History and Historiography

The Left and Right in Historical Context

Murray Rothbard’s enormously important essay from 1965 pointed out the fallacies of the left/right model of the political spectrum. Read it here. Rothbard’s anarcho-capitalism was essentially a restatement of the panarchist philosophy of Gustave Molinari and Paul Emile de Puydt, a position also embraced by the classical anarchist Max Nettlau and by contemporary anarchists like John Zube.  Rothbard was also heavily influenced by the individualist anarchist of Lysander Spooner and Benjamin Tucker, but held to a more conservative Austrian economic position.

Rothbard argued that socialism was a quasi-conservative reaction against the radicalism of the Enlightenment, classical liberalism, the market/industrial revolutions, capitalism, and the resulting social dislocations and upheavals.

Socialism was rooted in Counter-Enlightenment, Romantic, and anti-liberal thinkers like the counterrevolutionaries, Rousseau, and Hegel. There were feudal socialists, bourgeois socialists, utopian socialists, and revolutionary socialists.

Marxism was the far left end of socialism but still had a quasi-conservative dimension with its Rousseauvian and Hegelian influences.

In the West, socialism becomes fused with capitalism and assumes different forms in different countries: Crolyite American progressivism, English Fabianism of the Webbs and Shaw, Bismarckian Prussian socialism, and Bernsteinian social democracy.

In the East and in the colonies, where Enlightenment liberalism never took root, socialism assumed the Marxist-Leninist form, and the resurrection of the god-emperor states of antiquity in the form of personality cults built around Lenin, Stalin, Mao, Kim, Ho, Castro, and Pol Pot.

In other words, Asiatic and Third World socialisms were forms of ultra-conservatism.

Meanwhile, in the Nordic and Latin countries, the reactionary counterattack against liberalism assumed the form of a hybrid of socialism and conservatism, i.e. fascism and national socialism.

As Antony Sutton demonstrated, industrial development in Soviet Russia was made possible only through collaboration with Western capital.

The liberal-capitalist ruling classes of the West then hired Russian and East Asian communists as de facto mercenaries for the purpose of defeating the fascist and national socialist insurgency against liberalism from the right.

The defeat of fascism led to the dominance of Eurasia by the Soviets and a series of communist revolutions in East Asia and the Global South. The economic unsustainability of the Soviet model led to its collapse and adoption of national-capitalism.

Chinese industrialization and technological development were made possible through the same model as the Soviets originally identified by Sutton, collaboration with Western capital. Hence, the China opening and a defacto Rockefeller-Maoist alliance expanded in the form of Dengism.

Meanwhile, the “West” (the postwar American empire and its satellites) made the same mistake that all empires eventually make, overextension. And now Western liberal-capitalism is in a renewed set of great power rivalries with Eastern national-capitalism.

And now, the digital capitalist revolution in the West has created a new ruling class in the forms of the tech and financial oligarchs, who are a new aristocracy, and PMC, who are a new clerisy, and renewed many of the class antagonisms of the industrial revolution.

The Western “right” is now a collection of traditional working to middle-class sectors, petite bourgeoisie and proletarians, whose livelihoods are being lost to digital capitalism, globalization, and neoliberalism.

These sectors are comparable to the artisans, craftsmen, small farmers, and peasants whose livelihoods were lost to the industrial revolution. Just as these sectors were forced into proletarianism our declining working to middle classes are being forced into the gig economy, the precariat, reproletarianized service industry labor, debt slavery, and homelessness.

While the Western right are reactionaries, seeking to preserve what is being lost or turn back the clock to what was, the Western left have become the “new conservatives.”

As Piketty points out, the Western left is the party of the new Brahmin elites, the tech and financial oligarchs, the professional-managerial class, and the “ideas industries” that serve the function of a modern church as the arbiters and disseminators of sociocultural norms.
The new Brahmin conservatives cynically present themselves as the champions of historical outgroups, which serves as their self-legitimating ideological superstructure. Old-school conservative pieties like national patriotism, religion, and “family values” have been replaced with new progressive pieties like environmentalism, anti-racism, multiculturalism, health, security, safety, and the panoply derived from the sexual revolution of the mid to late 20th century.
The cultural phenomenon of the woke/PC/SJW paradigm and related tentacles serves as the new civil religion and moral orthodoxy. The new ruling class pushes this orthodoxy to the nth degree to legitimate itself, inculcate citizen loyalty, and deflect attention from class antagonisms, imperialism, and state repression. Meanwhile, socioeconomic and cultural sectors that are in a state of decline are safely attacked as enemies of the state (the “deplorables”).
Historically marginalized communities are encouraged to fear the declining social sectors rather than the actual ruling class in the same way the previous ruling class encouraged the traditional working to middle classes to fear historically marginalized populations rather than the ruling class of the era. Meanwhile, the supposed “left” opposition to the ruling class is completely oblivious to these dynamics.
The “left of the Brahmins”, e.g. Marxists, social democrats, radical progressives, and most anarchists, are falling into the same error as historic socialists, i.e. seeking to achieve liberal ends by conservative means: statism, authoritarianism, elitism, centralization, bureaucratization, militarism, censorship, prohibition, and repression. Most “radicals” merely ape the Brahmin party line to the point of self-parody.
Consequently, the “radical left” serves the same function as the Red Guards of the Cultural Revolution, aggressively enforcing ruling class orthodoxy for the sake of eliminating enemies of the Brahmin elite.
Like the socialists of the 19th century, today’s “radical left” are quasi-conservatives entirely capable of being absorbed into the ruling class paradigm.

2 replies »

  1. Nice post. I agree with your analysis of the present. Any sources you’d recommend (apart from the Rothbatd essay) for more background on your historical claim?

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