Against the Term “Regressive Left”…

The first thing to say about the term “regressive left” is that it rolls off the tongue like a giant hairball. It is unrhythmic, unmusical and wholly unpoetic. The next thing to say is that it is a cringeworthy attempt by liberals to distinguish progressivism from some of the more destructive trends of its modern adherents. When a “regressive leftist” defends Islamism they are not – at least beyond extreme examples – betraying reactionary theocratic sympathies but attempting to smooth over the glaring contradictions of a comically irrational Enlightenment universalism that sees all people as being essentially if not superficially equal in terms of desires, standards and possibilities. Yes, this is regrettable but no more so than the denial by liberals that such contradictions exist in the first place, which inspires them to do silly things like, say, support the “democratisation” of countries with no democratic institutions and no democratic will among their citizens. Also, “regressive left” has come to mean anything than its deployers want. Why are “trigger warnings” regressive? Were books of the 1930s dutifully prefaced by details regarding their potential to provoke trauma? No, this is a progressive move and liberals who describe it as “regressive” are just embarrassed to be conservative.

About bsixsmith

I am a writer of stories and poems - published by Every Day Fiction, The London Journal of Fiction, 365 Tomorrows and Det Poetiske Bureau - and a columnist for Quillette, Areo and Bombs & Dollars.
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6 Responses to Against the Term “Regressive Left”…

  1. Mr. Frog says:

    Good points, but most of the people who use this phrase on the internet seem to be conservatives tired of being called regressive, so they attempt to push it back on the left.


  2. Simon says:

    Adding to the confusion is that the cultural relativism popular on the post-modernist left actually originated with a *conservative* German historian named Oswald Spengler.

    His argument was that every culture adapts whatever moral/religious values and social structure that is necessary to survive in the specific geographical environment it originates in, so it wouldn’t make sense to call different cultures more or less advanced – just adapted to different physical survival necessities. This was under his view also what made every country’s unique culture worth preserving, even though he admitted that was basically a fool’s errand in the long run. I imagine what happened was that nationalist movements in Africa and Asia read Spengler, with his ideas then making into the left aisle by way of cultural osmosis when they allied with Western left-wingers during de-colonization.

    If the above sounds familiar, that’s because it’s an updated version of G. W. F. Hegel’s ideas about national character that I wrote about earlier in another comment on this very blog. Not that most countries’ real cultural heritages line up into coherent systematic ideologies anywhere as easily as nationalist ideologues like Hegel and Spengler assume, but you can’t deny that’s been an extremely influential idea in political history – even among people who don’t think of themselves as nationalistically inclined.


    • bsixsmith says:

      Excellent comment, as usual, and I believe there is a lot of truth to the idea. What the left has added is the nation that cultures adapt to the unfavourable circumstances left to them by colonialism, Zionism and more recent warmongering. I believe that it is common to hear, for example, that Arabs only embrace Islamism as a reaction against the imperialistic West.


  3. Whyaxye says:

    “It is unrhythmic, unmusical and wholly unpoetic.”

    Is it? You might not like the rhythm, but it is clear. Unstressed, stressed, unstressed, stressed – “reGRESSiveLEFT” . Beethoven did wonders with it in his Fifth Symphony, especially in the final movement, and makes much of it in his Egmont overture. Without the first stress (“regressive LEFT”) we have the famous opening of the Fifth, plus the added bonus that a slight pause before the first unstressed syllable provides the suggestion of quote marks, which is entirely appropriate for a phrase that some might think requires them.

    Assonance, too.

    Are there many terms from modern political discussion which do a lot better?


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