Sunday, February 19, 2017

Anti-communism at the heart of the alt-center

Liberals may feel energized by a surge in political activism, and a unified stance against a president they see as irresponsible and even dangerous. But that momentum is provoking an equal and opposite reaction on the right. In recent interviews, conservative voters said they felt assaulted by what they said was a kind of moral Bolshevism — the belief that the liberal vision for the country was the only right one. - Sabrina Tavernise, NYT
I suppose one can call Bolshevism a belief in the absolute supremacy of liberalism - particularly if we imagine that Bolsheviks believe in capitalism, individualism, Enlightenment theories of public reason and rational deliberation, and that they reject Marxism, communism, superstructural theories of discursive determination, and so on. But why not just call these liberals what they are: alt-centrists?

It should be clear what's going on here. Tavernise wants to raise the possibility that the activists in question may be narrow-minded, bellicose, and dogmatic; but our ideological orthodoxy insists that No True Liberal can be any of these things. It's simply an unspeakable proposition in our political discourse that a Centrist could actually be this reactionary, so intellectually rigid, so epistemically blinkered, and so intolerant.

So to get around this, Tavernise floats the bizarre theory that these liberals are actually Bolsheviks instead. Not only does this move let her erase the alt-center entirely - it also lets her turn what might have been read as a critique of liberals into a critique of Marxists.

None of this, of course, is at all unusual: our entire political discourse is structured around villifying the critics of Centrist neoliberalism as radical and dogmatic, all while denying that such labels could ever apply to neoliberal Centrists. Still, this is an unusually brazen illustration of how it often happens - and the non-sequitur indulgence in anticommunism suggests quite explicitly what lies at the heart of alt-Centrist rhetoric.