Origins of the Left


Originally published October 15, 2016.  Enjoy these days of Weimar Australia.

From an anonymous contributor

If you’re like me, you might have wondered where and when modern Leftism originated. You’ve probably heard a few ideas and a few names tossed about.

But sometimes you wonder, why are they so irrational? Why do they hate reasonable debate? Why are they so darned angry? What’s with all the swearing? Why is academic writing so bad? Why are they so emotional, and why do they love ugliness? Why are they so fond of hedonism, drugs, and homosexuality? Why are they so fond of topsy-turviness?

Stefan Zweig was an Austrian, secular Jewish, upper-middle class writer who was born in the Belle Époque; the ‘beautiful epoch’ of peace and prosperity in Europe between the Franco-Prussian War and the Great War. He was a 1st-wave feminist, artistic and sensitive, pacifist, married twice, had gay friends, and was not hostile to communism (though not a communist himself); he was that era’s version of a progressive. He lived through World War One, watching firsthand as his prosperous, lovely, free country was ruined by that war. He wrote all through that time, but achieved his highest popularity during the Weimar Republic period; in other words, between the end of World War 1, and the ascension of Hitler’s NSDAP in Germany in 1933. When the Nazis were in power, Zweig’s books were banned. When they took over Austria, he fled to London. When World War 2 commenced, and the bombs began to fall on London too, he fled for the Americas, winding up in Brazil in 1942, where finally, in despair, he and his wife killed themselves.

Before he did, he finished his last book, called The World of Yesterday. It’s a memoir, and also an eyewitness account of how Europe slid from what seemed like a golden era into destruction and totalitarianism, in such a short time. It’s an invaluable piece of primary-source evidence, and it provides some insights into the questions I asked above.

3007981750_0ca0ff8b21_World-War-1Broadly, before the war, Austria and Germany had been cultural centres. Artists and intellectuals were abundant in Vienna and Berlin before the war. But by 1919 youth, particularly Austrian and German, were utterly cynical of the old ways, which had brought them the Belle Époque, but had then brought them the Great War. Why would they do anything the old way? What other response could there be but reversal of everything? And then, the humiliation of hyper-inflation made everything worse.

Here are some quotes from the book. All boldface is mine; these are things which particularly relate to issues in Australia in 2016 which I wanted to highlight; Safe Schools, same-sex marriage, etc. All quotes are from the 1953 Hallam edition, published by Cassell & Company, Ltd.

“Small wonder, then that the entire youthful generation looked with exasperation and contempt at their fathers who had permitted first victory, then peace (i.e. President Wilson’s first peace plan) to be taken away from them; who had done everything wrong, had been without prescience and had everywhere miscalculated. Was it not intelligible that the new generation lost every trace of respect? It doubted parents, politicians, teachers; every decree, every proclamation of the state was read with a dubious eye. The post-war generation emancipated itself with a violent wrench from the established order and revolted against every tradition, determined to mould its own fate, to abandon bygones and to soar into the future.

“It was to be quite a new world in which fresh regulations were to govern every phase of life; and, as was to be expected, the new life began with gross excesses. Anybody or anything older than they were was put on the shelf. Children as young as eleven or twelve went off in organized Wandervögel troops which were well instructed in matters of sex, and travelled about the country as far as Italy and the North Sea.

“Following the Russian pattern, “pupils’ councils” were set up in the schools and these supervised the teachers and upset the curriculum, for it was the intention as well as their will to study only what pleased them.

“They revolted against every legitimated form for the mere pleasure of revolting, even against the eternal polarity of the sexes. The girls adopted “boyish bobs” so that they were indistinguishable from boys: the young men for their part shaved in an effort to seem more girlish; homosexuality and lesbianism became the fashion, not from an inner instinct but by way of protest against the traditional and normal expressions of love.

“The comprehensible element in everything was proscribed, melody in music, resemblance in portraits, intelligibility in language.

“In that epoch of wild experiment in every field everybody desired to surpass, at a single impetuous leap, whatever had been achieved in the past; the younger one was, the less he knew, the better he suited the situation because of his freedom from all tradition: at last youth’s vengeance against the world of parents raged itself out triumphantly.

“Nothing was more tragi-comic in this riotous carnival than the attitude of the elder intellectuals who, in a panic of fear of being considered behind the times, rushed desperately to the cover of an artificial egregiousness and dragged themselves through devious paths in the hope of keeping up with the procession. Respectable, proper, grey-bearded academicians painted over their now unsaleable still life with symbolic cubes and dice, because the young curators—they had to be young, and the younger the better—regarded all other pictures as too “classic” and were removing them from the galleries to the basements. Writers who had used plain, direct language for decades obediently hacked their sentences apart and excelled in “activism”, complacent Prussian Privy Councillors expounded Karl Marx from their lofty university seats, old-time ballerinas in a state of undress performed stylized gyrations to Beethoven’s Appassionata and Schönberg’s Verklärte Nacht.

Every extravagant idea that was not subject to regulation reaped a golden harvest: theosophy, occultism, spiritualism, somnambulism, anthroposophy, palm-reading, graphology, yoga and Paracelsism. Anything that gave hope of newer and greater thrills, anything in the way of narcotics, morphine, cocaine, heroin found a tremendous market; on the stage, incest and parricide, in politics, communism and fascism, constituted the favoured themes; unconditionally proscribed, however, was any representation of normality and moderation.

“But I would not for anything wipe out that era of chaos, neither from my own life nor from art in its onward movement. (pp 299-301)

“But already (in 1919) there were groups strong in (Germany) that knew that they would secure followers only by assuring the vanquished people again and again that they really were not vanquished and that negotiations or compromises were treason to the nation. Already the secret organizations—strongly under homosexual influence—were far more powerful than the then leaders of the republic suspected and the latter, in their conception of freedom, gave free rein to those who sought to do away with freedom in Germany for good. (p 310)

Red light district photo
Photo by Cédric Puisney

“(Hyper-inflation in post-war Germany) produced such madness in such gigantic proportions. All values were changed, and not only material ones; the laws of the State were flouted, no tradition, no moral code was respected, Berlin was transformed into the Babylon of the world. Bard, amusements parks, red-light houses sprang up like mushrooms… Along the entire Kurfürstendamm powdered and rouged young men sauntered and they were not all professionals; every high-school boy wanted to earn some money, and in the dimly lit bars one might see government officials and men of the world of finance tenderly courting drunken sailors without any shame. Even the Rome of Suetonius had never known such orgies as the pervert balls of Berlin… In the collapse of all values a kind of madness gained hold particularly in bourgeois circles which had been unshakeable in their probity. Young girls bragged proudly of their perversion, to be sixteen and still under suspicion of virginity would have been considered a disgrace in any school of Berlin at the time, every girl wanted to be able to tell of her adventures, and the more exotic the better. (pp 313-314)

But the most revolting thing about this pathetic eroticism was its spuriousness. At bottom the orgiastic period which broke out in Germany simultaneously with the inflation was nothing more than feverish imitation; one could see that these girls of decent middle-class families would much rather have worn their hair in a simple arrangement than in a sleek men’s haircut, that they would much rather have eaten apple pie with whipped cream than drink strong liquor; everywhere it was unmistakeable that this over-excitation was unbearable for the people, …(who) actually only longed for order, quiet, and a little security and bourgeois life. (p 314)”


Now, you could argue that the above is just one man’s subjective view of history, that he may have been mistaken about some things, and that a history which quotes from more sources would be more balanced and accurate. And you’d be right.

Red light district photo
Chateau Wood near Ypres. Photo by State Library of New South Wales collection

But there is something truthful in the basic idea: in 1919 civilised, advanced Europe had torn itself to shreds after four and a quarter years of horrifying carnage and self-mutilation. It would be tempting for any person in that time, especially one on the losing side, to abandon the old ways and traditions, when those same old ways and traditions had led to unprecedented destruction and humiliation. Why not go topsy-turvy in those circumstances? Why not create brand new values that were the opposite of the old ones? If there’s nothing to live for or work towards, why not live for pleasure and do what you will?

“Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.” Well, in those circumstances, why not?

And does it not seem that the Left’s values of 2016, one of which is constantly to reject the old traditions, are not that far away from those new ‘values’ of Germany and Austria in 1919?

But I wonder, can man create his own values? The Left of 2016 thinks so, and seems to have thought so in 1919, too. But are human values really subjective, as the Left thinks, or are they objective? Are they as firm a law of nature as the law of gravity, or can you change them up every few years?

It’s a topic for another essay. In any case, it seems like 1914-1919 was a critical time in the history of Western civilisation, of which Australia is a part. From 1914 on, things in the West were never going to be the same again; and in 1919, in the ashes of the defeated European countries, some strange new notions about how to be human arrived. Those notions changed and developed in the almost century since, and went to America and Australia, but never went away.

Lest we forget.

Photo by National Media Museum

Photo by State Library of New South Wales collection

  • This an outstanding application of history to the present day. An excellent source to discover too. Very well done.

    Your piece was so stimulating that I can’t resist putting in my two bobs’ worth as well.

    I agree that WWI is the source trauma for the madness we’ve seen since. It was the beginning of the utter demoralisation of the West. You can see it in the art, the music, the politics, the literature. I see Miley as the most recent manifestation of that trend.

    In my view our fundamental disagreement with the left is that we think we’re pretty good and they think we’re very bad. Like siblings who fight over whether father was a mean drunk or a kind man. Our major problem today is that the entire ruling class are leftists, and they are determined to adopt every Third World orphan on the planet and ruin the family in the process. Just out of spite. We’re better than that, and we need to recover from this de-moralisation if our children are to have any place to live in the world.

  • Karen Dwyer

    A virtuoso piece.

    Thank you.

    It deserves to be widely distributed.

    Moses A., I actually thought that you might have been the author of this article, due to its high quality. Your comment, though, is excellent.

  • Steve B

    I have despised the left with a passion, before I even had any idea of political spectrums, when I was still in high school, many years ago.

    After hearing about the way our Vietnam vets were treated upon their return, I burned with a hatred and contempt for the people who had insulted, spat on and vilified them; those fuckwits being of the left…

    • Larry Larkin

      Me too. I am proudly paleo-conservative, never having fallen for the garbage of the left, even as a teenager in high school. I made it my business to mock the trendy lefties I was at school with in the ’70s and at university with in the late ’70s and early ’80s, and have continued to do so ever since.
      As well as regularly taking the time to rub their noses in the shit that their philosophies have inflicted upon the world.

  • Larry Larkin

    The origins of the left go back much, much further than that.

    Try arch hypocrite Jean Jacques Rousseau in the 18thC for a start. His was the philosophy that brought about The Terror in the French Revolution and has informed every leftist philosopher, group, and movement since. And that includes the early 20thC progressives, the marxists, the fascists, the New Left of the the 1960s, and the current wave of SJWs and their totalitarian mindset.

    Rousseau made a fetish of condemning the French nobility and upper middle classes for employing wet nurses for their young children, while at the same time whisking his own children off to orphanages.

    Sort of like Gillian Triggs dumping her disabled daughter in favour of a high flying career in conspicuous compassion.

  • Johann

    Fascinating article. Thank you.
    I had never heard of the Wandervögel troops. Fascinating to learn about this.
    It rings very true that the World was never the same after the First World War.
    It was, after all, the war to end all wars.
    Then comes WW 2 ! Wash rinse repeat.

    Easy to understand why people who had suffered through WW1 and its horrors of mass mechanised killing, totally lost the plot after the war was over.
    The ensuing 20’s and 30’s must have been decades that rang with hedonism,excess and decadence for the elites.
    Extraordinary time to be alive I imagine.

    As Moses states here in the comments, you can see in the mirror of current art / literature / music and politics: the decline of western culture. Those golden ages of our culture have come and gone. We will never see another Da Vinci, Raphael or Mozart or Shakespeare.
    Instead, we have Snoop Dogg, Miley Cyrus and Lion King stage musicals.

    If a thing cannot go on, it wont, paraphrasing Herbert Stein’s law.
    Our current version of society will perish inevitably, perhaps very soon, going by the current nuclear sabre rattling of the US and Russia.

    Maybe it is overdue and we rise from the ashes ?

  • Karen Dwyer

    And the current Victorian Labor government’s version of Wandervögel:
    (Hint: “male privilege”, “pansexuality” are required learning, in ‘a bid to strike at the root cause of domestic violence’. It is a $21.8 MILLION, MANDATORY “education” programme.)

    In the usual coded, innocuous-sounding language of serpents, the home page states:
    “The Resilience, Rights and Respectful Relationships learning materials have been designed for teachers in primary and secondary schools to develop students’ social, emotional and positive relationship skills.”

    Not quite so upfront as the BBC article (link below) or the Centre for Independent Studies:
    “In high school, students will be taught the meaning of terms including pansexual, cisgender and transsexual and the concept of male privilege.”

    “A guide for the Year 7 and 8 curriculum states: ‘Being born a male, you have advantages – such as being overly represented in the public sphere – and this will be true whether you personally approve or think you are entitled to this privilege.'”

    “Year 11 and 12 students are introduced to the concept of ‘hegemonic masculinity’ which ‘requires boys and men to be heterosexual, tough, athletic and emotionless, and encourages the control and dominance of men over women’.”

    “Jeremy Sammut, a senior research fellow at the Centre for Independent Studies, a libertarian think tank, told The Australian newspaper that it amounted to ‘taxpayer-funded indoctrination’ of children.”

    *(SPOT ON, Dr Sammut, says I)*


    See the Victorian government link below and feel free to comment (respectfully and intelligently):

    • Edwina

      I thought it interesting that there are no male authors in this report.

      Primary Materials

      Associate Professor Helen Cahill, Catherine Meakin,

      Dr. Kylie Smith, Sally Beadle, Anne Farrelly, Leanne Higham,

      and Dr. Jessica Crofts.

      The secondary materials list were also all women.

      • Karen Dwyer

        Now that IS interesting. Thanks for drawing attention to that.

        I’d vaguely noticed the preponderance of women’s names, but not a complete dearth of men’s names.

        On the bright side, perhaps that means that there are still some men within the education system who aren’t consumed with self hatred.

        I rather think, though, that it points to incredibly high levels of dysfunction AT incredibly high levels within the hierarchy of Victorian Government. Layer upon layer of victim mentality, together with utter contempt for anyone else able to live a joyful life (whether facing adversity or otherwise).

    • BJ

      Hey Karen. Hope you are well.

  • Sam Vimes

    Every now and then I come across fantastic phrases that define the zeitgeist better than most. “Artificial egregiousness” does it better than most in the current climate – climate change, me too, trans issues, Trump, racism, Brexit, almost every single SJW issue beautifully summed up in 2 words.