French leftism confounds American progressives

It’s a category error to think that American leftists are abandoning their Gallic counterparts. The French left is actually left, made up of Marxists, socialists, radical liberals — every shade of leftist opinion but generally united under the banner of republicanism. That is not to say French radicals are never tempted by postmodernism (who do you think made postmodernism so damn sexy?) but they are an activist left and their activism has substance. Current American leftism, like its British analogue Corbynism, is defined by an angry inertia: they’re furious about so many things they never get round to doing something about any of them. Even when they propose a change — ‘defund the police!’ — it is quickly followed by assurances that not much will change. French leftism is alien to American leftism because French leftism is material and American leftism is mush.

Mush, and something else. A commonly-given reason for electing Jeremy Corbyn leader of the British Labour party was his rivals’ support for or ambivalence on welfare reform. Yet when Corbyn came to present his first election manifesto as leader, his platform proposed to carry out 78 per cent (£7 billion) of benefit cuts planned by the UK’s Conservative government. This went largely unremarked upon by Corbyn’s partisans, who continued to herald his visionary rejection of austerity even as his costings largely embraced it. Socialism had become an identity, a cultural marker of ethical virtue, and no longer required policies meaningfully different to those of reformist social democracy or liberalism. Socialists were people with the right values, attitudes and rhetoric; outcomes hardly mattered anymore.