Hamburg last week was described as looking like a war zone after masked rioters ransacked shops, torched cars and built barricades which they then set alight.
The rioters were protesting against the G20 summit, although what noble purpose was served by looting shops, burning cars and making off with stolen ATM machines wasn’t clear.
Nonetheless we’re expected to believe that the protesters had more high-minded motives than the G20 leaders, whom the protesters insist are all irredeemably venal and corrupt.
Meanwhile, thousands of kilometres away, a violent mob stormed the Venezuelan parliament and attacked opposition MPs, some of whom suffered broken ribs and head injuries.
In both instances, the perpetrators were from the Left: in Hamburg, anarchists, communists and environmental activists; in Caracas, supporters of the socialist president Nicolas Maduro.
The Left has a problem here. Political violence in the past has often been associated with the far Right, but these days it’s the self-righteous rage of the Left that presents by far the greater threat to democracy.
It manifests itself not just in outright violence, but also in the howling down of any opinions that challenge leftist orthodoxy. Alarmingly, this intolerance of dissent has taken hold in universities, once regarded as bastions of free speech and critical thought.
This process has been hastened by the rise of identity politics, which aggrieved minority groups use as a platform for demanding special treatment, and by the fashionable dogma of post-modernism, which dismisses reason and truth as artificial constructs that serve the interests of ruling elites.
Post-modernism has the enormous advantage that it can’t be challenged on a rational basis, since it rejects reason and logic as tools of white privilege. Essentially, it seeks to pull the rug out from under all the accumulated knowledge and learning that forms the basis of Western civilisation.
Being a generally moderate society, New Zealand has yet to be exposed to the worst excesses of leftist fundamentalism, such as the incidents in Hamburg or Caracas. But that’s not to say it can’t happen here.
We see a milder form whenever activists try to block entry to a conference they disapprove of, or disrupt proceedings by shouting or waving placards. What they’re doing is interfering with other people’s right to say and hear things they don’t like.
We see it when they stage a march or a sit-down protest in the middle of the street. They are asserting that their inflated sense of grievance takes precedence over the right of other New Zealanders to go about their business.
We also see it when protesters throw mud or a rubber dildo at a politician they don’t agree with, as happened to Don Brash and Steven Joyce, or smear a lamington on his head (as in the case of former ACT MP John Boscawen).
For all the leftist hysteria about the Right, we never hear of conservative protesters resorting to such aggressive acts of intolerance. Invariably, it’s the angry Left.
We see it too in the use of language designed to demonise opponents and de-legitimise dissent. On a recent Facebook post, Maori activist Joe Trinder described the lobby group Hobson’s Pledge as a “hate group” – the far Left’s standard term of denunciation for any group that threatens to stand in the way of the identity politics agenda.
Hobson’s Pledge is the group founded by Brash to promote the concept of equality before the law, regardless of ethnicity. This is hardly a novel or dangerous idea; on the contrary, it’s in line with basic democratic principles.
But it makes Brash the enemy of people like Trinder, who advocates special treatment for Maori. So he calls Hobson’s Pledge a “hate group”, thereby putting it on the same level as the Ku Klux Klan and the Nazi Party.
This is a gross and offensive distortion of what Hobson’s Pledge stands for, but that’s unlikely to worry Trinder. It also implies that Brash is some sort of reincarnated Joseph Goebbels, although there’s no evidence to indicate there’s a racist bone on his body.
Trinder’s Facebook post gave his followers licence to unleash a torrent of abusive obscenities against Brash. Some threatened violence; others called for Hobson’s Pledge billboards to be torn down. So much for free speech and diversity.
There’s room in the political system for both Trinder and Brash. The difference is that Brash doesn’t try to bully his opponents into silence, threaten them or subject them to vile personal abuse. So why do Trinder and his followers think it’s acceptable?