Defining the Left



The term “left,” as it pertains to politics, dates back to pre-revolutionary France. In 1789, the French National Assembly was created as a parliamentary body to shift the control of political matters from the king to the citizenry. Inside the chamber where the National Assembly met, supporters of the king (i.e., conservatives in favor of the status quo) sat to the president’s right and supporters of the revolution to his left. One deputy, the Baron de Gauville explained, “We began to recognize each other: those who were loyal to religion and the king took up positions to the right of the chair so as to avoid the shouts, oaths, and indecencies that enjoyed free rein in the opposing camp.” Observers and political commentators gradually began using the terms “left” and “right” to refer to the opposing sides.

The leftists (known as Jacobins) of that day promoted lofty ideals such as constitutional reforms of the monarchy, the enfranchisement of peasants, and the adoption of the Declaration of the Rights of Man. But when they eventually came to power, the Jacobins established a brutal revolutionary dictatorship featuring the so-called Republic of Virtue (which aimed to de-Christianize the Revolution) and the Cult of Reason (which sought to do away entirely with the Catholic Church in France). Then they instituted the Reign of Terror required to make all the nation’s citizens properly “reasonable” and “virtuous.” They branded their opponents as “counter-revolutionaries” and sent them, by the thousands, to the guillotine.

In stark contrast to the radical ethos of the French Revolution, the libertarian ethos of the American Revolution inspired a tradition based on individual rights, free markets and democratic constitutions. To be conservative, or on the “right,” in the context of the democratic West means to preserve the classical liberal, individualist and free-market framework that is its historic achievement. Among the highest values of the political right in modern America are: individual rights and freedoms, the rule of law, private property, and limited government. The left, by contrast, favors group identification and group rights; the rule of men rather than of laws (as manifested in the left’s affinity for judicial activism and its view that the Constitution is a “living,” and therefore infinitely malleable, document); the redistribution of wealth and the communality of property (which is to be apportioned “equitably” by the federal government); and ever-expanding governmental involvement in – and oversight of – the everyday affairs of the populace.


The origins of the modern left can be traced back to the famous passage in Rousseau’s Discourse on the Origin and Foundations of Inequality, published in 1755, in which he condemned the institution of private property: “The first man, who after enclosing a piece of ground, took it into his head to say, ‘this is mine,’ and found people simple enough to believe him, was the real founder of civil society.”

Added Rousseau: “How many crimes, how many wars, how many murders, how many misfortunes and horrors, would that man have saved the human species, who pulling up the stakes or filling up the ditches should have cried to his fellows: Beware of listening to this impostor; you are lost, if you forget that the fruits of the earth belong equally to us all, and the earth itself to nobody!”

Around the 1830s, a faction of French liberals gravitated toward Romanticism and the philosophy of the late Rousseau, proclaiming that capitalism, private property, and the increasing complexity of modern society were agents of moral decay — both for the individual and for society at large. This is essentially the worldview that has made its way, through history, into the collective mind of the modern left; it is a worldview calling for a revolution that not only will topple the existing capitalist order and punish its corrupt leaders, but that also will replace that order with a socialist regime where the utopian ideals of perfect justice and equality will reign. Such an ambition can be put into effect only by a totalitarian state with the authority to micromanage every facet of human life, precisely the end-point toward which the policies and crusades of the modern left are directed.

The contemporary left holds that non-socialist societies are composed largely of dominators and the dominated, oppressors and the oppressed. The alleged cause of this social arrangement is the economic system of free-market capitalism, which is viewed by the left as the root of all manner of social ills and vices — racism, sexism, alienation, homophobia, imperialism. In the calculus of the left, capitalism is an agent of tyranny and exploitation that presses its boot upon the proverbial necks of a wide array of victim groups — blacks and other minorities, women, homosexuals, immigrants, and the poor, to name but a few. That is why according to the left, the United States (historically the standard-bearer of all capitalist economies) can only do wrong.

To eliminate America’s inherent injustices, the left seeks to invert the power hierarchy, so that the groups now said to be oppressed become the privileged races and classes (and gender) of the new social order. The left’s quest to transform the “dominated” into dominators, and vice versa, draws its inspiration from the Communist Manifesto, which asserts that “[t]he history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggle.” The struggle identified by the Manifesto was that of the proletarians and their intellectual vanguard, who, armed with the radical utopian vision of socialism, were expected to launch a series of civil wars in their respective countries — battles that would topple the “ruling classes” and the illegitimate societies they had established.

According to Marxist theory, these conflicts would rip each targeted society apart and create a new revolutionary world order from its ruins. In an effort to bring about this utopia, the contemporary left has formed a broad alliance, or united front, composed of radicals representing a host of demographic groups that are allegedly victimized by American capitalism and its related injustices. Each constituent of this alliance — minorities, homosexuals, women, immigrants, the poor — contributes its voice to a chorus that aims to discredit the United States specifically — and Western culture generally — as abusers of the vulnerable. Nor is the left’s list of victim groups limited only to human beings; in the worldview of leftwing environmentalists and animal rights activists, even certain species of shrubs, trees, insects, and rodents qualify as victims of capitalism’s ravages.

The seeds of the contemporary anti-American left sprouted in the New Left’s rebellion against the classical liberalism of the post-World War II era. True to its tradition in the New Deal, that liberalism was strongly supportive of the civil-rights movement, the eradication of poverty, and other social causes based on an amelioration of inequality. And on the international front, this “centrist,” post-World War II liberalism stood firmly against communist totalitarianism. Indeed it was the “Cold War liberals,” rather than the conservative movement, that recognized the Soviet threat and engaged and fought the USSR through a policy of containment.

Then, in the 1960s, came the New Left, a movement that rejected classical centrist liberalism because of its gradualism in domestic policy and its anti-totalitarianism in foreign affairs. At its beginning, the New Left also rejected Stalinism (though it saw Stalinism as perilously close to being morally equivalent to the U.S.). But the New Left also romanticized the charismatic revolutionaries of the Third World as an alterative to the “red” on the one hand, and to the “red, white and blue” on the other. As a result, the New Left wound up romanticizing a whole new set of totalitarian heroes — figures such as Mao Zedong, Ho Chi Minh, Fidel Castro, and Daniel Ortega.

Changed by the war in Vietnam from a movement theoretically hoping to make America better, into one that believed America was irredeemable, the New Left became a “revolutionary” movement in its approach to domestic policies and foreign affairs. Targeting “Cold War liberals,” it made them an endangered species and attacked the Democratic Party which had mirrored their beliefs and principles. By 1972, after the trauma of the 1968 Chicago convention, the New Left “progressives” had not only killed the post-war Democratic Party, but, through the nomination of George McGovern for President, seized and inhabited its corpse.

The New Left effectively exiled the leading figures of the old centrist liberalism, especially figures such as Hubert Humphrey and Henry “Scoop” Jackson. After accomplishing this parricide, the New Left not only controlled the Democratic Party but also appropriated the classification of “liberalism,” thus accomplishing something that the Communist Party USA (CPUSA) had long tried to do when it called communism “liberals in a hurry.” The CPUSA had not succeeded in this because the true liberals had refused to allow such a definitional outrage. But because their credibility and self-confidence was so deeply shaken by their backing of the Vietnam War, these genuine liberals were unable to hold the line against attacks from the New Left “progressives,” and they lost not only their party but also the term which had defined their principles. Many of these centrist liberals wound up moving toward Reaganism and neo-conservatism when they saw what those who now called themselves “liberals” actually believed and wanted to accomplish through their control of the Democratic Party.

Calling themselves “liberals,” today’s leftists (descended from the New Left) claim the moral high ground as self-anointed exemplars of compassion and enlightenment — counterweights to the supposedly “reactionary” conservatives they depict as heartless monsters. The modern left understands that in order to win the hearts and minds of Americans, it must present its totalitarian objective — the uncompromising destruction of the status quo — in the non-threatening lexicon of traditional Western values; that is, it must cite, as its animating purpose, the promotion of such lofty ideals as “human rights,” “civil rights,” “civil liberties,” and above all, “social justice,” or the “correction” of the free market’s inherent inequalities through political interventions of a Marxist nature.

Toward this deceitful end, the left co-opted, in the years following the Vietnam War, the name of “liberalism,” long honored in the West as the movement that had brought freedom, dignity, economic opportunity, and legal protections to millions of people who had been denied those advantages everywhere on the globe since the very dawn of history. Draping their programs and objectives in the rhetoric of classical “liberalism,” leftists embarked on the revolutionary enterprise of redefining, subtly and incrementally, what most Americans understood liberal policies to be. Over the course of years and decades, the leaders of the left championed crusades and ideals that bore ever-decreasing resemblance to the liberal causes of a prior era, yet they invariably identified both themselves and their evolving causes as “liberal.” Most significantly, they were largely successful in getting the media and academic elites to parrot their redefinition of that designation at every stage along the way. Thus, programs that were in fact leftist and socialist were enacted by legislators and social reformers in the name of “liberalism,” whose reputation for noble intentions served not only to shield those programs from public criticism, but in fact to win wide public approval of them.

When the term “liberalism” (from the Latin word liberalis, meaning “pertaining to a free man”) first emerged in the early 1800s, its hallmarks were a belief in individual rights, the rule of law, limited government, private property, and laissez faire economics. These would remain the defining characteristics of liberalism throughout the liberal epoch (generally identified as the period of 1815-1914). But the contemporary version of liberalism is a parody of its predecessor. It is a stalwart champion of group rights and collective identity, rather than of individual rights and responsibilities (e.g., the racial preference policies known as affirmative action, and the left’s devotion to identity politics generally); the circumvention of law rather than the rule of law (as exemplified by the flouting of immigration laws and nondiscrimination laws, or by a preference for judicial activism whereby judges co-opt the powers that rightfully belong to legislators, or by permitting certain individuals to be above the law and its penalties); the expansion of government rather than its diminution (favoring ever-escalating taxes to fund a bloated welfare state and a government that oversees virtually every aspect of human life); and the redistribution of wealth (through punitive taxes and, again, a mushrooming welfare state) rather than its creation through free markets based on private property.

Another hallmark of classical liberalism was its spirit of toleration for divergent beliefs and ideas, and of respect for individual freedom of thought. Yet in modern leftism, we find precisely the opposite: intolerance of opposing viewpoints, and the promotion of group-think. The left interprets as treason any deviation from its own intellectual orthodoxy, if exhibited by a member of a so-called “victim” group who theoretically ought to occupy a place in the phalanx of revolutionary agitators. We see this phenomenon manifested with particular clarity by black leftists who excoriate black conservatives as “race traitors,” “house slaves,” “Oreos,” and “Uncle Toms.”

David Horowitz has made the following cogent observations about leftist intolerance:

“Since ideologies of the left derive from commitments to an imagined [utopian] future, to question them is to provoke a moral rather than an empirical response: Are you for or against the future equality of human beings? To demur from a commitment to the progressive viewpoint is thus not a failure to assess the relevant data, but an unwillingness to embrace the liberated future. It is to will the imperfections of the present order. In the current political cant of the left, it is to be ‘racist, sexist, classist,’ a defender of the oppressive status quo.

“That is why not only radicals, but even those who call themselves liberals, are instinctively intolerant towards the conservative opposition. For [leftists], the future is not a maze of human uncertainties and unintended consequences. It is a moral choice. To achieve the socially just future requires only that enough people decide to will it. Consequently, it is perfectly consistent for [leftists] to consider themselves morally and intellectually enlightened, while dismissing their opponents as immoral, ignorant, or (not infrequently) insane.”

Conservative author and radio host Dennis Prager gives insight into the nature of leftism by contrasting its values to those of Americanism. He writes: “In a nutshell, [Americanism’s values] are what I call the American Trinity: ‘In God we trust,’ ‘Liberty’ and ‘E Pluribus Unum.’ The left has successfully made war on all three — substituting secularism for God and religion in as much of American life as possible; substituting equality (of result) for liberty; and multiculturalism is the opposite of ‘E Pluribus Unum.’”  Prager points out that multiculturalism emphasizes not the unity of Americans, but the divisions that exist between them in terms of race, gender, and class.

Prager adds that the Left sees the world “through the prism of race, gender and class rather than through the moral prism of right and wrong.” “One of the more dangerous features of the Left,” he elaborates, “has been its replacement of moral categories of right and wrong, and good and evil with three other categories: black and white (race), male and female (gender), and rich and poor (class).”

Contemporary “liberalism” is leftism in disguise. Thus the travesty of the “liberal” label being widely attached to individuals such as Michael Moore, George Soros, Noam Chomsky, Al Sharpton, Jesse Jackson, and Jane Fonda — all of whom are opponents of the classical liberalism which defined America and the West for two centuries.


Additional Resources

The Meaning of “Left” and “Right”
By David Horowitz
1998

Liberal and Left
By David Horowitz
1997

Upside-Down Politics
By David Horowitz
July 27, 1998

Liberalism: The Slippery Slope to the Left
By Barry Loberfeld
September 9, 2004

What Are Leftists?
By John J. Ray
June 20, 2002

Is the Status Quo Still Relevant to the Left-Right Divide?
By John J. Ray
2002

The Threat We Face
By David Horowitz
October 10, 2013

Inside Every Liberal Is A Totalitarian Screaming to Get Out (II)
By Oleg Atbashian
May 23, 2013

Leftists
By George Irbe
1997, 1999, & 2001

Modern Leftism As Recycled Fascism
By John J. Ray

The Root Causes of Political Leftism
By John J. Ray
2005

Authoritarianism Is Leftist, Not Rightist
By John J. Ray
2004

Leftist Racism
By John J. Ray
October 8, 2002

The Psychology of Politics
By John J. Ray
2008

Why Are People Leftists?
By John J. Ray
2004

Leftism As Psychopathy
By John J. Ray

The Left’s Religion of Unhappiness
By Daniel Greenfield
October 3, 2014

The Left’s Historical Support for Tyranny and Terrorism
By MarkHumphrys.com

Marxist Kitsch and the Politics of Race
By David Horowitz
1999

It’s a War, Stupid
By Peter Collier and David Horowitz
1996

Leftism, the Religion
By Dennis Prager
March 30, 2010

Leftism Is Not Liberalism
By Dennis Prager
September 12, 2017

The Left-Right Divide Is About Reality Itself
By Dennis Prager
November 5, 2019

The Psychology Underlying “Liberalism”
By John J. Ray
September 12, 2002

Why Elites Tend Left
By John J. Ray

The Psychodynamics of the Radical Liberal Mind
By Lyle H. Rossiter, Jr, MD
February 11, 2007

How to Oppose Liberal Intolerance
By Lawrence Auster
August 11, 2004

The Pro-Slavery Roots of the Modern Left
By Jarrett Stepman and Inez Feltscher
August 6, 2013

Conservatism As Heresy: An Australian Reader
By John J. Ray
1974

Detroit’s Demise Is the Triumph of Liberalism
By Ellis Washington
February 13, 2008

6 Reasons to Believe the Left Hates America
By Dennis Prager
November 19, 2019

It’s a Civil War: What We Do Now
By Dennis Prager
March 23, 2010

Why Is Class Hatred Morally Superior to Race Hatred?
By Dennis Prager
October 18, 2011

Why Left Talks about “White” Tea Parties
By Dennis Prager
April 27, 2010

What Is the Left?
By John Perazzo
July 2008

VIDEO:

Leftism Is Not Compassionate
By Michael Knowles
October 23, 2019

BOOK:

Still the Best Hope: Why the World Needs American Values to Triumph
By Dennis Prager