Saturday, 20 March 2010

Right wing, left wing

The terms right and left applied to politics can be difficult to interpret. Right tends to mean conservatism and left progressivism, but concerning what? Political or social or economic?

People on one wing with regard to social issues may be more likely to be on the same side economically, but there is no reason why someone cannot reside in the other camp. 2 dimensional proposals place economic and state control on orthogonal axes: a totalitarian to libertarian range and a managed-market to free-market range. Of course the dimensions can be expanded resulting in several horizontal axes covering different topics, each with a left and right position.

Dictionary definitions of the terms from The Free Dictionary
  • left wing: those who support varying degrees of social or political or economic change designed to promote the public welfare
  • right wing: those who support political or social or economic conservatism; those who believe that things are better left unchanged
The first suggests the reason for change but the latter is deficient for why things are best unchanged. What is perceived as beneficial about a system that change is not desired?

The less than reliable (and left wing!) wikipedia describe the left wing seeking to
reform or abolish existing social hierarchies and promote a more equal distribution of wealth and privilege
which is a moderately reasonable definition, though right wing may oppose what they consider unjust privilege or favouritism. The right wing article does not provide a helpful definition and suffers from including corporatism and fascism within the grouping.

I thought the definition provided by Jonah Goldberg in "Obama’s Playbook, in Paperback: Liberal Fascism and its critics" was useful

Left-wing
  • statist
  • collectivist
  • egalitarian (within a defined group, be it based on class, race, or nationality)
  • enamored of the Romantic spiritualization of the political
  • hostile to tradition,
  • hostile to religious orthodoxy
  • hostile to natural rights,
  • hostile to Lockean individualism
Right-wing (particularly within the Anglo-American tradition)
  • pro-market
  • favoring limited government
  • respectful of religion and tradition
  • protective of the individual and his rights
I will leave it to the leftists to comment on whether they fit into this definition, but I favour all 4 right wing positions, though what I accept as rights are limited and negative rights.

Labels can be useful, but if they hinder, it is better just to debate the pros and cons of a specific issue.

3 comments:

  1. More and more I agree with the comment about labels sometimes being a hindrance. In particular, there are very few liberal liberals about as few conservatives who genuinely want to conserve traditional American culture and heritage.

    ReplyDelete
  2. I fall somewhere just to the right of the libertarian peak on that chart. I agree with your assessment of the popular media definitions of left and right. Since most of those definitions are written by leftists, they naturally portray themselves in a positive light and their opponents more negatively. Many of them probably think they are being "fair and balanced."

    ReplyDelete
  3. MikeT, Yes. I think labels can be useful until they become a hindrance. It is when there is disagreement about the label that insisting on using them becomes frustrating. Better to agree that you disagree about whether one uses a modern versus an archaic definition, and get on to the particular topic.

    jay c, best let people describe their own beliefs, though sometimes the naming of your group is done better by your adversaries :)

    Where it gets tricky is when people attempt to portray their ideological forebears in a positive (but false) light.

    ReplyDelete

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