Although people like Bill O’Reilly habitually refer to establishment liberals as the “far Left,” they are two very different things.
What we identify as mid-20th century, New Deal liberalism is rooted in the Progressivism of the turn of the 20th century. The Progressives came largely from the white collar managerial-professional classes that controlled large bureaucratic organizations — giant corporations, government agencies, universities, foundations and think tanks — that dominated American society after the Civil War. Many Progressives in the corporate world came from industrial engineering backgrounds. The kinds of people who made up the demographic base of Progressivism saw American society as an extension of the large, hierarchical institutions they managed, and thought society could be managed the same way way an engineer managed industrial processes.
I have a great fondness for the Left, and consider myself part of it. For liberalism I have nothing but contempt. To illustrate the distinction, Woodrow Wilson — a good liberal — virtually liquidated the genuine American Left during and after WWI.
Karl Hess, in Mostly on the Edge, prided himself that while he had occupied positions on the political spectrum ranging from Old Right isolationist to New Left Wobbly, he could truthfully say he’d never in his life been a liberal.
Speaking of the kinds of people who read The Nation and Mother Jones — people whom I consider liberals — Alexander Cockburn (the kind of Leftist who supported gun rights and hated Food Nazis like Michael Bloomberg and Meme Roth) said trying to get the mainstream Left to accept new ideas was “a bit like arriving at a town in the year 1348 with spots on your face saying, ‘Let me in.’”
People like Rachel Maddow, standing in front of the Hoover Dam and calling on America to again do “great things,” and Michael Moore, calling for Detroit to mass produce electric cars and buses, essentially hearken back to mid-20th century liberalism’s mass-production heart of darkness. Even the Green Party was essentially hijacked by liberalism this year, with Jill Stein’s “smart grid” and “Green New Deal” — betraying an almost religious Galbraithian faith in unlimited economies of scale and the virtues of bureaucratic centralism.
But worst of all are professional liberal thought police who instinctively target any form of horizontalism or decentralism as “right wing.” Thomas Frank has been in this business for years, of course. In a recent Twitter exchange with me Doug Henwood, editor of Left Business Review, essentially channeled Frank by dismissing the P2P and Free Culture movements as a return to the 1990s Web 1.0 era’s Dotcom enthusiasm. That’s right: Henwood, in a display of intellectual sloppiness that would make Robert Welch proud, conflated Richard Stallman and Linus Torvalds with Bill Gates because of a superficial similarity in their rhetoric.
Lately there’s a cottage industry of liberals lumping in any decentralist or horizontalist tendency they don’t like as a Trojan horse for the Right. Mark Ames and Yasha Levine have repeatedly written articles for The Nation dismissing the organized backlash against TSA’s invasive grope-or-peep airport “security” regime as some sort of right-wing astroturf effort by the Koch Brothers.
And the Southern Poverty Law Center has taken to including anarcho-capitalists and voluntaryists in its large, amorphous list of “extremists” (aka “things we don’t like”). My friend Katherine Gallagher (Twitter: @zhinxy) compares them to the circuit riders who used to regale breathless Protestant audiences with prurient tidbits about the Papists like secret tunnels between monasteries and convents, and secret graves full of infant skeletons.
Now, as a left-wing market anarchist — or market libertarian socialist — in the tradition of Benjamin Tucker, I find most anarcho-capitalists disagreeably right-wing and given to pro-corporate apologetics. But the suggestion that David Friedman’s or Murray Rothbard’s ideology is even in the same zip code as that of the Hutaree Militia is essentially an affidavit that one is a damfool.
And get this: The SPLC’s circuit riders identify, as a sign of some anarcho-capitalists’ “extremism,” the fact that they regard the Federalist victory as a coup. Now, I’ve read a whole crop of revisionist historians, from Charles Beard to Merrill Jensen to Howard Zinn, who frame the politics of the 1780s as a class struggle in which the plutocratic interests triumphed with the ratification of the Constitution. I never realized those people were “right-wingers.”
I get the feeling people like Ames, Levine and Mark Potok would dismiss Ivan Illich and Paul Goodman as “right-wingers” for hatin’ on “public education.” They’d put Huey Newton and Robert Williams in the same category as Wayne LaPierre for viewing private firearms as a weapon against oppression.
This is a concentration of pure stoopid so dense as to create its own event horizon.
That’s why I — a far Leftist if there ever was one — don’t like liberals.