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Terra incognita: Beyond Left and Right
By SETH J. FRANTZMAN
02/25/2014
Left and Right are no longer useful. The human herd of the self-defined “progressive left” has rushed to defend Silverstein, to claim that “negro is not an offensive word.”
 
"They finally did it: found a Negro Zionist: Uncle Tom is dancing for joy!” tweeted extremist Richard Silverstein, who maintains the Tikun Olam blog. He explained in a follow-up: “when I call @cvaldary ‘Negro Uncle Tom’ it reflects on her betrayal of progressive values respected by most African-Americans.” The decision by Silverstein to label those who support Israel “negroes” is the latest in a long line of recent racially- tinged assaults by the radical Left. Recall for example Israeli writer Gideon Levy claiming that Russians have “crime in their blood.”

Racism is raising its head as perhaps the last gasp of an entitled “progressive” elite. It leads us to wonder, what fuels the rage? One of the greatest achievements of the Left and its radical fringe was simply establishing “Left” as a positive value in itself. This occurred largely due to the rise of Fascism and Nazism; the horrific evils of the Axis regimes gave the Left an imprimatur of being on the side of right.

And in many ways it made sense: The original progressives fought for what were undeniably good causes: the reduction of working hours for menial laborers; stricter safety conditions in mines; the end of child labor; women’s rights.

However, many of these campaigns were paired with other, more obscure activism that was by no stretch of the imagination positive, at least according to most people, and to which not enough attention was paid. For example, eugenics was one aspect of the progressive manifesto.

In the progressive vision of utopia, working hours would be reduced (good), but people would be herded into collectives and forced to work certain jobs with meaningless pay and no chance of social mobility (bad). The utopianists and futurists sought the perfect ordering of society along strict lines; a top-down organization in which dictatorial “parties” would organize things for the “betterment of man.” Prophets of the Left described the evils this could entail in works like 1984 or Brave New World.

Moreover, as the ancien regime was washed away and conservative and classical liberal voices proved incapable of controlling the emerging extremisms, many turned, W.B. Yeats-like, to the answers traditionally associated with the Right: Nationalism and order. Thus the more obscure evils of extreme progressivism and the obvious evils of the fascist Right were all combined under the progressive banner.

We have suffered under 100 years of this leftist-progressive hegemony, during which time the “progressive” brand has come to dictate the normative worldview of Western society – regardless of what the brand actually represents. Consider the case of Judith Butler recently deciding to cancel a presentation on author Franz Kafka at the Jewish Museum in New York City. She withdrew, claiming victimhood, due to an “uproar over my political views.” Let’s recap her political views: During a 2006 “teach in” at UC Berkeley she was asked, “Since the Left hesitates to support Hamas and Hezbollah ‘just’ because of their use of violence, does this hurt Palestinian solidarity?” She responded, “I think yes; understanding Hamas, Hezbollah as social movements that are progressive, that are on the Left, that are part of a global Left, is extremely important.” We have here a clear example of the absurdity of the “Left good” construct. The Left is perceived as moral precisely because in its initial form, it abhorred violence; the normative leftist “peace” position.

But here is Butler arguing that we should define these radical, violent, religious fundamentalist movements as “progressive” and part of a “global Left.” Why? Because they oppose an enemy of this self-defined global Left: Israel.

Politics should be a factor. For instance, one can’t advocate bombing abortion clinics one moment and then turn up at a university and speak on human rights.

Well, unless one claims to be on the “global Left,” apparently.

Just what is this global Left? It ostensibly includes labor and social democratic parties in Europe – as well the fascistic, thuggish murderers running Venezuela. It takes in Hezbollah, Hamas and the communist Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. The same movement that stones women and throws acid in their face is taken in, alongside a movement championing Arab women as dancers, singers and performers. It is the same “progressive values” that allows Silverstein to castigate as “negro” any black person whose ideas threaten his worldview.

SO HOW do we escape the grip of the past? In his treatise Beyond Good and Evil Friedrich Nietzsche argues that notions of good and evil are tethered too tightly to traditions of religious morality, noting, “every system of morals is a sort of tyranny against ‘nature’ and also against ‘reason.’” He equated this with newfangled extremisms of the 1880s, claiming “men of ‘modern ideas’ believe almost instinctively in ‘progress’ and the ‘future’ and are more and more lacking in respect for old age, the ignoble origin of these ‘ideas.’” The concept of “good” he describes as “that which here glorifies itself with praise and blame and calls itself good, is the instinct of the herding human animal.”

What is remarkable is that in 1886 he understood the problem that still shadows our concept of “Left” and “good,” the concept underpinning the Butlers and many others who place themselves on the radical Left and yet express support for themes previously associated with the radical or religious Right. If in 1886 this destructive conception of “progress” and the tyrannical nature of this system of definitions were understood, why are we still trapped in its cage? Instead of “outing” leftists as “racists” and “supporting terror,” we must do away with the Left-Right system entirely. There are racists, there are terror supporters and religious fundamentalists, there are democracy advocates and dictators. These are more appropriate terms.

Left and Right are no longer useful. The human herd of the self-defined “progressive left” has rushed to defend Silverstein, to claim that “negro is not an offensive word.” To them I say, call me negro too, for we are free of your didactic shackles; as the Bob Marley song intoned “emancipate yourselves from mental slavery, none but ourselves can free our minds.”
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