I’m a bit of a left-wing guy, and freedom is my fundamental political value. I think you can figure that out if you have a look at pretty much anything I’ve written here in the last two and a half years.
But as far as a lot of the popular culture of the modern West goes – at least the loudest mouths and the major icons – freedom and the left don’t go together. Being left-wing today is popularly associated with hating freedom, wanting to control people, regulate them, determine every aspect of their existence.
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This is the triumph of popular libertarianism. It’s the mass media and social media insurgency of the only Young Republicans who actually know how to party.
It’s why, on the first anniversary of Jack Layton’s death, G posted a memoriam caption with a photo of Vladimir Lenin.
Very simplified, without getting into the philosophical or media history.* This is the libertarian attack on the left, with two parts.
* Look through my archives for any of my posts discussing Friedrich Hayek. Kick around those for a while, and you’ll get a sense of the history.
Part One: All leftists are the same, and ultimately want the same thing, which is total state control of the economy and people’s daily lives. Part Two: The ultimate endgame of that political goal is the Full Hitler and the Full Stalin.
There have been, over the years, some left-wing folks who actually have thought that total control of the economy and citizens’ lives through the state bureaucracy was a good thing. Because the state is the culmination of the people’s existence,** state ownership and control is the same as public ownership and control.
Those people largely don’t exist anymore. Either they changed their mind, or they’ve died. Younger people on the left don’t even think according to this right=freedom / left=control axis anymore, because it doesn’t really make much sense.
What’s more, this dichotomy, which most popular libertarians today believe is complete and has no real exceptions, is false. My hardcore libertarian friends used to tell me that, because I was against state control of people’s lives, I should also be a right-wing libertarian.
But that way of thinking doesn’t understand a left-wing tradition that’s much more profound and powerful than state-centric communism. This tradition and its ideas become very clear when you read Antonio Negri.
Here’s how the argument goes. Institutions are about control, and the state is the most powerful control institution that’s ever been built. The natural state of humans, though, is contrarian. We strain at even the most subtle chains as soon as we realize we’re wearing them.
The true universal of human politics is “Fuck you, I won’t do what you tell me!”
This is why states can only function without oppression by being democratic. The people need to have as many avenues as possible to turn bureaucracy, politicians, police, and other state control institutions to heel. Our political leaders can’t start thinking that they’re our boss – they work for us.
The communist revolutions of 19th century Europe were about overthrowing monarchs – the kings of Germany, France, Italy, Russia, France, Austria, and possibly also France again. In democratic countries, it was about loosening the state from the more subtle control of longtime elites and big business oligarchs.
Institutions that control the people would be replaced by institutions that governed through local councils and community organizations. It was supposed to be a kind of super-federalism.
Then when a communist revolution actually succeeded, they ended up buying into the oppressive power of their new state institution instead of dismantling it. In Lenin’s years, he turned the state against opposition to his rule, having to use horrifying violence to oppress his enemies.
Stalin’s priorities, after taking over the Soviet state, were never about people power, but about becoming the most powerful state ever. Stalin’s state was the most powerful, violent, shocking, comprehensive, intense, horrifying overcoding of hundreds of millions of wills with the will of one man.
State-centric communism was counter-revolutionary. Humanity’s revolutionary power is always about freeing ourselves. My leftism is about freeing ourselves.
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