Thirty years ago, everyone knew what it meant to be a liberal. They wanted to tax the rich and spend the proceeds on the poor. They wanted to regulate business so they could not exploit their workers or harm the environment. That meant favoring unions in the law. On foreign policy, liberals were the doves when it came to dealing with the Soviets. Of course, everyone knew what being a liberal meant when it came to social issues. The point being, liberalism was a well defined list of policy positions and opinions.
Today, what it means to be a liberal is a complete mystery, even to the people who proudly say they are on the Left. The Netroots Nation was this weekend, so all of the grandees of Progressivism were in New Orleans to pitch their ideas. Take a look at the agenda. Other than the promises to oppose Trump, most of it focused on building traffic for their websites. “Digital Security For Organizers Of Color” sounds amusing, but mostly because it has that familiar paranoia that has come to define the modern Left.
If you bother to watch any of the speeches, the tone is what you would expect from people facing the end times. One after another it was a rallying call for the fight against some monster, real or imagined. At least the ranting about Trump includes a real person, even if the bill of indictment is insane. When you think about it, the Russian collusion business is just an updated version of “cavorting with the devil.” Their argument is that Trump made a deal with the evil one, who magically altered the outcome of the 2016 election.
That’s what liberalism is these days. It is a weird collection of superstitions about various ghosts and goblins like racism and white privilege. Racism no longer means prejudice against another race or even antagonism toward another race. Racism is the evil spirit that is somehow responsible for unequal outcomes. White privilege is just another name for the same mysterious force. It’s how millionaire black athletes can be victims of racism because the white middle class fans stop watching them over the anthem protests.
Another aspect of this is the extreme paranoia. Listen to the Left these days and you get the impression America is now the movie The Purge. The faithful spend every night in their bunker homes. Here is a story from Breitbart about Bill Maher claiming that the United States is turning into Iraq. He does not mean the post-war Iraq. He means the the Saddam version where his Al-Bu Nasir tribe ruled over the nation. In Maher’s version, Trump, the Koch brothers and Rupert Murdoch rule over Maher’s oppressed majority.
Now, Maher is a cynical provocateur and opportunist. He was a hack comic for a long time until he figured out how to stoke the fears and fantasies of liberal fanatics. It is debatable as to how much he believes any of the stuff he says. In this case, he is clearly trying to appeal to his audience, by naming three hobgoblins of the Left. The fact that Charles Koch despises Trump and Murdoch was a Hillary supporter makes his theory as nutty as the Russian hacking nonsense, but his audience is not rational.
This vision of themselves as the put upon minority is integral to Progressive identity politics. Not only do the constituencies needs to believe they are victims, the Judeo-Puritan project is rooted in a bunker mentality. Their sense of the world is of a righteous people holed up in a New England town, as the imperial forces encircle them, while they pray the oil holds out until the golem arrives to free them. It is a dogs breakfast of both spiritual and mythological strains that make up modern Progressivism.
Again, Maher does this because he knows his audience is stupid and this stuff works on them, but it speaks to something about the modern Left. Conventional conservatives like the go on about how the Left has no ideas now. That is true in the nuts and bolts public policy sense. The Left is no longer a political force. It’s made the turn and is on its way to becoming the Cult of the Supreme Being. Unlike Robespierre’s invention, this version is esoteric, mysterious and oriental. There is no defined supernatural, just a sense of it.
It’s also very feminine. The hysterical shrieking about the hobgoblins that haunt the Left is reminiscent of the old Blondie cartoons, where the woman would stand on a chair shrieking about a mouse in the kitchen. In a more sophisticated age, the readers knew that the woman’s performance was just that, a performance. It was an acting out and reinforcement of traditional sex roles. Today, when the Progressive climbs onto her chair and shrieks, there is no mouse and no man to rush in and comfort her. It’s a lonely act.
This collapse of Progressivism into a feminine mystery cult is why conventional conservatism has collapsed. Conservatism was never a genuine alternative. Their role was as a foil to the Left. That worked as long as Progressives had a policy agenda, but that is not longer the case. Listen to the leading figures of the Left and their policy proposals range from comically ridiculous to vaguely aspirational. Again, you see the feminization. The Bernie Bros are now Bernie gals like Ocasio-Cortez and Sarah Smith.
What this says about what comes next is hard to know. Spiritual movements are a part of the human condition. Anthropologists think belief is one of the earliest modern human traits, co-evolving with language. As Christianity fades in the West, something must replace it. Maybe we are seeing the birth of the next great religion. Alternatively, the ranting and raving against nature could be the death howls of a culture that has reached its terminal point. The end is a people huddled in darkness, afraid of the goblins outside.