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]


14 01 2009

I was talking to a liberal friend the other day, and the talk turned to our respective futures, and, since we are both unfamlied single men of significant age, we perhaps predictably concluded with the subject of destitution. We each related instances of homeless people encountered in various states of misery on the streets of our town, Baton Rouge, Louisiana. I said that I do not feel very patriotic toward the United States and said why. Here Garrison Keillor says it much better than I:

Keillor speaks.

Here is the pertinent part of Keillor’s comment:

“Liberals hold that the test of a civilized society is how it deals with the weak, the sick, the powerless. As William Blake wrote:

A Dog starv’d at his Master’s Gate
Predicts the ruin of the State.
A Horse misus’d upon the Road
Calls to Heaven for Human blood.

Or as Jesus said, “Whatsoever ye do unto the least of these” and so forth. And so the test of the state is the state of the public schools and the treatment of the elderly, the ill, the demented, the incarcerated. And so the adoption of torture as American policy and loosing the darkness of the soul upon some poor manacled wretch at Guantánamo is no small matter.”


I grew up in the South under the influence of evangelical Christianity. As a little boy I loved “gentle Jesus meek and mild.” But I grew a little more and discovered that that particularly species of Christianity, which purports to be the kindest of religions, habitually produces here in the South people who will dismiss in an instant any homeless person with some version of “He deserves it.”

Anthropologically I understand why they do so–some of them, at least. In this society without a safety net, many working people spend their lives so close to homelessness themselves that they must believe that, since they clearly DON’T deserve it, it will therefore never happen to them.

But as a connoisseur of human folly I laugh myself sick at them every time one of them utters one of those cruel dismissals. All that churchgoing and Sunday-school sending, and Bible-reading, and being hectored by pastors Sunday after Sunday, and what is routinely produced in the end is persons who are precisely the opposite of what Jesus taught, or was!