Perry de Havilland at Samizdata tries to understand why the Left stumbled so badly just when it seemed about to win it all. In 2015 the Left had the media, academe, multilateral institutions firmly in the bag. The European Union seemed forever and US Federal government appeared destined to remain in progressive hands. The words “permanent progressive majority” and the end of the white race were spoken of as accomplished fact.
Then came Brexit and Trump in a single annus horribilis with a suddenness that defied explanation. The progressives went from dominance to defense in an instant. De Havilland has no comprehensive explanation of why the dramatic reversal took place but thinks the first sign of a Leftist stall was Gamergate in 2014, when the Arc of History started to mush and wing over.
Looking back, it’s hard to overstate the cultural significance of GamerGate: it marked when the Left suddenly and unexpectedly lost control of social media, right at the point where the influence of social media actually started to matter. … As has often been the case in military campaigns, when one side becomes greatly overextended, they only realise they have lost the initiative when they seek to advance and experience a completely unexpected reversal: a result that may seem obvious and perhaps even inevitable to a historian looking back, but which was far from obvious to the people on the ground at the time.
“Gamergate” is described by the Washington Post article as “an online backlash against progressive influence in gaming which cannot be described neutrally in one sentence”. But a reasonable attempt might be “a series of events that turned the term ‘social justice warrior’ from a primarily positive term to an overwhelmingly negative one”.
The progressives should have paid attention to Gamergate which foreshadowed Brexit and Trump. The triumphant advance; the same surprise and pell-mell retreat. The leftist shock comes from the seemingly inexplicable rejection of their Gramscian project after the cumulative assent of long years. Neil Munro in a Breitbart article argued that Trump’s immigration policies are stunning precisely because they reject what the Left saw a settled fact: “the claim by globalist progressives — including former President Barack Obama — that foreign people” have the right to cross borders and live where they want.
It’s a claim they’ve advanced, in little bits and pieces, for decades. When Obama plumped for open borders, people cheered. “If you look at the history of immigration in this country, each successive wave, there have been periods where the folks who were already here suddenly say, ‘Well, I don’t want those folks’ — even though the only people who have the right to say that are some Native Americans.”
When the Schengen area was created people cheered.
When Angela Merkel threw open her country to Syrian refugees Time Magazine proclaimed her Person of the Year: “the Chancellor of the Free World”.
Yet when Trump announced his immigration policies people also cheered.
What gives? What happened to all the previous assent. It’s like progressives complaining “you’ve taken off your clothes, what do you mean you don’t want to go all the way?” To them previous assent said open borders. So let them in.
The sudden qualms are mystifying. As Perry de Havilland put it: “so certain was the Left that they had won the culture war, so confident with the established media under their effective control that ‘truth’ was theirs to declare, that they gave up on any pretence of objectivity. … And so they began to maneuver with the assurance and arrogance of an army under an umbrella of complete air(wave) supremacy, a supremacy that suddenly proved to be illusory”.
The Arc of History metaphor may explain why the apparently solid Gramscian triumph turned out to be a mirage. Consider the arc of a projectile (like an artillery shell) influenced by gravity and air resistance. It describes a path shown in the diagram below. In the beginning it’s downward slope is slight, but over time the shell’s descent steepens. Similarly the Gramscian project initially makes modest demands, because they are careful and seek gains that are easily accommodated. It’s slope is slight. But as it gains power over more institutions the Left grows bolder. The pace of “progress” quickens until near impact the progressive shell is descending almost vertically.
Perhaps when the Gramscian enterprise reaches a critical velocity the shear viscosity of society increases to the point where it becomes a barrier. In an instant what was formerly yielding pudding becomes incredibly resistant like liquid armor. The Left hits a wall. Progressives, perplexed at this sudden change in resistance doubles down. But this makes the liquid armor even more impenetrable and they double down some more. Unable to understand it they naturally blame conspiracies.
Though only a metaphor this may help explain why the Left “suddenly” met resistance after years of uninterrupted and seemingly irreversible assent to their program. The sales pitch was going great until the moment the Gramscians had to state the price and show the product. Then the customer looked in the box, shivered in horror and walked away.
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Augustus, This is the author John Williams’s acclaimed historical novel of Gaius Octavius, later Augustus, the first emperor of Rome. To tell the story, he uses the epistolary format (letters, journal entries, memoirs). Williams won the National Book Award for this book in 1973.
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