Tainted Left I: Please Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood, Research Time, 19/07/2016

My two-year online friendship with a pair of radical right-wing libertarians was one of the most philosophically enlightening relationships I think I’ve ever had. 

I don’t mean this in the sense that it made me an equally doctrinaire right-wing libertarian, even though that was their goal. Our relationship was a micro-level anthropology of North America’s radical right – I saw Trumpism in its embryonic form, a new fascism waiting for its catalyst to blossom.

What Sandifer explored through his critical analysis of neoreaction’s central writers (Mencius Moldbug, Eliezer Yudkowsky, and Nick Land), I saw unfold before me in two real people. 

There's one particular memory I want to share with you, as an introduction to what will probably be a whole week talking about a problem inherent in any kind of left-leaning politics in the West. An image Libertarian G shared with me on the anniversary of Jack Layton’s death.

He wasn't even really all that radical in what he fought for.
It was a picture of Vladimir Lenin, with a short, respectful caption lamenting Jack’s passing.

At the time, I thought his equivalence of Jack Layton with Vladimir Lenin was just a joke, a ridiculous exaggeration for me to laugh at. But after several months more of almost daily interaction, it struck me that G really believed that. And as I learned more about right-wing libertarian society, I discovered that virtually all of them did too.

They believed that all left-wing people – no matter their real diversity of mind – wanted government to act as a fully collectivized communist totalitarian state. 

It seemed ridiculous, like a complete delusion. Finally reading Freidrich Hayek made it clear where this idea came from. From him, naturally. Because he says it – explicitly and repeatedly – in The Road to Serfdom

I sincerely believe – given what’s become an immensely powerful political movement in our time – that every academic philosophy department should include The Road to Serfdom in its political curriculum. And they should require students to attack its arguments with all the critical vigour and aggression they can.

Even though The Road to Serfdom can read like a work of philosophy, and be philosophically interpreted, you can make a strong argument that it isn’t philosophy. Following a concept Louis Althusser develops in For Marx, it’s ideology. Specifically, ‘mere ideology.’

We should all study the book critically because it is probably the most influential single book of political thought of the last 100 years. From the ideas of this one book, and the network of think tanks he built with Milton Friedman and other academics to spread their ideas to the wider public, came the foundational orthodoxy of modern conservatism.

The face of a bestseller, the most
influential political thinker of the last
hundred years. He can't be ignored.
A cut-down version of Road to Serfdom was published in Reader’s Digest of all things in 1945, and reached a huge popular audience across America. Hayek wrote the book as an explicit warning about the danger of totalitarian ideas, as the sustained confrontation of the Cold War was looming. 

That popular idea about left-wing people spread to all of society through conservative partisan political messaging for the rest of the 20th century. It spread through everyday conversation with people who came to accept it. It’s an opposition every progressive has to defend against, and can appear at any time.

“How are you not a communist!?” he shouts. 

For the next few posts – however many it’ll take me to work through the idea – I’m going to work through my impressions of how Althusser handles this in For Marx. He asks it specifically about marxists, of course, because he was himself a lifelong communist party activist in France. 

But today, we know the same question applies to everyone on the broadly left side of the political spectrum. How are our ideas not of the same path as the crimes of Stalin? . . . To be continued

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