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America is not in a ‘reactionary moment’

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June 9, 2022 - 2:00pm

The year 2020 can be seen as revolutionary moment in western politics. In response to Covid, the powers of the state were massively extended — and the magic of money printing allowed governments to spend without limit. This was also the year of the George Floyd protests, when the political positions inspired by Critical Race Theory went mainstream. 

But according to Noah Smith, something of a counter-revolution is now in full swing. In a thought-provoking Substack essay, he argues that ‘a lot of left-leaning folks have been starting to critically reexamine the direction the progressive movement is headed, and to pull back on a number of fronts.’

Indeed, he believes we’re living through a “reactionary moment”. Writing from an American perspective he focuses on two policy areas in particular — crime and the economy.

Over the last couple of years, America has discovered that defunding the police isn’t a very good way of maintaining public order. Nor is the effective decriminalisation of “minor” offences like shoplifting. The nationwide surge in violent crime and the breakdown of civilised norms in cities like San Francisco have made that abundantly clear. 

Meanwhile, on the economy, the free-spending Biden administration has been up-ended by runaway inflation. The progressive notion that money is no object is suddenly not quite so fashionable as it used to be. 

With voters making their displeasure clear, Noah Smith is quite right that Left-leaning America needs to put its house in order or face electoral disaster. However, he’s wrong to call this a “reactionary moment”. Firstly, there’s nothing “reactionary” about it — rather it’s a partial reassertion of common sense against a liberal establishment that’s lost its mind. Secondly, it’s not a mere “moment” but rather part of a much longer culture war in which the woke Left is fighting to impose a radically new social and economic settlement on the rest of us. 

Obviously, there are problems with terms like “culture war” and “woke” — but let’s not get so hung-up on the jargon that we fail to see the underlying reality. The fact is that we are in the midst of an ideological conflict — one which is every bit as significant as the struggle of the Left in the 20th century to achieve socialism. 

This first conflict also had its revolutionary and reactionary “moments” — for instance the far-Left protests of 1968 that were subsequently rejected at the ballot box by voters across the western world. However, it wasn’t until the 1980s and the rise of Reaganism and Thatcherism, that the war came to an end — with a decisive defeat for the Left and the start of the neoliberal era that we’re still living through. 

With the benefit of hindsight, we can see that it was the overall direct of the ideological conflict, not its “moments”, that truly mattered. The same applies to the current culture war. Though we’re nowhere near to the end game, I believe the Left is once again heading for eventual defeat.  Furthermore, it will lose for the same reason: its ideas are at fundamental variance with reality. 


Peter Franklin is Associate Editor of UnHerd. He was previously a policy advisor and speechwriter on environmental and social issues.

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Chess S
Chess S
2 years ago

We can only hope so, but in contrast to 1968 we have a population many of whom have been moulded by ‘the march through the institutions’ and as a result are quite able to ignore reality indefinitely, no matter how hard it may be knocking.

Tom Watson
Tom Watson
2 years ago
Reply to  Chess S

Quite. The idea that neoliberalism constituted the left’s defeat in the last century’s culture war is bleakly funny.

Andrew Fisher
Andrew Fisher
2 years ago
Reply to  Tom Watson

Well, they did on economic grounds and we (the US and UK at least) still largely live in that order today. But in the social sphere, the Left has been triumphant.

Geoff Cox
Geoff Cox
2 years ago
Reply to  Chess S

It’s not just the moulding we have to worry about either. Many millions have been introduced to western civilisation to ensure we “reactionaries” get outvoted.

Brendan O'Leary
Brendan O'Leary
2 years ago

The left will lose – but at what eventual cost before they lose?
It was only millions of lives last time.

Last edited 2 years ago by Brendan O'Leary
E. L. Herndon
E. L. Herndon
2 years ago

The leftist totalitarians (including religio-fascists, as well as the likes of Justin Castro) can choose to believe in unreality. However they will eventually find that they must live in reality. For a great many Americans, January 6 will indeed be remembered: the watershed day when inflation, gas shock and public disorder became inevitable; the day when the signal was sent to Putin, the WEF gang with their pandemics and climate change, and who knows how many hellholes closer to the equator whose principal national product is manufacturing undesirable illegal immigrants — the door is open, and America is standing down. Lady Liberty has apparently lobbed her torch onto the smouldering pile of the world’s problems. Making a ruckus in the halls of Congress was disorderly and illegal, but the miracle was that so many had the spirit to protest what they sensed was coming, instead of being sickened to paralysis by dismay. However, re-reading C.S. Lewis’ That Hideous Strength, on the meltdown at Belbury, one is heartened to be reminded that delamination, decomposition, disarray are never far below the surface of ideological tyrannies. The Revolution eats itself.

Karen Cox
Karen Cox
2 years ago
Reply to  E. L. Herndon

You are quite the bigot, aren’t you?

John McKee
John McKee
2 years ago
Reply to  Karen Cox

You are quite the ideologue rejecting fact and reason.

Andy White
Andy White
2 years ago

Interesting article. I get that we shouldn’t privilege ‘moments’, whether revolutionary or reactionary, otherwise we miss the deeper, more long-term contest of ideas taking place. It’s a seeing the wood from the trees argument. Ok. But when Noah Smith identifies such a moment, that’s not legitimate? I don’t get that. Are you really disagreeing that much?Surely you are both saying keep the response proportionate? Unless you think we really have arrived at some era-defining turning point, and we’re not looking at a historical ‘moment’ at all. In which case – brave claim!

Thomas Bartlett
Thomas Bartlett
3 months ago

Trump symbolizes “common sense”? Please.

Karen Cox
Karen Cox
2 years ago

Do you prefer that only rich white males run things to their preferences? Because that is what the defeat of the Left means — returning to a world where we are born into a status high or low and stuck there. Rich white men who are very stupid will nevertheless have perfectly secure lives and everyone else lives in a state of constant misery.

John McKee
John McKee
2 years ago
Reply to  Karen Cox

Parrot!

Kat L
Kat L
2 years ago
Reply to  Karen Cox

They created the world where people like you have the privilege to whine about how terrible you think it is. Tell you what, I’ll help pay your one way ticket to any non anglo country of your choice.

Betsy Arehart
Betsy Arehart
2 years ago
Reply to  Karen Cox

I’d rather live in a “rich white male” dominated world than the current one constructed by today’s left—primarily composed of women, I must say.