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What's left? What's right? Does the distinction mean anything anymore in the current mixed-up ideological stew of irate "populist" Tea Partiers demanding gummint keep its hands off their Medicare and "socialist" preznits bailing out private corporations with billions in public money?

Does anyone know what they're talking about anymore?

I've got to admit, this comment thread shocked me a bit:

Ron Paul is a leftist....

Yes, a thoroughgoing Leftist on matters of foreign policy and military and Patriot Act and using police powers.

It's true that Ron Paul is an isolationist in terms of foreign policy, and against excessive state intrusion into personal privacy, and that he shares these positions with most currently on the left side of the spectrum. But does that make him a leftist? Of course not. But why not? And what does 'left' mean anyway?

The nut of the distinction between left and right comes down to, as wiki puts it: "Those on the Left seek social justice through redistributive social and economic intervention by the state. Those on the Right defend private property and capitalism."

The terms "left" and "right" appeared during the French Revolution of 1789 when members of the National Assembly divided into supporters of the king to the president's right and supporters of the revolution to his left. (The seating may have been influenced by the tradition of the United Kingdom Parliament, where the monarch's ministers sit to the speaker's right, while the opposition sit to his or her left.)...

When the National Assembly was replaced in 1791 by a Legislative Assembly composed of entirely new members the divisions continued. "Innovators" sat on the left, "moderates" gathered in the center, while the "conscientious defenders of the constitution" found themselves sitting on the right, where the defenders of the ancien regime had previously gathered.

In general:

The conservative right has defended entrenched prerogatives, privileges and powers; the left has attacked them. The right has been more favorable to the aristocratic position, to the hierarchy of birth or of wealth; the left has fought for the equalization of advantage or of opportunity, for the claims of the less advantaged.

As a social democrat (as opposed to a progressive, social liberal, socialist, or communist, the main categories of those on the left), I'd say that the distinguishing characteristic of what defines a position as 'left' is whether or not it involves using the power of the state to aid, support, defend, promote, etc. the interests of the average person as opposed to privileged groups or persons.

To me it's clear that Ron Paul, for instance, is in no way, shape, or form a leftist, because while he opposes an interventionist foreign policy, he does so because he doesn't believe in the right of government to make such decisions and to draw on the resources of the people in order to intervene around the world. He thinks those resources are most properly left in the hands of private individuals to do with what they will. In other words, he advocates what he does on foreign policy for reasons from the right, not the left. Similarly, he opposes government surveillance, but he does so because he believes it's beyond the legitimate power of government to do so, i.e., for reasons from the right, not the left.

From the left you'd take the position that the government shouldn't be intervening militarily around the world because it takes resources away from the legitimate needs of average people (health care, education, transportation, income assistance, etc.) and gives them to a specific well-connected sector of corporations that produce goods and services (drone missiles, fighter jets, soldiering, etc.) that may benefit a few who directly work in those industries, but don't benefit the broader society. From the left you'd oppose government surveillance because of the fear that the information being gained from it wasn't being sought legitimately but was being used to oppress and control the population, making people fearful that the immense powers of the state would be used to crush rather than benefit them.

I think that those who like The Political Compass, for example, don't think a simple left-right dichotomy works any more are simply confused. This statement from them is very representative of the confusion:

On the standard left-right scale, how do you distinguish leftists like Stalin and Gandhi? It's not sufficient to say that Stalin was simply more left than Gandhi. There are fundamental political differences between them that the old categories on their own can't explain. Similarly, we generally describe social reactionaries as 'right-wingers', yet that leaves left-wing reactionaries like Robert Mugabe and Pol Pot off the hook.

Gandhi helped organize and empower ordinary people, which makes him a figure of the left. Stalin might have talked about empowering the proletariat, but what he actually did was oppress, starve, imprison, and murder millions of ordinary people, and he did it to keep himself and those of his inner circle in power. He can call himself a socialist all he likes, and talk about empowering the left, but to me he was a king, a dictator, a tyrant - in other words, a figure of the right, maintaining and protecting the status quo that benefited him and his inner circle. Robert Mugabe? Pol Pot? Sorry, not leftists. Tyrants and oppressors of ordinary people in order to benefit themselves and the entrenched group they established in power around them, hence figures of the right.

I think a lot of confusion on this question was generated by the changes introduced by the New Left in the 1960s. The New Left produced a lot of interesting and beneficial disruptive ferment, including a revived feminist movement, environmentalism, and so on. But where those newly energized interests conflicted with those of labor, there was a schism. Instead of a clear class analysis of 'us' versus 'them,' with organized labor as the vanguard in the struggle for a more equitable society, issues of culture and personal identity became added to the mix, and ended up splitting the left on cultural and generational lines.

The uprising in Wisconsin, in which labor is being supported by a broad coalition of groups on the left, is one of the most hopeful things I've seen in a long long time that maybe the fracture on the left can be healed and that average people are starting to throw off the right-wing lies they've been fed for a lifetime, and beginning to see what their actual interests are, and who's really fighting for them, and who's not.

Originally posted to Th0rn on Sun Feb 27, 2011 at 05:59 PM PST.

Also republished by Community Spotlight.


I think of myself as a:

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Comment Preferences

  •  Not meant to be (6+ / 0-)

    a thorough explication of the topic, more just a stream of thoughts brought on by the absurdity of that Ron Paul comment and what's happening in WI. Oh, and by Johann Hari's How to Build a Progressive Tea Party and the rise of the Uncut movement and how it's drawing in people who think of themselves as conservatives as well.

    If you don't see yourself fitting any of the poll choices, I hope you'll add yours in comments.

  •  Where Did the Left's Values Oppose Labor? (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    Maybe integration of the workplace across race and gender.

    Otherwise while I saw often violent reaction of labor or workers against some of the left, I'm not so sure it was always sound. I don't see there was a good reason for labor to support the Vietnam war, or to oppose much of integration, beyond culture.

    Culture and identity did not "become added" they had to be meticulously fomented by the right because economically almost the entire bottom 90-95% of the country has most economic interests in common against the top end.

    After 2 generations unchallenged by Democratic Party intervention I don't know if conservative workers older than millennials can make the switch, but at least we've been given the first opening to bring them in since LBJ.

    We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for victims of our nation and for those it calls enemy.... --ML King "Beyond Vietnam"

    by Gooserock on Sun Feb 27, 2011 at 06:36:23 PM PST

  •  Ron Paul is a *Leftist* in the same way (6+ / 0-)

    Pat Buchanon is.  Which is to say, not at all.

    Hell hath no fury like a cat ignored...

    by Gatordiet on Sun Feb 27, 2011 at 06:43:26 PM PST

  •  I'll go with Daniel Bell, (6+ / 0-)

    recently deceased alas, who wrote in the forward to his The Cultural Contradictions of Capitalism:

    I think it not amiss to say that I am a socialist in economics, a liberal in politics, and a conservative in culture. Many persons might find this statement puzzling, assuming that if a person is a radical in one realm, he is a radical in all others; and, conversely, if he is a conservative in one realm, then he must be conservative in the others as well. Such an assumption misreads, both sociologically and morally, the nature of these different realms. I believe there is a consistency to my views which I hope to demonstrate in this Foreword. I will begin with the values I hold, and deal with the sociological distinctions in the following section.

    … For me, socialism is not statism, or the collective ownership of the means of production. It is a judgment on the priorities of economic policy. It is for that reason that I believe that in this realm, the community takes precedence over the individual in the values that legitimate economic policy. The first lien on the resources of a society therefore should be to establish that “social minimum” which would allow individuals to lead a life of self-respect, to be members of the community} This means a set of priorities that ensures work for those who seek it, a degree of adequate security against the hazards of the market, and adequate access to medical care and protection against the ravages of disease and illness.


    The social minimum I support is the amount of family income required to meet basic needs. And, since this is also a cultural definition, it will, understandably, change over time? And I am a socialist, also, in that I do not believe wealth should be convertible into undue privilege in realms where it is not relevant. Thus it is unjust, I argue, for wealth to command undue advantage in medical facilities, when these are social rights that should be available to all. In the realms of wealth, status, and power, there are principles of just allocation that are distinctive to each realm.

    Yet I am a liberal in politics—defining both terms in the Kantian sense. I am a liberal in that, within the polity, I believe the individual should be the primary actor, not the group (be it family or corporation or church, or ethnic or minority group). And the polity, I believe, has to maintain the distinction between the public and the private, so that not all behavior is politicized, as in communist states, or left without restraint, as in the justification of laissez-faire in traditional capitalist societies.
    I believe in the principle of individual achievement, rather than the inherited, or prescribed allocation of social positions… Once a social minimum is created, then what people do with the remainder of their money (subject to the principle of illegitimate convertibility), is their own business, just as what people do in the realm of morals is equally their own business, so long as it is done privately. And, if universalism prevails in social competition, then the criterion of merit, I believe, is a just principle to reward individual achievement in the society.

    I am a conservative in culture because I respect tradition; I believe in reasoned judgments of good and bad about the qualities of a work of art; and I regard as necessary the principle of authority in the judging of the value of experience and art and education.

    … Culture, for me, is the effort to provide a coherent set of answers to the existential predicaments that confront all human beings in the passage of their lives…

    The triune positions I hold do have a consistency in that they unite a belief in the inclusion of all people into citizenship through that economic minimum which allows for self-respect, the principle of individual achievement of social position on the basis of merit, and the continuity of the past and present, in order to shape the fvilized order.

  •  Tipped, rec'd (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    wishingwell, tardis10, Th0rn

    I think of myself as an economic socialist, and a social anarchist.

    For what it's worth, I don't believe Ron Paul when he claims that he is an "isolationist" (or a non-interventionist) when it comes to US military foreign policy for the simple reason that I do believe he is serious about his economic policy. I'm convinced that someone who would implement an economic plan that would clearly lead to the most extreme concentrations of private power and wealth, and which at the same time would condemn untold millions to permanent misery and destitution, would never hesitate to employ violent military aggression against anyone.

    They who have put out the people's eyes, now reproach them for their blindness --John Milton

    by Succulent Filth on Sun Feb 27, 2011 at 07:47:01 PM PST

    •  A blind spot among libertarians (5+ / 0-)

      is the accumulation of power on the part of private interests.

      Libertarians rail against ominous signs of government overreach, or what they see as the overbearing control imposed by the state. But, pare back the state, ease regulations, and onerous, controlling, monopolies of power do not go away. Instead, they relocate themselves to areas outside of public accountability.

      The corporation, which conceives of its responsibility as exclusively towards its shareholders, is just as likely as government to implement unsettling surveillance measures, fees (think of the last time you went to an ATM, or those co-pays you make at the doctor), or actions with deleterious social effects. The only difference is, they are even less subject to due process and public deliberation than government. Moreover, what remains of government in this configuration is reoriented towards defending corporate interests.

      A good part of what enables Ron Paul to say the things that he does, and to deny his interest in wielding state power overseas, is his willful denial of the power wielded by private institutions. His laissez faire worldview is only sustainable if what you have in your head, when thinking of such institutions, is a largely imaginary concept of everyone in their own little log cabin on their forty acre estate, ruggedly minding their own business. But that becomes impossible when wealth is concentrated. Wealth and power accumulates in a few places, controlled by a few people, and the rest of us have to live parasitically off of it, to the degree that we can.

      Nothing requires a greater effort of thought than arguments to justify the rule of non-thought. -- Milan Kundera

      by Dale on Mon Feb 28, 2011 at 05:05:04 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  I recently tried to explain (6+ / 0-)

    to a far-rightwing friend of mine (yes, I have them) how she actually supports liberal concepts. She is a Beck-loving, Muslim-bashing, Liberal-hating Republican - or at least she thinks she is, because so much exposure to the likes of Beck, Limbaugh, Fox "News", and the like have completely rotted her brain and eliminated any real understanding of liberalism from her thought process.

    Anyway, the concept:

    I posited that our state had $50 million to spend on transportation projects in our county. The choice of how to spend that money would be A) put it all into a new five-mile road to provide access to a 1,000-acre piece of landlocked investment property owned by a Republican land speculator, or B) put it into 100 small projects around the county, including improving intersections, adding sidewalks, repaving short, badly-degraded sections of road, adding traffic signals to dangerous intersections, improving sight distances, raising some low sections of road that flood regularly, and widening certain "bottlenecks".

    She chose "B".

    I told her "but that's's redistribution of that road money to all those "little people"! What, are you turning left on me here?"

    The point is, the terms "left" and "liberal" and their analogues have been so demonized, so misdefined by the media, that people don't even know what they mean. Truly Orwellian.

    Interestingly, in North Carolina, the usual way road money has been spent is method "A"; the legislature has been dominated by Democrats for years, and the party affiliation of the recipient is usually immaterial, but special interests - rich ones - get all the road money directed their way.

    With the new Republican majority in both chambers, nothing has changed. Special favors for the rich are still what state tax money is being spent on, after Republicans ran on...eliminating corruption. Hahahahahahahahahaha! So, the other part of my point was: North Carolina Democrats (at least those in power) are not liberal.

    So, hate corrupt Democrats and Republicans alike...but admit to yourself that liberal policies are good policies...and that you yourself want and support them.

    "Bernie Madoff's mistake was stealing from the rich. If he'd stolen from the poor he'd have a cabinet position." -OPOL

    by blue in NC on Mon Feb 28, 2011 at 05:11:28 AM PST

    •  New speak, indeed. (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      wishingwell, blue in NC, tardis10, Th0rn

      Completely agree.  The definition of left, right, liberal, conservative, progressive, libertarian etc.  have all been muddled by those who wish to define/re-define them for their own agenda.

      I have many friends who are republicans who think they are conservatives as well.  But being from the Northeast, they wouldn't be considered conservatives by the t-party or conservatives in general.

      As a group, they favor what good for business and their own wallet.  But in general, they want to live and let live and oppose social conservatism in most respects.   I like to think of them as selfish liberals.  The one thing I can say about them that I admire is that they are generally consistent in their views.

      I also have many friends who are democrats that are generally progressive, like me, but who are socially conservative because of their religious views.  They were most likely at the support rally's for the unions, but they do not support gay rights or the growth of Islam in the US.

      And, being the Northeast, I have far more friends who are a muddled mix of views on as many factors or issues you can come up with.

      Aside from the media, I also lay the blame on education.  Those with political, economic, or social agendas would not be able to abuse the media if most americans had a thorough education in politics, government and how capitalism works.  

      Of course, that would work against those with the power and we can't have that can we.

      "And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets..."

      by Back In Blue on Mon Feb 28, 2011 at 06:43:49 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  I amazed right-wing a friend (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      blue in NC, Th0rn

      when I told her I considered the Republicans elitists who always favored the wealthy, and she told me that she had always thought that was what liberals did (!).

      I told her I wanted ordinary people to be able to earn a decent living if they were willing to work (which requires jobs to be available) and of course she could not disagree there.  When she started up about welfare cheats I told her I agreed there shouldn't be any welfare cheats and the first place to get started there was with the massive corporate welfare cheating that's going on, because with a free market, they should be able to stand or fall on the excellence of their products.

      When she called so-called "public-private" partnerships socialism, I had to agree with her, although I told her they also met the traditional definition of "fascism" as described by Mussolini.

      I also said I supported the least intrusive government in terms of privacy rights, and she said that's what her side supported.

      I told her I didn't want the government lying to us and that if they wanted us to obey the law, I wanted them to obey the law, too, and her eyes grew wider.

      But when I suggested to her that maybe she had been given faulty information about liberals, she wasn't buying it. In the end, I told her we were both populists who had different ideas about how to get where we were going, but that we both wanted the same thing, to be able to live a good life without having to worry how to survive, and we didn't want to be oppressed by the wealthy, or by the government, and taxed to death when we weren't benefiting from the programs we were supporting.  

      I think she would be ok with taxes if she could actually see benefits coming back to her - most of our tax money goes to support the military-industrial complex and most of it seems to be off-budget.  The right distracts their supporters from that fact by going "LOOK!! - a Liberal ----->."

      Anyway, we both learned something about each other that day.

  •  I think of myself (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    As being in opposition to libertarian scum like Ron Paul.

    Things You Don't Talk About in Polite Company: Religion, Politics, the Occasional Intersection of Both

    by Anthony de Jesus on Mon Feb 28, 2011 at 05:43:02 AM PST

  •  A good diary with a good point (0+ / 0-)

    One can come to similar policies from differing conclusions; ideas and intent are as important as application. This is the part of the analysis missing from the Liberals = Socialists = Nazis argument, which assumes that all statism (a terrible, ugly, stupid word) is equal, that the death camps and a National Health Service were of a muchness, and one cannot run a government programme without sprouting a toothbrush moustache..

    The idea that all leftists are statists and all rightists are anti-statists is the most effective, and possibly the most mendacious, marketing strategy of the modern right. Even Paul is less anti-state than he is anti-centralisation; he is fine with a large, overbearingly social conservative state, as long as the power is given to the periphery rather than the federal core.

  •  Squat, that's what's left. (0+ / 0-)

    When they own the information, they can bend it all they want. -- John Mayer

    by S M Tenneshaw on Mon Feb 28, 2011 at 07:37:58 AM PST

  •  Left and Right is Punch and Judy... (0+ / 0-)

    it is and always has been class war, the wealthy against the rest of us. All these other, make-believe "factions" are about keeping the "everybody else" side divided and squabbling, ever ready to give the wealthy what they want in exchange for a few crumbs and the illusion that they are on "our side." They are not, never have been and never will be. They are not like us. We are not like them.

  •  I think of myself... (0+ / 0-)

    mainly as an old school, pro-union New Deal liberal.

    The older I get, the more "socially conservative" I seem to get. I'd be willing to make common cause with evangelical Christians, for instance, against the depredations of the uncontrolled Free Market.

    My favorite book of political economy is Karl Polanyi's "The Great Transformation".

    The people who annoy/irk me most (at the irrational level) are the yuppie libertarians who pat themselves on the back for supporting gay marriage while being in favor of anything that Wall Street wants.

    Sometimes I think "anti-libertarian" describes me about as well as anything.

  •  I'm a liberal social democrat (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    with socialist tendencies, a centrist approach, and a conservative sensibility

    If I appear contradictor, it is because I am large.

    The left/right contrivance from the get go was just as much about coalitions of political movements as it was about a coherent ideology, philosophy, approach or world-view.  We see this in multi-party parliamentary systems with the disparate coalitions needed to form a government.  And we see it in our two-party system with broad, contradictory party platforms.

    In short, politics makes not only for strange bedfellows: it makes for incoherent political philosophies.

  •  The original left and right (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    from the time of the French Revolution was about democracy vs. autocracy and personal freedom vs. state control.  This was the traditional liberal conservative distinction and why the Constitution and Bill of Rights as 18th century liberal documents don't talk much about economics and are limited to state action.

    Economic redistribution as a marker of being a leftist is really a late 19th or 20th century phenomenon.  Economic redistribution is antithetical to traditional liberalism.   It is a traditional conservative attitude that resources are primarily available to serve the nation (the king in the traditional conception and the people in the modern or communist one).

  •  republicans (0+ / 0-)

    have been so manipulated by political "messaging" for so so fucking long, they don't shit from shinola

    "Let me issue and control a nation's money and I care not who writes the laws." Mayer Amschel Rothschild, 1790

    by FreeTradeIsYourEpitaph on Mon Feb 28, 2011 at 08:35:40 AM PST

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