Saturday, December 21, 2013

The Basic Problem with the Left Today

Tony Judt:
Since the late eighteenth century the left in Europe, variously labeled, has been the bearer of a project. Whether this project has been the march of progress, the preparation of revolution, or the cause of a class, it has always invoked the historical process, and history itself, on its behalf. Since the decline of the industrial proletariat, and more precipitously with the end of the Soviet Union, the left in the West has been shorn of its agent, its project, and even its story -- the "master narrative" within which all radical endeavors were ultimately couched, which made sense of their programs and explained away their setbacks. . . .

The real problem facing Europe's Socialists (I use the term purely for descriptive convenience, since it is now short of any ideological charge) is not their policy preferences, taken singly. Job creation, a more "social" Europe, public infrastructure investment, educational reforms, and the like are laudable and uncontroversial. But nothing binds these policies or proposals together into a common political or moral narrative. The Left has no sense of what its own political success, if achieved, would mean; it has no articulated vision of a good, or even of a better, society. In the absence of such a vision, to be on the Left is simply to be in a state of permanent protest. And since the thing most protested against is the damage wrought by rapid change, to be on the Left is to be a conservative.
From "The Social Question Redivivus", 1997

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