May 22, 2005

Purgatory

Marcus Cicero says he’s in purgatory for now, stranded somewhere between the political left and the political right because neither deserves his loyalty. I know how he feels.

The political right isn't much fun. And yet life-long lefties like Keith Thompson at the San Francisco Chronicle are still abandoning the fold, even after the 2004 election, for reasons that I am entirely sympathetic with.
Eight-million Iraqi voters have finished risking their lives to endorse freedom and defy fascism. Three things happen in rapid succession. The right cheers. The left demurs. I walk away from a long-term intimate relationship. I'm separating not from a person but a cause: the political philosophy that for more than three decades has shaped my character and consciousness, my sense of self and community, even my sense of cosmos. I'm leaving the left — more precisely, the American cultural left and what it has become during our time together.

I choose this day for my departure because I can no longer abide the simpering voices of self-styled progressives — people who once championed solidarity with oppressed populations everywhere — reciting all the ways Iraq's democratic experiment might yet implode.

[…]

One aspect of my politics hasn't changed a bit. I became a liberal in the first place to break from the repressive group orthodoxies of my reactionary hometown.

This past January, my liberalism was in full throttle when I bid the cultural left goodbye to escape a new version of that oppressiveness. I departed with new clarity about the brilliance of liberal democracy and the value system it entails; the quest for freedom as an intrinsically human affair; and the dangers of demands for conformity and adherence to any point of view through silence, fear, or coercion.

True, it took a while to see what was right before my eyes. A certain misplaced loyalty kept me from grasping that a view of individuals as morally capable of and responsible for making the principle decisions that shape their lives is decisively at odds with the contemporary left's entrance-level view of people as passive and helpless victims of powerful external forces, hence political wards who require the continuous shepherding of caretaker elites.

Leftists who no longer speak of the duties of citizens, but only of the rights of clients, cannot be expected to grasp the importance (not least to our survival) of fostering in the Middle East the crucial developmental advances that gave rise to our own capacity for pluralism, self-reflection, and equality. A left averse to making common cause with competent, self- determining individuals — people who guide their lives on the basis of received values, everyday moral understandings, traditional wisdom, and plain common sense — is a faction that deserves the marginalization it has pursued with such tenacity for so many years.

All of which is why I have come to believe, and gladly join with others who have discovered for themselves, that the single most important thing a genuinely liberal person can do now is walk away from the house the left has built. The renewal of any tradition that deserves the name “progressive” becomes more likely with each step in a better direction.
Plenty more where that came from, so read the whole thing.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at May 22, 2005 1:57 PM

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