Poll: What’s the best term for the cultural left?

One of the things I oscillate on is what to call what the ‘cultural left’, ‘progressive’ or so-called ‘socially liberal’ political ideology. By this I mean the ideology which puts a strong emphasis on issues such as race and gender, LGBT rights, the environment, safe spaces and trigger warnings, is pro-immigration, pro-EU and so forth, as opposed to the more traditional economic left, which typically focuses on concerns such as class, economic redistribution, unionisation, nationalising industries, taxing the wealthy and labour rights.

Clearly it’s entirely possible for the two things to go together, and many people may endorse both sets of positions. Equally though, they might not: in France for example, President Macron is economically to the right but socially and culturally to the left; someone could equally be economically left-wing but socially conservative. The descriptions above are also generalisations: not everyone will agree with everything within one strand, and many will have views which cross notional boundaries. Nevertheless, the broad grouping of ‘the cultural left’ is one that seems to have value in today’s society, such as the economic right and left do. The trouble is, there’s not really a good term for it.

Here are some of the options:

Cultural Left: This is reasonably clear and I think most people would know what it meant. The downside is that it’s a bit clunky and also implies that this is just part of the traditional left/right economic axis, rather than it’s own orthogonal axis.

Social Left: The same arguments apply as to Cultural Left. I don’t see this term used as much, so Cultural Left seems preferable.

Liberal/Social Liberal: This is often favoured by those who identify with the movement; however, from my perspective it’s an incorrect term. To me, it’s a political position that’s often highly illiberal and intolerant. It at times openly opposes freedom of speech, freedom of association and the right to a fair trial, regularly seeks to ban things from smacking through faith schools to kosher/halal food and generally is highly intolerant of any dissenting viewpoints. I’m not using these terms.

Progressive: This is also used fairly frequently by those who identify with the ideology and has a number of advantages. It doesn’t use the language of right and left, making clear this is a different axis, and feels like a natural opposite to its opposing ideology, social conservatism. A downside though is that progressive is also sometimes used to refer to traditionally left-wing policies; I feel those who call for a ‘progressive alliance’, for example, mean an alliance of both economic and socially progressive policies.

Globalist/Internationalist: I’ve read that these terms are code words used by anti-Semites, so I’m definitely not using these terms unless in a very specific, technical sense. They don’t seem a good fit anyway: yes, the global outlook is a part of this ideology, but the domestic viewpoints around race and gender seem equally if not more important.

Anywheres: This term was invented explicitly to refer to this group; it comes from David Goodhart’s book, ‘The Road to Somewhere’ and references Theresa May’s statement about ‘citizens of nowhere’. The advantage is that it unambiguously refers to this ideology; the downside is that it’s fairly obscure, even amongst those who are politically engaged, and unintuitive unless explained.

Open: As in ‘open’ vs ‘closed’. Like ‘anywheres’, this refers explicitly to this ideology but is more widely used and a bit more intuitive. The disadvantage is that, unlike progressive vs conservative, where both terms express terms positive to their followers, open vs closed is pretty clearly biasing ‘open’ as the correct position. It’s also not all that intuitive, even if better than ‘anywheres’.

Social Justice Warriors: This seems to be clearly used primarily as a pejorative term by those who oppose the ideology. I’m not going to use that term.

Overall, either cultural left or progressive seem to be the best terms to use. However, I’d be interested in your views, especially as I believe a lot of my readers identify with this position. Please do take the advisory and non-binding poll below.


What's the best term for the cultural left?