The spread of Leftism: What if it’s the other way around?

  1. Especially with the rapid conquest of gay marriage, many have marveled at how quickly a belief can go from being outlandish to being socially required, at least when it’s part of the overall Leftist march.  Often, much progress can be made simply by asking a different question from the one others are asking.  So, what if, instead of “How does Leftism advance so quickly?”, we were to ask “Why does Leftism advance so slowly?”  This is the question Leftists implicitly invoke when they cry out “I can’t believe it’s 2015 and we’re still arguing about this!”  But surely conservatives’ expectations are the more realistic here?  Shouldn’t we expect it to take a long time for people to overhaul their understanding of sex and marriage, not to mention reject the explicit teaching of their ostensible religion?  However, on the question of sodomitical relationships, nearly all the argument and propaganda has been on the revisionist side, with nearly none defending the older view.  Most people have never heard an argument for sexual complementarity.  Pastors refuse to even mention what the Bible says, not to mention defending it.  Yet everybody has encountered arguments for gay marriage and been at least exposed to the presumption that distinct gender roles are inherently unjust.  Why wasn’t everyone convinced long ago, given that they only heard from one side?  One might say the same about racial integration, feminism, or other big social changes.  There was initially popular resistance, but little intellectual resistance.  This despite the fact that the Left’s arguments were in no case particularly strong.  Perhaps the triumph of the Left is less a case of overcoming resistance from the Right as it is of it just taking some non-zero time for the Left’s message to diffuse, essentially unopposed, through the West’s social networks.  This is not to say, of course, that there has been no Rightist ideological resistance.  I just doubt that it’s important enough to significantly affect the timescale of the Left’s advance.
  2. Universities have a reputation as being extremely Lefty places.  In fact, the private section has become roughly as intolerant of dissent from liberalism, but it is nonetheless true that the Left “owns” academia.  The usual story is that professors are brainwashing their students with “cultural Marxism” and the like.  The instruction causes the students to acquire radically Leftist views, and they then carry those views to the outside world.  What if it’s the other way around, though?  What if it’s the students who are driving the university Left?  We know that, in the sixties, it was the students who were communist radicals and terrorized their professors, who were mostly moderate liberals.  Even today, I’ve heard more anecdotal evidence of professors frightened of their radical students than students intimidated by radical professors.  Just for fun, we could entertain the hypothesis that universities are Leftist places just because they have large conglomerations of young people, and youth communities–for some independent reason–tend to be Leftist.  Even if students are radicalized by college, this could be more from peer pressure than instruction.

Is there any evidence either way?

10 Responses

  1. […] The spread of Leftism: What if it’s the other way around? […]

  2. I’m reading Eric von Kuehnelt-Leddihn’s Leftism, and it contains a very good discussion of the uniquely American form of leftism that we call “liberalism.” The main planks of American “liberalism” are leftist–socialist, statist, and materialist–but it retains a few anarchic and individualist elements, most notably its sexual libertinism. In fact, a great deal of modern American “liberalism” revolves around socializing the costs of sexual freedom.

    It is not hard to sell this package to young people because they are the prime beneficiaries of sexual libertinism. Socialist redistribution either works in their favor or doesn’t much affect them, since they are not big taxpayers. As we know, people typically drift to the right as their libido falls and their taxes rise. Young people are naturally American “liberals.”

    My impression is that the political tone of university faculty tracks pretty close to the editorial line of NPR or the New York Times. Most professors are American “liberals” who are comfortable with radicals to the left and intolerant of radicals to the right. Their lectures probably reinforce the natural liberalism of the students.

    Another factor is the character of the university as an institution. The modern American university is a weird mix of a vacation resort and a monastery. It is what the sociologist Erving Goffman called a “totalizing institution,” or what we might call a “totalitarian institution.” To the student living on campus it offers to fill his day with structured activity, not to mention look after his meals, medical emergencies, entertainment, and lodging. He will frequently wear clothing stamped with the university logo, and he will in many cases develop a lifelong loyalty that will cost him thousands of dollars.

    In other words, a university is the closest thing we have to a communist society and it is hardly surprising that many graduates spend think the world would be a better place if it was more like a university.

  3. I’m actually almost completely certain that the hypothesis you raise in your second section is correct. Speaking as a “young person” myself, young people are impressionable, naive, immature, stubborn and ruled by emotion, making them prime targets for Leftist sob stories, even if the argument encapsulated therein makes zero sense. For example, consider the example of one such sob story I was stumbled across on Tumblr (a toxic hellhole of a modernist echo chamber infested with “young people” who have been thoroughly corrupted by liberalism). A young teenaged boy (12-15, thereabouts), who was, according to himself, “well-versed in feminism”, had somehow got it into his head that he was actually a girl (or the other way around, can’t remember), but his mother refused to entertain his fantasy, and if I’m not wrong when he started dressing and acting like a girl his schoolmates reacted with mockery. And as it turned out he was so strongly convinced that he was actually a girl that the refusal of his mother and schoolmates to recognise this fact led to him killing himself after posting a suicide note online. So this note spreads through social media, and the impressionable young people who read it naturally take it as further proof of the righteousness of the transgender agenda and the evil of conservatism. It does not occur to any one of them that were it not for his drinking from the toxic ideological sewage that is feminism/transgenderism, he may likely never have “discovered” that he was “really” a girl, and definitely would not have thought that the fact that no one refused to go along with this fantasy was worth killing himself over. The fact that no-one before the past few decades had ever expressed the thought that he might have been born into the wrong gender’s body, not to mention thinking this thought so seriously he decided to kill himself, is telling. But the genuine horror and tragedy of this young boy’s death overrules all, and what should be a clear demonstration of the deathly perils of feminism/transgenderism instead fans the flames of those movements, which, in the most tragic twist of all, would likely lead to more senseless deaths in the same vein, self-immolating sacrifices in the name of this ideology. The perversity is almost Satanic.

    But back on topic. Modernism can, through this and other means, easily win converts, strengthen the “faith” of “believers”, and inspire zealous “evangelism” (both off- and online), largely because of the characteristics of young people enumerated above, and also because of the growing prominence of the internet, and the fact that just about every major media and internet outlet is owned and controlled completely by the modernists. And all this starts long before university, which provides yet another platform for “evangelism” – university students are still impressionable and naive enough to be swept up by the emotional impact of the ideology, the fact that so many people are so passionate about it, and of course the support it receives from the university, government and media. The end result is large segments of the generation, almost all of those who seriously care about such matters, becoming some mixture of prophet and terrorist (“activist” is the polite word) for modernism, and the rest, an obedient, unquestioning herd following them.

    This in turn probably provides the answer to the question you pose in the first section. Young people are easily overawed by Leftism’s emotional appeals because that’s just how young people work. And besides, conservative concepts such as customs and traditions facilitating communion across generations, archetypes expanding the soul and making a person more than an individual, codes of modesty representing the barrier between the private, inner world of a person and his exterior, and so forth, are all comparatively abstract, difficult to grasp, not as quick to supply simple emotions (it’s a lot easier to be outraged over a suicide than to appreciate the sublimity of any of the ideas above), and bad as soundbites. Not to mention that almost nobody has ever heard about them (probably due in large part to these factors). By the time young people who are inclined to consider these matters do encounter them they’re almost always too entrenched in modernism to be willing to change course, or so entrenched and psychologically immature that they genuinely think we hate the people whose behaviour we condemn and want them to die, thus reacting with anger, hostility, and…well…hatred (although I had my doubts on first reading about it, this matches the description of the immature psychological defensive mechanism known as splitting to a T). Maybe this is another reason why feminists want perpetual adolescence so badly. And the rest, those who were unquestioning cattle in university, continue to do the (evolutionarily) “smart” thing and conform.

    With the young people in the palm of the modernists, only the old people who remembered and were brought up in times when these ideas were preposterous would still resist them. And even this only applies to the “stupid” ones who don’t realise that times have changed and the values and customs of their parents will no longer be evolutionarily beneficial and can’t understand the arguments for either the Left or the Right (the problem with having abstract, sublime principles is that most people won’t be able to understand them and have to learn to apply them without understanding them). Then the old people die. And the young people become the new old people, and make more young people. And the new young people become even more Leftist. Then the old young people/new old people die. And so on. Slow it may be, relying as it does on the death of a whole generation from old age in order to advance, but the Hegelian Mambo is inexorable nonetheless.

  4. Leftism is the logical conclusion of liberalism (or at least, it most easily follows). Back when there were still conservatives, there could still be serious intellectual resistance to leftism. But now, instead of conservatives, we have right-liberals. They make stupid arguments for conservative causes, which arguments are all based on liberal principles. Their effect is not to slow down the leftist idea, the only thing slowing it down is natural common repulsion, their effect is to distract those who are so repulsed, since without right-liberal distraction, those so repulsed might discover conservatism. They’ll do this until social acceptance of the idea is set in stone, then they’ll move on. It becomes set in stone once a generation is raised to adulthood accepting it, which goes to your second point. I think the reason why most young people tend to embrace leftism, is because young people tend to be more susceptible to outrage. And leftists are the only side allowed to express outrage, thus young people tend to go left.

  5. “Even if students are radicalized by college, this could be more from peer pressure than instruction.”

    The causality clearly goes in both directions. Young people are indeed overwhelmingly influenced by peer pressure: they want to imitate their high-status peers in every way, including the adoption of whatever opinions they hold on any subject, from the most superficial ones like clothing fashion to the most fundamental ones of ideology and religion. Propaganda aimed at youth will fail completely unless it works indirectly, by making it seem to young people that this is what their cool high-status peers believe. To take a notable example, Soviet communism was doomed when it lost the battle for influence over its youth to the Western progressivism and pop culture. Its education system insisted on trumpeting communist propaganda until the last moment, but it was laughably ineffective.

    The key to the success of modern Western progressivism is that somehow — and I’m still not quite clear how — its ideology has been transmitted to a younger generation by successfully indoctrinating a critical mass of cool and popular youngsters, which then caused their peers to converge to the same ideas spontaneously. The 1960s student radicalism you mention was just the most extreme example, but I believe the mechanism has been substantially the same for a very long time. An older generation of leftists, in possession of significant wealth and power of patronage, convinces a group of smart and entrepreneurial youngsters to join their cause. The latter are attracted both by the venal hunger for power and emoluments, but also by the opportunity to indulge their stupid and naive youthful passions and vanities. These then become not just apprentice candidates for the next generation of establishment leftists, but also prominent cool personalities in the contemporary youth culture that everyone else looks up to, adopting their new fashionable left ideology en masse. The older leftists, in turn, are able to propagandize successfully thanks to this, since their words, unlike late Soviet propaganda, have this magical imprimatur of youth “cool.”

    The interesting question is why this method works so spectacularly well for the left, but nowhere as well for the right. (Even though many right institutions have tried to do the same historically, and some have even had a limited degree of success.)

  6. […] My comment on Bonald’s post: […]

  7. @Vladimir

    Most people are morons and influenced by peer group pressure. The other thing is that most people are “intuitivist” and want to be “nice” to each other. The success of leftism has been to achieve a synergy between the desire to be nice and the pushing of a a progressive agenda. Good and nice are two separate things.

    The other big factor at play here is the modern welfare state, which on a metaphysical level, separates action from consequence. Thus people can go on for a long time being stupid without any real world consequences. Nature’s “feedback” mechanism is thus thwarted. The party stops when the money runs out.

  8. Yes and no.

    I don’t think we’ve a had a generation of young people this compliant in many centuries. The whining hordes of lefty moral signalers are only signaling in the way that their masters approve. Of course, the very smart ones out signal the more hidebound, mitwitted ones. They “push the envelope” but only because they know they won’t be smacked down. No enemies to the left… only excessive enthusiasm.

    So in a way you don’t need the tenured faculty to completely drive the system–i.e., explicitly indoctrinate the impressionable. They’ll do it to themselves. Social entropy doesn’t require much coordination.

  9. […] at his home blog, Bonald considers The spread of Leftism: What if it’s the other way around? What if, in other words, students are driving the education system leftwards? I have my doubts. But […]

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