Where’s the Left?

Apparently there’s been a dust-up recently about the supposed lack of genuinely left-wing bloggers in the professional blogosphere. (See here for the run-down.) The charge, in a nutshell, is that many of the most prominent bloggers are so-called neoliberals: people with liberal policy goals but who embrace the deregulation/free-trade/globalization model that has been in vogue since the 1970s or so. A genuinely radical Left is virtually nonexistent among the upper echelons of the liberal blogosphere.

If true (and it depends on how you measure importance in the blogosphere), this isn’t terribly surprising. To the extent that bloggers have been absorbed into more traditional media outlets, they are likely to reflect the traditional media ecosystem. It’s not really unexpected, for example, that the range of views you find among bloggers at the Atlantic is about the same as what you’d find on the op-ed pages of the New York Times or the Washington Post. If blogging was once considered an insurgent alternative to the mainstream media, the process of absorption and co-opting is, if not complete, well on its way. This state of affairs reflects American political discourse across pretty much all media. Not only are genuinely far-left views excluded from virtually all mainstream discourse, even old-fashioned liberals (paleoliberals?) are rare birds. Many people consider Paul Krugman to be an ultra-liberal, but he’s basically a mainstream Clinton-era Democrat (possibly he’s moved a bit further left since then). In Europe he’d probably be a conservative social democrat, maybe even a conservative.

What might be cause for surprise, though, is how little impetus the events of the last ten years (and especially the last three) have given to the revival of a genuine American Left. Speaking personally: I have no left-wing credibility or bona fides (I used to consider myself a libertarian), but the Bush era and its aftermath have pushed me steadily to the left. This was partly because of the war in Iraq and the gross abuse of civil liberties and the rule of law–which convinced me that organized conservatism was deeply corrupt and not to be trusted with governance. But I’ve also moved to the left economically. For instance, I used to be of the view that inequality per se didn’t matter so long as everyone, particularly the poor, was getting richer. But the disparities of the Bush era and the abuse of political power they enabled, among other things, have convinced me that a society with such gross levels of inequality could be neither just nor healthy. The fact that in addition to growing inequality, real wages have been stagnating or possibly even declining for working Americans obviously adds to the problem.

In addition to this widening chasm between the ultra-rich and the rest of us, the global economic collapse we’ve come to call the Great Recession (but which has also been called the “new normal”: an ongoing period of high unemployment and generally poor economic conditions for wide swaths of the working and middle classes) further undermined any remaining confidence I may have had in the ability of free markets to be self-regulating or self-sustaining. I recognize that the causes of the meltdown were complex, but it seems impossible to deny that one major cause was the lack of adequate regulation and oversight, which sprang from a faith in the virtual omnicompetence of markets. (Even former Ayn Rand acolyte Alan Greenspan has admitted as much.)

So, after all this, the fact that so many liberal bloggers are still singing from the neoliberal hymnal does come as something of a shock. It’s almost as if the last three years (or ten years) never happened. This phenomenon is only more pronounced on the actual political stage where, for example, a president routinely criticized by the Right for being a socialist (because, e.g., he supported the passage of a moderate, market-oriented, technocratic reform of the health care system) is in reality pursuing a program of tax cuts and deregulation. And the burning question among many politicos and talking heads is how to dismantle the already fragile social safety net so we don’t have to raise taxes on millionaires to pay for all our wars. In other words, the greatest crisis of capitalism since the Great Depression hasn’t provoked any fundamental rethinking by our political and economic elites about the balance we’ve struck between the needs of capital and the needs of society. (The ecological crisis adds a whole other dimension to this problem.) As for the grassroots Left–the activists, labor unions, civil rights groups, women’s groups, LGBT groups, immigrant-rights groups, liberal churches, etc.–it may either be too busy fending off the Right (with good reason) or too disjointed to actually push for such fundamental changes. In that sense at least, the bloggers seem to be in good company.

4 thoughts on “Where’s the Left?

  1. Camassia

    I think James Surowiecki’s recent article about the unpopularity of unions has some relevance here. “… when times are bad, the approval ratings of government, business, and labor tend to drop in sync; voters, it seems, blame all powerful institutions equally.” He points out that many Americans see unions as a pampered minority, especially when they’re public sector, and he might have added that many people see them as xenophobic and Luddite too (which would be especially damning in the liberal blogosphere). I think that leaves a lot of people without a practical alternative system, which may be why anarcho-libertarian rhetoric seems to be taking off these days.

  2. That’s a good article, albeit a depressing one. I think the anarcho-libertarian stuff (which I admit I found appealing in my younger days) is hopelessly romantic when it comes to the realities of power: you need some kind of institutional base to effect change.

  3. crystal

    I guess I’ve always been a leftie. Interesting how this stuff plays out in the UK too, with the Big Society and radical orthodoxy.

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