“Unlimited tolerance must lead to the disappearance of tolerance. If we extend unlimited tolerance even to those who are intolerant, if we are not prepared to defend a tolerant society against the onslaught of the intolerant, then the tolerant will be destroyed, and tolerance with them.
“ In this formulation, I do not imply, for instance, that we should always suppress the utterance of intolerant philosophies; as long as we can counter them by rational argument and keep them in check by public opinion, suppression would certainly be unwise.
“But we should claim the right to suppress them if necessary even by force; for it may easily turn out that they are not prepared to meet us on the level of rational argument, but begin by denouncing all argument; they may forbid their followers to listen to rational argument, because it is deceptive, and teach them to answer arguments by the use of their fists or pistols. We should therefore claim, in the name of tolerance, the right not to tolerate the intolerant.”
Karl Popper, The Open Society and Its Enemies
We’ve come to a new point in life, maybe approaching something vaguely resembling maturity if not yet wisdom. A change in attitude was recently expressed in changes made to this blog’s comment policy, specifically about what is off-limits. There are certain issues that have gone beyond the realm of meaningful, worthy, and useful debate (race realism, genetic determinism, etc); sometimes entirely beyond the pale (white supremacy, eugenics, etc). That is to say there is nothing left to debate, as far as we’re concerned, not in the broad sense, if there might remain points of honest disagreement. One of those fruitless and dissatisfying areas of conflict involves false equivalency. So, on the pages of this blog, there is now a total ban on false equivalency arguments and rhetoric, although that partly comes down to interpretation and hence discernment. The point is that, no, the two sides of ‘left’ and ‘right’ are not the same, not even close. In making comparisons along these lines, tread lightly and think carefully before speaking. We’ve grown tired and bored with a certain kind of bullshit. We’ve had a thousand debates along these lines and we’ve reached our limit. We are moving on to newer and greener pastures.
The hour is later than some realize. Anyone who still doesn’t grok it by now is probably beyond being reached by fair-minded argument and open dialogue; or, anyway, it’s not our duty to enlighten their ignorance, remedy their inadequacies, or to save their lost souls. Nor will space be given to their words and time wasted in responding — life is too short. Been there, done that; and now we retire from the fray, like an old soldier joining a monastery. But for the purpose here, we will kindly offer an explanation. Part of the problem is the language itself (and we are entirely open to critique of terminology, definitions, and framing). Though an ancient and powerful metaphor, the egocentric (i.e., non-cardinal point) view of ideology as bipolar directionality along a linear spectrum is, well, simplistic. And the metaphorical frame was simplistic for a reason as a simple distinction was being made. Originally, all that it meant was literally on which side of the French king one sat, in indicating whether one was a supporter or a critic. Once the king was deposed, this seating arrangement continued in the National Assembly during the French Revolution. Then later on the distinction was applied to political factions, parties, movements, and ideologies.
To put it in basic terms, the original dualistic categorization of ‘right’ vs ‘left’ was about whether one favored or opposed naked authoritarianism as unquestioned power held with and enforced by a monopoly of violence (though articulated precursors of this distinction went back to the Axial Age, then later with the English Peasants’ Revolt and English Civil War). But, to be fair, the metaphor got muddy quite early on when the most reactionary, anti-democratic, and authoritarian of the Jacobins seized power and so the radically progressive, democratic, and anti-authoritarian Thomas Paine ended up sitting on the ‘right’ side with the Girondins who were initially part of the Jacobins (the ‘left’/’right’ divide took a while to be more clearly formulated following the revolution). As a side note, there is even more confusion in trying to apply the Western political spectrum to non-Western societies, such as Lebanon, that don’t share Western history, culture, and politics. Such things get quite messy and confused, even in the original context of meaning. Let’s not try to pretend to categorize the whole world in one of two categories, ‘right’ and ‘left’. On the other hand, at least within the Western world, let’s not dismiss these labels and what they’ve historically represented across centuries, as important meanings have been established.
Anyway, the latter position of opposition to unjust authoritarianism and/or rigid hierarchy came to be associated primarily with the core concept of egalitarianism that incorporates freedom and fairness (further related to communal principles of demos, democracy, fraternity, solidarity, class consciousness, global citizenry, commons, public, public good, public trust, and culture of trust, along with a more relational individualism); and liberty as well that, although distinct, became conflated with freedom in the English language (liberty was a legalistic concept of not being a slave in a slave-based society, whereas freedom was being a member of a free people; but, even early on, liberty had developed an alternative meaning of internal independence and autonomy). Egalitarianism was never opposed to authority in its entirety for there are other dynamic, flexible, responsive, accountable, temporary, conditional, and even anarchistic forms of authority besides the rigidly-structured and violently-enforced hierarchy of authoritarianism as monarchy, patriarchy, theocracy, feudalism, caste systems, imperialism, dictatorship, plutocracy, natural aristocracy, paternalistic liberalism, corporatism, social Darwinism, ethno-racial supremacy, law-and-order police state, etc; or even right-libertarianism. In line with such authoritarianism, we might as well throw in the the ‘liberty’-minded and ‘republican’-oriented but anti-democratic and anti-freedom Jacobinism, under Maximilian Robespierre, that led to basically a new monarchical-like empire with Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte having replaced King Louis XVI (a republic, by the way, is any government that isn’t a monarchy; most modern authoritarian regimes have not been monarchies). This is not unlike how Stalin’s personality cult replaced Emperor Nicholas II and re-created the Russian Empire with an industrialized neo-feudalism involving peasant-like ‘communist’ laborers that were put back into place after revolting. In America and France, both radical revolutions for egalitarianism were co-opted by anti-egalitarian reactionaries and authoritarians who used the demagoguery of fake egalitarian rhetoric. Are we to call that the ‘left’? Similarly, just because the business-friendly, corporatist-promoting, and individualism-fetishizing Nazis (i.e., fascists) called themselves national ‘socialists’, are we also to include them as part of the ‘left’? If so, all meaningful distinctions are moot and we should give up; but we don’t accept that.
As another side note, originally republicanism was the ‘leftist’ challenge to the ‘rightist’ defense of monarchy, in the context that all authoritarian regimes at the time were monarchies. But, with monarchy eliminated in the founding of the United States and republicanism having become normalized, many post-revolutionary conservatives and right-wingers embraced republicanism which sort of became a near meaningless word in how it describes nothing in particular (like the United States, both Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union were republics). Thomas Jefferson observed, “In truth, the abuses of monarchy had so much filled all the space of political contemplation, that we imagined everything republican which was not monarchy. We had not yet penetrated to the mother principle, that ‘governments are republican only in proportion as they embody the will of their people, and execute it.’ Hence, our first constitutions had really no leading principles in them” (letter written to Samuel Kercheval; Monticello, July 12, 1816). This relates to how the subversive ideal of republican federalism was originally the radical position in the American Revolution as it was the insurrectionist opposition to the monarchy of the British Empire. Then reactionary authoritarians co-opted the republican ‘Federalist’ label for themselves. This created the odd situation where the so-called Anti-Federalists were more pro-federalist than those who identified themselves as Federalists, while some of those pseudo-Federalists became nostalgic about imperialism and even monarchy. Going back centuries, there has been a continuous pattern of reactionaries co-opting the language of the ‘left’ which endlessly complicates matters (one might call them ‘Faceless Men‘). The first ‘libertarians’, for example, were French anarchist/anti-statist socialists who were part of the ‘left-wing’ workers movement that included Marxists and communists. Yet today the right-‘libertarian’ Koch brothers (one now dead) are the leading power and funding source behind a libertarian movement to replace democracy with neo-fascism.
The rightist position, no matter the language and labels co-opted within reactionary rhetoric, has emphasized a metaphorical view of the political head (or capitalist head; or religious head) as ruling over and held above or otherwise controlling and being superior to the body politic (or body economic; or Body of Christ as church body), whereas the leftist view has tended to consider the metaphorical head as merely a single part of a metaphorical whole body not to be prejudicially prioritized. So, the leftist emphasis has been on the communal, collective, systemic, holistic, and co-creative; that the parts are inseparable and that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts; as expressed in more modern theories of historical materialism, sociology, anthropology, ecology, integralism, intersectionality, etc (in Spiral Dynamics, presently somewhere between green, yellow, and turquoise vmemes, although earlier incorporating more from orange vmeme). As such, the detached head or any other part cannot metonymically stand in for the whole body. In democracy, like many tribal societies where the leader follows, authority represents the public will through consent of the governed toward the public good but cannot enforce anything upon the public or else it no longer is democracy (similar to the reason the Soviet Union was not ‘leftist’ precisely to the degree that it became a neo-feudal Russian Empire built on a Stalinist personality cult, not to dismiss that many Soviet citizens and officials genuinely sought to promote egalitarian leftism as communism that gave workers freedom, autonomy, and agency; similarly not to dismiss that many in the American founding generation actually did advocate and support democracy).
To get back to the metaphor of the ‘head’ and ‘body’, we can also consider it non-metaphorically. The idea of the ‘head’ ruling the ‘body’ was an old scientific theory of human biology that lingers in folk scientific understandings of folk psychology about the egoic individuality — the brain (or some part of the brain; e.g., pineal gland) as the seat of the self, soul, or consciousness. Yet modern science has, instead, found that neurons exist in other parts of the body (gut, heart, etc), that multiple links operate between brain and other areas (e.g., gut-brain axis), and that neurocognition is more embodied and diffuse than previously recognized, not to mention a bio-electromagnetic field that extends several feet beyond the physical body. The rightist conviction in separation and division, an ideology of the atomistic individual self, atomistic body, atomistic material world, atomistic private property, atomistic nuclear family, atomistic worker-cog, atomistic consumer-citizen, atomistic God, atomistic relationship to God, and atomistic authority figures (an often regressive blue-orange vmeme alliance of the New Right and MAGA, but sometimes shifting toward an orange-green alliance such as Russel Kirk’s unconscious postmodernism, Karl Rove’s social constructivism, Donald Trump’s post-truth, and Jordan Peterson’s self-loathing pluralism) is far less scientifically plausible and morally compelling than it was when early scientific thought (e.g., Newtonian physics) had yet to be challenged by later scientific research, knowledge, and theory.
There is an understandable attraction to visually simplistic metaphors that capture the imagination. And there is inspiration to be taken from the wing metaphor, since two wings are part of a single bird, often used as a symbol of nobility and natural freedom, such as the bald eagle being the primary symbol of the United States. As elegant and inspiring as it might be to think of society like a great feathered creature requiring a linked pair of wings moving in balanced unison to gain lift and soar through the sky, it becomes readily apparent where the metaphor of a ‘left’ wing of egalitarianism (i.e., non-rigidly non-hierarchical authority) and a ‘right’ wing of authoritarianism (i.e., rigidly hierarchical authority) fails us. In the world we actually live in, a small ‘right’ wing ruling elite controls both ruling parties and has come to dominate all of society through plutocratic and kleptocratic, corporatocratic and oligarchic capitalist realism (fungible wealth of ‘capital’ etymologically as head; related to ‘cattle’ and ‘chattel’; hence, chattel slavery was part of early capitalism and still is). The metaphor in question would only describe reality if a stunted ‘right’ wing had somehow become bloated and cancerous, grown a monstrous demonic mouth-hole with razor-like teeth, began beating to death the massive but paralyzed ‘left’ wing, futilely struggled to detach itself from the body, and then sado-masochistcally attempted to devour the rest of the bird. The metaphor breaks down a bit at that point. Hence, the problem with false equivalency between ‘left’ and ‘right’. I hope that clears things up.
We are well into a new century and the older generations that held power since the Cold War, too many with minds locked into backlash, are finally retiring, turning senile, and dying off. As a society, it is time for the rest of us to move on. Although silenced and suppressed, disenfranchised and demoralized, the vast majority of Americans already agree on basic values, aspirations, and demands (a 60-90% supermajority of the population, depending on the particular issue; in some cases, 90+%). That a hyped-up and over-promoted minority in the ruling elite and on the far right fringe disagrees is irrelevant. Even most Americans supposedly on the political ‘right’ to varying degrees agree with ‘leftist’ and liberal positions on many key policies; albeit a diverse and pluralistic supermajority. So, the many average Americans on the so-called ‘right’ are not enemies and one might argue they’re not even really on the ‘right’, despite false polarization pushed by corporate media and corporatist parties to manipulate and control us, divide and disempower us. Though many have been indoctrinated to believe the ‘left’ is their enemy, we invite them to consciously join the moral (super-)majority they might already belong to without knowing it. This is what leftists, in opposition to false consciousness, refer to as class consciousness and other forms of group consciousness or shared consciousness; the impulse behind intersectional politics that, if imperfectly, poses a worldview where the oppressed majority could feel unity and solidarity amidst overlapping disadvantages, rather than the splintering division of competing identity politics (whites vs minorities, one minority group vs another, men vs women, LGBTQ vs cis-heterosexuality, able-bodied vs persons with disabilities, Americans vs foreigners, WASPs vs ethnic-Americans, Christians vs everyone else, and on and on); and, in our reactionary society, this also applies to left vs right and liberal vs conservative, and hence the reason we’ve emphasized the public as a supermajority with the potential of unified solidarity.
To put some numbers to it, John Sides has a decent 2014 article, Why most conservatives are secretly liberals. He reports that, “almost 30 percent of Americans are “consistent liberals” — people who call themselves liberals and have liberal politics. Only 15 percent are “consistent conservatives” — people who call themselves conservative and have conservative politics. Nearly 30 percent are people who identify as conservative but actually express liberal views. The United States appears to be a center-right nation in name only” (with another 25% that is some combination of independent, indifferent, apathetic, frustrated, cynical, confused, uninformed, misinformed, contrarian, and trollish; i.e., crazification factor). In referencing Ideology in America by Christopher Ellis and James Stimson, Sides points out how this disjuncture has been longstanding: “When identifying themselves in a word, Americans choose “conservative” far more than “liberal.” In fact they have done so for 70 years, and increasingly so since the early 1960s. […] On average, liberal responses were more common than conservative responses. This has been true in nearly every year since 1956, even as the relative liberalism of the public has trended up and down. For decades now there has been a consistent discrepancy between what Ellis and Stimson call symbolic ideology (how we label ourselves) and operational ideology (what we really think about the size of government).”
Here in this blog, our mission is to defend the broad and majoritarian ‘leftism’ (i.e., pro-egalitarianism) of this inclusionary big tent movement; and that is why we are making important and necessary distinctions. The reason the political right opposes majoritarianism is because, consciously or unconsciously, they realize they are a very small minority; that is to say they not only oppose majoritarianism but also oppose the supermajority itself, and particularly oppose the supermajority developing group consciousness of being a supermajority. Whatever one wants to call it and by whichever metaphor one wants to frame it, this is the same difference that makes a difference. We the free People are the demos of democracy. After asserting the founders and framers had failed to create and protect a free society, an aging Thomas Jefferson asked where was to be found republicanism (as he defined it: democratic, popular, direct, and majoritarian self-governance; if he was hypocritical in his racism and sexism) and he answered: “Not in our constitution certainly, but merely in the spirit of our people.” The American public, the American majority is the rampart upon which democracy must be defended, the line that we cannot back down from, the ground that can never be ceded for it would be a mortal wound, collective soul death. There is no compromise on this point. We face an existential crisis, a moment of do or die. Here we stand or separately we will hang, to echo one famous founder. We are quickly running out of opportunities to avoid the worst and, in knowing history, we realize the worst can get quite bad — not to mention that each iteration of the worst is likely to be worse than the last.
This is why, in this blog, we are not going to portray or allow the portrayal of both sides as equal or equivalent. We are not going to treat fascism, theocracy, and bigotry as equally valid as anti-fascism, secularism, and tolerance. We are not going to pretend that those opposed to some authoritarianism in favor of other, often worse, authoritarianism are the same as those who oppose all authoritarianism on principle. Social domination and social democracy aren’t merely two reasonable options of how to govern society. Either there is freedom or not. And any liberty that denies democracy is just another name for slavery. Also, to get at a specific point, no, the comparably rare violence, typically property damage, of recent leftists defending egalitarianism, countering injustice, standing up to oppression, protesting wrongdoing, and fighting authoritarianism is no where near the same as the widespread commonality of right-wing terrorism, hate crimes, violent oppression, police statism, and war-mongering. If you don’t understand what is at stake, we won’t be bothered to give you the time of day. If you’re still going on about false equivalence, you have fallen into an evil mindset, a psychotic fantasy that disconnects you from real world suffering of others.
To cite actual United States data from the past decade (2012-2021), right-wing non-Islamic extremists have committed 75% of extremist-related killings, “including white supremacy, anti-government extremism of several types, right-wing conspiracy theory adherents and toxic masculinity adherents”; and the next largest group is that of right-wing Islamic extremists at 20%; while left-wing extremists are falsely portrayed at 4%, but that includes black nationalists who are typically right-wingers in terms of advocating socially conservative ethno-nationalism and fundamentalism (e.g., Nation of Islam); which leaves only anarchists, both left-anarchists and right-anarchists, who have committed no extremist-related killings in decades (Anti-Defamation League, Murder and Extremism in the United States in 2021). Notably, there is absolutely no violent deaths from left-wing Christians and Muslims, multicultural advocates, pro-government and pro-democracy types, left-wing conspiracy theory adherents, and toxic femininity adherents. So, basically, 100% of recent deaths by extremism are attributed to one sector or another of the religious and socio-political right. With that in mind, fuck off about “spiritual violence“, in rationalizing moral cowardice, while people in the real world are suffering and dying from physical violence, usually coming exclusively from one side.
Nonetheless, intelligent and informed distinctions will be made, rather than overly simplistic black/white judgements. Yes, the transparitisan stranglehold of both main (right-wing) parties unfortunately pushes a forced and false choice of two greater evil varieties of right-wing authoritarianism of corporatocratic capitalist realism, if one side prefers milder paternalism and the other outright oligarchy (“Stragedy? Is ‘stragedy’ the right word to describe how the DNC corporate Democrats strategically connive to set it up that they always ‘have to’ concede to Republican demands?” queries National Notice). But, even in that, there are finer distinctions to be made, other differences that also do make a difference and so we won’t tolerate false equivalency with that either. For example, some politicians are undeniably and irrefutably more dangerous than others; and the pattern does largely fall along partisan lines, which does somewhat support that there really are greater evils in the world, not that we should tolerate the lesser evils that end up making the greater evils more likely and justified (e.g., pseudo-liberal media elites using the propaganda model of perception management as social control and acting as boundary-defenders and gatekeepers who give covering fire for the political right to push the Overton window further right). And, for all the devious corruption of the Clinton Foundation, there simply is no extensive left-wing equivalent to the right-wing Shadow Network. Still, the fact remains that most Americans are to the left of the DNC elite. Heck, a surprisingly large swath of Republican voters are to the left of the DNC elite, on issues from economics to environmentalism. The Biden administration is morally questionable and anything to the right of that is morally unacceptable, beyond the bounds — that far right and no further and even that is too far right. As a society, we have to have norms and standards. Most Americans have come to an agreement on this and now it’s time we Americans recognize our status as citizenry, take collective responsibility, demand consent of the governed, and enforce our moral majority, albeit a pluralistic majority.
In conclusion, let us be clear in stating our purpose, in declaring where we stand. Most importantly, we in this blog will always side with the underdog. Absolutely fucking always! If you are not on the side of the underdog, you are our mortal enemy and we will treat you as such. But when right-wingers are oppressed or their rights infringed, we will defend them just the same; and we will always defend everyone’s right to free speech, if not always giving them a platform to freely promote that speech in this personal and private blog. We are devoted to a fierce compassion, emphasis on both ‘fierce’ and ‘compassion’. The greatest condemnation will be reserved for moral cowards. As the pacifist Mahatma Gandhi declared with no equivocation, moral cowardice is worse than violence and death. “There is hope for a violent man to be some day non-violent,” Gandhi argued, “but there is none for a coward.” Yet, obviously, non-violence and non-aggression is always preferable and will be sought as a first option (even second and third option). And self-chosen self-sacrifice can be noble, as Gandhi held up as the highest ideal, if victimhood identity politics of romanticized martyrdom can be dysfunctional. Still, the point remains that Gandhi brooked no false equivalency between the violence of aggression and the violence of self-defense, between spiritual violence and physical violence — neither will we.
We must hold to moral courage in all ways, particularly in defense of what is morally right, to not back down from a fight, to not avoid uncomfortable conflict. Within this protected space, there will be no tolerance of intolerance — that will not be an issue of debate. Any and all reactionary rhetoric and authoritarian views are simply forbidden, even when used by those who identify as ‘leftist’, liberal, Democratic, independent, or whatever else. We will no longer play that game. This is the end of the age of bullshit. Yet, in relationship to those who have been pulled into the dark side of reactionary fear and fantasies, we will always be willing to welcome them back into the fold of moral society and respectable politics, if and when they are ready. We understand that the Fox News effect, the Mercer media machine, and the corporate propaganda model of the news has virulently afflicted millions of Americans with a reactionary mind virus that causes psychotic disconnecton from reality and generally maladaptive behavior, false identities and confused thought processes, even pulling more than a few ‘leftists’ into misleading and harmful rhetoric.
That saddens us, but there appears to be little we can do to save those others from that horrible fate, if they do not recognize the trap they are in and if they refuse all help. They will have to take the first step out of their own darkness. Until then, we will strive too hold this space of light and truth with the door always open to those of shared moral concern for freedom and fairness. We will do so to the best of our ability, however imperfect and inadequate that may seem under the oppressive circumstances of the greater problems we are all immersed in. That is the necessity for holding a basic standard for allowable participation here in these pages. This blog is a small refuge from a world gone mad. We can’t pretend to be ideological physicians offering promises of an antidote to the mind plague, but we can offer a brief respite, a sanitarium of fresh air and sunlight. Please respect these intentons. But also join your voice with ours, if you feel inspired. At times like these, we need to support each other in speaking out and in giving voice. Whatever might actually be ‘left’ and ‘right’, egalitarianism is the center, the beating heart. Anyone who denies this is a dangerous extremist not to be trusted or tolerated, an enemy of the people. Egalitarianism is not merely a word, not an abstract ideal, not yet another ideology. As an archaic moral impulse, this moral vision does matter. We are all egalitarians now, if many of us don’t yet realize it. We always have been egalitarians, at the core of our shared human nature.
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4/29/21 – This post was written at the beginning of the month and we’ve had the past several weeks to mull it over. We remain basically satisfied with it, as it turned out better than expected. It was something that has been on our mind for a long time and it needed to be said. We had immense satisfaction once the piece was completed. But, as always, our thoughts never really end. We did revise the post slightly, although it was mainly minor corrections of errors and changes in wording. Besides polishing it up, there is some additional commentary rumbling around in our braincase. We’ll just tack it on here at the end. We are overly self-conscious of our audience, real and prospective. In this case, there was no negative response and, if anything, mostly agreement or apparent neutrality. Then again, maybe some were too concerned about our own potential response to leave a more critical comment. We’re certainly not seeking to suppress and silence dissent. There are no doubt thousands of alternative and challenging views one could express without falling foul of this blog’s new false equivalency ban.
Most powerfully, one could simply and directly challenge the entire framing of the post and that would be more than welcome. To be honest, we don’t much like the framing either. But until something better comes along, that framing is our shared cultural inheritance from these past centuries of modern ideological thought as the end result of the more than two millennia of prior change, as initiated by the collapse of the Bronze Age bicameral mind and its replacement with Axial Age Jaynesian consciousness. One doesn’t so easily toss aside the foundation of one’s civilization, even when it’s imperfect. Much else is built upon it. But that doesn’t mean we can’t point out the cracks, particularly in order repair them. And, meanwhile, nothing is stopping anyone from attempting to design and construct a new foundation. Following the precautionary principle and the words of Franz Kafka, we shouldn’t wantonly destroy what already exists before we have something better to replace it with. Furthermore, as Carl Jung wisely advised, even if it seems madness, it might be serving a purpose of preventing something far worse.
So, here we are. Even our own stance of critical judgment is not intended as mere attack. The political right does not represent the dark, evil, and demonic polar extreme of Manichaean dualism. As such, the entire right-wing is not our collective enemy. Only those who act as our enemy are our enemy. In the above post, we went so far as to suggest that most people portrayed and/or self-identified as ‘rightists’ (of whatever kind) are not even really ‘rightist’ in the conventional, traditional, and historical sense of Western social, economic, and political thought. That is a major point, if not the primary focus of this post, but maybe it should’ve been given greater emphasis. It further supports and explains why equivalence is false. It’s not merely that the ‘right’ is the minority of Americans and other Westerners. Even on the so-called ‘right’, the actual hardcore ‘right-wing’ is a minority. It’s that minority within a minority that is fully embracing and expressing the extremes of the reactionary mind, nostalgic backlash, historical revisionism, xenophobic bigotry, violent hatred, dogmatic closedmindedness, social domination, and the Dark Tetrad (authoritarianism, narcissism, Machiavellianism, sadism); particularly as expressed among the Double Highs (high right-wing authoritarianism and high social dominance orientation), the worst of the worse.
As we like to endlessly repeat, the public mind has gone far left (in terms of social liberalism, economics, environmentalism, etc), if the public imagination remains suppressed and stunted. Most people today are far left of liberals from a century ago. And most people a century ago were far left compared to the liberals a century before that. When the left and right labels were first used, the ‘right’ defended theocracy, monarchy, aristocracy, imperialism, slavery, patriarchy, and worse (e.g., genocide); meanwhile, the original ‘left’ was a bit mixed or confused on issues like democracy, universal suffrage, rights of commoners, etc. So, even the oldest ‘left’ is, by today’s standards, too right-wing extreme to be acceptable and respectable to most present right-wingers. Of course during the colonial and early modern revolutionary periods, Americans had become the most left-leaning population in the West. They had grown accustomed to a social norm of free and open access to land and natural resources (practically, an informal commons), a wealthier lifestyle that increased socioeconomic mobility, and semi-autonomous self-governance because of a distant imperial capitol and weak military force.
This is why the United States is the only country in the world specifically founded on documents that espoused liberal principles and many of them still radical to this day. Right from the beginning, the US started far left of the rest of the world, particularly left of the British Empire; and even the French Revolution didn’t have any voices or leaders as radically leftist as Thomas Paine (well, not until Paine himself showed up in France after fleeing persecution in England). The original rightist ideology of the French was simply unacceptable in being too far right even to most early American conservatives. For Anglo-American thought, this was the initial point of confusion. It’s not only that all of us Americans are now liberals for we always were. That is what makes American society stand out. What goes for American conservatism is simply a variety of Western liberalism, if heavily revised and distorted by the reactionary mind. It’s precisely because there is no native tradition of a genuine American traditionalism that the ‘rightist’ ideologies that took its place are so radically modern and sometimes postmodern, in desperately and impossibly attempting to distinguish itself as something else.
This is hard for Americans to see because liberalism frames everything and so is taken for granted. Even American ‘conservatives’ occasionally admit this state of affairs in claiming they are the real and original ‘classical liberals‘, a false but telling argument. This first became apparent to us in being confronted by the Continental European view of Domenico Losurdo presented in his counter-history of liberalism, which we initially disagreed with but eventually came around to. Maybe this is more apparent within Catholic tradition that maintains a living memory of old school traditionalism, not to mention a historical memory of premodern and pre-Protestant ancien regime — Father Brent Shelton wrote: “To be clear, the term ‘Liberal’ is used here in its philosophical sense to refer to a constitutional order which protects the rights of individuals, specifically, the rights to “life, liberty and property”, and is philosophically opposed to Conservatism, which prefers either rule by landed aristocracy, or rule by an imperial bureaucracy. In the USA, both the Republican and Democratic parties are philosophically Liberal, emphasizing competing aspects of Liberalism, although modern electoral polemics have altered the term in the popular imagination.”
Original and actual Western ‘conservatism’ as traditionalism is so far outside the bounds of American social norms as to not even be acknowledged in mainstream media and politics, not even for sake of historical context, much less discussed and defended in public debate. Yet it’s always lurking as a typically unspoken and ever threatening authoritarianism in the American reactionary mind, regularly re-emerging as a demagogic return of the repressed (e.g., Donald Trump’s MAGA). It’s precisely this hidden nature that makes it so dangerous because its not part of any respectable and stable Old World cultural tradition that could redirect it toward the public good (e.g., Scandinavian conservatives supporting social democracy). This is the reason so many American conservatives, while preaching liberal rhetoric of libertarianism and laissez-faire, are ever ready to shore up neo-imperialism as neo-conservatism, neo-colonialism as neo-liberalism, and neo-feudalism as neo-fascism.
American conservatives have no traditional roots to ground and stabilize the reactionary forces that possess them. They can never honestly speak about what are their true intentions and agendas, since these disreputable impulses aren’t established within a shared consciousness of ideological understanding and traditional meaning. American political thought was born abruptly in the modern world, not having had the slow shift out of the ancien regime as happened in much of Europe. Even the Euopean enclosure movement took centuries to complete in finally and fully ending the feudal commons and the laws that went with them. The reactionary is bad enough in Europe, as attested to by the modern nostalgic revisionism of ethno-nationalism and fascism. But only in the US has the reactionary taken hold as a new kind of absolutely anti-conservative and anti-traditional capitalist realism, social Darwinism, hyper-individualism, materialistic consumerism, and market fetishism.
In how early European conservatism is the shadow of American ‘conservative’-minded liberalism, American reactionary ‘conservatism’ as regressive liberalism is the shadow of American liberalism as progressive radicalism. This is what makes false equivalency so misleading and dangerous. This often leads to another minority group of reactionary extremists (typically Democrats or ‘independents’) that, in portraying everyone else as extremists, pretends to be ‘moderate’ and ‘centrist’. That is related to how the American ruling elite has always included bourgeois semi-liberals and pseudo-liberals, (Cold War McCarthyists, Blue Dogs, Clinton Democrats, etc), holding to anti-leftist rhetoric while punching left and pushing hard right. Such is the need for a strong left that, without quibbling and in-fighting, pushes back hard. And so all the more reason we shouldn’t tolerate false equivalency in the slightest. Yet even the most adamant of leftists need to recognize that none of us is immune to the reactionary in a society that has become overwhelmed with inequality and injustice, division and conflict, anxiety and fear. It’s never just about those other people, the ‘basket of deplorables’. The reactionary shadow falls upon us all and so we all have much collective shadow work to do in processing deep wounds of transgenerational trauma.