The Leftists Who Turn Right

Kathryn Joyce

In These Times


“Except ​“horseshoe theory,” which imagines a political spectrum bending to meet at its extremes, doesn’t describe this drift. It goes in one direction.”

“Maybe there’s a kind of gravity to the slide, the black hole of fascism sucking toward it all the loose particles of those whose commitments were never complex or whose convictions were snapped by despair”

“the ouroboros of fascist contrarianism, the snake that bites its own tail.”

“artists shocking the bourgeoisie is an old story. ​“This sort of thing has been seen before,” says John Ganz, author of a forthcoming book on political volatility in the early 1990s”

“​“A certain cultural elite thinking the transgression and vulgarity of fascism or right-wing populism is amusing and upsets all the right people. When Celine published his crazy antisemitic rant in the ​’30s, lots of French intellectuals thought he must be being ironic: ​‘This is such a wonderful provocation of middle-class sensibilities and hypocrisy.’” But, Ganz continues, ​“The problem is they also have to keep coming up with stuff to be provocative.””

“In a 2017 article, political scientist Joseph E. Lowndes tells a cautionary tale about Telos, a once-Marxist journal founded in the 1960s that, by the 1990s, had become home to far-right thinkers who provided the intellectual backbone for the alt-right”

“Frustrated by their sense that all forms of dissent were co-opted and neutralized by capitalism, Telos’ editors had searched farther and farther afield for movements that truly challenged social norms. Much of what they found was on the nationalist, racist Right.”

“After 2016, right-wing intellectuals, flush with patronage, set about to retcon a theory of Trumpism. What was the movement that had just upended U.S. politics? Ideas came from the new New Right — critics of the political theory of liberalism — for both letting boundless social liberty undermine the country’s social foundation and for letting free markets immiserate the working and middle classes”

“The truth of it all, he says, isn’t in this theory or that. ​“People go where people accept them, or are nice to them, and away from people who are mean to them.” It wasn’t always coherent, but it didn’t have to be. ​“Historically speaking, authoritarian reactionary movements have been the result of, or have gained support and energy from, such incoherence and such contradictions,” Aponte said”

“Fascists have been pushing red-brown politics for generations — sometimes openly, sometimes by repackaging their ideas to sound leftist,” argues Matthew Lyons, author of Insurgent Supremacists: The U.S. Far Right’s Challenge to State and Empire

“The forerunners of fascism emerged from France in the late 19th century, when a movement arose combining anti-Marxists, Catholic traditionalists and disaffected leftists who’d grown pessimistic about democracy”

“The tendency has been overstated at times, but it’s rippled through Left movements since, from strange marriages of convenience within the Weimar Republic to Trotskyite-turned-fascist Lyndon LaRouche leaching off Left support from countless causes”

““It’s not the Left going to an extreme,” says Lowndes. ​“It’s choosing one element of left politics and abandoning all of its other historic principles.””

“Diagonalism, argue Slobodian and Callison, functions like a post-Covid version of ​“digitally mediated” movements such as Brexit. It rejects conventional labels of left and right, even as it borrows elements from both, sharing ​“a conviction that all power is conspiracy.” It’s often marked by ​“a dedication to disruptive decentralization, a desire for distributed knowledge and thus distributed power, and a susceptibility to right-wing radicalization.””

“The people who comprise diagonalist movements come in various forms: movement hustlers gamifying politics; left-to-right ideologues who claim they didn’t leave the Left, the Left left them; and far-right esoterics. It has drawn wellness enthusiasts as well as neo-Nazis, and has praised QAnon. Unlike a horseshoe, the diagonalist path draws from not just the Left but also the center and the greater hinterlands, where everyday people hadn’t previously thought much about politics at all”

“Where does it end? Ask Oliver Bateman, a journalist who grew up in a conservative community, moved left and then post-left”

“Today, says Bateman, there’s no line between post-left and plain-old Right. ​“It’s just all this goofy soup, and the people that got off the crazy train are just”— like himself — ​“leftover Democrats.””

““This is all building toward a new push for people knowing their place,” says Bateman. ​“They’re fighting all the same battles the Right fought in the ​’80s, ​’70s, ​’60s: relitigating civil rights, gays, race in America, race and IQ. It’s this train that only goes in one direction, unless you have any sense of what the map looks like. Some of these podcasts are meme-ing George Wallace back into the discourse. They’re relitigating Germany in the ​’30s. Everything is in play. You can only be ironic for so long — you can only post so many George Wallace memes — before you start thinking that two sets of water fountains aren’t a bad idea.””

“We, the authors of this article, each count such losses in our own lives, and maybe you do, too: friends you struggle to hold onto despite their growing allegiance to terrifying ideas, and friends you give up on, and friends who have given up on you and the hope you shared together.”

“Hope, after all, is earnest, and earnest can be embarrassing, especially now as the odds seem to lengthen. But as media critic Jay Rosen puts it, what matters more than odds are stakes”

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