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January 05, 2004

Michael Totten is discussing his view of "liberals" versus "leftists" and, not surprisingly, makes a lot of sense.

Well, depending on how far back you go in deriving your definitions of "conservative" and "leftist." To be fair, he doesn't go back an unreasonable amount of time. I'm just warning those of you who are eighteen that there was life before your birth. Things happened that are relevant today and things you really need to understand.

(I don't know. Ever since my last birthday, I've been viewing those people who think things that happened before, say, 1985 as ancient, dead history with a certain amount of bitter disgust.)

He tars with rather a wide brush (Anyone who lumps "Greens" in with "Communists" is letting their bias show) but it's well worth reading.

What I'd like to see next is Totten dissecting the Conservative - Republican - Extremist Right divide in the same way, complete with examples of where he thinks today's prominent Republicans fall on the scale.

In other (non) news, it was so cold here today that the warm air exhausting from the office heating system was freezing up and snowing down on cars in the parking lot. It's not unusual, in Colorado, to be rained on when there's not a cloud in the sky but I think this is the first time I've been snowed on out of a clear, blue sky. 3 degrees is just too cold.

(P.S. But life would be tougher today if I were Avedon Carol, for whom I have much sympathy. Not only for the burglary, but for the tedious experience at the police department.)

Posted by AnneZook at 04:01 PM


Anne, I'm very surprised. Aside from noting that both present-day American conservatives and liberals are Enlightenment liberals (in my experience, something that more conservatives than liberals know), Totten's piece stuck me as ignorant and vicious: if one were to write a shorter Michael Totten à la Daniel Davies, it would be that for any possible issue, the liberal position is good, and the left position is bad. "Leftists hate trade because they think itís all about the West raping the rest...Leftists blame the September 11 attacks on America...Leftists hope (either publicly or secretly) that America will lose and 'learn a lesson'..." All of these are demonstrably false statements, unless Totten wants to restrict the population of leftists to the wingnuts who sell the Spartacist newspaper and their ilk—in which case he'd still be wrong, because those dolts are too cognitively impaired to hold any positions whatsoever.

A few weeks prior, Max Sawicky wrote a far better post on the differences between liberals and leftists that didn't seek to smear either. More recently, Jesse of Pandagon wrote a comprehensive rebuttal to Totten. (Totten himself replied in the comments section, limiting himself to rather meek protestations that he was misunderstooding, probably because he isn't able to admit he was wrong.)

I think the distinction between liberal and left comes down to whether one believes Enlightenment is a completed or on-going project; that is, whether we already possess adequate notions of individual rights, responsibilities, and freedoms—what it means to have political agency, if you'll permit me that piece of jargon—or if what notions we have are still amenable to critique and improvement. As someone who identifies himself as a leftist, I think the latter is the case, and I think the biggest obstacle to the advance of this project is a misunderstanding of the way in which our social and material worlds are sustained, so our economic and political systems—capitalism and representative democracy—must be the subject of scrutiny and critique. Unfortunately, holding such a view usually provokes one of two responses from people: one is judged to be either a fuzzy thinking 'idealist' or a supporter of oppressive regimes. That the substance of political agency poses an open problem never occurs to these people. They have all the answers, and know what's best. And if that's not frightening, I don't know what is.

Posted by: Curtiss Leung at January 7, 2004 05:20 PM

Short version response: Your primary issue seems to be that you and he don't define "leftist" in the same way, so your difference with him is more semantic than anything else.

I think the difference between your reading of the post and mine was that I realized very early in the post that he was, in fact, using "Leftist" as "crazy person/wingnut" and I accepted that as part of his position. He was attempting to separate the "wingnuts" from others on the Left.

The fact that non-wingnuts self-identify as Leftists is grounds for them to take exception to his vocabulary, but if you replace the word "Leftist" with "wingnut" in his post, you'll be able to get past that semantic difference and maybe better understand what he's saying.

Also? It's always a mistake to assume that because someone is an extremist that they're necessarily stupid, so your assertion that the leftest of left wingnuts "can't think" is incorrect.

Posted by: Anne at January 8, 2004 10:04 AM