'The Regressive Left': an existential threat to the future of left-wing politics?

22 Nov 2016



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There is no doubt that internationally, left-wing politics faces uncertainty. The left is drifting away from its traditional white working class base, with a wave of right-wing populism emerging to exploit the new electoral vacuum that is emerging.


Many have argued that the decline of the traditional, trade unionised working class that has occurred as a result of de-industrialisation, has largely dismantled the economic, social and political structures out of which the left originally grew. 


But this is one of many explanations of the left's recent decline. It has. in recent years, experienced a shift in its ideological character that is potentially alienating many of its supporters.


‘The regressive left’ is a term that has become synonymous with right-wing journalist Milo Yiannopolous, whose highly controversial career has largely been defined by his ruthless attacks on modern left-wing attitudes.


Discussing what he perceives as the feminist ‘myth’ of the gender pay gap, or the left’s reluctance to stand up to Islamic Conservatism, Milo defines the ‘regressive left’, as the new breed of modern liberal who bluntly refuses to compromise their vision of multiculturalism, gender equality and LGBT rights, accusing anyone who disagrees with them as a ‘racist’, a ‘sexist’ or a ‘homophobe’, regardless of their own ideological or factual contradictions.


With his catchphrase “feminism is cancer”, Milo is an extreme and ridiculous figure, who often twists factual evidence in order to justify his own narrative. But, with the astonishing triumph of Donald Trump in the US presidential election, the Breitbart journalist is no longer part of an outsider movement.


With the meteoric rise of the American ‘alt-right’ movement of which Yiannopolous is a champion, this growing resentment towards the ‘regressive left’ has been mobilised as a mainstream political movement. The ‘alt-right’ has been instrumental in elevating Donald Trump to the US presidency, attracting a new generation of largely young ‘disillusioned liberals’, who claim to be soldiers of free speech against the increasingly overbearing leftist narrative of political correctness. As Yiannopolous stated in an interview with Dave Rubin earlier this year:


“[Donald Trump] represents the best opportunity to smash political correctness apart […] breaking apart all the taboos, all the stuff you’re not meant to say and allowing a real debate to be had [...] The overton window is so narrow and pushed so far to the left that something big has to happen […] Trump is a creation of the regressive left.”


For the left, the alt-right is an extremely dangerous new adversary. and it is arguably the regressive left who have, unwittingly, created it.


Equalling the fact that Donald Trump is now about to become the most powerful man on earth, the most frightening aspect of this new narrative is that many of the accusations being made by the right against the ‘regressive left’ are far more true than many would like to admit.


This first struck me abruptly the day after Britain voted to leave the European Union, when The Guardian columnist Adam Gabbatt resentfully suggested that Brexit had been caused by “crappy northern towns” (an article that has now been conveniently edited in the wake of its criticism). This is a poignant example of the left-wing dogmatism that many have grown to despise.


With an overwhelming confidence in their ownership of the moral and intellectual high ground, many on the left increasingly believe by default that those who do not accommodate their modern liberal outlook of globalisation, multiculturalism and social justice activism, are simply mislead, having been led astray by populist manipulation or lacking understanding.


The left cannot simply divide the political spectrum into ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ in this way, dissecting the supporters of its opposition as if they are mere cattle.  In signing petitions for a second EU referendum or in burning effigies of Donald Trump in protest of his democratic, electoral victory, the left risks creating an image of intolerance, from which only resentment will grow and a greater leverage of opposition for its enemies is created.


In writing this article, I do not suggest that all on the left are guilty of this position, or that the left should pander to or normalise this new breed of right-wing politics that is sweeping the west. Donald Trump’s campaign rhetoric was unquestionably deplorable and I agree that the diagnosis of his victory as merely 'a reaction against the left', is to some extent being used as smoke screen for the repulsive nationalism and racism of many of his supporters.


Despite this, the left must be humble and accept that its current ideological flaws are many; it’s often arrogant dogmatism, belittling criticism of its opponents and frequent moral contradictions are increasingly legitimising and fuelling its opposition. This is starting to translate into electoral failures.


Rather than continue to put its fingers in its ears, the left must recognise the potential validity of the arguments being made outside of its bubble. It must respond to these opponents with greater humility, grounding its arguments more in solid fact, rather than in stubborn ideological fables that assume a default moral high ground that all must submit to.


Whether the left will be able to gather the strength to recognise this issue and reform accordingly is a different matter. If it does not, it is my fear that more disasters may be waiting on the horizon and its enemies will only be served as a result. 




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