Friday, July 22, 2005

The Left: In a box of its own conception

First in an occasional series...

The left in North America has really boxed itself in, in a variety of ways.
Take a look at the universities, for example.
Back in the 60s, far-left students stormed the administration buildings. Now, they are the administration buildings.
And, according to a young pundit, Daniel Koffler by name, has noted that shift as a reason for the decline in left-wing thought on campus.
Koffler's essay originally appeared in the lefty magazine Dissent. It was excerpted this past weekend in the Filthydelphia Stinquirer.
The hinge point in the evolution of the campus left to its risible status today is the tight embrace of identity politics and political correctness in the mid-80s. The transformation of the left into a mouthpiece for every sort of cultural grievance, whether legitimate or not, had two major consequences: It wedded the left to university administrations, rendering hollow its claims to be an antiauthority movement, and it precipitated the establishment of "speech codes" and similar abominations that constricted free expression. Could the original advocates of speech codes have foreseen the right's embrace and utilization of the principle of limited speech that they legitimated?
The young man may be of the left, but he's got a clue so far. Let's go on.
From that point on, it was only a matter of time before the left lost the imaginative empathy of the largest number of students. To call this a tactical error would be to miss the point. It was a severe moral error, a betrayal of the free-speech movement and the related causes that motivated the radicalization of students in the first place... The student right has positioned itself as a representative of insurgency and rebellion. Its alchemy of substatively reactionary politics and an outwardly counter-institutional mode of expression might seem hard to pull off, but keep in mind that the left's more-or-less conscious abandonment of the mantle of antiauthoritarianism coincided neatly and unfortunately with the reframing of the right as a populist movement. The populist repackaging of the Republican Party was the work of a small, exceedingly well-organized conservative bloc that seized the argumentative ground that the left had conceded by virtue of its Pyrrhic victories in the fights over political correctness...
He still has a clue, but not all of them. The left eagerly seized the mantle of authoritarianism as soon as it could. That's the way the left always operates. And he very much underestimates the size and overestimates the organization of the conservative bloc. There's more yet, though...
For all the structural and tactical advantages it enjoys - and I have mentioned nothing yet about the right's virtual monopoly on humor in political street theater (which is not to say that right-wing demonstrations succeed at being funny, but rather that it is almost exclusively the right that attempts humor at all) - the project of the campus right is trapped in a fatal contradiction. No amount of sly framing, pretensions to rebelliousness, or slick presentation can paper over the fact that its ideology is anathema to the vast majority of students, and not merely to the vocal left. Furthermore, the very popular-frontism that is one reason for the right's current success is a strong indicator of a coming decline. The bonds between the student right and the national Republican Party are far tighter than any comparable relationship between a leftist student organization and the Democrats, and the terms of this bargain were clear during the presidential campaign. If the student left's embrace of political correctness marked the end of its dominance in student politics (though no one noticed it at the time), it is likely that the student right's apologetics for George W. Bush - and most important, for the President's endorsement of the Federal Marriage Amendment - will turn out to have been the decisive factor in precluding a reorientation of student political culture toward the right.
Here's where young Mr Koffler goes off the deep end in his analysis. He sees the conservative trend, a trend I surmise he would love to roll back, as being shallow, "sly," pretentious, slick. He assumes that conservative views are "anathema" to a vast majority of students, when in fact they are far more common than he and those of his ideological church believe.
And he's dead wrong in his prediction of a coming decline, and the rationale therefor.
He is projecting the left's usurpation of the Dumbocratic Party -- and the very tight coordination that hallmarked the 2004 campaign -- onto the Republicans, which just ain't so, Charlie Brown. He is assuming as a matter of course that most students are in his corner.
There's the box. He cannot think in any other way. If he did, he wouldn't be a certifiable lefty.
Though they may attend lesser-known institutions, there are a lot -- a lot -- of students who are stone opposed to his ideological benchmarks. There are a lot -- a lot -- of students who are quite willing to support and work for the Federal Marriage Amendment.
Actually, I'd give this essay, as excerpted, a pretty good grade for diagnosis, but a stone F for conclusions.
Let's put this one in the box. The left designed it... trash collection is tomorrow.

More on this theme in future posts -- I don't want to burden you, the visitor/reader -- with 90-inch essays.