When I spoke with James Howard Kunstler, way back in the antecovidian days of 2019, his first question was tough, but fair: “If the political spectrum takes the form of a circle, then where are all the residents of the lower quadrants?” He noted that Ron Paul and Ralph Nader fit the profile, but both were getting long in the tooth.
Julian Assange and Edward Snowden had already performed much of their work before I wrote The Great Conflation, so a handful of members did represent the lower quadrants ……
But Kunstler had a point. Few figures stridently combined a citizen-empowering power answer with their longer-held values orientation, whether that values belief resided on the left or the right.
This dearth had always been less pronounced on the right, where libertarian leanings occasionally allied with conservative values. On the left, however, the thrall of progressivism caused many liberals to equate centralized power with insightful wisdom and a seemingly limitless capacity for good works …… if stubborn obstructionists would just get out of the way.
But today, for a growing number of liberals, faith in the state has eroded.
Exhibit A for this trend is the group of left-leaning writers who now congregate on the online platform Substack. Matt Taibbi, Glenn Greenwald, Bari Weiss, and Michael Tracey are just a few of the journalists, formerly employed by mainstream publications, who have become “substackerati” …… either by choice or by circumstance. They’re joined by thinkers like John McWhorter who maintain a relationship with their mainstream institutions while speaking out against the direction of those institutions’ policies.
These figures have two key characteristics in common. (1) Each represents a set of values that is avowedly liberal. (2) They are the also some of the strongest voices arrayed in opposition to the authoritarian policies of the establishment (in general) and the Forces of Woke (in particular).
Unfortunately, while their writing establishes the transformational edge of today’s political discourse, they often fail to recognize the paradigm that they themselves represent. This becomes apparent in their use of language. Even the most gifted of writers, like Taibbi and Greenwald, frequently use the same term (“liberal,” “left,” “progressive“) to represent opposed concepts …… occasionally connoting contradictory definitions of the same term within consecutive paragraphs. But “The Left” cannot represent the good guys and the bad guys at the same time. An entity cannot oppress itself.
Clearer distinctions will emerge over time, as more minds move toward the lower quadrants, and as existing occupants become more familiar with the twenty-first century’s terms of engagement.
What are those terms of engagement? ……
While divisions between the left and right – our values orientations – will remain important, they have now become secondary to the other Fundamental Question, which addresses power. The prime conflict of the current epoch orients vertically. Our era’s battle is waged between the march of uniform centralization at the top of the circle, and edge-of-chaos empowerment of citizens – including their communities – at the bottom.
Substack Nation has chosen its ground in this conflict.