Left-wing liberals who are opposed to the identity politics developments on the left increasingly find ourselves accused of being right wing, referred to as “right wing” and scornfully urged to admit that we are right wing by identitarian lefties.
No. Because that is not true.
Of course, there are some individuals who insist they are left-wing while supporting economic and social policies fundamentally associated with conservatism and those individuals are either confused or dishonest, but far more often, this claim is made about typically left-wing liberals who support progressive taxes, a strong social security net, universal healthcare, gender, racial and LGBT equality and reproductive freedom.
To understand this, it is probably necessary to have a quick look at divisions on the left right now. While all lefties support economic policies which seek to redistribute wealth, reduce inequalities and support the most socially disadvantaged in society, the largest and longest split is between the socialists who advocate social ownership of the means of production—thereby putting control in the hands of the workers—and the social democrats who seek to redistribute wealth within a regulated capitalist system within a liberal democracy. These have loosely been understood as the “radical Left” and the “liberal Left” and this is also loosely connected to differing principles around social issues such as feminism (radical feminism vs liberal feminism).
There has been much animosity between these groups with the radicals accusing the liberals of being half-measure sell-outs and the liberals accusing the radicals of being delusional Utopians. Nevertheless, these have been straightforward disagreements on comprehensible issues and civil and reasonable conversation and compromise have also been possible because both groups believe that objective truth exists, that evidence and reason are the way to access it and that language is a tool for conveying these.
More recently, we have seen a rise of the identitarian lefties who hold very different ideas about objective truth, evidence, reason and language and who view society as structured by discourse (ways of talking about things) which perpetuates systems of power and privilege. As they often fit the definition of “radical” but have little in common with the older radical leftism and seldom address economics or class issues coherently, preferring to focus on identity groups like race, gender and sexuality, things have become much more messy, and communication and compromise much more difficult. These are the individuals who frequently insist that the liberal lefties are actually right-wing. As the liberal lefties make up the majority of lefties and as they are the most moderate and reasonable element of the left—and therefore the most likely to win the support of the political middle ground—this is an accusation we cannot allow to stand. We are the left and we cannot let the identitarians define us any longer.
Liberalism is a broad concept which holds to certain values of freedom (both of markets and individuals), humanitarianism in the sense of assistance for those unable to support themselves and equal opportunity in relation to removing any barriers that prevent certain groups in society from accessing all the opportunities it offers. Liberals believe in social progress and that it can be achieved by refining all of the above.
Some liberals, particularly classical liberals, can share some values with conservatives (and so also define themselves as conservatives), but their liberalism tends to emphasize the freedom of markets and individuals. As such, they often seek to minimize the state provision of such things as financial assistance for the unemployed, elderly and disabled and single-parent or poor families as well as being opposed to nationalized healthcare and initiatives intended to increase the representation of underrepresented groups within profitable areas of work. This is because they believe this to limit freedom, autonomy and individual responsibility and be ultimately unproductive of social progress. They may also oppose attempts to strengthen gun control (in the US) and support home-schooling for these reasons. They are likely to support a smaller government, less government regulation on businesses, and consequently lower taxes.
Left-wing liberals typically disagree with them about this because we are motivated by values which are left-wing. Being liberal rather than socialist, we largely support the freedom of markets but there is also a strong focus on supporting the most vulnerable in society. For this reason, we also want some regulation in there to prevent exploitation of the poorest people with the fewest options. This focus on supporting the most vulnerable in society is a primary one and has historically been for the benefit of the working class but also, when warranted, for women and for racial and sexual minorities.
Liberal lefties support the freedom of the individual but may believe this requires some extra support in the case of those who are hindered by social or cultural issues. This usually falls short of affirmative action or positive discrimination in the case of hiring which is widely held to be illiberal but may include extra initiatives to improve boys’ literacy, girls’ engagement with STEM, the provision of English-language courses for immigrants and positive role models and schemes to raise interest and education in underprivileged and single-ethnicity areas. It also includes monitoring hiring practices for (solid) evidence of racial or gender discrimination and faith schools (in the UK) for inadequate education which limits the prospects of children from minority religions.
Left-wing liberals support higher taxes for the highest earners in order to provide universal healthcare and welfare provision for the unemployed, elderly and disabled and single-parent or poor families. We point out to the socialist left who condemn our acceptance of a blended economy with a robust capitalist engine driving it that allowing people to get very rich enables us to fund such things much more successfully. We point out to the right who accuse us of encouraging dependence that we are not tolerant of abuses of such systems but would prefer to refine ways to make free-riding harder and detect offenders than making it harder for those who need help to obtain it in the first place. If forced on the choice, left-liberals would rather that some people cheated the system than that anyone fell through gaps in it. We are not very sympathetic to arguments for poor regulation of firearms or for parents’ rights’ to deny their children an adequate education or medical care because of the cost of this to human life and wellbeing. In short, we function on the care/harm moral foundation of the liberal and on the economic/social foundation of the left. We are left-wing. We are liberal lefties. And being liberal, we’ll be happy to discuss these points with you and consider other perspectives.
The Identitarian Lefties
The kind of leftist who keeps insisting that we are right-wing (apart from some on the radical left who have always said we might as well be if we’re not going to be socialists) are the relatively new identitarian lefties. They are not liberal. They are a product of an intellectual shift which occurred in the sixties when leftist intellectuals became disillusioned with Marxism and developed the concept of postmodernism. This mode of thought saw society as a system of hierarchical power structures and argued that knowledge was actually a construct of power perpetuated by speech (discourse) which served the interests of dominant groups in society. By the nineties, this had been incorporated into several fields of scholarship like feminism, postcolonialism, queer theory and critical race theory. It had also been made more explicitly political and actionable. Concepts like “intersectionality,” “toxic masculinity” and “white fragility” became a part of social justice activism.
Consequently, these left-wing academics and activists saw identity politics as politically empowering and were critical of liberal leftism which sought to make identity categories socially irrelevant. They tended to see liberalism as part of an outdated and inadequate modernist system which was created by straight, white, rich, western men and therefore can be understood to support the interests of straight, white, rich, western men. They still do.
They believe this despite the fact that the Civil Rights Movement, Second-Wave liberal feminism and Gay Pride were all part of that liberalism and public support of them was such that the 60s and 70s saw huge leaps forward in anti-discrimination legislation, the decriminalization of male homosexuality and the advent of effective and legal birth control and reproductive freedom. Despite such legal equality and much social progress in the reduction of prejudice, the dramatic increase of women and racial and sexual minorities into professions and positions of power and the promise of continuing progress, they see racism, sexism, ableism, homophobia and transphobia everywhere because of their intense focus on language which they read through an ideologically problematizing lens. Think of the focus on “microaggressions,” “mansplaining,” and “verbal violence.”
These lefties share some core tenets of leftism in that they want to support the most vulnerable in society, but they tend to neglect the poorest people if they lack other identity characteristics associated with disadvantage—being female, of ethnic minority or LGBT. There is little support for white, working class men and they frequently deny that straight, white men can face any disadvantages at all or speak in ways which assume this. This has almost certainly assisted the present reactionary surge to the right.
Identitarian lefties also share the care/harm foundation of liberalism with this drive to end inequality and prioritize groups seen as marginalized, but this is accompanied by a rage at groups seen as privileged. The result is a highly illiberal practice of evaluating the worth of individuals by their gender, race or sexuality. Because of the belief that power in society is constructed by language, they are also prone to authoritarian censoriousness about what language can and cannot be used and which ideas may or may not be discussed.
This bent to control is in profound contrast to the traditionally liberal support of the “marketplace of ideas.” The concept of the marketplace also placed a high value on the power of language in the sense that ideas could be presented by all, discussed by all and, in this way, the best ones would be revealed and this has been remarkably successful. This cannot work in a postmodern worldview because the latter assumes a standpoint epistemology, which holds that different groups have different knowledge and all are equally valid but that the ideas of dominant groups are falsely given more credibility than those of marginalized groups, necessitating dominant groups to be quiet and listen (See feminist epistemology).
The New Conflict
We are now in a situation in which the three parts of the left—radical, liberal and identitarian—are locked in an unproductive deadlock. The radicals oppose the identitarians whom they see as bourgeois elitists rooted in the academy who have completely abandoned the working class and the meaning of leftism. They remain at odds with the liberals for their lack of support for socialism. The liberals oppose the identitarians whom they regard as profoundly illiberal and threatening to undo decades of progress towards individual freedom and equality of opportunity regardless of race, gender and sexuality. They find the radicals of little help in supporting liberalism. The identitarians largely ignore the radicals except in the form of radical feminist rejection of trans identity which they condemn as transmisogynistic hatred but pay some confused lip-service to anti-capitalism (which does not mollify the radicals). They reserve most of their ire for the liberals who are addressing the same social and ethical issues that they are.
Liberal lefties receive most of the identitarian rage because we cannot support the postmodern rejection of an objective truth nor their science-denying cultural constructivism. More than this, however, we cannot support the idea that it is virtuous to see people as members of collectives arranged within a hierarchy that determines who may speak about what in some kind of grotesque recreation of a caste system or medieval feudalism. We cannot accept that the liberalism which has produced so much social progress for previously marginalized groups in society is part of a white, western, patriarchal, cis/heteronormative system of oppression due to its principle that we don’t evaluate people by race, gender or sexuality. We tend to be rather skeptical that we live in a white-supremacist, homophobic patriarchy at all and this is understood (somehow) to be an endorsement of it, although we nearly always accept that racism, sexism and homophobia still exist and have the principles and the will to counter them. For this, we are seen as right wing.
Even more damning, liberal lefties might not regard liberal righties as inveterate enemies but ally themselves against illiberal extremism with those who support liberal principles of freedom and equal opportunity consistently wherever they fall on the political spectrum. We still want left-wing parties to win and left-wing policies to be implemented and right-wing ones not to, but this does not require regarding everyone on the right as immoral bad actors with nothing of worth to contribute. For this, we are seen as right wing.
We are not right wing.
Some liberal lefties have denied that identitarian lefties are lefties at all, but an understanding of their origins and development reveals this to be wishful thinking. Although they share some views about gender and racial segregation and an authoritarian, censorious nature with those on the far-right, leading many to argue for horseshoe theory, these two groups come from very different places and work in very different ways. Identitarian lefties come from an intellectual development which took place on the left and the left must take responsibility for that and fix it.
The only way for the liberal left to fix this problem is to engage with it. For too long, too many of us have minimized the problem due to a perceived need to maintain solidarity against the rise of the populist right, alt-right and far right. Others have not addressed the problem, simply because they do not understand the counterintuitive ideological core of it and feel that anyone who seeks racial, gender and LGBT equality is an ally, even if some of them go too far in their zeal. Others are afraid of being called racist, sexist or homophobic and associated with the right which is, in fact, what is happening. Some have become so alienated from the left due to being called racist, sexist or homophobic that they have genuinely gone right, feeling that there, at least, they will be welcome. There has been much condemnation of this last group and some self-righteous crowing that they could never have been that committed to leftist principles in the first place. That could be true. Even if it is, we need to win them back if we want to win any elections and actually enact the policies which will help the most vulnerable people. This is far more important than gloating about one’s own supposed political purity.
There is also that problem inherent to liberalism: an excess of tolerance, a willingness to compromise and a desire not to impose on other people. Because the liberal left is the least radical, least authoritarian branch of the left, it is vulnerable to being shouted over by more radical voices who come to define the left for waverers. These louder voices undermine the left, however. Because the liberal left is the most open to other ideas, it is prone to appearing inconsistent. Because it is tolerant of ideas it does not agree with, provided they do not impose on others, it can be mistaken for a pushover. This is a mistake. The principles of liberalism, while diffuse, are strong enough and consistent enough to have become dominant throughout the whole of the western world. They are so widely held that the majority perceive them as sufficiently natural and self-evident that they neglect the need to defend them. (James Lindsay and I wrote about this here).
The liberal left has been hindered in its aims to oppose the identitarian left by misguided loyalty, by incomprehension, by denial, by fear, by despair, by complacency and by excessive tolerance. This gives the impression that there are few of us left and that the left is now defined by the identitarian, authoritarian ideologues. This gives strength to the right. We need to get more visible, more unified and braver. We need to accept that the problem exists, understand how it works and speak out against it calmly, civilly and reasonably at the risk of being called racist, sexist and homophobic—despite being the ones who reject the evaluation of individuals by their race, gender and sexuality. We need to remember how to argue our case and not assume it is obvious. The more of us who do this, the easier it will be for more to join. This is the way to win back the left, win back public confidence, win elections and bring about the policies we want to see made. We are not right wing. We are liberal lefties, we are the majority and we can fix this.
[…] Areo Helen Pluckrose is complaining that she’s being accused of being right-wing when she thinks she’s […]
Columbus discovered America is truth from European perspective. Why don’t you accept that there are more than one perspective. Your being male makes your experience different than female experience. This doesn’t make it untrue. I am European. Europeans didn’t know about America until Columbus discovered it. It doesn’t change the fact that there were already people living in America. If you are of mixed descent, some of your ancestors discovered America, and some were colonized. It is much more complicated that you would like it to be.
First off, I allow that there might be big differences between Europe and the total and utter shitstain that is the US, but even looking at what is going on in the US from where I am sitting, it is seems utterly dishonest to pretend that what you call ‘the liberal left’ (like, actually, the center, center/right, center/left) is free of PC-warriors, when in fact it often springs exactly from the kind of ivy-league idiots that constitute that wing.
[…] new academic movement appeared: a movement based in identity politics (sometimes referred to as identitarian left) working for increased social justice in academic settings. The openness movement spread in […]
The notion that postmodernist identitarians don’t believe in objective truth is the retail canard commonly put up as an argument against it. It’s the ideal straw man, it seems easy to shoot down (until you honestly examine it), and plays into the worst fears of the bystanders who can’t/won’t seek a more nuanced view. Take the statement, “Christopher Columbus discovered America”. For many this is an objective truth. But from another perspective this statement writes off millions of indigenous Americans as irrelevant to history. What were they doing before ol’ Chris shoved his flagpole into the sand? Were they like the trees falling in the forest, making no sound unless someone (someone important, that is) was there to hear it? But the problem here is more obvious than this. While the concept of social constructionism in politics goes back at least to Antonio Gramsci in the 1920’s (as a philosophical… Read more »
I haven’t finished reading the article, but I am concerned about the implicit identification of homeschoolin with “parents’ rights’ to deny their children an adequate education or medical care” – particularly because that is a mistake politicians and government are prone to making already.
I think you go too far in according ‘identitarianism’ the status of a political ideology. It has little to say about political aims and methods and focuses almost entirely on manners. As such I think of identity politics as an optional extra that can be grafted onto a more complete ideology. That base ideology is likely to be social or liberal. However it can also be an apathetic absence of ideology. A lot of identitarians are new to politics (whatever age they may be) and have been politicized (patchily) by easy-to-digest Internet memes and pick-and-mix jargon. A key motivator for them is the virtual conflict which can give life a sense of heroic purpose. Because this politics tends to be defined by what it opposes, rather than what it stands for, I regard it as more ‘anti-conservative’ than truly progressive. Ironically, because of a lack of guiding ideology, identity politics… Read more »
[…] would govern the laws and institutions of a free and democratic society? He concludes—in left-liberal fashion—that a socially just society is one in which institutions treat citizens fairly, according them […]
Perhaps it’s simply due to the political culture in my circles and geographic region, but I don’t see much at all distinction between the “liberal lefties” and the identitarians. While they may not align with the more extremist strains of identitarianism, the mainstream, mostly pro-market, “intellectual” left are well-engorged with identitarian language, principles, argument by force, appeals to identitarian dogma, censorship, and subtle, though denied, identitarian prejudice. You can’t throw a pink hat in left-leaning circles without hitting someone who will berate you into silence for not toeing identitarian dogma.
[…] y la igualdad de oportunidades.De hecho, se encuentra en posiciones políticas resueltamente izquierdistas, resueltamente derechistas, libertarias y entre las no afiliadas pero ampliamente […]
[…] 2. Helen Pluckrose Writes about the Problem of Far Left Identitarianism and Defending the Liberal Left Ideal of Universalism:https://areomagazine.com/2018/08/23/no-we-are-not-right-wing-we-are-liberal-lefties-and-we-are-many/ […]
[…] y la igualdad de oportunidades.De hecho, se encuentra en posiciones políticas resueltamente izquierdistas, resueltamente derechistas, libertarias y entre las no afiliadas pero ampliamente […]
“an intellectual shift which occurred in the sixties when leftist intellectuals became disillusioned with Marxism and developed the concept of postmodernism”
That is a dumb sentence in every way. Can’t wait to see the forthcoming tome on “postmodernism and critical theory and their impact on epistemology and ethics.”
I want to suggest a partial solution here – identity politics is clearly derived from the theories of “dead white men” like Foucault, nurtured in bastions of European “privilege”, and published in journals that charge $36 to view an article for a day and $260 to view an edition for a month – hardly including the “oppressed” as stakeholders. If it was originating in “minority” groups it would have a certain crude validity, but would be subject to political processes and amenable to negotiation. The language would certainly be clearer. The danger is if its influence dominates the discourse of these groups and removes them from processes of negotiated settlement and participation in the common dialogue. The answer is education; for example, people taught the basics of evolutionary theory in school will not so easily confuse the results of sexual selection with the results of social conditioning and be less… Read more »
[…] which focuses on individuality, liberty, and equal opportunity. In fact, it is found in decidedly left-wing political positions, decidedly right-wing ones, libertarian ones, and among the unaffiliated but […]
In the U.K. the distinction between Left and far-right is becoming really difficult to identify. The Leader of The Labour Party, and potential Prime Minister Of Great Britain is Jeremy Corbyn. The Labour Party used to be recognised as a democratic socialist party. Corbyn though is changing our entire perception of the modern ‘Left’ single-handedly. His well-publicised antisemitic connections means he has attracted endorsements from the likes of David Dukes, former KKK Grand Wizard, Andrew Anglin, editor of the online neo-nazi web site ‘The Daily Stormer’ and from Nick Griffin, leader of the fascist BNP (British National Party). Plus of course, David Icke. It isn’t easy to compare the U.K. and US Left even; some of Corbyn’s Jew-killing associations would murder Bernie Sanders without a seconds thought if they had the chance. So we live in a mixed-up world these days. Not everyone who claims to be ‘progressive’, ‘leftist’ or… Read more »
[…] In un lungo articolo per Areo, Helen Pluckrose spiega come i rapporti tra la sinistra liberale, che accetta il capitalismo ma vuole una società solidale, e quella radicale che, fatto proprio un approccio post-moderno, vede le ingiustizie sociali come frutto di un “discorso” (la maniera di parlare delle cose) che perpetua un sistema di potere e di privilegio. All’approccio liberale di stampo razionalista se ne oppone quindi uno in cui le classiche rivendicazioni economiche classiche passano in secondo piano in favore delle affermazioni identitarie di alcune gruppi gelosamente individuati. […]
Helen attempts to HIJACK the term liberalism. social democrats are NOT liberals. liberals fall into 3 categories. social liberals, modern liberals, and classical liberals. social democrats call themselves ‘progressives’
Helen can not do this. The NDP party is canada is not ‘liberal left’. there is nothing liberal about them. the Liberal party of canada are ‘modern liberals’/social liberals’. they are NOT social democrats/labor movement/progressives.
we also have a conservative party that is split between two factions (scheer vs bernier) and an irrelevent amount of support for the libertarians.
“… there could also be some usefulness in looking at the movement of identity (identifying) regardless of content … much conflict.” As not all conflict is bad “Identifying” isn’t only not all bad but based on First Principles can actually be good, as competition of ideas leads to better ones not only within the boundaries of First Principles — “electricity is better for Progress than belts and pulleys” — but between them: “Is the pollution of the Thames really ‘Progress’?” (We all agree the Thames should not be polluted with 19th-century industrial waste whatever magnitude we might imagine for CO2 forcing of GACT.) Here are some possible “First Principles” which are in conflict — whether as mutually exclusive binaries or on a continuum — and which might be argued from: Problem solving: Reason or Emotion? Human rights: Liberty or Equality? Environment: Utilization or Preservation? Survival: Conquest, Self-defense, or Pacifism? Origin… Read more »
Helen should study the Russian Revolution. Stalin purged the liberal intelligentsia with extreme prejudice Liberal lefties are useful idiots to communists until they are no longer needed.
RE: “Genuine question … Isn’t [a political identity] identity politics?”
The “Identity” in “Identity Politics” refers to inborn characteristics or at the very least properties about oneself that cannot be changed. “Identity Politics” uses identity as the basis for social, moral, and political judgments and policies.
It’s almost easier to recognize it from what it is not: Humanism, Universalism, Individualism.
Genuine question here.
How is it someone identifying as a liberal, left leaning, right leaning, conservative, libertarian or whatever is not engaged in identity politics? Isn’t identifying yourself or others as part of a group participating in identity politics?
Welcome to the Nazi party! Enjoy being alt right, and worse than Hitler. It’s not as bad as it sounds.
“What is the Identitarian end game?” Social Justice claims White people are a morally-inferior unter-race who uniquely among all others are the only ones capable of the world’s most hideous and terrible moral failing. Previous versions of racial supremacy ideologies were obsessed with intellectual or athletic performance, but the modern racial supremacist movement, Social Justice, declares the inferiority of its favorite racial scapegoat in moral terms: only White people can be racist. But before you shrug and decide “sucks to be you” consider that the end game of Social Justice isn’t Zimbabwe but Rwanda. Social Justice will inevitably turn everyone against everyone else just as it presently turns “People of Color” against Caucasians. We are all except a select few going to be victims if we don’t come together to stop it. Whatever your position within the Intersectional caste Social Justice will come for you eventually. Asian-Americans are already the… Read more »
I’m on the right, but good luck, and I mean that. You may be stuck coming over to join us eventually (you may not have a choice) but it would be nice if you could manage to get rid of the identity politics virus. It’s an interesting piece to read because I can tell you the general perception the identity politics group is creating through their sheer volume is that everyone on the left is a frothing racist lunatic. Ultimately parties are coalitions of various interest groups and sometimes it’s best not to have people in your coalition if you want to win (for the right see David Duke, Richard Spencer, far-right religious wacko people in the 90’s, etc.). You will always get tarred by your crazies if you can’t find a way to tone them down.
On the Right we are free to criticize the Alt-Right. On the Left you have the same freedom.
(Apologies to Yakov Smirnov)
I find very little objectionable about the modern Right. We condemn our extremists (the Alt-Right), the once-liberty-averse Religious Right has fallen back to a position of defensive libertarianism, and you can argue for anything you want over here and not get brained with a bike lock.
Our President talks like an exhibition wrestler, but how many journalists has he prosecuted under the Espionage Act? I didn’t vote for him because he sounded like someone who would. It turns out the majestic oratory of his predecessor is what should’ve alerted me to danger.
Why not give us a try before you decide you don’t like us? Maybe our love of liberty will surprise you …
I’m a bit baffled by the attacks on postmodernism as “no objective truth.” For those interested take a look at David Michael Levin’s work on postmodernism. The Listening Self, The Opening of Vision, The Body’s Recollection of Being. All three books would undermine the politics of identity and take us toward of more subtle confidence in our innate intelligence.
Great article and helped further my own understanding of the makeup of the left, but I think it may be missing another component of the left. The corporate left or neoliberal left that actually is in power. The fact that even when the left had control over government we didn’t get gun control, or single payer, etc.
Or did I miss which group this faction of the left would belong to.
Thank you for your insights. I appreciate your illuminating the spectrum of viewpoints. Fundamentally I am in Bernie’s camp, espousing regulated capitalism. But I don’t like the term “democratic socialist”. I align with his expressed viewpoints, and perhaps even with a technical definition. But Americans are bred to associate socialism and communism. A nuanced technical definition has no consequence in the noisy debate. And most of “the means of production” should anyway be independent, capitalistic and market driven — the antitheses of socialism. There are just a few critical undertakings that have proven to be untenable within free market capitalism: subsistence; protection (military, police, health care); education; and certain public infrastructures. Only the last of these has grey area for debate.
As an ethnic Chinese, I find the parallels between the identitarians and Mao’s red guards are striking: 1. They categorize people into groups and the group identity is the only thing matters. For red guards it was “the five reds and five blacks”. If you are a child of a poor peasant you are red. If you are a child of a rich landlord you are black. For identitarians, it is race/sex/gender. If you are LGBTQ you are more worthy than a straight person. If you are people of color you are more worthy than whites. 2. They look at everything through a political lens. For red guards, the ancient history had to be re-written from Marxism viewpoints. Math textbooks had to be prefaced with Marxism quote. For the identitarians, everything is about group power struggle. Math is now proposed to be a tool of racial suppression. 3. They both… Read more »
The big issue for me is just how the liberal left has been so easily and so thoroughly displaced by the identitarians in so many areas of society. As Sargon of Akkad said in one of his videos, Leftists have used Liberals as one of the most successful Trojan Horses in history.
This has made me seriously doubt whether liberalism is ultimately a stable ideology. It’s entirely possible that it’s just so out-of-sync with human nature that it inevitably gets overthrown rather quickly. A lot of liberals just don’t seem to have the part of the brain which alerts you to potential threats (a thing that conservatives excel in).
Only a very few “liberals” seem to be capable of this. Sam Harris for example.
[…] Helen Pluckrose: […]
Love a lot of your writing, but the “left” is overrun. What’s funny, is this assumption that the right doesn’t want equal rights for the groups you mentioned. I thought you were smarter than that. That is one of the incorrect assumptions that allowed the identitarian left to rise in the first place. Sure, the “right” has it’s extreme too, but it is FAR smaller than the left. Your extremes have gone mainstream. The “leader” of the new right, Trump, has said publicly he is for freedom of speech and against any form of censorship, even to folks like CNN whom he despises. The right is where American constitutional values are being defended. The left is where they are being eroded. If you think you can fight them on your own, I believe you are deluding yourself. They took power from you, they are more extreme than you, and they… Read more »
The “liberal left” is and always was merely camouflage for the radical left. They used to call you “useful idiots” behind closed doors. They don’t need the camouflage anymore – and lump you in with the rest of the nazis. Because you aren’t the left. And if you’re not the left, you must be…
I dislike their equation of “identitarian leftism” with a “postmodern worldview” insofar as I don’t think many of these identified types of ‘leftists’ would actually subscribe fully to postmodernism epistemology (or even to cultural constructivism; the two are not identical either), but tend to do so only insofar as its taken on a more selective and sometimes arguably unjustifiable basis. I also think the characterisation of the “postmodern worldview” is largely incorrect, as the author suggests it “assumes a standpoint epistemology, which holds that different groups have different knowledge and all are equally valid but that the ideas of dominant groups are falsely given more credibility than those of marginalised groups, necessitating dominant groups to be quiet and listen (See feminist epistemology).” This really seems to me to be a misreading of philosophers such as Lyotard, who appears (in ‘The Postmodern Condition’ and ‘Just Gaming’) probably the closest to this… Read more »
As one digresses farther left, then everything behind one is to the right. That’s why you’re likely considered “right wing”. The battle of the “Left” and “Progressive Left” is one of competing orthodoxies. The Identarians are more orthodox than you, as vegans are more orthodox than pescatarians or vegetarians. I don’t think engagement is the solution or effective, especially when Identarians have both dominant mindshare and engage in “shut down” rhetoric. It’s either a fire that has to burn itself out, as did the Jacobins in the French Revolution, or it has to be radically shown the error of its ways. Identarians want to redefine the common American culture that previous generations forged and took for granted, aka “the Melting Pot.” The melting pot created a certain level of harmony, in the wider sense (of course, there were and always will be various social problems and issues, that’s just part… Read more »
Coming from the liberal Right….could not agree more….would prefer more liberal Lefties and less identitarians.
The dreaded Jordan Peterson has been making this argument publicly over the last year. “When does the Left go too far?” It’s a crucial question and one that has been ignored for too long, leading us to this present malaise. He makes the same case as this piece, essentially: the problem is identity politics. Until the mainstream Left can disassociate itself successfully from the identitarians the problems will continue. The thing is, it’s such an easy game to play, and it is being played by too many influential people – liberal stalwarts of the traditional media such as the Guardian, the Independent, the NYT, the Washington Post, not to mention nearly all the new media like Slate, Salon, Vox etc. It is also being played at the highest levels of government, charities, and any agency that seeks social justice. In the UK the heads of Shelter, Refuge, the Crown Prosecution… Read more »
In “steel-manning” the Identitarian faction, I would insert a conversation about “frames.” It’s not merely that straight/white/males are evil oppressors who should be toppled, it’s a bit more sublte. As I understand it, the claim wouldn’t be that s/w/m’s are not always intentional oppressors; but because of the way those traits interact with the existing hierarchy and social structures, their frame of reality will necessarily be blind to a vast collection of issues with which they never come into contact and can therefore never discuss knowledgeably. To be sure, there are those within the s/w/m group who would deny the challenges that these minorities face and would prefer to keep their advantage, (this would qualify as a more “right” stance,) but the majority of true liberals are perfectly capable of understanding the issues and claims of the underprivileged and addressing them with empathy. They key is open, rational discussion. Unfortunately,… Read more »
Reproductive freedom is a disingenuous term. When the goal of an abortion precisely NOT to reproduce, the term you’re using is a very deceptive euphemism.