The left's illiberal turn

13 March 2021

4:18 AM

13 March 2021

4:18 AM

In the House of Lords this week, Baroness Jenny Jones of the Green party said she thought that a way to combat violence against women was to institute a six o’clock curfew on all men. She added, strangely, that ‘discrimination of all kinds would be lessened’ by such a move. Mark Drakeford took that sentiment a step further when he said he’d ‘consider all measures’ when asked if would implement a curfew on men — a sentiment he has now, thankfully, rowed back on.

Now, you’d be forgiven for thinking Jones was suggesting something patently ridiculous in order to demonstrate that it always seems to be women who have to do the sacrificing when it comes to ensuring their personal safety. This might have come across more effectively if the message had been delivered by someone who is in a party that doesn’t regularly put forward completely ridiculous ideas with absolute sincerity. Yet there were further problems with the Jones curfew statement, even if you took it as satire.

For instance, the friction between wanting to keep women safe and the Green party’s stance on gender self-identification. Under Jones’ plan, couldn’t men just ignore the curfew and get away with it simply by self-identifying as a woman between the hours of 6 p.m. and 2 a.m. every evening? This is where such quasi-religious thinking comes into play, creating contradictions only observable to those outside the ideology.

Intersectional social justice politics is sometimes described by its supporters (and often described by its detractors) as liberalism on steroids, or alternatively, liberalism taken to the next level, which depending on your viewpoint is either its ultimate utopian destination or a demonstration of its limits. Yet it is completely false to equate wokeness with liberalism. They are not only separate but in many ways actually the opposite of each other. The new social leftism shouldn’t even be described as a perversion of liberalism as it is, in its very essence, illiberal to the core.

Liberalism champions the rights and freedoms of the individual. This does not make it synonymous with libertarianism — it falls outside of the left-right divide. A good example of this is that by having a nationalised health service, one that is free at the point of use and paid for through taxation, individuals are freed from worries about their healthcare. This goes for many public services — individuals often benefit by having something done at a collective level. Social democracy and liberalism can easily live side by side but neither are dependent on the other.

The politics of social justice, on the other hand, is about how group identity trumps every other consideration. Within this worldview, your skin colour, gender and socio-economic background define everything about you. You can never escape from these things in any meaningful way, according to the woke mentality. They define you much more than any of your hopes and dreams ever could; in fact, what you interpret as your own free will is nothing more than the intersection of your various identities.

To give a pertinent example: liberals would like to see racism completely eliminated, the aim being to one day live in a society that sees skin colour the way we currently view hair or eye colour. In other words, race would no longer ever inform a view of what a person’s character or intelligence might be like in even minor ways. The politics of social justice explicitly does not want this kind of society — it actually postulates that such a world could never exist.

Take Critical Race Theory, a central intellectual element of this new politics. The essence of the theory is that racism is just an immutable element of human relations and as such, it can never be truly eliminated. It is just a part of who we are and we need to adjust our behaviour according to that assumption. This is why, for instance, individuals who happen to be from an ethnic minority background who are conservative are attacked by the new left — often, horribly enough, in explicitly racist terms. The way they see it, if you happened to be born with darker skin, then you owe your allegiance above all else to the ideology which supposedly protects that characteristic from the unchangeable racism of our society.

The end game seems to be a world in which we give up completely on eliminating racism and declare that racial differences will always keep people apart. That not just people, but different cultural attributes like food, music and language must be kept separately, never interacting with one another. It is a deeply illiberal viewpoint on humanity and its potential.

Liberalism is hard. It recognises the vast complexity of human existence and that there are rarely easy answers to big problems. The politics of the new social justice movement, on the other hand, is easy. Rich, white men are bad unless they embrace the faith. How rich and how white you are determine how much original sin you need to internalise. Ethnic minorities — at least those groups assigned victim status — are good. Unless of course they travel outside the boundaries set by the faith, and then they are the worst of the worst.

This is why wokeness has smothered liberalism — the latter calls for having to think for yourself a great deal more. Yet it is also why to confuse the two outlooks is to make a terrible error, one the modern left keeps making over and over again.

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