Thursday, 11 February 2016

New Left v Old Left



The rise of Jeremy Corbyn and Bernie Sanders seems to pit Old Left against New Left, some say. But are there any real differences between the two ideologies? And are either New Left or Old Left actually even ideologies at all?

Philosopher Greg Salmieri answers the question in talking about the similarities and differences between the so-called “Free Speech movement and the campus riots of the 60s, and the “Occupy” movement and its “safe spaces” of today.

Asked by The Undercurrent what Ayn Rand took to be the essence of that earlier movement, he answers:

Dr. Salmieri: She saw the events at Berkeley and, later, on other campuses, as an attempt to erase the distinction between speech and action and to intimidate others into adopting their political positions. The students objected to Berkeley’s policies concerning what political activities were permitted on parts of the campus, so they seized control of the campus and did things like turning over police cars and using them as rostrums. The students could have worked to persuade the administration that their preferred policies were right. If that didn’t work, they could have withdrawn and gone to another school—or, since Berkeley is a public university, they could have attempted to persuade the legislators or the voters who elected them. This is the peaceful, civilized way to settle disputes. Instead, the students resorted to force. In effect, they said: “You must grant our demands, because we’re a big gang who can physically bar your way, disrupt campus life, and destroy property.” We’ve seen a reprise of this in the “Occupy” movement, and more recently in the spectacle of student groups occupying quads and administrators’ offices and seizing control of forums to read lists of demands.
    The students at Berkeley were outraged that the existing policy prohibited certain sorts of speech on campus property, and some of the current student groups are outraged that campus policies don’t prohibit certain types of speech that they think is offensive. So in this narrow respect they could be seen as opposite, but the groups are the same in that they are trying to impose their preferred policies by physical force and intimidation, rather than by persuasion. The recent groups are more consistent, because the whole idea of free speech, which the ‘60’s students claimed to be for, rests on the distinction between speech and action. If “speech” extends to trespass and physical intimidation, then of course it cannot be free, since the “speech” of some will amount to violence against others.
Capture    This blurring of the line between speech and action was part of a broader development that Rand thought was going on in the 1960’s. She called it “anti-ideology”—the attempt to undermine the concepts and principles that people need to think rationally about political issues. Without such concepts, a nation is reduced to the status of warring gangs each of which is united, not by any shared convictions, but by factors such as race, locality, profession, or income. Anti-ideology is popular when people are acting on motives that they are unwilling to admit (to themselves or others), and Rand thought that this was the case across the political spectrum in the ‘60’s.
    For decades, the political left had been pushing for ever greater government control over individuals’ lives. The only consistent implementation of their ideas is totalitarianism, of which communism and fascism are both variants, and the horrors of that system were obvious to any honest observer in the aftermath of World War II. So the leftists didn’t want to admit what they stood for. But their opponents on the political right were unwilling to embrace the opposite system, capitalism, because it was seen as “selfish” and “materialistic.” So both sides sought to evade the fundamental issue at stake between them and to focus on narrow policy questions, without reference to the principles needed to understand them or rationally evaluate them.
    As a result, American politics was reduced to pressure group warfare. Without recourse to the principle of individual rights, which enables people to live together in non-sacrificial harmony, factions multiplied and formed uneasy alliances that enabled momentary majorities to use elections as an opportunity to sacrifice minorities. Rand saw what the students at Berkeley were doing as a more naked version of this same pressure group warfare. Instead of imposing mob power at the ballot box, as their parents were doing, the students were trying to impose it in crudely physical terms, out on the streets.
    The source of the anti-ideology, in Rand’s view, was intellectuals—especially professors of philosophy and the humanities—and it seeped out into the culture from the universities. So she didn’t see it as any surprise that violence erupted first on campuses. That’s where young people go to find the ideas that will enable them to make sense of the world and chart their course through life. Instead, their professors gave them an anti-ideology that was a rationalization for imposing their whims by brute force. Of course, the professors of today include many members of the ‘60’s student movement, many of whom are teaching variants of these same doctrines. We can see their influence in some of the current groups occupying campuses. . .

… and also podiums and voting booths.


  1. I studied Evolution and Socio-biology at a reading level in the 1980's. These were the days when it was de rigeur to believe that any difference between men and women was purely indoctrination and socialised but not genetic. Hard to believe isn't it. The idea that there were relentless and undesirable traits in Society which could not be treated by advanced and correct thinking was unacceptable to many academics , especially at Harvard.

    This piece below from Michael Shermer about Stephen Jay Gould [ PC thinker on correct thinking ] and E.O Wilson [ rational Socio-Biologist .

    quote "" The evolution wars began in 1859 with the publication of Charles Darwin's Origin of Species. But they heated up in 1975 with the release of entomologist E.O. Wilson's Sociobiology and have not let up since, as evidenced by the controversies generated by sociobiology's doppelganger--evolutionary psychology--and its attempt to account for human behavior in terms of evolutionary adaptations (for example, the recent attempt to explain rape as an adaptive strategy by males who could not pass on their genes by non-forceful sex). [See E.O. Wilson's "Writing Life" on pages 6-7.] The modern evolution wars now have their chronicler in sociologist Ullica Segerstrale, whose masterfully comprehensive Defenders of the Truth was 25 years in the making.
    At stake in this battle are nothing less than how human societies should be structured, the nature of human nature and, as Segerstrale notes, "the soul of science." How an academic textbook by an entomologist could result in one of the most rancorous debates in all of science is marvelously explained in intricate detail, beginning with the reactions to Wilson by his Harvard colleagues Stephen Jay Gould and Richard Lewontin. Their Sociobiology Study Group, along with the politically charged Science for the People--a group of Harvard-based academics, such as Gould and Lewontin, for the diffusion of scientific knowledge to the general population--set the stage for a now-famous incident at the 1978 meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science: Demonstrators chanted "Racist Wilson, you can't hide, we charge you with genocide!", followed by someone pouring a jug of ice-water over his head and shouting "Wilson, you are all wet!"
    Why, Wilson wondered two decades later in his autobiographical book Naturalist, didn't Gould and Lewontin just come up to his office from theirs one floor below in the same Harvard building to discuss their concerns? Why attack him in the very public pages of the New York Review of Books when this all could have been handled in private? The reason, as Segerstrale so brilliantly shows, is that science is not the private and always rational enterprise it is often made out to be. Why, Gould and Lewontin could just as easily have asked, didn't Wilson come down one floor to their offices to discuss with them in private his ideas about applying principles of animal behavior to human societies?
    "" unquote

  2. The terms "new" and "old" may be misapplied.

    The left started out as a reaction to the Age of Enlightenment, to the enlightenment values of reason, science, technology, capitalism, abundance. Led by the likes of Rousseau, they held that science was bad, that technology was bad and that civilization per se is corrupt and that innocence was to be found in primitive existence.

    Marx managed to create a Hegelian type synthesis between the Rousseau type left and enlightenment. Instead of denouncing science, he claimed to stand for science, that his belief system resulted from the application of science, as in scientific socialism.

    What has been styled as the "new left" is in fact an unraveling of the synthesis and the reemergence of the original Rousseauian left, a left that resents rationality and science and champions the primitive existence, that finds its expression with the environmental movement. The new left is the old, original left.

    With the collapse of communism, the synthesis seemed to unravel, but it has reemerged with the various occupy movements.

  3. By coincidence I’ve just finished reading Hunter S Thompson’s Hell’s Angels, and one of the things that stood out for me was the similarity between the Hell's Angels and the 1960s Berkeley radicals that Thompson discussed near the end of the book.

    It seems that for a period in the ‘60s some of the Berkeley radicals thought it was cool to hang out with the Angels, and even looked up to them to some extent. The Angels did things many radicals wanted to do, but didn’t have the nerve to try. The radicals Thompson described were more pretentious and far better educated than the Angels, but just as angry and resentful in their own way. Like the Angels, they had nothing constructive to contribute and they expressed their resentment through violence.

    Once we consider the concept of anti-ideology it’s no surprise that the Angels and the Berkeley radicals had some things in common, or that the radicals found the Angels attractive.

  4. They sucked then, they suck now.


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