Copyright © 2016 - 2021, The Troy Press
Copyright © 2016 - 2021, The Troy Press
This article primarily covers the origin and evolution of the political terms left, right, and liberal, right up to the present day in the USA.
As has been brought up very many times, describing politics as a linear continuum of left versus right has a lot of problems. Yet, it is the singularly most pervasive method of describing politics in the USA, and so it's worth understanding it. Though various alternatives have been developed, they all leave something to be desired and many actually reinforce political misperceptions, so along the way, we'll cover some of these a little too.
CHART AT RIGHT: This chart was generated by the software found at the Political Compass web site and represents the author's result using that system.
This article dissects this topic into the following subtopics:
Should you wish to help improve this work, please write the author.
Acknowledgment: Many thanks to R.G. Price for their 2004 work which was heavily borrowed upon for a good bit of this work. Frankly, this article would not have been written if only Price had written the historical piece separately from his graphing effort, and if only neo-liberalism - a vital topic to include at this time - had been addressed. However, writing this has given me the opportunity to not only write this my way but also address some quibbles I have with Price's work.
EVERYONE has biases and a frame of reference they use in just about everything they do, including me. So, rather than pretend that anything at all regarding a political topic can be fully objective it's best to just state the frames of reference up front.
I believe that humanity has been in an internal war with itself since the invention of money, and perhaps before. This war is basically waged by the ultra-rich upon everyone else; the wealthy want to increase their wealth, and tend to do so at the expense of anything and everything else, including other wealthy individuals, a healthy environment - absolutely nothing is "off the table" when it comes to the wealthy getting their way. And, at the present time, this is literally driving the current biosphere toward a mass extinction event scientists have already recognized and named the Holocene Extinction Event.
Given this situation, it's clear that the ultra-rich use politics to their ends, and they use their wealth to manipulate. Those with extreme wealth have extreme power over how the rest of us think through the use of propaganda and manipulations of various authoritative systems. So, when we look to discuss means of describing politics, this underlying feature of the political landscape cannot be understated in its importance.
Given the overwhelming importance of money in modern politics, this article uses the expression Ultra-Rich to mean those few hundred individuals who are so obscenely wealthy that they manipulate our politics, almost always behind the scenes as a hidden force. One of its most pervasive goals is to keep the population divided against itself as "divide and conquer" is a time-tested and proven method of domination.
While the terms "Left" and "Right" are actually somewhat nebulous, and probably completely outmoded for truly meaningful political analysis, they do still play a role in popular political discussion and they do still impact how we view both ourselves and others politically. Because of this it is important to better understand these terms and the ideas behind them, even if they are somewhat vague ideas.
The labeling individuals or organizations Left or Right is difficult because people are complex and can hold contradictory views, and then there are groups such as the Amish and Quakers, who in many ways seem to be Leftists in every regard, both economic and social, yet at the same time have strong conservative elements as well. The Amish are not really relevant to the present political spectrum, however I have included them in this discussion as a point of reference.
The USA today can defiantly be described as a post-modernist society. Post-modernism is the essence of Liberal ideology. Post-modernist social Liberalism in America today serves the interests of corporate America and is a product of capitalist culture. Postmodernism is effectively the secular form of anti-Leftism - it is ultimately the true embodiment of post World War II Liberalism. The "conservative" movement in America today is greatly misguided because it aligns itself economically with the interests that contribute to the social conditions that the conservative movement opposes.
Likewise then, many of the most socially liberal members of society, who are improperly viewed as being "Leftists" in American popular politics, are in fact the people who have bought into, and are the most supportive of, corporate capitalism. Postmodernism creates a disempowered society of factionalized and atomized individuals with no grounding in an objective common reality, which is an essential starting point for any meaningful political movement. Capitalism in America has both created the existing post-modernist society and benefits from its continued existence.
Liberal, post-modernist, American society is not "Leftist" in the least. There is no significant Left in America at all. What is called the "Left" in America today are either Liberals or Left Fascists, those who support Leftist social regulation through cooperation with the establishment Corporate-State. These are not "Leftists".
Understanding the full spectrum of political ideology helps to provide an understanding of American politics, and helps to illuminate many of the contradictions in both American politics and American society.
People are complex, often self contradictory and often hold two opposing views at the same time. So, simply put, describing someone's politics as fitting on a single line is rather absurd! However, it's what we have come to base all of politics on in the USA. The following are just some of the big problems with this situation:
First and foremost we must recognize that with only two choices, and given the malleability of language, it's particularly easy to twist meanings and give false definitions to an audience, especially when the audience is uninformed about the history of the terms used. When repeated often enough, original definitions are lost to those who have received this propaganda and it becomes almost impossible to have cogent discussions with others as there's a lot of confusion surrounding the meanings of words.
It is clear to me that exactly this type of manipulation of the public has been going on since at least the end of WWII as a concerted effort by the ultra-rich to divide the population and keep us fighting one another; they propagandize one audience one way and a different audience another way and so not only do we have manipulated, distorted meanings, we have different definitions for what's left and what's right (and what's liberal, etc.) held by different groups. This is done specifically to prevent us from understanding one another and so to keep us, We, The People, from coming together. And it is done in a way soas to hide the machinations of the ultra-rich as much as possible; attention never goes to them directly, only, at most, their tools, such as the bought politicians and media outlets.
For more information about this propaganda and how it works, please see Manufacturing Consent.
This work is an effort to help clear away the propaganda and help restore a common definitional set of what's right and what's left and so forth. Should you, dear reader, disagree with any of these definitions or other aspect of this article, please write me and help improve this work. Instead of just criticizing, please provide insight and cite whatever citations you can, when you can.
RelativismWithout stable definitions to go by, and with only two choices, right or left, people tend toward thinking about things in a relative way. This kind of thinking can be characterized by perceiving that if something is to the left of something else then it's "left" and if it's to the right of something else, it's "right", or perhaps "more left" or "more right", when an observer who has solid definitional understanding can easily see that all of the above are "on the right" or perhaps "on the left" and that none of them are actually of the other kind. That is, it's possible, for example, to have a number of policies which are in conflict with one another and where one might perceive some of them as either "right" or "left", it can still be the case that all of them are either right or all of them are left from a more clear perspective.
Note that the origin and evolution section of this article helps lay out solid, traditional definitions that we all should reset our thinking about these terms to match. Simply, if we don't have a common vocabulary with which to discuss politics, We, The People will never be able to come together to regain control - if, indeed, we ever had it - of our country from the ultra-rich.
Centrism is often thought of as a position between the right and the left in the political spectrum, however, it's actually a chimaera since it falls into the same fundamental problem as Relativism.
There's an extremely strong argument to be made that both the Republican and Democratic Parties in the USA are right-wing, however, if you don't agree that they're right-wing, perhaps you'll at least agree that both serve the needs of the ultra-rich and both give lip-service to serving The People while actually delivering very little - nearly nothing - to The People. Given this, where's the supposed center? The answer to that is it's "on the right", or at the least "serves the ultra-rich."
Additionally, there's an argument to be made that sometimes Centrism is used to try and describe politics that's outside of the left v right dichotomy. However, this usage is somewhat rare.
In short, Centrism is no way forward as any kind of solution to our political problems.
Freedom and Liberty
Why list "Freedom and Liberty" as a shortcoming? Well, because everyone is for Freedom!
The use of terms like "freedom" and "liberty" are problematic in terms of trying to understand politics objectively because these are terms that are highly propagandistic and are typically self defined. Ask any ten different people in the world what their political views represent and you can get ten people telling you that they stand for freedom, while one is a Communist, one is a member of the KKK, one is a wealthy capitalist oil tycoon, and one is a poor person on welfare. They all have completely different views, yet to themselves they are all "fighting for freedom".
When members of the Southern Confederacy broke away from the United States in 1861, they did so proclaiming that they were defending their freedom to hold slaves. What exactly is "economic freedom"? Does that include the freedom to form a monopoly? Does a "Libertarian" regard regulations that prevent the formation of monopolies to be higher forms of economic freedom or are they seen as economic restrictions? What about the free and independent formation of unions? Do laws preventing the formation of unions count as a point in favor of "economic freedom" or against it? Issues like these are why terms such as "freedom" are useless in analyzing political ideology.
As we begin this discussion, lets observe that there are four fundamental bases of power in modern society, ranked in increasing power: the Church, the State, the Corporation, and the Ultra-Rich. (The last two may occasionally switch positions, depending on the topic at hand.) In the past, however, we didn't have Corporations, and the state was of a different form (monarchy), so we have to put ourselves into the mindset of the times.
The use of the terms Left and Right emerged in France during the French Revolution, where the aristocrats sat on the right side of the assembly and commoners sat on the left. From that time on Right has generally been associated with ideology that favors an elite social group and the Left has been associated with ideology that is intended to favor "the masses."
The positions of Left and Right towards Liberalism must first be defined and understood before Left and Right can be contrasted with each other.
The original opposition to Liberalism, which at the time was roughly synonymous with the Left from which it emerged, came from the aristocracy. In feudal times the interests of Church, State and Commerce were all tied together into one generally mutually supporting entity. The aristocracy held exclusive rights to property, usually passed down by family lineage. The aristocracy owned the land and controlled the government. Because the aristocracy owned the land and also held rights to all the general avenues of trade, by controlling harbors, bridges, etc., they received much of their income from rents on land, taxes, and tariffs on the State regulated trade.
In the social sense the aristocracy had a strong relationship with religious institutions and supported the role of the Church through the powers of the State. Churches received tribute from the aristocracy as well, and generally benefited from aristocratic rule. While aristocratic culture was typically characterized by lasciviousness, wild indulgences, vast wealth and often a lack of religious belief, the aristocrats supported the Church because religion was seen as a way to bring order to society and keep "the commoners" in line and subservient to the economic interests of the aristocracy.
Prior to the revolution in France this was formally institutionalized within the French political system. Though the king of France held significant power, there were also legislative assemblies which voted on matters of State. The constituents were divided into three groups: the First Estate (which represented the Clergy), the Second Estate (which represented the Nobles), and the Third Estate (which represented the commoners). The Third Estate represented about 98% of the population, however, each of the Estates had an equal number of votes, and thus the Third Estate could be, and almost always was, outvoted by the First and Second Estates, who cooperated together to overrule the Third Estate.
The economic systems supported by the aristocratic Right were those of feudalism and mercantilism. Feudalism describes a wide range of economic and social systems, but feudal economic systems were generally based on noble systems of land ownership, whereby peasants lived and worked on land owned ultimately by a king or emperor. These systems were often based on pyramid type schemes, whereby a king allocated land to a certain few members of royalty, and each of those people allocated their land to others, and so on and so forth.
The Churches typically owned between 10% and 30% of the land in countries throughout Europe and paid no taxes. Virtually all taxation was paid by the working classes. The peasants worked the land and paid rents and taxes to their landlord, who then paid a share of the fees that they collected to those above them, and so forth up the chain. Aristocrats generally never had to do any kind of work, although some chose to do so. Education was generally only for the aristocracy and the only other means of receiving an education was typically through the Catholic Church and was reserved for upper-class commoners.
In the Rights of Man, written during the French Revolution, Thomas Paine noted:
The aristocracy are not the farmers who work the land, and raise the produce, but are the mere consumers of the rent; and when compared with the active world, are the drones, a seraglio of males, who neither collect the honey nor form the hive, but exist only for lazy enjoyment.
Mercantilism was characterized by State governed trade. All trade was managed by the State and merchants engaged in trade on behalf of the State according to quotas. A certain portion, often a large portion, of their profits in trade went to the aristocracy who governed the trade systems. Merchants did not control production, instead they bought goods from craftsmen and other laborers. They then brought these goods to market and sold them.
The original "Leftists", from which the Liberals emerged, were those who opposed these social and economic systems and called for the establishment of democratic systems of government, with separation of Church and State, freedom of the press, and the establishment of "free-enterprise". The free-enterprise system was seen as an economic system where owners of property were free to engage in business however they so chose without the interference of the State and without having to pay tribute to the State in order to conduct business. In this case, however, "the State" was ultimately the king and his nobility, and the tribute went not to paying for public programs, but instead to supporting the Churches and the extravagant living conditions of the aristocracy. Thus, when reading much of the literature from the 17th and 18th century, one has to keep in mind that anger directed towards "the government" is anger directed towards aristocracy and the Church.
The "Right" conservatives were the members of the establishment who opposed these changes and wanted to maintain a theocratic system of government based on royalty, where the majority working-class people were disenfranchised and paid taxes and fees to the wealthy aristocracy.
With the adoption of free-enterprise the "Merchant class" developed into the "Capitalist class" and began owning and controlling commodity production, thereby putting large numbers of craftsmen out of work. This was the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, which resulted in the widespread adoption of wage labor.
Soon after the Liberal Democratic revolutions took place in America and France a "Left" opposition to the new Liberal society took place, similar to the bifurcation of the Left in modern times. This was much, much stronger in Old World Europe where the countries were already developed and a major social structure was already in place. Left opposition to Liberalism never gained major significance in early America primarily because the country was so vast and undeveloped and there was no significant underclass in America among white society. America was to where many of the oppressed of Europe fled to gain freedom, as opposed to staying in Europe and trying to change the system there. Since the vast majority of America was untamed wilderness, class antagonisms based on ownership of land and property hardly existed in America.
In Europe, however, it was a much different story and this is why a Left opposition to Liberalism quickly and strongly formed there.
Gerrard Winstanley of England provided some of the early roots of what would later become the Leftist movement of the 1800s. In 1649 he wrote:
In the beginning of Time, the great Creator Reason, made the Earth to be a Common Treasury, to preserve Beasts, Birds, Fishes, and Man, the lord that was to govern this Creation; for Man had Domination given to him, over the Beasts, Birds, and Fishes; but not one word was spoken in the beginning, That one branch of mankind should rule over another...
And hereupon, The Earth (which was made to be a Common Treasury of relief for all, both Beasts and Men) was hedged in to In-closures by the teachers and rulers, and the others were made Servants and Slaves: And that Earth that is within this Creation made a Common Store-house for all, is bought and sold, and kept in the hands of a few, whereby the great Creator is mightily dishonoured, as if he were a respector of persons, delighting in the comfortable Livelihoods of some, and rejoycing in the miserable povertie and straits of others. From the beginning it was not so.
The commonly known and most influential movements of Left opposition to Liberalism are the Socialist, Anarchist, and Communist movements. All of these movements to some degree have their roots among French socialist ideology that developed after the French Revolution and/or the British workers movements of the 1700s that took shape after the establishment of a constitutional monarchy in England.
Even at this early stage, Leftist ideology was extremely vast and covered a wide range of ideas and positions, and therefore it is impossible to completely categorize the early Left ideological positions here.
Generally speaking though, the early Left opposition to Liberalism was rooted in protecting traditional roles of workers in society, such as guilds, craftsmen and farming communities, from the effects of the Industrial Revolution. The early Left focused mostly on workers' movements and working class interests - the working class being non-propertied people who had to constantly work for a living, i.e. those that had become wage laborers.
Overall, one of the main ideological positions of the Left has always been that of equality. Leftist positions from the beginning have generally been tied to the idea that "all men are created equal." It is this idea of equality that pervades virtually all Leftist ideology.
The most common and fundamental element of Left opposition to Liberalism is the issue of labor and property. Another major criticism of Liberal society by the Left was on the issue of democracy. Left criticism of Liberal democracy centered on pointing out that Liberal democracy was (and largely remains) really just a democracy for the wealthy, and that it excluded the interests of women, non-propertied men, and non-whites.
Another of the characteristics of the early Left was a tendency to be opposed to industrialization. The early Left movements were dominated by peasants, miners, and craftsmen, many of whom were being displaced by the changes brought on by industrialization and forced to work in factories at wages well below their traditional earnings, thus adopting much lower living standards. Some early Leftists were involved in such activities as vandalizing factories and destroying machines, which they saw as a threat to their humanity and livelihood.
The most well known of these movements is known as Luddism, named after Ned Ludd. The Luddites were organized groups of workers in England who opposed "free market" practices and supported retaining the traditional pricing customs of the community. The Luddites raided factories and sabotaged machinery.
To many in the early Left movement, Liberalism only represented an exchange of masters - trading the royal aristocracy for a new type of aristocracy.
As the Industrial Revolution progressed in Europe these workers' movements gained in strength and support as the disparity between rich and poor grew during the 1800s while unemployment, child labor and poverty increased.
In early America these issues were of lesser importance. In America the major issue of the Left was that of slavery. The Left movements in America were very different from those of Europe because slaves in America were so disenfranchised that they themselves were effectively unable to fight for their own rights in a constructive manner. In Europe Left movements made a strong point of the fact that any oppressed class was responsible for its own emancipation and that it was impossible to expect or depend on the actions of an enfranchised class to come to the aid of the oppressed. For this reason, European Leftist movements often strongly promoted revolutionary tactics, believing reform to be impossible because reform by definition meant collaboration with the dominant establishment.
Because of the situation of blacks in America it was virtually impossible for blacks to emancipate themselves. Thus Left movements in America, which naturally coalesced around this issue, were much more reformist in nature, because they were movements of generally enfranchised people seeking to help a disenfranchised minority, as opposed to the Leftist movements of Europe which were considered to be movements of a disenfranchised majority seeking to overthrow the power of an enfranchised minority.
By the mid 1800s there was a very wide variety of Left opposition to Liberal capitalism and Liberal society. Again there were some major differences between American and European Leftist groups. In America a significant number of groups who opposed Liberal capitalism were Christian based groups who, due to the nature of the country and the availability of land, often went off on their own to form secluded communes. Some of these groups included religious groups related to the Anabaptists, such and the Mennonites, Quakers and the Amish.
While it is impossible to completely categorize the views of these different groups, they generally opposed slavery, were pacifists, strongly supported the idea of human equality and democracy, and they believed in simple lifestyles based on shared community property and shared community interests. They opposed banking and the charging of interest on money lending, and they opposed government support for, or involvement with, churches and religious organizations. While they technically supported separation of Church and State at the national level, religion was a central aspect of their own societies, and so within their own communities Church and Community, which was like its own "mini-State", were definitely united.
These could effectively be categorized as socialist Christian groups.
Many Quakers, in particular, became prominent advocates for women's suffrage, such as Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Caddy Stanton.
While many Quakers were vocal opponents of slavery and supporters of women's rights, these groups had little overall impact on society in the economic sense because they were largely reclusive groups that formed their own independent communities and were seldom active on a larger scale. While the practices regarding labor and property within their own groups was very much Leftist in nature, they did not advocate these practices at the national level or seek to become involved in larger labor movements.
In Europe, however, the situation was somewhat different. While all of the above mentioned groups came to the USA from Europe, mostly from the Germanic (Protestant, and anti-Catholic Church) regions, the Left movement in Europe was of a largely different character, and by the mid 1800s Marxism had become a major factor among the European Left.
To SKIP OVER this erudite discussion of Marx, click here. (Those on the right REALLY should read this - it will likely overturn all you thought you knew about Karl Marx.)
Before getting deeper into Karl Marx's views, it's important to understand that for Marx, well educated in what was for him recent history, while Liberalism had originally branched off from the Left, it was the birth-mother of Capitalism and so he tended to conflate the two. And, indeed, our modern Neo-Liberals, such as the Clintons, are promoting unbridled Capitalism at the expense of the Left (and everyone else).
Marxism had an undeniably enormous impact on the Left during the 19th and 20th centuries.
Though many in America today associate the Left with both Marxism and "Liberalism" (this is largely due to the actions of the House Un-American Activities Committee and Joseph McCarthy in the 1950s, who accused many members of the Roosevelt and Truman administration, who called themselves Liberals, of being Communists), Marxism was actually extremely critical of Liberal society. The main focus of Marxism politically was in fact opposition to Liberalism.
Marxism is opposed to Liberal "middle-class" society, referred to by Marxists as bourgeois (pronounced boor-zhwa') society, on a variety of levels, all of which are ultimately related.
What then are the Marxist positions in opposition to Liberalism?
Fundamentally Marx, like Adam Smith, argued that all value is a product of labor and human social relations. Marx argued that value that is created in an economy is primarily the product of human beings doing work and the exchange of that work with other human beings. Other value is created by nature without human effort. From this Marx made a variety of other arguments.
Marx argued that capitalists are those who take the value that is created by workers in an unfair and unequal exchange, and that capitalists are thereby depriving workers of the value of their own labor; profits are, in effect, just a new name for the taxes once levied by the feudal aristocracy.
Marx also argued that the exchange of commodities actually represents not an exchange of objects, but a pattern of human relationships. He argued that in Liberal society the human basis of labor and creation of value is masked and disregarded in such a way that members of society become both "materialistic" and ignorant of the human cost of production, thereby alienating members of society from one another. This leads to individuals becoming self-centered, and to the objectification of themselves and others.
Marx called this commodity fetishism, and he argued that commodity fetishism led people to view value as a product of objects themselves and not as a product of labor and society. This is what Marx argued that value really was, a product of labor and social relations between people. Marx, like Adam Smith and David Ricardo before him, separated out "use-value" and "exchange-value".
Use-value is the value of an object for satisfying some want or need, for example the value of a car is that it can transport people from place to place. This value is the product of labor and/or nature. Marx based this definition of value on John Locke's and Adam Smith's definitions of value, both of whom stated that labor is the primary means by which value is created. Locke argued that value that is inherent in nature is common property since it is not created by man. All other use-value that is not inherent in nature is the product of labor, and is rightfully the property of the person who labored to create it.
Exchange-value is the value that a commodity has in a market, which is a socially created value. Exchange-value is the value that commodities are judged to have in relationship to other commodities. One basket is worth two eggs; three cows are worth a horse and wagon; a pair of shoes is worth $30, etc. In any economic exchange, use-value is resolved to exchange-value by the parties involved in the exchange.
One of the major contributions of Marx to Leftism was his support for industrial progress and modernism. Prior to Marx many Leftists saw industrialization as bad because it was that technology that was subordinating them socially, however, Marx embraced technological advance including industrialization and supported elements of capitalism as a form of progress over feudalism. Marx was instrumental in shifting the Left from being anti-industry to pro-industry. For Marx, the objective was not for workers to oppose industrialization, but rather for workers to take hold of industrialization, embrace it, and control it themselves. Marx saw Communism as the democratization of industrialization.
Marx pointed out that capitalism increased the socialization of production, i.e. the interactions and interdependencies between human beings throughout the production process. At the same time, capitalism restricted ownership of socially created value to a few. Therefore capitalists acquire unto themselves value that is created by society, and this is the key to the way in which capitalists are able to amass great wealth in a short period of time - they are accumulating socially created value that is produced by millions of people around the world.
In relation to the effects of the capitalist mode of production on society Marx stated in 1844:
We have seen what significance, given socialism, the wealth of human needs acquires, and what significance, therefore, both a new mode of production and a new object of production obtain: a new manifestation of the forces of human nature and a new enrichment of human nature.
Under private property their significance is reversed: every person speculates on creating a new need in another, so as to drive him to fresh sacrifice, to place him in a new dependence and to seduce him into a new mode of enjoyment and therefore economic ruin. Each tries to establish over the other an alien power, so as thereby to find satisfaction of his own selfish need. The increase in the quantity of objects is therefore accompanied by an extension of the realm of the alien powers to which man is subjected, and every new product represents a new potentiality of mutual swindling and mutual plundering. Man becomes ever poorer as man, his need for money becomes ever greater if he wants to master the hostile power. The power of his money declines in inverse proportion to the increase in the volume of production: that is, his neediness grows as the power of money increases.
Marx argued that in liberal capitalist societies people would increasingly relate to one another not as human beings, but instead, because of commodity fetishism, they would relate to one another through objects. Marx argued that people in capitalist society viewed one-another not from a personal basis, but instead people were viewed based on their possessions and what they owned. Marx noted that commodity fetishism resulted in people imparting a supernatural type of quality to objects and believing that commodities actually made them "a better person," or enhanced "who they were" in some fashion.
On the issue of democracy Marx was not just an advocate of democracy, but argued that it was essential that democracy be fully inclusive of everyone. During Marx's life the majority of people were not legally included in the democratic process in so-called democratic countries. Women didn't have democratic rights and the working class was largely disenfranchised from the democratic process, either officially or effectively, and of course the USA was still home to one of the largest slavery systems in the history of the world.
This is what Most Modern Right-Wing People (needlessly) FEAR about Marx
Marx argued, therefore, that the disenfranchised majority would have to seize control through revolutionary measures and institute a "democratic dictatorship." In this manner he considered a "dictatorship of the working-class" to be merely the same thing as what he considered to be the existing dictatorship of the capitalist class. He basically argued that democracy as it existed was exclusive to a certain class of people and that this represented a "class dictatorship."
He argued that the bourgeois class was able to come to power and protect its own interests by establishing a class dictatorship when it overthrew the feudal system and the powers of the aristocracy, and that the working-class would have to follow the same pattern, taking control and overthrowing the powers of the capitalist class. After the interests of the working class had been secured, then complete and total democracy should be restored, and at that time, for the first time, true democracy would exist. Marx argued that democratic concessions by the bourgeois may occur, but that they would only occur once their own class interests had been secured, thus ultimately continuing to alienate the working class.
Marx gave relatively little attention to "conservatives" of his day. This is because, for the most part, conservatives were not in power, as they had been disenfranchised by the Liberal revolutions. Religion was the area that brought Marx into the most direct conflict with "conservative" views, but Marx was quick to recognize and point out that both liberal and conservative society was based on an acceptance of religious ideology. Thus, his criticism of religion applied to both the liberal and conservative views of the time.
While some liberals were critical of religion, the Marxist view and criticism of religion was quite distinct and worthy of note in understanding the difference between Liberal, Marxist Left, and Right views on religion.
Marx was not opposed to "Christian values", in fact Marx saw Christianity as a generally positive ideology and viewed the early Christian movement as a socialist movement of its day. Marx's criticism of Christianity was not that Christian values were bad, but rather that Christianity, and all religions, were man-made constructs. Marx criticized religion not as something that had no role in society and should simply be discarded, but rather that religion played an important role in society, however since all religions were man-made and based on primitive concepts about reality, the objective was not merely to abolish religion, but rather to replace the role of religion in society with an ethical system based on philosophy and scientifically understood principles.
For this reason Marxism seems to share qualities of conservatism in some ways.
This again is where Marx was in conflict with liberal society.
In 1844 Marx wrote:
Luther, we grant, overcame bondage out of devotion by replacing it by bondage out of conviction. He shattered faith in authority because he restored the authority of faith. He turned priests into laymen because he turned laymen into priests. He freed man from outer religiosity because he made religiosity the inner man. He freed the body from chains because he enchained the heart.
But, if Protestantism was not the true solution of the problem, it was at least the true setting of it. It was no longer a case of the layman's struggle against the priest outside himself but of his struggle against his own priest inside himself, his priestly nature. And if the Protestant transformation of the German layman into priests emancipated the lay popes, the princes, with the whole of their priestly clique, the privileged and philistines, the philosophical transformation of priestly Germans into men will emancipate the people.
(Note: Some 90 years later Adolph Hitler would base his political movement on opposition to Marxism and a call for a religious revival in Germany.)
Liberal society was generally supportive of religion and called for "religious liberty", effectively embracing the idea of "equality of all religious views". The conservatives, of course, firmly supported religion, however they supported only their own religious views and did not believe in tolerance of other religions, instead supporting State-enforced religion.
The Protestant Reformation effectively represented a "liberalizing" of religion, making religion individual and personal, and it is no coincidence that the movement for Liberal Democracy and society based on individuality coincided with the Protestant Reformation.
Marx was critical of liberal society in that it still supported "idealism", which is the basis of religious belief. Marx noted that while "religious freedom" was increasing, what it was really causing was increased confusion and a lack of social cohesion, leading to the continuation of all manner of superstitious views and beliefs.
Vladimir Lenin later commented on this in 1913 writing:
The philosophy of Marxism is materialism. Throughout the modern history of Europe, and especially at the end of the eighteenth century in France, which was the scene of a decisive battle against every kind of medieval rubbish, against feudalism in institutions and ideas, materialism has proved to be the only philosophy that is consistent, true to all the teachings of natural science and hostile to superstition, bigotry, etc. The enemies of democracy therefore tried in every way to "refute," undermine and defame materialism, and advocated various forms of philosophical idealism, which always, in one way or another, amounts to an advocacy or support of religion.
Marx and Engels always defended philosophical materialism in the most determined manner and repeatedly explained the profound error of every deviation from this basis.
The problem with secular liberalism was that even if it did not support religion, it did not refute it either. While elements of secular liberal society did work towards the diminishing of religious beliefs, they failed to provide a solid philosophical replacement for religion. Marxism on the other hand, made a positive refutation of all religion and sought to replace the role of religion in society with philosophy, science, and ethics.
The Liberal position on religion was for the State to remain neutral, and neither support religion nor oppose it. The Conservative position was to use the State to support religion. The Marxist position was to use the State to oppose religion.
Throughout the 1800s the primary political conflict was between the Left and Liberalism, because the "old conservatives" had been largely vanquished and their base of power almost completely undermined. Old conservatism was rooted in theocracy and State control over the economy and society in ways that supported the wealth of the aristocracy.
Capitalism was the product of the liberal democratic revolutions, and by the late 1800s the capitalists of America and Europe were easily the most powerful members of society and thus represented the new establishment and the basis of power in society.
By the beginning of the 20th century a "new Right" was beginning to form however.
The new Right, like the old Right, was opposed to both Liberalism and the Left as well, especially Marxism.
The name for strongest element of this new Right movement was "Fascism" in Europe, and "Corporatism" in the USA, as Mussolini stated in 1932:
If it is admitted that the nineteenth century has been the century of Socialism, Liberalism and Democracy, it does not follow that the twentieth must also be the century of Liberalism, Socialism and Democracy. Political doctrines pass; peoples remain. It is to be expected that this century may be that of authority, a century of the "Right," a Fascist century.
In 1935 he went on to write:
The foundation of Fascism is the conception of the State, its character, its duty, and its aim. Fascism conceives of the State as an absolute, in comparison with which all individuals or groups are relative, only to be conceived of in their relation to the State. The "Liberal State" is not a directing force, guiding the play and development (both material and spiritual) of a collective body, but merely a force limited to the function of recording results. On the other hand, the Fascist State is itself conscious, and has itself a will and a personality - thus it may be called the "ethical" State...
The individual in the Fascist State is not annulled but rather multiplied, just in the same way that a soldier in a regiment is not diminished but rather increased by the number of his comrades. The Fascist State organizes the nation, but leaves a sufficient margin of liberty to the individual; the latter is deprived of all useless and possibly harmful freedom, but retains what is essential; the deciding power in this question cannot be the individual, but the State alone...
The Fascist State is an embodied will to power and government, the idea of force in action. According to Fascism, government is not so much a thing to be expressed in territorial or military terms as in terms of morality and spirit. It is an empire - that is to say, a nation which directly or indirectly rules other nations without the need of conquering a single square yard of territory.
Fascism cannot be said to have been a truly "conservative" movement per se, but it did incorporate elements of conservatism and it did ally itself with elements of the "old Right."
Fascism was not purely conservative because fascists embraced new technology and new ideology and the fascists (mostly) looked to the future, not the past. Instead of saying "we have to get back to the old ways," they said "we have to develop a new system." Additionally, fascism was based on capitalist economy, unlike the feudal systems of the "old Right". This is why fascism was a "new Right" movement.
It's worth adding here that fascism is the merger of state and business power, however achieved, and in both fascistic Italy and Germany, these states were so tightly bound with corporate power that Mussolini also made a number of remarks about corporations, and made a remark that translates that "corporatism is a necessary feature of the fascist state". (As an aside, but deeply related point; the ultra-rich have in the USA since WWII achieved fascism, they just try and pretend it's something else - today it's widely called "oligarchy" without any substantive complaint by the Man On The Street.)
Socialism was seen as a working-class, or under-class, movement and Liberalism was then seen to be the ideology supported by the wealthy elite class and capitalism, just as Neo-Liberalism in the USA does today.. Fascism was based on a middle-class movement and gained its initial base of support largely from middle-class workers and small business owners, people who both opposed the "Left" and also opposed the existing wealthy establishment as well. (One can suppose they really weren't aware of what they were supporting if they were opposed to the existing wealthy establishment.)
The Liberal revolutions had effectively separated the realms of Church from State and Commerce from State. That was what the Liberal revolutions were all about - eliminating the State control over commerce (feudalism and mercantilism) and State control over religion (theocracy) (or religious control over the State).
This was in many ways an indirect result of the Protestant movement. The Catholic Church was the institution that had for over 1,000 years been the central authority in Western civilization that controlled the State, and thereby controlled both commerce and religion. Even though many Protestants were conservative, they broke the Catholic system of social control, thereby facilitating liberalism.
The result of the Liberal revolutions, even in Catholic-dominated France, was that there was a massive move away from the Catholic Church, and Protestants had declared an almost ruthless war against Catholicism, many of them seeking the eventual complete abolition of the Catholic Church.
Protestant hatred of Catholicism was very profound. After all, many Protestants in the 17th and 18th centuries suffered death and persecution from the Catholic Church, and even in the 19th century the sentiment was still strong that Catholicism was not real Christianity, but in fact was a form of enslavement of mankind that twisted and abused "true Christianity."
Because of this the Catholic Church was suffering massive losses of membership throughout the 19th century and into the 20th century.
However, as the Communist and Socialist movements progressed, and as atheism became increasingly popular during the early part of the 20th century, Protestants and Catholics began to reconcile their differences and direct their energies less towards attacking each other and instead towards attacking secularism, Communism and Liberalism.
This was one of the ways in which the Fascists connected with the "old Right", because the Fascists allied with the Catholic Church and re-embraced the merger of Church and State. Under the old system, however, it was largely the Church that had power over the State, but with the "new Right" it was the State that dominated the Church. In 1929 Mussolini signed the Lateran Treaty with Pope Pius XI, which established Catholicism as the official State religion of Italy.
In 1937 Pope Pius XI wrote the Encyclical Letter On Atheistic Communism, in which he denounced Communism and any nation that would ally itself with the Soviet Union. In it he stated:
If we would explain the blind acceptance of Communism by so many thousands of workmen, we must remember that the way had been already prepared for it by the religious and moral destitution in which wage-earners had been left by liberal economics. Even on Sundays and holy days, labor-shifts were given no time to attend to their essential religious duties. No one thought of building churches within convenient distance of factories, nor of facilitating the work of the priest. On the contrary, laicism (separation of Church and State) was actively and persistently promoted, with the result that we are now reaping the fruits of the errors so often denounced by Our Predecessors and by Ourselves.
Here is it understood that "liberal economics" has its traditional meaning which is "free market capitalism".
And so, the "new Right" movement represented a re-joining of Church, State, and Commerce into what Mussolini called, the "ethical corporate State", as Mussolini, it is claimed (but I could not confirm, though the above comment is confirmed) noted:
Fascism should more appropriately be called Corporatism because it is a merger of State and corporate power.
Though the "new Right", i.e. Fascism (reemerging today as Neo-Conservatism / Neo-Liberalism), drew its base of support from the middle-class and was viewed as a middle-class movement, due to its extreme involvement in industry and its strong opposition to Communism, which was perceived as a very real threat to private wealth, Fascism quickly drew the support of many of the world's wealthy elite as well, especially during the time of its rise, which was during a global economic depression - known in the USA, of course as The Great Depression.
While the fascists continued to speak about support for the middle-class, in fact they were increasingly aligning themselves with the interests of wealthy capitalists.
This "new Right", then, (just like Clinton's New Democrats) represented cooperation between the State and private industry in ways that were mutually beneficial to both private industry and the State. In this case, State involvement in industry was not something that was done to try and help the working-class, but indeed it was the opposite: the State became a tool for protecting the interests of corporations, a situation that persists to our present day.
The major political positions have now been outlined: Liberalism, the original Right opposition to Liberalism, the Left opposition to Liberalism, and the new Right opposition to both Liberalism and the Left.
These positions form the foundation of the present political spectrum, and as you can see, there is opposition to both social and economic Liberalism from every direction.
There is a great deal of political confusion in the USA today, in part because the American view of the political spectrum is flawed.
The same thing happened in the USA after World War II that happened in Europe before World War II: The threat of Communism resulted in the Church, State, and Corporations aligning interests to support each other, and most importantly, the interests of the wealthy elite.
An American "Right" emerged that ideologically claims to support both free-market capitalism, individuality, traditional values, and Christianity. Because of the persistent opposition in American society to Soviet Communism, and because of FDR's New Deal, Americans tend to view all government involvement in commerce as "anti-business," however this is actually not the case.
Additionally, FDR proclaimed himself to be a "Liberal" and thus FDR's creation of "big government" associated the word "Liberal" in America with "big government", although "Liberal" and "big government" really have nothing at all to do with each other.
These facts combine to promote the view that "Liberals" are anti-free market capitalism, or rather that free-market capitalists are "anti-Liberal".
Furthermore the view in America is that "Liberalism" is "Leftism" - an idea that can now be understood as quite mistaken.
But of course it now has to be explained why these views are all wrong and actually mask political and economic realities.
Capitalism and Liberalism (in both the economic and social sense) go hand in hand with each other. It is the fact that people fail to understand this that makes the current "Conservative" movement in America so misdirected. Capitalism is actually the driving force behind the breakdown of all of the old bonds of society.
Many conservatives in America today believe that any government involvement in anything is some form of "Socialism", and they then support the interests of private industry to almost absurd extremes. In fact, however, government is essential for the support of the wealthy, and naturally acts to benefit the richest members of society and to facilitate economic disparity, as Adam Smith noted in The Wealth of Nations in 1776:
It is in the age of shepherds, in the second period of society, that the inequality of fortune first begins to take place, and introduces among men a degree of authority and subordination which could not possibly exist before. It thereby introduces some degree of that civil government which is indispensably necessary for its own preservation: and it seems to do this naturally, and even independent of the consideration of that necessity. The consideration of that necessity comes no doubt afterwards to contribute very much to maintain and secure that authority and subordination. The rich, in particular, are necessarily interested to support that order of things which can alone secure them in the possession of their own advantages. Men of inferior wealth combine to defend those of superior wealth in the possession of their property, in order that men of superior wealth may combine to defend them in the possession of theirs. All the inferior shepherds and herdsmen feel that the security of their own herds and flocks depends upon the security of those of the great shepherd or herdsman; that the maintenance of their lesser authority depends upon that of his greater authority, and that upon their subordination to him depends his power of keeping their inferiors in subordination to them. They constitute a sort of little nobility, who feel themselves interested to defend the property and to support the authority of their own little sovereign in order that he may be able to defend their property and to support their authority. Civil government, so far as it is instituted for the security of property, is in reality instituted for the defence of the rich against the poor, or of those who have some property against those who have none at all.
While supporting "capitalism" conservatives denounce social liberalism, yet they fail to recognize that market capitalism promotes, and benefits from, social liberalism. They support capitalism and then complain about the effects of capitalism without seeing the relationship between the two things.
Capitalism and Liberalism have always gone hand in hand, but the failure to recognize this, combined with the past 50 years of anti-Leftist sentiment in America, has resulted in American politics shifting further and further to the economic Right into the realm of Corporatism - State support for corporations and the wealthy elite at the expense of the working-class.
The result is that American politics today can be depicted as shown below in relation to the Rational Spectrum, with the pinkish area representing establishment political ideology (though it may go a bit less below the horizontal than as depicted here) at right.
American politics today is very much shifted to the Right economically and socially, yet American society in general is relatively liberal in the social sense.
"Conservative" citizens who support right-wing politicians are in fact contributing to the very problems that they are trying to oppose, and the result is that as the economics shift more and more to the Right, the social situation becomes more and more liberal. The conservatives then keep pressing more and more to the Right, thinking that that is the answer, but in fact it is not.
The fact is that social liberalism is beneficial to corporations. The more liberal that society is, the more opportunities there are for making money, without regard to the damage that may be done to others or the environment, and, as Marx stated:
Under private property... every person speculates on creating a new need in another, so as to drive him to fresh sacrifice, to place him in a new dependence and to seduce him into a new mode of enjoyment and therefore economic ruin. Each tries to establish over the other an alien power, so as thereby to find satisfaction of his own selfish need.
This is where the fundamental break between American society and religious conservatism occurs.
Most major religions, Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, and others, are based on the idea of limiting an individual's desires. Fundamentally, religious societies are typically societies where people are encouraged to control their desires and limit their possessions and worldliness.
Capitalist society, though, is based on the exact opposite of that. Despite the fact that FDR's New Deal appeared to be anti-business on its face, and despite the fact that the Keynesian economics of the post-WWII era in America relied on government intervention in the economy, this intervention was all designed to promote capitalism, and the means of doing that was through the promotion of consumerism, as the 1995 article If the GDP is Up, Why is America Down? states:
But the biggest change was in who "the people" now were. Because the Keynesian approach saw consumption as the drive train of prosperity, Washington collectively looked at the public in those terms as well. They were no longer primarily farmers, workers, businesspeople--that is, producers. Rather, they were consumers, whose spending was a solemn national duty for the purpose of warding off the return of the dreaded Depression. Our young men had marched off to war; now Americans were marching off to the malls that eventually covered the land.
This fundamental element of the American economy has gone unchanged, and in fact has only become increasingly important since the first implementation of Keynesian economics in America since the USA's industrial base has been gutted by the capitalists and their Neo-Liberal / Neo-Conservative allies. Though we now operate under the Supply-Side model of the Reagan administration, not Keynesian economics, what Reaganomics did was to amplify the role of consumerism and do away with the elements of social responsibility found in the earlier Keynesian system.
Liberalism is not Leftist, and Liberalism is not anti-capitalist. This is why it is quite obvious that places like Las Vegas are in fact both extremely liberal and extremely capitalistic. Capitalism promotes social liberalism, it always has. Corporatism (fascism) protects the interests of capitalists by using the State to regulate the economy in favor of the wealthy establishment, similar to the way that the State was used to promote the interests of the aristocracy 300 years ago prior to the liberal democratic revolutions that swept Western Civilization.
Prior to the development of capitalism the interests of the wealthy elite were protected by promoting cultures of self sacrifice and rejection of worldliness among the working classes. This is why the major organized religions of the world have this theme, because religions have generally been tools of the State to protect the interests of the establishment elite class.
However, with the development of capitalism a revolutionary new way of viewing workers came into being. Instead of seeing workers as being slave like masses that should consume as little as possible so that the fruits of their labor could instead be enjoyed by the ruling class, the consumption of goods by workers, now that an economic system had been established whereby profits from commerce were the principle means of income for the wealthy establishment, was seen as a means to fuel even more generation of profits. Because of this, the more that the masses consume, the wealthier the wealthy get because the wealthy get a "percentage" of all consumption while the Capitalists reap additional income by under-paying workers. Thus social Liberalism now favors the wealthy establishment, as opposed to the past under feudal systems of production, where social conservatism and pragmatism meant that more was "left over" at the end of the day for the wealthy to acquire when workers were satisfied by a meager and humble existence.
This is why viewing State intervention and regulation as "Leftist by definition" is completely wrong. Both Left and Right favor government intervention in both the economy and society, but for completely different reasons: the Left to protect the interests of the working-class, the Right to protect the interests of the wealthy establishment. The American "Conservative Right", the citizens that align themselves with this movement that is, are increasingly frustrated because their political efforts have little impact on society. This is because they have aligned themselves with the wealthy-elite capitalist class, i.e. the Republican Party. Capitalism, though, is the root cause of the explosion of social liberalism in America and the breakdown of traditional family structure. Thus, the more votes the "conservatives" give to the corporations, the more society moves in the opposite direction of their desires. It's worth noting that in the last three decades, the Democratic Party has moved in the same direction, though it at least - mostly "in name only" - purports to be for The People, however, it should be obvious to all non-rich that Left and Right alike need to join together to meet our common goals to improve our lives (and hopefully prevent our joining this Holocene extinction event we've initiated).
The Neo-Conservative, i.e. "new Right", movement in American politics today has long been effectively the same as the fascist movement of Europe during the 1920s and 1930s, and in the 1990s, the Democratic Party has joined them in that role. The Neo-Conservatives are embracing the use of State power to control both the economy and religion, and the use of war to expand imperial power with the intention of using the State to control and secure resources to benefit the wealthy-elite, all the while building on a middle-class appeal and creating a corporate police-state - and the Neo-Liberals are doing the same thing, but without worrying about religion.
Many people have claimed that Fascism and Communism are the same or similar, or they have characterized far Right and far Left as being the same. This is incorrect and fails to take into account the real issues, focusing instead only on the superficial.
The primary similarity between far Left and far Right is that both share, or at least claim to share, a concern for "society", whereas Liberalism places the primary importance on the individual.
Far Right and far Left, in both the economic and social sense, do share "qualities" but they are very different ideologically. Both Left and Right represent not so much opposition to each other, but rather different kinds of opposition to Liberalism.
Now, having seen the history of Left and Right politics, we can discuss how Left and Right are similar to each other and how they are different.
Far Left and far Right are similar in their qualities, in that both are restrictive and regulatory. Their criticisms of Liberalism are also often similarly focused as well. The basis of those criticisms and the goals of opposition to Liberalism are often very different however.
An excellent, though perhaps trivial, example of this is both far Right and far Left criticism of the arts.
The Nazis also favored realism, as do American conservatives. Generally speaking Liberals endorse "art for art's sake", which can include art of any kind, abstract art, cubism, etc., while non-liberals prefer realistic art that has some perceived positive or redeeming value for society.
Art that is favored by the far Left or Right tends to reflect community, hard work, courage, sacrifice, loyalty, honor, etc.
In this way, the far Left and far Right share a similarity. American conservatives today often complain about the use of federal money to pay for "Liberal" artwork such as abstract art and things of that nature.
Realism provides the observer with an interpretation of reality and conveys an idea to the observer. The interpretation of abstract art however is said to be "up to the observer". This is why it is embraced by "individualist" culture, and ultimately why abstract art thrives in modern capitalist cultures, because capitalism promotes "individuality", and this is why the far Left supports realism, because the far Left sees abstract art as ultimately being a product of, and supportive of, self-centered capitalist culture.
The Right, on the other hand, tends to view things in terms of "morality". To the Right, weird art is "immoral", body piercing is "immoral", gangster rap is "immoral". To the Right there are certain ideas that that are "bad" or "immoral" that people shouldn't think about or shouldn't express. The Left is not generally concerned from this standpoint.
To the Left, these things may be considered expressions of objectification and consumerism. From the standpoint of Left criticism, body piercing is an example of how capitalism causes people view themselves as objects and seek attention through individualistic expression because of their lack of a satisfying social bond with their community, which is caused by alienation and commodity fetishism.
Pornography is another issue where far Left and far Right agree in principle.
While it may not be fair to state that all those who are ideologically aligned with the far Right are opposed to pornography, those who call themselves conservatives generally are. The reason they often give for this, once again, is that "it's immoral" and "God says that it's wrong."
To the far Left though, pornography is an example of objectification of women and the exploitation of women as forms of capital, i.e. using women as "productive property", as well as a means to exploit the natural desires of men for profit. So again, to the far Left pornography is a symptom of a culture based on capitalism and the objectification of human beings.
For Liberals (and those not at the left and right extremes), however, pornography is perfectly acceptable, just another form of human expression, and perhaps a great way to make money.
It is important to note that the early Communist movement, in the days of Marx and Engels, was very much in favor of "free love" and a sexually open society. Expression of sexuality was never opposed and was in fact encouraged by the Marxists. However, the exploitation of sex as part of the capitalist system is what was opposed, and thus Marxists oppose both prostitution and the use of sex in advertising, etc.
One of the areas where Left and Right tend to differ from each other the most, and perhaps this is the principle that distinguishes Left from Right the most in both the social and economic sense, is on the subject of equality.
The Left, fundamentally, is based on striving for human equality, whereas the Right is either disinterested (may say positive things but not actually do anything about inequality), or dismissive of the idea of equality or downright opposed to it. The Liberal position, like the "woke" on the Right, tends to play lip service to the issue of equality without actually doing anything to promote it.
The founding fathers of America, for an example of Liberalism, played lip service to equality, yet most owned slaves.
In America those aligned with the Right have done things such as affiliate with the KKK, which actively opposed racial equality between whites and non-whites, and said things such as:
Mr. President, we southern people don't believe in no such stuff as social equality with the negroes as you are doing.
- From a letter to President Franklin Roosevelt
The Nazis obviously had a program based strongly on the idea of superiority of race and also of dictatorship of an individual ruler, whom the rest of society was obliged to follow.
Italian fascism, while less racist, was nevertheless just as strongly based on the idea of supremacy of leadership.
In contrast, as already mentioned, groups such as the Quakers and Amish were founded on the idea of equality of all of the members of the society, and were also very supportive of the rights of others, even outside of their groups. Amish and Quaker societies were, and are, organized in such a way that everyone in the society is to have an equal say in the concerns of the group and in planning on how to deal with problems that the group faces. The Quakers even took special steps in the 1700s and 1800s to ensure that women would have a stronger voice in community planning and politics.
Marxism and the Communist movement, too, are based on the idea of equality, however a number of issues have confused this subject, both historical facts and anti-Communist distortions as well. Without going into detail, because it could turn into a whole other topic, it can be said that ideologically the Left is rooted in the idea of equality, both of rights to access to material wealth and of social equality of individuals. What can be said is that the far Left justifies the use of significant force and exclusionary tactics to secure or promote equality.
One major concept about equality that is critical to understand is the difference between the Left understanding of equality and the modern Liberal concept of equality. The Left fundamentally acknowledges individual inequality, whereas modern Liberalism tends to claim that individuals are equal. Marxism does not claim that people have equal abilities, but rather that people deserve equal benefits of the fruits of society.
But one man is superior to another physically, or mentally, and supplies more labor in the same time, or can labor for a longer time; and labor, to serve as a measure, must be defined by its duration or intensity, otherwise it ceases to be a standard of measurement.
In a higher phase of communist society, after the enslaving subordination of the individual to the division of labor, and therewith also the antithesis between mental and physical labor, has vanished; after labor has become not only a means of life but life's prime want; after the productive forces have also increased with the all-around development of the individual, and all the springs of co-operative wealth flow more abundantly -- only then can the narrow horizon of bourgeois right be crossed in its entirety and society inscribe on its banners: From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs!
- Karl Marx; Critique of the Gotha Programme, 1875
The Right, however, tends to take the view that individual inequality legitimizes greater social inequality.
As stated above, a major problem in USA's political consciousness today comes from a misrepresentation of the political spectrum.
This is the result of a deliberate 75+ year effort by the ultra-rich to stem the tide of populist left Progressive policies following FDR as they absolutely hated his policies. Social Security? (It's an insurance program, not a freebie.) They've tried to kill it repeatedly. And the same with a huge number of policies that help the people. In short, if you propose a public policy that helps the every day person, Main Street, if you will, they're against it, but if you propose a public policy that helps the ultra-rich, like, say, a subsidy on fossil fuels, they love it! They want socialism for them, austerity for the rest of us.
And so it is that the ultra-rich have worked tirelessly to demonize and marginalize anything that even remotely be considered helpful to the people (generally known as Progressivism, policies traditionally considered Left), and daemons the Left itself. And one easy way to do this is to redefine words such as "Left". In modern times, for example, Neo-Liberals, who are in no way "left" as will be seen below, are now labeled as "left" to try and confuse people about what left even is. And, these neo-liberals have heinous policies hated by both the left and the right, and so the actual left gets the blame. And, it also makes it impossible to even discuss anything left because of this confusion. And, therefore, the ultra-rich have gotten the perfect solution and have removed the actual left from the dialogue nearly entirely, replaced by neo-liberals. This is a huge win for them.
... How can that be? Of COURSE the neo-liberals that love Hillary Clinton are the left - how can they not be?! I hear you asking.
Well, to understand this we must understand, first of all, what the actual definitions of left and right are by examining how they came to be and how they have changed over time.
By the way, "right' has been redefined, too, along the way. I'm aware of it, but am less certain of the details, so those of you who are on the right reading this are asked please take a moment to inform me what more I can put here about the redefinition of "right".
One of the first things that has to be done in order to properly understand the full spectrum of political ideas is to correct the popular misconception of the term "liberal" in America.
Liberal, in the classical sense of the word, simply means a "hands off", or laissez-faire, policy. The United States is classically seen as an example of "liberal democracy," though these high ideals have never exactly reflect the social reality. At the USA's founding slavery was still widespread and bigotry of all kinds was and still is part of the social consciousness, but nevertheless the American government created by the founders represented a great advance for liberalism.
America was founded on the idea that government was to play a minimal role in the affairs of society and the economy - that the job of the government was not to provide direction for society or the economy, but simply to maintain a "free environment" were the public could conduct themselves as they so chose, as long as they didn't "infringe" on the "rights" of others ("others" at that time meaning white male property owners). (It is unfortunate that they didn't actually write that into the bill of rights but it was implied.)
This is essentially the classical concept of "liberalism" - the idea of a laissez-faire approach to both economic and social policy.
Today this concept may be more often thought of as "libertarianism," but here I'm only addressing traditional liberalism because, unfortunately, "libertarianism" has new post-modern baggage associated with it that makes it not truly liberal in the classical sense. Likewise, the misuse of the term Liberal is itself part of the problem with how the USA views the political spectrum, so this needs to addressed.
The current popular concept of "Liberal" is often "Leftist" and is associated with "big government," economic regulation, progressive taxation, and progressive social policy, such as support for gay rights, unlimited free speech and Affirmative Action. (Yes, it's not Liberals but Neo-Liberals who want to "cancel" speech they don't like - more on that later.)
With the exception of gay rights and free speech, none of these other issues are actually "Liberal" policies in the classical sense. Furthermore, liberalism, in either the classical sense or the current common usage, is not "Leftist" in a full political spectrum.
Liberalism views government like a referee, whose job is to maintain a level and equal playing field for individuals, ideas, businesses and institutions. Government is not to take sides or support any given view or organization. Conservatives, socialists, and others, i.e. the "Left" and the "Right", seek to use government to promote certain agendas, viewpoints, institutions, and interests.
This is critical to understand if one is to understand the political landscape of post 1900 USA..
During the 17th and 18th century Liberalism was, of course, opposed by the major feudal establishments: the aristocracy and the clergy. The Liberal movement embodied the movement for the overthrow of aristocracy and the establishment of secular representative government with separation of Church and State. Capitalism was also directly related to Liberalism, as businessmen sought to do away with the feudal systems of economic control, such as mercantilism, family ownership of land rights, and oppressive taxation used to fund the living expenses of royalty.
During the late 19th and early 20th century Liberalism came under attack from all sides, both Left and Right. Though "conservatives" continued to oppose Liberalism all along, "conservative" opposition to Liberalism was rapidly diminishing throughout the 19th century.
In fact, the hard-line positions of many of the old "traditionalists," such as the Catholic Church (as shown above), were leading to an even more rapid movement away from traditional positions.
It is quite unlawful to demand, defend, or to grant unconditional freedom of thought, or speech, of writing or worship, as if these were so many rights given by nature to man.
-Pope Leo XIII, "Great Encyclical Letters" 1888
During the 1800s, though, "Leftist" opposition to Liberalism gained increasing support. Leftist opposition to Liberalism was embodied primarily in socialist movements, such as the Anarchist, Socialist and Communist movements.
There were (and are) many "flavors" of socialist ideology that oppose liberalism, all of which are critical of laissez-faire capitalism. They generally consider laissez-faire capitalism to foster corruption, to be unstable, to be exploitive, and to lead to social decay and degradation.
By the early 20th century a new "Right-wing" criticism of liberalism began to form as well, this being fascism. Like socialism, fascism is critical of liberalism, but fascism takes many opposing positions to socialism in its criticism of liberalism.
Thus, by the middle of the 20th century both the "Left" and "Right" had formed new and powerful opposition to Liberalism. But this was to change.
Late in the 20th century, a split began to form with the election of William Jefferson Clinton in 1992. While Democrat, the champion of left politics and policies since at least Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Clinton called himself a New Democrat. He took up the policies of the right-wing Republicans he'd just replaced and, while having a few minor liberal social policies such as on abortion and gay rights, he actually followed a very conservative, right-wing, anti-left, anti-liberal agenda that served the needs of the ultra-rich quite well while selling-out the working people of the nation. He proved his not-Left bona-fides by eliminating a program called Welfare which was a hallmark of The War On Poverty initiated decades earlier, and created a classroom to prison pipeline for minorities. His NAFTA agreement worked to sell out working class jobs by the millions and opening up China by granting that nation permanent Most Favored Nation trading status would, over the coming decades gut the USA of its industrial strength, leaving it a hollow shell by comparison. Thus, in the ensuing decades, a huge fraction of the nation has moved into poverty unimaginable in the 1960s.
As this happened, the majority of the followers and supporters of Clinton and the Democratic Party gradually became right-wingers, unconcerned with the issues of the Left such addressing poverty with work. These supporters tend to be wealthier, upper-middle-class, unfamiliar with the plight of people poorer than themselves - and so unconcerned about them, as the Left has traditionally been. Meanwhile, as Hillary Clinton notably stated about the Left during her 2016 run for the Presidency, "Where are they going to go?" - meaning that the Left would have to vote for her because voting for a Republican would be unthinkable and, of course, completely dismissing that many might either vote "third party" or simply not vote. And so, many Left people felt completely left out of politics - a condition that was really true since the assassination of Bobby Kennedy in '68, reinforced by the massive failure of McGovern in '72 - but felt they had to vote for "the lesser evil." Notably, this marks a huge success for the ultra-rich. Indeed, the Left has had no place to go to be represented in politics and that's exactly what the ultra-rich have been after since FDR.
Yet more helpful to the agenda of the ultra-rich, the supporters of Hillary Clinton and the modern Democratic Party have continued on believing that they're Left because they're not Republicans, having no exposure to the original meanings of "Left" and having no particular concern for working people and those less well off than themselves. And, rather than focus on their self-described "Left" moniker, they are decidedly liberal minded on many topics, but have also picked up some authoritarian views that the Left and traditional Liberals would not condone, such as creating something the ultra-rich desperately want, "cancel culture." These people are the Neo-Liberals; they're not Left, they're not Right, and they're not really Liberal, either. While that term has a much earlier origin and started with a different meaning, today in the USA it's an apt label for those who are uninterested in the economic plight of their fellow man - "Main Street" and working-class - but who claim deep interest in helping "everyone be equal" via a behavior termed Social Justice Warriorism. While the Left and Liberals are strong advocates of Social Justice, Social Justice Warriors attack people they feel are doing something they don't like in ways that neither Leftists nor classical Liberals would condone.
In a related matter, Neo-Liberals are also often advocates of Critical Race Theory who consider themselves "woke." This theory was created with good intentions, but its modern adherents are often irrational or at least bad strategists as they refuse to engage in discussion with others to try and advance their cause. The effort is, in my view, doomed to failure and whatever progress is made on the racial justice front will have to be done by led by Leftists and perhaps some Liberals. Notably, many on the Right support racial justice but are offended by the articulations of the Neo-Liberals about it who tend to attack them, and again, the Neo-Liberals are harming their own cause.
As noted, the linear left vs right dichotomy is rather limiting. Yet, it would be nice to have a means of summarizing political positions. Others have put a lot of work in to this. The following examples are far from a complete list but are the ones the author is aware of and which he feels are worthy of some attention, though neither is fully satisfactory.
The Political Compass uses a grid based on the axies seen at right.
At the Political Compass web site, which this author thinks is a bit challenging to navigate, one can find a lot of materials including a survey list of questions one can take to find one's own location on the grid, and including the political positions of a lot of important people from history.
Where the author falls on this grid may be seen at the image at the top of this article. Numerically, his values are (zero is on the grid lines separating the quadrants, negative values are either below or to the left, depending on the axis):
Economic Left/Right: -9.25
Social Libertarian/Authoritarian: -8.56
It's not a bad system at all. However, for a critique, it's recommended to see The Rational Spectrum's web page cited below.
The Rational Spectrum
I hereby credit The Rational Spectrum with appreciation for a bit of the materials used in this article. In particular, this page was rather helpful
The Rational System uses a grid as well, and actually borrows from the Political Compass quite considerably, but each quadrant is further bifurcated into vertically oriented bands which further divide the left v right continuum with various shades of socialism vs corporatism and with the vertical (y) axis posed as a reorientation of the horizontal (x) axis but this time showing a continuum regarding ... umm ... I'm not quite sure! However, it appears to put FOUR copies of the Political Compass grid, one in each quadrant, with one quadrant unchanged, two flipped - inverted - along either axis and one flipped along both axies.
Notably, this work separates out liberalism in the center. As traditional liberalism is neither left nor right (nor is it Centrism) (see the historical section for more about how it is that traditional liberalism isn't either right or left), I find this interesting that the creator(s) put it in the center. ...It's better than nothing if one creating a two dimensional graph, as it has to go somewhere.
I think this system is interesting but unworkable.
That work also cites the Nolan Chart
which I think is also interesting but less helpful than the Rational System work. It sees the political landscape based on what I believe to be propagandized definitional terms. Here are two charts from that system:
Note how liberalism and "left" are conflated to be in the same region. This is a significant error which is pointed out in the Origin and Evolution section.
It also combines authoritarianism and populism, ignoring non-authoritarian populism - the populism of the left as exemplified by, for example, Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
And, it brings up the chimaera of the supposed Centrist which really does not and indeed in the USA cannot ever be pinned down to what such an individual adherent believes.
The above are two of the more popular representations of the Nolan Chart. As mentioned before, this spectrum lumps Communism and Fascism together as being virtually the same. One of the biggest problems with the Nolan political spectrum is that it still presents a "Liberal vs. Conservative" and/or "Authoritarian vs. Libertarian (freedom loving)" dichotomy. The Nolan system presents Libertarianism as a pinnacle of "liberty" and places "Libertarianism" at the peak of the chart, representing the combination of both social and economic liberty. The use of the terms "Conservative" and "Liberal" are highly problematic in themselves. There can in fact be conservative Leftists. Actually there are many ways in which "Leftism" is conservative and there are many types of Left ideology that are held by conservatives, such as the Amish for example. Even Marxism is an arguably conservative ideology. Additionally, this political analysis only reinforces the improper view of the term Liberal. In truth the terms Libertarian and Liberal have to be synonymous on this spectrum. Libertarian ideology is laissez-faire, and Liberal means, and has classically been understood politically to mean, laissez-faire.
Both the Political Compass and Nolan systems present the same fallacy, and project similar wrong ideas. Those wrong ideas being that one side, "Left" or "Right", represents "freedom" or "lack of restrictions", while the other represents "control" or "regulation." The Political Compass system also labels economic left as "Collectivism" and economic right as "Libertarianism".
This is not the case though. Benito Mussolini's fascism offers the perfect example of why these systems fail to properly depict the real political spectrum. Mussolini was clearly right-wing in both the economic and social sense, and at the same time none of his policies can be considered "libertarian" in nature. Likewise, it leads to the incorrect characterization of "Fascism" and "Communism" as being similar or the same, when in fact the Fascists and Communists disagreed on virtually every point, aside from the fact that they both opposed Liberalism.
Both Political Compass and the Nolan system take a false dichotomy and simply double the number of axis used to represent the same false dichotomy. They both make use of the concept of "freedom" and present one side as representing freedom, while the other represents complete lack of freedom, but this entire scheme is misrepresentative and trivializes the actual ideologies and positions.
In the Political Compass system for example, "Liberalism" in the classic sense is represented by the lower right corner, what they call "Libertarian Right."
By contrast, on the Rational Spectrum system both Left and Right represent divergence from Liberalism. While the far social Left and far social Right are both depicted as authoritarian in my spectrum, they are on opposite ends of the spectrums, where they represent ideas, not practices. Elements of the far Left and far Right, Communism and Fascism for example, may share similar qualities but they do not share similar ideologies nor similar objectives or views of what they would create as a future society.
The Political Compass system can be thought of as a "folded up" version of the Rational Spectrum. By "unfolding" the Political Compass as shown below, you get an idea of how these two spectrums relate. In the "unfolded" spectrum below, the terms "Left" and "Right" from the original spectrum no longer hold their meaning. The word "Right" can be replaced with "laissez-faire", while the word "Left" can be replaced with "regulated". The word "Libertarian" should be replaced with the word "Liberal".
Effectively, the other two systems, the Nolan system and Political Compass system, only measure degrees of regulation, however this is insufficient, because it really tells you nothing about what is being regulated, the reasoning behind the regulations, or the intended goal. They also make the incorrect assertion that "regulations" and "freedom" are inherently contradictory, while this is not really true - it all depends on the nature and execution of the regulations.
For example, regulations that prevent slavery increase freedom. Rules and regulations are not by definition restrictive on the whole, as their net effect can be to facilitate liberty. For example, by having traffic lights we can regulate traffic in a way to reduce congestion and accidents, therefore the rules actually facilitate freedom of travel, they don't restrict it.
By referring to Left and Right purely in terms of laissez-faire vs. authoritarian, things like regulations preventing racism and regulations enforcing racism with equal degrees cannot be properly depicted. However, if we consider racism to be an issue that can be viewed in terms of Left and Right, and we view anti-racist ideology as "Leftist" and racist ideology as "Rightist", then strict regulation of racism, either to prevent it or promote it, can be shown as authoritarian Left and Right policy accordingly, while policy that takes no stance on racism at all is simply Liberal. Thus Affirmative Action is seen not as a "Liberal" program, but as a socially Leftist program that is "Left of Liberal." Likewise, the Nazi use of the State to enforce racial genocide is obviously not "Liberal" or even Leftist, it's an example of the authoritarian Right.
Obviously, in this case, both Affirmative Action and the Holocaust are examples of the use of State authority to regulate matters of race. According to both the Political Compass and the Nolan Chart these two policies would have to be lumped together on their political spectrums, which plainly makes no sense.
Likewise, by viewing Left and Right as progressive vs. conservative it insinuates that "Rightist" policy is about "keeping things the same" and "Leftist" policy is about "change," however this ultimately makes no sense either. Keeping things the same as what? There are thousands of different examples of ideology from the past and this would imply that today's "Leftist" is tomorrow's "Rightist" such that the positions are based on tradition and not ideology. For example, when applying this terminology to the former Soviet Union during the 1980s the Communist hard-liners were viewed as "conservative," but obviously "conservative" in this sense didn't mean "members of the Christian Coalition," it meant Stalinist.
So, the two axies Progressive vs. Conservative and Liberal vs. Authoritarian do not accurately describe "Left vs. Right."
How then are Left and Right to be viewed? What makes ideology Leftist or Rightist? That's where the Origin and Evolution discussion above comes in.