The Myth of “The Left” in America’s Distorted Political Culture

by Matthew M. Heidtmann / February 11th, 2018

A few years ago, anarchist philosopher Crispin Sartwell argued that “the left/right or Democrat/Republican split—which turns American politics into a hyper-repetitive, mechanical set of partisan bromides about free markets versus government programs with egalitarian results—depends on a historical mistake.” While Sartwell was pretty much on point with this assessment, we haven’t yet been able to cast aside these self-imposed political blinders. Americans by and large still see politics through the left/right prism, without realizing that our perceptions of what constitutes ‘the left’ in particular are intrinsically flawed. In modern American political culture, the descriptor ‘left’ is commonly used with reference to Democrats, liberals, progressives, and even moderates. However, there are barely any truly leftist currents in our mainstream political landscape. In addition to being guilty of having committed Sartwell’s collective ‘historical mistake,’ this erroneous delineation of ‘the left’ not only defies political realities in the rest of the world, but it also perpetuates the deception we have created in our own political understanding of ourselves.

American claims to being exceptional among the civilizations of the world are in many ways an overblown nationalistic myth. But there is one particular strand of American exceptionalism that has long been a mainstay in our political culture…

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