Twitter is my main source of short news updates. It’s good for breaking news and for connecting me to more in-depth coverage and analysis of interesting things. I try not to follow publications or people I find annoying unless they have something exceptional to offer. Among these I follow John Schindler, a former intelligence type who blogs and tweets about foreign affairs and national security. I generally hold foreign policy pundits in low esteem (more on that below), but I often find his observations about world politics worthy of attention. His commentary on domestic politics is of more uneven quality. Sure, his cat might make a viable Presidential candidate, but his observations about “SJWs” and “virtue signalling” make me queasy. Worse, they make me want to argue with him.
(You see the problem, right? I want to discuss foreign affairs and domestic politics AND I want to argue with someone more famous than me on the Internet. Not only does this go against my inclinations as an apparatchik, it offends my sense of good taste. Sigh.)
So Schindler wrote this thing about the Cold War and the New Left, and it made me mad. I will refrain from summarizing the bits about European politics lest I be accused of Commenting On Matters Of Official Concern, but the upshot seemed to be that leftism is back and it won the Cold War by giving up on economics in favor of consumer choice and sexual liberalism, biding its time until it could rise again in the form of identity politics. Instead of the dictatorship of the proletariat, his new left seeks the dictatorship of a different “fantasy class” defined by its outsider status relative to traditional elites.
I have a couple of problems with this.
First of all, US national elections have been a choice between liberal or conservative centrist options since the end of WWII. The American Left devoured itself infighting over whether to focus on domestic issues or “international solidarity” until it was effectively criminalized in the early years of the Cold War, while the Right went underground to escape the taint of fascism. The Right started to rally first, beginning with the election of Ronald Reagan. The Left stirred at the end of the 1990’s (which ironically may have been a factor in the 2000 defeat of Al Gore; the small but critical mass of left-leaning voters who gave their votes to third party candidates helped throw the election to George W. Bush by not supporting the mainstream liberal centrist candidate). They fell in line behind the liberal centrist candidate in 2008 and 2012, but they have by no means been content with the candidate they helped elect.
Schindler gets that the 2016 Presidential hopefuls reflect the divide between the mainstream conservative center (“corporate conservatives”) and the Right. Sometimes he seems to recognize a similar divide emerging between liberal centrists and the Left. He also seems to recognize the extent to which elites at the liberal center have abandoned the economic aims of the Left. But he does not credit the rising level of frustration in the liberal center’s “99%” with declining standards of living. He also forgets that the last time the Left privileged international solidarity over national questions of “identity politics,” insisting that the class struggle had to take priority over bourgeois self-expression among its minority domestic constituencies, the Left got wiped off the US political map for 60+ years.
The other thing is that I studied International Relations in the waning years of the Cold War. They taught us that the US-Soviet conflict (and by historical extension, Great Power conflict) was the only valid lens through which to consider world affairs. In my second year, a visiting instructor from NATO boldly prognosticated that East and West Germany would unite in the next 20 years. The Berlin Wall fell two weeks later. That was almost 24 years ago. In recognition of the persistence of bourgeois national self-expression, my alma mater has since created a comparative international cultural studies track in my old degree program. It’s not that the Cold War didn’t matter or that Great Powers don’t exert a certain gravitational pull – it’s just that people have a strange obsession with being accepted for who they present themselves to be. Most people lack a certain degree of self-awareness, but they still don’t present themselves as Napoleon or the Virgin Mary. Call it identity politics, or nationalism, or individualism, or geopolitical entropy. Recognizing it as a fact of life and creating space for it in public discourse doesn’t mean being blind to its dangers.
I have a hard time believing that Schindler really thinks the goal of the New Left is to install PC Principal from “South Park” as a dictator and draw obscene cartoons on the faces of the oppressor class in Sharpie. I think he knows damn well that Cartman won the Cold War. Now that I’ve gotten this out of my system, hopefully I’ll stop wanting to engage with him about it and get back to the usual program of irregular posting and failing to build a Personal Brand.