The Sorelian Left

This, by John Ganz gets at something about the reaction of certain segments of the Left to the Insurrection (boldface mine):

Sorel hated first and foremost the institutions of liberal democracy and thought their destruction was a more important revolutionary goal even than ending capitalism….

The Sorelian left has as its “myth” the notion of a spontaneous revolt against the system by the alienated mass of American workers. Anything suggestive of that revolt is potentially or actually legitimate. This Sorelian left can’t accept the official, liberal account of the riots as something deplorable or dangerous; it has to find within it some kernel of virtuous behavior and just regrets that the energy was not directed in a slightly different direction.

This belief is related to another myth, that of the alienated American worker, usually a white male, dissatisfied by the deranging influence of neoliberalism on their way of life. As such, the Sorelian left has to seek out this figure in the social composition of the rioters, either ignoring the quite diverse social backgrounds of the participants or emphasizing and insisting upon it when they are characterized as “petty bourgeois” or even in some cases actually quite wealthy. The main important thing is the supposed absence of the Professional Managerial Class, the caretaker of hypocritical liberalism.

…there is a marked ambivalence on the part of the Sorelian left towards other uprisings and insurrectionary forces in the U.S., like BLM or antifa. There is definitely a racial component to this ambivalence, but I believe it’s also because the goals of the BLM movement have largely been embraced by the institutions of mainstream liberalism (not without significant hypocrisy, of course), rendering it immediately corrupt to the Sorelian left. So too is the antifascist street fighting too close to the broad liberal revulsion against the radical right. (I think Antifa are also too counter-cultural in their own way, the Sorelian left is paradoxically quite conservative.) They are also impatient with Gramscian left’s tactics of electoralism, grassroots organization, or elite persuasion and pressure, viewing those as avenues into the corrupt halls of liberalism.

Only the radical right appears to the Sorelian leftist to be authentically anti-bourgeois, truly unassimilable into the corrupt framework of mainstream liberalism. This is why there is a lot of curiosity in these Sorelian corners about the notions and culture of the radical right: about nationalism, about populism, about conspiratorialism as holding a rational kernel on the subject of corrupt elite domination, about avant-garde ironic shock tactics to épater la bourgeoisie, and so forth. This creates the need to insist on the core legitimacy or ultimate harmlessness of the Capitol riot: that its participants are good folk misled by corrupt politicians but are the potential shock troops of a future, genuine revolt.

I think this goes a long way to explain why some on the left think they can make common cause with part of the right (leftists yearning to be free!). It also gets at what I’ve seen: there are people on the left who dislike the ‘moderate’ left more than they do the right.

Those who belong to ‘high-target’ groups, even if they are far left typically do not hold the Sorelian perspective because the right, especially in its current form is viewed as an existential threat. Members of groups where eighty to ninety five percent of people vote Democratic are not doing so solely based on policy preferences: one does so when the alternative is seen as potentially lethal.

Anyway, it’s a good piece that crystallized what has been bouncing around in my head about certain ‘left’ pundits who are possessed of rage boners towards those who oppose the Republican Party.

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6 Responses to The Sorelian Left

  1. All Power to the People says:

    What a load of horse shit. C’mon Mike, I thought you were smarter than this.

  2. jmagoun says:

    Usually I can figure things out in your essays that comment on an offstage link. But here I spent most of my time while reading the long quote, trying to decode what “Sorelian” meant in relation to someone, I think, named Sorel. I believe I was getting the gist by the end, but the first part of this post had me very confused by a term I’d never heard before, referring to a movement on the left that I’d never read about before.

    Wait, why didn’t I just click the link? Because that’s not why I read a commentary blog. To me links are, or should be, like footnotes – pointers to additional material of interest or detail for those who want to dig deeper. I expect a blogger to give me the executive summary up front, as much as needed to understand his comments on it. And as I said, you usually do just that.

  3. elkern says:

    Meh. The “Sorelian Left” – whoever they are (link isn’t clear which people or groups that is) – is a trivial waste of time. “Revolutionary Hero” is a favorite character of poseurs everywhere; it’s the Left’s version of the Charismatic Evangelical Pastor. But the Left attracts free-thinkers, not Born Followers, so our bozos generally get bogged down in doctrinal squabbles with the people nearest them on the political spectrum, where the Right’s bozos get rich enough (Televangelists, etc) to be quite comfortable after their fall from “grace” (zipper problems).

  4. Bern says:

    After reading the link I was perfectly comfortable deciding that I need not apply another thought in their (whoever they are) direction…
    And hilariously inappropriate these days to apply the term ‘myth’ to the execrable trough of lies the right has boiled up…but certainly true that those lies are all that remains for them, having abandoned every other (old, discarded) talking point decades ago.

  5. hipparchia says:

    meh. i think all y’all are way overthinking some stuff.

    my guess is that there were a small number (relatively speaking) of serious insurrectionists who had plotted a serious attempted coup, and who had conned a lot of naive, fractious, but otherwise non-dangerous right-of-center types into attending what they thought would be a legitimate protest, complete with maybe some civil disobedience too. you don’t even need to have them all agree on anything at all since there soooo many ways to protest:

    the serious insurrectionists probably only needed to assassinate (or even credibly try and fail to assassinate) pence and pelosi, and maybe one or 2 others, to totally muck up the presidential line of succession and allow trump to declare martial law. all of the others were just being used as a mass large enough to overwhelm the capitol security forces (who appear to have basically been directed by trump to stand down).

    and yes, those of us on the left who have done protests, marches, sit-ins, etc are willing to defend the credulous and naive masses who probably had no clue what they were being roped into (even if they have the wrong political opinions).

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