At a certain point leftist activism tends to spill into the physical realm because it cannot continue to function within the framework of logical analysis. So it’s not terribly surprising that the Occupy Oakland protests have turned into a violent conflagration. Nor is it credible to divorce such violence from the ideology of its perpetrators. A prominent Occupier named Boots Riley cited “ideological principle” in defending Wednesday’s attempted seizure of an Oakland port in order to “stop the flow of capital.” For the left, violence often has a go at the weight rhetoric can’t lift.
It’s not hard to see why. Watch any showdown between an articulate capitalist and an OWS-er. It’s not a political debate, but an anthropological event: present-day man reaching back through time to make contact with his primitive and superstitious ancestor. The capitalist understands the benefits of the free market but the Occupier doesn’t have to. The shamans of socialism have told him that Wall Street is populated by evil spirits. He’s been warned of the capitalist’s use of incantation and alchemy. If the capitalist seems to be making sense, it’s a spell. (And if the Tea Party seems to be comprised of thousands of voices it’s the wizardry of the all-powerful Koch brothers.) The Occupier will not engage a legitimate opponent because the opponent’s legitimacy is some sort of devilish illusion. Occupy Wall Street, therefore, literally has no need for logical argument.
But you don’t need to make logical sense in order to vandalize and riot. Leftism turns violent not because its adherents are more passionate or brave than non-leftists. But because violence is the medium of the inarticulate. And if there’s one commonality among the otherwise heterogeneous Occupiers it’s their inability to articulate. Whether it’s Susan Sarandon or a Boots Riley, their analysis of corporatism and democracy is as coherent as a Qaddafi war speech. Whatever you thought of the Tea Party, its message could be conveyed through civilized means of communication. That’s how it came to field political candidates and impact governance.
But even articulate politicians and pundits who are eager to defend Occupy Wall Street can’t tell you what it is they’re defending. Watching primetime panel members grasp at the profound and serious ideas offered by drum-circle arsonists with pierced eyelids has been very entertaining, but not particularly educational. When Bill O’Reilly—not an OWS supporter—speculated that the Occupiers were “quasi-socialist,” his guest, Barbara Walters took offence. “I don’t think that’s true, Bill,” she said. “I don’t like that blanket indictment.”
Establishment liberals don’t like the indictment because they decided, months ago, to share the blanket. But the reason they can’t quite nail down what it is they support about OWS is because liberalism is long overdue for a reckoning. A central question has been elided for a long time: Where does modern liberal ideology part ways with socialism? OWS should force liberals to answer. Because as it stands now they are apologizing for anti-capitalists who attempted to shut down a U.S. port. And as OWS continues to morph, from a political wave to a crime wave, it remains to be seen if articulate liberals will find the words to distance themselves from the grotesque but unsurprising leftist fiasco.