Tuesday, September 17, 2002
New heading: "THE SOCIOLOGY OF LEFTISM"
The appeal of Leftism to the average person is simple: The Leftist offers something for nothing. And that is always hard to resist -- fraudulent though it usually is. If the Leftist offers to redistribute somebody else�s wealth into your pocket, that is one hell of an appealling scam. So before considering what it is that causes a person to be a Leftist it should be well noted that a person who votes for a Leftist party may not necessarily himself be much of a Leftist. He may vote for the Leftist party simply because the Leftists appear to offer him personally a better deal. The Leftist's constant hypocritical preaching of equality does sometimes succeed in creating the impression that the Leftists will manage to give poorer or working class people a bigger slice of the national cake -- and poorer people must obviously find that at least initially appealing. This is of course why labour unions have always had strong affinities with the Left. Leftists appear to want a better deal for union members.
And this is partly why Leftists have recently become such opponents of globalization. Globalization does tend to relocate simpler jobs to poorer countries and the Leftist's union allies tend to oppose the changes to employment that this brings about. Unlike other Leftists, unions generally dislike change. They dislike change because it requires workers to find new jobs and that is understandably distressing to the workers concerned even if at the end of the day the cheaper goods now coming from overseas mean higher living standards for all. The Leftist however feeds on discontent so conveniently turns a blind eye to the longer term benefits of globalization and assists unionists in opposing it. The change-loving Leftist assists change-hating unionists! The corrosive discontent and hatred of existing power centres that motivate the Leftist enables him to ignore the incongruity of this alliance. Leading a protest of any kind is far more important than what the protest is about.
Lipset (1959) pointed out long ago, however, that poorer or working class people may in fact not only be change-haters in matters that affect them directly but also be conservative in other senses -- despite their (self-interested) vote for a Leftist political party. This tendency towards conservatism among working class people has been noted at least since the time of British Prime Minister Disraeli in the 19th century (McKenzie & Silver, 1968) and is so prevalent that it forms a vital electoral support for conservative political parties. How? Because something like a quarter of working class people are in fact so conservative (accepting of inequality etc.) that they resist the blandishments of the Left and vote conservative -- AGAINST what would initially seem to be their class self-interest (McKenzie & Silver, 1968; Ray, 1972c). So the primary concern of the present paper is with "real" Leftists -- people who subscribe to and promote a Leftist ideology rather than those who merely vote Leftist or support the Left solely out of self-interest.
So WHY does an ideological Leftist oppose the existing social, economic and political order? Why are they so keen on advocating change, no matter how irrational or counter-productive it might be? There can in fact be many reasons why and for many Leftists more than one of the reasons listed below will apply.
The simplest reason may simply be that one is BORN into a Leftist outlook. Being born into a Northern English or Scottish working-class environment, for instance, almost guarantees that one will favour a Leftist stance on many issues. Union activity and Leftist advocacy generally has been so strong for so long there that it has radicalized in many ways what might otherwise be a fairly conservative population and caused Leftist views to become simply traditional there. One might say that the explanation for Leftism there is a "sociological" one.
Another example of such a "sociological" cause for Leftism would be the way in which US college students are radicalized by the predominantly liberal academic environment of US humanities and social science schools. To be liberal in such an environment is almost a survival need (Sommers, 2002). And schoolteachers too, often seem to be Leftist. Many of those who lecture and control others in their working hours would seem to want to carry on doing so after work as well.
Also, because of its pretensions to standing up heroically for various difficult causes, Leftism can seem "cool" to many of the unthinking young and not so young. Particularly in the worlds of the media and entertainment (as well as academe), being Leftist means being "in" with the "smart" crowd. Not to be Leftist is to be left out. How awful! Even if such people can see faults in Leftist thinking, they are afraid to come toward the Right for fear of losing the approval of others around them.