Throughout the history of civilization, there have been people who have been tasked with providing the necessities of life–growing the food, collecting resources, making the tools, and so on. There have also been people who don’t do this kind of work, who instead have lots of free time. These people have free time because other people provide their necessities for them. In this sense, the first group of people serves the second. The precise social mechanic governing this service has shifted over the years. In the early days, the first group of people were slaves of the second group. Slavery was an astounding social invention–it made it possible for some of us to have large amounts of free time, and we used that free time to do art and science and high politics. But slavery only worked by denying the vast majority of people access to that free time. It precipitated largescale inequality. This made it difficult to sustain. The slaves were unhappy, and unhappy slaves are unproductive. The slaveowners eventually discovered a secret–happy slaves are more productive than unhappy slaves. And to make the slaves happy, you had to tell them a story about how they were free. Into this space steps capitalism, and the employer-employee relationship. You are free to work for any master–but you must work for one, or you won’t earn enough to make a living. The masters have pooled the slaves and shared them, and told the slaves this makes them free. And for the most part, the slaves buy it. Except when they don’t. This piece is about that.
In radical left wing circles, there’s this notion going around that the right can be intimidated into going away, through no-platforming and physical violence. “Bash the fash,” they say. “Make racists afraid again.” “Any time, any place, punch a Nazi in the face.” In the past I’ve argued that this kind of censorship turns right nationalists into martyrs and generates public sympathy for them. But today I want to make another, related point–the left is structurally physically weaker than the right and cannot prevail by force.
In the previous post, we talked about the threats Trump poses and how the American left can meet some of those threats in the short-term. In this one I want to talk about opportunities, because there’s a case to be made that in the long-run a Trump presidency may be the best thing that ever happened to the left in America.
In July Turkey experienced a failed military coup against the elected government of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, leader of the conservative Justice and Development Party (in Turkish, Adalet ve Kalkınma Partisi or AKP). The Turkish government blames the coup on Fethullah Gülen, a Turkish preacher living in exile in the United States whom the government regards as a terrorist. It is demanding his extradition, but the United States has to this point refused to comply without hard evidence connecting Gülen to the coup. In the meantime, the Turkish government has declared a state of emergency and begun suspending, imprisoning, or firing tens of thousands of political opponents, including 9,000 police officers, 21,000 private school teachers, 10,000 soldiers, nearly 3,000 judges, 1,500 university deans, and more than 100 media outlets have been forcibly shuttered. This political purge is an escalation of a pattern of behavior that existed before the coup. For a long time Erdoğan and the AKP have concentrated power, acting against the press and against Turkey’s civil society and eroding Turkey’s secular norms. Those who support Erdoğan tell a story in which an embattled democratically elected president is beset by a would-be junta, but the situation in Turkey is considerably more complicated than that, and there is a strong case that Turkey’s constitution is not up to the task of protecting Turkey’s political system from increasingly unlimited abuse.