The British comedian is politically difficult to box — and that's why he has enemies
The Joe Rogan row just won’t go away. Instead, it keeps mutating into new forms. The latest iteration features Russell Brand. That’s because of his appearance on a list of Joe Rogan interviewees — tweeted out by a prominent Rogan critic called Matthew Sheffield.
To be precise, there are two lists, one entitled “Left” and the other “Right”. The Left list has 36 names on it and the Right list has 138. “Right-wingers overwhelmingly are his favourites” is Sheffield’s conclusion.
Some of Sheffield’s categorisations have met with controversy. For instance, is Sam Harris a Right-winger? Or Bari Weiss? Or Bret Weinstein? Aren’t these all liberals, who happen to have fallen out with (or been cancelled by) other liberals over various issues? And what is Tulsi Gabbard doing there — the anti-war Democrat who ran for President in 2020?
But for British readers, the strangest inclusion is Russell Brand. Could this be the same Russell Brand who backed Ed Miliband in 2015 (thus inspiring the classic Owen Jones column “Russell Brand has endorsed Labour – and the Tories should be worried”)? Would this also be the Russell Brand who endorsed Jeremy Corbyn in 2017 — describing him as a “strong and stable leader”? And is this the Russell Brand who threatened to kiss Peter Hitchens on the lips during a Newsnight debate on drug addiction? Yes it is.
Brand provides a further explanation of why he’s not, in fact, a Right-winger here. But it’s hardly needed — it’s obvious he’s a man of the Left. However, his Leftism is unconventional and always has been, veering towards the anarchistic tendency rather than the statist mainstream.
His anti-authoritarian, anti-establishment streak has become more pronounced recently. And it’s not “conservative” institutional targets — like big business — that he’s setting himself up against. For instance, he’s hostile to the idea of vaccine mandates (though he’s not an anti-vaxxer). He also makes fun of the mainstream media. As a result, he’s winning fans across the political spectrum — as have other unambiguous, but unconventional, Leftists like Glenn Greenwald.
I’ve always wondered how the Millennial generation (people born between 1981 and 1995) might develop politically as they get older. The idea that they’d suddenly become dyed-in-the-wool reactionaries upon hitting middle age was never likely. But a more conventional scenario — that they’ll settle down into establishment liberalism — also need to be questioned.
The likes of Joe Rogan and Russell Brand provide an alternative model of political evolution — and one that spells trouble for the increasingly censorious institutional Left.