Home > General Politics, Marxism > The parity of leftists and conservatives

The parity of leftists and conservatives

Slavoj Zizek has this to say on the subject of a modern saturated form of left wing politics:

Lenin’s politics is the true counterpoint not only to the Third Way pragmatic opportunism, but also to the marginalist Leftist attitude of what Lacan called le narcissisme de la chose perdue. What a true Leninist and a political conservative have in common is the fact that they reject what one could call liberal Leftist “irresponsibility” (advocating grand projects of solidarity, freedom, etc., yet ducking out when one has to pay the price for it in the guise of concrete and often “cruel” political measures): like an authentic conservative, a true Leninist is now afraid to pass to the act, to assume all the consequences, unpleasant as they may be, of realizing his political project. Rudyard Kipling (whom Brecht admired) despised British liberals who advocated freedom and justice, while silently counting on the Conservatives to do the necessary dirty work for them; the same can be said for the liberal Leftist’s (or “democratic Socialist’s”) relationship towards Leninist Communists: liberal Leftists reject the Social Democratic “compromise,” they want a true revolution, yet they shirk the actual price to be paid for it and thus prefer to adopt the attitude of a Beautiful Soul and to keep their hands clean. In contrast to this false radical Leftist’s position (which wants true democracy for the people, but without the secret police to fight counterrevolution, without their academic privileges being threatened), a Leninist, like a Conservative, is authentic in the sense of fully assuming the consequences of his choice, i.e. of being fully aware of what it actually means to take power and to exert it.

This distinction between a true leftist and his liberal counterparts, and the parity between a leftist and his conservative brothers, is made all the more interesting when we consider Ed Burke’s reasoning for opposing the demands of enlightenment thinkers and French revolutionaries in particular.

Jeremy Stangroom had this to say on the politics of Burke:

Society is complex, and human nature unpredictable; therefore it is not prudent to mess around with political and social arrangements that have stood the test of time.

The common view of traditional conservatism from the point of view of the left is that it favoured a strong aristocracy or ruling class on the grounds that this structure had been divinely justified.

Burke, in fact was a deeply religious thinker, and yet his grounds for favouring this system is based more upon the weak basis of theories to the contrary of it.

He did not necessarily feel that political conceptions of natural right, which had emerged from enlightenment values, were wrong, ipso facto, but that the basis for reforming society on liberty, equality and other such predicates, were theoretically weak.

Thus Burke, and many others in the conservative tradition, appealed to a political realism rather than a political idealism – the politics of the day for enlightenment thinking.

Indeed the politics of the left that Zizek is thinking of above – that is to say Leninism – has its own issues with enlightenment thinking in its purest form (if we consider the disparity between scientific socialism and its utopian variant).

Enlightenment thinking had in fact supposed that in the absence of a corrupting modern society, men would become systematically – by their very nature – capable of rationality.

This supposes a rational human nature – of which Marxist-Leninism has no truck.

The parity between the left and conservatives – both in their traditional forms, before the purge of postmodern mush in modern politics – is in the role of government being the mediator of rationality, based loosely on a view of humanity that denies its monolithic nature (for Burke humans were the “fallen” in the religious sense of the word; for Marxists humans are mediated subjects through which ideology is transmitted).

From the outset, and in opposition to a modern political perversity, conservativism is the natural political ally of leftism, where liberalism is its political adversary.

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  1. August 26, 2010 at 3:47 pm

    Firstly, where does any of this stuff about being ‘parallels’ or ‘counterparts’ lead to the idea of leftists and conservatives being ‘allies’? That seems to come out of nowhere.

    Secondly, you contrast Leninists with ‘liberal leftists’ primarily by describing the latter in terms of their motivations (what they ‘want’, what they ‘refuse’, what their positions say about them as people, how their positions result from their motivations and psychology), while describing the former in terms that imply contact with reality, and the overcoming of desires (having to “pay the price…in…“cruel” political measures”, “not afraid to…assume all the consequences [of a] political project”, “the actual price to be paid for it”).

    This is particularly striking when we consider that the ‘cruel’ and ‘unpleasant’ things that Leninists have typically been ‘forced to accept’ weren’t actually heroic sacrifices that enabled the realisation of socialism, but rather contributed to a stupendous failure that did enormous damage to the idea and prospects of socialism.

    So surely we should treat the two sorts of leftism in parallel ways by supposing that the Leninist sets up secret police, forced labour, one-party state, etc. not simply because reality forces them to, but because they have some psychological impulse towards it. And this post gives a perfect example of what that impulse might be: the desire to feel and appear ‘realistic’ and ‘hard-headed’, and to demonstrate this manly realism by the extent of the authoritarianism one is willing to countenance.

    If I have to choose between someone with a psychological compulsion towards clean hands and someone with a psychological compulsion towards bloodstained hands as a badge of honour, I think I prefer the beautiful souls.

  2. August 26, 2010 at 7:38 pm

    See the Manifestos of the Labour Leadership candidates – http://dronfieldblather.blogspot.com/2010/08/manifestos-of-intent.html

  3. Simon
    August 26, 2010 at 9:36 pm

    Zizek is right about modern liberalism and many of today’s lefts wanting the end result without having to actually go through the reality of creating it. Wanting a revolution without a revolution.

    But I don’t see how that leads to the conclusion that conservatives are our political allies.

    • broggly
      August 27, 2010 at 12:02 pm

      Seemingly, liberals believe in reasonably peaceful democracy while leftists and conservatives prefer political issues to be decided through street battles and terror.

      I would call myself a Liberal, and while those who agree with Zizek will accuse me of being brainwashed and not realising that I’m just a slave of the system, I tend to see liberal democracy as being fundamentally based on philosophical humility, in that you implicitly accept that you may be mistaken about how society should be run, and if you won’t give those who disagree with you a fair hearing you’ll at least refrain from shooting them over it. This actually seems a lot closer to Burkean views than Lenin does, in that it says social reform should occur as people become convinced it should rather than through millitary action.

      Then again, I do have to admit that I’m one of those spineless cowards who would rather hand out leaflets and argue for my viewpoints than slit the throats of coal miners, bank managers, and Department of Immigration beaurocrats.

  1. August 29, 2010 at 9:19 pm

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