General Question

josie's avatar

Why did the 'New Left' transition from disdain for authority, to worship of it?

Asked by josie (30931points) July 26th, 2012

All I know about the 60s is what I hear or heard from family members, what I read, and the music (which I love). The clear message of the 60s neo Left is that authority (and Government) is to be regarded with suspicion at best, hostility at worst.

Now, it seems, many of that same generation seem to adore the current crop of politicians who want to control just about every segment of their social milieu-banks, hospitals, schools, auto makers, garbage collection etc. They not only want central authority, they crave it for themselves and everybody around them.

What happened to them?

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42 Answers

ragingloli's avatar

False premise.

Imadethisupwithnoforethought's avatar

I think the left, in general, has always thought the counter to corporations and hereditary control of capital was a government for, by, and of the people.

Now, lately, corporations and hereditary rich people have found that they are able to convince some common people that government is out to get them, and is a distinct, separate thing from the people. They use all the tools of modern propaganda to foster in otherwise intelligent people’s minds that the government is out to strangle their freedoms. I listen to these propaganda broadcasts sometimes. They use the same terminology as cults, addressing their audience as “True Believers” or the “Best an Brightest”. It is cult indoctrination psychology.

There is no new left. There is only a growing group of people who listen to cult leaders backed by corporate interests, and celebrate their worship of corporate freedom over collective will as if they are freedom fighters.

WestRiverrat's avatar

They have tasted power, and like most people have been corrupted by it.

tom_g's avatar

Huh? Wah? What @ragingloli said.

funkdaddy's avatar

I heard a quote once, can’t remember the original author

“The young are the only minority that become their oppressors”

Seems apt here.

josie's avatar

@funkdaddy I don’t know who said it either. But the principle is well recognized. It is the theme of Orwell’s “Animal Farm”. And since most American school kids at some point read “Animal Farm” it is interesting that the lesson escapes them.

Rarebear's avatar

Agree with @ragingloli in that it’s a false premise, but I still like the question.

jrpowell's avatar

Banks – I don’t think many liberals want state run banks, just proper regulations enforced.

Hospitals – I think the profit motive should be removed from healthcare

Schools – See hospitals

Auto Makers – I was under the impression that Obama isn’t designing the next Ford Fiesta.

Garbage Collection – The liberal paradise that is Eugene Oregon has two competing garbage collection services. Sanipac and Apex.

jerv's avatar

The same way The Right went from being about fiscal responsibility and smaller, less intrusive government to worshipping wealth redistribution and wanting government to interfere in places where they have no right to, like the bedroom, the wedding altar, the doctors office…

What happened is that they saw the true price of trusting people to regulate themselves and now want protection from predators. They thought deregulation would allow prosperity, but all we got was Neo-feudalism and a fast track to becoming a Third World nation.

JLeslie's avatar

The message of the 60’s had more to do with peace and love and I see little change on social issues with the left. Gay marriage, free to love who you want without government interference is very 60’s oriented in my opinion. Abortion, birth control I would guess the hippies would support those things. Public education for all, I can’t see why any lefty in the 60’s would be against that? Even fiscally I think they wanted the country to not be in debt. I only ever heard Republicans say debt can be good, that was during Reagan, drove me crazy. Especially if the debt is owed to a country perceived to commit many horrible acts considered inhumane, some people feel China does some pretty horrible things, not very hippie.

I think @jerv made a great point that the right wingers talk about individual freedom and want to control our personal lives, it seems they do not do what they say.

bookish1's avatar

The New Left in the traditional sense of the term was composed of white middle/upper-class liberals, most of whom were able to go to university before it was considered a near universal right/aspiration in the U.S. It makes sense to me that this cohort eventually would settle down and think about their class interests rather than thinking outside of the sphere of their privilege.

@JLeslie: You are making a huge sloppy conflation between “New Left” and “hippies”, IMHO! And gay marriage was not really a demand of the gay rights movement in the 60s or even the 70s! They had to fight for decades, piecemeal, just to oppose police crackdowns and entrapment in gay bars, and all kinds of institutionalized discrimination. Just for the right to be visibly gay in public, to congregate, to not be considered mentally ill according to the DSM. cf. John D’Emilio, Sexual Politics, Sexual Communities: The Making of a Homosexual Minority in the United States, 1940–1970 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1983; 2nd edition, with a new preface and afterward, 1998).

JLeslie's avatar

@bookish1 You don’t think if gay marriage was a topic in the 60’s the left would have supported it like they do today? I understand it was a long fight, but if as many gay people had been out then as they are today, I think the same lefties would have come to their defense.

Although, I do agree the DSM makes it more tricky.

bookish1's avatar

@JLeslie : No, i don’t think so. It took decades for support for gay rights at all to be taken up by the mainstream ‘left’, and lots of people who identify with the left are still grossed out or uncomfortable at some basic level about gay people. But counter-historical hypotheses can’t be proven or disproven so we can both say anything we like. :-p

I could be wrong but in my understanding, no one took the ‘right to marriage’ seriously back then. The fight was for visibility at first, the right to exist, to not be fired, to be able to meet in public without being harassed, refused service, or beat up. The way Gay Inc (the mainstream gay rights movement) has it framed today, gay marriage is the only thing gay people have ever wanted or needed, and then they’ll just be normal, like the rest of “us.” But this desire is not self-evident; it had to be cultivated.

JLeslie's avatar

@bookish1 Difficult to know for sure. The issue of gay marriage is such a recent topic. I don’t think even gay people thought to want it. My gay BIL told me once that when he was younger he thought he would get married (straight marriage) because he thought everyone was supposed to. That shocked me. But, I grew up in a much more liberal environment. I was at gay nightclubs since the age of 16. I knew a lot of gay people at work. It would make no sense to me to treat gay people differently, and I think the government should be the first to provide equality, but we know that does not always happen.

I wonder how things evolved in other countries that have had gay marriage for years? Did they need hate crime laws and protections at work? I am conflicted on laws like that since I think the basic premise that we are all created equal and US laws are to protect everyone, especially a minority who cannot easily protect himself. But, I understand the argument in favor of laws created to regarding hate crimes and discrimination.

Jaxk's avatar

It is an interesting question. Back in the 60s and 70s the government was viewed as “The Man”. Government was responsible for all the evil. Discrimination. the draft, police brutality, etc. Slowly over time, those barriers have been broken down by guess who, Government. Government is now viewed as the way to get thier agenda implemented. Government is the source of all good because you can use it to force your opinions on others. Make no mistake, the left has always been certain that thier world view is the right world view. So if you can use government to force everyone to do what you think is right, to act the way you think is right, then government can be a tool for good. Government has morphed from a tool of the devil, to a savior.

JLeslie's avatar

@Jaxk I like your answer. Don’t you think all sides try to use government to make things “right” in their view? Except for the extreme anarchist types. We all look to laws to protect our citizenry. Even in the 60’s when people may have been upset with laws and policy and government in general, the people pursued civil rights and equality through changing the laws. What you wrote is saying the lefties have not really changed; the policies of the government has evolved.

Qingu's avatar

@josie, did you get this question idea from one of your chain e-mails?

Here’s a question for you. What is the difference between “supporting regulation” and worshiping authority”?

Jaxk's avatar


To some degree everyone wants the laws to protect them. If you look back most of the ire was directed at government. They didn’t want laws to outlaw drugs. They didn’t want laws that forced them into military service. They didn’t want laws that allowed separate drinking fountains for blacks. At least that’s the way I read it. The difference now is that they want laws that support affirmative action, for instance. Laws that setup protected classes. Hell, if you listen, some even want to bring back the draft so that they can force those they don’t like into military service. The theme has changed from stopping government from doing things they don’t like, to using government to do things they do like. Some of us see this a totalitarian government in the making. So they’ve switched sides. Those that hated government embrace it. And the issues aren’t as clear. It’s not clear where it will stop.

jerv's avatar

@Jaxk Once again, proof that either/or thinking and two-party politics is inherently not merely flawed, but totally fucking stupid.

Qingu's avatar

@Jaxk, yes, people want laws to protect them from abuse in the private sector. It used to be legal for private citizens to purchase and own slaves, for example… but then the big government said you couldn’t do that. And people support this government regulation of private sector activity because they realize that private sector actors can also take away one’s freedom.

The question then becomes what amount of laws and regulation of private sector activity is ideal to ensure maximum social freedom. I think the issue is that conservatives tend to define freedom tautologically as something that is in opposition to government intervention, whereas liberals think of the concept of freedom more broadly, and realistically.

JLeslie's avatar

@Jaxk It seems more of a rebellion against power maybe? I think it could be argued that wealth really has the power in the country. A lot of weathy people are in government now or supported and funded by mega amounts of money. Not sure how different that was in the 60’s? I am sure money always played a part. I think a lot of people on the left are trying to use government to take some power away from the superwealthy/big business/monopoly people. But, it is so intertwined now, it is difficult to effectively do anything. If the very wealthy acted in a more altruistic (altruistic is the wrong word, because I thing it behooves a business to be “fair” with its employees in the long run and its customers) way there would not be the backlash for regulations and new laws. Same as unions being created to fight back against selfish greedy business owners. When there is some sort of moderation I think everything can be more harmonious and it is a win win, and neither side would want a third party in the mix government nor union.

There was a Q recently about letting Muslims worship in a Christian church while they built their mosque. One of our resident Evangelical jellies did not like the idea, he felt Christians making it easy for other religions to worship is like reinforcing their wrong path. But, it begs the question, if he was a religious minority in a community, would he want another religion to open its doors in the name of religious freedom and respect for individual religious beliefs? I think there is a big failure in the country to put ourselves in another person’s shoes. I think this true more of very religious conservatives than liberals, but I am not saying all of either group think a certain way. It is not that I am accusing him of being hateful or bigoted, which I think are words thrown around a lot, and I can understand where he is coming from, but I do think he is so lucky in his majority he has no clue what it is like to be the minority.

With the draft, I think the left is saying the wealthy need to decide whether they would make the same decisions regarding war if their own children were at the same risk as the poor?

Government and law is a way the less powerful can get justice.

Qingu's avatar

To add to what @JLeslie said about liberals and the draft, the idea behind instituting the draft is that it makes it less likely for politicians to start wars. America didn’t have a problem with Bush invading Iraq on shaky pretenses because after all we have a volunteer army. But if there’s a chance that you have to fight in the war that the president you elected chooses to start, maybe you’ll start electing less warmongering presidents… and maybe presidents who want votes will be less warmongering.

Saying the rationale among liberals for supporting the draft is “so that they can force those they don’t like into military service” is… well, needless to say, it’s just classic Jaxk BS.

Jaxk's avatar

The whole wealth thing is a red herring. The more you drive government into every aspect of business and life the more people (both rich and poor) will try to influence those decisions. The real power lies in government. I find both your argument and @Qingu‘s about the draft, quite typical. The military is not made up of the poor and indigent. In fact they are more educated and more conservative than the rest of the country. The argument to install a draft won’t get more more rich, more wealthy or more educated military, it will actually get less. The stated goal is not the real goal. The real goal is to resurrect the war protesters of old. And the goal of the left is to use government might to force that confrontation onto the rest of us. They are using the poor and idigent as a tool along with government, in that endeavor.

JLeslie's avatar

From what I understand the stats on education, wealth and enlisted men is reported in very different ways that can be confusing. From what I can determine, the majority of enlisted men do not have college degrees when they enter the military. If we look at their income and social class as they enter the armed services many are poor, but serving raises them up and many take advantage of the educational opportunities while serving or after their service. So it depends when you look at the stats, what age group, how long they have served, etc. It is a fact recruitment centers are generally placed in areas with lower incomes. I don’t know how many people in our congress have children who serve in our military, but I bet it is pretty low. Of course we do have some stand out politicians who have military service for themselves and as a legacy in their family, including their children, that stand out, but I would think it is a small percentage.

Qingu's avatar

@Jaxk, I’m confused as to what point you think you are trying to make. I’m not sure you actually know.

Would you agree that liberal attempts to reinstitute the draft, at heart, are an attempt to make wars more rare by making them more politically costly to start? A yes or no answer will do.

jerv's avatar

@Jaxk Maybe what you say about military people being educated and Conservative is true of Khakis, but there are a lot of uneducated and/or Liberal blue-shirts, so it depends on what rank (s) you are talking about. There is a huge difference between a BMSA and their divo, or even mid-ranking wire-biters.

Jaxk's avatar


We only have 1% of the population in the military so yea, I would guess it is a small percentage. And frankly given the age our some of our congressmen, it would seem even less likely that they have sons or daughters in the military. But I think you would agree, that rwsurrecting the draft would put a lot of people in uniform that didn’t want to be in the military. Rich, poor or otherwise. That is the real goal. Create the draft so that you can protest against it. Personally, I would rather have those that want to go in the military rather than those that don’t.

JLeslie's avatar

@Jaxk The few people I know who joined the military during the last 10 years said things like, “I’ll get to travel.” Or, “the recruiter said I probably would not go to Iraq.” They just seemed very naive. A friend of mine who just retired from the navy, her daughter was thinking of going into the service. She said to me, the benefits are great, but of course the risk is there. She meant risk of dying. Navy less so than Army of course. She is, or was, a JAG lawyer. Anyway, I think a lot of 18 year olds being seduced by the military are totally naive and clueless about what it is going to be like. They go in for many reasons, a lot do feel great pride in serving their country, and I share their pride for them, but there is some brainwashing going on there, at least a little, to be willing to put your life on the line, to die for your country. We look at suicidal terrorists and wonder how young men can be suicidal and how their parents can be proud of their sons for giving their life for a cause, but any military person to an extent is doing that, just to a lessor degree, because our men don’t want to die, but our men have gone into battles knowing statiscally the odds are very against them.

bookish1's avatar

An ex of mine joined the military because 1) she came from a military family and 2) her family could not afford to send both her and her brother to college, so she decided she’d be the one to earn her way. They are a very poor and a very conservative family. Reality is more complex than the schemas we try to lay upon it.

Jaxk's avatar


I don’t disagree with your point. Trusting the salesman is always a poor decision and the salesman is the recruiter. I have to admit, it’s hard for me to understand being that naive even though I know some are. When I joined back in 1965, I not only knew I would go but actually wanted to. As it turned out I was never in country. Just the way things work out.

I also know that my time and training in the navy built the life I have today. The education and work ethic are valuable commodities and they served me well.

josie's avatar

@Qingu My chain emails? Sorry, I don’t follow.

Here’s a question for you. What is the difference between “supporting regulation” and worshiping authority”?
People who support regulation are usually selective about which regulation they will support, so the principle is not universal. There is no way to characterize “supporting regulation” because it is contextual.

People who worship authority are universally similar. They are often lonely, unhappy, with poor self esteem. They struggle to suppress anger, they have delusions of grandeur and imagine that they are unique in their genius while the rest of humanity is confused, dull and stupid. If they are not hateful, they are at best a tad unpleasant.

It isn’t allowed to name names on Fluther, but one or two folks on the site clearly meet the criteria.

jerv's avatar

@Jaxk The Navy also made_me_ what I am today; cynical, jaded, distrustful of authority, touchy about class warfare (due to many uppity khakis), and with a low opinion of most of humanity in general. They also gave me one hell of a phobia of classroom environments, which made continuing formal education impossible. (After Power School, there isn’t enough Xanax in the world for me to do college!) I guess it’s YMMV there.

@josie The Right supports regulating things far more than the Left. The only difference is that the Right wants to regulate everything except for the marketplace rather heavily whereas the Left only wants to regulate the things that have gotten out of hand.
Accordingly, you may want to watch your characterizations as they apply MUCH more strongly to the team you are rooting for than the one you are booing.

josie's avatar

@jerv Interesting

Jaxk's avatar


Sounds like you handled it poorly and they broke your spirit, Unfortunate.

jerv's avatar

@Jaxk 1994 was not 1965. Things changed. When I was in, there were many people with 19 years and 8 months forfeiting their pensions instead of just sticking out a couple more months just because of how it was at the time. And those were the ones that didn’t spend 90+ hours a week in the classroom, or work 18+ hours a day in the fleet. BTW, when your XO is only ever seen surrounded by four marines in flak jackets with shotguns at Port Arms when just walking through the hangar bay in open waters, you know crew morale is bad. Plus, the Navy work ethic was worse than the Yankee ethic I was raised with; 2-hour lunches, “not my job” mentality….
I think it safe to say that you and I were in different Navies; yet another sign of how time alters things.

@josie I think you see how it’s a matter of perspective. Now, do you endorse premeditated murder, or do you agree that the SD legislature may be going overboard? When taking your hands off the wheel fails, youd you rather suffer the indignity of grabbing the wheel, or would you rather stick to your principles until you get into a crash that could have easily been prevented?
Somewhere between selective micromanagement, statism, and anarchy, there is a decent amount of control.

Qingu's avatar

@josie, sweet burn, bro, but I wasn’t asking what the difference was between people who support regulation vs. people who worship authority.

I was asking how one tells the difference between the two. See I like many liberals support certain regulations—financial and health system regulations, work safety, minimum wage, environmental controls, that kind of thing.

Does that count as “worshiping authority”? You said that supporting regulation can make sense, depending on context. Well, explain that context to us. Since you are obviously a wise and discerning individual, explain how you differentiate between regulations that make sense in given contexts, and regulations that cross a boundary into “authority-worship.”

Qingu's avatar

Oh, and are you not the one who always copy-and-pastes chain e-mails into Fluther questions? Am I thinking of Cruiser or Captain Harley? I admit that I sometimes get you folks mixed up…

Paradox25's avatar

When the ‘right’ decides to meddle in the affairs of peoples personal lives though, they still can get away with it today under the illusion of presenting themselves as the people who stand for person freedom. This is because the majority of Americans are still right of center today, and many people still buy into right wing propaganda. This trend will gradually fade with each new generation along with time but until then, it is what it is.

Authority comes in many forms, and when corporations can influence our laws that is not freedom to me. If corporations are free to pollute our enviroment, free to enslave people through slave wages and many other things that is not freedom to me either. People make money from their businesses because our laws and regulations allow them to. I would love to see someone try to run a business in total anarchy, without no laws to protect them or their merchandise and profits. You know, there is so much more I could add onto here but I’m not going there.

There are different types of liberals out there, and I know of many liberals who would not like fluther, or other left leaning sites. I suppose there are many types of conservatives too. With all of these variations though just what is the meaning of the words liberal, conservative, left or right anymore? This article written about this describes what leftism, rightism, conservativism and liberalism really are much better than I can, and if you have about an hour to kill it is a must read. Your thread proves one of my points though, the term freedom really is subjective.

mattbrowne's avatar

People left of the center value critical thinking. Some wannabe authorities disseminate nonsense and critical thinking can easily expose this. True authorities are valued by liberals because they say things that turns out to be good when critical thinking is applied. A good example is Martin Luther King. A bad example is Rush Limbaugh.

Paradox25's avatar

@mattbrowne You aren’t saying that most people left of center apply critical thinking more than those right of center (disregarding extremes) are you? Also, what is your definition of critical thinking? I’ve seen theologists, dualists, secularists, conservatives and liberals make very good points for their premises, but many on each side only read what they choose to, and cherry pick. It seems to me that the definition of the term critical thinking has become very subjective in its own right.

mattbrowne's avatar

@Paradox25 – I was talking about priorities in a set of values, not the application. People right of the center are equally capable of applying critical thinking. But when you ask people left and right of the center what their top 5 values are, these lists will be somewhat different. Now the situation is a bit different with ultra conservatives and the Christian Right. Some of them are indeed deficient of critical thinking and wage war on science for example. Some of the people of the extreme left are deficient is realism and dream of impractical utopian societies.

Paradox25's avatar

@mattbrowne This is what I’ve repeatedly stated as well; that too many voters lack critical thinking, and resort to confirmation bias instead. My beef is with many other’s interpretation of the term critical thinking itself. I guess that where I’m really getting at is sometimes (or should I say many times) people will assume that just because you disagree with them on certain topics/issues that you didn’t apply any type of critical thinking.

I don’t think that it is the left, right, conservatives and liberals who don’t use critical thinking, but it is those with authoritarian mindsets who don’t use it (except for their leaders of course with their ulterior motives). Dr. Altemeyer and his book The Authoritarians gets into this very well, and it is a good read. Don’t forget that there are left and right leaning conservatives, as well as left and right leaning authoritarians. I know you know this, but I’m just saying that I agree with you

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