When Theory is Slavery: Why the Theory Left is Regressive
Previously, I talked about needing to revive a tradition of ‘practical progressivism’, as opposed to the theory-based so-called progressivism we are seeing in the Western New Left these days. Today, I want to elaborate further on my problems with New Left theory, and why, as a Moral Libertarian, I simply can’t accept a theory-based New Left.
As far back as 2018, I came up with the idea that ‘theory is slavery’, and I mentioned it in several episodes of my show around that time. However, I never really elaborated on why that is the case. Basically, the New Left of the West since around the 1970s has been very much a theory-based left. Several factors combined to cause this. The biggest was perhaps the fact that, around that time, a new faction of the Left broke away from the workers, to instead embrace intellectuals and academia, as a new revolutionary force. They were the faction behind the upheavals of the 1960s, including most famously May 68 in France, which the old workers-Left actually did not support (at least initially, it became more complicated later on). Another was that, among the young radicals of that era, there was the idea that following the correct theory was the most important thing. After the splintering of the Left in the 1970s and 80s, this idea fell out of fashion, but elements of it are still present in the attitudes of the Left today.
Anyway, the key point is, much of the Western Left today takes a theory-based approach to everything, and base their so-called progressivism on achieving the goals of their theory. They decide what is a good course of action, or what counts as success, not based on objective reality, not based on if the lives of people have actually been made better, but on their theoretical concerns. This, I think, is essentially being a slave to theory. Hence theory has actually become slavery, in the context of the 21st century Western Left.
Besides being unable to improve people’s lives, what I’m most concerned with the theory-Left is that it effectively discourages independent thinking, which I value very much as a Moral Libertarian. Through building a movement that is enslaved to a whole suite of critical theories, which explain every social issue and cultural conflict with its particular philosophy, New Left activism actually creates a mass of people who think in lockstep on every issue, because they are informed by theory rather than their own observation of reality and their own independent thinking. In turn, this actually divides society into two sides, one side which thinks in lockstep with theory on every issue, and another side which comes together simply to fight what they correctly see as an illogical and contradictory coalition. I think this is a major reason behind the polarization we are seeing in the West today.
To avoid the pitfalls of the theory-based New Left, I believe the most important thing is to stay grounded in objective reality. Measure every idea and every course of action by their results in objective reality. If it has not really improved the lives of people, it is not progress at all. Another thing is, be ready to listen to unfamiliar ideas, and don’t come to the table with obsessions and preconceptions rooted in ideological theories. This will prevent an objective understanding of anything. In short, to avoid being a slave to theory, always remain open-minded and objective.
TaraElla is a singer-songwriter and author, who recently published her autobiography The TaraElla Story, in which she described the events that inspired her writing.
She is also the author of the Moral Libertarian Horizon books, which argue that liberalism is still the most moral and effective value system for Western democracies in the 21st century.