The binary dualism of ‘Left/Right’ politics can be blamed on the French. In Revolutionary times those who supported the King, and generally thought change might bring about the unacceptable situation of owning less stuff, sat to the right of the President of the Assembly. This self segregation was largely brought about by a desire amongst the aristocratic caste to avoid the unpleasant vernacular and general obnoxiousness of those who were starting to harbour disrespectful ideas about perhaps owning more stuff than they presently did. This latter group of people banded together on the left of the President. At this stage the ‘left’ was mainly made up of people who would most likely be ‘right’ by today’s standard – the filthy masses had not been invited to partake in politics just yet. When they eventually demanded a place the ‘left’ became divided up into all sorts of sub groups, whilst there wasn’t much left of the old ‘right’ at all. Over time balance was restored as more and more people came around to the idea that the ‘left’ always seemed to be about redistributing wealth, which was not a good thing if you happened to have finally gotten a bit of it. So the ‘right’ grew a little.
By the early twentieth century the British took it upon themselves to organise everything and it wasn’t long before you could tell if a chap had a few bob just by where he sat in parliament. It seemed like the perfect way to arrange things but then of course back then people weren’t used to time and space being relative, so a linear, dualistic way of looking at politics still made some kind of sense. Today it does not. The Wikipedia entry for the ‘left/right’ political model states that things like civil liberties are associated with the Left for example. And yet last century is cluttered with ‘Leftist’ regimes that set about crushing civil liberties. Apologists always say things like, ‘but that wasn’t true socialism’ with a tone of understandable bewilderment. I hear their pain. It’s meant to be a Utopia where everyone is equal and gets along, but it just never seems to work out like that. Can it be that guys like Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot and even charismatic killing machine Che Guevara really be that far off the mark? Or is it a matter that we are overlooking something when we try to describe political affiliation?
I believe the ‘Left/Right’ duality makes virtually no sense without an axis for ‘Free/Unfree’, or ‘Libertarian/Authoritarian’. Under this model Gandhi and Stalin are both to the Left, but the former is down south in Libertarian land, and the latter is way up in Authoritarian –ville. Under this model the basic structure of a society is either Free or Unfree, with ideology providing the social refinements. To further complicate matters let’s also allow for differences in Left/Right ideology depending on what we are talking about – it is for example entirely possible to be fiscally conservative and socially liberal. And liberalism is an ideology like any other, so when this is enforced as the dominant paradigm, then that society is Authoritarian in nature, even if the values it is enforcing are ‘progressive’. Small ‘l’ liberals have a terrible time understanding this. The imposition of any ideology upon others, even if you feel yours is more ‘fair’, is still Authoritarian in nature.
Which brings me to ‘liberalism’ and ‘progressive’. Both words have been co opted by dreary cultural Marxists in unwashed cardigans, and now mean something quite different to their original intention. Liberalism in the classical sense was all about diversity of thought, but it has now become synonymous with the Authoritarian imposition of a politically correct orthodoxy. Same thing with ‘progressive’ – it is a great word that is now used to describe a complete lack of evolvement in social and political thought. The Left has been especially keen to embrace Authoritarianism because of this deep seated belief that their social construct is morally superior. Traditionally the French have seen the Left as being the realm of ‘movement’, whilst the Right represents ‘Order’. But the Left has become so enamoured of the justice of its cause that time and again it has resorted to Authoritarianism to impose itself, which instantly destroys key Leftist principles. And in doing so the Left has sent Libertarian elements to the Right, and helped create an environment whereby it is increasingly the domain of ‘progressive’, dynamic political dialogue. It is interesting to observe the vibrancy of grassroots political activism on the Right, and the confused hand wringing of the generally Left leaning establishment in the West, especially the media and academia. They can’t seem to understand why these dreadful Rightists don’t like their Utopian social constructs, much in the same way as the people on the right hand side of the French Assembly could not quite grasp why those on the left wanted to cut their heads off.
Of course this contains vast generalisations, and the tiny little part of the Right spectrum I am talking about is also treated with suspicion by the turgid monolith of the Centrist Right establishment. It’s just interesting that supposedly key elements of Leftist philosophy are now in the domain of the Right. I think it would be a great exercise to get some Tea Partiers and some Occupiers together in a room with a large whiteboard. I would ask them to list some basic ideas about preferred social constructs. You would start with things like getting rid of the corporatist influence on government. And government could be smaller and less Authoritarian. And individual freedoms need greater protection. And so on. Quite a long list of shared preferences would emerge. Then of course, the shouting would start. ‘You’re unwashed dope smoking hippies!’ ‘You’re beer guzzling squares!’ Huge differences would emerge over the details of individual lifestyle preference. But perhaps some would see that on a ‘macro’ level they basically want the same general social configuration, whilst on a ‘micro’ level they will disagree on all sorts of things. This is the key lesson of Libertarianism.
In a Libertarian society we have to accept that we will share the air with people who we do not agree with. They will be ‘too conservative’ or ‘too liberal’. Their ideology may seem less fair than ours, or weak minded or whatever. For those who hold Utopian visions of how society should be, this is an intolerable state of affairs, which may explain why the Left has embraced Authoritarianism so wholeheartedly. If your vision of society is perfect, it ‘logically’ follows that anyone who thinks it isn’t simply needs to be ‘educated’. Or gotten rid of. You may recall a chap called Adolph Hitler. He ran a political party that started out all ‘socialist’ and ‘workers’. He was the darling of the progressive types of the day, delighting them with his beer hall oratory that spoke of a Utopian vision of a Greater Germany. Of course there were a few changes needed and a bit of social reorganisation. When charismatic guys start mentioning having to crack a few eggs to make an omelette, the alarm bells should start to go off.
But they never do. Hitler wrote his autobiography before he became famous. Barack Obama also did this. I am not presenting an Ad Hitlerum, despite its obvious appeal, just an observation that meglomanical sociopaths tend to do this. Through his penchant for Executive Orders, signing of the NDAA’s clause for indefinite detention without trial, and many other acts he has done more to concentrate dictatorial power s in the office of the Presidency than anyone else. And that is saying quite a bit because some of his predecessors gave it a real shot. But of course a black man couldn’t be a dictator could he? Actually come to think of it, perhaps Amin, Mugabe and Taylor to name but three, kind of speak for the non racially discriminatory nature of despotic absolute power. But Obama is pro gay marriage point out his apologists – how can this possibly be congruent with the idea that he is Authoritarian? Well Hitler was a vegetarian who loved animals. Authoritarianism is seductive because it often first appears in a role supporting something you may cherish dearly. But once you let it have its way, don’t be surprised if there’s a shift in ideology, and an unpleasant one at that. The groovy modern artist who listened to a young Hitler in a beer hall in Munich, probably didn’t expect to wind up in a concentration camp because his art was ‘decadent’. He probably thought, ‘hey – this Hitler cat is an artist like me!’. It’s a slippery slope.
Of course a Libertarian society is a ludicrous joke that will never work. It relies upon people being self responsible and making informed decisions, all the while respecting that others may have different worldviews. When has that ever worked? Much like the Left/Right divide, it only really has a chance if we accept that we may have different models for different aspects of society. In a way Libertarianism needs to be ‘encased’ in Authoritarianism. For example it would be possible to envisage a country that has a strong military, that deters potential aggressors, but within that country there is a high standard of personal liberty. And perhaps a strong police force that regulates behaviour to ensure that freedom of expression is maintained and those who threaten it, or others, are dealt with. Unrestricted Libertarianism is possibly as naïve as the Utopians who believe that everyone will adopt their particular social model if only they can be ‘educated’ about its merits.
But by at least having an awareness of the Libertarian/Authoritarian dynamic and incorporating it as an axis in how we position ourselves politically, we are able to better understand why it all keeps going so horribly wrong. The key thing to watch out for is when the dissenting voices disappear, especially the ones you don’t agree with. When that happens enjoy your beer because your little victory will be short lived. Ultimately there is only Free and Unfree, and whilst there are people you disagree with ideologically, there is still some hope.