Rude lefties

As he reports on his blog, Andrew Leigh went to Sydney recently to appear on a pilot of a possible new ABC political chat show, Difference of Opinion. But it seems the studio audience didn’t want as much different opinion as he was offering:

For me, the most interesting moment was to see the negative reaction of the audience when I suggested that we should trial merit pay to see whether it can work (several audience members hissed)…

Now obviously not all lefties are so rude in the face of contrary views. Many are civility personified. Andrew himself, a man of the centre-left I think it is fair to say, is so nice that when I had a go at his Dialogue article he thanked me for my ‘most thoughtful post’. But I think there is a nasty edge to leftist culture. It is hard to imagine a Liberal coming up with the rhetoric of hate that came from Mark Latham:

“I’m a hater,” he told The Bulletin in 2002. “Part of the tribalness of politics is to really dislike the other side with intensity. And the more I see of them the more I hate them. I hate their negativity. I hate their narrowness.”

He also said, on radio 2GB: “Everyone’s got hate in their lives … it’s just part of life. I hope my little boy hates a Liberal prime minister who sells out our national interests. I grew up in a family that used to hate Bob Menzies.”

It is hard to imagine right-wingers organising protests that everyone knows will turn violent, despite the ritual claims by organisers that they want to protest peacefully.

At a much less concerning level, you can see this attitude towards the political ‘other’ (to use one of the left’s terms) on display when you hand out how-to-vote cards at inner-city polling booths. Most people politely take material from all the parties. But Green voters, especially, ostentatiously take only the Green card, as if all the others are beneath consideration (at least it makes it easy to score a verified answer in the ‘guess who they are going to vote for’ game as voters approach the booths).

The stronger feeling on the left can be picked up in the Australian Election Study, which asks respondents to rate themselves on a 0 (left) to 10 (right) scale. 58% of those classing themselves as 0 or 1 on the left-right scale chose the strongest possible dislike option for the Liberal Party and 59% chose the strongest possible dislike of John Howard. By contrast, 30% of those at the right-end of the spectrum strongly disliked Labor and 25% strongly disliked Latham.

One reason, I think, is that lefties feel more strongly about politics than those on the right and are more involved in political activities. In the AES measures of activism, those on the far-right end of the spectrum were 40% less like than those at the far-left end to have contacted an official in the last 5 years to express their views, 50% less likely to have worked with like others to express their views, and 75% less likely to have attended a protest or march.

For some people, leftism isn’t just a political ideology; it is a lifestyle and identity as well. And the closer something goes to the core of your being, the easier it is to believe that that people who hold contrary views are immoral and unworthy of respect. That’s why lefties try to violently stop meetings they disagree with. That’s why the Greens would rather lose elections than do deals with the Liberals. That’s why lefties hiss at people they disagree with, even though this will reflect far more poorly on them than their target.

The right can say and do nasty things as well, of course. But the right-wing stereotypes of lefties show a different way of looking at their opponents. How often have I heard moderate leftists described as ‘well-meaning but misguided’, ie a good person with the wrong ideas? How many lefties think John Howard is well-meaning but misguided? Even when right-wingers are being really nasty about lefties, they tend to say that they are ‘lunatics’ or some variation on the mental illness theme. Again, it’s not that they are of intrinsically bad character, but that they are a few sandwiches short of a picnic. I was amazed a few years ago when, while complaining about the worst leftist I have come across in my time at Melbourne University, a member of the Liberal Club defended him, saying that he had been a nice guy until the drugs he took started messing with his brain. More on the right seem able to detach the person from the politics.

I thought it was rather ironic when a leftist who was well-known for being obnoxious, Eva Cox, started lecturing the rest of us on the need for civility. And indeed, she could not maintain the pose even long enough to finish her lecture. On the same page that she talks about the need for ‘mutual respect and manners’ she talks about the ‘boring myriads of powerful people who promote their own biases and stupid views’. She may be a hypocrite, but she’s not wrong about everything – mutual respect and manners will get anyone who uses them much further than hisses.

70 thoughts on “Rude lefties

  1. The question is, why?

    Oh, I might have to turn my smart remark back on myself here … I had said the right were motivated by ego, power and greed – thinking of Kerry Packer types. But if, as Andrew says, some leftists take their political expression to self-defeating ends (because of rudeness) I guess it could also be ego and power: imposing your will on others.


  2. The recent riots in fellow low ranking OECD country Hungary were a lot more
    violent and long lasting than G20 and were organised by the centre and extreme right.
    It all depends on the balance of power, I dont know why I am bothering to explain this to you when you have not paid your fees.

    Cronulla, the right wing rioters (some of whom were union members too) tended to get interviewed about it months afterwards on tv rather than arrested.

    The main problem with the merit based pay is what is merit? And who should decide that? Can you buy anything of merit with it?
    These rhetorical questions dont merit an answer as their meritorious nature is inherant.

    I am not even going to comment on mental illness on the right or left as my wisdom could be used to identify problems and as therapy and I do have high hourly rates and I do not accept plastic surfie cash (even on a merit basis).


  3. Sinclair your remark about how many right-wingers I have encountered in my public service and academic career may have been meant as a joke. But I will asume it was serious. If so, it is as naive and provocative as Andrew’s.

    The simple answer is that over 50 years I worked under both Coalition and Labor Governments and found a balance of views inside the public service in both cases (although most public servants keep their ideological inclinations secret for obvious reasons). And what you overlook is that public servants do not operate in a shell – they interact with the public a great deal – as I had to when secretary of the Campbell Inquiry, the Treasury and EPAC.

    As for academics, you guys categorise anyone who makes a left of centre comment as as lefty. Most academics (like public servants) I know have left-wing views on some social issues and some markedly right wing views on others e.g. on the role of governments in markets.


  4. It was only partially tongue-in-cheek. I’m not convinced that too many academics would be right-wingers. But that’s not the point here. Andrew N made the point that lefties are rude. This is of course partially a value judgement. But on the other hand, he has empirical evidence. Andrew L – who is hardly a right-winger – was hissed at by an ABC audience. The second piece of evidence that i ould like to introduce is how acadmics talk to each other. Attend an academic seminar, or read a referee report or PhD examiner report and you’ll see phenomenal aggression and rudeness. To be sure, both right-wing and left-wing academics can be equally rude, but I suspect the balance of numbers is on the left. Consider a third piece of evidence. Look at how the average academic treats the average administrator, or their research assistant. It just does not reflect well on academics – who tend to be lefties. My favorite observation, however, is how so many ‘snobbish’ academics also tend to be egalitarians.

    All this, however, is anecdotal. I understand. But Thomas Sowell also makes similar arguments.


  5. The problem with Thatcherite individualistic right wing thinkers as academics is that as soon as you think about the galaxy, earth, your city, your street etc, you are entering the realms of collective conscious thinking and therefore on “the left”.


  6. Well, actually, yes. Parkos it is not ‘your’ city, or ‘your’ street. It is ‘the’ city and ‘the’ street. 🙂


  7. As it happens I’m currently writing an essay about the civic culture.

    Despite the anecdotes that have popped up in the comments, Andrew


  8. The prediposition to violence (or at least intimidatory behaviour) on the left may come from their political beliefs – collective action, solidarity, strength in numbers. When your mob have got your back, people tend to be more forthright in expressing themselves.


  9. I’ve tried to read this thread but havn’t been able to till now – the browser kept on throwing up an error when trying to access Andrew N’s blog. Hopefully it won’t from now on!

    I don’t have enough information to consider whether “lefties” are or can be more uncivil than “righties”. I have had some experience with “righties” and more with “lefties” and can offer the following.

    Whether people are civil or not probably depends on their personality, how “committed” they are to their brand of politics and how open they are to alternative political views. I know a number of people who cannot imagine how anyone could vote for the Liberal Party or who think that Howard does not act (possibly ever) with good intentions.

    I’ve known some uncivil people on the left and on the right, and also very civil people on both the left and right. Personally, I think it’s important to be open-minded and open to the possibility that your conceptions or pre-conceptions about many things (especially complex and complicated things such as politics) might be wrong.

    In wanting to connect with and understand other people, it isn’t helpful to dismiss their political ideas without attempting to understand them. This is a fundamental mistake.

    I will make this observation: quite a few lefty people I’ve known appear to have have their understandings of the world or worldview (the German word for which is fabulous) strongly based or felt, and can react quite vigorously and emotionally if these strongly held beliefs or world-view are challenged. To me these reactions have often seemed quite emotional. I cannot really talk about righties as I havn’t known enough of them well enough although it seems as if they often strongly react against what they see as lefties’ silliness or unwillingness to deal with reality.

    Just some thoughts.


  10. I’d agree that in the blogosphere many of the most uncivil people are on the right. There have been quite a few problems with Young Libs and Liberal students over recent years, though of the incidents I am aware of nearly all have been alcohol-related, and many have involved other Liberals rather than ideological enemies. It’s got more in common with a Saturday night pub brawl than the kind of behaviour I was talking about in the post. But there is no excuse for it either way.

    I’m not sure how to classify the Labor Right – I was putting Latham in that tradition, but there is probably a distinction worth making between the old-fashioned working class union thuggery from which the Labor Right gets its culture and the ideological contempt that I see from the broader left. The Labor Right are serious about power, which makes them far more pragmatic and less ideological.


  11. “the most consistently abusive people are on the Right”

    Yep, the Catallaxy pub should close its doors and throw the few remaining scoudrels out onto the street. They dont really get any serious discussion going there thesedays. Lucky for Jason Soon he is just losing face rather than running a business and losing money.

    From Bird’s blog today:

    Bird: A bit of f** gratitude every now and then wouldn


  12. Andrew – maybe something is going wrong with your site – lately I often get “page not found”, time outs, or it comes up with all the text struck through! Not enough electricity in Victoria to power the thing?


  13. Apologies to everyone for the site’s technical problems this week – I am not sure what the problem is. When I have had similar issues in the past Yahoo (the host) support has not provided useful advice and the problem has corrected itself. In this case it is not consistent; sometimes it is really bad, other times ok. It seems worse when I use Explorer than when I use Firefox. Any ideas from more technically competent people?


  14. I don’t know that ‘rudeness’ is what characterises the left. The commenters at Tim B.’s are rude and raucous, but it’s all fairly light-hearted. I think what characterises (some elements of) the left is its venom. Look at the way they respond to global warming sceptics, Keith Windschuttle, etc.

    Steve’s got a point about the quasi-religiosity of the left. Challenges to the left’s sacred cows are regarded not as honest differences of opinion, but as heresy. And revisionism, of course, is apostasy.

    (First time I’ve been able to access this site for days, Andrew.)


  15. I don’t think JC, Bird or Tim Blair have ever thrown a chair at a police van at a right-wing protest. Landeryou might have thrown a few chairs in his Young Lib days though, I hear it’s all the rage at NUS meetings.


  16. Although I have no reason to question the sincerely of AN’s observations, I do not have a similar experience. I find in my political discussions that people on both sides usually have strong views. I know a few extreme leftist friends (who think ALP is not left-wing and no different from extreme-right Libs), who do think I am misguided but not an egoist or evil. Same with me: I think they are misgudied. Similar with right wing people (who consider myself as a leftie).

    Did I say anything useful?


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