For most of my life, I was a radical leftist.
But then last year, as everyone knows, things got weird. A pandemic hit. The response demanded that people erase their faces from public life, hide from social interaction, and put themselves in front of a screen for eight hours a day (or, if they were unlucky, collect whatever money they could from the state). This was demanded of them by people who supposedly did not want to “Put profit above lives!”.
Then George Floyd died—and all of a sudden, senators were wearing strange cloths, using odd jargon previously confined to edgy dorm rooms and humanities departments, all while people tore down statues of anti-slavery figures in the name of racial justice. Prosecutors, not normally a group known for love of criminals, seemed content in major cities to release violent rioters, and detain people who defended themselves from them.
Last year’s events made clear that the “radical” Left’s traditional anti-establishment position has become distorted. The Left has long organized its politics around opposition to the politicians, corporations and administrators that make up the regime. Today, though, the Left is the status quo. It does not ask whether corporate capitalism and the progressive, bureaucratic state ought to be overcome anymore—it is this regime.
To step back a bit, let’s examine some of the pet causes of today’s so-called “Left”: Trans extremism for ever-younger kids, and celebration of the pharmaceutical companies and family courts who underwrite it. Increasingly restrictive speech codes, administered by the state and corporations. Administrative kangaroo courts at universities that regulate what is left of romantic love into drab oblivion. Institutionalized racial distinctions and, in many cases, discrimination. “Green” economic initiatives, by which is meant shuttering industrial production and agricultural production in favor of the (already dominant) tech and finance industries.
All of these expand the power of “the system” that leftists used to rally against. What was once rage against the machine is now the machine itself—a machine dedicated to, among many other horrors, the chemical castration of children and the resurrection of race science under the banner of “justice.”
The Soviet dissident Lezsek Kolakowski once described the Left as the political force that cannot renounce utopia; in the same essay, he says that a Left which adopted a utopian vision of grotesque, violent, and illberal changes would cease to be a Left. Much like Stalinism in the 20th century, modern leftism thoroughly fulfils Kolakowski’s prophecy.
There is an emerging cadre of thoughtful young leftist dissidents who see what is happening to “their” Left. They see a Left that is merely the chief ideologues of the worst of today’s ruling regime. Aimee Terese, Angela Nagle, Michael Tracey, Glenn Greenwald—I could continue the list, and it could go on for a while. Each one of these recognizable names represents a following of thousands like me, who did dream of a better society than the one they found themselves born into, who opposed the status quo of corporate and bureaucratic control and domination, and who now find themselves either confused, or beginning their journey toward a conservative movement which is, itself, developing to meet the challenges posed by a dangerously authoritarian Left.
It is not yet known how many of these people can be brought into a New Right. But it is known that they are not, at this point, the enemy. Previous generations of ex-leftists who opposed leftism’s descent into something dark and inhumane have produced great political thought: anti-Stalinists like James Burnham and Max Schachtman, critics of the cultural and social politics of the post-1960’s Left such as Christopher Lasch, and critics of the racial politics of “black nationalists” and black Marxists such as Adolph Reed. Even Frankfurt School scholar Max Horkheimer, in a 1970 interview with Der Spiegel, was on record criticizing the embrace of birth control technology and defending traditional religion, producing noteworthy and interesting critiques of the culture being birthed by the “new Left” of the time.
None of these thinkers, with the exception of James Burnham, ever truly became part of the self-identified Right. But with a little strategy, this time can be different.
The treatment for today’s new generation of confused former leftists must be a course of two red pills. They must first be led to understand that the Left has become the only true power in bureaucracy, culture, discourse, and corporations. It is therefore the status quo, the suffocating regime leftists used to claim to oppose.
The second, red pill, the harder one to swallow, is that the Right of today—at least in its most noble factions—wants to challenge the power of this status quo for an end that is not grotesque or contrary to the spirit of human freedom and flourishing. The emerging politics of the New Right today inherits many of the best impulses of the leftist tradition
In any polis, there will be people who remain committed to something radical, utopian, and anti-regime. The Left that truly retains this vision likely can and should be made allies of a newly radicalized Right against the emerging horrors of today’s regime and the pseudo-leftists that serve its court ideologues. The Right has little experience with the kind of organizing that the old Left was able to do, let alone the institutional capture the new Left pulled off. If only out of political necessity, bringing people with the memory of these tactics to the Right will reap dividends.
The common ground between dissidents is there. Both dissident Left and New Right believe in civil liberties, that civil society still matters, that there are higher values than San Francisco’s GDP, that racialist pseudo-history and violent mobs should not guide politics, that children being rendered infertile so as to be genderless cogs in the system is wrong.
Of course, the dissident leftists will have to learn as well that there are reasons the Left went awry. This is whyI am no longer a leftist: There are deeper truths that the Left always missed, from the problems with historicism and atheism, the existence of evil and a human nature, and the importance of both tradition and reason, not just the latter, to politics. Just as they have lessons for the Right, the Right has teachings that the dissident Left would benefit from learning.
Strange times call for a healthy dialogue among dissenters. Those on the Left who have not gone along with the regime are ripe for such dialogue. I would know; I was one of them. I learned things as a leftist. I have learned more as a conservative. But in the current crisis, as the regime hardens into something truly ugly and inhuman, conservatives must become revolutionaries—and revolutionaries must become conservatives.