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.