In the course of reviewing two books, one by Michael Knowles and the other by Harvard Law’s pride, Ben Shapiro, Kat Rosenfield points out that the grievances of the right against the progressive left aren’t really about the wrongs done to conservatives at all. They are not the real enemy.
What the free speech fretting from the political Right often misses is that this culture war is largely a Left-wing civil war — and its worst casualties tend to be self-inflicted wounds. American society is increasingly segregated along political lines: we live, work, befriend and marry people with whom our primary point of commonality is that we all vote the same way.
So when Shapiro describes the grave consequences people have faced for so much as nodding toward a conservative perspective — the newspaper reporter who was fired for mentioning the n-word in a discussion about offensive speech, or the Hollywood director who was dog-piled on Twitter for saying something nice about Shapiro himself — the people he’s talking about generally aren’t on the Right. They’re liberals, being excommunicated from their professional and social networks by members of their own tribe.
As Kat notes, when Tom Cotton’s op-ed in the New York Times raised a storm of outrage and protest, it wasn’t about canceling Cotton, but the Times’ editor who approved the op-ed.
The people who lost friends and professional opportunities because they signed the Harper’s Letter in defence of free speech? All liberals. The group of women founders ousted from their own companies last year for crimes against diversity and inclusion had not a single Trump voter among them.
It’s unclear to me that they’re part of the same tribe, as much as there is an overlap in what they support. Social safety net? Check. Ending discrimination? Definitely. Diversity? Of course. But what these goals mean and how to achieve them is where the distinction lies. And that’s why the real enemies to progressives aren’t the alt-right, or even the moderate right, but the moderate left, liberals who believe in constitutional rights, due process, equal rights, free speech and tolerance for differing views.
The competition for hearts and minds on the left isn’t about persuading Trump supporters or white supremacists to see the light and come over to the left. They’re not the target audience, and they’re not going to be won over no matter what. Plus, since they’re inherently evil (and, of course, deplorable), who wants them anyway? Nor are they going to steal away those people who defend equality with screams that Trump isn’t a vulgar, amoral, narcissistic ignoramus. No liberal is signing up with white supremacists no matter what they say.
But these are the hearts and minds that progressives need to manipulate to their end if they’re to seize control. After all, liberals condemning the authoritarian, illiberal mechanisms used by progressives to achieve their goals, their absolutist outcomes that defy the foundations of liberal belief, at all cost, presents the greatest threat to progressives.
Where few inclined to side with the right would ever consider backing progressive authoritarianism, many on the left can be manipulated by similar goals to shed all principle and shame. They can be cajoled, ridiculed, accused and twisted into becoming progressives, or at least silences into not challenging the hegemony of left wing authoritarians. No one who believes in equality is likely to succumb to the allure of white supremacy, but they could well confuse it with cries for the alternative, equity.
The function of all this speech policing is to enforce hegemony on the Left, a phenomenon that writer Freddie de Boer has identified as The Iron Law of Institutions in action: people care more about maintaining status among their fellow progressives than they do about advancing the progressive cause itself.
And indeed, the Left has struggled continuously in recent years to form meaningful coalitions that would allow them to obtain political power — in part because they’re far more interested in the internecine sniping and status-seeking that ends up pushing would-be allies away. There’s a reason why, despite four years of shrill #resistance, we still only barely managed to vote Donald Trump out of office.
Is there a future for liberals, when the options are limited to Trump on the right and progressives on the left? The hope was that when the Dems rejected Warren and Sanders, choosing the least worst option in Biden, he would be the moderate liberal voice most Dems sought. Did that do the trick? Is there any hope for a return to reason over radicalism? Have the progressives managed to accomplish what the conservatives failed to do, erase liberalism and turn the left into the other flavor of authoritarianism?
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