Let’s do a little thought experiment. Suppose that, after some soul-searching, the Left went through this three-stage process, which I’ve contextualized through the coming health-care debate.
1. They Realize ‘History’ Isn’t a Thing, and ‘The People’ Can’t Be Trusted.
Leftists have always suggested the arc of History bends in their direction. It’s a Hegelian idea: as each consciousness awakens to the inherent truth of a leftist ideal, a critical mass of awakened people vote and change the course of history. The very word progressivism is based on the idea.
But History isn’t playing along. The people, instead of awakening to new consciousness, are seeing leftist overreach as a threat. Elections centered on repealing Obamacare, for instance, laid bare the true intents of “the people,” with the Hail Mary of Scott Brown’s election in Massachusetts, the 2010 and 2014 elections, and in state after state.
You can even go back to the 1994 election, when the electorate rose up against Hillarycare. “History” and its foot soldiers, “the people,” simply aren’t that into leftism. It’s not Marxist “false consciousness” at work, but a rational, deliberate, realistic appraisal of how things work (or don’t work, in the case of Obamacare). The people got Obamacare right, and the Invisible Hand slapped sense back into History.
2. They Gain a Healthy Distrust of Governmental Power.
Not only has History refused to be the Left’s dancing monkey, but History may also do some jujutsu, using their own tactics against them. So confidently did leftists believe themselves on the right side of History that they fancied Obama its right hand penning executive orders on an unprecedented scale and tolerating legislative shenanigans to pass Obamacare. Yet now these powers are in non-leftist hands. Well, duh! Don’t these people read Aesop?
What if the Left joined the Right in cynicism at big government, focusing instead on decentralizing power from Washington to states, communities, and individuals?
Coming to this realization would have the added bonus of mending wounds with the Right. The Right has had their humanity questioned because they entertain non-governmental solutions to societal problems. Perhaps the Left can appreciate rightist cynicism. Perhaps they can respect how conservatives aren’t against health care for those who don’t have access; they just think there are better and more efficient means to provide this than through government.
3. They Rediscover the Freedom of Assembly and Seek Non-governmental Solutions to Problems.
Now that they’ve lost the reins of government, what if the Left mustered that enormous righteous capacity of theirs, took advantage of the “freedom of assembly” clause in the Constitution, collectivized their own damned selves, and said, “Hey, we don’t need those obstructionist Republicans to achieve our ends. We can do it alone!” This would mean a non-governmental solution to a problem. What if they realized such things do exist?
MSNBC commentator Rachel Maddow’s salary would put 460 uninsured families on insurance while leaving her a comfortable $100,000 annual salary. The total expense for all the celebrities who attended the recent Golden Globes—makeup, dresses, jewelry, and hair—would put 8,860 uninsured families on heath insurance.
In the 2012 Golden Globes, insurance for 200 families—the hopes and very lives of children!—dangled on Jennifer Lopez’s ears. Heck, 25 million families could be insured if the entire entertainment industry collectivized themselves, kept $100 billion for their own expenses, and spent the rest to address societal problems—and not a single Republican could do anything about it.
Why This Won’t Happen
We all know this won’t happen. But it exposes what leftism is really about. It’s not about attaining a particular good, but about revolutionizing culture by government fiat. To be a leftist is to have the unwavering belief one can change society and even the constitution of the human soul through political means, hence their deification of government.
Now that they’re outside of government, they don’t know what to do. Rightists can weather political defeat better because they embrace institutions other than government as instruments of good. A Rightist has a more cynical appraisal of history and humanity, so (a) doesn’t set his expectations too high, and (b) works on the things he can manage in his self, family, church, business, or community.
Leftists have a far grander vision bordering on utopianism on what can happen when government is endowed with enough power. They put all their chips on the bet that humanity will awaken to their ideals and hand over its proprietorship to the State, while they judiciously manage the rest of society by their elite knowledge of policy. Again we have to invoke Aesop: Leftists believe a snake (history and humanity) will eventually behave according to their vision. It doesn’t, and now they’ve been bitten—again.
One could cynically conclude leftists are just about power and large government, else they’d do some reflection on how large government fails leftist goals time and time again. A charitable conclusion is they simply lack the maturity of imagination to fathom non-governmental solutions to problems, like someone whose mind hasn’t graduated that second-grade thinking which goes, “I want to be king so I can make a law that everyone has to be nice to one another!”
A more subtle and accurate conclusion is that Leftism has the characteristics of religious dogma, and so isn’t allowed by its first principles to fathom good other than through revolutionary, government action.
The Varieties of Leftist Mysticism
The point of the above thought experiment was to propose a sequence of things which could happen but won’t because of leftist dogmatic blinkers. Let’s probe these dogmas a bit.
1. The Leftist Religion Is Gnosticism
Gnosticism applied to politics is Leftism. The gnostic mind is cast in black and white absolutes. It says the world is inherently corrupt in every one of its systems and institutions, and the salvation it proposes is pure light and righteousness. Politically, the gnostic mind can only be revolutionary: a new humanity will arise with new thinking and lead history into a new age; the old will be utterly dismantled. Until then, the gnostic is melancholic about the systemically corrupt world he’s imprisoned in.
This gnostic reading of leftism explains a lot (and much more that you can read here or here). It explains why a faith-based leftist cannot fathom good occurring through non-governmental, non-revolutionary, traditional means. Family, church, and traditional culture are vessels of the corrupt past that must be replaced or revolutionized.
It explains their anger and depression over losing. This is the melancholy so typical of the gnostic mind. A leftism steeped in gnosticism will never adjust to being out of power: to work with the world as it is and not completely revolutionize it is to lose their religion.
2. The Leftist God Is History
The phrase “arc of the moral universe…bends toward justice” was first uttered by a nineteenth-century Christian clergyman and popularized by a twentieth-century one, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.. When President Obama invoked it, he did so within the same conceptual framework in which he said, “I am confident that we can create a Kingdom right here on Earth.”
This is more proof of leftism’s religious roots. As a religion, it has a given theology, even if unorthodox. This idea that God is manifesting his kingdom in this world through the movements of history, so that history has a slow evolution toward Christian ideals, has historically been considered a variety of Gnostic heresy known as millenarianism.
If orthodox Christianity defers fulfillment of hope to the next world, millenarians believe they can inaugurate it today, or, to use the Left’s urgent formula, “NOW!” On these terms, the Left’s “X Now!” formula for health care, peace, or whatever is no different than Joel Osteen’s “Your Best Life Now!” Both are millenarian, Kingdom-of-Heaven-on-Earth, immanentist gospels.
Where Osteen is at least upfront about his religiosity, the leftist gospel is pernicious. While pretending to be secular and scientific, the leftist commingles church and state by abstracting Christian teachings from their proper place in the church and effecting them through government, so government becomes a replacement church.
This explains how the “spiritual but not religious” creed of millennials fits so well with their progressivism. They have abstracted their faith from the institution of the church, rendering it unnecessary, and reconstituted it through government. By investing the attributes of God to a non-God—History operating through government action—the Left masks their true religiosity.
3. Born-Again Leftists: Are You ‘Woke’?
Alas, a leftist religion has to have leftist faith. Its practitioners have to be “woke”—a variety of palingenesis (the born-again experience) typical of Gnosticism—to leftist goals. Pop media has always been the perfect leftist vessel, its “electronic Bible,” catechizing minds not just in leftist dogmas, but immersing them in a gnostic cosmological framework.
Media operates in the uncomplicated, transmundane realm of the imagination, where two-dimensional light beings are sapped of their smelly flesh and sticky blood, where narratives, archetypical characters and happy-ending moments replace reality and can remain forever ensconced in our minds like Nietzsche’s eternal present, keeping the mind ever situated toward the (unattainable) possible, ever decrying what is. Leftism sells eternal hope better than any snake oil salesman ever could.
Explained by media scholar Jane Stewart, speaking of the power of movies, “[Movies] can be modern day mythmakers activating new archetypal images in the culture. Together, sitting in the dark, we can change our lives and update ancient mythology… Archetypes on the big screen come alive in society as audiences take them home….The next thing we know, [the archetype is] in our workplace, pulling the lever in our voting box, and making different choices down the street at the local store.”
The immersion of the American soul in media-created worlds might explain why partisanship is at an all-time high. Drawn away from 3-D realities (one’s own flesh and blood), one’s mind is cast in those gnostic, black-white polarities. One’s own side is purity and enlightenment, while one’s opponents are two-dimensional archetypes donning the numinous mantle of world-demonic energies.
Where did these two-dimensional archetypes come from? It’s hard to dialogue with someone who sees you as “that evil character in the movie I saw” or “an unenlightened pawn of backwardness and corruption in that news media narrative.”
What’s the Future for the Left?
The latter two leftist dogmas have been challenged. History and humanity went off doing their own thing, and everyone’s laughing at the media like the emperor who has no clothes (there’s Aesop again). I can see why the Left is in a funk, but it need not be.
Perhaps if they can premise their first principles in something other than deceptively appropriated Christianity, or make their case other than through media-manipulation and fantasy-projection, or fathom a means to their ends other than through government, perhaps the History they put so much hope in won’t be their graveyard, as it’s become for all other totalitarian ideologies.
The immediate future of leftism depends greatly on whether they can unwind the ball of tangled yarn they’ve created for themselves regarding government and media, and imagine alternatives through which they can funnel what they believe is their righteous intent. But to do so, they’ll have to lose their religion. They’ll have to give up that first dogma, the gnostic cast of their minds and their faith in government.
Again, is that possible? Can leftism survive without propagandizing and gaining political power? The ball’s in their court like never before.