Left-Wing Authoritarianism

Just how is left-wing authoritarianism even a thing? I’m not denying it is actually a thing; I’m wondering how it can be. And if your blood pressure is rising rapidly to the boiling point at the mere mention of the phrase “left-wing authoritarianism,” then just consider the decades-long history of the USSR and its all-too-large retinue of political sycophants.

For me the essence of what “the left” is goes right back to the origin of the terms left and right in a political context: the French Revolution. Actually, it predates the French Revolution: there has been a very long tradition of the right side being the favored side and the left being the disfavored one, which is probably grounded in the simple fact that most humans are right-handed. This led to a tradition, in the West at least, of those with the most favor of the monarch sitting to his or her right in court. When parliaments evolved, that led to a tradition of the regime’s supporters sitting to the monarch’s right in parliament.

So when the Estates General was finally reconvened in response to growing unrest after decades of being moribund, those who supported the ancien regime sat in the accustomed place for such parliamentarians. They became referred to as “the right” and their opponents “the left.” These terms have stayed with us to the present day.

At the core of being a leftist, then, is being against the ruling establishment, whatever that establishment happens to be in the current social context. Or perhaps I should say at the core of being a leftist for me, because it is clear that is not the case in general (if it were, left-wing authoritarianism would not exist, being a contradiction in terms).

Again, you can trace it right back to the days of the French Revolution, in this case how that revolution went seriously wrong and degenerated into a Reign of Terror, wherein the professed revolutionaries had become a new and tyrannical ruling class. At that point, suddenly being “on the left” meant being a loyal and fervent supporter of organized, corecive authority. At least, it did for many.

I think the only thing it can be chalked up to is an aspect of human nature; namely, how conformity leads people to respect and follow leaders. It’s the same troublesome thing that makes authority and hierarchy so tragically easy to evolve and persist in the first place. Whether one’s political proclivities lead one to consider this aspect a bug or a feature, it should be clear from any study of human history that it is very much a thing.

So there’s my answer. Like many answers, it begs a question: what can we do about it? I could now go on to answer that, but instead I think I’ll close and let the reader think about it for a while.

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