The Aims of the Modern Left: Radical Liberation & Social Justice

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“white and red painted wall” by Samuel Zeller on Unsplash

If there’s one thing to realize about the modern leftist movement it is that it is riven with some glaring contradictions. It would appear that its philosophical core is conflicted, but I wonder if the contradiction isn’t somewhat intentional? Liberation has always been a leftist aim though not necessarily of the libertarian variety. ‘Liberation’ to the modern leftist means not freedom from political overbearance but rather the demolition (either via overt attack or patient erosion) of traditional structures, hierarchies, or supposed privileges.

All these conservative cultural edifices become targets of destruction and/or censure. Conventional family structures, religious institutions, the gender binary — all these things and more — the most radical of leftists would implicitly like to raze to the ground so as to reach the ambitious pinnacle of true liberation: a place where no structures perhaps exist at all.

At last, no oppression! is the thought. (That such things are seen entirely though the lens of oppression is another interesting matter.) The leftist strain of liberation is not the simple manifestation of free will but must involve the destruction of something in order to come to fruition. For example, that there is a ‘traditional’ family structure is problematic and must be warred against. For the leftist, there is always something old and timeworn to rail against, something established to bludgeon with critiques of its “oppressive” influence. Of course, no thought is given to the historical usefulness and honorable worth of conventional things.

This contemporary strain of liberation diverges from the classically liberal variety left behind in history. Instead of laissez-faire sentiment and the encouragement of people to embrace freedom of choice, there’s this autocratic dogmatism replacing it. And this realization is where things get strange because concurrent with their desires to flatten the cultural landscape — to scrub it clean with revolutionary zeal — leftists would also like to have a very involved and active hand in reassembling society as they see fit — in the name of “social justice” of course.

Modern leftism is very much goal-oriented. It is a political movement striving towards a particular, idealistic goal (which is not the case, it should be noted, with all political persuasions). Activism and leftism are tightly trussed together which is a revealing pairing precisely because social justice — leftism’s central aim — requires perpetual struggle. Social justice is a mission often left fuzzily defined (intentionally) but it is saved by its moral casing and virtuous intent. Thus, whatever it engages in bears the mark of ethical purity, even when it advances towards concerning heights.

Inherent in achieving social justice is a sort of top-down, interventionist project of rectifying inequalities and various power imbalances and privileges. Social justice is not acquainted with plain-old, Enlightenment-era equal-opportunity — aka equality before the law in addition to freedom to make one’s own choices. No, social justice is an endlessly shifting, synthetic aim that necessarily has to be muscled into place. From the leftist perspective, inequalities are unnatural, and even more, unjust, and it is ostensibly the responsibility of the government to correct this.

Inequality is thus seen as some nefarious byproduct of capitalism. As if perhaps somewhere along the way we corrupted a pure state of egalitarianism and now have to remedy this in a thousand different incremental ways by addressing a flood of grievances. The prevailing mentality is that any inequality is unjust until proven otherwise. And if that’s the case, anyone can complain and brandish themselves as victims! At the very least, this does not make for a healthy society.

Furthermore, inequalities are not seen as something that just is, as something that is inherent to the natural world. And so, the leftist solution is to address this incredibly long list of inequalities, correcting every infraction with force and vindicated might. To sufficiently “equalize” society to leftist satisfaction is an impossible endeavor and involves perpetual conflict, clashing, and struggle — what are, essentially, the remains of Marxism.

Social justice is preoccupied with group identity and the historical “privileges” associated with these different group identities. It is not so much associated with the concept of individual sovereignty and the notion of free choice. Now, group identities themselves are not to be demonized, but when used as victim calling-cards and employed in the task of demanding subsequent equity measures, things become complicated and sticky. Group identities can be segmented into a multiplication of other subgroups that all demand some correction of inequality — and this is a problem.

Modern liberation has replaced classical liberalism and social justice has replaced equality before the law. Yanking at the time-honored institutions, inveighing against the hierarchies scattered throughout daily life, and squabbling over privileges is all the rage on the left nowadays. Their politics is best described as perpetual struggle. The Marxist refrain of “class struggle” seems to have been replaced by something like “group struggle” — (in effect, an enlargement of the categories that could potentially be victimized).

And it’s this precisely this idea of micromanaging power that the Left is so obsessed with. Because they are prone to seeing society through the stark lens of the oppressed vs. the oppressor relationship, their preoccupation with equity, group identity, correction of justices and obliteration of privilege can be traced back to their favorite tool and most sought-after trophy, which is power itself. Power is the vehicle through which they must see the world and interact with it. There is nary a trace of cooperation or compromise or rational argument in the leftist movement. Their penchant for ad hominem argument is one such example of this allegiance to power.

What, after all, is this pursuit of modern social justice but a manifestation of anxieties about the differing degrees of power that certain groups have? Apparently the traditional Western custom of equal rights is not enough. And let’s not pretend that social justice is really the same thing as old, classical notions of equal rights. The two are quite different, least of all temperamentally.

In any case, there’s certainly something antithetical about these two goals heretofore discussed: Liberation theoretically has an emancipatory effect and social justice has an authoritative effect — restricting and boosting at will to match up with the current ideal of appropriate social justice. Free the people, so the narrative goes, and then go about rearranging them for the purposes of a macro social outcome.

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Writer of economics, psychology, and lots in between.

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