The Death of Left and Right’s Frameworks
Some interesting remarks were made by senior Australian Labor Party figure Joel Fitzgibbon last week, regarding a potential fracture of the party between its traditional working-class base and its newer, diverse, ‘socially-progressive’ factions. Fitzgibbon stated that he was “fearful about how the Labour party will manage [to] juggle these two electoral bases,” and that “the party might end up splitting.” He also said that he ‘did not know how the party could reconcile the growing divergence of its supporters whilst trying to be “all thing to [all] people.” Such remarks may have been novel to a political ingénue or two, but they are yet further evidence of the cracking up of the Australian centre-left, and the latest manifestation of the gaping inconsistencies and contradictions inherent in both sides of Western politics.
Internationally, the outlook on the left is hardly any rosier. The rejection of Bill Shorten in Australia, is just another loss by Western left-wing parties; alongside Jeremy Corbyn’s disastrous loss in the UK (losing seats Labour had held for over 100 years) and Hillary Clinton’s in the US to Donald Trump four years ago. Something is changing. The Left hasn’t been able to effectively reconcile their older 19th and 20th-century Marxist economic-political analyses with the reality of the new, ethnically, and culturally diverse demos. By adhering to their old model, they are unable to accurately get a secure footing in the rapidly shifting demographic and cultural sands. A situation exemplified not so long ago by the Brexit vote, whereby a majority of Britons voted to leave the European Union despite the negative economic consequences that such a move would bring. When people would rather make themselves poorer instead of accepting more immigration and more cultural change, it’s clear that we should probably cease esteeming economists for good.
The Marxist analysis of society was once a useful, albeit limited, heuristic for viewing society, as there was an actual capitalist class and there was an actual industrial working class, whose improvement was the explicit rationale for the inauguration of the centre-left parties. This situation no longer completely pertains. The mere existence of Industry itself was also paramount. It’s the rapid decline, off-shoring, and technological disappearance of which the West is still unable to completely come to terms with, as we attempt to navigate through our (ostensibly) much-vaunted and valued, high-tech post-industrial societies; that are in reality mainly a low-skill service-based type of neo-feudalist hell.
However, the crucial and salient aspect which enabled this Marxist form of analysis to be somewhat tenable, is the aspect which is now largely missing, as it used to apply to largely homogenous societies, for example. As the industrial working classes across the West were predominantly Anglo-European and Christian, the class interest was, in the main, the overriding concern, as there were no real alternate claims on men’s hearts: such as race, or culture. When a society is largely racially and culturally homogeneous, the main preoccupation is likely to be (sans religion) economic.
As electorates across the West have become more ethnically, culturally, and religiously diverse , driven often by nominally ‘conservative’ governments using mass immigration as means for total GDP growth — at the same time as the industrial sector in Western economies shrinks — this Marxist analysis of society is at best a partially useful tool, or at worst, a completely useless anachronism. For, instead of, say, a relatively homogeneous group of indigenous British men working in arduous, yet full-time and (relatively) intrinsically purposeful jobs in the mills of England; in the same locale you now have a fractured, diverse, and disharmonious labour market composed of women, and religious and ethnic minorities, largely working in casual service-industry jobs which are often pointless and dispiriting.
This fact is often accompanied by a rhetoric of utter banality; such as the pledge to ‘tackle poverty and inequality’ by joining a ‘people-powered movement’ , when it’s no longer entirely clear who exactly the ‘people’ are, nor how poverty and inequality are going to be overcome in a poorly-paid labour market, that is self-consciously diverse, and thus often unequal. Hence the fracture that Fitzgibbon finds himself in; whereby the Western centre-left parties are out of power, out of stable leadership, and so riven by internal discord and contradiction, that they are unable to cohere to defeat the centre-right (which is itself often equally as fractured and weak). The facile talk of ‘equality’ and ‘social justice’ by this loose left-wing coalition of (what remains of) ‘old labour’ and the multi-cultural ‘progressives’ is unable to overcome the gaping contradictions within it — whether they be ethnic, religious, or cultural.
An emblematic example of this phenomenon was the shocking state that Australian members of the bien-pensant liberal-left found themselves in upon learning that the electorates that voted most strongly against the legalization of gay marriage were the immigrant-dense, ALP-held, outer-suburban electorates of Melbourne and Sydney. This was not supposed to be a feature of the harmonious rainbow coalition that they had envisioned.
This is not a time for triumphalism on the Right either. In spite of recent electoral successes around the world (Morrison, Johnson, Trump, et al) the right is itself hardly free of discord. Western conservative parties find themselves split between what remains of the older ‘Burkean’ social conservatives and the regnant Hayekian free-marketeers. The post-Cold War victory of the liberal West led to political and ideological myopia and hubris among right-wing parties as the victory or triumphant capitalism enabled them to claim, with partial justification, that ever-growing marketization and privatization were the panacea to fix all societal ills. The End of History and the Last Men were here, and there appeared nothing that could be done to stop them. Skeptical grumbles by the social conservatives and others were met with anything from mild disdain to outright contempt as the ascendant laissez-faire liberals were able to gleefully point to the corpse of the Soviet Union whilst they, inter-alia, signed NAFTA and allowed China to enter the WTO. There was, as their symbolic leader said, no alternative.
Yet, after four decades of triumphant Western economic (and social) liberalism — the ruins of which we are currently surveying — many of the worries the social-conservatives entertained have come to pass and their initial skepticism vindicated. Unfettered liberalism has led to: a massive decline in marriage; a corresponding decrease in fertility; the destruction of the family a shocking fall in general public health; a large increase in violence; the violation of children; and fracturing of society — largely along the aforementioned ethnic, religious and cultural lines. To what extent such a supposedly unimpeachable doctrine as Western liberalism can claim itself a success — and without alternatives — if its adherence leads to mass societal decay and fracture, whilst destroying its fertility and thus its own perpetuation — sans the mass-immigration currently keeping it afloat — is a question the free-market zealots have yet to provide an answer for.
That such failures should be a cause for reflection and reconsideration, hasn’t, unfortunately, proved universally true. The fact that an almost completely liberalized capitalism has destroyed the social capital required for its own existence hasn’t yet dawned on all concerned. Indeed, some have chosen to double-down on many of the policies they have brought us to this impasse in the first place. Moreover, in the United States, Trump for all his bluster, and in spite of the ceaseless and hysterical commentary from the left-liberals and the ‘Never-Trumpers’ attacking him as some kind of American re-incarnation of the worst excesses of 20th-century European fascism, has largely governed as a laissez-faire economic liberal, largely more interested in benefiting the economic elite (of which he is a part) than the ‘deplorable’ working class that he was purportedly elected to serve. Trump’s — pre-Covid — rising economic tide may have lifted many boats, yet most of the jobs on the vessels haven’t changed.
Yet there remains hope for those of a Burkean persuasion. In spite of the damage and destruction done to the West by decades of cultural left-liberalism and post-modernism (culminating in the desecration, riots, and violence we have seen in the US and Europe) there are still some intelligent social conservatives — who have rejected both the capitulation to the multi-cultural nihilism and identity-grievance agendas on their Left, and the shallow crudity and vulgarity of the laissez-faire market fundamentalists on their Right — and it is to them we should turn. They have correctly observed that the victories of Trump, Brexit, Johnson, and Morrison are often tacit and inchoate, but nonetheless profound and sincere calls for changes to the liberal status quo. They have, as some commentators have noted, seen the need to ‘move right on culture whilst moving left on the economy’. This is the case as a (mild) centre-left economics helps to lessen the courser aspects of often callous capitalism by providing people with a level of financial security and certainty — something often absent from a fickle and ephemeral labour market. Whilst a centre-right social orientation helps provide the stability, harmony, and cohesion needed to encourage family formation — and to act as a bulwark against the more destabilizing and disconcerting aspects of unbridled social liberalism and multiculturalism.
Which side will first pick up this political ball and run with it? On recent election results, it seems to be the Right. However, their continued focus on laissez-faire economics without a counterbalancing cultural emphasis enacted to mitigate the destabilizing effects engendered by such economics, will continue to leave them vulnerable. A position Fitzgibbon and the ALP could exploit if they are able to successfully articulate a palatable version of such socially conservative policies. Nevertheless, regardless of who adopts such change first, this direction needs to be the way forward as we set sail deeper into the 21st century.
Ryan Anderson is a teacher, traveler, and essayist based in Melbourne, Australia.
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