Left and Right

My Simplistic Theory of Left and Right

By Bryan Caplan, EconoLib

A few weeks ago, Robin Hanson posed a lunchtime challenge: What is the difference between Left and Right?  The point of the question, of course, is not to explain how every self-styled leftist differs from every self-styled rightist.  The point is to identify unifying themes that generalize broadly across time and space.

There are many prominent candidates, like:

1. Leftists care more about equality, rightists care more about efficiency.
2. Leftists care more about the poor, rightists care more about the rich.
3. Leftists are more secular, rightists are more religious.

To my mind, though, all these theories overintellectualize Left and Right.  Neither ideology is a deduction from first principles.  Not even close.  What binds Leftists with fellow Leftists, Rightists with fellow Rightists, is not logic, but psycho-logic.  Feelings, not theories.

What’s my alternative?  This:

1. Leftists are anti-market.  On an emotional level, they’re critical of market outcomes.  No matter how good market outcomes are, they can’t bear to say, “Markets have done a great job, who could ask for more?”

2. Rightists are anti-leftist.  On an emotional level, they’re critical of leftists.  No matter how much they agree with leftists on an issue, they can’t bear to say, “The left is totally right, it would be churlish to criticize them.”


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