The Big Switch

As comic book fans all know, every superhero -- or supervillain -- has an origin story, the moment the protagonist sets himself apart from the common run of humanity to pursue a larger destiny. It should be no surprise that historical events have origin stories too, the moment when their core ideas are born and take their first uncertain root. Brexit, for example, according to an Oxford newspaper, may have started at the Queen’s Lane Coffee House in 1990 in discussions among radical Tory students.

Daniel Hannan, who recalls the moment, recalls that like most student endeavors,  the idea of leaving the EU began as a revolt against the System.  But in true comic book fashion, Hannan adds that in retrospect something else must have been born as well.  For it must have been around that time the Left started becoming the party of the establishment.  The switcheroo that we see around us today in full flower was only just starting.  Hannan said:

In my day, being Eurosceptic was a sort of anti-systemic view. It went with being against big corporations and big government, and the establishment. It was for the people, against the elites. The shift in the last five years is one of the most extraordinary changes between then and now it’s such a shift to see people lining up on the same side as Goldman Sachs, arguing for the existing racket.

Over the last 30 years Harvard historian Niall Ferguson has witnessed the same strange trading of places.  Ferguson notes that by some alchemy, the progressive moment has become the party of censorship.

Almost every month this year has seen at least one assault on free speech on an American college campus. In February the University of California, Berkeley, canceled a talk by Milo Yiannopoulos, the British “alt-right” journalist and provocateur, after a violent demonstration. In March students at Middlebury College in Vermont shouted down the sociologist Charles Murray and assaulted his faculty host. In April, it was the turn of conservative writer Heather MacDonald at Claremont McKenna and pro-Trump journalist Ann Coulter at Berkeley. ...

No one could accuse the great Oxford zoologist Richard Dawkins of being right-wing. Yet last month it was his turn to be silenced. A public radio station in — you guessed it — Berkeley canceled a discussion of his latest book because (in the words of a spokesman) “he has said things that I know have hurt people,” a misleading allusion to the atheist Dawkins’s forthright criticism of Islam.

James Bloodworth in the left-of-center Independent noticed the exchange of roles too. "In the past decade or so some progressives have found themselves - either through political expediency or something worse - on the side of the far-right. ... The result ... has been an anti-war movement working enthusiastically with those advocating the murder of homosexuals, a left-wing Mayor of London embracing a man who said Adolf Hitler had been sent by Allah to punish the Jews, and a group set up ostensibly to oppose fascism warmly welcoming religious fascists into its own ranks."