replace systems that enable the worst in human nature, and I'm all about that. That's the whole point. But I also get wary of folks that think (and I've met a fair amount of these folks), "If we just do it THIS way -- this system, this ideology, this whatever -- we'll tap into the better angels of everybody's nature and it'll be great." And that's just... not going to happen. It's going to take constant vigilance.
posted by pelvicsorcery at 8:06 PM on September 9 [12 favorites]


i'm going to reach way upthread for this, but:

> I don't think a centrally planned economy could work well for the US, but maybe I'm wrong.

so here's my quibble: most successful major companies run internally as planned economies, because large businesses that try run internally on capitalist-competitive lines die quick (see: the case of sears, where management by a diehard libertarian resulted in the company eating itself alive as different divisions competed with each other to gain internal advantage).

as such, i think it would be possible to establish an effective planned economy in the united states, and i think the first step toward that would be to nationalize amazon.

beyond that though i am going to fess up to one of the ways that i'm secretly a techno-utopian, despite the techno-dystopian character of our times. i suspect — and this is a very embarrassing admission — that throwing a huge amount of computing power at a planned economy will yield results that are at least somewhat better than what the market yields. the linear algebra involved in actually finding a best solution for a planned economy is totally intractable when dealing with an economy with a realistic number of products1, but nevertheless with enough hardware it's possible to get approximations that are not terrible, even if they're nowhere close to perfect.

the trick of course to establishing any sort of planned economy isn't doing the calculations required to keep it humming, it's displacing the capitalists who very much enjoy holding the whip hand within the market economy.

1: see francis spufford's red plenty for a discussion of this and also a really brilliant novel-ish history of soviet cybernetics under khrushchev. if you're interested in this sort of thing see also cybernetic revolutionaries, which is eden medina's account of allende's relatively successful attempt to construct a cybernetic economy in chile, an attempt that was tragically cut short by the u.s.-backed coup that resulted in the death of allende, the "disappearing" of his prominent supporters, and the 17 year long pinochet dictatorship.
posted by Reclusive Novelist Thomas Pynchon at 8:24 PM on September 9 [13 favorites]


We are now both living within and constructing the universal cybernetic democracy. It is gaining power over speech and thought and life, and will ultimately determine economics. This is the fulfillment of the best intentions of all ideologies: socialist, liberal and conservative.
posted by No Robots at 9:10 PM on September 9 [1 favorite]


well sure but first we've got to get the lance of longinus back from the moon, at which point we can fuse a 14 year old clone girl with the giant corpse of lilith. once she's fused, she can grow into a mystical energy creature a million miles tall, that can melt everyone together into a ocean of lcl and thereby fuse all consciousness into one single vast mind.

we must demand the impossible. we must demand third impact.
posted by Reclusive Novelist Thomas Pynchon at 9:20 PM on September 9 [12 favorites]


I'm finna release some shit rn in this thread. It's time to turn up.

“A leftist government doesn't exist because being on the left has nothing to do with governments.”
On the right, the anti-liberals locate the root of the problem in liberalism’s social doctrines, its emphasis on secularism and individual rights. In their view, these ideas are solvents breaking down America’s communities and, ultimately, dissolving the very social fabric the country needs to prosper.

[...]

Left anti-liberals, by contrast, pinpoint liberal economic doctrine as the source of our current woes. Liberalism’s vision of the economy as a zone of individual freedom, in their view, has given rise to a deep system of exploitation that makes a mockery of liberal claims to be democratic — an oppressive system referred to as “neoliberalism.”

“Neoliberalism in any guise is not the solution but the problem,” Nancy Fraser, a professor at the New School, writes. “The sort of change we require can only come from elsewhere, from a project that is at the very least anti-neoliberal, if not anti-capitalist.”
The right-wing anti-liberals only seem to be concerned with the "breaking down of America's communities" when those are white communities. The left anti-liberals I know are pissed at the destruction of communities by capitalism. The easiest example of this is gentrification, the amassing of capital and property that is then used to push out entire groups of people from places they have historically lived, and were not able to "own" because of racist/sexist/xenophobic practices enacted by the upper crusts of the owners of property, including landlords. Even then, the leftists I know are pissed at the historical genocide of the native people who lived on this land before any of us lived here. Even then, with the fact that we now live on this land, the leftists I know are pissed at the fact that we are destroying this land and exploiting it and the people that live on it for the benefit, and only the benefit, of the 1%. The destruction of communities through genocide and ethnic cleansing is one of the major tenets of modern leftist ideology where I live.

Capitalism and its tenets must be destroyed, because it is the chief cause of the dissolution of our communities, our identities, and our relation to the Earth.

I don't subscribe to any one view, because it limits my advancement as an individual, but I'd say that my political views are most in line with the tenets of democratic confederalism, Abdullah Ocalan, Murray Bookchin, Deleuze & Guattari, and feminist writers such as Sadie Plant and Donna Haraway. In my opinion, the Kurdish struggle in Syria, Rojava, and the YPG/YPJ are all at the epicenter of the fight against global fascism, with a large internationalist contingent of leftists going to fight for the ideas of equal and human rights. While there are obviously leftist gun organizations in the US, it is clear that the majority of people "on the left" are against guns. Yet, in these contexts, there are plenty of European-raised Kurds who have gone to fight with the YPG against Daesh, and now Turkey, who view guns as necessary for self-defense against capitalism and fascism. I don't expect leftists in the US to suddenly buy a bunch of guns and start an armed revolt anytime soon, if ever, but the ideas and views of anti-liberalism of leftists across the globe are typically in-sync, and as somebody noted above, a lot of time it's the process of achieving these ideas that are different, and the contexts create those differences. In the long run however, the destruction of capitalism is the goal. We can look toward Rojava as an example of a region that has worker councils and cooperative, sustainable practices in regard to their economy with relation to the environment they live in, with an absolute belief in women's rights. The police forces are only allowed weapons after the have courses in feminist learning courses. Women are given equal power in government. There are still battles to be fought there in regard to gay and trans understanding and rights, but they are on the right course.

A lot of leftists I know, including myself to a certain degree, do not trust the democratic socialists, nor do they trust Marxist thinkers that say we are all workers. Not everybody is a worker, and not everybody wants to be a worker. There are leftists that are fighting for the dissolution of "work" as we know it. Human history needs to be reconsidered from Marx's dialectic of modes of production and into Deleuze & Guattari's concepts of Anti-Oedipus and desire-machines. There are a lot of issues at work here, going even deeper than most surface-level leftists are even talking about. We need stronger analysis of the Western concepts of the family unit/nuclear family and its fundamental fascist repression of individuals and how our desires are the chief machines of production versus our labor, and how these interact with the world all around us.

"Leftism" as we know it is a big tent of differing views and concepts and experiences. Leftists that are black people are going to have differences with white people that are leftists, as queer leftists are going to have differences from straight leftists. Identity politics are not bad things. We all have identities, and a lot of our identities are being torn to pieces by capitalism. In my opinion, what the left should be doing is compartmentalizing its anti-capitalist tendencies into specific forms. We can work for equal rights of trans people, we can work to support workers' strikes in other countries, we can work for indigenous rights, we can work against trade agreements that destroy the communities of people outside of the United States. We should be dissolving the Western concepts of "the left". Technocrat capitalism has made all of this exhausting. It's hard to fight when there are battles literally everywhere in front of us. It is through these machinations by the capitalists and their social media vacuums and filter bubbles and algorithms that leftists across the globe are exhausted, because everybody is embroiled in conflict. Your family is a war, the Republicans are a war, your boss is a war, the owners of capital are a war. We can't sit here and constantly be in conflict with everybody, we need to separate our battles to those that are best at fighting those specific battles, and then come together to figure out what comes next, or figure that out while fighting the battles.

People have a hard time conceiving of a world without capitalism, but there are plenty of pre-capitalist, proto-anarchist societies that got on just fine before they were destroyed. We should be looking at those as examples as to how we can live our lives without capitalism as well as looking at current examples from around the world. The United States is not the only country that has leftists.

Human beings are desiring-machines, connected to the world. The world is being destroyed by capitalism. The Earth and our bodies are battlefields against a tiny population of people that seek to absolutely obliterate us physically and metaphysically.

"Why do men fight for their servitude as stubbornly as though it were their salvation?”

Wow this was rambling and probably incoherent.

(On preview: funny that you post that, Reclusive Novelist Thomas Pynchon, because I've always wanted to construct a major Deleuzian analysis of Neon Genesis Evangelion.)
posted by gucci mane at 10:32 PM on September 9 [16 favorites]


Gucci Mane: your comment is brilliant thank you. I don’t have much to add right now but it coalesces a lot of my fuzzier internal thoughts and feelings on all this into better focus. Again thank you.
posted by nikaspark at 4:32 AM on September 10 [1 favorite]


However you want to slice it, classical liberalism is fundamentally about the individual vs. the state/group. You may not like it, but Trump's America is a far more "liberal" place than it was, and a far more liberal place than most of the rest of the world, maybe all of it.

Oh, please. If your definition of freedom revolves round individual freedoms you live in such an illiberal country that there are petty laws even against crossing the road using your eyes to keep you safe ("Jaywalking"). More importantly, and coming back to a core criticism of liberalism, America is such an unfree country that it imprisons more people than any other country in the world does, including China. And a greater proportion of its people than just any other country in the world.

Further, in addition to imprisoning a significantly greater proportion of people than any other country in the world it forces those people to work for ridiculously low rates on what is quite literally slave labour. This of course is inimical to personal freedom.

And this is at the core of one of the left wing critiques of liberalism (and especially classical liberalism) - that it isn't actually about freedom for all. It's about the freedom for the haves to do whatever they like, and the have nots to suck it up.
posted by Francis at 6:36 AM on September 10 [9 favorites]


Wilhoit quote time? Wilhoit quote time.
Conservatism consists of exactly one proposition, to wit:

There must be in-groups whom the law protectes but does not bind, alongside out-groups whom the law binds but does not protect. [emphasis mine -JFGR]

There is nothing more or else to it, and there never has been, in any place or time.

For millenia, conservatism had no name, because no other model of polity had ever been proposed. “The king can do no wrong.” In practice, this immunity was always extended to the king’s friends, however fungible a group they might have been. Today, we still have the king’s friends even where there is no king (dictator, etc.). Another way to look at this is that the king is a faction, rather than an individual.

As the core proposition of conservatism is indefensible if stated baldly, it has always been surrounded by an elaborate backwash of pseudophilosophy, amounting over time to millions of pages. All such is axiomatically dishonest and undeserving of serious scrutiny. Today, the accelerating de-education of humanity has reached a point where the market for pseudophilosophy is vanishing; it is, as The Kids Say These Days, tl;dr . All that is left is the core proposition itself — backed up, no longer by misdirection and sophistry, but by violence.
Full quote and context here.
posted by JohnFromGR at 6:48 AM on September 10 [18 favorites]


And this is at the core of one of the left wing critiques of liberalism (and especially classical liberalism) - that it isn't actually about freedom for all. It's about the freedom for the haves to do whatever they like, and the have nots to suck it up.

Here is where I think that we-as-a-society get in a snarl because people don't have enough thinking time.

People of good will understand this point and are able to denaturalize the "If I can afford to buy something I am free to buy it" US definition of freedom once they think about it.

Another critical point is "capitalism has a specific definition and doesn't even, for pete's sake, specifically exclude buying and selling", because the default understanding of "let's get rid of capitalism" is "when you want breakfast you go down to the government food depot and get your bowl of sludge, like it or not".

Similarly, most people are able to understand that state planning does not mean "the government plans the sludge recipe along with what you wear and how many hours you put in at the Super-Duper-Pane-Be-Gone fake aspirin factory" - once they understand that for instance Japan and the UK - not even socialist countries! - do a LOT of industrial planning and have done much more in the past. You don't even need to point to Chile or the ambitions of the USSR. You can easily have industrial planning at a pretty sophisticated level while still being a capitalist country.

Clearing up mere matters of definition and fact would go a long way in these conversations and would get us to a point where we could argue, like, "desiring machines y/n" and "where does consent come from" and stuff like that.
posted by Frowner at 6:49 AM on September 10 [14 favorites]


It's hard to agree on the definition and limits of liberalism, but I'll take the vague and fluffy definition given "democracy, the rule of law, individual rights, and equality" for now.

One problem is that some of those most hostile to the fluffy definition actively like the label "liberal", and some of those who are in favour of that fluffiness hate the same label.

If you read Murray Rothbard's "Libertarian Manifesto", he identifies libertarians are really just classical liberals following John Stuart Mill: they only need the new label because they think others misunderstand it.

On the racist right, they're also fond of quoting the most racist bits of the classical liberal philosophers to try to show that classical liberalism was never meant to mean self-determination for non-white people. In their view they are the real liberals, and it's quite possible to read the texts that way.

On the other side, there are plenty of people who identify as socialists or anarchists who are all in favour of everything in the fluffy definition, but are very hostile to the label "liberal"

Modern self-identified liberals seem to take for granted that True Liberalism means taking the nice bits of the classical liberal philosophers, but stripping out the racist stuff, then adding the free market stuff from Adam Smith, but stripping out the hostility to joint stock corporations. But there's no reason everyone is bound to agree that modern liberalism = classical liberalism - racism + large corporations.

Also I think they tend to overestimate the threat posed by groups that dislike the label "liberalism", and underestimate the threat posed by groups that like the label.
posted by TheophileEscargot at 9:28 AM on September 10 [2 favorites]


Clearing up mere matters of definition and fact would go a long way in these conversations and

thank you, Frowner --

I've never voted for a right or so-called centrist candidate in my not short life, but I nevertheless think that capitalism (as I understand it) does a lot of things pretty well in terms of helping the marketplace function. But it absolutely sucks as be-all end-all. Or more to the point, the unregulated free market capitalism that seems to have so many true believers is the bad smell in the room, and if that's liberalism, f*** it.

Also, a fairly recent thought from Margaret Atwood:

“In times of extremes, extremists win. Their ideology becomes a religion, anyone who doesn't puppet their views is seen as an apostate, a heretic or a traitor, and moderates in the middle are annihilated. [...] The aim of ideology is to eliminate ambiguity.”

Long live ambiguity and the grey areas it can't help manifesting.
posted by philip-random at 9:45 AM on September 10 [2 favorites]


In my post above, a "desiring-machine" is a reference to philosophers Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, who wrote a two-part book, "Capitalism and Schizophrenia", with part 1 being named "Anti-Oedipus" and part 2 named "A Thousand Plateaus". Deleuze was a philosopher associated with what people like Jordan Peterson calls "post-modern Neo-Marxism", but in reality he and his compatriots' philosophical ideas go much further than that. See: Jean Baudrillard, Michel Foucault, Roland Barthes. (Foucault did the preface for Anti-Oedipus, calling it an introduction to a non-fascist life.) Felix Guattari was a psychoanalyst who studied Freud and was a student of Jacques Lacan. Both of them were "leftist"s.

Anti-Oedipus is a gigantic academic work, which bothers me due to its inaccessibility, but I also understand the reasoning behind its academic jargon and use thereof, because Deleuze and Guattari were trying to create an entirely non-fascistic form of psychoanalysis, maneuvering away from Freud and Marxism, and skewering Jacques Lacan. It was in this book that they came up with a new dialectic separate from Marx's, and opposed Freud's concepts. In this dialectic they decided that "desire" is not based upon the unconscious mind's "lack" (people will have to look that up it's a whole thing), but is actually a productive force, a factory, and that this is machinic to a degree that everything that produces is a factory, and all of these desire-producers are connected to one another, creating "flows" of desire. That all sounds completely ridiculous and I was going to go further but it honestly ends up sounding like complete nonsense if it doesn't already. Desiring-Production:
Deleuze and Guattari oppose the Freudian conception of the unconscious as a representational "theater", instead favoring a productive "factory" model: desire is not an imaginary force based on lack, but a real, productive force. They describe the machinic nature of desire as a kind of "desiring-machine" that functions as a circuit breaker in a larger "circuit" of various other machines to which it is connected. Meanwhile, the desiring-machine is also producing a flow of desire from itself. Deleuze and Guattari conceptualize a multi-functional universe composed of such machines all connected to each other: "There are no desiring-machines that exist outside the social machines that they form on a large scale; and no social machines without the desiring machines that inhabit them on a small scale."[1] Desiring-production is explosive: "there is no desiring-machine capable of being assembled without demolishing entire social sectors".

The concept of desiring-production is part of Deleuze and Guattari's more general appropriation of Friedrich Nietzsche's formulation of the Will to Power. In both concepts, a pleasurable force of appropriation of what is outside oneself, incorporating into oneself what is other than oneself, characterizes the essential process of all life. Similarly, a kind of reverse force of "forgetting" in Nietzsche and the body without organs in Deleuze and Guattari disavows the Will to Power and desiring-production, attempting to realize the ideal of an hermetic subject.

Thenceforth, while very interested by Wilhelm Reich's fundamental question—why did the masses desire fascism?—they criticized his dualist theory leading to a rational social reality on one side, and an irrational desire reality on the other side. Anti-Œdipus was thus an attempt to think beyond Freudo-Marxism; and Deleuze and Guattari tried to do for Freud what Marx had done for Adam Smith.

Published in the same year as Anti-Œdipus, Guy Hocquenghem's Homosexual Desire re-articulated desiring-production within the emergent field of queer theory.
There's a lot to nibble on in reference to the two volumes of Capitalism and Schizophrenia, as they are chiefly academic works attempting to create an entirely new conception of philosophy, Marxist dialectics, and psychoanalysis, but the volumes are heralded as revolutionary (as if that means anything) and you can find their legacy and influence everywhere. Mark Fisher is the first person I can think of who talks about Deleuze and Guattari a lot, and I know people here are into Mark Fisher.

So, that doesn't really clear anything up I guess, but that's what I am referencing above. The reason I am referencing it is because I believe "we" are in the beginning stages of having a massive re-trial of Marxism, whether that's through the defense of Marxist modes of thought against people such as Jordan Peterson, to the re-examining of those modes of thought within leftist circles themselves (some of those re-examinations coming due to the defense of which, or coming from people whose voices have historically been denied within the world of both leftist theory and the world in general). It will be inevitable that as Marxist thought is being re-examined that people will need to contend with Deleuze and Guattari's two-part volume, and it is in my non-academic opinion that it is going to be the biggest influence on 21st Century leftist thought. If Metafilter is still around in 20 or 30 years, we can all get together and collect the pool on this bet.

For me personally, I am finding these scatterings of their thoughts in the main places of political philosophy that I pay attention to. There are even hints of their beliefs in the books of Abdullah Ocalan, the Kurdish dissident imprisoned by Turkey, whom is the ideological center of Rojava. So to witness an actual structure based around feminist-anarcho-ecology (god Murray Bookchin would kill me for writing that), with little pieces of Deleuze and Guattari thrown in there for good measure, is extremely inspiring to me, is representational of the differences of leftist thought that we can find all over the world, whether it's with the Kurds and the Arabs and the Yazidis and Assyrians and Christians and Muslims and everybody else in Rojava, or in Chiapas with the EZLN, or with the West Papuans, or the people of Hong Kong.

I don't think there should be some sort of global leftist conception, because leftism is different struggle-to-struggle. There are anarchists in Ukraine fighting state-backed neo-Nazi groups who look down on identity politics, because their lives are in danger from neo-Nazis and they are on the ground literally fighting, just as the Kurdish struggle doesn't translate at all to the US. I think there needs to be some sort of...a mindset, I guess I'll call it, that allows us to link up with all the different forms and struggles of leftists inter- and intra-nationally, and a way to support these struggles while also being able to fight our own battles. This is what I was saying earlier: when you have stuff all over social media that is taking your attention, you get exhausted. You can't fight capitalism when you are too tired, and since capitalism is everywhere, you're going to easily exhaust yourself. Speed and tempo of crises are forms of power, and that power exists in the hands of the capitalists. Just look at the Trump stuff here in America. Back in 2016, and in the early stages of his presidency in 2017, you'd have so many different news stories and scandals happening simultaneously of each other that people literally felt confused by everything. You can go look back at those early threads here on Metafilter—find the ones that were around during the Wikileaks dumps and the Access Hollywood tapes, as well as the Trump Tower news—and see people being utterly confused about what was going on, due to the speed and intensity of the events themselves. So when the capitalists and the fascists have this power of deluging a populace, much less a global audience, with absolute confusion due to intensity and speed of the events, how are you suppose to fight them?

I use to think the idea that people all over the world would suddenly take up arms and start toppling states in a world wide revolution was ridiculous, but if you look at world events in the past couple of decades, it really seems like these protests are becoming more common, they're becoming bigger, they're becoming more organized, and they're becoming more militant. I'd like to know if there is some sort of academic research backing up my assertion. I even wonder if the increases in wealth inequality, the privatization of military forces and prison systems, surveillance states, etc., are increasing naturally or if they are a reaction to the citizens of the world getting sick of the powers that be.

Anyway, my personal conception of leftist thought is jumbled and typically incoherent, but maybe that's how I like it. I take pieces here and there and figure out my own way. I don't trust a lot of leftists, especially white male leftists (I'm white, for what it's worth, but maybe not male, I haven't figured that out just yet). To me personally, as a person of privilege in a privileged country and privileged city and state, I am attempting to never reach any sort of conclusion, but rather to look at all the sides of different thoughts. It is insatiably interesting to me to see identity politics be such a huge deal in America, but be totally disavowed by leftists in other places. I like doing the research to understand the context of their thoughts. I think it's important to understand why Ukrainian anarchists are annoyed by identity politics, just as I think it's important to understand why a Kurdish woman believes guns are a human right, just as I think it's important to listen to Indigenous people who live through the affects of free trade agreements. These stories don't exactly produce a coherent narrative, and I think that's natural in a world where we no longer have a narrative, but those pieces can be arranged to arrive at some sort of puzzle that isn't totally complete but is complete enough that one can reasonably guess the picture it creates.
posted by gucci mane at 9:50 AM on September 10 [9 favorites]


Deleuze was a philosopher associated with what people like Jordan Peterson calls "post-modern Neo-Marxism", but in reality he and his compatriots' philosophical ideas go much further than that.
When I wrote this sentence above it was meant to be a joke, but it doesn't look like it comes off that way now that I re-read it, hahaha, whoops. They existed within the academic world of post-modern philosophers. I guess it'd be called "continental philosophy" and it was very European-focused.
posted by gucci mane at 9:53 AM on September 10 [1 favorite]


I actually thought that your first references to Deleuze and Guattari were very clear and well-suited to the thread - "Human beings are desiring-machines, connected to the world" is succinct and gives a pretty good instant sense of what a "desiring-machine" might be.

It's not so much that people all need to be on the same page about whether we're Deleuzians or what, but that it's useful to figure out if, individually, we are. It's not even that, like anarchists can't work with Maoists can't work with social democrats, but that it's amazingly helpful to clarify for one's own benefit what one thinks makes a group into "society", or what it means to be an individual, or how we know what we know, or whatever questions seem upon reflection to be definitive questions about being in the world. For me, it helps give direction when I'm not sure how to reconcile my thoughts.

I feel very often like we spend a lot of time just figuring out what means by "state planning" and so on, and then the night has advanced and it's hard to find the time to think about what coercion is, or if it makes sense to talk about a stable subject and what that means for politics.
posted by Frowner at 12:08 PM on September 10 [4 favorites]


I wish I could somehow erase everyone on Earth's understanding of what all these terms mean, so that all our political conversations would have to be discussions about actual specific policies.
posted by showbiz_liz at 12:13 PM on September 10 [4 favorites]


Actually, to build on that -

A year or two ago, New York State had a ballot referendum on whether we should have a constitutional convention to rewrite our state constitution. Everyone I know who is involved in politics in NYC was talking about it, and everybody had genuinely different takes on whether or not we should no it, which didn't seem strongly correlated with a particular political identity. It was the first and only time in my entire life that I was able to have in-depth political discussions which were solely about whether a policy was a good idea, without a million other issues and feelings and philosophies bound up in it - because it wasn't something that was strongly correlated with a popular ideology. I honestly believe that if it were possible to do that with every issue, the entire country would change for the better virtually overnight.
posted by showbiz_liz at 12:18 PM on September 10 [6 favorites]


I'm curious how one can defend the liberalism of the Trump administration in the same week as the they fully Lysenko'ed the NOAA during hurricane season. I always thought that stationing political officers in critical government departments to overrule the truth when it didn't meet with ideology was among the strongest evidence of illiberalism there was.
posted by srboisvert at 1:16 PM on September 10 [9 favorites]


I actually love Abdullah Ocalan’s writings for that reason, showbiz_liz. His main 4 books are super accessible, with brief background introductions to his usage of terminology and ideology followed by “here’s what we should do”. Here is his introductory book on Democratic Confederalism, for example. It flows very quickly.
posted by gucci mane at 1:38 PM on September 10 [4 favorites]


It's funny how people who identify themselves as conservatives never have to repudiate Metternich.
posted by TheHuntForBlueMonday at 1:42 PM on September 10 [7 favorites]


Conservatives largely act to protect an unequal existing state of affairs, and are sometimes willing to undermine democracy, the rule of law, and individual rights of those who lack privilege to do so.

Progressives largely act to try to create equity, and are sometimes willing to undermine democracy, the rule of law, and individual rights of those who are privileged or in the majority to do so.

We've never had equality, not for POC, not for women, not for poor people, not for LGBTQ+ people.

The rule of law has unequal outcomes that reinforce privilege, democracy is set up in a way that reinforces existing privilege and impedes or disenfranchises those who are less privileged, and individual rights do not provide equitable outcomes. Each of these liberal ideas is premised on the idea of equal treatment, and equitable outcomes, but that's not how the systems are actually set up.

They'll never be perfect, but personally I think they can be better.
posted by gryftir at 3:07 PM on September 10 [4 favorites]


As for the conversation about the failures of individualism being a failure point of liberalism above, I do thinks of think that’s right, I was just on HORROR VANGUARD talking about the movie HIGH-RISE about how the movie’s Themes and motifs really crystalized around a criticism of individualism as not being able to do anything but make rich people richer and/or endorse and encourage sociopathy as normal business practice.

I’m welcome to personal freedom concepts from anarchism, and I believe it’s important to have a group of people super interested in personal freedom and automny, but liberal (or neoliberal) interpretations of freedom tend to be more “freedom to die under a bridge”
posted by The Whelk at 4:54 PM on September 10 [4 favorites]




Liberals are intelligent. But Conservatives are ruthless.
posted by notreally at 6:25 PM on September 10




So speaking as someone who identifies strongly with the broad-sense liberalism described (if not strictly defined) by Beauchamp, and also the more narrow-sense liberalism described by zompist above that gave us the New Deal, the Civil Rights movement, and a defeat of fascism that kept it on the margins for nearly three generations:

Fundamentally, what I care about is the flourishing of individual humans. Of course I recognize the importance of community in human life, and I love living in a pluralistic society with a wide array of cultures and traditions, some of them ancient, some of them being invented today. But while I may strongly value human communities for all kinds of reasons, within the political context I value them primarily as instruments of individual flourishing. And as essential as community is for human flourishing, it is also clear that many traditions and communities can serve to oppress the individuals within them. Families may be abusive, cultures may endorse racism and sexism, religions may protect predators.

I believe that the principles of rule of law and equal protection under the law, applied within a broad-sense liberal framework, are powerful tools not only for protecting individuals from government overreach but also for liberating individuals from oppressive non-governmental systems and communities. And I believe the social liberalism of the Democratic party has been tremendously successful in advancing these goals for many decades, even while economic "neoliberalism" has failed to protect individuals from the oppression of corporations and the capital class, or even served to deepen that oppression.

I can acknowledge the criticism from the Right that liberalism fails to properly recognize how the individual is always centered within a web of communities. Indeed, libertarianism is essentially taking this blind spot to its extreme, refusing to accept that the reality that people always act within a social context has political implications. But I see the Right's focus on "family, faith, and community" more often than not as an attempt to subvert democratic solutions for the protection of minorities and misfits, replacing government of, by, and for all people with patriarchal tyranny.

I can also acknowledge the criticism from the Left that liberalism has played an important role in bringing the world to an increasingly corporatist place, allowing some individuals to amass absurd amounts of wealth and effectively ceding political control to a small billionaire class. The individual economic freedom of these billionaires is tyranny for the rest of us, and to the extent that liberalism has, in fact, become captured by "neoliberalism," or perhaps more accurately liberal capitalism, it has become irrelevant for protecting the economic (and increasingly all other) rights of most individuals. But I do not agree that neoliberalism is the "true face" of liberalism; rather, it is the failure of (some) liberals to fully recognize the threat to liberty that capitalism poses, imagining that capitalists are merely individuals acting in a market instead of puppetmasters robbing the rest of us of our political and economic autonomy.

I think if liberalism still has relevance as a guiding political philosophy, it needs to divorce (perhaps amicably, perhaps not) from capitalism. Markets are essentially a natural human collective behavior, but corporations and capitalism are created and supported by the state. To the extent that they do not serve the interests of the individual flourishing of all people, without oppression, the state has no business supporting them. And as corporations have increasingly centralized around a tiny number of extremely powerful decision-makers in shaping the economy and society as a whole, they have established themselves as fundamentally incompatible with democracy.

I believe that a liberalism that recognizes the importance of collective action and is prepared to treat different communities as having different needs in service to the flourishing of the individuals within them still has relevance. And while I think some leaders within the Democratic party in the U.S. recognize this fact, the "thought leaders" who Beauchamp cites who position themselves as the defenders of liberalism seem not to recognize this. Perhaps what we need is a clearly articulated social liberalism or perhaps liberal socialism (democratic socialism?) to take the forefront of liberal thought.
posted by biogeo at 10:58 PM on September 10 [4 favorites]


fwiw :P
Assemblage Theory and Social Complexity:* "The book is an attempt to loosely define a new ontology for use by social theorists — one that challenges the existing paradigm of meaningful social analyses being possible only on the level of either individuals (micro-reductionism) or 'society as a whole' (macro-reductionism). Instead, the book employs Gilles Deleuze's theory of assemblages from A Thousand Plateaus (1980) to posit social entities on all scales (from sub-individual to transnational) that are best analysed through their components (themselves assemblages)."

Your family is a war, the Republicans are a war, your boss is a war, the owners of capital are a war.

"The free development of each is the condition of the war of all against all": Some Paths to the True Knowledge

speaking of desire machines (or modification ;) eric weinstein i thought -- disagreeing with his politics -- had an interesting interview with "Timur Kuran whose theory of Preference Falsification appears to explain the world wide surge towards populism, and is now threatening to rewrite the core tenets of modern economics."

in that preference falsification -- subsuming your desires given a prevailing ethos -- leads to multiple equilibria in economic models assuming a set of ranked or ordered utility curves, throwing notions of market 'efficiency' and 'optimal' outcomes out the window. in the case of turkey, kuran argues atatürk's liberalism drive drove 'modernisation', but at the expense of allah-faring folks', which has come back to bite -- punctuated equilibrium!

yuval noah harari has things to say in this regard, too! re: populism being a form of illiberal democracy -- or vice versa -- and a reaction to technology undermining/dissolving liberalism's tenets. if, say, an algorithm knows you better than you know yourself -- or, at least, society works on this premise -- then, look out?

re: human flourishing -- and more on the social democracy-democratic socialism scale -- a definition that has stuck with me:*
And therein lies the difference between a poor society and a prosperous one. It isn't the amount of money that a society has in circulation, whether dollars, euros, beads, or wampum. Rather, it is the availability of the things that create well-being—like antibiotics, air conditioning, safe food, the ability to travel, and even frivolous things like video games. It is the availability of these "solutions" to human problems—things that make life better on a relative basis—that makes us prosperous.

This is why prosperity in human societies can't be properly understood by just looking at monetary measures of income or wealth. Prosperity in a society is the accumulation of solutions to human problems.

These solutions run from the prosaic, like a crunchier potato chip, to the profound, like cures for deadly diseases. Ultimately, the measure of a society's wealth is the range of human problems that it has found a way to solve and how available it has made those solutions to its citizens.
We made them up. We made all of it up.

which takes 'imagined communities' to envision! and enact :P
posted by kliuless at 3:26 AM on September 11 [3 favorites]


I'd argue that the left is only anti-liberal in that liberalism embraces capitalism and its oppressions. Other than the usual fringe of tankies I don't know of any real movement in the left to embrace authoritarianism.

I'd argue that we've got several politcal spectra that are largely (but not wholly) disconnected.

Left/Right is one, but it's one that's not really all that closely tied to authoritarian/liberal. While there are authoritarian leftists, Stalin and Mao just to pick two of history's biggest, in the modern Western world mostly what we see are liberal leftists.

I'd argue that rightism inherently puts a limit on how far towards the liberal end of the spectrum a rightist can go. To maintain social hierarchies you need a degree of authoritarianism that you don't need if you're not devoted to enforcing social hierarchies. Though, again, this isn't to claim that leftism is immune to authoritarianism, just that it seems to me that it's possible (though not mandatory) to be less authoritarian if you're on the left than if you're on the right.

Nor do I think most leftists are even especially authoritarian on economic matters, we just recognize what most people who identify primarily as liberal and not so much as leftists refuse to: that capital produces power hierarchies just as much as government does and that those need regulation, flattening, and can't be allowed to just run wild.

I think we also admit that ensuring liberty perversely requires a degree of authority. While most liberals are happy with the outcome of the Civil Rights movement, a great many do seem disturbed by how it was achieved. Liberalism, after all, is about less authority and more individual liberty, so imposing authority to mandate that people be treated equally is clearly further away from the furthest liberal end of that spectrum (which, presumably, might be termed lawlessness or even anarchy except that anarchists wouldn't agree with that framing).

Like Tucker FitzGerald noted in his essay Intolerant Liberals, which really should have been called intolerant leftists, we on the left are not particularly devoted to tolerance:
"I have some difficult news for everyone: Progressives aren’t interested in diversity. We aren’t interested in inclusion. We aren’t interested in tolerance. The progressives I know give exactly zero shits about those things.

We have no interest in everyone getting treated the same. We have no interest in giving all ideas equal airtime. We have no interest in “tolerating” all beliefs. I don’t know where this fairy tale comes from, but it’s completely disconnected from every experience I’ve had with progressive liberal folks in my lifetime. [...]

The progressive liberal agenda isn’t about being nice. It’s about confronting evil, violence, trauma, and death. It’s about acknowledging the ways systemic power, systemic oppression, systemic evil, work in our world around us. I’m not fighting for diversity. I’m not fighting for tolerance. I’m fighting to overturn horrific systems of dehumanizing oppression."
And I think that's where many of my more liberal and less leftist friends part ways with me. They either are less devoted to tearing down systems of oppression than I am, or more devoted to treating billionaires and Nazis as equally deserving of airtime than I am.

Again, I don't think much of anyone in the US or Europe is working for or hoping for a Stalinist type hard left and extremely authoritarian world. I'd argue that I'm not even arguing for a more authoritarian world in general, just that I extend the idea of equal treatment and the lessons we learned about the dangers of authoritarian government to the dangers of authoritarian economics. And the risk of authoritarian economic systems seems to be one which most of my liberal, but not very leftist, associates seem steadfastly determined to ignore.

Because, at heart, liberalism is unable to acknowledge the risks of economic authoritarianism. And that's the failure of liberalism in the modern age. I can even see how, back in the era of feudalism, promoting essentially unfettered capitalism was a step forward. But this isn't the 1800's and the problem of the 21st century is not that landed blood aristocrats are choking the economy by their insistence on controlling everything and taking a cut at every stage of every process.

The liberal centrists are in fundamental agreement with hard right liberals when it comes to economics. They might, under great duress and in times of obvious crisis, admit that perhaps, maybe, possibly, there's the need for very slight tightening of regulations. But fundamentally reshaping our economic system, admitting that the very existence of billionaires is a threat both to our political liberty and our survival as a species, admitting that the problem isn't that the system needs tinkering around the edges but that the system has oppression and starvation built into its very core, is something that people very far along the liberal side of the spectrum just flatly can't do.

So, just as the right can't go too far from the authoritarian end of the spectrum, neither can the left to far towards the liberal end. Because liberalism insists that capitalism must exist in an essentially unfettered form. And liberalism seems far more devoted to market lawlessness than it is to any other sort of freedom from government.

Marijuana remains illegal and liberals sigh a bit and aren't happy, but also aren't that worried. Abortion rights are being curtailed in ever increasing degrees and liberals say that's unfortunate but don't really get worked up. But we suggest that there should be a maximum wage, or that banks need really fucking tight regulation, and suddenly every liberal on Earth joins with the right and tells us that we're the most evil people around and we're seeking Stalinism.

You want to know why there's an anti-liberal movement on the left? Because liberalism is clearly more devoted to the supposed rights of multinational megacorporations and billionaires than it is to the rights of anyone else.
posted by sotonohito at 5:54 AM on September 11 [7 favorites]


“This is how the conservative movement works; the golden rule ethos—here derisively called “Frenchism” by people who mostly agree with David French—typically loses. The conservative response to supposed liberal media bias within mainstream journalism wasn’t the creation of better, even-handed press outlets, but right-wing outlets as biased as conservatives imagined the liberal press to be, such as Fox News. The conservative response to supposed liberal bias and indoctrination within the academy wasn’t the creation of more viewpoint-neutral and academically free universities, but the funneling of resources to explicitly conservative universities like Liberty and Hillsdale. The drag queen story hour debate shows the ill-liberal right is growing and appeals to liberal values on the right fail.

Or, the culture war stuff is the only lever of power the right wing doesn’t have control over so they’re whipping themselves up into even more extremist fervor over it.
posted by The Whelk at 7:16 AM on September 11 [5 favorites]


I haven't been entirely clear on the distribution of opinion among lefty opponents of liberalism on the importance or desirability of democracy. Some lefties in this thread have centered democracy which is really reassuring. But every once in a while you encounter someone* who seems to think democracy is unimportant or counterproductive and I want to understand how much mindshare they have and what they're thinking.

(Now, obviously democracy as currently constituted in the U.S. has led us down a dark path. I believe there are far better systems, and a key question for me is whether that latter group of people would be interested in a better kind of democracy or if they think democracy itself is bad/not worth it).

I totally get that the current capitalist vision of economic freedom enables all sorts of exploitation, so you need something to reign that in. And that something would be... the state, right? And would the state then just be correct by construction, inherently without exploitation, or would there be some corrective mechanisms? If not democracy, then (not rhetorical, legit asking) what?

1: yes, lenin was an asshole who killed a bunch of anarchists and squelched soviet democracy and set up the conditions of possibility for stalin's rise to power. but

Since democracy is (as far as I can tell) essential, I believe that you do not, under any circumstances, gotta hand it to them.
posted by Jpfed at 11:30 AM on September 11 [4 favorites]


I'm not sure any polling has been done on that question, and I'm unsure what sort of polling questions could provide meaningful answers.

I'm definitely on the democracy side of things, if nothing else democracy at least in theory allows transition of power without civil war.

However democracy should not be a suicide pact, and the successful ones are perversely the ones that limit what can be changed by simple majorities by essentially imposing freedom by dictate and then denying the voters the ability to take away their own freedoms.

In governments without that sort of protection for freedoms we see freedom eroded (see Israel's most recent disaster in declaring that some religions are more equal than others, and some ethnic groups are more equal than others).

The simple fact is that no, I don't really trust a majority of my neighbors to support freedom. They rail against any and all expansions of freedom to formerly oppressed groups, they vote for people who pledge to strip freedom from some people, and cheer at the idea of denying others freedom.

I take the position that democracy is the least bad of all systems we've tried so far, but that's damning it with faint praise. Mostly it seems to get captured by the Beige Dictatorship and power passed back and forth between bad and worse until there's a revolution.

I take the position of supporting democracy by default until something better can be developed. So far nothing better has appeared. But I'm not even slightly devoted to the idea that democracy is the best system available, merely the least bad system we've developed to date that will work, after a fashion, if you impose enough restraints on it to stop the assholes from voting away my freedom.

I also note that liberalism has a long history of promoting democracy more or less exclusively in a political framework while standing foursquare against it and for dictatorship in just about every other area of human interaction.

America's founders recoiled at the notion that their ideals of liberty might be extended to the family, or the workplace. And today's liberals sing the praises of democracy endlessly until asked why they don't support it in economics at which point they start telling us that freedom in the liberal usage of the word means workplace dictatorship.

When we consider freedom, from a political standpoint, we imagine sometimes how constrained people in non-democratic systems must be. How, in China for example, there must always be at least a vague awareness that saying the wrong thing about politics could result in your life taking a turn very much for the worse, and it seems that we have a system that allows us room to breathe, metaphorically speaking.

But in the workplace we're exactly as oppressed and subject to the whim of tyrants as anyone in the DPRK, or KSA, or PRC is. Speak the wrong words, fail to sing the praises of the dictator, and your life will take a sudden and sharp turn for the worse. We live most of our waking hours in a dictatorship of capital, and liberalism tells us that is freedom.

If you really believe in democracy prove it by pushing for workplace democracy instead of claiming that freedom in the economic sense is submission to a dictator.
posted by sotonohito at 12:58 PM on September 11


Regarding liberalism and democracy, I think that this column from Current Affairs, though a bit unfair as a judgement of mefite liberals, does get at some of the issues. It quotes from Saul Alinsky:

A fundamental difference between Liberals and Radicals is to be found in the issue of power. Liberals fear power or its application. They labor in confusion over the significance of power and fail to recognize that only through the achievement and constructive use of power can people better themselves… This fear of popular use of power is reflected in what has become the motto of Liberals, ‘We agree with your objectives but not with your tactics’… Every issue involving power and its use has always carried in its wake the Liberal backwash of agreeing with the objective but disagreeing with the tactics.

and goes on to say

Isn’t it a little remarkable that the sign almost exactly repeats what Alinsky said was the liberal motto: I agree with you in principle but… I don’t support your actual campaign. It’s the same slogan that Martin Luther King heard over and over, and that moved him in exasperation to write the “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” which is all about why people who support “incremental” change are idiots who do not recognize (1) that social justice is urgent and that (2) it takes actual effort to achieve it. So a “liberal” is the person who will lament the increase in inequality, without recognizing the labor struggle that is necessary to take power away from rich owners and give it to ordinary workers. Or, during the Vietnam War era, the person who will talk about what a “tragedy” the war is while being uncomfortable with those who take to the streets to demand that it actually end.

~~
I feel that a lot of liberals (well, a lot of everyone) tend to have a received and unexamined view of how social change happens and what a priori values and conditions are, and it's for this reason that the kind of stuff that gucci mane was talking about upthread seems so important to me - certainly equally important with discussions of policy.

Now, note that the critique I am about to make is basically true of people from many tendencies, though I'm specifically talking about its application for liberals.

I think that a lot of liberals unconsciously assume that "democracy" is both more-or-less what we have in the United States and the "natural" state of humans - so if things are working correctly here in the US, something called "democracy" will result, and the way we fix things is to encourage them to return to their "natural" state. Democracy is natural and normal, not something that has to be established by a break with the past, and therefore the only permissible tactics are those that basically fit into the already existing model of politics in the US. So voting, peaceful protest and agitating for policy change through existing channels are considered acceptable and democratic, but wildcat strikes, sabotaging pipelines or disrupting the everyday flow of life in the US are ipso facto not democratic.

I think that people treat their corner of the present as if it's the "natural" state of human affairs rather than a state of affairs which was established by violence and is maintained by violence. I think that this is because liberals, in general, are capable of making relatively safe, relatively fulfilling lives for themselves and don't encounter the raw social violence of American life, or at least don't encounter it at the sharp end. Like, look, I follow this public defender on Twitter, and she was just talking about how some homeless guy was just sentenced to thirty days in Rikers for stealing a loaf of bread. Either the prosecutor or the judge was willing to drop the whole thing, but the other one insisted on jail time. And according to this public defender, this isn't an uncommon situation. Most mefites, even if we stole bread, wouldn't go to jail for thirty days as a result. We are not at the sharp end.

A difference between a liberal and a radical is that the liberal sees American democracy as a normal state of affairs which only needs to be expanded in its current form so that everyone can participate, and a radical sees "American democracy" as only possible because of the violence which backs it up. A society which wasn't run on constant violence against poor people, women and people of color - plus anyone else who gets in the way or falls off the ladder - would not look like a middle class neighborhood writ large, because those middle class neighborhoods only exist in their current form as a result of social violence and inequality.

~~
This isn't to say that every half-baked "radical" idea is fantastic and awesome or that if we just wish hard enough and throw the right bricks, the people will rise up and establish utopia. A liberal might be extremely wrong about the root causes of a situation while still being absolutely right in their criticism of any given radical tactic.

It's more that a purely policy-oriented liberal viewpoint tends to naturalize and minimize existing power and violence and so anything disruptive or militant looks totally out of line with the situation.

I think that this is a reflexive way of thinking, not a considered or committed one, and I would like to point to increasing militancy by liberal types over detention camps. You don't see liberals saying, "well, it would be totally unacceptable if people sabotaged ICE vehicles or picketed ICE officials at their homes", and that's because when people really think about it, they get that ongoing social violence demands an aggressive response.

In this respect, I think that political militancy is ultimately a question of character as much as ideology - once people really understand social violence, their political commitments tend to change, even if they personally aren't out there literally hurling bricks.
posted by Frowner at 1:51 PM on September 11 [6 favorites]


I don't mean to monopolize the thread, but my particular question about anti-liberal ideas about democracy isn't "do they think they can get what they want through the state's shitty existing democratic mechanisms"; it's more "say anti-liberals get their way and remake things as they see fit; do they want it to have any democratic mechanisms afterwards?".

Hopefully the answer is "everyone else is just talking about the first question because the answer to the second question is obviously yes".
posted by Jpfed at 2:06 PM on September 11 [1 favorite]


For me at least the answer is yes.

Make me dictator for a day and I'd make a fuckton of changes and leave what I think would be a strengthened and better democratic system in place. One reason I'm not really supportive of revolution is because it tends to have the result of **NOT** leaving a democratic system in place afterward and then at best you've got decades of struggle just to regain what you used to have.

If we have to use non-democratic (however you define that) means to overrule the right wing, implement freedom for everyone, overthrow the systems of tyranny and oppression that liberalism is more than content to leave in place, and so on, then yes from my POV the ultimate desired end state is a democratic state. Unless something better can be developed in which case I'd toss democracy out like last week's cat litter. But for the record I don't consider any currently extant form of government to be better.

If nothing else Mao and Stalin have proven that left authoritarianism is as undesirable as right authoritarianism. Well, for everyone but the tankies anyway.
posted by sotonohito at 2:21 PM on September 11 [3 favorites]


Maybe this is for the other FPP but the narrow focus on "democracy" reminds me of the Bush-era triumphalism about how we were bringing it to Iraq and Afghanistan, and I had just read Tides of War which is about how Athenian democracy basically ate itself, and it was so clear to me that the secret sauce of the US wasn't just democracy but how it is limited -- between the Bill of Rights and the various un-democratic features of the system, there's a clear intention to carve out a space around every citizen explicitly protected from democratic (ie. "mob") rule.

I think it's the same for a lot of these other principles -- slavishly following any of them wherever they lead will produce something grotesque and unjust. Yes, you should honor the rule of law, but don't treat it as the last word on your bridge-sleeping policies.

I guess in the end I see "classic liberalism" as just a slightly broader version of libertarianism -- it throws some additional principles in the mix, but it still treats them teleologically, to be applied regardless of the actual effect on human welfare.
posted by bjrubble at 3:06 PM on September 11 [1 favorite]


Hopefully the answer is "everyone else is just talking about the first question because the answer to the second question is obviously yes".

That the gist of it. To put a little more nuance on it, what I hear from the more anti-democracy leftists is twofold.

1) based on an analysis of the structure of our democracy as well as historical events, a) we are unlikely to achieve socialist ends through democratic means and b) even if we did, that would precipitate a reactionary coup either domestically or "domestically" financed by foreign countries with an interest in maintaining the status quo (e.g. what happened with Allende, or the Contras). You get civil war either way, and we need to be prepared for that.

2) It is not generally useful to speculate on the details of the post-revolutionary state from our pre-revolution vantage point, because we are not yet familiar with the material conditions that we will face at that time. The harder line is that actually-existing socialist states have continued to be on a war footing even after their period of civil war ended due to the threat posed by the capitalist world order; that this war footing interferes with the full development of democracy and prevents them from reaching the "afterwards" point of things; and that even allowing for that, these states were and are more democratic than in generally understood due to successful propaganda campaigns by capitalist countries.
posted by vibratory manner of working at 3:12 PM on September 11 [2 favorites]


Like, look, I follow this public defender on Twitter, and she was just talking about how some homeless guy was just sentenced to thirty days in Rikers for stealing a loaf of bread.

Well, I guess now he knows the meaning of the law. And that meaning ain't good.
posted by stet at 3:31 PM on September 11


promoting essentially unfettered capitalism

Oh jeez. I know, for leftists the ideal occupation is trashing liberals. I mean, look out the window at ICE or Trump's corruption or gun shootings or climate change-- obviously Target Number One is Elizabeth Warren!

But please, at least recognize that (American) liberalism is fettered capitalism. From trust-busting to minimum wage to 91% tax rates to property taxes to regulation to redistribution, liberalism is made of things capitalists hate and have spent the last forty years trying to destroy.

There's no big mystery to why the plutocrats were able to take over: the Southern Strategy. We went from overwhelming Democratic majorities to mostly Republican minorities because the south went Republican. On Twitter I see Dinesh D'Souza constantly misrepresenting this story, but it's sad to see leftists and even liberals doing the same. It's not that liberals were too weak or not eloquent enough.

Personally, I want to see workplace democracy yesterday. We've rejected monarchy in government and need to get rid of it in business.

I can see the evils of capitalism just fine. I'm also skeptical of people who think "so abolish it lol." One, it's been tried and all the attempts caused wide-scale misery. Two, a lot of the problems you attribute to capitalism are not due to capitalism, and therefore abolishing it won't abolish them. Three, it's not some unexpected surprise when the reactionaries fight back; if your fantasy is violent civil war, most civil insurrections fail. Four, though I'd like to see some democratic, non-centralized socialism, you don't know how it works either and I don't much trust dogmatic people to run experiments.

I realize I won't convert any radicals here. (Nor do I feel I need to-- we need radicals too.) But pretending that liberals love everything about capitalism doesn't make you a deep thinker; it means that you think the truth is less important than repeating your personal dogma.

(I could probably save myself some angst by identifying as a "progressive" or "social democrat" or something. But dammit, I feel like letting "liberal" become a swear word helps reactionaries far more than it would help leftists.)
posted by zompist at 4:22 PM on September 11 [7 favorites]


Re sotonohito's comments about democracy in the workplace or in the economic sphere vs. in the classical political sphere, one set of arguments that I think carries weight and isn't made very often is the purely pragmatic one.

The evidence is mounting that firms employing various types of employee ownership and joint decisionmaking outperform purely hierarchical, dictatorial models. Most of the stuff I've read centers on the German "Works Council" model, I think not because of any necessary superiority of that model over others, than because it tends to arise in industries that are easily comparable to ones elsewhere. (Car and steel companies are the ones I recall reading case studies about.)

This isn't really hard to believe: you can only make people work so hard by paying them the minimum necessary to get them to show up every day, and that only because they lack realistic alternatives to working. If you want more productivity, you need some other form of incentive, and giving employees a real ownership stake and material involvement in the firm's decisions is a pretty straightforward way to do that.

FWIW, this is also a pretty good argument, in my experience, for single-payer healthcare. The firm operating in a locale where healthcare is paid by the government, essentially at-cost, doesn't have to pay for the deadweight loss of a health insurance company's profit margins, and that's without even getting into the cost bloat endemic to privately-funded healthcare systems.

My experience is that a lot of people who might be described as big-L Liberal or even some stripe of libertarian (generally socially liberal / economically conservative) can see the value in not becoming globally uncompetitive. Especially since it's the threat of global uncompetitiveness leading to the end of American hegemony and its replacement by the BRICs or whatever that's frequently used to justify the worst abuses of the existing economic system. You can really pull the rug out from under the whole thing if you can convincingly argue that, actually ours is a really inefficient, outdated system, which benefits a small class of kleptocrats at the expense of everyone else, the country, and democracy / Liberal values generally.

This election cycle is the first one in as long as I've been paying attention that I've started to hear candidates start to make arguments that edge down that road—Warren and Sanders particularly (Biden... lol no). I think it's an argument that will play well in areas that are generally libertarianesque (northern New England, the Mountain West, anyplace that used to have "Rockefeller Republicans", etc.). Guess we'll see.
posted by Kadin2048 at 5:20 PM on September 11 [2 favorites]


getting to Denmark :P

I'd like to see some democratic, non-centralized socialism, you don't know how it works either and I don't much trust dogmatic people to run experiments.

exhibit A!?
The Long Now, Pt. 2 – Make, Protect, Teach: "IT WAS ALSO TRUE OF THE LIBERALS."
posted by kliuless at 6:19 PM on September 11


If you want more productivity, you need some other form of incentive, and giving employees a real ownership stake and material involvement in the firm's decisions is a pretty straightforward way to do that.

I do sometimes think we might end up stumbling backward into the turn of the century American quasi-communist-syndicalist concepts of like ....the National Corporation, of these huge vertically integrated concerns with strong unions and rotating power structures and central planning and liberal freedoms. Like we all end up inside Looking Backward or such, cause it represents a way toward a more democratic, communally owned future that can fit inside the American worldview.

Like famously this idea was popular with non-revolutionary socialists and the like who thought it would be the natural result of these trusts and industries getting so large, after all, they couldn't just kill *everyone* right? How would they have customers? We know it didn't happen cause "hey here's this new thing it's called fascism" But I do wonder if its not like as an unexpected result on the horizon, like a Meidner Plan we could actually pass this time. Maybe fused with the Cybersyn ideas of Allende and Bess, put all that technology (which ultimately came from public spending and research) to public use.

I have to believe in, as Debs said "a lawful, peaceful revolution" and believe it is possible - if only because they don;t have a US Embassy in New York.
posted by The Whelk at 9:09 PM on September 11 [2 favorites]


(I also don't think Liberal is a useful word in American Politics cause the political space the word represented has been either abandoned or tainted by various forces for the last 40 years and you're not gonna get it back without a lot of effort - so its only useful in a pol-sci term of "Liberal freedoms" or :"liberal market" and the actual occupier of that space should probably be more like 'progressive' or 'social democrat' )
posted by The Whelk at 9:29 PM on September 11


zompist When exactly was I attacking Elizabeth Warren? I mean, I'm literally volunteering for her campaign and sending her donations.

As for liberals and capitalism, mostly I see liberals going to the barricades to defend capitalism against every criticism and declaring that any effort to change or reform capitalism is bad. I mean, hell, that's the actual thesis presented by many liberals both here and in the linked articles. Liberalism is largely defined by its belief in free markets and capitalism, it's not the totality of what makes liberalism liberalism, but it's a good chunk of it.
Liberalism is a political and moral philosophy based on liberty, consent of the governed, and equality before the law. Liberals espouse a wide array of views depending on their understanding of these principles, but they generally support limited government, individual rights (including civil rights and human rights), capitalism (free markets), democracy, secularism, gender equality, racial equality, internationalism, freedom of speech, freedom of the press and freedom of religion.
Emphasis mine. That's the first paragraph of Wikipedia's article on liberalism. I am decidedly anti-capitalist because my direct personal experience has been nothing but a steady stream of misery and evil from capitalism.

So far in my own personal experience in life I've never been hurt by any of the boogiemen both liberals and conservatives love to throw at us. Every single bad thing caused by people that has ever happened to me in my entire life, and I'm not exaggerating I mean this entirely literally, has been the fault of white capitalist men in business suits. No exceptions. White men in suits espousing capitalism have been the source of every human produced misery I've ever experienced.

Right this second white capitalist men in suits are plotting to make the planet unlivable for my son and his hypothetical children because they want to add some extra zeros to their bank accounts. Right this second white capitalist men in suits are plotting to put Trump back in office in 2020 so they can get more tax breaks for billionaires. White capitalist men in suits murdered at least one million people in Iraq for no reason but that they wanted to get the oil there. White capitalist men in suits are plotting a war with Iran for no reason except they want to get the oil there. White capitalist men in suits are actively and maliciously promoting literal genocide in Yemen because, surprise, they want to get the oil there and keep the oil from Saudi Arabia flowing.


Capitalism is my enemy and white men in suits are the face of that enemy. It hurts me and it causes untold death worldwide and is planning to destroy the ecosystem and render human civilization impossible to maintain. How anyone can keep defending it in light of its track record is beyond me.
posted by sotonohito at 6:15 AM on September 12 [6 favorites]


Can we all as a species PLEASE agree to just completely abandon all variants of the term liberal? Please?

The odds that everyone in a conversation agrees on the definition of these terms asymptotically approach 0% as the number of people in the conversation approaches 2.

There are already other more precise words we can use for these ideas. I know there are different dictionary, historical, capital L, American, not American, etc. definitions here, but fuck all of them. They're useless words when at least half the people on every side of the aisle define liberal as "my political enemies".
posted by cirrostratus at 2:00 PM on September 12 [3 favorites]


With regards to the left/liberal split here's an article about the Obama era decision to bail out banks and the intense dislike many within the Obama administration had for Elizabeth Warren.

Discussing the decision to focus on banks instead of people, which Warren believed was deeply wrong we have this:
One former Treasury aide puts it this way: “We’re with Barack. We’re the liberals. Why are you pissing in our face?”
Exactly. They're the liberals. And that means being on the side of capitalism first and people as a distant often forgotten second. Not that Warren is a full on leftist, but she's better than most of the Democratic Party in that she was at least trying to put people first and it infuriated the liberals.
posted by sotonohito at 2:30 PM on September 12 [3 favorites]


When exactly was I attacking Elizabeth Warren?

She's a liberal, and the candidate of liberals. Look at this poll of Dem voters. Warren is the favorite candidate (35%) of people who identify as "very liberal", second-favorite of those who identify as "liberal". (By contrast, those who identify as "moderate/conservative" support Biden at 31%.) Warren is sponsoring an "Accountable Capitalism Act", which is precisely what I was talking about: fettering the hell out of capitalism.

(Now, it's true that 24% of the "(less) liberal" voters support Biden. Perhaps because he has the most support among Blacks?)

By your "unfettered capitalism" definition, the only people who are "liberals" are... conservatives and libertarians. Using words completely backwards to how US voters, politicians and media use them is not a way to be easily understood.
posted by zompist at 3:04 PM on September 12 [2 favorites]


With regards to the left/liberal split here's an article about the Obama era decision to bail out banks and the intense dislike many within the Obama administration had for Elizabeth Warren.

Two things:

1. The "Obama era decision to bail out banks," the Troubled Asset Relief Program, was signed into law by George W. Bush while Obama was still running for president.

2. The Liberals in the Obama administration ran the program in such a way that it turned a substantial profit for the American people, returning $739.7B on an investment of $632.4B, a net profit of $107.3 billion.

I'm as pissed off as anyone that the bankers and capitalists who exploited the Bush-era deregulations to wreck the economy for their own profit didn't go to prison. But while I like Warren and her hard line on the exploitative capital class, it seems like the Liberals were right here. Maybe they couldn't or didn't help a lot of individual working-class people whose lives were ruined by the banks, but they did save everyone, including those same people, from an even worse depression that pretty much every economist on the left or right agrees would have been inevitable had the banks failed, and did so not only without costing the American people a dime but actually recovering money into the national budget at the expense of the capitalists' profits. I fail to see how that's "being on the side of capitalism first and people as a distant often forgotten second."
posted by biogeo at 5:09 PM on September 12 [1 favorite]


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