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Monday, August 18, 2008

What is the "post-left"?

I realize I sling the term "leftist" around a lot, and I'm not the only one. Still, the question needs to be asked: what is the political left? What does it stand for?

Gabriel Noah Brahm Jr. wrote an interesting examination of what he calls "the post-left," or, more generally, "the anti-Western left." The essay is full of twists and turns and probably isn't for everyone, but in my experience its at least a fair assessment of a certain trend in modern left-wing thinking.

One fascinating aspect of Brahm's analysis of the left is how well it coheres with the diagnosis of the left often made by those who call themselves Objectivists.

According to Brahm, the anti-Western left can be characterized by the following features, along with my synopsis of Brahm's explanation of each (hence, any errors are mine, not is. I highly suggest people check out the original piece):

1.  Inverted Exceptionism: that is, the idea that the United States is the root of all evil in the world.

2.  Post-Zionism: Israel is also the source of much evil; its right to exist is severely questioned.

3.  Third Worldism: "The wretched of the world...are not just unlucky but morally superior to the earth's beneficiaries." Everyone from Hugo Chavez to Osama bin Laden can be lionized as a heroic warrior fighting against the evil Americans.

4.  Cultural Revolution: Redeeming the world means everything has to go, especially bourgeois culture and its corresponding moral constraints.

5.  Totalitarian Ideology: This is complicated. In the absence of the patchwork of moral constraints that have evolved through the invisible hand, the post-left wants to substitute a comprehensive ideology that explains and rationalizes any phenomenon in terms of "the same demons [and] the same victims." E.g. "Is something wrong with the world? It must be those damn Americans again!"

6.  Islamism: Islamism appeared as the perfect synthesis of all of the above points. It's anti-American, anti-Zionist, originates from the parts of the world the left tends to admire, aims to overthrow petty bourgeois morality in exchange for a comprehensive ideology, and provides a totalizing explanation for all the injustice in the world.

Some on the left refuse to take Brahm's rebuke lying down. On his blog, Dr. Dawg provides an extended critique of Brahm's thesis.

As for me, I'm not going to generalize. But I've spent enough time on left-wing message boards to realize that Brahm's description is not entirely inaccurate of a certain subset of the left (or those who describe themselves as on the left, anyway.)

I've also known leftists, especially in the United States, who do not celebrate Chavez and Bin Laden, and who do not think America is the source of all evil in the world. Dissent Magazine provides excellent examples of leftists of this type. So it would be wrong to take Brahm's thesis and apply it too broadly -- something I doubt he would be comfortable with, anyway.

Posted by Terrence Watson on August 18, 2008 | Permalink


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The problem with your analysis and the one of Mr. Brahm is that a lot of right wingers and libertarians are the first ones targeting those issues.

If this was solemnly a "modern left-wing thinking", they would not cheer for Obama or Hillary who are, as everyone knows, CFR puppets; just like McCain.

If you do research those issues on the net, you would realize that many hardcore Democrat voters did switch their voting pattern in the last primaries precisely because they discovered Ron Paul's speeches and other Republicans (Lets forget those 9/11 truthers here).

According to a lot of libertarians, the "post-Left" is precisely: neocons.
You can argue but if there is an administration acting like leftists on steroids, it’s certainly the present one.

If this seriously was only a "Leftist thing", the race for the democratic nominee would not have been between Hilary and Barack, it would have been between Kucinich and Gravel.

The only people who tried to target those issues publicly have been pushed on the sides and attacked by the American MSM.

What you call “modern left-wing thinking” is just a reaction from some Republicans and Democrats who’ve decided to look at their US administrations’ patterns (Dems. or Rep.) and done some thinking, researches and analysis.
I’m glad you’ve decided to address the subject, Mr. Watson.

Posted by: Marc | 2008-08-18 10:57:22 AM


Heh, I'll be honest: I had a paragraph I deleted in which I attempted to extend Brahm's analysis to others who don't describe themselves as leftists, and I took it out.

Here's why: I agree with you that a few of the traits Brahm picks out can be applied to conservatives, liberals, and even to libertarians. But I had a hard time making them _all_ stick to any group, except for some on the left. Neocons are not exactly fans of Islamism or reverse exceptionalism, for example. They may be left-wing in other respects, of course.

While you're right that Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton do not exhibit these traits, there are those -- especially those on the left -- who would agree, and who reject those two for those reasons.

I don't think Brahm is using "leftist" as a synonym for "Democrat" or "liberal." Nor do I think Dr. Dawg would use the term in that way. Leftists are in the minority, especially in the United States. Believe me, there are plenty who wish the nomination had come down to Kucinich and Gravel (see the "Democratic Underground" message board.) And these, in my experience, are precisely those who subscribe to most or all of the views Brahm highlights.

While these people might just be reacting to what they see as deficiencies in both the Democrats and the Republicans in the same way libertarians do, I'm not so sure. Here is a thread on DU in which a cadre of leftists applaud China for confiscating Bibles from Christians:


Brahm's analysis can explain this thread, to a degree. But these folks, while unhappy with both Republicans and Democrats, most certainly are not friends of libertarians.

So I still think he's on to something. The totalitarian impulse can be found everywhere, but some on the left (and the right!) are willing to accept totalitarianism as long as it wears the right color of shirt.

Great comments!



Posted by: Terrence Watson | 2008-08-18 11:21:15 AM

If I may with my limited knowledge on those issues...

"Neocons are not exactly fans of Islamism or reverse exceptionalism, for example."

What platform benefits the most from the Islamism reality?
Who sell us most actively the idea of fearing every countries that may* harbour some islamists ? (Except countries like Pakistan and Saudi Arabia…)
Who use this issue to expand government like crazy both nationally and internationally? Who's reducing dangerously Freedom and Liberty at home ?
Who's scrapping pages of the American Constitution saying it's just a piece of paper and its good fo ya ?
Who's boosting "security" expenses on everything but where it needs to - like borders for instance?
Who had neither plans, nor solid proofs to invade Irak and so it’s now costing and will continue to cost American children their freedom for decades?
Who control American MSM so that any ideas that may suggest other ways of approaching the problem should not be evaluated?
Who's messing like criminals with the American economy while those who profit the most from all this are industries that are old friends of this administration ?
Why is it that the entire planet was behind Americans before and after 9/11 and when they’ve entered Afghanistan; but now everyone considers them as the greatest threat to World peace?


They're certainly not fans of Islamism, but 100% of their platform, Medias and policies are based on the fears of common Americans.


"There are plenty who wish the nomination had come down to Kucinich and Gravel (see the "Democratic Underground" message board.) And these, in my experience, are precisely those who subscribe to most or all of the views Brahm highlights."

Have you ever heard of them on any MSM news channels?
Why is it that Fox news, CNN, and that ridiculous neocon who wear a bowtie didn’t covered Kucinich, Gravel and Paul like crazy...?

I mean, if there would be such thing as massive “left wing” islamists appeasers…Where are they??? What’s the channel? What National American Newspapers do I need to buy to be converted by those ME ideologies?
Does Paul, Kucinich and Gravel are closet islamists ?
I’m asking because I don’t see none of them getting air time exposing their ideas on neocon tv…

Posted by: Marc | 2008-08-18 12:42:22 PM


What platform benefits the most from the Islamism reality?"

This may be the wrong thing to ask. While you might be right that neo-conservative policies will, in the end, benefit Islamic extremists and not the United States, I've never been convinced that this is the goal of those who propose those policies.

The neo-cons may have a bad grasp of reality, and not realize what will and won't benefit the interests of the U.S., but I haven't seen any evidence that their aim is to harm America and benefit Islamism.

Never ascribe to malice that which can be explained by incompetence, right? At least, that's my operating heuristic when I'm trying to understand what people do and why they do it.

I agree that neither Kucinich nor Paul got much media coverage, although I think Paul got more -- probably with good reason. Libertarianism at least has gotten some recent exposure because of Ron Paul. Time Magazine even wrote a semi-sympathetic article on the libertarian movement recently. Why would they do that if they're being controlled by a cabal of neocons that doesn't want anyone to learn about libertarian ideas?

"I mean, if there would be such thing as massive “left wing” islamists appeasers…Where are they???"

But that's just it. There isn't a massive wave of the leftists Brahm describes. Fortunately. What he was doing, and what I'm trying to do, is get at the ideas that motivate the _self-described_ left, or at least a portion of it. But the self-described left is but a sliver of the population, so of course we're not going to hear much about them in the mainstream media.

That doesn't mean we shouldn't try to understand them, though, because the self-described left is opposed to libertarianism not from ignorance, but because of aspects of their ideology that are worth criticizing.



Posted by: Terrence Watson | 2008-08-18 1:05:17 PM

"I've never been convinced that this is the goal of those who propose those policies."

Neither do I; but I believe they simply don't care and they follow blindly a path pushed on them by extremely powerful lobbyists.

Since the number one goal of a government is to assure ITS PEOPLE doesn’t become slaves in their own country, I say they are, at least, guilty of criminal negligence and their lack of carelessness will costs the American people for years and years.

The furiously and aggressive shift to the LEFT from the present neocon administration is certainly not due to the Dems (who were already on the left anyway), old school Republicans nor Libertarians...
only they are guilty for that and the only people who will pay for that are the American people (if not looking at all the collateral damages for the rest of the world).

They are precisely that: "anti-Western left"; whether they do it intentionally or not; that you like it or not. Sure, they say the word “JESUS” a lot but they still bring America to the drain.


"Why would they do that if they're being controlled by a cabal of neocons that doesn't want anyone to learn about libertarian ideas?"

Anyone who has access to internet would be able to explain you why, now that Paul has been tarnished as the worst Republican by both the Republican party & neocon medias and so excluded from the race to become the Republican nominee, it would be dangerous for them not to write one favourable article on the Man and continue this way even now that more and more people know what’s going on.

A LOT of American people are now mad at them, they do not take their news from MSM anymore and there's a good reason for that. I believe it's the same reason why you now see (finally!) MSM addressing slowly some of Ron Paul's vues and libertarians' vision on America…

The funniest part of this entire circus is that the same Medias that have talked of Ron Paul only to criticize him now need his opinion on many issues…

Terence, you must know by now that MSM did received TONS of complaints for their biased covering of the American reality and their non-stop bashing @ Paul on false pretences.

But above all this mess, what's really really sad for me is that it's both the Republican and Democrat parties that done everything in their power to discredit Gravel, Kucinich and Paul’s ideas; proving once and for all that they've chose their path to a totalitarian future and that The States are no longer a beckon for Democracy and Freedom.

But don’t say too loud – you would be categorised as unpatriotic.

Posted by: Marc | 2008-08-18 2:04:59 PM

By the way Terence,
Before all those pom pom girls blogging on the shotgun starts critisizing our little discussion, I would like to thank you for taking the time and provide your knowledge on the subject.



Posted by: Marc | 2008-08-18 2:07:22 PM

You can argue and split hairs until the cows come home as to what defines the Left or the Right. While doing so however you miss the point that the biggest enemy is what I call statism which crosses all party lines. The Left is always statist with the collectivist welfare state being its goal. Yet there are also plenty claiming to represent the Right who find the idea of big government with control over the people very appealing.

Posted by: Alain | 2008-08-18 2:21:07 PM

Just the fact that some bloggers, on the Shotgun, accept to discuss the present US administration and the wrongs they are doing to America is, in itself, worth the "hairs splitting".

Posted by: Marc | 2008-08-18 2:28:53 PM

How is it that Obama and Clinton don't fall under the category of leftists? Leftist believe in big government spending programs and high taxes. Obama and Hillary both supported tax increases(ending Bush tax cuts) and far more federal spending. Also, the neoconservatives are not leftists. They are a branch of conservatism that believes in involvement in overseas affairs. They believe that world events can affect the U.S. Their opponents on the right are largely isolationist who believe that(outside of trade) by closing ourselves off to the outside world that we can avoid all trouble. History proves that isolationism fails(look at Japan in 1853, Pre-WW2 U.S., and 16th century China). Finally, the conflict on the right involving social issues is not one of control. The Battle is between libertarianism(classical liberalism) which believes that the government should take no position on social issues and social conservatism(Judeo-Christian democracy) which states that the government should support traditional social positions. The argument for Judeo-Christian democracy is that the foundation of the U.S. is based on these principles and that these ideas have benefited the U.S. One such example is supporting traditional two parent homes with tax credits because studies show that the resulting children are more likely to complete school, less likely to get involved in drugs and criminal activity, and less likely to grow up in poverty. Leftists differ on social issues in that their objective is to transform the society. This is done by two methods. One is push political correctness and label certain areas of discussion as sexist(anti-abortion) or racist(opposition to affirmative action and illegal immigration). The other is to say that the country is no longer linked to a Judeo-Christian foundation and that all behavior that is not politically incorrect is okay(gay marriage, polygamy, repeatedly having children out of wedlock). Are all Democrats leftists? The answer is no. Some are social conservatives in the south and midwest. However, their party apparatus is controlled by social democrats(like Canada's NDP and Liberals) and there lies the problem.

Posted by: john | 2008-08-18 10:00:10 PM

Well, generally I agree with the assessment of those that are politically engaged, at least with most of their brain functioning. I don't believe the liberal left has any idea what they are getting into with their Islamist alliance. It is more of hating the same enemy. I truly believe they fail to understand the goal of dhimmitude that is being undertaken and that the Islamists see their leftist allies as convenient fools.

Now of course there are exceptions. Joe Liebermann is pretty out there but is no carpetbagger for the Islamists and no anti-Israel critic.

I also enjoy the Von Mises concession of "Interventionists". By this he meant well meaning conservatives who are foolishly advocating socialism or at least socialistm lite. GWB would in no way consider himself a leftist by any stretch of the imagination. So I would put him in that big government Interventionist camp.

Posted by: Faramir | 2008-08-18 11:48:46 PM

Listen John,
Obama and Clinton are the "post-left" champions on the Democratic side.
That's a fact.

"far more federal spending?"...are you serious ?

What does it takes you to understand that "involvement in overseas affairs" in the last 10 years have cost the US a greater dept than what they will ever be able to repay both economictly and morally ?
What about those government expantions ?
Not only that...


"Their opponents on the right are largely isolationist who believe that(outside of trade) by closing ourselves off to the outside world that we can avoid all trouble."

Prove it...
All I've heard was about trading, talking with others, neutrality, negociating, traveling, non-interventions, be friends with people, following the Constitution; but never I've heard of isolating the US from the rest of the World.

That's not a Libertarian approach and this would reflect more what Neocons are working on.


keep focussing on gay mariages and attacks on Judeo-Christian foundation while, in the same time, accepting to be fu**ed doggie-style...because they have the right label and they say "Jesus" on tv.

Posted by: Marc | 2008-08-19 12:23:58 AM

The Left is always statist.

Not all of us. I'm a convert to subsidiarity, thanks to my late partner: decisions ought to be made as close as possible to the people affected by those decisions. I'm not anti-state (i.e., anarchist), but I'm anti-centralist and in favour of a lot of local control. Also strict accountability in matters of representation.

It's simply too bald to accuse "the Left" of being "statist," or indeed of anything else, really. I'll buy the "collectivist" part, but would re-phrase: we are social beings, not atoms, and the group, paradoxically to some, provides the resources for individuals to be all that they can be.

Brahm, however, is an intellectually dishonest charlatan. I've never seen so much mouldy straw in my life.

Posted by: Dr.Dawg | 2008-08-19 12:14:26 PM

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