Why Is There a Left?

13 juni 2024 | Stephen Baskerville

Image: Chris Dodds via Flickr

The original article was published on American Thinker and can be found here.

The assumption that a "Left" and "Right" must inevitably define and dominate our politics is accepted by almost everyone. But it is far from universal, and even in the West, it was not always so.

Why does the Left exist? It did not always exist. There was no Left in ancient or medieval politics or anywhere outside the West until modern times. In fact, there were no ideologies and no revolutions. Some might also wonder why the Right exists, but explaining the Left will also explain the Right, which followed the birth of the Left and has been following it ever since.

The question is imperative now, because over the last 4 years the Left has taken control, almost unchallenged, in the United States, with other Western democracies close behind. Why? We can hardly confront the Left’s power or dislodge it from its hegemony over us if we do not even know what it is and why it exists.

The Origins of Radical Politics

Conventional wisdom dates political radicalism from the French Revolution, because that was the first secular revolution.  But that does not explain the emergence of a wholly new kind of politics.  In any case, the French Revolution was not the first.  The first revolution was in England, and it was not secular at all.  It was driven by religious ideology.

Leftist ideology is sometimes depicted as a secular religion, replete with its own dogmas, heresies, and inquisitors.  A historical reality undergirds this characterization, because secular radicalism has its origins in religious radicalism (1).

Westerners do not understand radical religion, even though we invented it.  It was English Calvinists who first carried religious dissent to the point of inventing the modern revolution (2).  Some Americans are uncomfortable at the thought that religious radicals founded what became the United States – a blind spot that seriously inhibits them from fully understanding their own origins.  Puritans began populating New England just as their comrades back in Old England were perpetrating the world’s first revolution.  Their successors then agitated for the world’s next revolution in America, far surpassing in numbers (and possibly influence) the Enlightenment figures we venerate as our “Founding Fathers” (3).

Here a conspiracy of silence operates between modern Left and Right, neither of whom wish to acknowledge any of this.  The Left wants to forget its religious pedigree, and the Right is reluctant to accept Christianity’s radical past and its role in inventing and fomenting political revolution.

But this perspective changes the equation fundamentally.  It suggests that the content of leftist ideology – which has changed to the point where it would be unrecognizable to its inventors –  may be less important than the style of politics it created.  It suggests that the Left exists not because it is necessarily right.  The Left may exist because it devised political methods that have other advantages beyond its actual grievances: perhaps those methods achieve its aims more effectively; perhaps it satisfies emotional and psychological needs not served by traditional politics.  Different explanations are possible.  By the same token, it opens the possibility that some leftists’ concerns may not be without merit, but that the political means they adopt to address them can have consequences that they themselves have not foreseen or intended.  Finally, it opens another possibility:  If the Left did not always exist, then possibly the day may come when it will exist no more.

The few leftists who bother to examine the agenda of their progenitors, the Puritan revolutionaries, are hard pressed to understand and sympathize with it (4) – any more than they do with today’s radical Islamism.  Conservatives are hardly more empathetic in coming to grips with what were once called our “Puritan Fathers.”

Raised on the Left, I spent quite a few years trying to understand them and even came to admire them.  For today’s purposes, one lesson I would draw from the Puritans is that leftism thrives on resentment.  It does not necessarily encourage resentment, and it is not always fair to blame leftists for its existence.  Every society has multiple sources of friction and resentment, many of which are never politicized.  Moreover, the Puritans expended considerable energy trying to repress it.  But leftism takes resentment that already exists and, sometimes in the very process of repressing it, it also controls, disciplines, and channels it into its own purposes.  I do not deny that some resentments may be justified, and I will not say that some purposes into which leftists divert it are necessarily bad.  But the merits of the grievances are secondary.  What is critical are the methods:  The Left harnesses and organizes resentments into ideologies, revolutions, and similar means to achieve its aims.  

The Right rejects the leftists’ agenda and claims to resist it, but it often imitates their techniques.  The result is a kind of de facto collusion whereby leftist assumptions wheedle their way into our politics and culture without our being fully aware of it.


The Right is Left Behind

The Left has changed forms and reinvented itself many times over the centuries – from religious to republican, nationalist, socialist, anarchist, communist, and most recently sexual.  Certainly the Left has had successes, some of them deserved. 

But it is also skillful at surviving failure.  Its grievances are constantly updated, and failure leaves it undeterred.  If we cannot reform church government and eliminate idolatry, perhaps we can eradicate poverty, and if that does not work, we can liberate women and people with fetishes.  

Some are always ready to declare that designations of “Left” and “Right” are obsolete, and that we have reached the “end of ideology”.  Such declarations are always premature.  Certainly, there are often elements on both left and right that are ready to forget their principles and collude with the other.  But that is not the same as rendering those principles obsolete.  I believe that what is happening today is best understood, not as the end of ideology, but as another collusion between the two.  But the collusion is not symmetrical.  Invariably the Left still leads and the Right follows.

Leftists, after all, thrive in opposition, and they adhere most fiercely to their principles when they are engaged in the romance of “struggle”.  

When they are most likely to jettison those principles is when they begin to sniff the sweet smell of success and assume power, as George Orwell depicted of the pigs in Animal Farm.  We see it vividly today, as leftists become the plutocrats and militarists and even racists they once despised. 

The Right, by contrast, finds opposition distasteful and seldom does it well; they prefer to be in charge, and their most prominent leaders usually enjoy power and wealth.  They are most likely to abandon their principles not when they are successful, but when they are unsuccessful and flailing, as they are now.  When the Left is winning, the Right becomes diffident and weak and envies the Left’s success, power, and wealth.  That is when the Right wants to tag along and share in the Left’s success, which they find any excuse to do.  The Right then, especially the establishment Right, which retains a measure of power within the organizational fiefdoms it has created, looks for opportunities to ingratiate itself among leftist elites and to compromise its principles.

In short, when the Right dominates, then both Left and Right are mostly likely to act out of principle.  This is the default position in which we have existed for most of modern history, a state of at least apparent and relative stability.  When the Left dominates, by contrast, then both sides are most likely to sell out their principles in order to enjoy the intoxications of power.  This is the slippery slope down which we are now sliding into tyranny and destruction.  We show no signs of knowing how to reverse it.


Where Has This Left Us?

There can be little doubt that leftist ideology persists over the centuries because it is constantly fed from the ranks of the young.  Coupled with larger trends whereby the young progressively increase their presence in society and influence in politics, it might seem that the triumph of the Left is what the Puritans said it was: predestined.  

The appeal of rebellious politics to youth hardly requires explanation.  What does demand understanding is that we have now entered a new phase that may mark the logical conclusion of leftist and modern politics.  In this phase, not only the rebellious style of leftist politics but also its content militate toward enlisting youth.  This involves the domination of the Left by the politics of sexuality, whereby families and children are intentionally politicized in order to liberate and “empower”, first, women (and quasi-women like homosexuals and transsexuals) and then children themselves (5).  

I have described this extensively elsewhere (6) and will not elaborate here.  But it can hardly be denied that the most significant ideological innovation of our time is the shift from social and economic grievances to sexual ones at the vanguard of the radical Left.  It is also the most difficult to understand.  The bottom line is that massive numbers of children now grow up without fathers and effectively without any parental authority or family structure to civilize, discipline, and acculturate them into a stable social and civic order.  Given that rebelliousness and sexuality tend to emerge at roughly the same age, it is hardly surprising that sexual politics presents an especially alluring and explosive combination for adolescents to rage out of all control.  Their susceptibility to the most extreme leftist ideology renders them eager to destroy every pillar of the civilized order, as well as themselves, mutilating their own bodies in the name of ideology.

The government they have ushered into power in the United States is rooted in this ideology and encourages the self-destruction.  But most debilitating is that even the opposition – the Republican Party, conservative pressure groups, law firms, think tanks, media, universities – all show no understanding of how to oppose this, and most are too frightened of it even to try.  Remarkably, for reasons given above, some even add their own voices in advancing it.  More than any previous leftist agenda, sexual radicalism neuters its own opposition.  It feminizes and infantilizes even those most intent on extolling “manhood” (7).

Next to this, leftist campaigns to recycle racial or class politics are unimportant.  Today’s apparent racial militancy is largely a front, a flanking operation to divert attention from the Left’s truly cutting-edge agenda, which is sexual.  Black Lives Matter, after all, is the creation and operation of black feminists, and persistent demands for welfare, affirmative action, and reparations do not benefit black men in any way.  On the contrary, they empower black women to emasculate the men, with government “assistance”, and deprive the men of their roles as providers and protectors and leaders.  

The sexual Left has brought us to the reductio ad absurdum of ideological politics, targeting working-class men and lower-middle-class families as “oppressors” and condoning the physical mutilation of children.  More variations may yet come, but we have already seen enough to realize that civilizational survival requires that we undertake to renounce ideological politics altogether. 

This cannot be done until we venture forth from our comfort zone, discard our reassuring illusions, and stop trying to extricate ourselves from the grip of the far Left by following the same foolish habits and feckless leaders that betrayed us to it in the first place. 


Stephen Baskerville is Professor of Political Studies at the Collegium Intermarium in Warsaw and author of Not Peace But a Sword: The Political Theology of the English Revolution (Routledge, 1993; Wipf & Stock, 2018).  His book on politics in the United States since early 2020, Who Lost America?  Why America Went “Communist – and How to Undo It”, is forthcoming from Arktos.


1. Stephen Baskerville, Not Peace But a Sword: The Political Theology of the English Revolution (Routledge, 1993; Wipf & Stock, 2018).

2. Michael Walzer, The Revolution of the Saints: A Study in the Origins of Radical Politics (Harvard, 1965).

3. Their example also inspired major features of the French Revolution, including the public trial and execution of a reigning monarch in the name of his own subjects.  See John Laughland, A History of Political Trials (Peter Lang, 2008), chs. 1-2.

4.  Historian Christopher Hill provides the foremost illustration.  See his Puritanism and Revolution (Secker & Warburg, 1958).

5.  Manifested most vividly and hideously in the phenomenon of child soldiers, which is greatly misunderstood.  See David Rosen, Armies of the Young (Rutgers, 2005).  See also Howard S. Schwartz, Political Correctness and the Destruction of Social Order: Chronicling the Rise of the Pristine Self (Palgrave Macmillan, 2016).

6. Stephen Baskerville, The New Politics of Sex: The Sexual Revolutions, Civil Liberties, and the Growth of Government Power (Angelico, 2017).

7. Stephen Baskerville, “The Men's Marriage Strike: What the Political Class Has to Lose,” Substack post, 11 November 2023, https://stephenbaskerville.substack.com/p/the-mens-marriage-strike-what-the


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