My Dear Friends on the Left: What Happened to You?

 

Half a century ago, when I was a young man, you were the ones celebrating individuality and anything-goes self-expression.

Back then, you were the ones burning the draft cards and defying authority. Today you’re a masked lump sitting on an airport bench, scolding with narrowed eyes anyone who delights in the air touching her face. What happened to you?

Back then, you were the ones demanding to be heard, saying the things the establishment didn’t want to hear, speaking truth to power. Today the phrase “free speech” terrifies you, and you offer a dozen excuses why we’re better off muzzled and restrained by those in power, like some kind of pet.

Back then, you cheered a good man as he made a great speech, sharing his dream of a future when what mattered was a man or woman’s character, not his or her skin. He died for that vision, but you lived it. Today you’re demanding segregated events, branding people “racist” for being the wrong color, obsessing about trivial differences as if they alone define a person and give him his worth.

Back then, women burned their bras and roared and you, fists in the air, roared with them: women could do anything and everything. Today you reject the very idea that “women” exist: your Woman of the Year is a man, and men lay claim to womanhood and everything that women fought to secure for themselves.

What happened to you? Yes, you got old; we all got old. But you didn’t have to become the thing you rebelled against. You didn’t have to embrace fear.

Dare to stand again for the things you once believed.

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  1. Dr. Bastiat Member
    Dr. Bastiat
    @drbastiat

    It’s amazing how fast radical leftist revolutions turn to oppressive intolerant tyrannies.  

    Over and over again.

    • #1
  2. navyjag Coolidge
    navyjag
    @navyjag

    Fat chance

    • #2
  3. Bishop Wash Member
    Bishop Wash
    @BishopWash

    Dr. Bastiat (View Comment):

    It’s amazing how fast radical leftist revolutions turn to oppressive intolerant tyrannies.

    Over and over again.

    That’s what I was thinking. They became “The Man” and enjoyed the power that it gave them.

    • #3
  4. WiesbadenJake Coolidge
    WiesbadenJake
    @WiesbadenJake

    The most interesting, genuine non-conformist individuals I have known were in the military (~40 years ago). I think the non-conformists secretly crave the boundaries to push against. Now that the traditional boundaries are gone their insecurities, sense of loss of safety demand that new boundaries be set in place. Once these new boundaries are set in concrete, it will be interesting to see if they again begin to push against them. Perhaps that is what we are seeing with Greenwald and Musk pushing back in the present. Off the cuff rambling on my part…

    • #4
  5. Jerry Giordano (Arizona Patriot) Member
    Jerry Giordano (Arizona Patriot)
    @ArizonaPatriot

    Hank, my suspicion is that many on the Left never stood for the things that you mention.

    Have you looked into an essay called Repressive Tolerance by Herbert Marcuse?  He was one of the leading figures in postmodernism and critical theory, especially in the 1960s.  James Lindsay has a good series of podcasts about this particular essay, available on YouTube (Lindsay’s channel is called “New Discourses”).  Here’s a link to the first podcast in the series, if you’re interested.

    Marcuse’s argument is somewhat complicated.  My own summary is that he believed that non-Leftists have a false consciousness, making them unaware of their oppression.  To liberate them and bring about the Leftist utopia, Leftist ideas and actions must be tolerated, and conservative or Right-wing viewpoints cannot be tolerated.  So, for example, Leftist actions much be tolerated even when it is violent, while Right-wing actions must not be tolerated even if peaceful.

    Lindsay’s series is somewhat lengthy — 4 podcasts of about an hour each.  I found them to be worth it.

    If you’re not immediately familiar with Lindsay’s name, he is one of the three people who did the “hoax papers” that became known as the “grievance studies affair,” essentially getting nonsense published in peer-reviewed journals in the grievance studies area.  The other two were Peter Boghossian and Helen Pluckrose.  Lindsay and Pluckrose wrote the recent book “Cynical Theories.”

     

    • #5
  6. Vance Richards Member
    Vance Richards
    @VanceRichards

    Bishop Wash (View Comment):
    That’s what I was thinking. They became “The Man” and enjoyed the power that it gave them.

    Good point

    “The Man is trying to keep us down.”

    “Wait, you are the Man.”

    “Cool! Now I can keep you down.”

    • #6
  7. Henry Racette Member
    Henry Racette
    @HenryRacette

    Jerry Giordano (Arizona Patrio… (View Comment):
    Hank, my suspicion is that many on the Left never stood for the things that you mention.

    Jerry,

    I don’t doubt that that is correct, and I was mindful of it as I wrote.

    But the larger audience, the audience beyond Ricochet, includes a lot of people who would like to think of themselves as the old-school free-thinker, the old-school feminist, the old-school color-blind egalitarian. I’m one of those people. A large number of normal Americans are.

    The post is intended to speak to some of those, and to prompt them to question just whose side the ostensibly “liberal” mainstream is really on. And maybe to wish to distance themselves from that lot.

    • #7
  8. Stina Member
    Stina
    @CM

    Jerry Giordano (Arizona Patrio… (View Comment):

    Hank, my suspicion is that many on the Left never stood for the things that you mention.

    Have you looked into an essay called Repressive Tolerance by Herbert Marcuse? He was one of the leading figures in postmodernism and critical theory, especially in the 1960s. James Lindsay has a good series of podcasts about this particular essay, available on YouTube (Lindsay’s channel is called “New Discourses”). Here’s a link to the first podcast in the series, if you’re interested.

    Marcuse’s argument is somewhat complicated. My own summary is that he believed that non-Leftists have a false consciousness, making them unaware of their oppression. To liberate them and bring about the Leftist utopia, Leftist ideas and actions must be tolerated, and conservative or Right-wing viewpoints cannot be tolerated. So, for example, Leftist actions much be tolerated even when it is violent, while Right-wing actions must not be tolerated even if peaceful.

    Lindsay’s series is somewhat lengthy — 4 podcasts of about an hour each. I found them to be worth it.

    If you’re not immediately familiar with Lindsay’s name, he is one of the three people who did the “hoax papers” that became known as the “grievance studies affair,” essentially getting nonsense published in peer-reviewed journals in the grievance studies area. The other two were Peter Boghossian and Helen Pluckrose. Lindsay and Pluckrose wrote the recent book “Cynical Theories.”

     

    This sounds like an explanation for why it’s so easy to define where the right crosses a line but never the left.

    • #8
  9. Jim McConnell Member
    Jim McConnell
    @JimMcConnell

    Bravo, Henry! Another great post.

    • #9
  10. Old Bathos Moderator
    Old Bathos
    @OldBathos

    I think the hippies now in their dotage are also wondering how this new mutated ideological cluster replaced the Woodstock/Anti-War/Bra-burning/Selma marching left.  They did not change themselves so much as give rise to something awful.

    • #10
  11. Ray Gunner Coolidge
    Ray Gunner
    @RayGunner

    Henry Racette: What happened to you? Yes, you got old; we all got old. But you didn’t have to become the thing you rebelled against.

    Looking back, it seems obvious progressives never had any fixed first principles.  Progressives are all about amassing power NOW!  So they will embrace and reject first principles based on their utility in amassing power TODAY! 

    Free Speech?  Back when it brought us power,  yes!  Now that it might sap our power?  Hell, no!

    Racial Essentialism?  Back when sapped our power, no!  Now that it brings us power?  Yes!

    Women’s Rights?  Back when it brought us power,  yes!  Now that it might sap our power?  Hell, no!

    And don’t get me started on “Populism”. 

    • #11
  12. Henry Racette Member
    Henry Racette
    @HenryRacette

    Ray Gunner (View Comment):

    Henry Racette: What happened to you? Yes, you got old; we all got old. But you didn’t have to become the thing you rebelled against.

    Looking back, it seems obvious progressives never had any fixed first principles. Progressives are all about amassing power NOW! So they will embrace and reject first principles based on their utility in amassing power TODAY!

    Free Speech? Back when it brought us power, yes! Now that it might sap our power? Hell, no!

    Racial Essentialism? Back when sapped our power, no! Now that it brings us power? Yes!

    Women’s Rights? Back when it brought us power, yes! Now that it might sap our power? Hell, no!

    And don’t get me started on “Populism”.

    Ray, I appreciate the point you’re making. But I don’t entirely agree: I think there were idealistic freedom-loving radicals, back in the day. Some of them became libertarians and kept their values.

    Others became college professors, and sometimes revealed that they never really had any.

    • #12
  13. Larry3435 Member
    Larry3435
    @Larry3435

    Ray Gunner (View Comment):
    And don’t get me started on “Populism”. 

    Oh, go ahead.  Get started on Populism.  I’d like to hear it.

    • #13
  14. Larry3435 Member
    Larry3435
    @Larry3435

    I always thought that the tendency of young people to rebel against authority was ingrained.  Automatic.  Not a phenomenon of the 60’s, but something that was constant dating back to the ancient Greeks and beyond.  But these Millennials are beyond my comprehension.  They are such sheep, and so cowardly, that I can’t explain it.  It must have something to do with social media.

    On the other hand, they are the first generation whose every meal and every facial expression will be preserved for posterity.  Somebody needs to pull Greta Thunberg aside and explain to her the carbon footprint of all those social media servers.  Then she can screech, “Shame!  Shame!”  It’ll be for the wrong reason, but the phrase will be spot on.

    • #14
  15. Fake John/Jane Galt Coolidge
    Fake John/Jane Galt
    @FakeJohnJaneGalt

    What happened?  Easy.  They won.  This is them.  Now they are wandering around the battlefield killing their enemies.  In the end they had the right of it.  Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.   All the nice sounding things were for was to get them power and money.  Just like it has been for every political movement throughout time.  People are people, always have been, always will be.  

     

    • #15
  16. David Foster Member
    David Foster
    @DavidFoster

    To what extent are they the same people?  There are quite a few former Leftists who are now conservative/libertarian.  Some of those who are bloggers have written essays or books about their political transition.

    • #16
  17. David Foster Member
    David Foster
    @DavidFoster

    Relevant post at Samizdata:

    Once upon a time there were Progressives who actually believed in progress, who despite their flaws did believe in a brighter and better future. These were supplanted c. 1970 by a new Left with the new motto “Learn to live with less, you hate-filled greedy bastards!”

    Link

     

    • #17
  18. Raxxalan Member
    Raxxalan
    @Raxxalan

    Larry3435 (View Comment):

    I always thought that the tendency of young people to rebel against authority was ingrained. Automatic. Not a phenomenon of the 60’s, but something that was constant dating back to the ancient Greeks and beyond. But these Millennials are beyond my comprehension. They are such sheep, and so cowardly, that I can’t explain it. It must have something to do with social media.

    On the other hand, they are the first generation whose every meal and every facial expression will be preserved for posterity. Somebody needs to pull Greta Thunberg aside and explain to her the carbon footprint of all those social media servers. Then she can screech, “Shame! Shame!” It’ll be for the wrong reason, but the phrase will be spot on.

    First generation after the war on masculinity.  We have “bred men without chests and expect virtue” (h/t C.S. Lewis).   Add that to helicopter parents who never let little Johnny or Jane experience a moment of adversity on a kid manageable scale.  I think that has more to do with the millennials pathologies than social media.  That having been said my 49 year old self thanks the stars that no one preserved every moment of my 16 year old self’s actions and opinions.

    • #18
  19. CACrabtree Coolidge
    CACrabtree
    @CACrabtree

    Jerry Giordano (Arizona Patrio… (View Comment):

    Hank, my suspicion is that many on the Left never stood for the things that you mention.

    Have you looked into an essay called Repressive Tolerance by Herbert Marcuse? He was one of the leading figures in postmodernism and critical theory, especially in the 1960s. James Lindsay has a good series of podcasts about this particular essay, available on YouTube (Lindsay’s channel is called “New Discourses”). Here’s a link to the first podcast in the series, if you’re interested.

    Marcuse’s argument is somewhat complicated. My own summary is that he believed that non-Leftists have a false consciousness, making them unaware of their oppression. To liberate them and bring about the Leftist utopia, Leftist ideas and actions must be tolerated, and conservative or Right-wing viewpoints cannot be tolerated. So, for example, Leftist actions much be tolerated even when it is violent, while Right-wing actions must not be tolerated even if peaceful.

    Lindsay’s series is somewhat lengthy — 4 podcasts of about an hour each. I found them to be worth it.

    If you’re not immediately familiar with Lindsay’s name, he is one of the three people who did the “hoax papers” that became known as the “grievance studies affair,” essentially getting nonsense published in peer-reviewed journals in the grievance studies area. The other two were Peter Boghossian and Helen Pluckrose. Lindsay and Pluckrose wrote the recent book “Cynical Theories.”

     

    There’s a lot of truth to your first sentence.  A lot of those “Leftists” were 2S deferments who were sweating bullets to avoid the draft.  

    • #19
  20. Doug Kimball Thatcher
    Doug Kimball
    @DougKimball

    It is interesting that those who complained about oppression have become the oppressors.  They are also the ones who continue to foster the notion of oppression, finding novel ways to define oppression as systemic and to convince others, an aggrieved mob, that they are wholly oppressed.  Then they swoop in as self-appointed champions of the oppressed to bring justice, and if not justice, then recompense, and if not justice or recompense, then retribution.  But none of this is ever satisfactory.  It can’t be.  You can’t be a champion without an oppressed class or classes.  To bring about the necessary changes to satisfy this mob, the champions need the power to oppress their political adversaries.  That includes shutting them out of political discourse.  That includes leniency when serial instigations lead to violence.  That includes their utter destruction

    That’s where we are.

    The problem with socialism is not only that it eventually runs out of other people’s money, it also runs out of oppressors to vanquish.  And so it must turn inward, the champions become the targets, and their own heads roll down revolution’s blood slick steps.

    • #20
  21. I Walton Member
    I Walton
    @IWalton

    I don’t know if it wasn’t all pretend to begin with.  Of course, ordinary left of center folks are unaware of their leaders goals.   That is the nature of leadership,  bureaucrats and broad objectives of esconced folks in giant countries.   You can’t know what they’re up to except, generally, their objectives  have little  to do with things in unknown cities  and rural areas across the country.   That’s why bottom up transformed the world when our founders fixed it in a constitution and we actually believed it for the first 200 years. 

    • #21
  22. Zafar Member
    Zafar
    @Zafar

    We’ll power corrupts, doesn’t it? Regardless of who holds it. It has in the past, it will in the future.

    I think the OP has good questions for the Left (or for Liberals, or Progressives) but imho the answers would most honestly be about power rather than ideology.  Or to put it another way, power is the subtext.

    • #22
  23. Henry Racette Member
    Henry Racette
    @HenryRacette

    Zafar (View Comment):

    We’ll power corrupts, doesn’t it? Regardless of who holds it. It has in the past, it will in the future.

    I think the OP has good questions for the Left (or for Liberals, or Progressives) but imho the answers would most honestly be about power rather than ideology. Or to put it another way, power is the subtext.

    Probably.

    But casting it as power rather than ideology would completely defeat the point of the post, which was this.

    • #23
  24. Retail Lawyer Member
    Retail Lawyer
    @RetailLawyer

    Mark Bauerlein (he of the First Things podcast) offers a theory in his book, The Dumbest Generation Grows up.  He thinks its from lack of reading good books, which apparently is only done by oldsters these days.  He makes a good case.  It is certainly one of the factors.  He says literature teaches that good people can have bad features or episodes and the modern educational environment teaches that if you see anything you don’t like, you throw the person under the bus.

    • #24
  25. Jim McConnell Member
    Jim McConnell
    @JimMcConnell

    Ray Gunner (View Comment):

    Henry Racette: What happened to you? Yes, you got old; we all got old. But you didn’t have to become the thing you rebelled against.

    Looking back, it seems obvious progressives never had any fixed first principles. Progressives are all about amassing power NOW! So they will embrace and reject first principles based on their utility in amassing power TODAY!

    Free Speech? Back when it brought us power, yes! Now that it might sap our power? Hell, no!

    Racial Essentialism? Back when sapped our power, no! Now that it brings us power? Yes!

    Women’s Rights? Back when it brought us power, yes! Now that it might sap our power? Hell, no!

    And don’t get me started on “Populism”.

    Yep. I think it’s all about power. When the Left achieves uncontested power, everything will be great. Just like it was when Lenin and Stalin came to rule.

    • #25
  26. Zafar Member
    Zafar
    @Zafar

    Henry Racette (View Comment):

    Zafar (View Comment):

    We’ll power corrupts, doesn’t it? Regardless of who holds it. It has in the past, it will in the future.

    I think the OP has good questions for the Left (or for Liberals, or Progressives) but imho the answers would most honestly be about power rather than ideology. Or to put it another way, power is the subtext.

    Probably.

    But casting it as power rather than ideology would completely defeat the point of the post, which was this.

    My bad. But what do you do if the target audience indulges in self reflection?  Unlikely, I grant, but what if they do?

    • #26
  27. Henry Racette Member
    Henry Racette
    @HenryRacette

    Zafar (View Comment):

    Henry Racette (View Comment):

    Zafar (View Comment):

    We’ll power corrupts, doesn’t it? Regardless of who holds it. It has in the past, it will in the future.

    I think the OP has good questions for the Left (or for Liberals, or Progressives) but imho the answers would most honestly be about power rather than ideology. Or to put it another way, power is the subtext.

    Probably.

    But casting it as power rather than ideology would completely defeat the point of the post, which was this.

    My bad. But what do you do if the target audience indulges in self reflection? Unlikely, I grant, but what if they do?

    I don’t think it unlikely, Zafar. I think people for whom those ideas — free speech, equality, independence, etc. — particularly resonate are probably a fairly reflective bunch. I don’t see any problem with that. I’m not trying to deceive anyone. Rather, I’m trying to prompt people to think about the contrast between what passes for liberal enlightenment today and the values that have traditionally reflected liberal enlightenment, the qualities people who value those things would like to imagine themselves embracing.

    I think that today’s identitarian movement is a betrayal of something far better, of the novel idea that people are more than their tribal group or superficial appearance. Martin Luther King had that right, and it’s been abandoned by people who are either too shallow to appreciate it or too crooked to care.

     

    • #27
  28. Hartmann von Aue Member
    Hartmann von Aue
    @HartmannvonAue

    David Foster (View Comment):

    To what extent are they the same people? There are quite a few former Leftists who are now conservative/libertarian. Some of those who are bloggers have written essays or books about their political transition.

    Yeah, the number of conservative commentators alone  who say things to the effect of “I’m still a liberal, it’s the left that changed” is close to legion. 

    • #28
  29. Rodin Member
    Rodin
    @Rodin

    Excellent summation of the irony of those in our generation that were leftists in the 60s and 70s. Its as if those positions were only tools to break down a society rather than principles to heal a society. 

    • #29
  30. David Foster Member
    David Foster
    @DavidFoster

    Illustrated graphically.

    • #30
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