Fools, Frauds And Firebrands: Thinkers Of The New Left

From one of the leading critics of leftist orientations, Roger Scruton, comes a study of the thinkers who have most influenced the attitudes of the New Left. Writing with great clarity, Scruton delivers a devastating critique of modern left-wing thinking.

Beginning with a ruthless analysis of New Leftism and concluding with a critique of the key strands in its thinking, Roger Scruton conducts a reappraisal of such major left-wing thinkers as E. P. Thompson, Ronald Dworkin, R. D. Laing, Jurgen Habermas, Gyorgy Lukacs, Jean-Paul Sartre, Jacques Derrida, Slavoj Žižek, Ralph Milliband, and Eric Hobsbawm. In addition to assessments of these thinkers’ philosophical and political contributions, the book contains a biographical and bibliographical section summarizing their careers and most important writings.

In Fools, Frauds and Firebrands Scruton asks, What does the Left look like today, and how has it evolved? He charts the transfer of grievances, from the working class to women, gays, and immigrants, asks what we can put in the place of radical egalitarianism, and what explains the continued dominance of antinomian attitudes in the intellectual world. Can there be any foundation for resistance to the leftist agenda without religious faith?

Here are excerpts from this book-

“Thinkers of the New Left was published before the collapse of the Soviet
Union, before the emergence of the European Union as an imperial power and
before the transformation of China into an aggressive exponent of gangland
capitalism. Thinkers on the left have naturally had to accommodate those
developments. The collapse of communism in Eastern Europe and the weakness
of socialist economies elsewhere gave a brief credibility to the economic policies
of the ‘new right’, and even the British Labour Party climbed on to the
bandwagon, dropping Clause IV (the commitment to state ownership) from its
constitution and accepting that industry is no longer the direct responsibility of
For a while it even looked as though there might be an apology forthcoming,
from those who had devoted their intellectual and political efforts to
whitewashing the Soviet Union or praising the ‘people’s republics’ of China and
Vietnam. But the moment of doubt was short-lived. Within a decade the left
establishment was back in the driving seat, with Noam Chomsky and Howard
Zinn renewing their intemperate denunciations of America, the European left
regrouped against ‘neo-liberalism’, as though this had been the trouble all along,
Dworkin and Habermas collecting prestigious prizes for their barely readable but
impeccably orthodox books, and the veteran communist Eric Hobsbawm
rewarded for a lifetime of unswerving loyalty to the Soviet Union by his
appointment as ‘Companion of Honour’ to the Queen.
True, the enemy was no longer described as before: the Marxist template did
not easily fit the new conditions, and it seemed a trifle foolish to champion the
cause of the working class, when its last members were joining the ranks of the
unemployable or the self-employed. But then came the financial crisis, with
people all around the world thrown into comparative poverty while the seeming
culprits – the bankers, the financiers, and the speculators – escaped with their
bonuses intact. As a result, books critical of market economics began to enjoy a
new popularity, whether reminding us that real goods are not exchangeable
(Michael Sandel: What Money Can’t Buy) or arguing that markets, in current
conditions, cause a massive transfer of wealth from the poorest to the richest
(Joseph Stiglitz: The Price of Inequality, and Thomas Piketty: Capital in the
Twenty-first Century). And from the ever-fertile source of Marxist humanism
thinkers extracted new arguments to describe the moral and spiritual degradation
of humanity in the condition of free exchange (Gilles Lipovetsky and Jean
Serroy, L’esthétisation du monde: vivre à l’âge du capitalisme artiste; Naomi
Klein, No Logo; Philip Roscoe, I Spend, Therefore I Am).
Thinkers and writers on the left therefore soon returned to equilibrium,
assured the world that they had never really been taken in by communist
propaganda, and renewed their attacks on Western civilization and its ‘neoliberal’
economics as the principal threat to humanity in a globalized world.
‘right-wing’ has remained as much a term of abuse today as it was before the fall
of the Berlin Wall, and the attitudes described in this book have adapted
themselves to the new conditions with very little moderation of their
oppositional zeal. This curious fact is one of many puzzles that I consider in
what follows.
The left-wing position was already clearly defined at the time when the
distinction between left and right was invented. Leftists believe, with the
Jacobins of the French Revolution, that the goods of this world are unjustly
distributed, and that the fault lies not in human nature but in usurpations
practised by a dominant class. They define themselves in opposition to
established power, the champions of a new order that will rectify the ancient
grievance of the oppressed.
Two attributes of the new order justify the pursuit of it: liberation and ‘social
justice’. These correspond roughly to the liberty and equality advocated at the
French Revolution, but only roughly. The liberation advocated by left-wing
movements today does not mean simply freedom from political oppression or
the right to go about one’s business undisturbed. It means emancipation from the
‘structures’: from the institutions, customs and conventions that shaped the
‘bourgeois’ order, and which established a shared system of norms and values at
the heart of Western society. Even those left-wingers who eschew the
libertarianism of the 1960s regard liberty as a form of release from social
constraints. Much of their literature is devoted to deconstructing such institutions
as the family, the school, the law and the nation state through which the
inheritance of Western civilization has been passed down to us. This literature,
seen at its most fertile in the writings of Foucault, represents as ‘structures of
domination’ what others see merely as the instruments of civil order.
Liberation of the victim is a restless cause, since new victims always appear
over the horizon as the last ones escape into the void. The liberation of women
from male oppression, of animals from human abuse, of homosexuals and
transsexuals from ‘homophobia’, even of Muslims from ‘Islamophobia’ – all
these have been absorbed into the more recent leftist agendas, to be enshrined in
laws and committees overseen by a censorious officialdom. Gradually the old
norms of social order have been marginalized, or even penalized as violations of
‘human rights’. Indeed, the cause of ‘liberation’ has seen the proliferation of
more laws than were ever invented to suppress it – just think of what is now
ordained in the cause of ‘non-discrimination.”

(The book is available at

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