Left? Right? Up?? Down...???
The Prophet of Doubt
Imagine you're starting to walk - or rather fly - left and keep moving for a long time. Where would you finally end? Right, you'd appear right from your starting location and then return to it. (Unless you're flying using a space shuttle or something else that allows you to escape gravity.)
In politics the terms left and right are also used. Does this analogy work?
In fact I've been wondering very often what 'left' and 'right' meant. I knew these terms originally came from the French parliament in revolutionary times when monarchists used to sit right and the more you went left, the lower the classes were these politicians wanted to have power. But can this applied to republics, or to monarchies like Britain where the royal family is basically accepted by all parties, yet there are left and right parties?
As I read in one (West-German) political dictionary, there are many different definitions of these terms. The authors themselves suggested the definition that while right-wingers want to sustain the authority of the state, the left-wingers want to change the structure of society.
Perhaps this applies to the moderate parties in developed democracies such as Germany; but in my opinion it fails to describe the extremes. Didn't the "right-extremist" Nazis heavily change the structure of society? Also note that the word "Nazi" stands for "National socialist". Socialists, however, are generally regarded as left-wingers.
There are also other definitions of left and right, or let's better say attributes connected to them. The more someone - a political movement or an individual - is right on a scale, the more nationalist, xenophobic and racist he is; the more he is right, the more he is for free, Manchester-like capitalism; left-wingers support the working class, while right-wingers support the capitalists.
If this were all true, it would mean that if you were a strong supporter of the free market, you would also be a strong hater of strangers and workers, wouldn't it? Likewise, if you were for planned economy, you'd love workers and strangers? Now this is utter nonsense. Milosevic is a socialist, does he love Kosovo Albanians? Hitler, regarded as a right-extremist, was surely racist; was he also for free market?
There are many facts which show that "left-extremism" and "right-extremism" are very similar. How come there's an official Socialist platform in the German right-extremist party NPD? How come that, according to a survey published in a recent issue of "Der Spiegel", 16-17% of both the adherents of the Green and the post-communist (PDS) parties would vote for right-extremist parties under certain circumstances? What do you think of the fact that H.G. Wells, a Socialist novelist, wrote things like, "The swarms of black, and brown, and dirty white, and yellow people ... will have to go"? Why did Mussolini, a fascist and therefore right-extremist, who would naturally have to hate working-class people, introduce a cooperative economic system that gave the workers equal rights to decide about their enterprises as their employers? Why did Stalin, who called himself left-wing, deport numerous ethnic minorities?
Planned economy vs. free market, internationalism vs. nationalism - these are separate scales which do not have to correlate. They are no use for one left-right scale that determined the political views of an entity.
I've been also suggested the idea that the basic difference between left and right lay in what's primary: environment or heredity - nurture or nature. However, remember that in the Soviet Union itself there have been two rivaling teachings about how to "de-program" former capitalists. One said it was possible to change their behaviour, and their offspring would assume the new behaviour. The other said the capitalistic nature was inherited. In the end, in Stalin's era, the latter was put into practice: masses of people of higher classes were shot. This scale isn't applicable, either.
Another scale I haven't mentioned yet is the religiousity scale. But it's just nonsense. Sure, communists are atheists, Marx and Lenin are their ersatz gods, their ideology is what's the Bible or the Koran for others. But do right-wingers have to be religious? And think of Portugal's prime minister Guterres, to introduce a recent example: he's deeply catholic although he is head of the Socialist Party.
Thinking a lot about it, I came to the conclusion that the two actual political extremes are not Lenin and Mussolini, left-extremism and right-extremism, but both of them versus the political center. The major difference between them is what matters more: the state or the individual.
I got this idea reading an actually non-political book about genetics. It mentioned two different concepts of eugenics, by Herbert Spencer and Francis Galton. Spencer suggested everybody should try to find the best possible mate to breed, that is, a person with a "good mind" and a "healthy body". In fact that's what happens nowadays anyway. You choose whom to marry. It's called Social Darwinism. By contrast, Galton wanted the state to see to it that the race would improve, by sterilizing the "unfit". Winston Churchill was an adherent of this theory: "The multiplication of the feeble-minded is a terrible danger for the race", he said.
Marxism is an ideology that wants the state to control the individuals. So is fascism. By contrast, there are political movements close to what's called the "political center" that emphasize the freedom of the individual. Between these two extremes, which might be called "totalitarism" and "democracy", there are many different shades.
In my opinion this would be a better scale to place movements, parties and people on.
Adok/Hugi - 13 Aug 2000