Sunday, February 25, 2018

Defining the left-right dichotomy

Thomas Sowell has explained clearly the differences between right and left wing politics, and wrote this is a book several years ago:

One of the fertile sources of confusion in discussions of ideological issues is the dichotomy between the political left and the political right. Perhaps the most fundamental difference between the left and the right is that only the former has even a rough definition. What is called “the right” are simply the various and disparate opponents of the left. These opponents of the left may share no particular principle, much less a common agenda, and they can range from free-market libertarians to advocates of monarchy, theocracy, military dictatorship or innumerable other principles, systems and agendas.

To people who take words literally, to speak of “the left” is to assume implicitly that there is some other coherent group which constitutes “the right.” Perhaps it would be less confusing if what we call “the left” would be designated by some other term, perhaps just as X. But the designation as being on the left has at least some historical basis in the views of those deputies who sat on the left side of the president’s chair in France’s Estates General in the eighteenth century. A rough summary of the vision of the political left today is that of collective decision-making through government, directed toward—or at least rationalized by—the goal of reducing economic and social inequalities. There may be moderate or extreme versions of the left vision or agenda but, among those designated as “the right,” the difference between free market libertarians and military juntas is not simply one of degree in pursuing a common vision, because there is no common vision among these and other disparate groups opposed to the left — which is to say, there is no such definable thing as “the right,” though there are various segments of that omnibus category, such as free market advocates, who can be defined. ...

Conservatism, in its original sense, has no specific ideological content at all, since everything depends on what one is trying to conserve. In the last days of the Soviet Union, those who were trying to preserve the existing Communist regime were rightly referred to as “conservatives,” though what they were trying to conserve had nothing in common with what was advocated by Milton Friedman, Friedrich Hayek or William F. Buckley in the United States, much less Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, a leading conservative in the Vatican who subsequently became Pope. Specific individuals with the “conservative” label have specific ideological positions, but there is no commonality of specifics among “conservatives” in different venues.
No, the commies were not conservatism, and conservatism is not just the opposition to social change.

Sowell classified Nazis and Fascists as left-wing, because they were socialists seeking social change. Yes, they were socialists. They were called right-wing largely because they were anti-communist, and hence hated by leftist commie sympathizers.

You cannot define a movement by saying what it is not. It is defined by its beliefs.

Right-wingers are guided by a belief in the natural order of the world. Sometimes that order is rooted in human nature, faith, science, culture, tradition, or natural law. The precise reasoning may vary, but their conclusion is that changing the natural order is impossible, impractical, or undesirable.

Left-wingers are guided by what I call kindergarten morality. They only accept concepts of fairness that can be explained to a five-year-old. If someone has more toys than someone else, they will think that it is unfair. The right-winger will probe deeper, and is likely to conclude that there are good reasons for how things are.

Here is a leftist opinion from Steve Pinker:
AR: You write that “globalization helped the lower and middle classes of poor countries, and the upper class of rich countries, much more than it helped the lower middle class of rich countries. Of the claim that only the rich are doing well, while everyone else is “stagnating or suffering,” you write “most obviously, it’s false for the world as a whole: the majority of the human race has become much better.” How should American domestic politics reflect this fact: That our planet, however grim it may look, is fairly prosperous? Are conventional, free-market economics actually working?

SP: This is an acute dilemma. If you are a morally serious person — whether a humanist or a Judeo-Christian, who believes that all human lives have equal value — then policies that lift billions of people out of crushing poverty at the expense of millions of Americans who are laid off from factory jobs are a moral no-brainer. But of course it would be political suicide for an American politician to consider this tradeoff for millisecond. Still, there are other America-centric reasons to favor globalization: cheaper goods for hundreds of millions of American consumers; bigger markets for American exporters; and the greater stability of a richer world, with fewer migrants, epidemics, and insurgent movements.
It would be political suicide to express that, because no one really believes that all human lives have equal value. That is just a silly slogan that you might say to a kindergarten class to get them to all do the same thing.

A right-winger would be more skeptical of a plan to gut the American middle class in order to reduce Third World (and enrich the super-rich). There will always be poverty. You can't build a great nation by selling out its citizens to outsiders. You cannot expect people to be like other people on the other side of the world.


Anonymous said...

When you say there will always be poverty, do you mean in a relative or absolute sense? There are many people today who are considered to be in poverty but who are materially better off than many upper class people in the past were.

Roger said...

The US govt defines the poverty level to be roughly the 15th percentile in income. So yes, of course, about 15% of the population will always be in poverty under that definition.

Even if you gave lots of money to everyone, many ppl will spend it all, and then borrow to the maximum. So there will always be poor ppl in an absolute sense also.