the costs of social capture

The other day I criticized this piece in The New York Times Magazine about artificial intelligence by Gideon Lewis-Kraus. Speaking as a wholly amateur student of AI myself, I found it frustrating because Lewis-Kraus says things that make it clear that he’s aware of common pitfalls in popular writing about AI, and then proceeds to walk right into them. So I said so on Facebook. I then got a Facebook message from an acquaintance: “I didn’t know you and Gideon had a problem with each other.”

This is, I want to say, a really powerful encapsulation of the basic premise of media culture. It is the condition under which I’ve labored for the past 8 years of writing. I don’t have a problem with Lewis-Kraus – I’m fond of him. I had a problem with a piece he wrote. That piece had ideas. I have different ideas. That is what this is supposed to all be about. This is why I bother to write. But the worlds of writing, journalism, and politics are now so thoroughly captured by the social imperative that the very notion of a conflict of ideas gets assumed away.

I have been telling some version of this story for years. The problem has accelerated as traditional media jobs die out and as technology further compels journalists and writers to pay attention only to their personal friends. (Slack: because journalism wasn’t insular and cliquish enough already.) And the self-reflexive aspect of this problem only deepens: journalists and writers only take seriously criticism that comes from their personal friends, and they define as personal friends those that don’t subject their work to criticism. It is a perfect trap. I know of very few professional writers who are even willing to think about the problem seriously. There’s little to gain and a lot to lose, professionally and socially.

I am thinking of this today because I have observed, once again, that the path of professionalization in DC politics and policy writing leads unerringly towards the right. That is, as one gains professional stature in that world, they move without exception to the right, when it comes to economics and foreign policy. This has consequences, bad ones. But because the social codes of journalism and policy prevent anyone from making this kind of criticism, out of the conviction that it is “personal,” it goes undiscussed.

Let’s take Ned Resnikoff. Resnikoff is a young liberal writer who has speedily climbed up the ladder of Washington DC politics and policy writing. (He went to my high school, as it happens.) For years I understood him to be a left-leaning liberal – probably not a radical, but someone with reliably left-wing sympathies and instincts. As his career has progressed, he has moved consistently to the right. And it’s a very particular kind of conservative turn: one that attempts less to rebut left-wing ideas but to exclude them entirely. In his piece today – for the Center for American Progress, which could hardly be more perfect – he explicitly ties the radical left to white supremacy, a rhetorical ploy undertaken to suggest that leftists should not be debated but rather excluded from polite society altogether. It is hippie punching of a very aggressive, deliberately inflammatory kind.

This, it should be noted, is a 100% identical argument to that of conservative writer Jonah Goldberg in his best seller Liberal Fascism: it’s a criticism based purely on vulgar guilt-by-association, Hitler was a vegetarian stuff. “So-and-so approvingly quoted this piece, ergo he and the person who wrote it are the same” is not an argument that can withstand even the briefest review. Lots of white supremacists agree with lots of liberals that we need school “choice.” Does that therefore make the charter school movement white supremacist? I’m sure a lot of white supremacists believe that the Earth orbits the sun. I’m sure a lot of white supremacists listen to the same music Resnikoff does. Why, it wouldn’t surprise me at all if, in the past, a white supremacist had approvingly quoted something Resnikoff wrote! Would he see that as equally disqualifying? Would he take kindly to someone attempting to discredit him through reference to such a thing? I doubt it. But in professional political writing, you can always get away with attacking Marxists, however unfairly.

If you think that there are no principles, only people; if you think that there are no political ideas, only political tribes; if you have only a politics of who and not of what, then it makes sense to say that fascism and communism are the same. Neither group, after all, are the kind to invite you to have drinks in Logan Circle. That they are diametrically opposed in their ideas – and that it wasn’t liberalism that beat fascism, but rather 20 million dead communists – is incidental. What matters is that both are antagonists to the affluent liberals who dictate political journalism’s social culture.

Here’s another Jacobin piece about identity politics that, if anything, makes a stronger, more inflammatory case than the one Resnikoff selectively quotes. Does it follow that Shuja Haider is a white nationalist? Does it matter to Resnikoff that the most acid critiques of identity politics I know of have come from writers of color? Does he care? I’m not sure. What I am sure of is that by insisting that people to his left are necessarily aligned with white supremacy, Resnikoff is doing his career great favors.

Resnikoff’s journey towards a professionally and socially safe center-right identity is a time-honored tradition. I would accuse Ezra Klein of it, but Ezra never really stood for anything but ambition. But Matt Yglesias is a perfect exemplar, someone who once had fairly sturdy leftish liberal economic beliefs and who would now be a Tory if he lived in the UK. This right-wing drift is neither coincidental nor hard to explain. The left wing stands opposed to the interests of establishment power; establishment power controls who gets work in media and think tanks and who doesn’t; therefore standing opposed to the left wing has obvious and direct career incentives. Not everyone marches right to the same degree or with the same consistency. But I can genuinely think of not a single person who has moved to the left as they have climbed the ladder of influence and social prominence in the worlds of DC writing and policy. Not one.

The tendency for young writers and journalists to begin their careers much further to the left than they end up – the way that young lefties reliably become young Jon Chaits, dropping their vestigial left-wing sympathies and glomming on to the center-right Washington consensus, and the way they are rewarded for doing so – is a structural facet of media. It is not personal. And in order to accurately describe the world, I need to be able to talk about that phenomenon, in concrete terms and with specific examples. But even though this post is more about the meta-phenomenon than about Resnikoff himself, it will be dismissed as a personal attack, no matter how explicit I am in denying that. It will be tweeted with scoffs that don’t even attempt to consider its actual core argument. It will be seen through one lens and one lens only: Freddie deBoer vs. Ned Resnikoff, one person who’s out criticizing one person who’s in. That’s the only way that professional politics writers now know how to interrogate the world. (On Facebook, Resnikoff wrote “RIP my menchies” when posting this piece, which is a dogwhistle within the journalist social circle that means “people are going to criticize something that I as a professional writer put out into the world.”) And it is profoundly destructive to the necessary intellectual work of democracy.

The burgeoning war between liberals and leftists matters. The Democratic party is in tatters. Nativism is ascendant. The Obama administration, lionized as the pinnacle of liberalism a few short years ago, leaves with its premiere accomplishment – the hideously complicated stew of good intentions and bad ideas that is Obamacare – struggling to work and totally unable to build a political constituency that might protect it. The center-right managerial class liberalism that Resnikoff now stands for, by almost any rational measure, has failed. Yet the people within it busily deflect any and all criticism. Establishment Democrats have furiously denied that they have failed in any way. Liberals have channeled huge amounts of their energy into lashing out towards their left, rather than attempting to define what they stand for and how to get it. No matter how many times I dare bright liberals to write pieces about why, exactly, they hate those to their left with such a righteous passion, I can’t get anyone to take the bait. And social capture deepens all of these problems.

Until and unless people in political writing and journalism consider how thoroughly they’ve confused friendship for political alliance – until they reckon with how Twitter and Slack and company parties and their politico softball league and the cult of Let’s Be Friennnnnnnnnds have undermined their ability to say unpopular things about the world – our left-of-center political movements will have a hard time recovering. But to do that, some on the inside have to really critique insider culture, and that in turn is a violation of what it takes to get inside. It’s a real, thorny problem, and I don’t see how it gets solved under current conditions in politics and media. In the meantime I will stay depressed as I see yet more bright young liberals discover, to their professional and social convenience, that the problem was those dirty commies all along.

Update: 

To whit.

No attempt to say “this argument is wrong” or explain why. 100% pure “this person is not on my team.” Which is how almost all liberals argue now – pure tribalism. Incidentally I guarantee Alex here couldn’t accurately name what I actually believe and have actually argued if his life depended on it. It’s always second-hand distortions or out-and-out inventions about what I do and don’t believe.

You show that you’re in through who you declare to be out. You show that you’re in through who you declare to be out. You show that you’re in through who you declare to be out. You show that you’re in through who you declare to be out. You show that you’re in through who you declare to be out.

Update the second: To whit, again!

Not a word in this Twitter thread from David Klion on the actual point of this post – the way that social capture influences what critiques will actually get substantively discussed. In fact Klion refuses to engage with that precisely because he thinks it’s mean to someone he likes! He studiously ignores the fact that I directly rebutted Resnikoff’s one and only argumentative tactic – guilt by association – then claims I’ve offered no argument. He also completely ignores that the post is explicitly about the argumentative context in which Resnikoff’s piece lives. And then, in a twitter thread about my supposed ad hominem, several other people use ad hominem against me, and Klion doesn’t correct him! Could it because Klion likes Resnikoff, doesn’t like me, and so he doesn’t mind that people exemplify what I’m critiquing in their attacks on the critique?

Klion cannot imagine someone who cares about ideas rather than people, and so here he has to literally invert the dynamic: he ascribes to me his own obsession with politics of petty personal issues in order to assert that there can be no ideas within my piece. Again, the basic point of this post: no ideas, only personalities. No engagement, only Freddie deBoer is a Bad Person Who Goodies Like Me Don’t Like. And his followers go right ahead and say that explicitly. For which I’m grateful.

See? If you criticize professional writers, it must only be because you want to go to shitty cocktail parties and can’t get an invite. What a world.

43 Comments

    1. He was, and had a lot of shitty foreign policy views. But economically, he’s moved consistently and significantly to the right.

      1. I’m not sure I agree that Yglesias has abandoned a left-liberal economic outlook . He is a vocal opponent of austerity, supports higher taxes on the rich, pushing the federal reserve to accept a higher rate of inflation to boost wage growth, universal public college, and plenty of other, small-bore expansions to the social safety net. Is there a specific economic position he’s taken recently that informed your view of his Tory leanings?
        http://www.vox.com/2016/3/10/11194158/bernie-sanders-free-college
        http://www.vox.com/2016/1/26/10829888/bernie-sanders-federal-reserve
        http://www.vox.com/2014/4/18/5620702/case-for-confiscatory-taxation

  1. Your complaints are valid enough, except for the idea that they have anything to do with “media culture” Personalizing disagreement is a lot older than mass media; it’s probably ancient. It turns up everywhere, in the sciences as well as in the humanities. Just one random example: the eugenicist Madison “Grant would tell anyone willing to listen how much he loathed Franz Boas[, who] ‘naturally does not take stock in any anthropology which relegates him and his race to the inferior position that they have occupied throughout recorded history.'” (See Aaron Gillette, Eugenics and the Nature-Nurture Debate, Palgrave Macmillan, 2008). This was early 20th century; Grant could cast Boas’ objections to the former’s scientific racism as personal/racial spite, not reasoned criticism. You could also see Gillette’s characterization of Grant’s loathing of Boas as a personalization of their disagreement.

    I don’t think it’s necessary for personalization of disagreement to be a novelty for it to be a problem, or to criticize it.

  2. It’s little surprise that these critiques are viewed as purely personal when the core of the argument is simply the implication that Yglesias et al changed their mind and formed the beliefs that they did simply because of their self-interest as members of the establishment.

    An alternative explanation for this rightward shift is at the centre right where Yglesias et al live, has a lot of discussion of data and evidence of a certain kind, whereas the left proper increasingly only has shrill denunciations of even speculatively considering evidence or data of an increase in the wide number of questions. It is very easy for Vaux writers to come across hundreds of smart libertarians offering arguments backed up with some data, whether are right or wrong, but it is hard to find many marxists or even general socialists interested in engaging with detail discussions of data rather than evidence sparse subjective think pieces about what is in or out according to their particular political clique.

    1. This is in fact the exact opposite of the condition. Writers like Matt Bruenig and Spencer Ackerman and JW Mason and Steve Randy Waldman bring acres of empirical evidence to their arguments, to say nothing of academics like Piketty. Your comment is pure ideology dressed up as the view from nowhere.

      1. I could quibble about these four counterexamples, by questioning how empirical and engaged with data Ackerman is and how left anti-regulation libertarians like Waldman are, but the broader point is established simply by observing that there are literally hundreds of such examples on the centre right- for example virtually every economics blogger out there-and that these make up a large part of who writers like Yglesias and Klein are engaging with, and far outnumber the equivalent wonky data driven pundits on the left. . Taking the example of Piketty, within academia the case is even more extreme, with Piketty being part of an extremely small minority of economists who could even vaguely be considered left of centre.

        This is not about which side has the better evidence base, it’s about explaining why establishment writers like Yglesias, who have a taste for data and a certain highly analytic way of thinking about things, naturally gravitate towards the centre right when the people speaking and arguing in a way amenable to their way of thinking are disproportionately centre or even further right, whereas a large portion of those on the left are explicitly dismissive or even hostile to those standards evidence and argument.

        1. I’m sorry, but your case here just seems empirically untrue. I guarantee you that a significant majority of quantitative social science researchers in the America university system are left-of-center.

      2. Freddie — I would love for you to spend more time on your blog explaining this data-driven far left stuff rather than going in weird (but entertaining) circles regarding the center-left. I’m very sympathetic to the far left, especially post-Trump, but primarily the far left seems to be most interested in shitting on the center-left, which doesn’t inspire confidence. As a guy who tends to fluctuate between the two camps–e.g., I voted for Chuy in the Chicago mayoral primary, but voted for Clinton (I would have preferred Warren!) in the presidential primary–I really don’t see a lot of serious in-the-weeds thinking coming out of the far left. Just to be clear, I’m not involved in the media at all… I’m just a random voter.

        1. Just to give one example, I very very rarely see any far left folks talking about state law reform. Yet I think that’s really the area where it would make the most sense to try out some of the far left ideas and see how to make them work. (Part of the reason I voted for Chuy!) It’s always: Obama and center-left establishment, please do X; oh no, they didn’t do X (or didn’t do X fast enough), they’re sell-outs, etc.

          1. Really? Left-of-center-left folks, Bernie supporters, et al may or may not speak often about individual state law issues — perhaps because there are fifty different sets of them to talk about — but they’re the only ones I have seen, both before and after Trump’s election, talk about the utter collapse of the Democrats in statehouses during Obama’s presidency. The center-left/neoliberal/whatever folks have been screaming “They’re all just racists and should be ignored,” while the further-left have begged the Democratic Party for funds and attention on state-level races to absolutely no avail.

  3. So, as a liberal working his way up through the establishment, two comments:

    1) It is generally speaking hard to find and maintain liberal-left friendships. I’ve got an easier time of it with some Maryland politics, but in general I think the right is more likely than the left to participate in party politics, etc. Being able to criticize ideas without criticizing people is a key to breaking up social capture. But we are humans and actually having actual friends (rather than twitter followers) that we’re worried about disappointing.

    2) In general, it is easier to maintain liberal-right friendships. Supply and availability is obviously an issue here. If you don’t click with 9 out of 10 on the right and 5 out of 10 on the left, you’re still going to have a lot more options on the right. But also, the fact in general, liberal-right friendships generally have pretty clear social rules that are relatively easy to follow and avoid making them actively emotionally draining. (Also the fact that leftists do have a harder time breaking through means that those that actually are known to us in the establishment just don’t have the social bandwidth to fill this role. Meanwhile, it’s easy to meet those on the right that are around the same prominence level).

    So, I’ll keep trying and look in no small part to academia which doesn’t have the same degree of establishment rightward pressure.

    Anyhow, one of the tools in your rhetorical wheelhouse is the jeremiad and that’s useful. Honestly, those of us on the liberal side that seek to engage with the left need to learn to have thick skins and be willing to take criticism. That’s fine, being establishment certainly has its privileges, we’ll be okay. However, I think your analysis leaves out the fact that maintaining friendships across borders actually is a powerful tool, one that can complement criticism. I know you’re deeply critical of civility standards, in part because taking a swipe outside the center can always get categorized as civil, but I do think actually building some liberal-left social infrastructure could make a difference.

  4. Do you think there’s anything to the idea that people focus on the “who” rather than the “what” because online makes everyone prickly, depressed, and alone, creating a desire for soft companionship rather than critical engagement?

  5. In addition to the effect you mention (individual writers moving rightward as they advance/age), I would guess that there’s also a selection effect, where at each career stage writers who are too far to the left have trouble advancing to the next one, so that the cohorts would shift right even if no individual changed their views.

    You say that you can’t think of an example of someone who moved left as they advanced. How about Ariana Huffington? I think that Paul Krugman might also be worth mentioning. He hasn’t shifted outside the liberal mainstream or Democratic partisanship, but he’s moved away from the right side (“In praise of cheap labor”) where he started. Could also think about Bruce Bartlett. Again, nobody who became a leftist, but I think they moved left.

    1. Krugman did shift left during the 2000 election– he was stunned at how poor a job the press did in covering Bush.

      But he was totally in the tank for Hillary, bashing Sanders as hard as he could and brushing off Clinton’s militarism. I could cite columns, but won’t bother. It started in January, I think. I was genuinely shocked– it was like the nasty Krugman of the late 90’s had come back from the dead.

      1. It’s worth mentioning that Krugman on Sanders in ’16 was more or less a carbon copy of Krugman on Obama in ’08. In both cases, I don’t think his issue politics changed so much as his candidate politics subsumed them.

  6. You seem to be struggling with the difference between the modernist left (which you mostly are) and postmodern identity progressivism (which you mostly despise). I grant you that postmodern identity progressivism (PIG) is post-Enlightenment, and that turns out to be the Counter-Enlightenment rebooted, but your claims about right-to-left movement and centre-right consensus seem somewhat two-dimensional and overblown. Particularly with reference to wider US public opinion, where the empirical evidence is that the media, academia, IT and entertainment industries have been opinion-consolidating and moving away from the general public in a progressive direction. Indeed, a fundamental problem with the contemporary US is that the industries which are supposed to reflect society back to itself are both increasingly narrow in their opinion range and increasingly disconnected from the wider soicety.
    http://www.businessinsider.com.au/charts-show-the-political-bias-of-each-profession-2014-11

    1. At the risk of ‘no true Scotsman’ etc., I would dispute the notion that ‘postmodern identity progressivism’ (uh, wouldn’t this be PIP?) is actually ‘left.’ (I acknowledge this is a minority view.) Indeed, its frequent reliance on identity as an important factor in assessing the validity of one’s argument (or even the legitimacy of making an argument in the first place) seems to mirror the very phenomenon that Freddie is critiquing.

    1. And the fights between people on the right hand side of the political spectrum are just as vicious as any between leftists and liberals.

      1. My point is that Freddie’s not wrong, exactly, but I’m not sure that the intra left fighting is holding you back as much as you might think. The right will claw each other’s eyes out, but it’s not exactly an inefficient force. (We might differ as to how efficient it’s actually been, and to what ends, but that’s a matter for another day.) In fact, a common complaint I see from the right is that we’re just not as cohesive and focused as those on the left.

  7. These debates might be less personal stuff if it were more clear what leftists and liberals disagree about. I’m pretty engaged, and I have no idea whether open borders is leftist or liberal, whether free public colleges is leftist or liberal, and whether Dodd-Frank if leftist or liberal. I’m pretty sure a $12 minimum wage is liberal while a $15 minimum wage is leftist, but I don’t know why.

    1. The distinctions are clearer in foreign policy. Liberals are often in favor of drone attacks, supporting Syrian rebels and either support or don’t care that much if we help the Israelis bomb Gaza or the Saudis bomb Yemen. Lefties generally oppose these things.

      1. While this is true, I don’t think it illuminates a difference between liberal ideology and leftist ideology. Liberals have slightly more power within the Democratic party than leftists, so they’ve had more chances to get captured by inane foreign policy groupthink.

        They are both internationalist, anti-nationalist ideologies. Leftism *is* pacifist in the weak sense that it expects international conflicts to disappear if you can eliminate economic coercion, but lowest-common-denominator leftism says very little about what to do if you are currently in an international conflict and are currently unable to eliminate the relevant economic coercion.

  8. You say Resnikoff “explicitly ties the radical left to white supremacy, a rhetorical ploy undertaken to suggest that leftists should not be debated but rather excluded from polite society altogether. It is hippie punching of a very aggressive, deliberately inflammatory kind.”

    That’s a pretty aggressive reading of the piece. Resnikoff actually makes clear that he’s not talking about the left as a whole. E.g.: “A small but significant chunk of the white left are closer than they know to right-wing nationalism.” He also exonerates even the leftists he disagrees with about identity politics from the charge of being racists themselves. His argument is that deemphasizing race and gender issues effectively, if unintentionally, privileges whiteness and is a position subject to being coopted by white nationalists. One can certainly take issue with that argument, but it’s actually an argument and not a dismissal of leftists from the conversation.

    Finally, the disagreement between certain liberals and certain leftists about identity politics reflected in the CAP piece is not really about a movement “to the right” by anybody. It’s a disagreement about how to achieve certain ends that liberals and leftists largely agree on and how to prioritize those ends to the extent they conflict. I think it’s a healthy debate, or could be so long as the participants afford each other the presumption of good faith. In any event, that debate seems to me entirely unrelated to broader question whether liberal pundits tend to move “to the right” as they advance.

    For what it’s worth, I don’t think either Yglesias or Chait have moved much to the right on economic issues since their younger days as they both have always been “neoliberals” (in the Charlie Peters/Washington Monthly sense). Yglesias was called a “trust fund scumbag” on his old blog like a decade ago! I’d say both have moved somewhat to the left on foreign policy in response to the Iraq war and their support of it.

    1. It’s not “actually an argument”. It’s an evidence-free assertion.

      It’s conceivable there may *be* “actually an argument” to be made in favor of that proposition, but Resnokoff doesn’t make one.

      It is pure, 100% innuendo and smears against the left.

  9. Reading a number of articles published on this website I wonder if we would all be better off if the left and the right side of politics were utterly eradicated along with every other political and religious idea proposing itself and by extension it’s followers as some kind of paragon and ideal of human existence.
    It is a matter of historical record that so many political idealists and social adventurers have been the cause of wars and genocide. In this day and age we clearly cannot afford such excesses of personal and ideological hubris in a world where we as a species face real existential threats. These threats I speak of are of course rising technology, bio-chemical and nuclear weapons.
    I do not believe for one minute that anyone who puts themselves in the position of social seer such as the writer of thous an other such articles can ever be trusted with one ounce of real social or political power. To put it briefly, any person who says “I know better”, is not to be trusted!

  10. Pingback: White Purity
  11. Really great piece that really puts into words some vague thoughts I’ve been tossing around for the past few months: basically that I’m tired of keeping track of the “bad” people and disregarding everything they say (hyperbole, but semi-accurate phenomenon), because I’ve actually learned a lot more from reading opinions that I partially (or completely) disagree with than ones that I immediately agree with. If that makes sense, I meant to go to bed an hour ago and I’m typing on my phone. Anyways, I’ve really enjoyed your writing and thoughts the past few months, especially your criticisms of liberal norms (I guess that’s how I’d describe it?), so good luck and good night.

  12. Saying that Yggy would be a Tory in Britain undermines your entire argument that the center-left liberal parties have abandoned left politics. Why be a Tory when you can just be a coopted Blairite/Obamaite?

    Also to say that anything to the right of Jacobin, ideologically, is basically fascism is the eternal trap to which left politics succumbs. The true enemy of left politics should always be paleoconservatism/libertarianism, not the center-left.

  13. This quite literally high school popularity games. Freddie relentlessly practices the type of silly rhetoric he opines against. If he were serious about critiquing his own allies, his ire would be directed most prominently at Glenn Greenwald. When did he last write a piece on the limits of Greenwald’s arguments? Or are they in fact perfectly argued? It’s all very silly high school games. Freddie and Sady deserve each other.

    1. You’re entitled to your opinion, but I don’t know why I constantly get lumped in with Sady Doyle – I have not written to or about her in going on 7 years.

  14. Dear Freddy,

    New here, from the other end of the political spectrum (NRx), ahoy!

    >This right-wing drift is neither coincidental nor hard to explain. The left wing stands opposed to the interests of establishment power; establishment power controls who gets work in media and think tanks and who doesn’t; therefore standing opposed to the left wing has obvious and direct career incentives. Not everyone marches right to the same degree or with the same consistency. But I can genuinely think of not a single person who has moved to the left as they have climbed the ladder of influence and social prominence in the worlds of DC writing and policy. Not one.

    An alternative explanation would be that the left means getting power and the right means keeping power.

    At this point it is helpful to remember Moldbug’s logic that freedom and power are largely the same thing. For example, I have a gun. This gives me the power to try to mug you. Mugging can be considered an ugly breach of freedom. There are two main ways how I won’t mug you. Either because I don’t want to. Or because you or a third person have a gun to deter me. But in that case you or the third person could also try mugging someone. Either you don’t want to, or a fourth person deters you or them, with a gun, which could be used to…

    Anyhow, it means, we have two kinds of freedom, freedom when power is vested in the hands of highly reliable people who voluntarily don’t abuse it no one can force them to do so, because that too is power and then our worry is them. Supreme Court is a good example.

    Or when you and your buddies have power and thus can defend your freedom. So typically people who want freedom will want power to defend it.

    Thus leftism means acquiring power – maybe it does not start so, maybe it begins with a genuine desire to acquire freedom but sooner or later the smart ones pull a Saul Alinsky and realize they need to get power.

    Rightism is defending power you already have, or someone else already has. And I say it as a rightist because I think it is a good thing. Stable power, no matter how inequal or unfair, has two immense advantages. One, it is predictable, hence affording long-term calculations and a society of low time preferences. People dare to invest, work, save because they know the new boss is the old boss, and if the old boss did not rob them of their investment before he likely won’t in the future. Second, every conflict has collateral damage and costs. So we are of the view that plain simply most often the cost of fighting for power is higher than that of abusing power. The tyrannical king is bad, but if the king dies without a heir and four claimants, the ensuing civil war is worse. So our newer kind of rightism is very comfortable saying rightism is about defending established power, because we see it as defending peace and stability.

    However there is one complexity. As the left, and very often, leftism itself gains power and means elements of the right lose it, many rightists still stick to order ideas, institutions etc. now powerless. That increasingly puts them into the role of rebels. The whole Trump thing is essentially a huge “burn the whole establishment down” quasi-anarchic rebel yell. Because the establishment is now the left. The people of the left, who, as you correctly noted in certain things move right because now they are in power so they now defend it.

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