I recently read Nikos Malliaris’s Freedom from progress: Donald Trump, Christopher Lasch, and a Left in fear of America in the March Platypus Review and am hoping to write more on his positive discussion of “reactionary leftism” and its Laschian critique of progressivism – but that’s for another post.
In reading this piece his repeated description of the left’s commitment to “the emancipatory project” caused me to reflect a bit on how the nature of the left has changed. Obviously, the use of this phrase to describe the fundamental goal of the left has become pretty typical over the past decades, so I don’t present that here as any revelation (and, to give Malliaris credit, he argues that what distinguishes the “reactionary left” for which he advocates is its recognition of the need for limits).
Still, I can’t help thinking back to my own years on the left. For me, the end was not freedom but virtue – the goal was the creation of a right and good social order, not “emancipation” as an end in itself. (While one might argue that my leftism was just a secularized version of an internalized – and mainly pre-Vatican II – Catholicism, I think that it was also consistent with the “old” left – probably the reason why I was always drawn to those elements of the pre-60s left which lived on for a time within the New.)
No matter how elaborately its proponents dress this concept up in Theory and no matter how deeply they genuflect at the feet of Marx, et al, its adoption is a reflection – and a particularly telling one – of the left’s absorption by the system as a loyal, albeit utopian, opposition.