The course of human history has been defined by the emergence of new ideas. The purpose of these new ideas is to provide solutions to the issues plaguing the society of the day, that often serve to limit the capacity of human endeavour, stifling progress and propagating misfortune, often in the form of poverty, repression, and prejudice.
New ideas then, are obviously essential to the continued development of the human race as a species. The emergence of dynamic capitalism from the undignified rigidity of manorialism at the end of the 18th Century is a historical example of such development, as is the explosion of the liberal political ideology in Europe that accompanied these economic developments, a move away from the ossified, feudal manner in which most European societies had arranged themselves since the 5th Century AD.
The most recent shift of this kind that we can observe, in at least contemporary western society, is the rejection of state-organised oppression and prejudice against minority groups, in particularly those of ethnic backgrounds different to the majority, inside national boundaries.
The horrors of the Second World War, and the Nazi attempts to exterminate Europe’s Jewish, Roma, Sinti, homosexual, mentally ill, and Slavic populations is without doubt the most extreme and arresting example of this sinister theme that came to define much of the Western political experience in the first-half of the 20th Century, however, one must not forget that the world’s beacon of liberty, the United States, treated almost 10% of its population (a population ripped from its homeland and raped into a slavery that built the arguably the largest economy in the history of humanity,) as subhuman, and through Jim Crow laws in the South and general indifference in the North, murderously repressed the notion of black liberty until the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was passed by Democratic President Lyndon B. Johnson.
Since then, the prevailing cultural paradigm regarding this issue has shifted once again. The political landscape of the US has, thankfully, taken somewhat of a leftward turn. The Democratic Party has capitalised on the currency it acquired with African-Americans in 1964, and utilises the black, and increasingly Hispanic minorities of the nation as a reliable, sizeable voting bloc. Placing minority issues at the forefront of its modern-day ideological tenets and electoral platforms. A commitment to social justice has become the lingua franca of the cultural political discourse, and the minority experience in the USA plays an increasingly significant role in the entertainment industry.
In his 1807 book, The Phenomenology of Spirit, The German philosopher, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel called this process, the Dialectic. He suggested that essence, in our case, the essence of history, was the process of conflict between theses and antitheses, contradictory states of being, until they merged to form syntheses, incorporating as many of the best possible aspects of one another, thus driving the march of progress.
A prominent feature of the Dialectic, Hegel emphasised, was the tendency of ideas to lurch to extremes whilst attempting to correct the issues inherent within the previous state of being. Take for example, the calamitous lurch within England, after the puritanical tyranny of Oliver Cromwell’s Protectorate deposed Charles I’s bohemian monarchy in 1649.
Fast-forward to 2019. The dust has begun to settle on the geo-political and socio-economic manifestations of the effects of globalisation in the west. The resurgence of populism, encapsulated with the election of President Donald Trump in the US and the United Kingdom’s electorate’s decision to withdraw from the European Union, has indicated the extent of the Dialectical shift contemporary western society finds itself undertaking.
As with all shifts, in this case, the lurch away from the post-war liberal, internationalist consensus, there has been a counter-reaction, one that appears to be taking us yet further away from the centre-ground that was made so hallowed in the late 20th Century, institutionalised with the premierships of President Clinton and Prime Minister Blair in the 1990’s.
This counter-reaction has consumed huge swathes of the political Left, in both Europe and America. Many of its most audible luminaries (taking a somewhat contradictory approach to the matter,) are deeply distressed by what they perceive to be an existential threat to our current political system (a political system many of them also regard with contempt, due to its oppressive nature.)
As a result of this, many on the Left have begun to adopt philosophical and political viewpoints traditionally associated with the conservative Right. This can be demonstrated by the evolving nature of many of its flagship institutions.
In the US for example, standard-bearers of traditionally progressive values such as the Southern Poverty Law Centre (SPLC) and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), have moved away from their traditional commitments to liberty and justice, and have instead endorsed reactionary positions on matters such as censorship and freedom of expression. In June 2018, the ACLU, a body that came to prominence in the 1920's due to string of high-profile cases in which they defended the right of Leftists within the American labour movement to speak unimpeded, endorsed the opinion that free speech posed a threat to the rights of marginalised (AKA minority) groups.
Advocacy for censorship is not the only realisation of the Left’s drift to the Right. Support for, and the commendation of political violence towards those adversaries of progressive values labelled by this New Left as Fascists and Nazis is becoming increasingly popular within increasingly influential circles.
This brings us to the case of Andy Ngo, an American-Vietnamese homosexual journalist, who has contributed to both the Wall Street Journal and the bane of the Twitter Communitariat, Quillette. Ngo, undoubtedly a conservative thinker, recently attended a demonstration held by the Proud Boys, a self-important and typically millennial offshoot of the American Alt-Right, in Portland, Oregon.
The demonstration was also attended by another group who have bestowed upon themselves the unofficial title of defenders of the weak, and have, for the last three years, executed this role clad in black tactical gear and face-masks, armed with crowbars and baseball bats. A collection of batmen, who, in their own estimations, differ from Bruce Wayne only on the issue of land and wealth redistribution. This group is Antifa.
As expected, due to the half-baked efforts of Portland’s municipal authorities to effectively police the event, both the Proud Boys and Antifa clashed, violently. There were numerous injuries on both sides, however, the most significant casualty of the day was without doubt Ngo. The journalist was beaten severely by numerous Antifa assailants, forcing him to be hospitalised with a brain haemorrhage. The attackers added insult to grievous, physical injury, when they doused him with milkshakes, which, according to the Portland Police Department, contained corrosive quick-drying cement.
After such a brazen assault, an assault that targeted a member of America’s cherished free press (an institution whose autonomy is supposedly challenged from the White House,) one would expect high-profile public figures of every political stripe to be universal and unequivocal in their condemnation of the assailants. After all, a free press and the right of journalists to be able to perform their duties safely is one of the foundational premises of any civilised society.
Surprisingly, this was not the case. In the immediate aftermath of the assault, which was revealed to the public via a video uploaded by a visibly shaken Mr Ngo, several prominent left-wing personalities and platforms began their now familiar mental gymnastic routines: refusing to explicitly condemn Antifa’s actions, challenging the validity of the official police report of the incident, and subtly suggesting that Ngo, as a result of his political leaning, and his very presence at the event, was in some way ‘asking for it’.
The Guardian, and its contributor, Jason Wilson, was one flagship institution of the press that adopted the sceptical approach to Ngo’s recollection of events. Wilson suggested that the Portland PD’s claim that quick-drying cement was used by members of the Antifa counter-demonstration was ‘questionable’. In the same article, Wilson also described the new trend of ‘milkshaking’ as a ‘symbolic weapon’.
Furthermore, Mike Baker, writing in the even more prestigious New York Times, also questioned the validity of the police’s quick-drying cement report. Even going as far to suggest that the city’s police force was ‘friendly’ with the Far-Right Proud Boys group. Later that week, the same publication went on to release a sympathetic analysis of Antifa, its motivations, and its actions.
A cursory glance at Twitter following the Ngo incident would reveal yet more reactions of the above kind, given a mainstream platform by publications still regarded as institutions of the mainstream Left. It served as a scathing indictment of the health of Progressive politics.
The discourse of the political Left has been, it appears, hijacked, by a commentariat class claiming to represent the interests of society’s perpetual victims. This class, all the more surprisingly, is largely ethnically white, middle-class, and university educated. It is the bourgeoisie of old, infected, maybe, with a sense of irreconcilable guilt at the role its descendants played in the very real, very brutal oppression of the minorities it now champions.
This brings us back to the wisdom of Hegel, and his analysis of the Dialectical journey of history.
The Civil Rights Act, arguably the final lick of paint on America’s cherished temple of absolute democracy, is only 55 years old. In terms of societal development, the effects of the legislation are in their infantile stages of development, and still need to be strengthened and honed in order to ensure that the strides we have made towards equality are preserved.
It appears to me that what we are now experiencing is the reactionary lurch of historical development. We have, thankfully, moved out of the stage of human development characterised by the marginalisation of those of us who made up the minority. As a result, a certain class have taken up a position at the most radical fringes of this new state of Being, and in doing so, have taken with them some of the distasteful aspects of the position their elders fought so hard to overcome.
There is no place for political violence in civilised societies, speech that does not incite violence should not be censored by private monopolies responsible for the transmission of information to billions.
As Hegel suggested, we should acknowledge our status on the vertigo-inducing roller-coaster of history and utilise our human capacity for discourse and reason to realise Sublation, the actualisation of the potentialities of our previous position on the developmental stage in a new, improved form. We should not, I believe Hegel would argue, throw dairy-based confectionery drinks over those who we do not agree with politically.
The Left, and Socialism, holds many of the solutions to the increasingly existential problems emerging within our current economic paradigm. Reasonable advocates of this position should not allow those vocal caucuses existing within the flawed forum of social media politics to dictate the form Leftist political discourse takes.
We should loudly and totally reject the importation of tactics deployed by the long-standing enemies of liberty and equality. Advocates of censorship and political violence should be treated with the derision they deserve, in the eloquent and witty manner that, until recently, was characteristic of those on the Left.
Let’s revisit Hegel, welcome ourselves back into the Dialectic, and leave our milkshakes outside.
Twitter - @SamuelBF3