What does it mean to be on the ‘Left’ or the ‘Right’ in the modern political landscape? The terms of the debate change depending on who’s talking, their audience, and their political agenda. With all the over-heated rhetoric common in today’s political discussions, most people don’t have a clear definition of the two terms anymore.
Since these terms have wide significance in modern usage, we need to settle on some common definitions. Growing up, my liberal teachers intentionally misled me by defining the extreme Right as Fascist, and the extreme Left as Communism, with liberal democracy somewhere in the middle. That dichotomy may have been relevant in the 1930′s and 40′s, but those poles don’t relate to the current political discussion. The American Right isn’t calling for anything resembling Fascism, and the Left isn’t pedaling the merits of Communism.
I think it is more accurate to identify our modern divide along the Collective versus Individual axis. Both the Right and Left have collectivist ambitions. The Left has its idealism regarding the common goodness of humanity and the perfectibility of society; many on the Right want to change society based religious forms of collectivism. Caught between these two extremes are the Individuals who don’t see either pole as ideal.
Lawrence Auster provides a good summary of the differences between the Left and Right in his post: ‘Clearing up once and for all the Idea that Nazism is Leftism’:
…both the right and the left believe in an idea of the collective, as distinct from the liberal notion of the individual.
We can clear up this confusion by considering the basic ideas of right, left, and center. (Let’s remember that the three types described below rarely appear in pure form but are intermixed with the others.)
On the right, traditional conservatives believe in “larger wholes”–the realities of nature, society, and God–of race, culture, and religion–that make us what we are. They believe in natural and spiritual hierarchies that are implied in these larger wholes. Inequality is built into existence. Of course there are various kinds of traditional conservatism, each of them placing particular emphasis on certain aspects of the natural, social, and transcendent orders, and less emphasis on others.
In the middle, traditional liberals (right-liberals) believe in individualism: all individuals have equal rights, the individual is free to create himself, he is not determined by the larger wholes into which he was born. We should just see people, all members of the human race, as individuals deserving of equal dignity.
On the left, socialists and Communists, like traditional conservatives, also believe in larger wholes, but the wholes they believe in seen in terms of equality: the whole of society–equal; the whole of the human race–equal. They believe that man has the ability to engineer this larger, equal whole into existence, wiping out the unequal, inherited orders of class, sex, nation, race, religion, morality, and thus creating a New Humanity. Only the largest whole–humankind–is good, because only at the level of all humanity can there be true equality and fraternity uniting all people.
So, both the traditionalist conservatives on one side and the leftists on the other believe in larger wholes and agree in rejecting the pure individualism of liberalism. But beyond that, the right and the left are radically at odds, since the left seeks to destroy the natural and traditional wholes that the right believes in.
That is about as clear and concise a definition as I have found anywhere. Obviously there are hundreds of factions and variants of the these divisions, but they just confuse things.
I don’t agree that the division between the Right and Left in America is exactly along these lines. Maybe in Europe, or worldwide, but not in the USA. I think that the Left in America should be identified as the Progressives, who are not so much Marxist as post-Christian idealists. Marx and the Communist ideals surely fueled the imaginations of American progressives in the early twentieth century, but their power in American society since the thirties has been in decline.
Take God out of the equation; remove the messenger – Christ – out of the teachings; reduce all miracles to mere superstitions, and you are left with progressive ideals. Love your neighbor; alms to the poor; self-sacrifice; the perfectibility of man; non-violence as the strongest form of protest; absolution of sin through confession; etc, are all straight out of the New Testament. Their ideals are almost entirely Christian dogma minus Christ.
In America, if the Left is represented by the Progressives and the Right is represented by evangelical Christians, where is the real divide? Between soft-Christianity and hard-Christianity? Between the ideals based on the bible and ideals based on post-Christian humanism peppered with Eastern mysticism? I don’t see these two sides as being that far apart except for in their rhetoric and their hate towards the other.
Are we really in the middle of an ongoing religious civil war?
The primary divide in modern politics is between Collectivists and Individuals. Europe and most of the rest of the world has surrendered to Collectivism in one form or another. A disorganized, ever-shrinking number of people who still value the Individual are represented in North America. Unfortunately, the power of the Individual is almost nothing in a ‘democracy’. Organized groups have the power and the means to keep it. Hence the rise of collectives of all stripes and agendas running our government and manipulating the media. Individuals are left to fend for themselves with only lip service from either either side.
What can we learn from all this: join up, or stop complaining!
Can the Internet provide Individuals the power to fight back?