“THE POLITICAL LEFT” AND “THE POLITICAL RIGHT” – WORSE THAN USELESS ANTI-CONCEPTS
Some leading Objectivists (e.g. Harry Binswanger, Craig Biddle) have argued that the members of the Objectivist movement should invest some of their time, effort and credibility in the daunting task of “reclaiming” the concepts “the political right” and “the political left”. These leading Objectivists have suggested that grassroots Objectivists should fight an intellectual battle to convince the public that the concepts “political right” and “political left” really refer to capitalism and statism respectively. So that the advocates of capitalism would constitute the political right, and everybody else (Communists, socialists, welfare statists, conservatives, libertarians, fascists) would constitute the political left in daily political discourse.
Now, is the above proposal a good or a bad idea? And is it justified by the facts of reality?
Let us begin by considering some facts of reality.
THE ORIGIN OF THE TWIN CONCEPTS
The twin concepts “political right” and “political left” were originally created shortly after the French Revolution. In France towards the end of the 18th century there was a “National Assembly” (i.e. a French version of a parliament). It just so happened that in the chamber of the National Assembly, all of the representatives of the revolution were seated on the left side of the chamber and all of the representatives of the “Ancien Régime” (i.e. the old system of feudalism/aristocracy) were seated on the right side of the chamber. For these reasons political commentators in Europe at the time adopted the convention of referring to the revolutionaries as “the political left” and the representatives of the Ancien Régime as “the political right”.
Now - how in the world can this state of affairs be taken as meaning that “the political right” refers to capitalism whereas “the political left” refers to statism? The representatives of the Ancien Régime were advocates of a form of extreme statism! They were in no way whatsoever radicals for liberty! They were advocates of something along the lines of reactionary feudalism.
So, the historical facts do not support the view held by some leading Objectivists that the “real” meaning of the concept “political right” is (or should be) capitalism.
“THE POLITCAL RIGHT” AND “THE POLITICAL LEFT” ARE ANTI-CONCEPTS
An anti-concept is a useless and invalid concept which is intended to obliterate a legitimate concept. The anti-concept is formed by means elevating a non-essential characteristic of the referents to the status of fundamental and essential characteristic.
Well, the purpose of the twin concepts “political right” and “political left” is to obliterate the distinction between capitalism and statism. According to the political right/political left dichotomy all political systems/ideologies are statist. And so, we are left with the unpleasant task of choosing which form of statism is the best, or least bad.
This is how it works:
When the concepts “political left” and “political right” were originally formed at the end of the 18th century, they referred to two somewhat different forms of statism. The political left were champions of a “new”, “progressive” statism – whereas the political right were the champions of the old-fashioned, reactionary statism. So, the distinction between the political right and the political left was made according to a non-essential characteristic: the issue of, not liberty versus statism, but of egalitarianism versus “anti-egalitarianism”. The political left consisted of the egalitarian statists, who were perceived as wishing to promote the interests of the “weak” (i.e. the lower classes, the poor) at the expense of the “strong” (i.e. the upper classes, the rich). The political right on the other hand consisted of the “anti-egalitarian” statists, who were perceived as wishing to promote the interests of the “strong” (i.e. the upper classes, the rich) at the expense of the “weak” (i.e. the lower classes, the poor).
Of course, the fundamental issue in politics is the issue of liberty versus tyranny. So, the two fundamental alternatives in politics are capitalism and statism. The issue of egalitarianism versus “anti-egalitarianism” is merely a distraction, a source of confusion.
But everyone today (almost) takes statism for granted and believes that the basic question in politics really is: Should the government sacrifice the weak for the sake of the strong (fascism, conservatism - i.e. the political right) - or should the government instead sacrifice the strong for the sake of the weak (communism, socialism, welfare statism - i.e. the political left). The non-essential, non-fundamental issue of egalitarianism versus "anti-egalitarianism" has come to “crowd out” the truly crucial issue of liberty versus statism. The political right/political left dichotomy presupposes that the government must sacrifice somebody for the sake of somebody else, and that the only question is “Who gets sacrificed to whom?” Thus, the concept of “a society without sacrifice" (i.e. a society of individual rights) had been obliterated.
Notice that the political systems which are said to be most extremely on the right and most extremely on the left respectively are the very ones which are perceived to be most extremely “anti-egalitarian” and most egalitarian respectively. Fascism is said to be the most extreme form of right-wing politics, conservatism is said to be less extremely right-wing and classical liberalism is said to be somewhat right-wing. And on the left, Communism is said to be the most extreme form of left-wing type of politics, socialism is said to be less extremely left-wing and the Social Democrat welfare statists are said to be somewhat left-wing. Evidently, more extreme egalitarianism equates with more extreme “leftism” and more extreme “anti-egalitarianism” equates with allegedly being more extremely right-wing.
Now, most members of the public will tell you that capitalism is a political system which is located on the “political right”. But they tell you that for the wrong reasons. Most members of the public today take it for granted that the reason capitalism belongs on the political right is that capitalism entails the strong preying on the weak. According to the conventional view, “the rich and powerful” receive all sorts of unfair privileges from the government at the expense of the “man on the street” in a capitalist society. The government is allegedly allied with the rich in a capitalist society. Now, surely the world´s genuine advocates of capitalism should not chime in and say, “We agree – capitalism is located on the `political right´!”
This is what the influence of the anti-concepts “political right” and “political left” have accomplished (together with the influence of modern philosophy in general, of course).
Now, should the world´s Objectivists embark on a crusade to “reclaim” and “rehabilitate” the anti-concept “the political right”? Should they fight to make “political right” synonymous with “capitalism”?
Why, oh why?
Why, oh why?
Here we need Rand´s Razor. “Concepts are not to be multiplied beyond necessity” (Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology). Well, are the concepts “political right” and “political left” necessary?
No! For we already have the concepts capitalism and statism. Why refer to capitalism in a “roundabout” way by saying “political right” whenever we really mean “capitalism”? Why not just say what we mean – namely “capitalism”? That is much simpler and makes everything more crystal clear! And why refer to statism in a “roundabout” way by saying “political left” whenever we really mean “statism”? Why not just say “statism”? Why beat around the bush and talk about “right” versus “left” when we really mean liberty versus tyranny?
The obvious application of Rand´s Razor here is that using two concepts (capitalism and statism) to refer to two things in reality - that is more economical and rational than instead using four concepts (capitalism and political right and statism and political left) to refer to the same two things!
WHAT TO DO
So, my advice to all advocates of capitalism is: don´t use the terms “political right” and “political left”. Identify yourself as “a radical for capitalism”. And identify the so-called leftists as “statists – who are therefore enemies of liberty”. True advocates of capitalism should patiently explain to whichever members of the public are willing to listen that “the political right” and “the political left” are in fact anti-concepts which are worse than useless - since they bring on confusion by conflating capitalism with various flavours of statism (e.g. conservatism and even fascism) and since they smuggle the idea into the culture that the government must sacrifice somebody to somebody else.
Genuine advocates of capitalism should fight to have the anti-concepts “political right” and “political left” purged from all political discourse.
For - who needs anti-concepts?!