Left and Right

Clarifying the Left/Right labels

In response to my statement “Is the Left salvagable? In and of itself, it does not appear to be,”, Jeremy raises some helpful points concerning the defintions of “left” and “right”:

That begs the question: what is this “Left”? If it is merely establishmentarianism with a cultural attachment to civil disobedience and protest, then one wonders whether the term “left” even applies. And so when you characterize the entire Left by its most objectionable qualities, it does give me pause. This is a very broad movement, with a wide variety of personalities.

And at least historically speaking, it seems like the Right has a much more basic need to align with established norms and power than the Left (whether we’re using it in the traditional anti-establishment sense or in the modern, pejorative sense you employ). I’m all for transcending left and right, but not as an alternative to performing a much needed analysis of the current political conditions.

I’m not accusing you of laziness, but merely suggesting that we make sure we qualify our generalizations of convenience as such. There’s no need to turn anybody off by attacking their label of preference, is there? I’ve always liked the tack you’ve seemed to take where you out-left the left, and out-right the right, demonstrating that they lack the conviction of their own principles. This is the way to get serious people to think seriously about their own motivations. We transcend the political poles by not by dispensing with them but by clarifying what they were originally intended to represent.

In strictly historical terms, virtually all people in modern societies (those of the West and others with similar politico-economic systems) are “leftists”. The “right”, properly understood in its historical context, was the ideology of defense of the monarchy, theocracy and aristocracy: “Throne and Altar”. Such sentiments are marginalized to say the least in liberal democracies, particularly the United States, which has no “throne and altar” tradition of its own. In other words, nearly all Americans and most Westerners in general start with the American or French Revolutions and move leftward from there, often considerably leftward. The closest thing the United States has to a “right-wing” is the so-called “religious right”, which is rather liberal by historical and even contemporary world standards. For instance, compare the “religious right” in America versus that in Saudi Arabia.

Most contemporary “right-wing” ideologies are historically on the Left. For instance, the godfather of modern philosophical “conservatism”, Edmund Burke, was a Whig who opposed British imperialism in Ireland, America and even India. American “conservatism” owes much to the classical liberalism of Locke and Adam Smith. The neoconservatives are an outgrowth of either Cold War liberalism or Trotskyism (depending on who you ask or which neoconservative you’re talking about). “Right-wing” libertarianism is really the radical classical liberalism of Herbert Spencer. American “right-wing populism” is distinctively rooted in the American republican tradition and owes very little to European royalism to say the least.

The mainstream Republican-oriented right is really a kind of “right-wing liberalism”, and therefore historically on the left, particularly since the neocon takeover of the right. What is now called “liberalism” in the US is really social democracy, and this is very much a centrist, if not reactionary, position in modern societies. American “liberalism” and European “social democracy” both maintain roughly the same levels of state intervention into the economy, though the European social welfare system is slightly more extensive (and mad possible only by the absence of a large military-industrial complex of the kind found in the USA). This system, whether European or American, is becoming an archaism, given the fiscal difficulties of modern welfare states.

The Left established itself as the party of the welfare state several generations ago. That’s why a distinction was initially made between the Old Left and the New Left. As we all know, the New Left abandoned class politics for a cultural politics that is now relatively status quo. At the same time, as all of this cultural “liberation” has occurred, the grip of political totalitarianism has tightened. The “Campus Progress” group I mentioned in the previous post seemed, from the contents of DeAnna’s review, to represent a wide cross-section of the Left, from the mainstream Democratic-oriented left to The Nation to the radical gay/trans,etc. left to the Weathermen-friendly. Yet I also noticed from the content of that article that most of the issues covered involved the same cultural politics that has defined the Left since the 60s.

The fundamental problem I see with the Left is that not only does it not offer anything new, but does not take many fundamentally anti-establishment positions. Of course, if we wish to define “left” in the historic sense of opposition to the status quo, then it would seem that most of the currents I previously identified as “revolutionary right” would also be the true “left”. This would certainly include the “left-libertarian” tendency that Jeremy leans towards, particularly considering that many liberals and leftists consider libertarianism to be just a variant of fascism. It would certainly include Dylan Waco and Daniel Bein’s “left-conservatism”. Of course, it would include “national-anarchism” or the “national-Maoism” of the Patriotic Workers’ Party.

The problem I see is that most orthodox leftists would consider all of these positions to be heresy. If the “left” is the orthodox left, then are all of these genuine anti-establishment positions on the left, or are they something entirely new, or are they just a “left to the left of the left”? I remember Sam Dolgoff saying once that “there’s the left and then there’s the further left and then the even further left, and then there’s an even further left and that left is me.”

Maybe that’s what we are.

I wrote in the “Liberty and Populism” article that the real struggle in modern times is a continuation of the historic battle between Marxism and Anarchism, with Marxism representing the status quo, whether right-wing liberalism/Trotskyism in the form of the Neocons, centrist totalitarian humanism of the US Democratic Party and the ruling classes of the European nations, the crypto-Stalinist cultural Marxism of the PC Left, the post-Maoism of the Chinese Communist Party, et.al.

I suppose the true left is whatever is resisting all of this. Are religious conservatives standing up to totalitarian humanism by opening home schools leftist or rightists? Are gun nut militias left or right? Are the cultural nationalists of Vlaams Bloc advocating an independent Flanders left or right?

It’s a complicated question.

Categories: Left and Right

Leave a Reply