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Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn at a General Election rally at the Old Fruitmarket, Candleriggs, Glasgow. (Photo:  David Cheskin/Press Association)

Total Surprise! People Love the Left's Ideas for Progress

Thomas S. Harrington

I just can't believe what happened in the British elections.

I can't get over the fact that that when a politician with real convictions honed over 40 years of political life—generous and forward-looking convictions rooted in an understanding of how social progress for the many has actually been engineered in previous times—speaks out unencumbered by fraidy-cat image doctors, people actually respond enthusiastically.

It’s shocking, absolutely shocking.

Why am I so confused?

Well, for thirty years, the brilliant people at the NYT, NPR,  PBS,  the BBC and The Guardian  have told me again and again that candidates from Labor in the UK and the Democratic Party  in the US must always  be oh-so-careful careful to not veer too far left in their policy prescriptions,  to not appear too “populist” and, most of all,  to not to go "too far outside the mainstream". 

The question of who defines what is the mainstream, or how lavishly-funded pro-business and pro-war think-tanks might actually be the people establishing its functional parameters by funding armies of think-tank “scholars” and “experts” was, of course, a complex hermeneutical problem that I never had the time  nor the energy to ponder or deconstruct. 

If those smart Ivy and Oxbridge-type guys and gals in the prestige media were telling us time and again that our societies were all fundamentally center-right collectives with a deep suspicion of government action (except, that is, when it came to making unceasing war on a world-wide scale) who was I, an obscure analyst of Catalan nationalism and other sundry issue, to say anything about it?

Can you imagine someone like me actually believing he had the right to question brilliant and connected people like David Brooks, Tom Friedman or Jonathan Freeland or Polly Toynbee?  

It would have been the height of hubris on my part to do so. After all, unlike them, I don't spend my time networking each day with ambitious like-minded people, nor do I have the option of knowing exactly what stories and messages will provoke society's centers of financial and military power to pressure a media conglomerate to trim a pundit’s  paycheck or to convince well-heeled seekers of transcendent insight  to stop paying  her fat speaking fees.

Because I lack this essential information, I have always assumed my rightful place as an uncritical consumer of their deeply though-out and always prescient nostrums.

True, today I am feeling a little confused and bereft.  But I know that by the time the evening news cycle comes around they'll have it all figured out for me, providing an explanation that will in no way contradict or vitiate all the brilliant things they've been saying over so many years.


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Thomas S. Harrington

Thomas S. Harrington

Thomas S. Harrington is professor of Hispanic Studies at Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut and the author of Public Intellectuals and Nation Building in the Iberian Peninsula, 1900–1925: The Alchemy of Identity (Bucknell University Press, 2014).

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