This week, protesters affiliated with an organization called People’s Action invaded the Capitol Hill premises of conservative policy shop the Heritage Foundation, calling it “Donald TrumpDonald TrumpJudge rules Alaska governor unlawfully fired lawyer who criticized Trump Giuliani led fake electors plot: CNN Giuliani associate sentenced to a year in prison in campaign finance case MORE’s think tank.”
Taking to Twitter, People’s Action boasted of taking over the nonpartisan think tank and declared that its “‘budget blueprint’ assaults marginalized communities.”
Across the country, at the Berkeley campus of the University of California, threats of violence prompted the cancellation of a scheduled talk by conservative provocateur Ann Coulter.
Coulter’s Berkeley detractors had thus made good on their promise to “shut it down,” which phrase has become a new rallying cry on the left—and happened to be among the angry chants of the protesters who “took over” Heritage.
For the left, it is no longer enough to voice dissent against political opinions and policy proposals with which they disagree; now the sources of those hated ideas are deemed hostile enemies to be neutralized by any means necessary, respectful discourse and healthy debate be damned.
Never mind the old-fashioned liberal notions of John Stuart Mill, who famously argued, “All silencing of discussion is an assumption of infallibility.” Mill believed that open dialogue and the resultant peaceful contest of ideas was the best way to uproot entrenched prejudices and the habits of lazy thinking.
Mill’s liberalism and his approach to the discovery of truth assumed a certain modesty, an acceptance of the fact that the truths of human beings, “for the most part, are only half-truths,” and that “unity of opinion, unless resulting from the fullest and freest comparison of opposite opinions, is not desirable.”
But the political left is no longer liberal in the classical sense, in the sense associated with Mill. Today, left-wing political practice seems to have degenerated into a fatuous contest of who can appear the most “woke,” measured in terms of how many “microaggressions” one can identify and how easily triggered one is at the smallest perceived offense.
The less one has an ability to act like a psychologically well-adjusted, mature adult, to engage with his ideological opponents rationally and without anger, the better.
To be woke, then, is to be permanently offended, inflamed by righteous indignation, ready to battle—physically should the need arise—the opponents of goodthink.
The “woke” left of the present moment, their attitudes toward free speech, and their general illiberality recall the left-wing parties of the last century.
This new incarnation of the left, then, is not really new at all; it is the authoritarian, megalomaniacal left of Lenin and Stalin, of the Khmer Rouge and Mao’s Great Leap Forward, of avowed socialists Hitler and Mussolini.
It is the violent, repressive left, explicitly disdainful of liberalism and its counterrevolutionary sanction of free inquiry and expression, its untethered, bourgeois individualism.
Among the authoritarian socialisms of the twentieth century, the Bolshevism of Lenin is, perhaps, the most obvious precursor.
Vladimir Lenin was a visionary leader, demonstrably talented and endowed with the strategic acumen of the best military generals. He was, of course, also a monster, hopelessly out of touch with his own humanity and obsessed with a political system whose success was poisonous to human life.
Evocative of Lenin’s strategic teachings, left-wing groups like the one that stormed the Heritage Foundation see themselves as a revolutionary vanguard, possessed of a special consciousness of the interconnected problems facing society.
Central to Lenin’s vangaurdist thought is the goal of awakening class-consciousness in others, in potential converts. The vanguard, trumpeted Lenin in a 1917 speech, must “lead the masses and not merely to reflect the average political level of the masses,” for the capitalists have damned the masses to want and ignorance.
Thus action in the form of a revolutionary uprising must replace reason, deliberation, and dialogue, all of which are naturally regarded as tools of an alienating and marginalizing status quo. Such assured calls to action are certainly not without allure.
The holy orders of this religion, its leaders, inspire with their confidence in its gospel and through the gasconade of their rhetoric and their certainty in both the merits and inevitability of the revolution.
If the very currents of history compel them to action, then any action can be justified as a necessary retaliation against injustice. It would be selfish for the professional revolutionaries of the vanguard to allow mere decorum or conventional standards of conduct—both, of course, inherently reactionary—to slow their advance on the enemy.
Lenin urged communists to avoid the mistake of “left doctrinairism,” cordoning themselves off in small ideological silos, detached from the concrete need for unity and flexibility (meaning, more or less, lack of moral scruples) in class struggle.
The left is today exhibiting a startling willingness to adopt the Leninist practice of closely enforcing ideological uniformity. If the revolution is to succeed, no dissension within the ranks can be tolerated.
Today’s emotionally stunted vanguard, like the Bolshevik leadership a century ago, demands of its comrades not intellectual rigor and critical thinking but soldierly obedience in a literal war, a violent struggle for political power. And power—make no mistake—is what this authoritarian left is after.
Like Lenin, today’s leftists are losing touch with their humanity, convinced that those with whom they disagree are simply their enemies, subhuman, not to be respected. No longer do actual threats of violence alone constitute threats.
For today’s left, speech that offends the guidelines of an absurd brand of political correctness—defined in terms of a hypersensitivity impossible to caricature—constitutes an attack. Such is the dangerously warped reasoning that regards a think tank’s white paper as an “assault.”
Apparently fearful that its own intellectual bankruptcy will be discovered, the left has no more use for liberal free speech, having found it inexpedient and preferring to awaken class consciousness through apoplectic threats and tantrums.
Thus opens a space for Americans who are neither conservative nor socialist, who still honor the tolerant liberalism of old.
David D’Amato, an adjunct law professor at DePaul University, is a policy advisor at the Heartland Institute.
The views expressed by contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill.