Wednesday, November 09, 2005

What's Left?

I'm increasingly convinced that the approach of the political left (small 'l' liberals, the ALP etc - what I call the Left) is way off course. The Left has already suffered a number of telling losses to conservatism, and it'll only suffer more unless it reforms not only its views, but it's fundamental philosophical approach.

There's been plenty of talk about George Lakoff and his new book Don't Think of an Elephant, which is in many ways the sequel to his previous book Moral Politics. While Lakoff sheds considerable light on the ways that the Left and Right think (in terms of the metaphors of parenting), there's still more big picture stuff to look at if we're to understand the failures of the Left, and how to fix them up.

We need to look at the philosophical underpinnings of the Left, and look at why it is losing to conservatism in many areas.

What I hope to do in this blog is outline my theory of the Left, and where its weaknesses are, and then propose a possible new approach.

I'd suggest that much of the weaknesses in the Left stems from its philosophical roots in postmodernism and relativism, and it's corresponding rejection (or suspicion) of objectivity. As a result of this, it's a fundamentally more fragmented movement (try getting a room full of Lefties to agree with each other on any aspect of their philosophy...), and it fundamentally rejects authority (try standing up in that room and 'telling it like it is' in the hope that everyone will accept your authority on an issue - they'll shout you to the floor).

Conservatism has always maintained a belief in objective truth, objective morality and authority. As such, it's a lot more coherent, and it's easier to spread the word of conservatism to the masses than the word of the Left.

Left thinking places an enormous burden on each individual to be a lantern unto themselves. It places tremendous emphasis on freedom, without offering much in the way of solid, reliable guidance in life (remember de Toquville, or de Botton - and I have no idea why these two examples both have surnames starting in 'de'...).

Most people don't want to shoulder that burden - they want answers that help them live their lives, and that appeal to their psychology (hence things like the conservative appeal to defence). This goes part of the way to explain why so many people turn to authoritarian institutions, such as the church, for answers - because the church offers answers, despite the fact that (in the Left's opinion) it just patches over a lot of the cracks with fanciful and wishful thinking.

The Left is a rough path. It requires its adherents to question everything, respect everything, challenge everything, and take no-one's word at face value.

The Right is an easier path. It gives its adherents clear and comforting answers, and it gives them authority to rely on.

As such, the Right has seen the weakness in the Left's approach, and has already abandoned postmodernism and subjectivism, and has moved on - much to the joy of the common person.

Now, the Left also needs to shed postmodernism and relativism by reshaping them into something more workable. The Left needs to re-evaluate its fundamental philosophical underpinnings, and make them compatible with traditional Left values such as compassion, altruism, individual freedom, community responsibility etc.

I don't know if this project can be done. All I know is the Left as it stands today is losing the war for hearts and minds.

So, from here I hope to continue to explain more of this theory in detail, and open up questions that need to be looked at and answered by the Left.


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