‘the left’, whatever it is, is not democratic?

I read this piece on the overland blog and the comments flowing from it and was taken by a suggestion that seemed to get a lot of coverage.

Specifically, I was interested in the early contributions regarding the thought that talk about the justness of a No Fly Zone intervention in Libya is in some way disingenuous because of the inability of ‘the left’ to force things to happen. That is, those comments that engaged with the following suggestion in Jacinda’s piece:

“In any case, the urgency of this debate is fraudulent, because the Left is, for all intents and purposes, incapable of determining the behaviour of western governments. If we can’t end the war in Afghanistan, we certainly can’t force the government to go to war if it doesn’t want to.”

I am interested in this because of the implications this seems to have as to what ‘the left’ is. Whatever it may be in total, this idea seem to imply that ‘the left’ is not democratic. This is surprising given the common association of democracy with ‘the left’.

It appears to be undemocratic because of two implications that emerge from the idea.

Firstly, there is the implication that it should be a goal of ‘the left’ – which, amongst whatever other qualities it may have, is a subset of the people – to control the behavior of governments.

Secondly, the idea seems to imply that such control must be total. The suggestion is that the left should be “determining” the actions of government, not simply playing a part in such determination. The left’s motivations here cannot be polluted by other, contradictory, assertions of the common good. This is made more strikingly evident in some of the comments. For instance, when Jeff suggests: “In that context”, the context being relative impotence of ‘the left’, “left wing posturing does nothing other than confuse what’s taking place, by pretending that it is something that ‘we’ have directed.” To suggest that ‘we’ must be sure that it is ‘we’ that are actually doing the doing is to suggest that ‘we’ must do so in isolation from others since any reaction to others would dissolve our certitude of agency.

Taking these together leads to the conclusion that whatever the left is it is not democratic. It is not people as people who should determine the just acts of a community but a subset of people, possessing certain features that make them recognisable as ‘the left’, who should determine the just acts of a community.  It is perhaps for this reason that Jeff makes the argument that efforts should be directed more towards “theoretical clarity” over and above engaging with debates in ostensible democracies about what is a just act. Such ‘theoretical clarity’ may build upon what ‘the left’ has, “a set of ideas”.

This undemocratic leftism emerges again in the monolithic character given to “the government”. To repeat Jacinda: “we certainly can’t force the government to go to war if it doesn’t want to.” Who, or what, is the government? Whatever the left is here, it is opposed to something or someone wholly other whose motives cannot be said to be influenced by opinions of, at least, ‘the left’ and is in control of the show.

This is also why engagement with such arguments is bad, it merely covers up such alterity.  The who for Jeff is variously, “the white house” “the US” and “US Generals” and whatever they do their actions are not directed towards anything that can be described as “humanitarian ends” (which presumably are the ends of ‘the left’) rather, they are directed to some wholly other ends: the “material advantage” of the US. Humanitarian ends are merely an “ideological cover” for such pursuits that are provided by the left when it suggests that such agents, the “White House” or “US Generals” or “the US”, might be justified in their acts by such ends.  It seems to be assumed that “humanitarian ends”, or other opinions about just acts, form no part in the motivations of these agents or at least there is some impassable gulf between the left and these other ‘interests’. Such people holding such interests do not possess the right stuff, not only for rulership alone, but for rulership in conjunction with other humans.  Engagement with these people of differing opinions is excluded now just as it would be in ‘the left’s’ just regime.

Dr_Tad expands this beyond the political context. “The US cannot have advantageous trade relations with a revolutionising democratising people’s government.” Why not, because there are no mutual interests? If that expansion of the incomprehensibility between ‘the left’ (assuming that ‘revlutionising democratising people’s government is synonymous with left government) and its other is held more broadly it might be concluded that the left is also racist, ie the belief that some people are not people and therefore cannot be engaged with except through violence.

It seems to me that if the left is of the opinion that democracy, the rulership of the people as people is a just ends then it follows that engagement with arguments about just acts with people as people is not only okay but necessary, even if the results of such engagement will be a compromise of the specific act one views as just. If on the other hand it is the opinion of ‘the left’ that some quality in addition to being a person is necessary for just governance then Jeff is probably right, a little more clarity on what that quality is would be helpful.


About barkingcoins
This author is just another fucking dickhead.

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