Politics ain’t what it used to be.
Once upon a time, “left-wing” and “right-wing” were terms used to describe two distinct political factions, and the meaning of these terms was not in dispute. Left-wingers were generally anti-war and pro-diplomacy, and felt that the government had a responsibility to intervene into the economy to alleviate poverty and promote social justice. Right-wingers advocated the “big stick”, warning of military threats from abroad, and asserted that government intervention into the economy stifled individual initiative.
Beginning in the 1960s, this simple, binary division of politics began to be superseded by a new and more complex kind of factionalization. The New Left gained many adherents among younger people; this brand of leftism de-emphasized economic justice in favor of “lifestyle” issues such as drug legalization and sexual liberation. The “lifestyle” focus also fed into libertarianism, which attracted both counter-cultural leftists and the “rugged individual,” Ayn Rand-supporting rightists.
Another area of odd convergence between Left and Right was environmentalism, which was eagerly embraced by many hippies who had adopted neo-pagan religious attitudes toward Mother Nature. However, environmentalism’s more right-wing historic roots lay in the Conservation movement and in Malthusianism, both pillars of British imperial policy and kissing cousins of the racist eugenics movement.
This period also saw the early emergence of neoconservatism, a curious hybrid which joined the militarist bellicosity of the right to a seemingly liberal championing of human rights (although “freedom from want” was not on their menu of human rights.) The neoconservatives or “neocons” were, for the most part, smarter and more well-heeled than the other emergent political tendencies. Some styled themselves as remorseful former Marxists who had seen the light; others, like Henry “Scoop” Jackson, were traditional Democrats who rejected the pacifism of the movement against the Vietnam War.
Over the years, there has been a lot of hair-splitting about who is or is not a neocon, but the essential neoconservative outlook has been embraced by both political parties in the US, and re-packaged in a variety of ways. One was “centrism,” the phenomenon of right-drifting Democrats such as the Democratic Leadership Council who argued in favor of “triangulation,” or adopting Republican Party policies in hopes of stealing portions of the Republican base. Another example of “centrism” was the New Labour movement in the UK.
The most significant variant of neoconservatism was the Liberal Imperialists, or LIMPs. A watershed moment for the LIMPs was the annunciation of the “Blair Doctrine” in speech delivered by Tony Blair on April 24th, 1999 at the Economic Club of Chicago. The “Blair Doctrine” overturned the principle of Non-Intervention embodied in the UN Charter, i.e. the prohibition of the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state. Blair argued that it was not only permissible, but morally imperative for the Good Guys to use military force against the Bad Guys when in the judgment of the Good Guys, human rights were being violated. In practice, this was applied only to smaller countries that lacked the ability to defend themselves, making it unnecessary to explain the difference between Good Guys and Bad Guys. This also became known as the doctrine of “Responsibility to Protect” or #R2P.
The George W. Bush administration became a laboratory of sorts for the neocons to experiment with their policies in Iraq and elsewhere, whereas the Barack Obama administration became a similar laboratory for the LIMPs to do very similar things. The first 16 years of the 21st century saw an endless series of “regime change” wars, with much pontificating about Human Rights, but only targeting nations that stubbornly insisted on respect for their sovereignty (some serial human rights violators such as Saudi Arabia and Israel were miraculously exempt from both criticism and acts of war. ) But in the US and Europe, the neocons/LIMPs became hegemonic.
For the neocons, “human rights” and “democracy” have special meanings. “Human rights” means access to the lifestyle choices of the 60s, updated to include freedom to choose one’s gender, etc. It emphatically does not include freedom from poverty. It also does not include legal rights such as habeas corpus, or freedom from intrusive surveillance. “Democracy” essentially means the freedom to vote for whomever the neocons want you to vote for; if the wrong person is elected, then the “regime change” process kicks in, as it did in Ukraine and so many other nations.
So, at this moment in history, the political division in the US and Europe is no longer between Left and Right, but between the neocon/LIMP nexus and those who, for whatever reason, challenge their hegemony. The challengers tend to be the remnants of the traditional Right, including what are called “paleocons” such as Paul Craig Roberts, and the traditional Left, including what are called “progressives.”
After 16 years of bullying and bombing other nations, assassinating their citizens, and sending in either Jihadi mercenary armies or lavishly funded NGOs with the intention of Regime Changing them, the US (and the UK) are increasingly unpopular in the world community, and rapidly approaching bankruptcy. Nonetheless, they are committed to the neocon vision of a “unipolar world” in the tradition of the British Empire, and gearing up to somehow take out the real competition: Russia and China.
This led, in recent years, to insurrections against neoconservatism in both Europe and the US, coming from a motley assortment of paleocons, progressives, and others. In the UK, the LIMPs faced a formidable challenger in Jeremy Corbyn, but he was crushed by massive, astonishing defamation in British State Media. In the US, there were the oddly similar insurgencies in both parties during the 2016 presidential race: the Democrats had Bernie Sanders, and the Republicans had Donald Trump. The neocons were horrified by both candidates and preferred Hillary Clinton. The Sanders campaign was suppressed by the Democratic establishment (twice, now,) but Trump somehow managed to get both the nomination and the presidency.
Trump is a political amateur who impulsively adopts a grab-bag of inconsistent policies, including some advocated by the neocons (the present Regime Change efforts against Syria, Iran, Venezuela and Nicaragua, for example.) However, in his vacillating and inconsistent way, Trump has intermittently supported detente with Russia and China, which is anathema to the neocons.
The biggest threat, from the standpoint of the neocons/LIMPs, is the possibility that a deepening crisis may lead to a revival of traditional political outlooks, and that all the disparate factions which oppose them might form a united front.
The foundations and think tanks which do the admin work for America’s oligarchy began in the 70s to engineer a new breed of leftist, who would tolerate the wars and the “Robin Hood in reverse” redistribution of weath, in exchange for unfettered access to sex, drugs and rock ’n’ roll. The Ford Foundation funded operatives such as Chip Berlet to act as “gatekeepers”: commentators with a leftist or “anti-fascist” coloration who attacked other leftists for advocating a focus on economic issues rather than on the trending “lifestyle” issues. Typically, the targeted groups and individuals were accused of secretly harboring right-wing sympathies.
A new leftist orthodoxy was asserted, where the defining characteristic must be identity politics, not class struggle or economic justice. Berlet also targeted traditional conservatives in a similar way, insinuating that if any issue could be found where the conservative’s views could be “linked” to those of a right-wing hardliner, then that conservative must be generally regarded as a covert fascist.
Today, leading progressive commentators such as Glenn Greenwald and Max Blumenthal are coming under attack from a new generation of gatekeepers whom I call “left-neocons.” These latter individuals style themselves as leftist radicals and in some cases are the intellectual leadership of the Antifa or anarchist groups. However, I can find no sign of disagreement between the left-neocons and their conventional right-neocon counterparts on foreign policy issues — they demonize the same targets, with the same rhetoric.
In 2018 the Southern Poverty Law Center retracted a post written by leading left-neocon Alexander Reid Ross, in which he suggested that well-known progressive journalists including Max Blumenthal and Rania Khalek were in cahoots with fascists and part of a global Russian conspiracy. The retraction, with apology, occurred after Blumenthal and others threatened legal action.
While the progressives warn that neocon militarism and the “surveillance state” represent a trend toward fascism, the left-neocons and the associated Antifa groups focus their “anti-fascist” campaign almost exclusively on the relatively tiny white-supremacist/redneck movement, which they are eager to confront with street violence at every opportunity. This scenario closely resembles what is advocated in Major Frank Kitson’s classic tome on counterinsurgency, Gangs and Countergangs, which describes how the British successfully neutralized the Mau Mau uprising in Kenya by infiltrating the insurgents, orchestrating a division into rival gangs, and then sipping their gin and tonics while watching the two factions fight each other instead of the British.
During the heyday of COINTELPRO, many Ku Klux Klan and other white supremacist organizations were actually run by FBI assets. We know that in recent years, the FBI has frequently sought out troubled young Muslim men, exposed them to Wahabist ideology, coached them to plot acts of terrorism, and then busted them with great fanfare. It is my personal hunch that the recent resurgence of white supremacist activity is also being guided by domestic intelligence agencies. Could this also be the case with the Antifa and the left-neocons? I don’t know, but without question, their shenanigans serve as a diversion from the real threat of fascism, which comes from the increasingly desperate imperial schemes of the neocons/LIMPs.
For those of you who are concerned about fascism, here are a few pro tips: it won’t look like it did in the 30s. It won’t be brought to power (or defeated) by gangs of street fighters. It will be brought to power by high-gloss, media-friendly, rigged elections. It will be entertaining and sexy, much closer to Huxley’s Brave New World than to Orwell’s 1984.
You want to stop it? First of all, don’t use violence. Don’t listen to anyone who advocates violence. People who use it tend to become fascists themselves (if they weren't fascists to begin with), and plus it plays right into the hands of those neocons who are promoting more surveillance and more militarized policing.
Learn history, and be conscious of the fact that most of what you see in electronic media is some sort of attempt to manipulate you. Take nothing at face value; consider the intention behind it. Resist the manipulation. Remember that change for the better can happen almost overnight and when you least expect it, as it did in East Germany in 1989.
Listen to intelligent, honest people when you find them. I like Glenn Greenwald, Max Blumenthal, and Aaron Maté, but don’t feel obliged to fit into an ideological niche. Don’t be partisan. Find optimism in those precious periods of history when the good guys were winning. And look at the magnificent things being accomplished in China and throughout Asia right now, the greatest infrastructure projects in the history of the planet. The good guys are winning over there.