What is the radical left? What is the unifying theme that runs through destructive radical leftist movements? Finally (though not specifically addressed by this book) is the radical left foreign to America?
Richard J. Ellis sets out to address the second question in this book. In doing so, he sheds light on the other questions.
By way of background, when Mencius Moldbug recommended the book he said:
Someone needs to run, not walk, to the nearest copy of Richard Ellis’s The Dark Side of the Left: Illiberal Egalitarianism in America. This can be chased with George McKenna’s new, and really really excellent, Puritan Origins of American Patriotism. And if any doubts remain the whole regimen can be topped off with a good solid dose of Arthur Lipow’s Authoritarian Socialism in America: Edward Bellamy and the Nationalist Movement. (If you are not a Plainlander and you wonder about the excessive appearance of the A-word in these titles, this is a normal attitude for residents of Washcorp’s outer territories.)
Note that none of the above monographs is published by Regnery or Crown Forum. They are scholarly volumes by respectable historians, who would probably no more consider voting for a Republican than you or I would consider sodomizing a mongoose. Their print is a normal size and they use tasteful fonts. And they can be read by normal, intelligent, educated people.
Indeed, he is correct.
Ellis believes that radical leftism is defined by a commit to egalitarianism. This commitment to egalitarianism makes radical leftist movements illiberal and ultimately violent. He covers the prohibitionists, utopian movements in America, radical poets, the New Left, feminism and environmentalism.
I believe Ellis is wrong. He considers an objection to his thesis at the end (see below), which I believe to be the correct answer. Though I was uninspired by his specific thesis (for example, I don’t radical egalitarianism is really the defining characteristic of the hardcore environmentalists), his analysis of these leftist movements is excellent and instructive.
The analysis sheds light on an important realization that was a big step in my transition from libertarian to reactionary. Perhaps the most important realization. Radical leftism is as American as apple pie. The movements he chronicles begin when America begins. They continue throughout American history and they are involved in all the major events that take place in American history.
Ellis also sheds light on the interaction between radical leftism and those with other political persuasions. The radical leftists are uncompromising in a way that no other groups are. Thus, they inevitably win – everyone else compromises with them and the political equilibrium is thus constantly shifting leftward. Radically leftward.
Finally, the non-leftist reader will be struck by the similarities that run through all of the movements covered in the book. The abolitionists are the first group covered. The feminists are the second to last group covered. Yet, we don’t even have to leave the chapter on the abolitionists before we get calls for the end to "the patriarchy of marriage." Let’s look closer at abolitionism.
Ellis quotes Stephen Foster as saying that "every family" is "a little embryo plantation." Traditional marriage to many abolitionists was a form of slavery that needed to be eradicated like all other forms. Many of the abolitionists also rejected capitalism, as again, it creates "slaves." Of course, the abolitionists also became militants. Many eventually gloried in the deaths of the Civil War which killed more Americans than any war. For example, Wendell Phillips said that "the bloodiest war ever waged is infinitely better than the happiest slavery which ever fattened men into obedience." It would be hard to better distill the totalitarian mindset in one sentence.
I’ve chosen to focus on the most controversial topic (i.e. slavery). Don’t let this shade your view of the book. Ellis is best discussing the violence of the New Left, but I found the initial chapter on abolitionism more interesting.
I should conclude by saying that the reactionary will agree with many positions held by the radical leftists. Specifically, the radical leftists have a disdain of the masses that the reactionary will find appealing. However, the radical leftists believe that this makes the masses expendable. Further, the radical leftists believe that the deficiencies of the masses can be fixed with the right program. The reactionary believes neither. The radical leftist despises the masses but continually embraces democracy – his movements, therefore, fizzle in this inherent contradiction. Unfortunately, the don’t fizzle before the damage has been done.
Before I conclude, I’d like to note that Ellis considers some objections to his thesis at the end of the book. Among those potential objections is that, instead of radical egalitarianism causing the absolutism within these movements, the absolutism is caused by "radical protestantism." Ellis rules this out because of the large number of Jews in the New Left, but then goes on to suggest that,
a fallback position is to argue that Protestantism is so pervasive that it has become "generalized far beyond its denominational or even specifically religious base." On this reading, Americans are all sectarian Protestants at heart, whether they are Jewish , Catholic, atheist, or pagan.
Ellis rejects this thesis for being unfalsifiable and for failing to explain similar movements in other Western countries. However, in the former case, "unfalsifiable" is different than "false." In the latter case, it’s not clear why this religious phenomenon would be limited to America. Surely, religions have spread across borders, have they not?