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The Motivations of Political Leftists

The Motivations of Political Leftists

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Published by abhii

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Published by: abhii on Jun 13, 2009
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What appears below is an attempt to analyse most aspects of Leftist political thinking and display the psychological and  sociological roots of such thinking in an historical context. Such a large subject requires a lot of pages so I start out witha brief conspectus. See also mymain blog for daily updates to the story. Parts of the account given here have alsoappeared in  Front Page Magazine. What appears below is the product of many updates and expansions. This is the update of January, 2009
"All the worth which the human being possesses, all spiritual reality, he possesses only through the State." -- 19th century German philosopher Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (pictured below). Hegel is the most influential  philosopher of the Left -- inspiring Karl Marx, the American "Progressives" of the early 20th century and university socialists to this day."For a hundred years or more the defining division in politics, in Britain and elsewhere, was about the role of the state. Essentially progressives believed in its ability to improve society; Conservatives feared its interference stifled personal liberty.-- Anthony Blair, Labour Party Prime Minister of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. ( 2006 
 )"To me, conservative means believing in a minimum amount of government and a maximum amount of freedom -- and keeping government out of people's lives and business -- and leaving people alone," -- Lyn Nofziger, long-time U.S. Republican insider ( 2005 )
By John J. Ray (M.A.; Ph.D.)
The emotional substrate
I did my first piece of research into the psychology of politics in 1968. It was my Masters dissertation. I have beenstudying the subject ever since -- now withmany academic publications on it behind me. So it seems reasonable that, over four decades later, I should look back and say what I have learned in the intervening years. And the prime thing Ihave learned is that you cannot understand Leftism without understanding its emotional roots. And once you understandthat, all the rest is detail.
What IS Leftism?
In good academic style I start with a definition: The first thing to say is that Leftism is emotional. The second is to saythat the emotion is negative and the third thing to say is that the negative emotion (anger/hate/rage) is directed at theworld about the Leftist, the status quo if you like. The Leftist is nothing if he is not a critic, thoughusually a very poorly-informed critic. And the criticisms are both pervasive and deeply felt.What is routinely overlooked in most discussions of ideology is that conservatives don't like the status quo either -- butthey don't hate it and they don't get burned up about it. Ask almost any conservative and he will give you a long list of things he would like to see changed in the world about him. It is only a Leftist caricature to say that conservativessupport the status quo. And conservatives like Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher were undoubtedly great agents of change.So Left and Right do indeed differ in their response to the status quo but not in the simplistic "for and against" way thatLeftists claim. The difference is in depth of feeling and in the changes desired. Leftists want change passionately and feelvery righteous about the changes they want. Conservatives can see fault and conservative leaders do quite regularly work towards the changes that they and their voters think desirable -- but most conservatives just want to get on with their ownlives. There are undoubtedly some people who are completely happy with the world as it is but they are not concernedabout politics. They probably do, however, vote conservative when called upon to vote. They would not be able to findmuch in common with the constant complaint that is the mark of the Leftist. The typical conservative does not simmer if his wishes for change are not implemented. The Leftist does.One marker of the difference just set out will be well known to anyone who reads blogs from both sides of the divide:Profanity is hugely more common on Leftist blogs.A systematic study of the matter found profanity to be TWELVE TIMES more common on Leftist blogs. Profanity is of course an attempt to express one's feelings strongly. Note that I do NOT use the word "liberal" for the Left side of politics. "Liberal" as a name for any left-leaning political party is just camouflage. Except in sex-related matters, liberty is in general a very low priority for them. And their attack on sexual mores arose only as a means of tearing down the status quo. Their advocacy of freedom of choice in sexualand reproductive matters soon breaks down if people make choices they disapprove of. The amazing attacks on SarahPalin's decision to bear a handicapped child rather than abort it certainly showed no respect for her choice in the matter.So what is conservatism? Basically it is caution based on a perception that the world is an unpredictable, dangerous andoften hostile place. So change is not rejected. It is in fact, as just said, sometimes desired. But it is approached in askeptical, step by step, way to ensure that its effects are beneficial or at least benign. And an important criterion of whatconsitutes "benign" is how the change affects individual liberty. At a minimum, a conservative wants to ensure thatchange will not reduce his individual liberty.Because the Leftist is angry rather than prudent, however, he cares not a bit for the conservative's caution. The mostthorough-going Leftist just wants to smash everything that exists around him out of the feeling that it is all so hateful thatnone of it is worth preserving. And in the French revolution, the Bolshevik revolution, the Maoist revolution and manymore minor revolutions, the Leftists got their way -- with results we all know about. Doing any sort of a good job of  putting back together what they have smashed is beyond them. They are destroyers only. Hate is not constructive.
Because we all know of those dismal results, Leftist activists and politicians in entrenched democracies have to be morecareful. Expressing the full extent of their feelings and advocating revolution would simply marginalize them and theyknow that. So they have to find ways of undermining society in more subtle ways. And they are greatly aided in that bythe complex nature of modern society. Most people have only the vaguest notion of how society works so the Leftist politician can propose various changes that sound good but which will be disastrous in practice -- with "share and sharealike" being the classic example of that. And when the disasters unfold the committed Leftist cannot lose. He will get aninternal glow of satisfaction from the suffering and disruption unleashed on all those fools around him that he hates butwill be excused from blame because he "meant well".
What CAUSES Leftism?
So what motivates a Leftist to be so full of negative emotions toward the surrounding world? Many things. There is noone cause of Leftism. But there are nonethelesstwo major sources of Leftismand understanding them explains mostLeftist policies and positions. The first is the motivation most common among Leftist voters and the second is themotivation most common among Leftist leaders. It would be nice if we could identify just one sort of motivationcommon to all Leftists but, as with so many other things in life, reality is more complicated than that.And although the motivations of leaders and followers are in general very different, there is of course some overlap between the two. Some people who express their Leftism only at the ballot box are similarly motivated to Leftist leadersand some Leftist leaders are similarly motivated to Leftist voters.
So, to start with the average Leftist voter: It could be that the Leftist was born into a subset of society that is in generalhostile to the larger society. Miners are a common example of that. Mining towns were once bedrock Left-voting places.Why that was so is beyond the scope of what I want to say at the moment, however.And Left-voters may simply be upset that they personally are not getting a very good deal from society as it exists and begenerally critical of society for that reason.But the biggest category of Leftist voters by far would appear to be genuinely well intentioned but shortsighted peoplewho are strongly emotionally affected by suffering in others. They see other people who are not doing well in some wayand urgently want that fixed by whatever means it takes. They are angered by what they see as "injustice". And thatemotion dominates all else. And it is the strong negative emotions evoked by the surrounding society that unites these people with Leftists of other stripes.And that, I believe is how politics works: It is particularly the people who are especially sensitive to the suffering of others who make us all suffer, paradoxical though that may seem. Without their numerous votes, the destructive andirresponsible Leftist politicians would never gain power. And the converse of that is that a little bit of heartlessness can be desirable. Balance is needed in fellow-feeling, as in many other things.That the fellow feeling of the Leftist follower is unbalanced and immature can be seen from its sheer immediacy. Leftistscan rally (and did rally) to shield vicious muderers like"Tookie" Williams from the rightful consequences of their actions  because the Leftists concerned see only the immediate prospect of the offender's execution. That a failure to punishseverely the reprehensible deeds that people like Williams commit will excuse and encourage more such deeds by othersis just not within the tiny time-horizon of the Leftist. Any fellow-feeling for Tookie's innocuous but long-dead victimswas notable for its absence in the vigils designed to "save" Tookie.Another sort of immaturity that infests the Leftist's emotional life is the childish need to be looked after. How wonderfulit would be if the protective parents of one's childhood remained forever present, shielding one from all threats and providing all needs. The Leftist passionately wants that and fools himself into thinking that the state can fulfil that role. Itnever does, of course, but such Leftists just never grow up emotionally. They continue dreaming their childish dreams.

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