Leftist progressive environmentalist George Monbiot is shocked that there are antivaxxers among his acquaintances. Something ‘weird’ is going on, he says, whereby the curiosity, scepticism and suspicion typical of people on the left has driven those selfsame people to adopt rightwing versions of this language, so much so that ‘some have succumbed to a far-right conspiracy ideation, up to and including Q-anon’.
He’s right, that’s weird.
He goes on, ‘The far-right seized and repurposed the language of leftwing revolt: rebel against the elite, take back control etc … Some people on the left, hearing stuff that sounded familiar, seem to have fallen for it’.
There’s more: ‘The necessary and justifiable revolt against corporate and oligarchic power has morphed in some cases into an extreme individualism’.
Monbiot is right about that too.
‘It doesn't help that we've suffered decades of betrayal by formerly left-ish political parties, that fell into line with neoliberal capitalism’, he writes, ‘This left many people both profoundly confused and susceptible to the liberationist claims of the far right’.
He concludes: ‘Left and right political parties have swapped their language. Now the right talks about liberation and revolt. And the left talks about security and stability’.
Acute. Brilliant. A perfect summary of the confused and confusing state of ideological play in liberal-capitalist countries like the UK today.
What’s missing, though, is the recognition that the left has contributed to this state of affairs by allowing the right to arrogate to itself the language of freedom and liberation in the two key events of the past few years: Brexit and Covid.
By the time Covid turned up the Brexit battle was over, but the left hadn’t learned its lesson. Instead of debating, designing and exemplifying a left-libertarian approach to Covid it went full throttle for an ironclad lockdown, leaving the door marked ‘freedom and liberation’ wide open for the swivel-eyed right of assorted denialists and anti-vaxxers to walk right through.
And some on the left, as Monbiot recognises and bemoans, have followed them.
But the answer is not to accuse these leftists of ‘falling for’ false idols, of ‘succumbing’ to conspiracy, or of some fatal ‘confusion’ that can only be put right by attending to the high priests of correct leftist thinking.
The answer is to focus unerringly on that sweet spot where freedom AND security are located.
In the Covid case, this would have been to point out that a properly funded NHS and social care system, staffed by properly rewarded professionals (all this representing SECURITY), would have allowed family members to be present as their relatives passed away instead of dying lonely and isolated (representing FREEDOM). The left were all too ready to allow elderly people in care homes to be kept in segregated solitude for months on end - ‘collateral damage’ to be stoically accepted for the sake of an unwavering commitment to an uncompromising lockdown.
So yes, it’s weird that some of George Monbiot’s freedom-loving acquaintances have turned to the right. But this was never going to help.