Three Reasons the Left Keeps Winning

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Even if Trump somehow manages to win in November, the Left (i.e., “progressives” and social democrats) can rest easy knowing that the Left’s influence over the country’s institutions and ideological views have only increased in recent years.

Naturally, the Left has portrayed itself as somehow victimized, declaring itself to be “the resistance” and making numerous predictions of doom in which the opponents of the Left would gain untrammeled control over the population. In this view, the nation is always just a few days away from enduring a mixture of social darwinism and theocracy as imposed by libertarians and conservatives, respectively.

After four years with the Trump administration in power, of course, the nation isn’t even heading in this direction. Government control over healthcare isn’t going away. Most states have only expanded Medicaid. Gun control laws have become more stringent, not less. Government spending has risen to unprecedented levels and almost no political candidate at the federal level would seriously argue in favor of any substantial cuts. Anti-Christian rhetoric has become more fashionable than ever, so that now any Christian who actually practices his or her religion—i.e., Amy Coney Barrett—is portrayed in the media as a religious zealot.  Even minor deviations from the demanded orthodoxy—such as actor Chris Pratt’s lack of enthusiasm for Joe Biden—earns hate campaigns from the guardians of acceptable public opinion.

These trends have only accelerated in recent years. The Left has consolidated and increased its control over academia, the media, social media firms, Hollywood, the recording industry, and corporate America. In other words, outside some legislative and legal institutions—and a shrinking handful of religious institutions—the Left’s control of the nation’s educational, cultural, artistic, and media institutions is very safe indeed.

If the electoral success enjoyed by Donald Trump and his supporters has offered any meaningful opposition to this, it lies only in the fact that the Trump party has in some ways slowed these trends. But by no measure has the trend leftward been stopped or reversed.

But why has the Left been so successful in this?

The reasons for this are many, but there are three reasons that stand out: the Left recognizes the importance of education in forming Americans’ ideology. The Left takes a long-term view. The Left accepts partial victories, and then proceeds from there.

One: The Left Understands the Importance of Ideas and Ideologies

The Left long ago mastered the art of intellectual activism. What is intellectual activism? Legal scholar David Yamada offers a helpful definition: “intellectual activism involves conducting and publishing original research and analysis and then applying that work to the tasks of reforming and improving the law, legal systems, and the legal profession.”

Yamada is referring to intellectual activism within the field of law. But, of course, it can be applied to any number of fields. Within economics, intellectual activists conduct research, provide analysis, and then apply that work to reforming political and economic institutions. Historian often do similar work within their own fields.

In recent decades, the Left’s dominance of intellectual activism has grown to the point of dominating most fields. Leftwing (i.e., anti-capitalist) historians, sociologists, anthropologists, legal scholars, and economists routinely publish studies illustrating their views. But the activism doesn’t stop there. Journalists, pundits, and artists then cite these studies, rehash them, popularize them, and repackage them for public consumption.

These views are then passed on to the next generation of scholars, imbibed by school-teachers-in-training, and parroted by elected officials. These views filter down to the voting public, the TV viewer at home, and school children in the classroom.

Certainly, there are other intellectual activists offering differing views. There are still courageous scholars who attempt to do the work of fighting the Left’s dominance through research that dissents from the usual zeitgeist.

If these intrepid scholars did not exist, the Left’s success would be even more complete. Dissenting views would be even more marginalized, and even more in the minority. As Lew Rockwell noted:

A new BBC poll [reported November 2009] finds that only 11 percent of people questioned around the world — and 29,000 people were asked their opinions — think that free-market capitalism is a good thing. The rest believe in more government regulation.

As to those who would despair at this poll, consider that it might have been much worse were it not for the efforts of a relative handful of intellectuals who have fought against socialist theory for more than a century. It might have been 99% in support of socialist tyranny. So there is no sense in saying that these intellectual efforts are wasted.

And yet, there are many on the Right who want to completely abandon the field to the Left. For those of us involved in the work of intellectual activism, we’ve heard something like this many times: “We don’t have time to read books or spread ideas! We need to win elections now! All this stuff about spreading ideas and changing ideology will never work!”

Of course, what these people might as well be saying is “stop using the methods that the Left has employed so successfully for decades! Sure, after 12 years of public schooling, four years of university education, and a lifetime of watching TV news and Hollywood movies, most people are fully steeped in the Left’s ideology. But I have a newfangled plan that will magically undo all those years of ideological conditioning just in time for the next election!”

Needless to say, this isn’t exactly a recipe for success.

The Left wins because leftists understand that if the goal is to “win elections now!” one must first lay the groundwork that makes the public open to one’s ideological agenda. Sometimes this work takes decades. Without doing this necessary and time-consuming work before hand, however, long-term failure is assured.

This is why leftists have spent so much time writing books, teaching classes, getting graduate degrees, becoming journalists, and editing newspapers. They know that ideas matter, and that the long term goals of any ideological movement depend on spreading ideas through scholarship, media, and art.

In other words, the Left has long understood that ”politics is downstream from culture.” If we want to change political institutions, we must first change cultural, educational, and intellectual institutions first. Once the public’s ideas have been changed, then political change will follow.

Two: The Left Takes a Long-term View

It seems if there’s anything conservative and libertarians like to do, it’s to declare defeat at the earliest opportunity.

We see it in the language employed by conservatives and libertarians all the time. Every time the state seizes some new socialism-inspired powers, conservatives and libertarians frequently response by saying “oh, we’ll never get those freedoms back. The government will never give up those powers!” To quote Yoda when Luke Skywalker declared he’d never get his spaceship out of the swamp: “So certain are you.”

After all, “never” is a very long time. Consider the following two statements:

  • “The Soviet Union will never give up its rule over Russia and all the other republics of the USSR.”
  • “The Roman Empire will never allow Christians to worship legally and in peace.”

Both statements, of course, were wrong when uttered in that time and place. It’s true, the timeframe for breaking Soviet rule was 70 years. It took the Christians three centuries to obtain an edict of toleration from the emperor. But it’s a good thing the freedom fighters in the old USSR and the Roman Empire didn’t have modern-day conservatives and libertarians around to assure them that their attempts at gaining more freedom were futile and impractical.

Yes, I get it. In many cases, these people who insist good things will never happen recognize things are different in the long term. But if that is the belief, why not be clear about it?

Leftists, in contrast, are often quick to emphasize their belief that it will have the long-term victory with phrases like these: “It’s just a matter of time until we win! We’re on the right side of history! When we take over we’ll machine-gun everyone we don’t like!”

Meanwhile, many conservatives and libertarians spend their time debating whether or not they should give up and retreat to a mountain compound right now, or maybe wait until after the next election.

Successful ideological groups, of course, are in it for the long haul. Any modern day political or ideological activist who gives up after ten or twenty or thirty years simply was never serious to begin with.

Three: The Left Pursues Partial Victories

And how exactly do the leftists execute their long-term strategy? They accept partial victories.

Here’s something we never hear from the left: “Well, we got the legislation we wanted. It’s time to declare victory and rest on our laurels.”

Here’s the reality: the Left pushed and pushed for Obamacare. And then, when it was passed, not more than five minutes passed before the Left began advocating for Medicare for All.

Imagine also if the Left managed to win a federal mandate for a 15-dollars-per-hour minimum wage. Does anyone seriously believe the demands would stop there? We’d never stop hearing about the need for a 17-dollars-per-hour wage. And then one at 20 dollars.

In other words, leftists are willing to take partial victories, one step at a time. What we don’t hear leftists say is “if I call for a a 15-dollars-per-hour wage, that implies I don’t think a 20-dollars-per-hour wage is needed. Therefore I will oppose any wage mandate below 20 dollars-per hour!”

Yet, a sizable and vocal contingent of conservatives a libertarians use this line all the time: “Why, if I support a ban on late-term abortion, that implies I think abortion is fine!” Or, “if I support a cut to the income tax, that implies I think income taxes are fine!”

Here’s a real world example: in 2015, Colorado pro-gun-rights activists had almost everything they needed to increase gun magazine limits to 30 rounds, almost totally undoing a 2013 Democrat-passed bill reducing gun magazine limits to 15 rounds. Clearly, this would have been a significant victory for gun freedom. But then Rocky Mountain Gun Owners stepped in to prevent the passage of the bill by threatening elected officials with primaries if the officials voted for the change. “If you let them limit mags to 30 rounds, that implies we accept limits of any kind,” the “pro-gun” activists huffed. So, they killed the bill. To this day, the magazine limit is 15 rounds instead of 30. Gee thanks, Rocky Mountain Gun Owners!

This short-sighted and half-witted strategy can be contrasted with the strategy of the abolitionists — the strategy recommended by Murray Rothbard.

Rothbard understood that it is important to always “hold aloft” the ultimate goal, which is the evisceration of state power. But as with the abolitionists, it is important to also accept even partial victories, so long as these partial victories move us closer to the goal.

The Left understands this. A great many libertarians and conservatives, on the other hand, have apparently not yet figured this out.

Ryan McMaken

LRC Blog

LRC Podcasts

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