How the politics of the Left lost its way

How the politics of the Left lost its way, by Geoffrey Hodgson.

The Russian Revolution’s impact was wide-ranging. One important – and overlooked – effect was how it changed the idea of the term “Left” in political terminology. Following the Bolshevik takeover, the term Left became more strongly associated with collectivism and public ownership. …

Another effect of 1917 was to undermine further the democratic credentials of the Left. … After Soviet Russia and Mao’s China, part of the Left was linked to totalitarian regimes with human rights abuses, execution without trial, little freedom of expression and arbitrary confiscation of property.

Origins of the terms Right and Left:

The political terms Left and Right originated in the French Revolution. In 1789, in the National Constituent Assembly, deputies most critical of the monarchy began to gather on the seats to the left of the president’s chair. Conservative supporters of the aristocracy and the monarchy congregated on the right side.

Those on the right wished to maintain the authority of the crown by means of a royal veto, to preserve some rights of the aristocracy, to have an unelected upper house, and to maintain major property and tax qualifications for voting.

Those on the left wished to limit the powers of the monarchy and to create a democratic republic. They demanded an end to aristocratic privileges and limitations to the powers of the church and the state.

Opening of the Estates General at Versailles on 5th May 1789

Hence Left originally meant liberty, human rights, and equality under the law. It meant opposition to monarchy, aristocracy, theocracy, state monopolies, and other institutionalised privileges. The original Left opposed justifications of authority derived from religion or from noble birth. It supported democracy and private enterprise. …

Communism and identity politics have caused some 180-degree turns on the left:

A slide towards totalitarianism is inevitable within Marxism. This is because the Marxist concept of class struggle and its proposal for a proletarian government undermines the notion of universal human rights, developed in the Enlightenment and proclaimed in the French Revolution.

With the rise of identity politics in the last three decades to form the new left, the left now favors birthrights. Just like with the old aristocracy, only certain identity groups are allowed to have valid opinions on certain matters, and different rules and laws apply to different groups. Identity privileges are the new aristocratic privileges.

The new left also wants ever bigger government, where as two centuries ago they wanted limitations to the powers of the church and the state. State monopolies are now championed by the left, the most recent in Australia being the NBN.

Equality under the law is no longer favored by the left either, with the modern practice of one law for leftist elitists and quite different laws for everyone else. More important is their underhanded push for  different laws for different identity groups, usually disguised in some dubious principle — such as aboriginal recognition in the Constitution and representation in Parliament.

The left has also thrown out the Enlightenment in recent years, perverting “science” into its opposite when it suits their political aims.

Science was a method for gaining knowledge that started in the Enlightenment, in which experiment and observation are the highest authorities. Since the Enlightenment, science has reigned supreme over politics on questions about the physical world. The crucial idea is that empirical evidence beats anyone’s say-so. The motto of the world’s oldest science body — the Royal Society, founded in 1660 — is “nullius in verba”, meaning “take nobody’s word for it.”

Science is different from other ways of acquiring knowledge in that there are no “gods” of science, no fashionistas, and no infallible experts. Everyone alike must defer to empirical evidence. In science, truth only comes from empirical observations; all the rest is just opinion.

In climate change however, the experts and their models are given higher authority than the empirical evidence. The two do not agree, so the evidence is changed or ignored. The principles of science say the models should be discarded, not the evidence. But what the journalists, bureaucrats, and politicians have done is profoundly unenlightened. They should have gone to the data. Instead they went to a bunch of “experts” from an intellectual mono-culture who have a theory. The money and status of the experts depends on the answer to the very question being asked: is the global warming due to in-creasing carbon dioxide? “Yes, and thank you for paying me.”

The left says “because science” but is profoundly unscientific in a number of other areas — mostly in the “social sciences,” on issues such as the existence and effects of IQ, or almost anything to do with sex differences.

hat-tip Matthew