Saturday, December 06, 2008

Knowing Your Right From Your Left... And Not Caring

One of the phrases I see from time to time - sometimes linked to my own ramblings - that irritates me is "right-wing Libertarian." Now, I am a Libertarian - if you haven't picked that up from by blogging pseudonym then you really need to engage those little grey cells. But I wouldn't define myself as right-wing.

Sure, I have some right-wing views. I am very much in favour of capitalism, and believe that government intervention into the economy should be minimised as much as possible. The current state of the UK economy - where the government has spent billions on a rescue package and on nationalising banks and has achieved nothing more than the exacerbation of this crisis - merely increases my faith in the self-regulation of most markets. Likewise, the rhetoric of personal responsibility means far more to me than the endless talk of community and state actions. I do believe that it is down to the individuals within society to make the best of themselves in any way in which they see fit, rather than relying on the state to create some sort of equality of outcome.

However, I also have some very left wing views. I believe that people should be as free as possible within their private lives, and am against any discrimination or state interventions based on gender, race, or sexual orientation. Protecting and increasing our civil liberties should be a political priority as far as I am concerned, and I am instinctively against social conservatism.

Which is why none of the main parties in this country can actually represent my views effectively. The Tories may offer more economic freedom and may wish to control the markets less, but time and time again they fall back on the mindless reactionary rhetoric that appeals to the readers of The Daily Mail. Likewise, the Labour party are generally more pro-social progress; however, they believe the economy is best controlled by the state to a large extent, and are increasingly also trying to regulate other areas of the lives of their citizens - including such mindless activities as trying to control how much alcohol in this country actually drink.

The reason why Libertarians are so often dubbed right-wing is because of the parties that first adopted some Libertarian ideals - the Republicans in the US under Ronald Reagan, and the Tories in the UK under Margaret Thatcher - are traditionally seen as right-wing. Yet neither of those politicians, and neither of those political parties, actually offered what I would define as a Libertarian agenda. Reagan began the drift of the Republicans towards Christian fundamentalism, whilst Thatcher was very much a narrow-minded social conservative. Reagan and Thatcher were looking for a way of justifying their (admittedly needed) economic reforms ideologically. But don't mistake the so-called New Right with being Libertarian.

All the main parties in this country, be they right-wing, left-wing or centrist all look to increase state control in one area or another. And that is why I don't define myself as left-wing or right-wing. In fact, I would claim that being a Libertarian defies conventional ideological analysis - at least if you are going to use the traditional dividing lines of left-wing versus right-wing.

Because ultimately, the right/left divide doesn't mean anything. It all comes down to choosing which areas you want to cede authority and choice to the state. If you want proof, then look at the extremes of both the right-wing and left-wing ideologies. The right-wing extreme is the nightmare of Nazism, whilst the left-wing extreme can be seen in the likes of Stalin and Pol Pot. And, sure, the rhetoric of those abhorrent regimes was completely different - with the Nazi's talking of racial purity and striving for the fatherland whilst Stalin's regime was all about the push to progress, whatever the human cost. But when your remove the rhetoric you have exactly the same thing - the subjugation of the individual and the dominance of the state. The extremes of the right and of the left are not total opposites - rather, they are identical in terms of the way they function and the horrific costs on those who live in those states.

So I am not right-wing; nor am I left-wing. Rather, I favour an ideology that calls for control of the state rather than state control. Traditional left-wing and right-wing parties cannot offer that, since they all favour state control in different ways. So for the record, I am neither left-wing or right-wing. I appreciate it may be difficult for some to grasp that, in a society where all political views tend to be tagged as left-wing or right-wing. However, these categories are actually irrelevant. The real conflict is between those who would increase the power of the state in some way, and those who would control and reduce the influence of the state. The former have dominated the political agenda in the UK and in the West for too long. Now we need to leave behind the simplistic talk of right and left, and start thinking about just how much we want the state to be involved in our lives.

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At 9:31 pm , Blogger X said...

You're not the only person to feel this way. Have you ever looked to see where you fall on the Political Compass?

At 10:04 pm , Blogger Zaphod Camden said...

I couldn't agree more, and was going to post the link to the Political Compass myself had Shackleford not beat me to it :)

People tend to want to simplify things as much as possible - perhaps we can't be bothered to think anymore - and the idea that the simple left/right divide doesn't cover everything is tough for most people to grasp. It's like you have to have one side and the other side, and no shades of grey - but the reality, as you say, is different. One dimension no longer works for political classification - you need two (at least!)

At 3:01 am , Blogger swindon_alan said...

Superb post.

On the money honey.

At 8:01 am , Blogger Paul R said...

Excellent post!

At 10:50 am , Blogger Alan Douglas said...

There is one thing I have to take issue with :

"The right-wing extreme is the nightmare of Nazism".

Na-Zi stands for NAtional SOCialism.

The right-left divide has always been part of the bread-and-circuses dissembling. The true divide is between controlled and free. By the true definitions, you are indeed a right-wing libertarian, as opposed to a left-wing statist. Be proud of it !

Alan Douglas

At 10:52 am , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Right and left is actually a matter of progress. Leftists are progressive, wishing to create a utopian world. Rightists are instinctively anti-progress, wanting to hold on to tradition. State control is thus expressly leftist.

The erosion of tradition and morals in the name of 'progress' leads inexorably to a big state.

At 1:40 pm , Anonymous Anonymous said...

There was a thing called the "Johari Window", many years ago, which would explain this perfectly to people. I have used it lots.

you have an X-Y set of axes, just like an ordinary graph.

You put 0%-100% economic control on the X axis 9it does not matter which really) and 0-100% social proscription on the Y axis.

You then just have a fun game, plotting on it where you'd put people like....

Hitler (same place)
Ho Chi Minh
Bush 2
Pol Pot
Ed Balls
Tony Blair
Cherie Blair (very interesting)
Terry Wogan
Boris Johnson
Ken Livingstone
Chris Tame
Sean Gabb

and so on....

At 3:34 pm , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well said, best thing I'm going to read all day

At 5:36 pm , Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Right wing" is a term of abuse that socialists use to associate people they want to discredit with national socialists. Socialists and national socialists are both collectivist ideologies. The former is economically illiterate (guess who I am thinking about now). The latter was more successful economically but only through the use of terror and slave labour.

Hence, left-right is not a meaningful continuum except in this limited economic sense. Its application to issues such as race and social policy is nonsense.

I.e. I agree with you (largely).


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