Why is the Left so backward looking?
You’d think that Progressives would be the type of people always looking forward. That Conservatives would be the one looking backwards for a time that once was. Like most things, what you think is and how it really is are usually not the same. After reading this article, it’s easy to see just how much the Left looks back and not forward.
At first glance, it might seem odd to find the left so nostalgic. We tend to expect conservatives to be the backward looking bunch. But it isn’t all that peculiar, really. The modern left began as a project to recapture a lost innocence corrupted by greed and power. That’s how Rousseau understood the human story. It’s how the French revolutionaries understood what they were doing. And many subsequent projects of the radical left (from Maoist agrarianism to the anti-globalization riots of the 1990s) have been fundamentally anti-progressive, and so have been in some tension with both the more nihilistic elements and the more technocratic elements of the left. (The right, of course, has its own share of similar tensions, especially between libertarians and traditionalists.) The American left, like every other movement in American politics, has always been less radical than its foreign counterparts, so its nostalgic streaks have been less nuts, but they have been no less prominent—from Jefferson’s agrarianism right through contemporary environmentalism, with its naïve yearning for a simpler time.
This helps to explain the left’s attitude toward the increasingly obvious fiscal implosion of the welfare state. Liberals have so far responded almost exclusively with reactionary denial and with a doubling down on the very ways of thinking that created the problem. They yearn for the glorious energy of the Great Society era, unwilling to see that its consequences are the very source of our troubles. They really seem to believe that leaving Medicare just as we have it is essential to guarding the American dream. And to oppose conservative attempts at reforms of various programs, they appeal to an almost blind fear of change, and to the segments of our population most inclined to such fear—ignoring the plain fact that the status quo is unsustainable and the question is only what kind of change will come.
I think it makes a lot of sense.