That the Left has become much more intensively coercive in recent years has not gone unnoticed among conservatives. In Liberal Fascism and elsewhere, Jonah Goldberg has popularized a longstanding view of the left-wing philosophy that in the United States calls itself “liberalism” — though we cannot in good faith call it that — that connects it with the nakedly coercive, antidemocratic, and anti-constitutional tendency of Woodrow Wilson and the progressives of his era, and with the various nasty totalitarian movements that inspired them and were inspired by them in turn. It’s not that we expect Robert Reich to come marching up Fifth Avenue wearing jackboots (the Pride March ain’t what it used to be) but that managerial progressivism is fundamentally corporatist in the sense that Mussolini et al. used the term: It conceives of formal political power and economic production as a single unit to be kept working in harmony, like a well-tuned engine, by such experts as the state recognizes as suited to the task. In theory, these men are to be guided by evidence meeting scientific standards — they are to be the sort of disinterested and dispassionate pragmatists that exist mainly within the narrow confines of Ezra Klein’s cranium.
The problem, as various capital-”F” Fascists and National Socialists and Communist politburos and Vox readers all discovered in their turn, is that even if these dispassionate and disinterested managers existed — and they don’t — bureaucracies do not have the collective cognitive firepower to replace markets, or even to intelligently guide them. From the Soviet five-year plans to Obamacare, all central-planning exercises begin in hubris and end in chaos.
And when the chaos comes, the natural thing to do — the imperative thing — is: find someone to blame. The planners and schemers are intellectually incapable of dealing seriously with the fact that the project that they have set for themselves — substituting their own judgment for that of the billions of better-informed parties in the market and coming up with superior outcomes — is an impossible one. But once you’ve accepted real limits on what planning can do — on what government can do — then you have at some level essentially surrendered to conservatism.
And that means that somebody, somewhere, must be a racist.
…what’s new is that the wanton application of this juvenile mode of discourse [PC politics as rhetorical trump card] now encompasses previously immune white liberals. But the tendency itself is ancient, and prominent on his end of the political spectrum.
The Wilsonian vision of domestic governance through expertise and fiat quickly devolved into a reality of goon squads, political persecution, crushing of dissent with formal and informal political violence, politicization of law enforcement, etc. The Occupy bomb-throwers and the imbecile hooligans committing arson to prove that “black lives matter” are not quite the American Protective League, but they’re of a piece with it. In the Wilson years, we had politicized police; in the Obama years, we have a weaponized IRS . . . and Justice Department, and police unions, and jailers’ unions. The Wilson-era progressives tried to use the Sedition Act to shut down critics of the great progressive. In our time, Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and Harry Reid want to throw people in prison for unpopular political activism of which they disapprove. The grand plans of 2009 are coming unraveled, as grand plans do, and so the Left grows ever more naked in its coercion. On the official side of the spectrum, you have Senate Democrats voting to repeal the First Amendment so that they can suppress political criticism. On the unofficial side — as the perpetually late-to-the-party Jonathan Chait has suddenly noticed — you have people such as Brendan Eich being run out of their jobs for holding unpopular political opinions, human-rights heroes such as Ayaan Hirsi Ali run off college campuses, and Trustafarians from suburban Boston shutting down emergency ambulance services because they are displeased about . . . something.
The Left’s last big idea was Communism. When Lenin turned out to be the god who failed, the Left undertook wide exploration for another grand unifying idea: environmentalism, multiculturalism, economic inequality, atheism, feminism, etc. What it ended up with was an enemies’ list.
That and a taste for brute force.
The enthusiasm for coercion and the substitution of enemies for ideas — Christians, white men, Israel, “the 1 percent,” the Koch brothers, take your pick — together form the basis for understanding the Left’s current convulsions. The call to imprison people with unapproved ideas about global warming, the Senate Democrats’ vote to repeal the First Amendment, the Ferguson-inspired riots, the picayune political correctness and thought-policing that annoys Jonathan Chait, the IRS’s persecution of conservative political groups, Barack Obama’s White House enemies’ list, the casual violence against conservatives on college campuses and the Left’s instinctive defense of that violence — these are not separate phenomena but part of a single phenomenon.