What happened to all the hard-core left bloggers?

by on January 18, 2011 at 12:42 pm in Economics, Political Science, Weblogs | Permalink

Some of you want more comment on this Freddie deBoer piece on why the harder left is underrepresented in the blogosphere.  Here is RortyBomb, here is Matt, both good responses.  Here is a one-sentence excerpt from the original:

The truth is that almost anything resembling an actual left wing has been systematically written out of the conversation within the political blogosphere, both intentionally and not, while those writing within it congratulate themselves for having answered all left-wing criticism.

My thoughts turn to the market-oriented and right-wing sides of the blogosphere.  I see a few approaches out there:

1. Hold strongly to a pure free market line, but not much consider the toughest issues, starting with Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, and finishing with the inability of government to precommit to a lot of policies which might work as rules but never can be rules.  There are plenty of easy issues to focus on, starting with farm policy and free trade and on those the market-oriented point of view is a slam dunk.

2. Hold forth on the really tough issues, take what is considered an extreme point of view, and not convince anyone who doesn't already agree with you.  These bloggers also frequently find that their arguments are sufficiently a priori that a) they don't have much to say about new developments in the world, and b) their arguments end up being repeated and do not evolve much.  Even if you think those are good intellectual qualities when truth is on your side, you probably can see that they will not attract the largest or broadest of audiences.  A popular blog needs more of a plot.

3. Give ground on the tough issues, honestly and sincerely.

4. Focus on lowering the relative status of people on the other side of the debate.  This serves some functions similar to #1 and of course there is a large supply of targets.

If a lot of left-wing bloggers are following #3, that is very good (I don't pretend to judge what is a very large canvas) and we can root for that practice to spread, including of course to non-left-wing bloggers.

Freddie deBoer seems to be very smart.  I had never heard of him before, which I suppose means he is not extremely famous as a blogger.  So let's see how he evolves when it comes to his critique that "labor rights are undercut everywhere for the creation of economic growth" in an ongoing debate with some people who know more about it than he does.  He shows much better rhetorical skill than he does an understanding of labor economics.

Who exactly are the exiled left-wing (or right-wing) bloggers who deserve more attention?  From deBoer, there is a mention of Daily Kos and I checked in there again (I hadn't for years) and I wasn't exactly awestruck at the content.  Nor was it obvious to me that it was extremely left-wing.

I will readily grant that points of view can be stronger than they appear in a blogosphere debate and it is worth thinking through the biases here.  Arguably the more serious corners of the blogosphere overencourage moderate, "defensible" positions, with few weak spots for obvious bone-crushing attacks, "gotchas," and charges of apparent moral turpitude from onlooking scolders.  Still, that incentive is mostly a healthy one.  Whether the blogosphere as a whole encourages moderation, I am not sure.  But the better corners of it certainly do and that should be counted as one of its virtues. 

Davis X. Machina January 18, 2011 at 8:51 am

All that comes to mind is Lenin's Tomb, and that's UK-centric.

Andrew January 18, 2011 at 8:56 am

That's probably it. The cost for me to go get a Marxist paper is much higher than to follow the smoke to an equivalent blog post (not that I'm the one to do the bone crushing).

Wonks Anonymous January 18, 2011 at 9:14 am

Kos has always been explicit that his site is partisan (support Democrats, even "blue-dogs") rather than ideological (a la Tea Partiers/Club for Growth booting out "RINOs").

joe January 18, 2011 at 9:23 am

Tyler, am I reading your post wrong, or are you valuing intellectual honesty over propaganda in political debate? Swing voters don't get convinced by nuanced, intellectually honest arguments — there is much poli-sci literature on this.

If it's true that the conservative blogosphere is a well-oiled propaganda machine and the liberal blogosphere is full of people who "give ground on the tough issues, honestly and sincerely" then that probably disadvantages the liberal agenda. Sure, like you say, it would make for a more interesting blogosphere for us to read, but not so great in actually making a difference in the world.

Also, career incentives matter, like RortyBomb implies. The top liberal bloggers want to secure jobs at mainstream media publications and will craft their rhetoric accordingly. In the aggregate this matters.

Philo January 18, 2011 at 9:32 am

You write: "3. Give ground on the tough issues, honestly and sincerely." What have honesty and sincerity to do with it? You did not mention them (or their opposites) when specifying the other market-oriented/right-wing approaches.

"If a lot of left-wing bloggers are following #3, that is very good . . . and we can root for that practice to spread, including of course to non-left-wing bloggers." You are placing a high valuation on *honestly and sincerely giving ground*. But let's be clear: it's the honesty/sincerity that deserves praise, not the giving ground.

nick January 18, 2011 at 9:44 am

Is it bad that every time I engage with a Marxist I just say "Your argument is built on the flawed Labour Theory of Value and is therefore invalid, argument over". Obviously this doesn't beat the entire left, though.

Andrew Edwards January 18, 2011 at 10:05 am

Seems to me there is a bit of confusion between tonally "hard left" (i.e. slamming conservatives in the harshest possible terms) and substantively "hard left" (i.e. socialist or similar).

For example, most of Crooked Timber is pretty far substantively to the left, and that website will at least occasionally actually engage with the ideas of Marx, etc. (though they are smarter than to be dogmatic about it). They're tonally very moderate, though.

Substantively, Glen Greenwald and Kevin Drum seem pretty similar, but there is a very wide tonal spread between them. Andrew Sullivan is more tonally left than Drum, despite being substantively to his right.

Matt Y. is good about departing from traditional splits and holds some genuinely idiosyncratic views. In addition, one thing he is clever about is that generally when he makes substantively very strongly left wing statements, he'll moderate his tone. When he is only slightly in disagreement with people, he'll sharpen his tone to heighten the disticntion (or entertainment value, or whatver).

Kos is all tone, no substance, and so I stopped reading him.

Greg January 18, 2011 at 10:19 am

@ Slugger

Great comment. I can't speak for the future… Maybe in two generations, we'll be pining for Otto Neurath's socialist calculation.

But for now, that's unfathomable. Are free-markets irreversible? "Yes" is – I think – a plausible answer. In the process of switching to a socialized state, we'd have to give up huge luxuries – if not necessities. With the speed of information and communication available in the world today, I just don't think masses of people would tolerate it.

Virtually everyone on Earth waits for North Korea to fall apart. We know its going to happen. Is there anyone that thinks the same thing about developed states? Even as global currencies and debt markets roil, almost no one believes the end of western civilization is upon us.

Noah Yetter January 18, 2011 at 10:43 am

The extreme left — by which I am assuming we mean Marxism and other flavors of radical socialism — simply has nothing to offer. Its theories have been proven false and its ideas useless, not only theoretically but empirically, through trial and failure. Put simply, it has failed the market test. As Greg said above, there's just no demand for it.

E. Barandiaran January 18, 2011 at 10:57 am

Peter Twieg, to answer your question I distinguish between ends and means.

A majority of Americans agree with the ends that most right-wing pundits pursue, even if they disagree with most means proposed by "unreasonable" pundits. In other words, they are "unreasonable" because their proposals are often rejected.

Few Americans agree with the ends pursued by most left-wing pundits, although many Americans may agree with some means they propose. In other words, they are "unreasonable" because most people reject their ends.

j r January 18, 2011 at 11:08 am

To add to my previous comment, it should be noted that actual far-right parties, and actual far-right political figures in the US) are as critical of free markets as the far-left is.

The actual economic platforms of both the far-right and the far-right are built in such a manner as to constrain competition for the benefit of some favored demographic; workers in one case and the native-born in the other. Both tend to be quite mercantilist, protectionist and in favor of heavily regulated labor markets.

subdee January 18, 2011 at 11:25 am

My boss, a labor lawyer and organizer, says that it is simply not true that there are no far-left blogs. He recommendeds znet and counterpunch, for a start.

Yancey Ward January 18, 2011 at 11:47 am

For any number of reasons, the US has always operated on a narrower political band. In the 1930s when Fascists and Communists were fighting for control of the Continental European states, the great ideological debate in America was between the mixed economy of Roosevelt's New Deal and the laissez-faire of Andrew Mellon.

I would argue that both were on a narrow band of political differences, but just in a different band. The problem for the Communists and the Fascists is that they couldn't agree to share tyrannical control, not that they had truly fundamental differences methods.

Andrew January 18, 2011 at 12:07 pm

"We see it as an entrepreneurial bill," House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi Nancy Pelosi told the New York Times last week, "a bill that says to someone, if you want to be creative and be a musician or whatever, you can leave your work, focus on your talent, your skill, your passion, your aspirations because you will have health care."

What were we talking about again?

Barkley Rosser January 18, 2011 at 1:51 pm

j r,

You have not clarified at all, although I agree that this is not just knee jerk red vs blue team stuff, with these colors themselves showing how out of touch with the rest of the world US political discourse is, given that everywhere else "red" equals "left," and communist/socialist left at that, the "hard left" that is supposedly mostly absent from econoblogospheric discussions, at least in "leading blogs." As it is, the tea party has so far appeared to be involved in an intramural battle within the Republican party, that is, who gets to be (or at least lead) the "red team."

Regarding say, Limbaugh vs Sailer, I am not sure what the difference is. Sailer is obsessively anti-immigrant, but so is Limbaugh. What's the diff?

Anon. January 18, 2011 at 1:53 pm

As Greg and others said above, the left lost. This isn't the middle of the 20th century. There is no debate between serious people any more. The hard left is not on the blogosphere because it isn't anywhere. As Friedman put it quite some time ago:

"In the only cases in which the masses have escaped from the kind of grinding poverty that you are talking about, the only cases in recorded history are where they have had capitalism and largely free trade. If you want to know where the masses are worst off, it’s exactly in the kind of societies that depart from that. So that the record of history is absolutely crystal clear, there is no alternative way, so far discovered, of improving the lot of the ordinary people that can hold a candle to the productive activities that are unleashed by a free enterprise system."

dirk January 18, 2011 at 2:13 pm

On point 2 you are saying the Alt Right type blogs are merely echo-chambers, which is true, but they seem to comprise a larger echo-chamber than Alt Left type blogs. The Alt Right is also far more energetic (Moldbug, Roissy, etc.)(& far more likely to be MR readers), and, as you say, do "hold forth on the really tough issues". Why isn't the Alt Left more energetic and why don't they seem to equally hold forth on the really tough issues? Sure, you can say history is against them because we now know how badly communism worked out (however communism may not be their only stance), but why doesn't the same go for the Alt Right, who, in general, take much more lenient historical account of Nazi Germany than one would think possible? Did nearly everyone learn from the mistakes of the Soviets but not from the mistakes of the Nazis?

The question may be trivial since we are still just talking about echo-chambers, but the asymmetry does seem to exist in the blogosphere. Perhaps it is because the Alt Left still has Pacifica Radio, which is arguably much more left-wing than AM radio is right-wing.

Peter January 18, 2011 at 2:32 pm

Blogging's relative anonymity is essential to some far-right views. Some far-right are so politically incorrect that they cannot be discussed in non-anonymous settings. Examples include human biodiversity, homosexuality as an unnatural and unacceptable lifestyle, and some of the more extreme aspects of gender relationships such as de facto polygamy and the belief that high-I.Q. women are morally bound to produce as many children as possible.

Steve Sailer January 18, 2011 at 4:16 pm

I've been impressed with Thomas Geoghegan's recent work, such as his latest book on Germany's economic success, "Were You Born on the Wrong Continent?" There's a lot of wisdom in old-fashioned AFL-CIO-style analysis that has largely been lost over the years.

One obvious cause for the decline of class in politics is the rise of ethnicity in importance: in particular, the discovery by the elites of the two parties that they could use immigration to achieve their goals. Karl Rove wanted to use immigration to crush the power of unions, while Ted Kennedy wanted to use immigration to elect a new nation. Both look like they will succeed.

Steve Sailer January 18, 2011 at 4:54 pm

Right, Chomsky's critique of American foreign policy has become more relevant in the two decades since we won the Cold War. As Gen. Smedley Butler said, "War is a racket."

dirk January 18, 2011 at 5:37 pm

"the free exchange of goods and services between equals isn't very offensive to them."

It's that "between equals" that makes it clear they despise any economic way of thinking.

Careless January 18, 2011 at 6:59 pm

After all these hundreds of comments, still no one wants to try to make any sort of list of the various factions? We have a short list of moderate/mainstream left bloggers here, but there's all sorts of evidence of every other view being marginalized that is missing here

Barkley RosserB January 18, 2011 at 8:56 pm

Jim (is that my friend Indiana?),

In the eyes of many parts of the world, and I am talking Western Europe, Japan, Canada, and a lot of other

high income, largely market capitalist societies, the editorial and reporting positions of the NYT, WaPo, CNN,

ABC, NBC, and CBS are and have been substantially to the right of their views. There are quite a few countries

out there whose conservative parties are to the left of the US Dems. (Note I did not put MSNBC or NPR on that

list, although some would argue they could go there too.) The hard fact is that most people in this country do

not realize how far to the right our media are commpared to most of the world, but that is because they read or

see our media and not theirs. Thus they can engage in these delusions that this list that Jim has given are

"farleft."

In case anyone doubts this, let me simply note one case: attitudes to invading Iraq before we did so (and I

recognize that this is not a simply left-right matter as most libertarians opposed the war before it started).

However, most of the media Jim listed were gung-ho for the invasion, even as the largest demonstrations ever

seen around the world opposed it, largely unreported by our media, with the media in pretty much all of those

countries agreeing with that opposition. The only countries where popular and media opinion supported it in

any serious way outside the US were Israel, India (admittedly very large), and (ahem) Cameroon.

There are plenty of other areas where one will find a similar disjuncture, or an even greater one. Calling

these boringly mainstream US media "far left" consigns the vast majority of the world's media to that category.

Ron Potato January 19, 2011 at 12:03 am

Is anyone who believes in the slow march of Progress, dissatisfied with the current state of affairs?

Mercy January 19, 2011 at 2:34 am

Seems to be that the article is conflating two points, and the commentators are willfully misrepresenting them, those two points:

1) The US electorate as a whole is substantially more supportive of social democracy/soft-socialism than the chattering classes (see eg: http://www.gallup.com/poll/125645/socialism-viewe…. Yet the "left" of establishment blogs is limited to liberalism. This is a complaint about the blogosphere being unrepresentative, so arguments based on demand are nonsense.

2) That centrist bloggers are willing to engage with fascist or libertarian bloggers whose views would be unpalatable to the majority of the population (Moldbug, Roissey, etc, Hanson though more through contrariness than ideology) yet not with communist or anarchist bloggers like Richard Seymour. For this argument the demand critique seems pretty solid, especially since establishment blogs in the UK will happily link to trots and such.

As to what red blogs are being missed well besides those previously mentioned (Lenin's Tomb, Counter Punch, Red Pepper and Crooked Timber) there's Libertarian Labyrinth, Louis Proyect, Stumbling and Mumbling, Raj Patel, A Very Public Sociologist, Mustard Seed and Michael Hudson all of whom are genuinely informative. Though I think the closest thing to Moldbug is probably Chris Floyd's wordy, vicious and spectacularly one-note Empire Burlesque.

lxm January 19, 2011 at 2:17 pm

I agree with Freddie.

Here's the thing. Rush Limbaugh is mainstream. Let me say that again: Rush Limbaugh is mainstream. There is no left.

As Freddie says: "There are two axes of neoliberalism. The first, substantive neoliberalism, means fidelity to the economic policy platform of globalization in the elimination of tariff walls and other impediments to the "free market," incredible antipathy towards organized labor (and, effectively if not intentionally, towards workers in general), resistance to the regulatory apparatus that has protected workers for decades, and the general belief that the way to ameliorate the moral outrages of capitalism is to pursue more capitalism."

As far as I can see the current left, the Democratic Party, is merely the coherent voice for the incoherent right wing voices of the Republican Party.

Same policy goals.

Even if they yell about it a lot.

And we will be paying for it for quite a while.

Careless January 19, 2011 at 8:02 pm

Here's the thing. Rush Limbaugh is mainstream. Let me say that again: Rush Limbaugh is mainstream

Well, not right wing enough to get a job at the NYT or WaPo and not all that right wing overall, but sure, lots of people listen to him… but his blog? Kos, DU, HuffPo, and a number of others I'm forgetting on the left CRUSH his blog in hits. Limbaugh is a mainstream Republican, not some far-right character

The far right does not exist in mainstream blogging. It doesn't even get linked to. I looked it up today, and Steve Sailer is down at #1800 of Technorati's top blogs (based on links), despite the fact that he would be in the top 100 in terms of page traffic. The only far-right that seems to be able to get people to link to it is the anti-Islam far right, with Atlas Shrugs and Gates of Vienna both highly ranked

Careless January 20, 2011 at 4:16 pm

Well, not right wing enough to get a job at the NYT or WaPo and not all that right wing overall,

Sorry, replace "right wing" with "mainstream" here

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