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November 24, 2015

JAMIE KIRCHICK: Jeremy Corbyn And the Derangement Of The British Left: Revisiting the 1982 novel that foretold Jeremy Corbyn’s rise—and revealed the conspiratorial worldview at the heart of contemporary Leftist politics.

Corbyn is the most radical politician ever to be elected leader of a mainstream British political party and today stands as perhaps the most radical leader of a social democratic party in the Western world. An unreconstructed socialist, he is the sort of figure whom former Prime Minister Tony Blair was supposed to have consigned to irrelevance with his “New Labour” modernization project, which began with eliminating the clause from the party constitution mandating the struggle for “common ownership of the means of production, distribution, and exchange.” Nary a colleague at Westminster—on whose backbenches Corbyn had noisily sat for his entire 32 year career as an MP, not once serving in a Labour government or Shadow Cabinet—could have expected that this bearded sexagenarian would ever obtain a leadership position, never mind become party leader himself. It wasn’t just Corbyn’s extreme left-wing views that made such a scenario implausible. A loner whose hobbies consist of making his own jam and taking pictures of manhole covers, Corbyn isn’t the clubbable bloke who gathers political chits. He’s a variation on another British type, the eccentric of the vegetarian teetotaler variety. . . .

This conviction that “bourgeois democracy” is a mere façade for the ruling capitalist class to exploit the masses has its origins, of course, in the theories of Karl Marx. German philosopher Herbert Marcuse later devised the term “repressive tolerance” to characterize Western democracy as a massive confidence trick: Its vaunted “tolerance” for classical liberal rights like freedom of speech, voting, and the rule of law is actually “repressive” as it “impedes possible improvement of the human condition” by blinding people to the inherently unfair and oppressive system under which they live. What Marcuse proposed, by contrast, was “liberating tolerance”, a deviously oxymoronic concept meaning “intolerance against movements from the Right and toleration of movements from the Left.”

Such philosophical legitimization for totalitarianism, in its pettier form, has inspired the poisonous climate of political correctness on American college campuses, where staged outrage has become a key tool of what used to be called revolutionary intolerance. As a political agenda, however, it justifies trampling on countless millions in the realization of teleological “progress.” Marcuse arrogated to “small, powerless minorities”—a.k.a. the Leninist vanguard—a right to use force in achieving their ends, bringing about the demise of Western liberal democratic societies in the process. For “if they use violence, they do not start a new chain of violence but try to break an established one”, the “established” “chain of violence” being Western societies themselves. In this addled dispensation, the way in which the basic components of “bourgeois democracy”—private enterprise, independent media, the criminal justice system, etc.—keep power in the hands of the ruling class is “structural violence”, a form of coercion whose pervasiveness is matched only by its subtlety. Once a term rarely heard outside university sociology departments, “structural violence” has come into vogue again as a bogeyman of the anti-policing movement now sweeping the United States. . . . Jeremy Corbyn has spent his entire political career marinating in this same extremist political milieu, where notions like freedom of speech and the rule of law are considered superficial trappings propping up an unjust system.

I remember explaining “Critical Legal Studies” to a sitting judge back in the 1980s. “Crap,” he said, “I thought that shit died with Marcuse.” If only.