Sunday, November 22, 2020

The failure of a leftist common good

I'd like to continue with the theme of the common good, this time giving some examples of how the leftist common good fails in practice.

But first a quick recap. This series (here and here) began with a leftist claiming that the right is individualist in contrast to the left which cares about community and the common good.

The problem with this way of seeing things is that the leftist view of the common good typically:

a) is built on an understanding of the human person as being autonomous. This "anthropology" assumes that unchosen forms of relatedness are limitations that restrict autonomous choice. Leftism is therefore dissolving of traditional forms of human community and connectedness.

b) assumes that the resulting atomised individuals can nonetheless commit to a common good by supporting state sponsored programmes which aim at inclusion or the provision of welfare or the levelling away of unchosen distinctions between people

The leftist view of the common good starts out with an individualism and ends up with a statism. 

Then there is the issue of the leftist understanding of human nature. Many leftists believe that human nature is perfectible. They have the "hopeful" view that our nature has been corrupted by the existence of power structures in society. If these power structures are abolished, then our nature can be redeemed and we can live in the state of freedom and equality that is our promised land.

At first these power structures were mostly thought to be class distinctions. But the emphasis in more recent times has been on "gender", sexuality and race, with the aim being to abolish patriarchy and whiteness.

This undermines the idea of a common good existing between the members of a community. For instance, men will be thought to belong to a privileged class that exists to exploit the oppressed and victimised class of women. There is no historic complementary relationship in which the good of one sex depends on the achievement of the good of the other. There is no overarching good, such as that of family, which both men and women serve. Instead, there are competing goods set against each other. The good of men stands in a hostile relationship to that of women. 

This has two negative consequences. First, instead of there being a common good, it is thought that the good of men must give way to that of women. Men are there to be allies to women. Within a leftist intersectionalist politics, the good of women ranks above that of men and is therefore the ruling good. Second, men and women are set against each other, perhaps not in terms of individual relationships, but certainly as social classes. The relationship is at least a competitive, if not a hostile, one. There is a setting apart of men and women, rather than a cooperative and complementary relationship.

What does this look like in practice? If I look through my social media feed for the past fortnight, there is no shortage of news items that illustrate these negative outcomes. For instance, it was recently International Men's Day. This is how the United Nations chose to celebrate it:

According to the United Nations men do not pursue their own good, nor a common good, but instead that of women. We are "male allies" who "support women".

And what does standing up for equality mean? Not what you might think it means. The NSW Government, for instance, announced a programme to help those made unemployed by the covid lockdowns get back to work. The Government decided, however, that help would only go to women:
Unemployed women in New South Wales can get a $5,000 boost to their bank accounts from next week.

The state budget will allocate $10million for cash grants to help get women back to work after the coronavirus pandemic saw thousands lose their jobs.

To get the money, women will have to submit an application detailing how they plan to spend it. They can get $5,000 for training and support, $3,500 for childcare, $2,000 for technology and office equipment, $500 for textbooks and $500 for transport.

Consider also the story that ran in the Daily Mail, about a recently published book written by a Frenchwoman, Pauline Harmange, and titled simply I Hate Men. The reviewer, Flora Gill, explained that whilst she did not hate the individual men in her life she agreed with Pauline Harmange that women should hate men in general:

But saying ‘I hate men’ is not the same as saying ‘I hate all men’. Harmange admits this in a roundabout way when she talks about loving her husband.

Hating men means hating not individuals but the toxic traits taught to men and a system that is unfair to women.

So am I willing to say it now in print? To be misunderstood, misquoted and trolled for misandry? Here we go: I hate men.

This setting apart of men and women is evident enough to attract criticism, as in the following tweet:

The following tweet is particularly interesting as it recognises openly the failure of liberal modernity to preserve a common good between men and women:


  1. Then there is the issue of the leftist understanding of human nature. Many leftists believe that human nature is perfectible.

    It's worth noting that right-wing liberalism also shares a utopian view of human nature. You can't really believe that free markets are the answer to everything without being essentially utopian in your outlook. Libertarians (who often consider themselves to be right-wing) are the most utopian and unrealistically optimistic of all in their view of human nature.

    So while I agree with you in general I think the belief in human perfectibility is a characteristic of liberalism rather than leftism.

    The problem of course is that modern liberals consider themselves to be leftists. Personally I regard liberalism as a right-wing ideology.

    Of course left and right these days don't have very clear meanings.

    1. "Libertarians (who often consider themselves to be right-wing) are the most utopian and unrealistically optimistic of all in their view of human nature."

      You raise an interesting topic. Patrick Deneen makes a clear distinction here between classical liberals and left liberals. He believes that classical liberals did accept a human nature, but went with the idea of harnessing the low within human nature as a basis for politics. It was left liberals who sought power not only over external nature but over human nature as well.

      I'm not so sure the distinction holds as clearly within modern politics. It's true that right liberals do still sometimes write about harnessing the low within human nature. Boris Johnson did it just recently, talking about how important greed is as a spur to economic activity:

      However, I've also recently read a post by a right liberal talking about how we have to overcome to the low within human nature ("tribalism") - so this mirrors the leftist view.

      And, as you point out, libertarianism does have a utopian element - in terms of a belief that you could have a society with no restraints on people that would still function happily in a live and let live kind of way and remain prosperous, with high trust, high social capital etc. Again, this is "hopeful" in the way that left-liberals often describe their own plan for society as "hopeful".

  2. Good post.

    I noticed you put “gender” in quotation marks but not “sexuality.” In my humble opinion “sexuality” is at least as unreal as “gender,” if by it we mean a natural sexual drive that includes the possibility of shunning all natural sexual relations.

    I would wager its unreality is why no one has, as yet, been able to identify a cause for it and why as a concept it only arose in the late 19th century. Everyone everywhere has always been able to see the reality of biological sex, for example, but mysteriously no one ever realized there was any such thing as a “homosexual” until the 1880s in Europe. The whole discussion actually quite heavily involves the paradigm of “chivalry” that Dalrock has talked about extensively.


    1. By sexuality he just means a person's physical sex, I believe. And that is very real.

    2. As it happens, Guest was right on this. I did use "sexuality" to refer to something like "sexual orientation". And Guest is correct that the term should really be put in quotation marks, just like "gender". It's that issue of having to discuss liberal politics and therefore use terminology commonly employed by liberals.

    3. Then there is the issue of the leftist understanding of human nature. Many leftists believe that human nature is perfectible. — Mark Richardson

      Yet, this is only the half of it because the real chaos is in believing in the perfectibility of man WHILE DENYING the reality of Perfection, ie., objective Supremacy.