From the Lefty Profs Use Lefty Buzzwords to Break Strikes Department

Like thousands of students in Quebec, McGill’s Women’s and Sexual Diversity Studies Student’s Association are striking against austerity. They spoke about the strike to the professors at McGill’s Institute for Gender, Sexuality and Feminist Studies. Instead of offering their support or simply remaining neutral, the students write in a letter published by The New Inquiry, the faculty condemned the students for

our organizing, our strategies, our tactics, our politics generally, and our commitment to feminist values. We were told that pickets are violent, that we made the WSSA General Assembly a site of intimidation and bullying, and that our mobilization has no impact because it is poorly thought out. We were told, repeatedly, that our strike mandate and our strategy of targeting austerity by striking was divisive and thus anti-feminist.

Lefty professor using lefty buzzwords (“anti-feminist”; I don’t consider “bullying” or even “intimidation” to be part of the left’s particular — or in the case of “divisive,” preferred — vocabulary) to condemn student strikes: it’s an old story, and it ain’t pretty. Though in this case I wonder if the professors realize they’re taking a position considerably to the right of Hayek. He only said that pickets were a form of coercion and intimidation, but he never went so far as to say they were in and of themselves violence.

Speaking of violence, the students also write:

We ask that those faculty members who have indicated they will call security on us if we picket, reconsider their commitment to resistance against state violence, and critically self-reflect on the violence they would be inviting us to be subject to should they do this.

They’ve got a point.



  1. thom April 6, 2015 at 4:32 pm | #

    We are doomed.

  2. Mara April 6, 2015 at 4:42 pm | #

    We’re not doomed. We just have to start distinguishing the major pillars of political motivations, commitments and trajectories. Corey Robin helps us distinguish conservatism. Losurdo helps us distinguish liberal. Most Canadian academic feminists are liberals.

    • Benjamin David Steele April 6, 2015 at 7:58 pm | #

      I’d say Losurdo helps us to see that conservatives are in a sense nothing other than liberals in reactionary mode. What I came away from reading Losurdo is that the liberalism he spoke of mostly corresponded to American conservatism, i.e., classical liberalism. Mainstream and elite (supposedly ‘progressive’) liberals have taken their cue from conservatives because, as research shows, it is easy to make liberals into conservatives. A conservative is just a liberal who is permanently stuck in reactionary mode, and a liberal is just one whose reactionary stance is less consistent.,%20functions,%20and%20elective%20a.pdf

      Political Ideology: Its Structure, Functions, and Elective Affinities
      John T. Jost, Christopher M. Federico, & Jaime L. Napier

      “Given that nearly everyone wants to achieve at least some degree of certainty, is it possible that conservatism possesses a natural psychological advantage over liberalism? Although answering this question is obviously fraught with challenges, several lines of research suggest that this might be the case. First, a series of experiments by Skitka et al. (2002) demonstrated that “the default attributional position is a conservative response,” insofar as both liberals and conservatives are quick to draw individualistic (rather than system-level) conclusions about the causes of poverty, unemployment, disease, and other negative outcomes, but only liberals correct their initial response, taking into account extenuating circumstances. When a distraction (or cognitive load) is introduced, making it difficult for liberals to engage in correction processes, they tend to blame individuals for their fate to the same degree that conservatives do. Skitka et al. (2002) therefore concluded, “It is much easier to get a liberal to behave like a conservative than it is to get a conservative to behave like a liberal” (p. 484; see also Kluegel & Smith 1986, Skitka 1999). Research by Crandall & Eidelman (2007) takes this general line of reasoning even further, showing that a host of everyday variables associated with increased cognitive load and/or increased need for cognitive closure, such as drinking alcohol, lead people to become more politically conservative. Both of these lines of research are consistent with the notion that conservative styles and opinions are generally simpler, more internally consistent, and less subject to ambiguity, in comparison with liberal styles and opinions (e.g., Tetlock 1983, 2007; Rokeach 1960; Tetlock 1983, 2007). A third reason to suggest that conservatism enjoys a psychological advantage over liberalism comes from research on system justification, which suggests that most people (including liberals) are motivated to adapt to and even rationalize aspects of the status quo, that is, to develop and maintain relatively favorable opinions about existing institutions and authorities and to dismiss or reject the possibility of change, especially in its more radical forms (Jost et al. 2004a). Studies show that justifying the status quo serves the palliative function of increasing positive affect, decreasing negative affect, and making people happier in general, but it also undermines support for social change and the redistribution of resources (Jost & Hunyady 2002, Napier & Jost 2008a, Wakslak et al. 2007).” [ . . . ]

      “Although it is abundantly clear that processes associated with social identification, partisanship, and group interest can exert political influence in both liberal and conservative directions (e.g., Bartels 2000, Cohen 2003, Green et al. 2002), Jost et al. (2008a) speculated that—as with epistemic and existential motives—some relational motives could favor conservative outcomes in general. This is broadly consistent with the commonly held notion that conservatives are especially likely to value tradition, conformity, social order, and consensual adherence to rules, norms, and conventions (e.g., Altemeyer 1998, Conover & Feldman 1981, Feldman 2003, Haidt & Graham 2007, Jost 2006). It is also consistent with the assumption that it is generally easier to establish common ground with respect to the status quo than with respect to its many possible alternatives and to communicate effectively by transmitting messages that are relatively simple and unambiguous rather than reflecting the kind of complex, nuanced, and perhaps ambivalent cognitive and rhetorical styles that seem to be more common on the political left than the right (see Jost et al. 2008a).”

      • Glenn April 7, 2015 at 11:48 am | #

        I have been explaining, for years, liberals’ behavior as having a strong streak of conservatism.

        Thanks for providing a documented confirmation of my intuition for me to explore.

        • Benjamin David Steele April 7, 2015 at 12:12 pm | #

          Isn’t it fascinating data? It does explain a lot.

          I first came across this type of thing with a study about the 9/11 terrorist attack. The study looked at two categories of liberals, those who first heard of the event on radio and those who saw the video. Those in the latter category were more supportive of the war hawk policies of the Bush administration. The visceral imagery of the video had created an attitude of fear and had at least temporarily turned those liberals into conservatives.

          Ever since learning about this phenomenon, I’ve given it a lot of thought. Here are a few other posts I’ve written about liberalism:

          I’ve tended to identify as a liberal, and yet I get frustrated with what goes for liberalism, especially in mainstream politics. It irritates me that those on the political right want to portray liberals as radical left-wingers. I wish more liberals were radical left-wingers, but they are not even close for the most part, although a small minority of radial liberals do exist. If people are going to criticize liberals, specifically in terms of mainstream politics, then it should be for the actual failures of liberalism.

          • Glenn April 7, 2015 at 2:31 pm | #

            But who will criticize liberals for their conservatism?

            Conservatives will see the rightward move of liberals as the correction of their faulty thinking. No criticism can be expected from these quarters.

            Therefore criticism of failures of liberalism can only come from those solidly to the left, but this left has already been dismissed as irrelevant by the conservative liberals (I don’t know whether to use “conservative” liberals, or conservative “liberals” here; labeling is a very squishy thing.).

            Labeled quantities tend to continue their evolution even while under a label.

    • Benjamin David Steele April 7, 2015 at 3:43 pm | #

      You aren’t going to hear much of liberalism from mainstream liberals, that is for sure. There are some alternative liberals like me that don’t mind pointing out the problems with liberalism, but maybe even that is less common.

      I would tend to look to those further to the left, although their criticisms can be problematic for other reasons. You can listen to those such as Losurdo who are of the left tradition from continental Europe, and they truly can offer perspective from a distance, but too much distance can blur important distinctions (as Losurdo demonstrates).

      I think it takes an American (or maybe one of our neighbors to the north or south) to more fully grasp American politics as they relate to ideological labels. I’ve found talking to Canadians is helpful.

      One person I’ve most enjoyed having discussions with is an American left-winger who has been living outside of the US for a number of years. His name is C. Derrick Varn (AKA skepoet). He works in education and often blogs about politics. He presently lives in Mexico. I find his somewhat outsider perspective useful, especially combined with his familiarity with life in the US, specifically his having grown up in the Deep South.

      It was skepoet who introduced me to Domenico Losurdo’s book on liberalism.

      I wouldn’t worry too much about the most strongly conservative-minded liberals. Sure, they’ll dismiss criticism from the far left. Then again, they’ll probably dismiss almost any other criticism as well. I’ve butted heads with quite a few of them, because I’m too radical or alternative for their tastes.

      Conservative-minded liberals often are Democratic partisans, but many of them become neo-reactionaries. You’ll find many conservative-minded liberals in the Dark Enlightenment. I’ve interacted with them in the human biodiversity (HBD) blogosphere. They are genuinely liberal in many ways, even as they embrace such things as race realism.

      I also wouldn’t worry too much about labels either. Still, I do like to think about what labels represent or else obscure.

      As for my view, I tend to use liberalism as a broad label. I actually consider Burke and Reagan to be fundamentally liberals, for both had strong socially liberal progressive tendencies (Burke was a major social reformer of his era and many of Reagan’s positions are to the left of present Democrats). I’ve increasingly come to see liberalism as more of a large framework. Losurdo has influenced me to see liberalism a bit differently, even though I think he doesn’t quite understand American politics.

      However, ultimately labels don’t matter. They are just conceptual frames, to be used when they are useful.

  3. Andrew April 6, 2015 at 8:18 pm | #

    I don’t think it wise to take the letter’s word as far as whether it was stated that “pickets are violent.” (The letter itself did not even use quotation marks.)

    When this group writes:

    “The WSSA Strike Committee is dedicated […] [to] ensuring that the strike is enforced and undergraduates in WMST classes do not attend class.”

    …it at least hints that there might be something to the claim that they have “made the WSSA General Assembly a site of intimidation and bullying.”

    I don’t know. I’m just saying to hear both sides of this before believing anything.

    • Patrick April 7, 2015 at 10:15 am | #

      The IGSF is calling the strike “Intimidation tactics” on Twitter:

      • Geoff April 7, 2015 at 11:31 am | #

        That tweet denounces the province’s intimidation’s tactics, not the students.

      • Andrew April 7, 2015 at 7:21 pm | #

        Following the link posted to twitter, and one link further, you will find this:

        Blaming a small minority of militant students, 14 political science professors wrote an open letter outlining continuing acts by a small group of “sometimes masked commandos” who have poisoned the atmosphere on campus with acts of “intimidation, harassment, shoving, vandalism, looting and repeated strikes.”

        “These acts threaten university life itself,” says the letter, which goes on to say that the climate of intimidation and harassment must stop, that it impedes learning and makes teaching difficult, has forced the university to spend thousands of dollars on repairs and has made the professors worried for its future.

        In an interview, Jean-Guy Prévost, the vice-dean of studies in the faculty of political science and law who helped circulate the letter, said it followed “many months of nasty events.”

        The last straw, he said, was on Jan. 20, when about 60 protesters stormed an event that had been organized for students with a deputy minister of Natural Resources Canada.

        “They came in with banners and screaming until the event had to be called off,” said Prévost. “Yes, there’s a militant tradition here, but this is not good for the university.”


        Now I am even more confident that the “strikes are violent” interpretation is a misquote. There are claims of “masked commandos.” Isn’t it much more likely that the claim of violence actually had to do with that, and wasn’t levied against strikes per se?

  4. Adam April 6, 2015 at 10:55 pm | #

    Solidarity with the strike. By any means necessary. I know which side I’m on.

  5. Mushin April 7, 2015 at 12:36 am | #

    Follow this Irish feminist who has the right idea!

  6. Patrick April 7, 2015 at 10:09 am | #
  7. jonnybutter April 7, 2015 at 4:56 pm | #

    although a small minority of radial liberals do exist

    I thought Spiro Agnew Pat Buchanan invented radical liberals (though he shortened it to ‘RADICLIB’. He and Dick were so ahead of their time!).

    • Benjamin David Steele April 7, 2015 at 6:54 pm | #

      Some people would argue that if you’re a radical then you’re not a liberal. Obviously, a radical can’t be a liberal by the definition of liberal used in the mainstream. That is the failure of the right-wing argument that mainstream liberals are radical. A radical liberal in America is inevitably excluded from mainstream politics and media. So, the belief that there are mainstream radical liberals controlling the Democratic Party and the entire US government is most definitely invented, but I’m sure even most right-wingers don’t actually believe that.

      • jonnybutter April 8, 2015 at 9:26 pm | #

        But what IS a ‘radical liberal’?

        • Benjamin David Steele April 8, 2015 at 9:47 pm | #

          I’m sure many people could answer that in many ways. There are various kinds of radicals and various kinds of liberals. Between the two, there is some overlap.

          As I’ve argued, liberalism is a broad framework for post-Enlightenment modernity. There are maybe few genuinely non-liberal people in the world, although socialism can be seen as a separate tradition that arose at the same time as liberalism (and so socialism is more distinct from liberalism than is conservatism). Generally, to say someone is radical is to mean two things: 1) they aren’t defending the status quo (e.g., mainstream liberals), and 2) they aren’t merely reacting to the status quo (e.g., reactionary conservatives).

          So, a radical liberal is one who is proactively seeking an alternative to the present dominant system. It is liberalism pushed to its extreme in that the person actually wants a fully liberal society, not just in rhetoric but in reality. They won’t be satisfied with anything less.

          To take liberal values and ideals seriously is a radical act in itself. Mainstream liberals, on the other hand, are mostly satisfied with rhetoric itself, for they are more worried about what might be lost than what might be gained. It doesn’t bother a mainstream liberal as much the fact that we don’t have an actually functioning democracy, just as long as we have the outward forms of democracy.

          Take for example someone like Martin Luther King, Jr. He was a standard liberal in many ways. He sought progressive reform through the system, even as he challenged the system to take the populist demands seriously. However, near the end of his life he was becoming quite radical, with criticisms of capitalism and imperialism.

          Thomas Paine followed a similar trajectory. When he was a younger man, he was a civil servant who sought reform through petitioning the government. He went from that to being a major proponent of two revolutions. Nonetheless, as radical as he became, his vision to the end of his life was always that of liberalism and of progressive reform (see “Agrarian Justice”).

          That is probably a common pattern. Most radical liberals probably were at one time just an ordinary liberal. It usually takes some set of experiences and events to radicalize someone.

  8. Vetty April 11, 2015 at 9:06 pm | #

    I’ll just comment on a few points here. I’m from Montreal. The party whose austerity policies they are protesting against is the Liberal Party, which follows (in diluted form) the European, and more specifically British, classical-liberal formula. The federal and provincial Liberals have major differences between them, but in Quebec they have lost most of the francophone vote, to instead build its base on the elderly, the well-to-do, Anglophones, and ethnic communities. Meanwhile, the other parties in the province are:

    -The Parti Québécois, whose main goal is ostensibly Quebec independence, which leads to considerable infighting between people who want independence now and those who want to bide their time. It pursues left-of-centre politics, but is sometimes accused by its opponents of exploiting a certain form of ethnic nationalism (as in the case of the recent “Charter of Values”, which is credited with leading to its defeat in the election of last year). The leader, Pauline Marois, was defeated in her own riding, leading to an acrimonious leadership race in which the front runner is a controversial media baron, Pierre-Karl Péladeau. Rumour has it that, at a young age, he had changed his name from the original “Carl” out of admiration for Marx, but did he ever change in later years, by never hesitating to lock out employees (in one case, for more than two years before he got his way) and propagating on his media outlets (which include the major private Quebec TV network, the dominant cable company, and large-circulation newspapers in Montreal and Quebec City) a reactionary-proletarian editorial line not that much concerned with independence, until he claimed to have seen the light and embraced The Cause. So now the PQ is the Official Opposition, but divided between those who want to embrace the media baron and those who think he will gut the party of its social-democratic agenda.

    -Québec Solidaire, a separatist political party of the Left, which is the result of the merger of several smaller leftist parties, most of which began when the PQ chose as leader the ex-Conservative Lucien Bouchard, who pushed it rightward; QS has since then consistently accused the PQ of having betrayed its ideals. Its support comes mainly from Montreal, traditionally by progressive groups, but it remains marginal (with only 3 seats / 125). Yet it’s probably the party whose ideas are closest to that of the student strikers.

    -Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ), a populist conservative party which gets most of its support from suburbs and traditional conservative/libertarian bastions in the regions and especially around Quebec City (it’s quite ironic in a way that the stronghold of libertarianism in the province should be its capital). Theoretically the heir to an earlier party called the Action Démocratique du Québec, it’s on older Quebec traditions — social credit, agrarian conservatism — without any of the elements that gave those their meaning (religion, financial reform, agriculture, etc.). Still suffering from growing pains, it knows where it wants to be but not exactly what it wants to be. Fittingly enough, it’s led by exactly the kind of person you can imagine: an ex-businessman.

    This being said, there is a reason why the current “austerity strike” is doomed, as opposed to the student strike of 2012. In 2012, the Liberal Party had been in power since 2008, hence had to call an election before the end of 2013 (which it called in late 2012, and lost). The PQ took power with a minority government (as the vote split three ways between the Liberals, the PQ, and the CAQ), but took a gamble on its so-called Charter of Values to call a new election in 2014 and try to obtain a majority. The PQ not only lost the election but the Liberals were elected with a majority government. Anyone who could read between the lines knew that it was preparing an austerity agenda. Oh, and let’s not forget that of the three student leaders in 2012, two then ran for the PQ, and the third joined the union movement. Flaubert for the 21st century, that bunch.

    To protest against the government in 2012 was to protest against a government that was not only taking unpopular decisions based on a mandate drawing to an end, while mired in accusations of corruption (on which it declined, for a while, to even hold a commission of inquiry). To protest against the government in 2015 is to protest against what? Democracy? And that’s how the students have trapped themselves. They can’t say the government is anti-democratic. They can’t say the government has outstayed its welcome — it was elected last year. They can’t point to election fraud, or gerrymandering, or intimidation, or any other factor which may have affected and diminished the validity of the election. They can’t say it has lied to the voters — the Liberals never fleshed out, it is true, their austerity agenda before coming to power, but they never hid it, either. There is nothing in the law that forces governments to make only decisions that are popular. In other words, they can’t point to any failure in the democratic process, except to the democratic process itself as its own failure.

    Who knows, perhaps there’s a good reason to question democracy, since that time the federal Conservatives had to call an election after being found in contempt of Parliament, only to be re-elected, with the bonus of a majority that had always eluded them until then. Perhaps voters are stupid and don’t deserve the right to vote. But see how these student organizations point to their own democratic validity, which they nonetheless abuse by calling voting assemblies of their members over and over again until one of them, the only valid one always, delivers the result which they want — dismiss the people and elect another, as Brecht would say — then enforce the result on everybody else. And rallying to their cause, naturally, are all the usual interested parties, unions especially. If the aforementioned Québec Solidaire took power and business owners took to the streets in response, would you take them seriously?

    Would these progressives ever tackle the question of who exactly voted in the Liberals in the first place? The rich? Anglophones? Ethnic votes? Francophone nostalgics of an era when the Liberal Party was a little more nationalistic and a lot less supine? Do these people have a right to vote, without being accused of being misled, or wrong, or selfish? And if not the Liberals, then who? The CAQ, which likewise promised budgetary constraints? Or the PQ, thrown out by voters over a blunder of its own choosing and now poised to choose Citizen Péladeau to lead it?

    As I said, the protesters are screwed. They can’t justify what they do without its being an attack on democracy itself. No wonder the government is winning.

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