The Power of Coalitions: The Left and the Right
Early in my career as an amateur political dissenter and shit-stirrer, I went from a traditional conservative to a leftist atheist.
For a time, I became quite enamored of Dawkins, Hitchens, et al. Circa 2006, atheism and leftism were it. All the smart, cool kids were into atheism, and we were all hell-bent on browbeating those stupid, knuckle-dragging fundies.
But then a funny thing happened to the atheist movement: it became infiltrated by its own brand of fundies. They promoted left-wing identity politics of the distinctly anti-white, anti-male variety, and they did so with a zeal every bit as religious as any fundamentalist Bible-thumper.
And that was my introduction to the phenomenon of social justice warriors (SJWs). It was also a good lesson in coalition politics.
With hindsight, I can see that the atheist movement always consisted of fundamentalists. YouTube had, maybe, eight billion videos discussing either the difference between atheists and agnostics, or else all the ways God and Christians were wrong and stupid and terrible.
It was a gigantic circlejerk, basically, but it was our circlejerk.
When I joined the anti-SJW side, the Camp of the Shitlords, I learned an elementary critique of our leftist foes (former coalition partners, now heretics to be cleansed from the Pure Church) that went something like this:
“Gee, SJWs are just like fundy Christians — except instead of needing Jesus to save you from your sin, you need feminism and social justice to save you from your hu-white male privilege!”
As insights go, it might sound a bit elementary — but it eventually grew into the seed of something more profound.
It would take me many years later to fully understand how accurate this parallel is, and that the reason for this is that progressive leftism, or Universalism, is a species of Christianity.
As a political-religious project, Universalism aims at the remaking of society into a progressive, left-wing template. The fact that this produces government dependence and is generally very, very expensive is utterly beside the point for a devout progressive leftist — and even conservatives have made only relatively modest gains in rolling it back a bit.
In other words, we live in a Universalist-dominated world. The spending priorities of government are driven, to a tremendous degree, by policies implemented under the New Deal.
Why is this?
One answer, of course, is that the social-democratic Universalist state is more moral.
This is, of course, the answer favored by the left: “We use government to take care of other people because we’re all stronger together (etc., etc.).”
I find this answer tedious, but I also find it revealing. I find it tedious, because every ruling coalition justifies its exalted position with appeals to morality. I find it revealing for exactly the same reason.
I’m treading old ground here, but I’ll ask the question anyway: if you were a Catholic in Medieval Europe, would you favor Catholicism? (Maybe not if you were this fellow, whom I delight to note Christianity Today brands a “Pre-Reformation Reformer”).
Same question, but this time you’re a Muslim in 10th- or 11th-century Persia (let’s say you’re not this guy).
So, the beliefs of most people tend to be the predominant beliefs of the time. Well, duh.
What I’m chasing here is the idea that the prevailing political dispensation and sociopolitical philosophy of our time is not necessarily any more grounded in stone-cold reality than any other political dispensation and ruling ideology. What it is, is a successful strategy for recruiting a coalition — and power-strategies rule the world.
But here we have a ready-made challenge from the left, and it goes something like this:
“Christianity and other religions are based on ancient myths of gods, and they try to save you from original sin and other fictional bugbears. Race- and gender-based privilege, on the other hand, are real, and the welfare state provides a social safety net which actually works!”
Arguing race- and gender-based “privilege” with progressives is not usually a productive use of time (pro-tip: affirmative action will almost certainly not count).
Sure, the Universalist New Deal social-democratic welfare state gets results. So did the Roman Empire. So did the Ottoman Empire, for that matter.
But so what? Do mere results legitimate a ruling ideology — or do they merely bolster it? Or is there a difference?
Progressives love the welfare state. Conservatives want to rein it in. Libertarians, as a rule, want to abolish it entirely.
Instead of arguing about which of the three camps is the One True Faith, let’s take a moment to observe that the Universalist social-democratic welfare state reflects progressive leftist priorities. Government-as-goody-dispenser is an enterprise which, as a rule, is driven by Democrats and others on the left. Sometimes conservatives manage to rein it in or block it entirely. As for libertarians, it’s trivial to observe that Gary Johnson failed to crack even 4% of the popular vote.
The Universalist social-democratic welfare state, then, is a political dispensation driven by progressives, opposed with varying degrees of efficacy by conservatives, and the opinions of libertarians are irrelevant. Conservatives have sometimes managed to turn the sliding dial in the direction of slightly less gimmes, but progressives have a good track record of dialing it back and then some.
We can now see the contours of the world in which we live, the nature of the Universalist project that rules it. Ever since the New Deal, the United States — and to a considerable degree, after World War II, the rest of the post-war world — has been largely dominated by a Universalist-ordered coalition which uses the state to redistribute income for its own purposes.
This strategy has been competitive, thus far, because the very nature of democracy incentivizes it: politicians can gain more votes by promising and delivering handouts than they lose because of the taxes collected for said handouts.
Of course, there have been reversals of fortune, but even these reversals have posed no real challenge to the dominance of the New Deal formulation. To be sure, no strategy can last forever, and the failure of recent efforts raises the interesting possibility that a tipping point has been reached.
The coalition of the progressive, Universalist left has proven quite capable of outcompeting and dominating all rivals for over 80 years. Coalitions of the right, such as the Moral Majority, have sometimes temporarily challenged this dominance, but they have failed to keep the Overton Window from sliding relentlessly ever-leftward.
Though the outcome remains anything but certain, recent events have dealt significant setbacks to the Universalist agenda in Plainland. Whether this upset is a mere perturbation, or a harbinger of a new triumph by a rival coalition remains to be seen.