The Authentic vs. Regressive Left

Following up on recent thoughts about how to deal with (or at least put a name to) what might characterize the Left end of the Left-Right dichotomy that seems to underlie so many debates about the Middle East (and so much else), it occurred to me that we need a name for those people, organizations and movements that are (or should) be standing up against the “Regressive Left.”

My vote would go to “The Authentic Left.” This is a label that packs a pretty potent rhetorical punch when set against a “Regressive” rival.  More importantly, it provides a sense of continuity with previous iterations of Left-leaning movements that were both thoughtful and heroic.

What could help us discern a member of the Authentic vs. Regressive Left?

Well, to begin with the Authentic type would not just claim to believe things, but would (1) actually believe them, and (2) act on them, even if that might require them to make painful choices.

For instance, both the Authentic and Regressive Left claims to believe in equality between the sexes and in giving people of differing sexual orientations the right to live as they please.  So when it comes to the uncontestable fact that the non-Israeli Middle East represents the worst place on the planet (if not human history) for women and homosexuals, the Authentic Left would prioritize the rights of victims over victimizers, even if it meant modulating other beliefs, such as the tendency to avoid passing judgement on non-Western societies.

The Regressive Left has a simpler way of dealing with such a balancing act: by declaring that they (and they alone) should be ceded the moral high ground on all causes sacred to the Left (including women’s rights, gay rights, and concern for those in the Third World) and scream “Pinkwasher!!!” at the top of their lungs at anyone daring to point out the contradictions inherent in such a claim.

The Authentic Left also taps into a progressive tradition based on optimism, notably the belief that – however haltingly – humankind is moving in a direction of greater political unity and universal commitment to human rights.

Now that premise can and has been challenged.  For instance, Ruth Wisse has presented a strong argument that progressive beliefs can lead to blindness when faced with situations that starkly contradict an optimistic view of the world.  The Middle East, where the aforementioned non-Israeli nations – human rights catastrophes all – have waged a century-long conflict with the Jews in their midst, sacrificing generations to the Muloch of hatred and needless war is one such stark situation.  This could help to explain some of the fragility of belief within the Left that leads some of its members to embrace a Regressive world-view that provides simple answers to tough questions.

But some members does not mean all members, and an Authentic Left is one that would take on the challenges put up by people like Wisse, think deeply about them, argue them out (both internally and with political rivals) and – one hopes – synthesize a more dynamic belief system ready to maintain optimism while still dealing with the world as it really is.

The Regressive Left avoids such self-reflection since, for them, all arguments are already settled in their favor.  And since the key to power within the Regressive Left is aggressiveness vs. thoughtful debate, “winning the argument” within this camp just means finding more ruthless necessary means within a community that has already accepted the mantra “by any means necessary.”  This helps to explain why devotion to “Palestine” has become a litmus test for Left-leaning women’s and gay right’s activists while mentioning gender and sexual Apartheid in the Middle East will get you cast out of “the movement” just as quickly as declaring your intention to vote Republican.

It should be noted that being a member of the Authentic Left doesn’t require you to shut your mouth about shortcomings in Israeli society – or any other issue.  But an Authentic Left would have no time nor truck with those who have turned the language of human rights into a battering ram, nor would they argue that that someone claiming Israelis are harvesting the organs of children to simply be declaring their opposition to Israeli government policy.  And they would have no problem understanding that the condemnation of such bigotry does not represent repression of free speech.

Is the Authentic Left big enough or tough enough to overcome their Regressive rivals?  The jury is out on that.  After all, those rivals are numerous, well connected (dare I say “privileged?”) and ready to do anything to cast any and all opponents as traitors and cowards.  Still, earlier generations of Authentic Leftists held their own against earlier Regressive rivals that had a Soviet Union controlling half the world at their back.  So the real question is whether there exists today a generation willing to take the fight to a new generation of wannabe tyrants backed up by (at least for now) a far less powerful enemy.

The Regressive Left

Nothing tends to generate controversy on this or any other blog as much as a good dust-up between those representing “Left” and “Right” on the political spectrum.  As with more ancient battles between religious believers, the stakes are high in such debates where people’s arguments tend to get bound up with important aspects of personal identity.

Even so, a fair amount of light can be generated during these kinds of heated debates.  For example, in an ongoing exchange I had with an eloquent critic of the Left (who feels too many on our side ignore the Red side of the Red-Green alliance between Western Leftists and Islamists), our argument was much more of the Thesis and Antithesis leading to Synthesis variety than boring old head butting.

In responding to Left-Right issues, I tend to focus on how we define what constitutes “The Left.”  After all, Israel was founded by Labor Zionists whose Leftist political identities were as important to them as were their Jewish ones.  And, in the decades following the foundation of Israel, it was Democratic politicians who could be trusted to support the Jewish state more than Republican ones.

That was then and this is now, I suppose.  But even if we accept that times have changed, my opinions are still colored by the fact that in every BDS fight I’ve ever been involved with, my allies (just like my enemies) all considered themselves to be Left of center.  And such a phenomenon makes sense if you consider the battles over BDS et al as representing a war of conquest of the Left end of the political spectrum being waged by the same people involved with the war for the elimination of the Jewish state.

As is often the case, a phenomenon requires a name before it can be discussed and debated in concrete terms.  And one that has started to gain traction recently, the “Regressive Left,” provides a powerful description of what might be going on in the wider political universe.

The term was first popularized by British ex-Islamist Maajid Nawaz to describe fellow liberals who refused to accept any criticism directed at minority communities, including the Islamist community he had fled.  Before and after the term was coined, the concept of self-perceived Progressives participating in “regressive” behavior (like trying to shut down free speech and embracing bigotry) has been part of controversies that began to roil the Atheist community when some members started directing their ire at Muslims vs. Christians, Jews and New Agers.

Slowly but surely, the term has made its way into more conversations, especially during the current era of campus culture wars and street activism that seem to involve self-proclaimed Progressives engaging in reactionary behavior characterized by extremely troubling tactics.

If you look closely at that behavior and those tactics, however, you will find elements quite familiar to those of us involved with fighting the global anti-Israel propaganda campaign over the decades.

To begin with, Regressive Leftists seem to take for granted that those they are trying to impose their will upon are empathetic, especially with regard to issues of racism.  At the same time, those demanding that everyone else fess up to their own flaws and make amends are entirely impervious to any criticism of their own bigotry.

If this sounds familiar, consider the dynamic we have come to expect from those pushing BDS in which the BDSers appeal to the public’s concern over the abuse of human rights, hatred directed at minorities or the suffering of others but become aggressively hostile at the merest mention of the fact that their movement and the nations and movements to which BDS is allied represent the best examples of those negative behaviors in the world today.

Similarly, look at the demands Regressive Leftists place on the actions and thoughts that others are allowed to take and have (in the form of speech codes and demands that authority punish those with whom they disagree) while accepting no limitations whatsoever on their own behavior.  And if campuses are the hothouses in which Regressive Left culture is being incubated, we are already seeing demands that such misbehavior not only be allowed but celebrated and subsidized.

Finally, the tolerance of coercion – even violence – as a way to “win the debate” seems to be going mainstream within the wider culture as the tactics used to shut down pro-Israel speakers are now being applied to others (including Presidential candidates).

This makes sense once you realized that the totalitarian minded have always used the Jews to push the limits of how much a society will tolerate extreme behavior, at which point such extremism becomes an accepted norm (or at least much harder to contain).  And where this dynamic is playing out (within the Left) also makes sense once you realize the enormous amount of effort and resources anti-Israel forces have put into trying to turn the entire Left end of the political spectrum into their prison bitch.

Again, campuses are the best place to see this process in play as important causes like prison reform and campus rape must all take a back seat to the BDS agenda in the name of an “intersectionality” that couldn’t care less if partisan demands for endorsement of BDS drive others away from all those other causes.  The aggression directed at anyone who dares mention that support for attacking Israel might be misaligned with other matters dear to the Left (notably gay rights) is another example of how priorities within the Regressive Left are driven by ruthlessness rather than concern for the weak and suffering.

With this new vocabulary in place, the war within the Left can now be described and measured based on the level of progress the Regressive Left does or does not make in its attempted takeover of mainstream Progressive culture.  It would be easy to say such a takeover has already gone too far, but I hesitate to say that we’ve reached the point of no return.

After all, when Josef Stalin played this same game last century, demanding that anyone who considered themselves Progressive who did not toe the Soviet line was a hypocrite and traitor, he had dozens of nations, hundreds of military divisions, and thousands of nuclear weapons to back up his threats.

The Palestine uber alles brigade, in contrast, has nothing but their own socio-pathology which they use to manipulate the weaker willed.  But just as a tough-minded generation of anti-Soviet Leftists (which included those aforementioned Zionists) kept Stalin at bay, so too can a truly Progressive Left take on the Regressive Left and win – if they have the will to do so (and support from us when they do).