24 05 2010


Let’s get back to basics in our political terminology , shall we?


Most people, including me, kind of know what these terms mean — in the contemporary American context. They mean different things in the European context, though. You may not be interested in the European context, but I am, because I think I belong there more than here, (Though of course the French would probably be just as rude to me, who loves them, as to any other American.)

The fact is, all these political terms and concepts had their birth in European theorizing and political action over the last 200 years. I think it’s good to know stuff like this. It helps you understand the Big Context of politics.

So here, taken from another writer, is the clearest description I’ve ever read of the political spectrum here and over there, of what it’s slippery terms mean, and why these distinctions matter so much:

“Don’t think that liberal = left wing. It doesn’t. Left wing is more state control, particularly of economic matters.  Right wing is less state control.  Left wing [at its most extreme] is communism. Right wing is liberalism, libertarianism, and finally, at its extreme, pure right wing is anarchy. That’s why liberalism is generally used in European parlance to mean supporting unfettered, or lightly fettered, capitalism.

And that’s also why fascism is not, strictly speaking, right wing, since fascism calls for maximum state control of everything*. The reason we think that fascism is right wing is an historical accident, in that the French parliament used to seat parties from right to left depending upon how much state control they wanted, but the fascist and the communists fought so much the fascists were moved to the other side of the chamber, hence right wing.

Whatever the nature of the two ends of the political spectrum, all modern democracies have their major parties in the center, in that they see that some state control is necessary for peace and economic justice. Too little leads to abuse of the poor by the rich, while too much restricts the rights and freedoms that we believe all people should have.

The problem is that, in practice, moving to the right, while in theory granting more freedoms to people, in practice reduces overall freedom by allowing the strong to harm the weak, either directly or more likely indirectly by setting wages artificially low, while inflating prices for education, health care, housing, etc. until they are out of the reach of the poor. Moving to the left, on the other hand, imposes state restrictions on people’s ability to harm each other, but move too far that way, and you infringe more and more fundamental freedoms, until overall freedom is reduced. In the middle lies justice for those who cannot protect themselves, and not-too-onerous restrictions on the rich and strong.

The American Republican party, fed by the US cult of individualism, is pretty far out to the right, and accordingly pays only lip service to protecting the rights of the weak against the strong. The weird thing about the US is the “American Dream”, which convinces the poor that voting for the Republicans will preserve their opportunities to clamber out of poverty. And so long as they can retain this right to clamber, they don’t mind clambering over the hopes and dreams of their fellow Americans. Thus they feel empowered by the Right, though more often than not, in situations of wide-open economic freedom, they become not the clamberers, but the clambered-over.

In Europe, on the other hand, the prevailing view is that the greatest good for the greatest number is provided by state provision of education and social care. With everyone getting a largely equivalent access to education, social welfare etc, economic mobility in most of Europe (but not the UK) is greater than in the US.

The Democratic party of the US is right wing as far as the global spectrum goes, because they too are trapped by the “American Dream”. That is, that myth is so central to American society that Democrats always meet a great deal of opposition when they attempt to provide economic justice to the poor, not least from the poor themselves.”

The above is adapted from this comment stream here, in the Guardian newspaper:

where it succeeds in explaining what seems like an odd set of personal- and Internet-freedom policies declared by the new, mostly conservative,  British government.

A very long time ago I had a very good education. Lots of what I learned has gotten ragged. That includes a great deal of Western political history. The above description brought it all back.



* Sound familiar? Do the names George W. Bush and Dick Chaney spring to mind?

Of course “state control of everything”, as toyed with by the Bush-Cheney axis, would never have been allowed to include regulation of economic arrangements in ways that lessened the autonomy of big corporations. The Republican Party has always been first and foremost the party of our wealthiest citizens, and they wouldn’t like that.oooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo

And no, socialism is NOT Fascism. Fascism is, on the economic side, the melding of the business community and the state. This is from Wikipedia:

Fascism is a radical and authoritarian nationalist political ideology.[1][2][3][4] Fascists seek to organize a nation on corporatist perspectives, values, and systems such as the political system and the economy.[5][6]

Fascism is strongly opposed to core aspects of the Enlightenment and is an opponent of liberalism, Marxism, and mainstream socialism for being associated with failures that fascists claim are inherent in the Enlightenment.[22] Fascists view egalitarianism, materialism, and rationalism as failed elements of the Enlightenment.[23] In contrast, Fascists promote action, discipline, hierarchy, spirit, and will.[24] They oppose liberalism — as a bourgeois movement — and Marxism — as a proletarian movement — for being exclusive economic class-based movements.[25]



16 04 2009

I’m a liberal, but, despite that, every once in a while, as an exercise in empathy, I try to imagine being a conservative. At those times I never know what to (imaginarily) think, especially as my first, fundamental conservative political principle:

Is it  “I hate taxes [and am one of, or simply love, the Rich]!”

Is it, “I love the Lord [and/or my gun]!”

Is it, “I am strong and don’t need government help. Stop giving all that stuff to the weak!”

Is it, “I want an empire, just like the empire that belonged to dear old Rome”?

or, finally, is it

“Damnit! I demand that things quit CHANGING all the time!”

Never having been rich, and certainly not loving those who are; not believing in the Lord, or owning a gun: being weak, not strong; and finally having read enough about the Roman empire not to like the idea of living in another one — I am forced to choose the last of the above sentences as my hypothetical conservative rallying cry.

And I think that last position is really what a lot of American conservatism comes down to in the end, especially as espoused by other oldsters like me. We grew up in a world that operated and thought in a certain way. We internalized that way as the “normal” way of the world, and when the world, many years later, now insists on deviating from that normalcy we get bewildered and angry.

I expect to have ever more occasions for such bewilderment and anger as I (hopefully) age further.

Meanwhile, there is a lot more to the various strains of conservatism, and those strains interact and conflict in many different and interesting ways. For a very good, brief description of the strains (In both senses!) of conservatism, please see the following article, which is a bit critical but in my opinion analytically accurate: