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Thursday, January 26, 2023

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The intellectuals of these two lefts are not the same. Those of the Old Left, were, other than party ideologues, realist in their epistemology, empirical in their mode of research, and rational in their argumentation. While those of the Woke Left are decidedly anti-realist (the denial of truth and nature), anti-empirical (the censure and erasure of all that diverges from their ideology), and anti-rational (the reliance of emotion against opponents). The university training and professional standing of the intellectuals of the Old Left still depended on the competence that they were able to demonstrate in their particular fields of study, rather than, as today, on their subservience to a narrow ideology or their membership in a “oppressed” group. The former had, in other words, not stepped outside of the classical European intellectual tradition but were part of it, most seeking to advance their claims through rational argumentation, however much one or more of them may have fallen short of this goal. As a result, thinkers of the Old Left often made important contributions to culture in general, while those of the Woke Left bring about only cultural rot.

In terms of historical writing, my own field of study, the intellectuals who were part of or who were influenced by the Old Left, that is, by Marxism of one form or another, made significant contributions, both before and after the Second World War, while those of the Woke Left have done nothing but eviscerate the study of the past. Whatever one thinks of Marx’s economic theory or politics, it cannot be denied that he greatly enriched our understanding of class relations under various forms of production and the processes of historical change. For instance, concepts such as relations of production and means of production on which his class analysis depend, not only permitted him to pen sophisticated analyses of the various pre-capitalist modes of production and the emergence of capitalism itself, but they have been taken up by many notable historians, Marxist or not, and put to profitable use (Hilton, Hill, Dobbs, Anderson, Wickham, Lefebvre, Soubol, Bois, Goubert, Vilar, Brenner, Sereni, and Villari, to name but a few). Indeed, much of the historical writing of the last century shows his influence to one degree or another, including that of the Annales school.

In order to stop the anti-human war campaign of the 'woke' envirionmentalistos; it is good to mention, to those yet sane, reasons why we human beings are GOOD for the planet. ( The hard-core environmentalistos will never be crowbarred away from their dangerous, aimed-at-everyone misanthropy, but we CAN educate a supermajority to oppose them and push them into an insignificant and squalid little corner). Here is the start of a list; may others add to it:

1. We human beings are the ONLY species which can deflect the next killer asteroid. NASA is already working on this.

2. Our technologies of energies and chemicals have taken terrible burdens off of the natural world. Whales used to be killed to provide oil for lamps against the darkness of night. Hardwood forests were burned to make potash, and on and on.

3. We humans can create a more varied planet with more secure habitats for a greater variety of life. Rare forms of life can be protected. Every botanic garden does that. I do that in a small way in my own back yard. I have some rare rose varieties which I keep going.

4. And if you believe in the probably very exaggerated powers of carbon dioxide, we could be very well staving off the next advance of the glaciers, which recently extended down into Ohio, and froze to death almost all life to the North of that. Drive your gasoline car in good conscience.

I am sure that the readers of this fine journal can think of more ways.

I don't have much to add. Joe is right that we are living in an interglacial period and that the variations of temperature in the past greatly exceeded anything that the doom mongers now predict.

I am interested in what Vito says, but I wonder if he has a rosier view of the Old Left than is reasonable. But the history of the Left in the UK is different from other places, so I wouldn't know.

The latest example of wokeassed global-capitalist totalitarian scumbaggery: https://www.realclearpolitics.com/video/2023/01/25/pfizer_executive_caught_by_project_veritas_were_exploring_mutating_covid_so_we_can_preemptively_develop_new_vaccines.html

Oz,

What I wrote is perhaps too rosy, but understand that I was only attempting to indicate that for all their faults (and there were many, especially with regard to their political judgements) a goodly number of intellectuals of the Old Left were serious scholars (at least in my field) whose work had and continues to have value, unlike the "scholarship" of the academic wokesters of today. I also agree that this varied by nation and that the farther one moved from party politics, the greater independence of thought that one would witness. I would be interested if what I find true of the Old Left and historical writing holds for other fields of study.

Thanks Vito.

From the Wikipedia article on Hobsbawm, who I assume is classic Brit Old Left.

In a 1994 interview on BBC television with Canadian academic Michael Ignatieff, Hobsbawm said that the deaths of millions of Soviet citizens under Stalin would have been worth it if a genuinely communist society had been the result.[3][46][47] Hobsbawm argued that, "In a period in which, as you might imagine, mass murder and mass suffering are absolutely universal, the chance of a new world being born in great suffering would still have been worth backing" but, unfortunately, "the Soviet Union was not the beginning of the World Revolution".[46][48]

The following year, when asked the same question on BBC Radio 4's Desert Island Discs, if "the sacrifice of millions of lives" would have been worth the future communist society, he replied: "That's what we felt when we fought the Second World War".[5] He repeated what he had already said to Ignatieff, when he asked the rhetorical question, "Do people now say we shouldn't have had World War II, because more people died in World War II than died in Stalin's terror?".[46]

Vito,

I agree with you on the difference between the Old Left and the 'woke' Left. My amateur schema lumps the Old and New Left together and opposes both to the 'woke' Left. By the New Left I mean the Left of '60s, the Left of David Horowitz when he was still a red-diaper baby and an editor at Ramparts; by the Old Left I mean the Left of Horowitz' parents and their generational cohort.

Oz,

Hobsbawm's remark raises the thorny question of whether the ends ever justify the means. Given my Kantian background, I am inclined to say No. But I waver. The war with Japan was ended by the American nuking of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in blatant violation of Just War doctrine. (No doubt you have read Elizabeth Anscombe's protest.) I am strongly tempted to say that the nuking was morally justified.

The same goes for the unspeakable devastation inflicted on Germany by the Allies (the Brits in particular) in the fire-bombing of Dresden which had no military significance. In retrospect, the violation of Just War doctrine seems morally justified given what Hitler would have done had he got his hands on nukes.

So I say to my inner Kantian: how can the consequences of an act not enter into the moral evaluation of the act?

What is that Latin saying? Fiat iustitia et pereat mundus? That sums up the anti-consequentialism of Kant's moral doctrine.

Vito and Oz,

By the way I value highly both of you gentlemen and I am glad to have made your acquaintance. Not that I don't value my old friend Joe O. whom I have known since Kindergarten!

Oz,

Like the British Communists of his generation, Hobsbawm remained enamored with the Russian Revolution and pre-war Soviet rule, ignoring or explaining away the massive violence and oppression of Bolshevik rule. This apologia of things Soviet is reflected in the fourth volume of his history of the modern world, The Age of Extremes, which, for all its merits, is far too benign in discussing this particularly ugly piece of history. Further, he remained in the BCP after the Soviet invasion of Hungary, when E.P. Thompson and thousands of others left its ranks. He showed more independence in the next decade, when criticized the Soviet military repression of the Prague Spring and moved closer to the Euro-Communist positions of the Italian Communist Party. All of this said, the bad and the good, we remain enriched by Hobsbawm's scholarship on British industrialization, the emergence of capitalist societies, pre-modern forms of protest, and his general openness to new currents of historical thought, even when these were not explicitly Marxist, such as his warm endorsement of the historical writing of the Annales School. The breadth and catholicity of his historical knowledge was acknowledged by intellectuals of variant ideological predispositions. The gulf that separates a man such as him and his ilk from the academic oinkers of the Woke Left of today is enormous.

Hi Bill,

Leaving aside (for the scope of this comment, at least), the interesting question of differentiating Old and New Left (in a nutshell, I’d say that the New is far less intelligent, far less curious, and far more radical in its rejection of human nature and all objective categories - which stems in large part from its being far less intelligent and curious; it is more like, in Will Rogers’ felicitous phrase, a baby with a hammer) I want to respond to your aside about modern Leftism being a “religion”.

We had a little back-and forth about this five and a half years ago, at which time I wrote a post (https://malcolmpollack.com/2017/03/14/can-progressivism-really-be-a-kind-of-religion/) essentially saying “if it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck…”

I have know many Leftie (and not uncoincidentally, atheistic) people who have told me that in their households, growing up, things like “Social Justice” were their family’s “religion” - but I do understand your objection to Prager’s (and my) opinion on this. After all, how can something so shabby, so truncated, so cut off from the transcendent, be worthy of being called a religion?

Perhaps what’s needed is a term that describes a parasitic meme-plex that hijacks and blocks the spiritual “receptors” that, in a healthy psyche, are where religion attaches. I shall try to coin one.

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