It’s fascinating how the more reactionary conservatives can occasionally be quite honest, if in a backwards kind of way. There is always an attempt to obscure, even as damning truths are revealed. The reactionary mind must co-opt any and all rhetoric, as convenient, in order to manipulate the public mind and dominate moral imagination. But, in the contorted process, they can say the darnedest of things. Here is a perfect example of this:
“Virtually every value liberals have held for a century is now held by conservatives and scorned by leftists. Therefore, America, in serious jeopardy of being lost, will be saved when people convince the liberals in their life that the left, not the conservative, is their enemy.”Dennis Prager, PRAGER: Questions to determine whether a friend or relative is a liberal or a leftist
That is a quote from Dennis Prager, a fairly well known and influential figure on the right, if not quite a mainstream name. He self-identifies as a ‘conservative’. But, interestingly, he claims to hold historically liberal views and admits that the United States is a historically liberal country. So, old school liberalism is the new conservatism. That would’ve been a surprise to those old school liberals of the past who fought against old school conservatives. Conservatives have become liberals and liberals leftists, while conservatism proper disappears in smoke.
Anyway, using that ideological reframing as narrative rhetoric, he then makes a typical reactionary argument in nearly equating present liberals with leftists, although he doesn’t quite go that far and maintains a distinction, however confused it is. What goes unstated but is nearly implied is that the whole political spectrum, including on the right, has shifted further and further left over time. Listen to the early English and American conservative views in response to the American and French revolutions; and you’ll hear apologetics for slavery, genocide, imperialism, colonialism, monarchy, and theocracy.
So, the now living generation of ‘conservatives’ really are far left in comparison. This isn’t entirely true, though, in considering how far left liberalism had already gone in centuries past. Some of the colonial era and revolutionary era classicalal liberals remain, in many ways, still to the left of present American liberals. We have yet to catch up with the ‘leftist’ radicalism of Thomas Paine with his founding vision of revolutionary zeal, egalitarianism, progressivism, social liberalism, economic populism, and global citizenship. Then again, neither have we ever lived up to the democratic idealism of the likes of the much earlier Roger Williams.
To emphasize the basic fact that is conveniently overlooked, it should be noted that most of the strongest conservative views that, in past generations were majority positions, are now so taboo in their reactionary illiberalism and authoritarianism that few conservatives today would agree with them, much less mention in respectable company. Quite the opposite. Most present conservatives would denounce that conservatives ever held those beliefs and values and, instead, would argue conservatives were always liberals. This is standard revisionist history of the reactionary mind.
Yet many old conservatives like Prager would’ve in the past held extremely regressive and oppressive views, albeit now they style themselves as civil libertarians and classical liberals. Not that long ago, most conservatives openly embraced and sometimes proudly advocated or at least were extremely tolerant of blatant eugenics, racism, segregation (sundown towns, redlining, and covenants), white supremacy, antisemitism, internment camps, male chauvinism, patriarchy, Manifest Destiny, White Man’s Burden, etc. For example, in many towns during the 1920s, the Ku Klux Klan was the leading conservative institution in defense of red-blooded Americanism, muscular Christianity, and WASP culture.
Furthermore, for all their present talk of free speech and bill of rights, many of these same conservatives earlier in life supported draconian Cold War witch-hunts, blackballing, blacklisting, censorship, book bans (sometimes burnings), Comics Book Code, and on and on. Conservatism used to be most known for attacking and constraining civil rights. That is still true to a large degree, but they’re less open about it. Even so, one can sense that the actual conservative positions have softened over time, as social norms and popular culture has pulled all of American society leftward. In co-opting liberal rhetoric, conservatives slowly become what they’ve pretended to be. That is to say the con men (and con women) succeed by conning themselves.
This massive shift was what the presidential election of Donald Trump revealed. Many Republicans left the party and many conservatives became independents or even, daresay, Democrats. Republicans haven’t won a popular vote in a presidential election in a long time. When looking at the reactionary extremism on show in the GOP and Fox News, what stands out is that polling often clearly proves that most self-identified Republicans and conservatives aren’t on board with the far right. Conservatism really has become increasingly liberal, which has opened space for liberals to go further left and so has given breathing room for a resurgence of the political left.
It’s amazing how far left the political right has gone, at least among the general population. This is where we must distinguish the majority on the right from the elite on the right. Prager, as an elite, may portray himself as being a true defender of liberalism. And it’s likely true that he has gone left, both compared to his younger Cold War self and compared to prior generations of conservatives. But keep in mind that the vast majority of Americans on the right are probably, on most issues, much further left than Prager. That means, if Prager is a ‘liberal’, then by his own argument many conservatives to the left of him are ‘leftists’.
That is demonstrated by how the progressive label is regaining popularity and traction, all across the political spectrum and even among evangelicals. We might even see a revival of the Social Gospel and Christian socialism that was so widespread earlier last century (remember that the Pledge of Allegiance was penned by a Christian socialist). That was back when populism and progressivism transcended and blurred political distinctions. With that history in mind, one might observe that what used to be called left-wing is becoming simply part of the mainstream. This is probably why those like Prager are fighting so hard to maintain the schism between liberals and leftists, in order to divide the American public, that is to say keep silenced and suppressed the American (super-)majority. There are ‘conservative’ liberals and ‘leftist’ liberals, but essentially everyone is a liberal now. Conservatives are reactionaries, that is true, but still liberals, if in distorted guise.
There is always room for a caveat, though. If we’ve all become bleeding heart liberals, maybe we also are all reactionaries as well. Or, at least, we are all infected with the reactionary mind virus, all carriers and potential disease vectors. That is to say, we live in a confused society. Nonetheless, liberalism is the frame of American society, from the very beginning. We may differ in being progressive or reactionary, but we are liberals through and through. The debate is had on shared terms. That is why reactionaries must co-opt liberal rhetoric. They have no choice because liberalism won the American mind centuries go, before there was a United States. All that conservativism means, therefore, is the conserving of one kind of liberalism in defense against another.
The important point is that liberalism is always a moving target, as conservatism follows suit. There is no central tenet of conservatism to be conserved for all time. Instead, conservatives are constantly following along behind progressive and radical liberals, picking up what is cast off or what falls away. So, conservatives are always turning against the conservatism of the past and reinventing themselves. Meanwhile, those leading the way in our liberal society are holding the light of liberal ideals, leaving reactionaries forever caught in the shadows, defined by what they are against, defined by what they are not. Yet the shadow of liberalism is inseparable from liberalism. And the greater the light the greater the shadow. Likewise, the greater the progress the greater the reaction. So, conservatives further co-opting what once was radical and progressive is actually a positive sign of change.
All of this does leave one with a thought. Considering modern conservatives claim to be classical liberals, what happened to the once numerous classical conservatives of yesteryear? During the revolutionary era, conservatism meant being a hardcore reactionary and counter-revolutionary. Classical conservatives were opposed to secular free markets, separation of church and state, democracy in any form, and everything else associated with classical liberalism. They favored big governments, authoritarian hierarchies, and paternalistic elites. Newfangled capitalism, industrialization, and a free laboring class was perceived as a threat to the new pseudo-traditional power structures they sought to build in replacement of the decaying and decadent ancien regime.
Why did conservatives eventually leave behind the social, political, and moral vision that once inspired the earliest conservatives? Is it because they lost the battle of minds, not to mention the battle of culture and politics? If they couldn’t beat liberals, they’d join them — was it that simple? What does it mean for us now when conservatism has been lost as a viable alternative, when even conservatives are liberals? Yes, liberalism won; but what was won and to what end? What if the true winners have in many ways been the reactionary liberals (i.e., conservatives) who have such a talent for co-opting, manipulating, and dominating? In that case, liberalism might have lost by winning. So, we all can be losers together. Is that true? Or might the radical and progressive liberalism of the founding vision once again regain purchase in the public mind and moral imagination?
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9/6/21 – Here is an added thought for context. Our view above is atypical. Liberalism and conservatism, in conventional thought, are portrayed as opposing forces. And, by definition, the reactionary mind opposes. But that opposition happens within a shared frame, what some call a dominant paradigm. In this post, our argument is that liberalism is the common link between the American left and right, whether or not this applies outside the US and particularly outside the West. Our argument posits that this mass liberalization of American society began early on and has continually increased ever since, to the point that classical conservatism is barely a faint memory.
Such an understanding has been developing over the years in this blog. There are many sources of evidence and analysis that have fed into it. In general, we’ve at times closely followed polling and survey data over the past decade or so. There are many posts about how most Americans are often far more liberal or even leftist than how they are portrayed in the corporate media and corporatocratic politics (see some of the links in the main text above). For decades, there is a clear and growing leftist majority that at this point is an undeniable supermajority.
This was a shocking insight when we first came across the data. It made us realize we had been victims of a propaganda campaign, that most Americans and other Westerners also had fallen under the sway of multiple generations of Cold War rhetoric that continues to hold immense power, in spite of the Soviet Union having fallen several decades ago. We’re still coming to terms with what this means. And we have furthered our understanding with a study of the rise of the right-wing Shadow Network, as guided by the evil genius of Paul Weyrich and the money of the Coors family.
There is also an interesting covert culture war that was promoted by the CIA, such as keeping influential figures, media sources, and institutions on the pay roll: journalists, writers, artists, musicians, literary magazines, writers workshops, etc. One of the crazies pieces of the puzzle was the silencing of Marxists and communists not only through direct means like witch hunts, blackballing, blacklisting, and even outright censorship. The CIA ensured postmodern intellectuals gained greater attention and influence in order to have an outsized voice. They did this because, contrary to the claim of right-wingers, postmodernists were the key critics and opponents of radical leftists.
So, there was all kinds of crazy stuff going on that really mind-fucked the American public, contributing to our present confused liberalism and convoluted conservatism (as a side note, the reason the conservative-minded would’ve been a good Nazi in Nazi Germany or a good Stalinist in Stalinist USSR is the same reason they are good liberals in liberal America). Few Americans have yet realized how manipulated they have been and still are, how manipulated is the entire society — by way of what Jan Oberg has called the Military-Industrial-Media-Academia Complex (MIMAC). This has included the cooperation of Hollywood moviemakers, by allowing the Pentagon to edit and rewrite movie scripts in order to get access to government resources and properties. The Shadow Network and MIMAC are essentially the same thing; along with being closely related to the Deep State, inverted totalitarianism, and soft fascism.
Most basically, all of this is reactionary. And, as it operates within a liberal worldview, it has co-opted and redirected liberal rhetoric and values in a way contrary not only to many progressive liberals but also many classical liberals. It still might seem strange to the average American to portray conservatives as liberals, even if they could understand conservatives are defined by their reaction to liberalism. But this became a compelling explanation to our mind after we read Domenico Losurdo’s book Liberalism: A Counter-History. And that was added to our already developing understanding of the reactionary mind, by way of the writings of Corey Robin and Mark Lilla.
It was Robin who emphasized how reactionaries co-opt. That was a key insight. I first formally wrote about this in 2013 and then again in 2017, but had been tossing the idea around for a while before that period. It suddenly made so much sense, all the bull shit that comes from the political right, including the more right-leaning neocons and neoliberals among the DNC elite. It always felt strange that someone like Barack Obama gets called a ‘liberal’, no matter that he himself has never identified as a liberal (e.g., most Americans were in support of same sex marriage when he and Hillary Clinton were still publicly denouncing it in trying to win over the minority of right-wing Ferengi voters).
But it was Losurdo’s work that was most challenging. His book presents even some early slaveholding politicians as ‘liberal’. These are the kind of historical figures who are on the far right fringe of conservatism. Losurdo wasn’t exactly making the kind of argument made in this post. Still, he made a compelling case for American politics being liberal in a far broader sense than is normally considered. Liberal ideology was deeply embedded in American thought and politics from early on. It was always inseparable from a strong reactionary strain. It took a number of years of wrestling with it before we could better appreciate Losurdo’s European leftist take on American liberalism.
We aren’t merely trying to be clever by calling conservatives liberals. It’s simply a fact that, in embracing classical liberalism, conservatives have effectively betrayed, silenced, and eliminated classical conservatism from mainstream thought. This was done by conservatives themselves, not politically correct leftists. As reactionary chameleons, they became what they were pretending to be and forgot their own ideological ancestry or rather intentionally obscured it, but even that intentional obscuring quickly became forgotten.
This whole process has quickly faded from memory, even though it much of it happened in living memory. As far as we can tell, the redefining of conservatism as classical liberalism is mostly a post-WWII phenomenon, as part of the rise of neoliberalism. Classical conservatives were skeptical, wary, and critical of capitalism and hyper-individualism; whereas modern conservatives tend to be the opposite, although Trump has reinvoked some the old right-wing populist spirit. The anti-liberalism of classical conservatism, of course, remains as an unacknowledged undercurrent that never really goes away. Trump may use it to rile people up, but in reality he is as neoliberal as Ronald Reagan. That is the nature of reactionaries. They can jump between the rhetoric of opposing ideologies because principled consistency is irrelevant to their realpolitik.
All of this confusion might be why we’ve come around to emphasize the right/left distinction, rather than conservatism vs liberalism. Economic ideology is mostly meaningless for clarification, as it’s mostly empty rhetoric beyond capitalist realism itself which is the ruling ideology of both parties and all big biz media. The only relevant part is the opposition between social liberalism and social conservatism, the latter not being traditionalism but the reaction to the former. They are relative social constructs, considering social conservatives become ever more socially liberal over time. But there are elements to the right and left that persist, however dominant liberalism becomes on both sides.
The main element of this variety is that, from the beginning, the political left has upheld and prioritized a larger common identity: fraternity, global citizenship, grassroots organizing, shared action, democratic self-governance, Germanic communal freedom, fairness, etc. This has its roots in the more religious and feudalist thought of the English Peasants’ Revolt and English Civil War where the framework was the community as Body of Christ where equality was taken seriously, on Earth as it is in Heaven. This is a more social, environmental, and ecological approach (sometimes even holistic and integral or else intersectional and such); in that there are no individuals as separate islands.
The co-opting and shifting has bled into this arena as well. The political right has increasingly taken on this leftist approach. It likely has to do with the whole society shifting toward what, in Spiral Dynamics, is referred to as the green vMeme (i.e., value meme) and beyond into integral proper. The hyper-individualism of orange vMeme is losing some of its hold. That could be why there has been a reappearance of right-wing populism, although it’s taking on entirely new meanings. It’s not only a general social liberalism (same sex marriage, secularism, women’s rights, etc) that has taken hold in the public mind but old school leftist politics itself (opposition to high inequality, demand for stronger gun control and environmental regulations, etc).
As more on the political right have come to identify as some variety of liberal or libertarian (the latter being another label co-opted by right-wing reactionaries), there is seen another change in the political right taking on a more leftist worldview. One can sense that maybe social Darwinism, genetic determinism, and related beliefs are losing currency in that, as with the majority in general, the majority on the political right no longer find them appealing and compelling. In place of earlier reactionary thought, taking purchase is the idea that we are affected by the world around us and hence larger sociopolitical organizations/institutions have a right and obligation to intervene on behalf of the public. Of course, that is a dangerous situation in how imperialists like Theodore Roosevelt and Adolf Hitler occasionally borrowed leftist rhetoric to promote anti-leftist agendas.
Warnings aside, it is a fascinating moment in time when the political left has so powerfully won the battle over framing, if it makes the political right even harder to identify and counter as the reactionary mind goes into overdrive. Trying to pin reactionaries down is akin to those ancient folktales of a shapeshifting witch, demon, spirit, or deity that evades capture or death by changing forms in quick succession. Still, as a leftist, this can be taken as progress of sorts. Think about how the left tricked the right into defending that, “All Lives Matter!” Not that long ago, when many now older people were young, most on the political right would’ve adamantly, openly, and loudly declared that some lives clearly matter more than others. Yet now the old school egalitarian idea of all lives mattering from classical liberalism, in being co-opted, has become the reactionary position while leftists go further left still in promoting ever greater extremes of egalitarianism.
We keep repeating that we’re all liberals now or some other variant of this, such as we’re all egalitarians now. We say this not to be amusing or to get shock value. It genuinely seems to be the social reality we have come to live in. And it seems to further show how far leftism has pervaded. In the left-liberal worldview, it’s all about inclusion and widening the circle of concern, compassion, and care. With left-liberalism ruling not only society and politics but the public mind and imagination, egalitarian inclusion has even brought conservatives into the fold by uprooting them from their past classical counterparts.
Conservatives today will generally attack classical conservatism in defense of the now ruling broad liberalism. This is why the best way to defend a liberal society is to get conservatives to identify as liberals or some other similar label like ‘progressive’. Let them claim that they are “True Liberals” because then they will feel compelled to act as good liberals as their identity. Oddly, conservatives could become stronger defenders of liberalism than even liberals, as conservatives always want to be on the winning side and so always want to defend the status quo. Liberalism could become a new and larger pseudo-tribalism that breaks down old narrow identities to bring them into alignment with greater inclusion and egalitarianism. Then reactionary conservatives will assert that is what they always believed.
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9/6/21 – There is something to throw in here to give a sense of how far left the American public has gone. Yes, the political right has gone left, as the centrists and moderates have gone left and so the leftists even further left still. Most Americans, on many major issues, are to the left of what is considered politically correct and allowable speech among the right-wing ruling elite in politics and media. Even the most leftist fringe has grown quite large.
This is how conservatives could become classical liberals, quite progressive at times, while not thinking this strange. After all, relative to most Americans, these reactionaries remain well to the right, even if that rightist position is further left than most liberals in the past. There are presently more supposedly radical extremists in the left-wing fringe than there has been voters in either of the two right-wing corporatocratic parties.
Read the below to get a sense of how far left we’ve gone, how far left the Overton window has been dragged by popular opinion, despite the right-wing elite conspiring to push it right going back generations (e.g., CIA propaganda campaigns). Also, keep in mind that most of the Americans voting for either right-wing party would vote for candidates much further left if they were viable within a functioning democracy.
As an example, most AFSCME union members wanted Bernie Sanders for presidential candidate, but AFSCME union leadership backed Hillary Clinton; and so that indicates that even the elite within labor unions are further right than the average American. So, if labor unions no longer represent workers, then who do they represent? The same could be asked of so many other powerful institutions in our society, far from limited to mainstream political parties and media giants.
By the way, it’s not only the majority of the general public that is being censored and silenced. Leftists struggle to get hired in elite institutions, not only big biz media but also academia (Anarchists Not In Universities). And, once in academia, most of the targeted professors are leftists (Zack Beauchamp, Data shows a surprising campus free speech problem: left-wingers being fired for their opinions). Yet, of course, that is not the narrative heard in the supposedly ‘liberal’ corporate MSM.
All of the following text is from the linked article:
Media Gloats About Censoring the Far Left
by Ted Rall
Thirty-seven percent of American citizens are socialist or communist. That’s far more people than voted for either Hillary Clinton (28 percent of eligible voters) or Donald Trump (27 percent) in 2016.
The majority is voiceless. A privileged minority rules. The United States is a political apartheid state.
If the left were allowed on the ballot in this fake democracy, given space in newspapers and on television, invited to join political debates, and if it wasn’t brutally suppressed by the police and FBI, the left wouldn’t need to wage a revolution in order to take over the country. Leftists could easily win at the ballot box, if America were a real democracy.
Media censorship plays a major part in the conspiracy to deny the majority left its rightful role as the nation’s rulers. Socialist and communist Americans read newspaper editorial pages and draw the false conclusion that they’re members of a lunatic fringe. More than 1,000 papers — yet not one single leftist opinion columnist or editorial cartoonist on staff?!
Leftist Americans exist by the millions but many are isolated from one another. They watch CNN, MSNBC and Fox News and figure they’re all alone. None of the three major cable news networks employs a single left-wing commentator. They go to the polls but there’s no left party on the ballot. Or if there is, they’ve never heard of it and don’t want to waste their votes.
To be a leftist in America today is analogous to how black people felt until recently while watching TV: You don’t see anyone like you. The powers that be want you to feel like the Invisible Man, as though you don’t exist, as though you don’t matter.
American politics is a party to which you have not been invited.
There used to be a little space. In the 1990s, lefties like me were granted occasional mentions in The New York Times, Washington Post, CNN and NPR. Even Fox News had us on to serve as punching bags. Shortly after 9/11, we disappeared along with the Twin Towers, relegated to a few blogs and alternative weeklies. Now newspapers and cable TV news and corporate news websites never give space to representatives of the left. (Don’t email me about Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. She’s a Democrat, not a leftist.)
Ashamed and afraid, the gatekeepers used to have the decency to keep secret their suppression of people whose political sin is that they really, truly believe that all humans are equal.
Censorship with a smile is no longer enough for America’s corrupt news media. Now they’re brazenly contemptuous and impressively thorough. They even seek to elevate censorship of the left to a proud American value!