Political Tribalism, Brexit And The Liberalist Insurgency

Us vs Them - Political Tribalism

Many so-called liberals are great at diagnosing destructive political tribalism when it manifests in other people, but are often blind to the same pathologies within their own ranks

I wrote a long piece earlier this month about deepening political tribalism as it relates to Brexit. After the piece was serialised in Country Squire Magazine, much of the pushback I received from the usual suspects within the Remain camp (university professors and the like) only served to prove my point – that Brexit merely exposed, rather than caused, the increasing depths of partisan tribalism afflicting Britain.

This tribalism is not the exclusive preserve of the under-educated, supposedly simple-minded working classes whose emotions and voting habits are apparently so easily manipulated by Rupert Murdoch, Cambridge Analytica or the dozens of other shadowy figures who now stand accused of ushering in Brexit for their own nefarious ends. Indeed, through their growing obsession with these new scapegoats, many of those opposed to Brexit reveal themselves to be capable of behaving in an equally aggressively tribal manner without even realising that they are doing so.

It never occurs to many of those people who occupy the groups most statistically prone to supporting Britain’s EU membership – students, university professors, artists and arts workers, young urban professionals – that they might be doing something so base, so primal as to be influenced by tribal behaviour. Why? Because many are used to seeing tribalism as a pathology affecting only the poor, the uneducated or others traditionally seen as either victims (like welfare recipients) or potential threats to be mitigated (juvenile criminals or nascent Islamist extremists). To many journalists, academics and politicians, tribalism is seen as something afflicting only society’s losers and outcasts,  not something which might also pull the strings inside AC Grayling’s neocortex.

The idea that political tribalism might just as easily drive the behaviour of an Oxbridge professor, a PR director on a six-figure salary or a young university student often simply fails to compute, but it is a real and frequent occurrence nonetheless. Being educated and even nominally aware of the existence of tribal impulses does not automatically make one immune from being driven by tribalism oneself, particularly when one possesses the intellectual capacity and vocabulary to rationalise one’s behaviour as more noble and high-minded than it necessarily is.

And so time and again we see those who would normally be first to decry tribal behaviour engaging in its most vicious forms, whether it be the American college students or graduates who refuse to visit their Trump-voting parents or public figures who believe they have license to say the most horrible things about Leave voters and Brexiteers from atop their perch on the “right” side of history. More concerning, since these new converts to overtly tribal behaviour supposedly make up much of the cognitive elite, they seem unable to acknowledge the drawbacks of their behaviour or the many ways in which it actively harms their end goal, be it overturning the result of Britain’s EU referendum or prematurely turfing President Donald Trump out of office.

Smart people should be capable of noticing when an existing strategy is not delivering results and adjusting course to deliver better outcomes, but many within the anti-Brexit academic, cultural, commercial and political elite instead seem intent to double down on losing strategies which may feel cathartic but fail to achieve their political ends. Only political tribalism can drive nominally smart people to behave in so counterproductive a way.

Political tribalism causes anti-Brexit members of the elite to act out in a couple of negative ways – firstly by failing to understand or acknowledge the true motivations and drivers for the Leave vote, and secondly by engaging in public statements and actions which actively alienate many of the people whose good opinion they need to court and convince in order to change their minds. In my recent long article about political tribalism and Brexit I covered a number of the ways in which anti-Brexit elites harm their own cause through misbehaviour and bad messaging, but it is also worth focusing on the way in which political tribalism causes Brexit opponents to consistently ignore the full range of valid reasons which drove thinking adults of good character to vote to leave the European Union.

The first is a binary worldview which sees the EU as representing (if not always achieving) the highest ideals of mankind, and euroscepticism as the antithesis of all that is good in the world. This widely held opinion reveals itself in every tweet decrying Brexit as the result of unchecked xenophobia and racism (or a neo-imperial quest for lost glory) while simultaneously ignoring the EU’s manifest flaws. The best one can often get in debate with a pro-EU activist is an exasperated admission that “of COURSE the EU needs reform!” uttered through clenched teeth, though specific proposals for such reform or estimates of their probable implementation are always curiously lacking. Meanwhile, despite post-referendum polling which showed sovereignty and not immigration as the key driver of the Leave vote, heinous racist or xenophobic statements are taken to represent the broad church of pro-Brexit opinion.

The second reason is the exclusionary nature of many of the strongest bastions of pro-EU sentiment. There are people of good conscience in the academic and arts industries who support Brexit, but they rarely make themselves heard for fear of social or professional reprisal. If the prevailing opinion within one’s social or professional circle holds that Brexit is a national calamity with grievous implications for human rights, few people will have the courage (or luxury of courage) to take an openly contrarian view. Unfortunately this only worsens the situation, with those who do most to oppress pro-Brexit sentiment within their respective circles then failing to see that Brexiteers can sometimes be respected colleagues and friends.

Just as increased meaningful exposure to immigrants tends to reduce xenophobia or opposition to immigration, so structured and controlled exposure to Brexiteers might make many of the loudest anti-Brexit advocates realise that their opponents are not the evil masterminds or stupid pawns they have been portrayed as. But ironically, while many anti-Brexit campaigners are eager champions of multiculturalism, they also either encourage or tacitly tolerate a sometimes aggressively ideologically homogeneous pro-EU school of thought to dominate their field – ideological diversity is the one kind which is not celebrated and put on a pedestal.

But the greatest driver (or manifestation) of political tribalism among anti-Brexit activists now is not the deeply ingrained sense of moral superiority or self-imposed isolation from contrarian viewpoints – rather, it is the degree to which many of the afflicted now seem willing to latch onto anything from issues of concern to downright conspiracy theories, promoting them as valid reasons for nullifying or re-running the EU referendum in order to seek the “correct” response from the electorate.

The latest cause du jour is Cambridge Analytica, which seems to have transformed itself in the minds of Remain supporters from the tawdry and morally questionable data huckster outfit into a shadowy, all-powerful corporate behemoth which single-handedly tipped the balance and inflicted Trump and Brexit on a naive and defenceless world. The re-emergence of Cambridge Analytica in the headlines following news of its connection to a Facebook data “breach” and the Trump presidential campaign has only encouraged those already looking for reasons to invalidate (rather than argue against) Brexit to seize upon the scandal and make a lot of tenuous and irresponsible insinuations.

Pro-EU advocacy website InFacts can now be found – contrary to their name – raising “questions” whose entire purpose is to put the murkiest deeds of Cambridge Analytica as close as possible to Brexit on paper or a smartphone screen in the hope that insinuations about the former question the legitimacy of the latter.

Prior to Cambridge Analytica, the figure of Russia loomed largest in the Remainer imagination as the driver of Brexit. While any foreign interference in British electoral processes represents an abhorrent and unacceptable attack on our national security and civic institutions, one which we should probably be taking far more seriously both in terms of reprisals and future safeguarding, the idea that even a large scale attempt at Facebook manipulation had a material impact on the referendum result is both unproven and far from meeting the common sense test.

Are Remainers seriously proposing that the full weight of UK government advocacy, the massed ranks of the artistic and cultural world, a plurality of big business and heavyweight external interventions from the likes of the IMF and even President Barack Obama, all encouraging a Remain vote, were overshadowed by £1 worth of Facebook ads and the addled efforts of a Twitter troll farm in Russia? Apparently so – and yet many of the high profile personalities and Serious Thinkers who make and amplify these assertions are unable to step back and escape the prison of their political tribalism for long enough to appreciate how unhinged their conspiracies are beginning to sound.

In short, a significant strand of anti-Brexit opinion remains obstinately unwilling to consider any failure on the part of the Remain campaign or the European Union itself, instead attributing their every setback and woe to crude dismissals of the electorate or fantastical conspiracy theories of the type embraced by leading Remainer intellectual Professor AC Grayling.

It takes a lot to make intelligent and accomplished people behave in a way which is both counterproductive to their interests (they will never stop Brexit by repeatedly shrieking that Leave voters are stupid automatons who were hoodwinked either by Vladimir Putin or sinister corporate interests) and damaging to their long-term reputations. In fact, one of the only things which can induce such a mania in so-called “respectable” people is the phenomenon of political tribalism, whereby it becomes more important to be seen as strongly aligned with and supporting ones own people than it is to be either pragmatic or empathetic.

And when it comes to Brexit, so strong is the force of political tribalism among certain demographics that even those whose job it is to understand political and constitutional matters find themselves unable to acknowledge, let alone meaningfully engage with, the real issues which prompted millions of decent people to vote for Brexit, instead blaming “fake news”, the Russians or Cambridge Analytica.

Tom Peck makes a reasonable observation in the Independent:

People have almost entirely forgotten that, say, in 2015, when the BBC hosted its first hustings in the Labour leadership contest in a church in Nuneaton, some hitherto unknown man called Jeremy Corbyn was the only one who had anything of any interest to say. Andy Burnham, Yvette Cooper and Liz Kendall were beyond abysmal, and they remained so throughout the contest.

Is it acceptable to wonder if the fire is only being turned on technology because it hasn’t delivered the results the bulk of the media class wanted? If the Democrats had delivered a candidate better equipped to deal with the shallowness of the media age, and if the Remain campaign had been run as well as the Leave one, this apparently existential crisis would not be occurring.

The comparison with the 2015 Labour Party leadership contest is an instructive one. Then, as now, a cadre of people accustomed to calling the shots and having their worldview acknowledged, respected and advanced at all times – the Labour centrists – suddenly found themselves out of power and influence within the party for the first time since John Smith and Tony Blair ushered in their long period of domination. But rather than engage in any kind of introspection as to why they were so unloved by the Labour base, centrist Labour MPs instead engaged in an unseemly year-long insurrection against new leader Jeremy Corbyn, culminating in the rather disgraceful and ultimately unsuccessful decision to use the shock EU referendum result as a convenient “fog of war” in which to take down their new leader.

Why did the Labour centrists behave in this way? Because they were motivated more by tribal affiliation and beliefs than political principle or even civic decency. They (rightly) sensed that their tribe was under attack from the hard-left Corbynites within the party, and worried that their status would be permanently eroded were Jeremy Corbyn able to cement his grip on power. And thus rather than spending the following years attempting to hold the Conservative government to account, as an Opposition party is supposed to do, we instead saw the biggest names from Labour’s centrist wing engage in a long period of unseemly infighting – because political tribalism trumped their commitment to either party unity or the national interest.

The funny thing about political tribalism is that its most ardent practitioners tend to see themselves as being immune from the phenomenon while ruefully detecting its presence among nearly everyone with whom they disagree. Thus it simply never occurred to many of the Labour MPs who made it their primary mission to destabilise Jeremy Corbyn that they were primarily motivated by tribal interest, just as many of those who howl the loudest about Brexit cannot bring themselves to contemplate the possibility that their behaviour is driven by anything other a rational, fact-based analysis of the common good.

 

The Liberalist Insurgency

The vote for Brexit and the election of Donald Trump as US president have been widely painted by many establishment opinion-setters as an assault on liberal democracy and liberalism itself, as progressive or enlightenment values fell prey to reactionary populism spouted by right-wing demagogues. Indeed, it pleases many of those who oppose both Donald Trump and Brexit (for the record, this blog strongly opposes the former and supports the latter) to paint themselves as brave guardians of liberal democracy and sole keepers of the frame of liberalism in these uniquely benighted times.

And yet when many of the great and the good in the anti-Brexit or anti-Trump camps are not fulminating against their respective bêtes noires, they can often be found undermining and attacking the same liberal values which they claim to champion. How often are those who decry Brexit as the first step toward fascism also found supporting draconian hate speech laws, advocating censorship and No Platforming on university campuses, attempting to excommunicate those who merely profess (without seeking to enforce) traditional social values from polite society and aggressively ushering in radical new gender theory and the divisive intersectional identity politics movement which seeks to stigmatise and oppress any questioning of these goals? None of these behaviours are remotely liberal in the true sense of the word, yet all are being enthusiastically adopted by many of those who also seek to paint themselves as guardians of liberalism in their fight against Brexit.

It is therefore important that we deny the anti-Brexit campaigners automatic and exclusive use of the “liberal” label, particularly when their actions and words – wheher expressed through contempt for a democratic referendum result and those who voted for it or other stances taken against science, liberty and free speech – are the antithesis of true liberal behaviour. When prestige journalists, academics and politicians who are complicit in these illiberal behaviours also inveigh against Brexit in a way which denigrates Leave voters and fails to even acknowledge the existence of their legitimate arguments we should not allow them to pretend that they are safeguarding either liberalism or democracy when they do so.

And that’s where the word “liberalist” could be very useful. Just as Islamism refers to a fundamentalist, politicised and perverted strain of Islam and the word Christianist has been memorably coined (by Andrew Sullivan among others) to refer to those Christians who profess a harshly authoritarian, theocratic political worldview, so the word “liberalist” (as distinct from “liberal”) should perhaps be taken to mean a hypocritical self-serving authoritarianism masquerading as genuine concern for democratic stability and outcomes, a cynical perversion of true liberalism.

Post-Brexit (and to some degree since the election of Donald Trump in the United States, though the analogy is imperfect), liberalists have effectively become the “faith militant” of progressive liberals, a combative sect who use their typically high-status positions in electoral politics, journalism, culture and academia to inveigh against any political initiative which threatens to disrupt a stale status quo under which they have largely prospered while other groups have largely stagnated.

In order to shroud their blatant self-interest in the more noble garments of high-minded civic duty, liberalists portray their objection to current political developments as flowing from an overriding commitment to individual rights, the protection of vulnerable minorities and the preservation of democracy. This is quite impressive, since many of them have built entire careers on the back of attacking individual freedoms (particularly core civil liberties like free speech) and signing away our right to democratic self-determination by blindly and naively entrusting sovereignty to a supranational political union which represents a non-existent demos, which has never sought public input and which even now shows no real willingness to change for the better.

Taking on this faux-superhero role serves a dual purpose for the liberalists – firstly it allows them to avoid any real introspection as to why the values, norms and institutions they champion are increasingly rejected by a plurality of voters, and secondly it helps to soothe the cognitive dissonance which inevitably arises when people whose identities are so closely tied to projecting the appearance of social conscience and civic virtue act so shamelessly in their own short-term self-interest.

But whatever their protestations to the contrary, the liberalists are engaged in a performative act, if not a downright fraud. That is not to say that there are no legitimate reasons to oppose or even deplore Brexit – of course such a case can be made. But the liberalists will not engage in reasoned debate because they refuse point-blank to even acknowledge the Brexiteer frame of reference, insisting instead that everything is debated through the lens of short-term economic impact. And on top of this obstinacy they treat us to an increasingly tedious and condescending tale about civilisation teetering on the brink and the only safe option being a return to the EU’s cold embrace, with not so much as a nod to Brexiteer concerns.

Political tribalism is not the exclusive preserve of any one demographic group or end of the political spectrum, but the media focus is nearly always on those deemed to have fallen under the corrupting influence of “populist” rabble-rousers – understandably so, because such people are so poorly represented in the politico-media and cultural elite that they can raise no significant objection when one weepy Guardian article after another frets about rising nativist tendencies among the provincial rabble while ignoring rising insularity and decreasing social solidarity within the London-centric elite.

Therefore, it is time that we turn the focus back on the people who ostentatiously fret about the tribalism and populism they so readily detect in others. It is high time that we stop naively accepting the liberalist narrative that their objections to Brexit are exclusively rooted in high-minded concern for the national interest – at least so far as the word “national” incorporates any regard at all for the importance of democratic self-determination. They are not.

Brexiteers may be equally susceptible to political tribalism, but how much more dangerous is it when members of the political, cultural and media elite, with all their power and influence, throw themselves into the opposing side of the anti-Brexit culture war with such verve and venom?

We are about to find out.

 

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The Liberal Elite, Here To Stay

Are the liberal elite living on borrowed time?

Rod Liddle thinks so:

For a start, the elite is not liberal in the classical liberal sense, but closer to the American sense of the word. It is certainly not ‘liberal’ if by that you mean tolerant: it is intolerant and authoritarian. And by elite I do not mean the elected government: establishment elites can survive most forms of government and easily outlast them.

The liberal elite we talk about today is beholden to a leftish cultural and political paradigm which predominates in all the non-elected institutions which run our lives. In the judiciary, for example. Within the BBC. In the running of our universities and in the courses they put before students. In the teaching profession. In the social services departments of every council in the land. At the top of the medical profession. On the boards of all the quangos — the lot of them, from those which hand out money in the arts to those which regulate our media and our utilities. It is a left-liberal paradigm, informed by affluence, which has been swallowed whole by all of these institutions and which is utterly intolerant of dissent.

Try being a social worker who thinks gay adoptions are problematic. Or a doctor who disapproves of abortion or transitioning. Or a student who quite likes Germaine Greer and wearing a sombrero. Or a teacher who thinks Trump is maybe OK. (The headmaster at a school in south London recently told pupils that if any child uttered the same sorts of words as Donald Trump about immigration, they’d be excluded.)

Try being a judge who thinks an awful lot of hate crimes are imaginary or vexatious. In all cases you’d be drummed out. No job. You’d be finished. There would be tribunals — where you would be judged by other upholders of the liberal elite — and you’d be out.

That is what we mean by the liberal elite. The template for how our society is governed and which antithetical political parties may battle, but in the short to medium term, lose.

Elites do change, though. I remember as a speechwriter for the Labour party in the early 1980s suggesting that we do something in support of the teachers, who were complaining about pay. ‘Fuck them — they’re all Tories,’ I was told. And so statistically they were, at the time. And in the 1970s the BBC, the Church of England, the judiciary and the emergent quangos were small ‘c’ conservative. Elites last for about two generations. Our liberal elite has lasted since about 1985. And my guess is that right now it is on the way out, which is why we are hearing this continual howling.

Liddle’s summary of the Control Left is pretty accurate, but I cannot share his confidence that the power and influence of this deeply anti-intellectual group of “intellectuals” and elites is on the wane – at least not yet.

Perhaps, if the counter-revolution were led by somebody other than Donald Trump, there would be cause for hope. Somebody with unimpeachable ethics, a record of respect toward women and minorities and impulse control greater than that of a ten-year-old might just be able to prevail against decades-old vested interests and a self-regarding and frequently biased media.

But unfortunately we have Donald Trump in America (whose successful recent speech to a joint session of Congress may have finally given him the veneer of presidentialness, but none of the substance) and Theresa May in Britain (who seems eager to combine the establishment’s usual haughty paternalism with a desire to be led by the Tory Right into the most calamitous and disruptive form of Brexit possible). These are hardly the two torchbearers one would choose to “Drain the Swamp” or do anything else remotely transformative.

And so there is the very real risk that Donald Trump’s floundering new administration will either drop the ball so badly in response to some external crisis, or else precipitate a crisis of their own through poor legislative and executive decisions, that they actually manage to make the establishment opposition – led by fresh young anti-establishment faces like Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer – look good by comparison. And if these people get back into power, will they take even a moment of introspection to consider their role in the rise of Trump, or show any regard for the more legitimate concerns of his supporters? I think we all know the answer.

Similarly, if Theresa May’s government miscalculates in our EU secession negotiations and triggers some sort of abrupt and traumatic departure with no carryover provisions in place to govern customs, regulatory matters and the myriad programmes of cooperation with other EU countries, the economic pain will be real and the Tories will no longer look quite so invincible.

Besides, Rod Liddle devoted paragraphs to pointing out the extent to which so many of our institutions – from academia to the charity sector to the state church – are corrupted from within and turned into the exclusive domain of the liberal elite. It would be great to see reasoned conservatism re-establish a beachhead in some of these places, but it does not look very likely at present.

The hair-trigger sensitivity of many of these people leads them to see a harmful microaggression in the smallest and most inconsequential of human interactions, and they have shown no qualms about persecuting even those from their own tribe who happen to deviate even 1% from the current social justice / identity politics orthodoxy. What hope, then, do conservatives have of breaking back into those workplaces and institutions from where they have been so comprehensively exiled?

So while the screeching and whining from left-wing commentators and their allies embedded in our institutions has become deafening, I see little evidence that it will be followed by retreat. Like a transatlantic flight spent sitting in front of a screaming baby, we are in for a long and tortuous ride.

 

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When American Liberals Lose The Faith

Doesn’t this testimonial from a disaffected California liberal really speak volumes about just how far the American Left is going to lose friends and alienate people?

Rod Dreher shares an email from a reader:

So I was raised a secular liberal. My college professors were secular liberals. During my journalism phase, my newspaper colleagues were secular liberals. My law school professors and peers were – in the vast majority – secular liberals. Almost everyone at my corporate law firm was a secular liberal. My California neighbors and friends are secular liberals, as are my colleagues. My mother, siblings, and their spouses are all secular liberals.

By all rights, I should be a member in good standing of their tribe, “liking” their Facebook posts and joining their candlelight vigils against the evil Trump Administration. But November 8 and its aftermath revealed to me that I am just so tired of these people. I can’t be like them, and I don’t want my kids turning into them.

I am tired of their undisguised contempt for tens of millions of Americans, with no effort to temper their response to the election with humility or empathy.

I am tired of their unexamined snobbery and condescension.

I am tired of their name-calling and virtue-signaling as signs of supposedly high intelligence.

I am tired of their trendiness, jumping on every left-liberal bandwagon that comes along (transgender activism, anyone?) and then acting like anyone not on board is an idiot/hater.

I am tired of their shallowness. It’s hard to have a deep conversation with people who are obsessed with moving their kids’ pawns across the board (grades, sports, college, grad school, career) and, in their spare time, entertaining themselves and taking great vacations.

I am tired of their acceptance of vulgarity and sarcastic irreverence as the cultural ocean in which their kids swim. I like pop culture as much as the next person, but people who would never raise their kids on junk food seem to think nothing of letting then wallow in cultural junk, exposed to nothing ennobling, aspirational, or even earnest.

I am tired of watching them raise clueless kids (see above) who go off to college and within months are convinced they live in a rapey, racist patriarchy; “Make America Great Again” is hate speech; and Black Lives Matter agitators are their brothers-in-arms against White Privilege. If my kids are like that at nineteen, I’ll feel I’ve seriously failed them as a parent. Yet the general sentiment seems to be these are good, liberal kids who may have gotten a bit carried away.

I am tired of their lack of interest in any form of serious morality or self-betterment. These are decent, responsible people, many compassionate by temperament. Yet they seem two-dimensional, as if they believe that being a nice, well-socialized person who holds the correct political views is all there is, and there is nothing else to talk about. Isn’t there, though?

I am tired of being bored and exasperated by everybody. I feel like I have read this book a thousand times, and there are no surprises in it. Down with Trump! Trans Lives Matter! Climate deniers are destroying the planet! No cake, we’re gluten-free!

These are good people in a lot of ways. But there has got to be a better tribe.

It must be disturbing to “wake up” like this and realise that you are no longer fully in communion with your tribe, so kudos to Rod Dreher’s reader for putting into words something that cannot be easy to admit. With the wounds of the 2016 presidential election still raw, many on the American Left have little time for doubters, and admitting a heresy such as this would likely be met not with understanding (let alone introspection) but rather with intolerance and fury.

The scene that comes to my mind is from the film American History X, where protagonist Derek Vinyard, serving a jail sentence for the racist-motivated murder of a black car thief, realises the flaws of his white supremacist worldview while in prison and is then utterly unable to engage with that community – his only source of friendship and support – after his release. Eventually, Vinyard confronts the group’s leader and explicitly rejects their racist ideology, at which point they chase him out of their camp.

Increasingly, one has to either buy the whole regressive leftist agenda or none of it at all. Because it is couched in such explicitly moral terms, with any departure from orthodoxy seen as a moral failure, to question just one aspect of the worldview – the identity politics, the environmentalism, the statist paternalism – is to make oneself persona non grata within that community. Imagine the pain of realising that you no longer believe every article in the leftist gospel, and then being faced either with the prospect of admitting your heresy and being actively shunned by family, friends and colleagues, or else keeping your opposition quiet and living a lie.

The American Left has, with too few exceptions, given up on trying to win by persuasion, seeking instead to achieve victory by shaming and bullying dissenters into a sullen, resentful silence. That approach is no longer working and delivering benefits, to the extent that it ever did. When people like Rod Dreher’s reader are leaving the tribe in disgust at the sanctimonious echo chamber of questionable values then clearly something has gone wrong.

None of this is to say that American conservatism is in fine fettle – clearly not, as this blog has repeatedly warned. The fact that Republicans have closed ranks behind a profoundly authoritarian and un-conservative President-elect Donald Trump is evidence of the challenge faced by small-C conservatives in trying to maintain their influence and steer the Trump presidency away from endless pitfalls.

But it is the slow-burning revolution on the Left (particularly the growing elitism and the lethal embrace of identity politics) which fed the populist Right to the extent that Donald Trump won the White House. And until the American Left learns to moderate its many excesses and accept ideological diversity together with all the other kinds of diversity they champion, they will continue to alienate crucial allies and accelerate their march into irrelevance.

 

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Nicholas Kristof Admits Illiberal Leftist Overreach In Purging Conservatism And Dissenting Views From Academia

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“I say unto you that likewise more joy shall be in Heaven over one sinner that repenteth, than over ninety and nine just persons who need no repentance” – Luke 15:7

In the email introduction to his Sunday column in the New York Times, Nicholas Kristof writes:

My Sunday column will probably provoke a number of you to roll your eyes or curse me under your breath. I’m sure many will disagree with it, but here goes.

[..] I’ll get a torrent of angry emails and indignant comments, but as you read this I’m actually in southern Africa reporting a story. If the criticisms get too bad, I’ll seek asylum.

Such are the delicate eggshells that commentators on which the American Left must tread whenever they even think about holding up a mirror to the behaviour of their own side and calling out flawed thinking or bad behaviour.

What is the subject of Kristof’s column? You can probably guess. With great trepidation, Nicholas Kristof is asking his readers to consider the possibility – just the possibility – that the atmosphere of seething intolerance for conservative voices or opinions on the university campus may be a negative thing with potentially harmful consequences.

Kristof writes:

After Donald Trump’s election, some universities echoed with primal howls. Faculty members cancelled classes for weeping, terrified students who asked: How could this possibly be happening?

I share apprehensions about President-elect Trump, but I also fear the reaction was evidence of how insular universities have become. When students inhabit liberal bubbles, they’re not learning much about their own country. To be fully educated, students should encounter not only Plato, but also Republicans.

We liberals are adept at pointing out the hypocrisies of Trump, but we should also address our own hypocrisy in terrain we govern, such as most universities: Too often, we embrace diversity of all kinds except for ideological. Repeated studies have found that about 10 percent of professors in the social sciences or the humanities are Republicans.

We champion tolerance, except for conservatives and evangelical Christians. We want to be inclusive of people who don’t look like us — so long as they think like us.

I fear that liberal outrage at Trump’s presidency will exacerbate the problem of liberal echo chambers, by creating a more hostile environment for conservatives and evangelicals. Already, the lack of ideological diversity on campuses is a disservice to the students and to liberalism itself, with liberalism collapsing on some campuses into self-parody.

One can already imagine thousands of triggered New York Times readers spitting out their morning coffee and clicking away from Kristof’s column in disgust at having their worldview and prejudices challenged instead of flattered.

And Kristof continues in a similar vein:

Whatever our politics, inhabiting a bubble makes us more shrill. Cass Sunstein, a Harvard professor, conducted a fascinating study of how groupthink shapes federal judges when they are randomly assigned to three-judge panels.

When liberal judges happened to be temporarily put on a panel with other liberals, they usually swung leftward. Conversely, conservative judges usually moved rightward when randomly grouped with other conservatives.

It’s the judicial equivalent of a mob mentality. And if this happens to judges, imagine what happens to you and me.

Kristof goes on to recommend to his readers a number of prominent American conservative personalities to follow on social media, so as to get a taste of arguments and perspectives which may otherwise have been long ago purged from Facebook timelines and Twitter streams. Again, this is a good thing – other publications have preferred to ensconce their readers deeper in the bubble by publishing hysterical lists of “fake news” publications which cannot be trusted because they do not reflect the Democratic Party’s view of the world.

And he concludes:

I fear the damage a Trump administration will do, from health care to foreign policy. But this election also underscores that we were out of touch with much of America, and we will fight back more effectively if we are less isolated.

When universities are echo chambers, they become conservative punch lines, and liberal hand-wringing may be one reason Trump’s popularity has jumped since his election.

It’s ineffably sad that today “that’s academic” often means “that’s irrelevant.” One step to correcting that is for us liberals to embrace the diversity we supposedly champion.

This blog has not always been a fan of Nicholas Kristof, having only recently taken him to task for comparing the American Left’s coming endurance of Donald Trump to the agonies of somebody suffering from addiction and receiving treatment through a 12-step programme.

But as a reader pointed out at the time, the people who need to hear this message are not likely to accept it from people like me and blogs such as this, with a proud tradition of beating up on “liberal” intolerance and the Cult of Social Justice and Identity Politics.

Nicholas Kristof is clearly one of their own, however, as evidenced by the fact that he thought it was appropriate to compare surviving the Trump administration to attending AA. When somebody with otherwise impeccable social justice credentials like Nicholas Kristof questions the culture and dynamic on the American university campus, people might actually listen, and so one cannot entirely dismiss his work.

Overall, this is a positive development. Nicholas Kristof is a prominent and celebrated left-wing columnist and commentator, as well connected to the establishment as a writer can be. If he is now expressing reservations about the oppressive climate for academic freedom on campus, then there must truly be disquiet growing about the takeover of academia by the Cult of Social Justice and Identity Politics.

The Right cannot hope to win this fight on their own, but finally it looks as though we may be gaining a few unexpected allies. May many more follow in Kristof’s footsteps.

 

Postscript: At present, there are 93 comments to Kristof’s column, the majority expressing angry incredulity that anybody might think that hostility toward conservatism on American university campuses is in any way a bad thing. However, there are exceptions. One reader, a professor at a university I happen to know very well, writes:

An example: I am a professor at a university (Washington University in St. Louis) that brandishes “prestige” it doesn’t quite have—an Ivy League wanna-be. My web page contained some semi-controversial essays—arguing that science is a terrible career choice, that perhaps Summers’s ideas are worth consideration, “diversity”, “political correctness”, that some moral responsibility attaches to the movements that gave us the AIDS epidemic.

My essays, clearly marked as personal opinion, were censored—kicked off my university web page. As expressions of personal opinion, they didn’t belong in the classroom, and were never mentioned there. As thought-pieces on current issues, they are part of being a public intellectual, part of a professor’s job. Academic freedom? Not here.

As Yale University proved with the whole Halloween costume saga of 2015, Ivy League universities are often the worst offenders, so from that perspective Washington University in St. Louis is absolutely heading in the right direction.

Back in the real world, however, they are hurtling off a cliff, and threatening to take what is left of academic freedom down with them.

 

Danger Unsafe Space Sign - The Koala - UCSD

 

Safe Space Notice - 2

Top Image: World Economic Forum / Wikimedia Commons

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Oh, So Now You’re A Liberal? Part 2 – Maajid Nawaz Calls Out The Illiberal British Left

maajid-nawaz-lbc-liberalism-left-authoritarianism

Maajid Nawaz warns about the rise of the “Control Left”, an authoritarian tendency which has left liberalism and liberal values far behind

Recently, this blog took to task those on the authoritarian Left who have reacted to Brexit and the election of Donald Trump by falsely draping themselves in the clothes of liberalism and hysterically mourning an idealised liberal past which they did as much as anybody else to knife in the back.

In that piece, I made the point that people who only weeks ago could be found arguing for greater censorship, the expansion of “hate crime” legislation, trigger warnings, safe spaces, higher taxes on alcohol and tobacco, national ID cards, longer pre-trial detention periods and even more intrusive government surveillance have absolutely no business calling themselves “liberal”.

Though the authoritarian Right are by no means innocent in this regard, it must be acknowledged that most of the recent assaults on liberty and liberalism have come from the Left, in America as well as Britain.

Picking up on this thread, Maajid Nawaz hits the nail on the head on his LBC talk radio show yesterday:

I suspect that the most vocal elements of the Left – and I don’t mean every single person who sympathises with left-wing views, let me make that very clear, I’m talking about the organised left, the most vocal elements of our Left, and the Left in the form of Momentum who have taken over the Labour Party under Jeremy Corbyn – my view is that that Left, today’s Left, today’s active, organised Left is no longer liberal.

What do I mean by that? Well let’s look at a few things that I don’t consider to be liberal. Let’s look at censorship, let’s look at being “post-factual”, let’s look at violence being seen as an option, let’s look at prioritising group identity over individual rights. None of these four traits are liberal.

Censorship is not liberal, so when today’s organised Left begins organising in campuses and across colleges across the nation, across the world, and says things like “you cannot say that here, this is a safe space, we will exclude you from speaking because your views offend us”, when they choose to take offence, when they become more sensitive, and so sensitive in fact that they want to shut debate down simply because they don’t like what somebody is saying, that’s not a liberal approach. A liberal will always prioritise free speech over offence.

What about being post-factual? Well I remember – and I hope many of you remember – at the beginning of this year, the way in which mass sex attacks were reported in the German city of Cologne. And what was known then as the liberal press actively conspired to cover up that news. Facts were known and they were not reported because they didn’t want to be accused of being racist. The German state television station had to come out and openly apologise, days later, when they realised that this story was not one that they could cover up. So being post-factual is also not being liberal.

What about considering violence as an option? When you have the Shadow Chancellor of the UK Labour Party, John McDonnell, being caught on video saying that it’s okay to riot, it’s okay to destroy property and to ruin people’s lives and their private property, that’s not liberal. That may be anarchist, it may be revolutionary hard-left socialist, as John McTernan suggested, but it isn’t liberal.

When people are prioritising group identity over individual rights, saying things like “kill all white men”, saying things like “black people can’t be racist because racism is about power and only white men have power” – Diane Abbott says that. Well I’m sorry Diane Abbott MP, go and walk into any council estate and speak to a white working class lad and try and have a rational, reasonable conversation with that young white working class lad and tell him that he has more power than you, and that’s why you can’t be racist towards him. Complete and utter rubbish. But when group identity is prioritised over individual rights in that way, when leftist activists think it’s okay to say “kill all white men” and that that’s somehow an empowering statement, when they think it’s okay to be racist to all white people as a group, and think somehow that’s what it means to be progressive, erasing the individual, stereotyping entire groups, that is not liberal.

So I have taken the view that this behaviour – censorship on the organised Left, post-factual behaviour, violence being seen as an option and prioritising group identity over individual rights, that isn’t liberal. And like the alt-right has emerged, we’ve now got this new group – it’s called the Control Left. They want to control our lives, control what we think, control how we behave, control how we even feel. And control what we think. That is not liberal. That is the Control Left.

So my message to you, Control Left, is stop telling us you are liberal. My message to the press: stop describing them as the liberal Left, they are no longer liberal. Call them for what they are – Control Left.

A devastating excoriation of the modern Left. And while I’m not sure that Nawaz’s preferred phrase “the Control Left” will catch on, it does describe quite plainly their new strategy of bringing about change not through persuasion but by coercion and force.

Maajid Nawaz has cause to be particularly aware of the new illiberalism gripping the Left, having recently been singled out by the fabled Southern Poverty Law Center in America for supposedly promoting anti-Islamic extremism, a ludicrous accusation given that Nawaz is himself a Muslim. (Nawaz’s real sin was to call for moderate Islam to take more responsibility for its violent, fundamentalist offshoots at a time when much of the Left is furiously pretending that “there is nothing Islamic about ISIS”).

We now need many more people to summon the courage and willingness to tell truth to power exhibited by Maajid Nawaz. It’s all very well having dyed-in-the-wool conservative, libertarian or conservatarian journalists and bloggers such as myself ranting on about the many ways that the modern Left has left liberalism behind. But we can only carry the message so far – since it is we who are most often the targets of this censorship and identity politics, it is too easy for the Control Left to accuse us of acting in our own self-interest rather than the national interest.

Therefore it is vital that more left-wing liberals like Maajid Nawaz stand up and call out these authoritarian tendencies, declaring “not in my name” to the censorship, bullying and control freakery of the modern Left. This is in their interest as much as anyone else’s – with the election of Donald Trump in America, we have seen that peddling a constant diet of authoritarian identity politics eventually provokes a similar identity politics backlash among those groups not marked out for special favour by the Left.

So for the country’s sake as much as their own, those on the Left must learn to renounce authoritarianism and seek to achieve their political agenda through persuasion rather than coercion. To continue on their present course is to plant the seeds of their own destruction, as well as ours.

 

liberalism

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