In his book The Reactionary Mind, Corey Robin makes a convincing case that reactionary people are largely driven by a desire to silence and repress anyone they consider their inferiors, with violence if needed. This partly from a strong belief that ‘such people’ have no right to speak (or to be heard); partly because they fear loss of personal status and privileges; and partly from a conviction that society can only function properly when everyone 'knows their place'. Over the years, I've found this a pretty useful insight, and it made me wonder whether it was possible to similarly summarize the views and values of the '(center-)left' (called liberals or sometimes 'progressives' in the US, liberal or social democrats elsewhere). Because it was clear that they didn't subscribe to the ('radical') egalitarianism, inclusiveness and pro-emancipatory solidarity that forms the core of left politics (and to me, of being human).
For decades, we've been hearing how everyone should 'take responsibility for their actions,' and that we are each responsible for our 'success' (or lack thereof). And because this is obviously pretty glib, it's fostered a kind of reflexive denial in others. As such, we seem to me stuck in a false dichotomy, which leads us us to ignore a very important point. Namely, that we are actively socialized not to take responsibility for our actions, and not to apply our values, for a large part of our lives. Namely, when we perform institutional roles, especially but not limited to when we do 'our jobs.' And that seems to me a pretty important omission, given the amount of time we spend acting out such roles (aside from 'worker', 'boss' or 'manager', also 'student', 'teacher', 'parent' and so on), because of how influential those institutions are, and because what we do while working for institutions tends to affect how we think and act 'privately'.*
Both David Harvey and Noam Chomsky have done a lot to analyze and explain the rise of neoliberalism. Both have pointed out that it should primarily be understood as a political project aimed at discouraging and disenfranchising 'ordinary' people, which gained steam shortly after the ‘social unrest’ of the 1960s. David Harvey has frequently pointed out that the neoliberal counterrevolution was kicked off by the publication of the conservative 'Powell Memo', while Noam Chomsky’s emphasized that elite liberals were equally outraged by what they termed "an excess of democracy". Pointing to the Trilateral Commission's The Crisis of Democracy, he notes the following:
This is a consensus view of the liberal internationalists in the three industrial democracies. They—in their consensus—concluded that a major problem is what they called “the institutions responsible for the indoctrination of the young.” The schools, the universities, churches, they’re not doing their job. They’re not indoctrinating the young properly. The young have to be returned to passivity and obedience, and then democracy will be fine. That’s the left end.
As Walter Wink has pointed out, violence is a tool that allows us to realize certain outcomes that seem desirable to us: to change either the person we inflict it on, or those around them, by 'making an example' of them. Resorting to violence as a matter of policy (as our current justice system does) presupposes that people willingly act badly, so that there's no point trying to change their thinking: all we can do is declare undesirable behaviors 'punishable offenses,' so that the 'bad people' will have 'reasons' to not do the thing. Yet, as Marshall Rosenberg has noted, if fostering lasting behavioral in people is our aim, then violence never works, because while people may comply, they lack intrinsic motivation to act differently. For that, we need to ask -- and care about -- why people choose to harm others, so that we can to try and show them ways to meet their own needs in ways that don't involve harm to others.*