Civil War Among Liberals?

The culture wars of the late 20th century are effectively over. While aging Republicans still try to outlaw abortion and block gay marriage, these efforts usually fail. And most young people are progressive on social issues.

But there’s a growing trend that concerns me. Atheism+ (atheism plus liberal politics) bullies and verbally abuses atheists whose politics don’t fall strictly in line. This includes witch hunts. And the left is attacking free speech on college campuses. The same left which started the campus free speech movement in the 1960s.

In a previous post I only partially agreed with Allum Bokhari, who says his research found that GamerGate supporters are mostly liberal. Rather, GamerGate supporters are from the libertarian left, not the establishment left (progressives). The latter, which largely comprises the Democratic Party and academia, has oppression as its primary political focus while the former is more concerned with individual liberty. I speculated that control of the Democratic Party will remain with establishment liberals; and by 2030 traditionalists will have gotten too old to maintain control of the GOP, which will woo left libertarians to survive (thus Republicans will become less socially conservative over time).

The conflict on the left between those on the left focused on rectifying oppression and those advocating individual liberty appears to be a new culture war. Conservative website Breitbart has a piece that details the key liberal fault lines:

  • Atheists are divided over Atheism+, which is feminist, anti-GamerGate, and which views criticism of Islam as racist. After Christopher Hitchens’ death, Sam Harris has taken the reins as atheism’s most vehement critic of Islam. But even women’s rights activist Ayaan Hirsi Ali, who is a survivor of female genital mutilation, got disinvited from Brandeis University (with her honorary degree revoked) because she is so outspoken against Islam.
  • The libertarian left staunchly defends due process while the establishment left/progressives advocate the lower standard of preponderance of the evidence in campus rape accusations. Progressives also say a woman who alleges rape should never be doubted, which left libertarians criticize as “guilty before proven innocent.”
  • The libertarian left is strongly for free speech, but the establishment left/progressives sometimes support censorship when women or minorities feel offended. Reason recently noted that the University of Kentucky asked students if they wanted a single or multiple free speech zones on campus, neglecting to ask if the entire campus should be a free speech zone.
  • And in academia the notion that gender is a social construct is being challenged by neuroscientists who point to biological bases of behavior. (That is, nature vs. nurture is a false dichotomy – it’s a little of both.)

It seems that many of the tactics used by progressives/establishment liberals are similar to the tactics of social conservatives, though politically they are polar opposites.

When a grand moral ideal is envisioned for society, it is considered a moral good to aggressively push that agenda. Those who are not on board are oppressors, or back in the 1980s were sinners in the eyes of the Christian Right. Curtailing free speech, due process, and the like are seen as necessary to protect the innocent and oppressed, or the righteous.

It is in the methodology, but not the issues, that social conservatives and social progressives meet. And in both cases, growing authoritarianism is a risk.

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Author: Dave DuBay

Dave is a social worker from Phoenix, Arizona. He blogs at thepaintedporch.net. He's also at twitter.com/Dave_DuBay.

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