The "Left" does not simply consist of people who are more extreme than garden variety liberals and progressives;
it consists of several quite different groups.
And many are quite overtly distant or even disdainful of liberals and "liberalism", although most embrace
"progressivism" even if there is little consensus about what that is.
The most familiar are various
communists, who argue that social
institutions -- often the government -- should distribute obligations and resources rationally and equitably.
Major leftists of this category include
While socialists and communists in the Twentieth Century influenced liberal and progressive (social
democratic) politicians, they also provided
with rationales for their regimes.
On the other hand,
argue that such institutions (particularly the government) are themselves the primary
source of human misery; major anarchists include
There is also a "Romantic Left", which traces its ancestry through figures like
Henry Thoreau, and
and much of the modern environmental movement from
Rachel Carson on.
The Romantic Left has has influenced innovators who developed machinery for influencing western liberal democracies,
Mohandas Gandhi, and
Martin L. King, Jr..
While radicals and revolutionaries are as ancient as
John the Baptist and
Wat Tyler, it was Mr. Gutenberg
that made mass radical dissent more than, say, chronic complaining and occasional explosions.
Major media organs tend to be concerned with being responsible members of society, or responsibly providing a
reasonable return to their investors, and tend to be wary of the Left.
That leaves the field to a vast and diverse array of newspapers, magazines, websites, and other organs collectively if
misleadingly called the Left Wing Press.
And check out the funnies at the
- AlterNet is a news service.
- Counterpunch is co-edited by one of
the Left's most notorious curmudgeons.
- The Daily Kos is a sort of blog-world for
- Democracy Now is a radio system with
a growing web presence.
- In These Times was founded to "identify and clarify the struggles against corporate
power now multiplying in American society."
- Mother Jones is the American Left's glitziest outlet.
- The Nation is the American Left's leading daily.
- The Guardian called the British-based New Left Review
the "flagship of the Western intellectual Left."
- A British socialist magazine founded by members of the
Fabian Society, the
is one of the great survivors.
- Pacifica is a small radio network.
- The Progressive is one of the American Left's
honest gloomy Puritans.
- The Real News Network covers "the critical
issues of our times."
- The Utne Reader trolls through the Left, presenting to its
readers the bright, glittery loot it finds.
There are also many weekly tabloids making up an
Alternative Press of
independent media outlets (along with small radio stations and other groups).
See also the
Association of Alternative Newsweeklies.
And of course, above all these like the jet plane it is, is the cover of the
- It is almost a contradiction in terms, but there are alternative newspaper chains, including the
which has a tabloid in
Such chains sometimes focus on being entertainment tabs, with a little left-wing politics on the side.
- For more entertainment + left wing politics see the
Austin Chronicle, the
Buffalo Beast, the
Chicago Reader, the
L. A. Weekly, the
Metro Times, the
Miami New Times, the
Philadelphia City Paper, the
Sacramento News & Review, the
San Francisco Bay Guardian, the
San Francisco Weekly, the
Shepherd Express, and the
Since the Left is a community, there is no left wing thought, but rather a lot of left wing thoughts.
Ethologists tell us that among social animals, useful new ideas rise from the bottom of the social hierarchy.
But since new ideas from the bottom of the hierarchy are not necessarily left wing (far from it), "left wing thought"
is difficult to define, or even recognize.
There are several kinds of think tanks, study groups, and similar left wing institutions.
- New areas of study -- including specialties devoted to particular groups (like Women's Studies) -- appeared,
but perhaps the biggest impact has been the development of more systematic views of how power affects perception,
one of the major issues in
Critical Theory and
But the old Frankfurt School -- now the
Institute for Social Research
at the J. W. Goethe University in Frankfurt -- is not what it was, and it is not clear what impact this endeavor
- Part of the legacy of the Cold War -- fought between American and Russia, so the quip goes, and won by Germany
and Japan -- was "peace studies" as an academic field of study.
Institutions devoted to peace research and conflict resolution include the
United Nations University, and the International Peace
Research Association maintains an
online Directory of
academic organizations devoted to peace research, like the
Albert Einstein Institute.
- And there are organizations with broader mandates, such as
Institute for Policy Studies, which arose from the
If the Left consists of radicals and revolutionaries, then they should do something.
In fact, this is one of the most common criticisms of the Left.
Historically, leftists tend to be at their most positive and effective as reformers -- and many of the
commonsensical amenities (and necessities!) of modern life began as crazy left wing notions.
But human beings are not particularly patient, and some leftists have sought to save the world by next
There are many organizations dedicated to specific causes, such as:
And then there are the more direct descendents of the German & British movement associated with
Karl Marx and
That brings us to, um, direct action.
While there are a few Maoist, neo-Castroite, or otherwise Leftist groups wreaking violence in the third world,
the old monsters are either gone (like the
Red Army Faction, the
Black Panther Party for Self-Defense,
and even the
or gone straight (like the
Palestinian Liberation Organization
Terrorist organizations in the news, like
are depressingly right of wing.
Meanwhile, Black Panther co-founder
Bobby Seale sells cookbooks and ice cream.
Oh, for the good old days ...
- The Old Left ranged from those who had never liked the communists to those who were disillusioned.
(By the time
condemned Stalin (but not mentioning his own misconduct) in 1956, most Leftists were familiar with
similar venture of kettle-calling-pot-black, and much of the Old Left was toying with ideas like
communism is a form
state capitalism, or a form of
or even a rationale for a
new exploitative class of
Some Old Leftists are still around, along with some New Leftists.
- And of course, there were the Communists.
No list of Left wing groups would be complete without the
Communist Party USA:
"Radical Ideas. Real Politics."
is no more, but there is a successor, the
and the British
is still around.
believe that people are and should be rational and good, and that government should be rational and rely on the
goodness of people in working for the public interest.
Progressives believe that government and society should actively promote the public welfare.
These two goals are not particularly compatible, hence frequent food fights.
Modern liberalism goes back to
Age of Reason and
Enlightenment philosophers like
Baron de Montesquieu and
Immanuel Kant, and more recently
John Stuart Mill and
Perhaps the gratest accomplishment of liberalism -- yes, of liberalism -- is
(sometimes called western democracy).
Major liberal politicians include
William Gladstone, and
Since liberty and justice were in the public interest, many liberals came to believe that government should
advance liberty and justice: in America, the
(like Theodore Roosevelt),
and in Europe the
(like Eduard Bernstein)
pushed for socialist reforms -- essentially industrial and commercial regulation and support for public
infrastructure and welfare -- within the framework of liberal democracy.
Major progressives include
Lyndon Johnson, and
Robert F. Kennedy.
The traditional tension in liberalism -- which progressives try to answer -- is the conflict between liberty and
Despite complaints about the "liberal media", the media are not particularly liberal, much less left wing.
But there are many outlets that tilt left of center, either liberal or progressive or (somehow) both.
A number of major media organs are relatively liberal or progressive.
A number of news outlets are liberal-to-center.
- The Daily Beast recently purchased
Time magazine's old Democratic foil,
-- which is prone to emulate Time at times.
- The U. K. Guardian is probably the
world's pre-eminent liberal newspaper.
- MSNBC is the most prominent progressive
outlet in America.
- Salon is a creature of the new San Francisco
- The Village Voice could be regarded
as America's pre-eminent progressive alternative newspaper.
Liberals and progressives have one advantage: a cluster of grand old magazines unmatched in America by anything from the center
to the right (but is this a commentary on conservatism or on America?):
- The two liberal-to-center metropolitan newspapers I am most familiar with are the
serving northern California, and the
Tampa Bay Times,
serving west central Florida.
And for more liberal and progressive commentary:
- The Atlantic published those Nineteenth century writers
you studied in school.
- The Atlantic may have published Emerson's essays, but Harper's
ran Nast's cartoons.
- The New Yorker is the great American phoenix that every
American writer aspires to publish in -- if only as an item in The Mail.
There are other kinds of media organs.
- The American Prospect
has become more than just a reaction to the Reagan revolution.
- Commonweal is a catholic Catholic
- Not as popular as it once was, Ms. is a special
interest publication that makes 50 % of the population its special interest, albeit with a leftish tilt.
- As the voice of responsible liberalism, the New Republic embodies
the Washington limousine liberal beltway that the Left and Right can't abide.
- Tilting at windmills, the
remains faithful to the mainstream that runs from FDR to LBJ.
- The Huffington Post is a sort of uber-blog
for progressives and liberals.
- Literature and
may swing between Left and Right as fashion dictates, but the
Nobel Peace Prize
committee maintains one of the most powerful wurlitzers in progressive politics.
was more liberal than progressive, but it provided wind for both sets of sails.
But liberals and progressives agreed that human beings were fundamentally good, and that the social systems that
governed them could and should be rational as well as just.
One of the primary notions was that of the
Social Contract, the idea that
government is the result of a contract held in common by the people, either literally or metaphorically, and this
has formed the basis for liberal prescriptions from
John Locke to
(both of whom inspired our Founding Fathers), to
This alleged goodness and rationality is the core of the basic disagreement between liberals and progressives versus
It is a particularly liberal belief that if a think tank provides factual support for a policy, that policy will be implemented.
But liberal think tanks tend to lack the resources to compete effectively with their competitors across the aisle.
One major source of progressive ideas -- and a major target of right wing politicians -- are academic institution concentrating
on labor studies.
While the big important universities are creatures of The Establishment, and thus ultimately advance
Conservative Thought, the small liberal arts colleges that
offer (in the humble opinion of an alumnus of one of them) the best undergraduate education in the world do tend towards the
liberal and progressive side: places like
with honorable mention to places like
which, despite their virtues, are power players whose first priority is graduate education and R & D.
Many of these institutions were actually launched by eccentric religious groups typical of America, and several Christian
denominations are strikingly supportive of liberal and / or progressive
Liberals and progressives -- especially progressives -- have formed many action, pressure, and reform
Some have lasted a long time and have had a profound effect on our society.
This is where food & drug laws, sick leave, and public education came from.
Perhaps the most influential organizations for the left of center are the unions, most notably:
Most U.S. employees have the RIGHT TO ORGANIZE A UNION, a right that is supposed to be enforced
by agencies like the National Labor Relations Board, which
has a very spotty history: if you want to organize a union at your workplace, you should contact
one of the unions listed above for help.
Here is the
AFL-CIO page on how to form a union.
Political action is the perennial dream, and effective action requires political organization.
There are political parties.
The Democratic Party is actually centrist, but it pretends to
be leftish in its fundraising literature.
Being in a party requires either compromise or delusion, and uncompromising realists prefer to form pressure groups.
People for the American Way
was and is largely a reaction to the Right.
Common Cause claims to hold power accountable; they maintain
a somewhat entertaining
Right Wing Watch of people and organizations who would not
be so amusing if they actually got real power.
Lawyers have long formed activist groups to advance their causes by legal education and litigation.
Liberal and progressive legal groups include the
Brennan Center for Justice (named after the late
U. S. Supreme Court Associate Justice
Open Society Foundations supports efforts to spread democracy and
advance progressive goals throughout the world.
Some political organizations have narrower agendas.
The American Civil Liberties Union defends our constitutional rights, and
celebrates Christmas with its annual suit to ban creches from government property (these suits being a particularly American tradition).
The Center for Science in the Public Interest is a consumer advocacy organization.
The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the
National Urban League are the pre-eminent civil rights organizations.
The National Organization for Women is the nation's pre-eminent feminist
United for a Fair Economy focuses on the inequitable distribution of
Council on American–Islamic Relations and the
Anti-Defamation League (of B'nai B'rith)
defend Muslims and Jews in America -- when they aren't hurling brickbats at each others' constituencies.
Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence
advocates regulation of guns.
The National Taxpayer's Union is one of those petit bourgeois, classically
liberal, anti-progressive organizations that gets the Left foaming at the mouth; the
Tax Justice Network pushes for transparent and equitable taxation.
So many things depend on the environment, from our spiritual health to our food supply, that a number of organizations are devoted
This includes Mikhail Gorbachev's
Green Cross International, arising in part from
a need for a "international Green Cross that offers its assistance to States in ecological trouble."
Also, nature organizations like the
Audubon Society, the
Sierra Club, and the
World Wildlife Fund.
Abortion is one of the most divisive issues in America, and on the Left as well (in fact, the assertion that it is divisive on the
Left is controversial).
So abortion gets a remarkable -- some might even say inordinate -- amount of attention.
Emily's List and the organization that recently called itself the
National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League (NARAL)
are pro-choice while
Feminists for Life is pro-life.
(Of course, the most effective way to bring abortion rates down would be to make contraception free and widely available ... this is
no secret, and that's enough to show how much the abortion debate is actually about abortion ...)
argued for moderate government by men of moderate means acting moderately in their public
and private lives.
Since then, stirred by (the liberal)
Gary Trudeau's rallying cry,
"The World Needs Grown-ups," centrists have advocated grown up virtues.
But moderation is a controversial subject:
claimed that moderation in principle is always a vice, while
claimed that moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue.
Moderates argued that they were the advocates of sanity and common sense.
During the Eighteenth century, the notion of a
balance of power
(originally in foreign affairs) emerged at the same time modern political parties (such as the
Whigs and the
Tories of Great Britain).
made the typical argument in his
that a faction (party) will try "... to make the public administration the mirror of the ill-concerted and
incongruous projects ... rather than the organ of consistent and wholesome plans digested by common
counsels, and modified by mutual interests."
Since then, extreme partisanship has just as often led to paralysis -- perhaps the most notorious
example being the
(whose collapse led to the ascendancy of the
But moderation -- now called bipartisanship -- remains controversial.
The centrists in the media are often centrists because they value moderation itself as a virtue, often regarding
moderation as an attribute of maturity (one of the stereotypes of adolescence is extremism).
Others may position themselves in the center strategically, although the center may not be the best place to be
has quipped that where he comes from -- Texas -- the only things in the middle of the road are yellow lines
and dead armadillos).
Even others are "centrist" because if you viewed the their positions (often extreme) on a large number of issues,
the average would be close to center (these may be what
called the extreme middle).
However vanilla it may appear to be, the Center is no more monochromatic than anyplace else on the political
The Left calls them the Corporate Media while the Right calls them the Mainstream Media.
Criticized by both sides, they tend to regard themselves as the responsible center, but media watchdogs
may be correct in pegging them leftish on social issues and private morality, and rightish on
economic and public policy, and not particularly moderate in either.
The main actors are:
Meanwhile, some media are more indirectly or directly responsive to the public, and thus may tend to drift
towards the center -- or towards "balance", which is not necessarily the same thing.
- Mismanaged, unreliable in science issues, and prone to pander to the defense establishment,
The New York Times
calls itself "The Newspaper of Record," although everyone else calls it the Old Gray Lady.
- The Times' pre-eminent competitor is probably
The Washington Post,
which is sort of a small-town newspaper whose small town is the capitol.
Of course, the
Los Angeles Times
would object to following the Post.
- It may not have the highest ratings, but whenever there's an emergency, people turn to the
Cable News Network.
- Not venerable at all,
aims to please, and is available in hotels across the country.
Associated Press and
have a compelling business reason to be more moderate: they make their money by selling stories to
other outlets, which they don't want to antagonize.
- The great news popularity contest is
Google has software robots called "spiders" that select news based on various measurable popularity
Yes, Google does have competitors, notably
which may be the most visited news site on the web.
Such sites will tell you what everybody else is reading.
- And then there are new outlets like
that package commentary as news.
In many civilizations, there are a few thoughtful people who support moderation, either as an ideal in
itself, or at least as a necessary ingredient for good governance and sane living.
The resulting philosophy is often more grown up, and therefore usually less entertaining.
However, from its central vantage point, one can see things from the Center that one might miss elsewhere.
Take a long look at this
picture, and remember that (the somewhat liberal)
drew it for (the somewhat conservative)
Lewis Carroll's Looking Glass ...
Think tanks need resources to support scholars, and a think tank that desires a broad and stable base will
tend to be sort of centrist.
The bigger respectable think tanks tend to be centrist, while the bigger disreputable ones -- which rely
on a few sugar daddies -- tend to be more right wing.
Some organizations are more focussed, and represent particular groups whose ideology may span the political
These range from think tanks to advocacy groups.
- Ferociously liberal, ferociously anti-progressive, radically anti-conservative, prone to sympathy for the
romantic Right, the
Reason Foundation seems to exist largely to
confound the pigeonholes.
Small Business Majority conducts studies and makes reports on issues facing small
Moderation in itself usually appeared in philosophy and ethics as advice regarding wine, women and song.
The critical notion is the
balance of power.
The notion arose in the Renaissance, although it is associated with Great Britain's foreign policy during the
Nineteenth century: to "hold the scales" to prevent any one power from becoming dominant on the continent.
But the notion crept into national politics, especially with
Great Britain's experiments with parliamentary democracy in the Eighteenth Century (after the
excitement of the previous
century convinced many British people of the value of maturity).
The way that the
U. S. Constitution
is supposed to work is that the branches of the U. S. government are forced to the center by checking
and balancing each other.
Those branches are the Executive, with the
on top; the Legislative, divided into an upper house, the
and the lower house, the
HOuse of Representatives;
and the Judicial, with the
All these bodies float on top of a massive administrative superstructure of executive agencies, regulatory
agencies, and courts.
Some centrist organizations are self-consciously centrist, pushing centrist policies.
Government organizations with agendas often wind up being centrist ... or all over the road.
And there are a number of organizations advocating reforms which, if combined with a sufficient supply of civic
virtues, would result in a happier world.
Democratic Leadership Council
proposes to rescue the Democratic Party from its disintegrating base by seeking a less progressive
and well-heeled clientele willing and able to pay for lots of television.
- A group of grumpy independents launched a bipartisan on-line non-party,
but its failure to select a candidate for the 2012 election makes its future uncertain.
International Brotherhood of Teamsters
has a ... colorful ... history, and after a long dalliance with shady conservatives,
it is more receptive to progressive notions.
Citizens also get together to do good works in officially apolitical (often centrist beige) organizations, ranging from the
quintessentially European (like the
to the quintessentially American (like the
Other networks of lodges for pillars of the community include the
Ancient Arabic Order of the Nobles of the Mystic Shrine
(viz., the Shriners), the
Lions Clubs International, and the
Loyal Order of Moose.
And there are more specialized organizations, such as the
League of Women Voters, the
March of Dimes,the
Parents - Teachers Association, and the
Veterans of Foreign Wars.
Sikh Coalition is a volunteer organization
seeking to build friendly relations between Sikhs and other Americans.
supports a number of moderate reforms.
And there are centrist religious organizations.
Religion is not beige, and a religious organization is often centrist simply because, on average, it isn't anything
But such an organization will have many diverse points of view, especially if it is part of an
(parental guidance warning here)
Such organizations include the
Council for a Parliament of the World's Religions
World Council of Churches.