Jordan B Peterson, pictured here speaking in Dallas, Texas, will speak at the Olympia Theatre in Dublin on the 21st October. (Image: Gage Skidmore, flickr.com)

Modern conservative ideologues, especially on YouTube, have claimed terms such as “rationality,” “logic,” and “skepticism,” as well as quantitative data  into their rhetoric. This is the latest in the ever-spiraling culture war waged against what they label the “irrational, overly-progressive left wing.” They claim this group is infiltrating all political and educational institutions in order to ‘undermine Western society’. Following the online presence of conservative provocateurs and commentators, such as Milo Yiannopoulos and Ben Shapiro, the blatant misuse of political positions like “liberal,” “Marxist” and “postmodernist” lingers upon their lips time and time again. For example, “liberal” is regularly used by the right-wing as a blanket term for those who in any way identify with the huge variety of differing views that make up the left-side of the political spectrum. The misuse of this term is then conflated with those who attempt to reduce all forms of philosophy to that of the moral kind, which indeed has its place, but remains ignored by conservative figures. This position is best summed up by Shapiro’s mantra, “facts don’t care about your feelings.”

Due to this kind of rhetoric, the popular definitions of “liberalism” and “leftism” and what they actually stand for have become completely confused within the minds of the political youth. Rather than an entrenched political ideology often associated with the values of representative democracy and the constant growth of global capitalism, “liberalism” and its modern cousin “neo-liberalism” are regularly misconstrued with all of leftist progressive thought. Most governments in the West follow a liberal ideology and fall on the centre-right of the political spectrum (regardless of controlling political party).

Ironically, the longer liberal tradition is the ideology that is prone to be overly rational and calculating, rather than conservatism. The modern neoliberal economic and political order, which was established in part by Reaganite and Thatcherite policy, was fundamentally lacking in moral and emotional scruples, promoting a rejection of qualitative thought and the analysis of social constructions in the mainstream eye. Profit quotas replaced workers’ rights, and “objective facts” occupied minds on both sides of the spectrum in these neoliberal countries and have since grown in scope. In addition, one of neoliberalism’s distinguishing qualities was the promotion of ideals such as universal democracy and individual rights in an effort to ultimately subvert critiques of the harsh realities of the economic order on the ordinary person.

This reveals a fundamental lack of understanding regarding the interpretation of the term “liberal” among the popular conservative all-stars. A genuine leftist definition of a “liberal” person would be someone who advocates for the maintenance of the current socio-political and economic framework, often associated with the centre of the political spectrum in which most modern neoliberal governments fall. This definition is at odds with the characterization of liberalism as synonymous with every ideology left of the centre. One can see in the vocabulary of the far-right provocateur and conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, that political designations like “liberal” or “globalist” can be thrown around with relative abandon and become a term void of meaning, used by people who ironically do not care for an actual, rigorous definition. Moreover, the term “leftism” within a more stringent definition would contain a wealth of views including that of “socialism,” “communism,” and “anarchism.” This is a much more accurate and useful description of leftist ideologies than the broad label of liberalism provides.

This problem even affects the academic community where some professors have become conservative celebrities and have ended up using the same sort of slippery language as their less accredited comrades. Jordan B. Peterson, for instance, frequently misuses and wrongly attempt to connect postmodernism with Marxism, even though they are completely unrelated. Postmodernism does not even refer to a political ideology.

This misunderstanding of terminology may seem arbitrary. However, the academic right and the wave of conservatives on YouTube ironically critique “liberals” for using the label of “Nazi” and “fascist” on a whim in the same fashion as they use other political designations. George Orwell criticised this sort of slipshod rhetoric in his essay “Politics and the English Language.” In the essay, he writes that words like “communist” and “fascist” are so overused and diluted within public discourse that they have lost almost all meaning. They are repeatedly used in general senses to describe someone or something undesirable from the very narrow and ideologically insular fringes of the political spectrum, loosening their connection to the actual ideas or organizations to which they refer.

A more rigorous approach needs to be followed when using political designations, especially when there is a wealth of different political designations on both sides of the left and right axis. Yet, many conservative commentators and polemicists would rather throw around misunderstood generalisations in the exact fashion for which they critique others.

The growth of the genuine online left has directed attention to these blatant errors, exposing a refusal on the conservative activist and academic sphere to engage in argumentation with academics who legitimately identify with the left-wing. Their loose rhetoric of “facts don’t care about your feelings” would simply not stand up to rigorous scrutiny. Despite their stated love of such acts as critical thinking, empirical analyses, rigorous scrutiny, and debate, they understand that their slipshod rhetoric would not survive even cursory examination. At heart, they understand that their naming rhetoric just muddies the waters. Trying to clear it through debate would be destructive for them.