Part 1 of 2 (Part 2 here)
Metaphysics is the science of what is real. It is the most fundamental branch of philosophy; other philosophical ideas are derived from or based upon metaphysical convictions. For example, the Epicurean principle that pleasure is the highest good follows from its materialism and rejection of belief in an afterlife. However, it is also possible to speak of metaphysics outside of the context of philosophical systems. In other words, individuals who have no interest in philosophy – as well as groups, movements, and even whole societies – can be understood to have metaphysical presuppositions, just as they have presuppositions, or even consciously held convictions, concerning ethics or political philosophy.
This is the first of two essays in which I will try to answer the question, “What is the metaphysics of the Right?” (This question is the title of the second essay.) My methodology will be indirect. I will begin not with a review of older ideas and theories, and certainly not with texts, but with an account of the metaphysics we intuitively, and passionately reject: the metaphysics of the Left. Hence the title of the present essay. Delineating the most fundamental, underlying assumptions of the Leftist worldview – its metaphysics – will allow us to determine, indirectly, what our own metaphysics must be. My procedure, then, will be to begin with an identification, in essential terms, of just what it is about the Left that we react against so strongly. I will then use this discussion to arrive, in the next essay, at what the metaphysics of the Right must be.
I offer these essays only as an interesting experiment: to what extent can we identify our deep metaphysical convictions from a consideration of what we repudiate? My approach may also have the benefit of helping us to overcome some divisions within the Right, by allowing us to identify the most fundamental convictions we share in common.
1. Five Leftist Conundrums
At first, the positions taken by Leftists can seem like a strange grab-bag of disparate ideas. One theme that is heard over and over again, however, is an insistence on equality, or, more accurately, as we shall see, sameness. This has become more radical with time. What began as the modest insistence that all groups should, in spite of their differences, be treated equally before the law (and before God) has morphed into the insistence that all those differences are merely apparent (i.e., unreal). This can very obviously be seen in at least five areas:
A. The Sexes. Initially, feminism simply stood for giving women the same legal rights as men, and freer access to education and certain career opportunities. Today, the Left has arrived at the position that what were once considered natural differences between men and women are “socially constructed” – in other words, merely apparent. Any assertion that men possess capabilities women lack is forbidden. (However, in the first of many contradictions we will encounter, asserting the reverse is permitted.) I was once told by a feminist that women are, on average, not as physically strong as men simply because women have been told that they are not as strong.
Thus, anatomical differences are denied or declared irrelevant. But what about the fact (to take just one example) that the average man has between ten and twenty times the testosterone of the average woman, and that this hormone has been linked to physical strength and aggression? The social constructionists have no actual answer to this; instead, they simply attempt to shut down anyone who mentions this. Thus, the fundamental position here is that facts don’t matter – i.e., reality does not matter. This is a point I will have much to say about in the next section.
It used to be that feminists and social constructionists grudgingly admitted certain anatomical differences between men and women – e.g., men have penises and women do not, women can give birth and men cannot, and so on. This has now been swept away in just the last few years by transgender ideology. I regard this position as the apotheosis of “social construction,” and, in a certain way, of Leftist ideology itself, for reasons I will go into later. It is now indeed possible, according to Leftists, to say that some women have penises and that some men can give birth. But what makes these “women” women and these “men” men? The answer has nothing to do with biological fact – again, facts are irrelevant. Instead, the determining factor is subjective state: if a biological male believes he is a woman, then he actually is a woman, and it is demanded that our subjective state must mirror “hers” – i.e., we must actually believe that this is a woman; to not believe so is immoral. (The primacy of subjectivity or subjective states will turn out to be the central pillar of Leftist metaphysics.)
Given that masculinity and femininity are “constructs,” the Left also keeps telling us that masculinity and femininity can be anything we want them to be. Thus, no matter how masculine women seem to become, we are forbidden to say that they are “unfeminine,” because who is to say what is “feminine” and what is not? Likewise, we are constantly being told that a “new masculinity” is on the rise, and that it is vital to teach it to boys (who must be rescued from the old “toxic masculinity”). This “new masculinity” turns out to be rather effeminate. But, again, this is not a permitted observation, since it presupposes that there is some kind of baseline, “natural” masculinity and femininity.
We therefore arrive at a simple and obvious problem: if there is no “natural” masculinity and femininity, if they can literally be anything we want them to be, then both are nothing in particular. But if both are nothing in particular, then aren’t they the same? (If F=0 and M=0, then F=M.) And if they are the same, why then do we distinguish them at all? This appears to be a reductio ad absurdum, but for the Left it most certainly is not. This “logic” is actually the culmination of the Leftist position: the point is not to “redefine” masculinity and femininity, but to do away with them entirely. Of course, as already mentioned, this position rests upon the outright denial of biological fact.
In addition, one can mention two obvious contradictions. First, if maleness and femaleness can be anything one wants them to be (indeed, if there can be an unlimited number of “genders”), then aren’t transgendered people who dress like the opposite sex or who have sex-reassignment surgery the worst, most despicable promoters of gender stereotypes? If “women can have penises,” then isn’t the “transgender woman” who has his penis surgically removed in need of a stern lecture on social construction? And if hormones have nothing to do with masculinity or femininity, then why are transgendered people lining up to be injected with them? Isn’t their consciousness in need of being raised?
A second contradiction has to do with the rhetoric of “diversity” that usually accompanies any kind of Leftist identitarianism. As has often been noticed, the Left is keen to promote the idea that strength lies in our differences – differences which must be “celebrated” – while simultaneously denying or dismissing evidence that real differences exist. This point is even more applicable to our next topic, race, but it might as well be mentioned here.
As many of my readers have discovered on their own, delving into Leftist ideology does often feel like falling headfirst into a bottomless pit of contradictions. It is very important to understand, however, that contradictions are not only permitted by Leftism, but are actually an integral part of the ideology. I will go into the reasons for this later on. I should note also that it is no response to the above to say that I am speaking only of the “Far Left.” The reason is that most moderate Leftists are uncomfortable disputing any of these positions. As Jef Costello observed recently in an article on this site:
This is one of the psychological oddities of liberalism: the inability of moderate liberals to really take a stand against the radical nutjobs. They are possessed, you see, by the nagging sense that those radicals represent a “purer,” more committed form of their own idealism. This is why even most moderate Leftists will hesitate before condemning Communist tyranny. They have guilty consciences. They see that the far, far Left is where their ideals would take them, if they were just consistent and hardcore enough. And they are right.
B. Race. Much of what I have already said concerning Leftist claims about the sexes applies to their treatment of race as well. Here again, differences are “socially constructed”; i.e., merely apparent. The same historical trajectory is also observable. Once upon a time, well-meaning folks merely advocated treating different races equally under the law, but would never have dreamed of denying natural differences between them. Now, difference is denied outright – while simultaneously insisting that difference needs to be affirmed as a strength. Once again, facts and evidence are declared irrelevant. The Left has no real way of dealing with the scientific findings that clearly suggest major behavioral, cognitive, and anatomical differences between the races. Instead, the science is simply dismissed by calling it names (“racist”) or by vilifying anyone who dares mention it. (Simultaneously, of course, the Left claims to be “pro-science” and projects its actual anti-science and anti-fact bias onto its “conservative” opponents.)
Just as Leftists deny inherent differences between the sexes, yet relentlessly promote criticism of men and masculinity, so they deny the biological reality of race while simultaneously vilifying an entire group of people: the white race (who they seem to have no difficulty spotting, making generalizations about, or blaming for many of the world’s problems). Again, there is no logical way of sorting out the contradictions here. One is forced into the position of searching for a psychological explanation for such inconsistency.
C. “Culture.” Fundamental to Leftism today is cultural relativism. Criticism of non-Western cultures is essentially forbidden, even when those cultures act in ways that are diametrically opposed to Leftist values. Notoriously, while the Left has nothing but scorn for the “sexism,” “misogyny,” and “homophobia” practiced by (some) Christians, Islam is treated with kid gloves. This is despite the fact that everything the Left hates about Christianity is present in Islam, just raised to a factor of ten – complete with forced veiling, bride burnings, and the death penalty for homosexuality (eleven Muslim countries punish homosexuality with death; it is otherwise punished in most other Muslim countries, and none permit gay marriage). It is difficult not to see this double standard as a manifestation of nothing more nor less than the intense self-hatred of white Leftists – hatred for all things white and Western. Despite the fact that Muslims revile Western Leftists, and stand for everything they oppose, Leftists appear to welcome the chaos and destruction that Islam brings. I will return to the topic of this self-hatred and nihilism in the second section.
Cultural relativism is the default position of the Left, and it enjoins that no culture’s standards be held as absolute, and that no judgments be made about cultural differences. Cultural relativists hold, furthermore, that all values and perspectives are culturally conditioned, and that there is no “view from nowhere” that allows one to step outside of a cultural context and to criticize that culture, or other cultures. Despite claiming to adhere to this position, Leftists see no problem with evaluating Western culture (and Western subcultures, such as those of Christians, American Southerners, and conservatives) from an implicitly absolute, Leftist position: a “view from nowhere” that has somehow transcended cultural context. When the prospect of critiquing non-Western cultures is brought up, however, this standpoint is declared impossible.
Leftists hold that all cultures – except, again, that of the West – are equally valuable and equally praiseworthy. All are judged worthy of inclusion in the “multicultural society” (and believed to be completely compatible with each other) – with the exception, again, of Western culture, which has no saving graces at all and must vanish in order to make room for others. That Leftist ideals of “inclusion” and “multiculturalism” are themselves products of Western culture is conveniently forgotten. If this is mentioned, more likely than not one will be greeted with the response that these values are universal and not uniquely Western. This is despite the fact that on other occasions, Leftists normally deny that there is any such thing as universal values, and claim that the very idea is simply the last gasp of Western imperialism. (As I shall touch on in the next section, it is actually Leftist multiculturalism that is the last gasp of Western imperialism.)
Thus, one finds a pattern in the Leftist treatment of “culture” that is very much like what we found in the case of race and sex: differences are denied or downplayed, while simultaneously difference is declared to be of supreme importance. Just as, in actuality, the Left pushes the idea of the fundamental sameness of the races and sexes, so its deep conviction about culture is that all cultural groups possess an underlying identity. Advocacy of multiculturalism would, in fact, be impossible without this assumption. How will all the “diverse” cultures get along in one society? Only by virtue of shared, universal, cross-cultural values which are (so it is hoped) more important to each group than the values that distinguish them. In other words, for the Left, “cultural differences” are surface features, masking a fundamental sameness. This sameness is simply believed in as an article of faith, and any suggestion that cultural differences are profound and might make some cultures incompatible with others is simply dismissed.
D. Morality. As I discussed in my article on Jonathan Haidt’s The Righteous Mind, Leftists tend to possess only two moral “taste receptors” (to use Haidt’s language): “care” and “fairness.” “Care” manifests itself as compassion – though recently, Leftist compassion has been directed at anyone except members of their own race or nation. (One wonders if such compassion is real at all, or simply a mask for the animosity they feel for their own kind.) Famously, Leftists are also greatly concerned to make sure that everything is “fair,” though this is now generally construed as “equal” (or “the same”). Many of the Leftist peculiarities I have discussed so far could be understood as resulting from a kind of perversion of the “fairness” foundation. (See Part Two of my essay on Haidt for more information.)
However, when asked to reflect on morality or moral judgment as such, the default position of Leftists is ethical relativism. Thus, one will very often encounter Leftists who declare that morality is relative and that no absolute moral judgments can be made – who then, in a different context, make sweeping and absolute moral judgments, insisting that anyone who disagrees with them is evil. There is also a contradiction within this contradiction, in the manner in which the relativist position is often formulated. Leftists will sometimes claim that since morality is relative, we should be tolerant of moral differences – heedless of the fact that if morality really is relative, then no claims about what we should do can follow at all. If morality is relative, then tolerance is no more justifiable than intolerance.
The vast majority of Leftists are oblivious to these contradictions. If they are mentioned, Leftists usually become impatient and annoyed and quickly forget that anything has been said to them at all. Of course, as I point out in my essay on Haidt, relativism often serves Leftists as a tactical device: They revert to this position when confronted with moral judgments with which they disagree; they implicitly regard their own judgments as absolute and non-relative. It would be a mistake, however, to see this as a conscious tactic. Though it may be difficult for some of us to understand, most people are comfortable with their contradictions, when not being rudely forced to confront them. And, as we have seen, contradiction is actually one of the constant features of Leftist ideology.
It is obvious that the Left’s advocacy of ethical relativism falls into the familiar pattern we have already established, that of denying difference and insisting on an overall, or underlying sameness. All ethical judgments are fundamentally “equal,” in that they are all equally incapable of justification; no one can be truer or better than any other. Further, the element of “subjective state” is dominant: relativists often formulate their position as the claim that “if so-and-so thinks that X is moral, then it is – for him” – just as a biological male, for example, can be a woman (indeed, really is a woman) if “she” thinks “she” is.
The subjectivism of the relativist position is also very clearly expressed in the tendency to discuss ethical issues in terms of “values.” The language of values inevitably skews any discussion of ethics in the direction of relativism, even when this is not intended, since values are very obviously relative to individuals. I value certain things my neighbor does not, and in many cases it seems absurd to argue that he should value what I do (e.g., muted colors or hot coffee). Framing discussions of ethics in terms of “values” is now so ubiquitous it seems unimaginable to most people to use any other sort of language. (The older vocabulary referred to “virtues,” rather than “values.”)
The same subjectivism can be seen in the relativist tendency to frame all ethical issues as matters of “choice.” This is most familiar in the case of the abortion controversy. Since choices are said to be “up to individuals”; somehow this is supposed to mean that all choices are equally valid. It can easily be seen that this position is completely vacuous. Ethical problems are all problems of choice: ethics tries to discern which choices are right, and which are wrong. To respond to an ethical issue by saying “it’s a choice” therefore says nothing at all.
Within certain limits, Leftists will claim that all choices are valid, meaning all are equally justifiable and equally unjustifiable. This is particularly the case with what are construed as “lifestyles.” So long as a life choice does no harm to others, it is considered entirely valid and immune to criticism. The avoidance of harm is the flipside of Haidt’s “care” foundation, and as he himself points out, Leftist moral ideals are almost entirely limited to this foundation, plus the one concerning “fairness.” This is a severely impoverished ethics, since, among other things, it almost completely eliminates any conception of living up to ideals of personal excellence.
For Leftists, moral excellence consists exclusively in the “fair” and “compassionate” treatment of others. There are no obligations, however, to oneself; in other words, no conception of any imperative to develop one’s body and mind, to restrain one’s appetites, and to discipline oneself. The “lifestyle” of a childless gay hedonist is regarded as just as “valid” as that of a man who sacrifices self-indulgence in order to support a family. Both are simply “choices.” Choosing to be a fat slob and choosing to be an Olympic athlete are both “valid.” And the Leftists’ practice of “fairness” and “compassion” often consists merely in “affirming” everyone’s right to be let alone to make as big a mess of their lives as they choose. (This is the reason “libertarianism” is actually closer to the Left than to the Right.) Leftist belief in “choice” reaches its limit in the case of those who choose not to agree with them.
E. Truth. Here we come to a fundamental issue, which I’ve already touched on repeatedly. Given all the foregoing, it can be explained quite simply. The Leftist position on truth is also egalitarian and subjectivist – though here, too, they are inconsistent. All truth claims are equally valid. Something can be “true for you,” but not “true for me.” This kind of language is so common today it is considered unremarkable, and one will even hear conservatives speaking this way. Such statements are, however, literally incoherent. I will discuss the underlying metaphysical assumption behind this choice of language when I come, in the next section, to my summary comments about Leftist ideology.
The transgender issue reveals, as clearly as one could want, the Leftist attitude toward truth: things are true when they are believed; a man is a woman if he believes he is. When, as so often happens today, someone claims to be offended by this or that, the Leftist response effectively rejects the idea that there can be any examination of whether the claimant is being reasonable. All that matters is, again, the claimant’s subjective state: if they feel offended, then they have been offended and must be placated. No defense of the alleged offender will be accepted.
Earlier I noted that when confronted with facts that contradict their views on, say, race or sex differences, Leftists will simply dismiss the evidence or engage in ad hominem argument. However, matters are actually much worse than this. Often, Leftists will resort to explicitly rejecting the very idea that facts exist. It is no response to point out that they assert as fact that facts do not exist. As noted earlier, the identification of contradictions in the Leftist position will simply be brushed aside. This is because logic itself has now been attacked as masculinist, imperialist, and white supremacist. It is a fact that facts don’t exist; it is objectively true that truth is relative; and it follows logically that logic is a tool of white supremacism. If it seems like the Leftist position is becoming a chaotic and noxious maelstrom of constantly shifting and contradictory ideas, this is actually the whole point.