Picture credit: Novara Media

Out of left field

Leftists cannot decide if they want to talk to their opponents

Artillery Row

A mysterious character you might have heard being spoken of in hushed tones on right-wing Twitter is named “Basedani”. Basedani is half-man/half-myth — the imagined conservative lurking in the soul of the left-wing commentator Aaron Bastani. 

Bastani, co-founder of the left-wing online outlet Novara Media, has been one of the more prominent youngish socialists in British public life since his topless antics at student protests in the early 2010s. In more recent years, though, he has been displaying some unexpected contrarian instincts. 

He is sad about the decline of community. He is not a fan of Britain’s architectural deformation in the 1900s. He defends the use of symbols of national pride. Is there a half-suppressed reactionary in the man, just waiting to emerge?

Well — almost certainly not. I’m sure that Bastani and his colleagues at Novara Media agree on almost everything related to nationalisation, taxes, immigration, environmentalism, LGBT rights et cetera. Feeling sad about the destruction of Portsmouth’s Guildhall Square doesn’t make you a conservative — it can just mean you’re a left-winger with an unusually good taste in buildings. 

The “Basedani” meme, if taken literally and not used with a wink and a nod, shows right-wing desperation for approval. I’m a right-winger who’s a vegetarian and has defended Corbynites, but none of our cousins on the left would think me a potential comrade. It’s just possible to have some outlying views while still existing in a broad ideological sphere. How depressing life would be if that were not the case!

True, the meme is generally used with a wink and a nod. What’s funny, though, is that some of Bastani’s fellow leftists seem to agree with it. He’s a “dangerous liability”, claims the “anti-colonial political ecologist” Lisa Tilley. “My guess is he’s neck deep in dark money slush,” Tilley adds (I’m not sure whether framing such a thought as a “guess” makes it less than libellous, but perhaps Mr Bastani’s lawyer knows).

Bastani is a “grifting fraud” and a “useful fool”, others have written. (Hey, I suppose it’s nice to be useful.) What has earned him such abuse? He’s willing to appear at UnHerd events and to interview Matthew Goodwin about his controversial new book. To be clear — he doesn’t agree with Goodwin, and he was representing a left-wing perspective at the UnHerd event. Just breathing the same air as commentators that I suppose could be called “right-wing” from a certain angle, though, has been enough for his peers to decide that he “loves … chatting with racists, transphobes and fash adjacent scum” and that he’s “platforming eugenicist fascists” (the left has apparently decided that Professor Goodwin is a “eugenicist fascist” for believing in the concept of genetic differences between groups of people — which is a bit like saying that if you believe in aliens you must be advocating intergalactic war).

Politics, sadly, tends to reward the boring and aggressive over the fun and curious

What a golden, gift-wrapped example of how tedious a lot of leftists are — treating the concept of talking to someone as if it’s comparable to juggling hand grenades. What do they think is going to happen? That the awesome eloquence of Matthew “Godlike Charisma” Goodwin is going to convert young listeners, in their droves, to the national populist cause? I wish!

Still, I wonder if it’s too easy — and comforting — to think that such displays of left-wing paranoia necessarily work to their disadvantage. Years ago, the influential American writer and interviewer William F. Buckley, Jr had a show called Firing Line. On Firing Lane, Buckley would interview figures of note, including progressive artists, activists and commentators like Noam Chomsky, Allen Ginsberg, Huey Newton, Hugh Hefner et cetera. Buckley loved trading barbs with people who disagreed with him — perhaps hoping to outfox and embarrass them — and even ended up writing for Playboy. He had thought himself clever gaining access to such a large readership whom he could attempt to influence,” Hunter Baker comments, “but [ended] up wondering whether he [was] simply contributing to the coarsening of the culture by giving General Motors an additional reason to suggest their own advertisements in Playboy are justified because of the ‘thought’ pieces in the publication.”

Who would be happier with the state of modern American culture: Allen Ginsberg and Hugh Hefner (different as they were) or William F. Buckley, Jr? I’m not saying that their success was due to William F. Buckley, Jr lending them a platform, of course — but it didn’t hurt. 

Relentlessly problematising your opponents’ views has been quite effective. Leftists have been doing it for decades, to the point where opinions that 99.5 per cent of people would have echoed a few short years ago are considered evidence of iconoclastic ideological edginess (say that the Women’s Institute is not for people with penises and XY chromosomes, for example, and you might get a ticking off from William Hague). It would be nice to think that being open-minded and interesting is politically effective, but it is not always the case. Politics, sadly, tends to reward the boring and aggressive over the fun and curious. If society had been a bit less open-minded towards communists, for example, then they might not be on Twitter litigating who people should and shouldn’t talk to.

Yet there are limits to the power of such an approach. Buckley could hardly have pretended, in 1969, when he interviewed Noam Chomsky, that US foreign policy was going swimmingly and that there were no oppositional perspectives worth his time. As protests erupt over uncontrolled immigration and the endangerment of women’s spaces, it’s not enough for leftists to sling ‘isms and ‘obias and hope that everybody will belt up. 

I’m sure Mr Bastani wants to show that leftists can be receptive to popular concerns, to refocus the conversation on anti-establishment redistributive aims. If anything, he’s more dangerous for right-wingers than his critics are — because he talks like a balanced human being rather than a Marxist robot, and he has a sense of what might appeal to people who haven’t been on Twitter since 2009.

For this, he gets mobbed, and it’s quite unfair. Leave him alone, guys. He’s not a secret right-winger. I promise.

Although, Aaron, if you ever change your mind…

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