(Extract from A gentle introduction to Unqualified Reservations (part 1))
First, we need to define left and right. In my opinion, obviously a controversial one, the explanation for this mysterious asymmetric dimension is easy: it is political entropy. Right represents peace, order and security; left represents war, anarchy and crime.
Because values are inherently subjective, it is possible to argue that left can be good and right can be bad. For example, you can say that the Civil War was good - the North needed to conquer the South and free the slaves.
On the other hand, it is also quite easy to construct a very clean value system in which order is simply good, and chaos is simply evil. I have chosen this path. It leaves quite a capacious cavity in the back of my skull, and allows me to call myself a reactionary. To you, perhaps, it is the dark side. But this is only because the treatment is not yet complete.
Whatever you make of the left-right axis, you have to admit that there exists some force which has been pulling the Anglo-American political system leftward for at least the last three centuries. Whatever this unfathomable stellar emanation may be, it has gotten us from the Stuarts to Barack Obama. Personally, I would like a refund. But that's just me.
It is time to understand this force. My theory is that what we're looking at is the attraction of power itself. The left attracts a natural coalition because it always attracts those whose only interest is in the pure thrill of domination. Most will join them through peer pressure alone, leaving only the misfits.
Let's look, for a minute, at the minds of the people who hold these positions of power. Your R1 professors, your Times reporters, and so on. These are, of course, very competitive jobs, and only a tiny minority of the people who want them and are capable of doing them will get to have them. They have certainly worked very hard to get where they are. And they perceive that effort as one made in the interest of humanity at large.
I think the salaries at this level are reasonable, but it is not money that makes people want these jobs. It is power, which brings with it status. I define power as personal influence over important events; I don't know of any other definition.
One of the key reasons that intellectuals are fascinated by disorder, in my opinion, is the fact that disorder is an extreme case of complexity. And as you make the structure of authority in an organization more complex, more informal, or both - as you fragment it, eliminating hierarchical execution structures under which one individual decides and is responsible for the result, and replacing them with highly fragmented, highly consensual, and highly process-oriented structures in which ten, twenty or a hundred people can truthfully claim to have contributed to the outcome, you increase the amount of power, status, patronage, and employment produced.
Of course, you also make the organization less efficient and effective, and you make working in it a lot less fun for everyone - you have gone from startup to Dilbert. This is Brezhnevian sclerosis, the fatal disease of organizations in a highly regulated environment. All work is guided by some systematic process, in which each rule was contributed by someone whose importance was a function of how many rules he added. In the future, we will all work for the government. Individually, this is the last thing your average intellectual wants to do, but it is the direction in which his collective acts are pushing us.
In short: intellectuals cluster to the left, generally adopting as a social norm the principle of pas d'ennemis a gauche, pas d'amis a droit, because like everyone else they are drawn to power. The left is chaos and anarchy, and the more anarchy you have, the more power there is to go around. The more orderly a system is, the fewer people get to issue orders. The same asymmetry is why corporations and the military, whose system of hierarchical executive authority is inherently orderly, cluster to the right.
Once the cluster exists, however, it works by any means necessary. The reverence of anarchy is a mindset in which an essentially Machiavellian, tribal model of power flourishes. To the bishops of the Cathedral, anything that strengthens their influence is a good thing, and vice versa. The analysis is completely reflexive, far below the conscious level. Consider this comparison of the coverage between the regime of Pinochet and that of Castro. Despite atrocities that are comparable at most - not to mention a much better record in providing responsible and effective government - Pinochet receives the full-out two-minute hate, whereas the treatment of Castro tends to have, at most, a gentle and wistful disapproval.
This is because Pinochet's regime was something completely alien to the American intellectual, whereas - the relationship between Puritan divines and Bolshevism being exactly as the mad Arab, Abdul Alhazred, says - Castro's regime was something much more understandable. If you sketch the relative weights of the social networks connecting Pinochet to the Cathedral, versus Castro to the Cathedral, you are comparing a thread to a bicep.