When you think of “Left” and “Right” politics , what do you think? Those terms originated during the French Revolution, when the National Assembly was divided by supporters of the King to his right, and supporters of the revolution to his left. Since then, “Left” has signified change, progress, revolution, reformation and transformation of society, while “Right” has signified order, stability and status quo preservation. Since the default for societies in the West have been pyramid structured class hierarchies and moral order defined on Abrahamic terms, the Right has typically been the realm for those who wish to maintain this order while the Left has attempted to upend it.
These different psychological impulses find themselves everywhere. Every multi-party nation has parties that reflect liberal and conservative values and economics. Liberals have been shown to have a higher level of open-mindedness, conservatives more cautiousness and fear. Nurturing altruism vs paternalistic self-reliance are values built into individual personality types as well as across sections of societies, reflected in the psychological values of the parties. Even though Left and Right were coined in the late 18th century, we can see this pattern as far back as the Romans, who had a two party system of Populares (liberals) and Optimates (conservatives.)
Of course, any beneficiaries of a status quo will by nature seek to preserve the order that they benefit from, and those getting the short end of the stick are likely to want to subvert it for their benefit. So, historically, since the French Revolution, the Left has been the ideology of the working class, the proletariat, the “common person,” while the Right has been the realm of big business, banking and aristocracy. Since Right is about preservation of order, the common people are also typically Right wing when they are highly religious. In Marx’s analysis, the ‘opiate’ of religion and the ‘false consciousness’ of the working class who internalize their masters’ values are what prevent the numerically advantaged Left from victory.
On these terms, the Left sees the Right as exploiters and slave drivers, while the Right sees the Left as subversive degenerates. To the classic Right wing mind, Abrahamic morality is the social glue for a ‘correct’ society and the hierarchies that society has known for generations are the result of “natural order.” The Left, to them, aim to corrode this moral fabric and natural order. Where the Left perceives wealth redistribution as fair given that wealth’s initial accumulation being dependent on conquest and exploitation, the Right perceives it as being born from envy and immoral drive to mooch off the ‘more deserving.’
This, in a nutshell is the “classic” Left-Right divide. This is the unadulterated, “Platonic” definition of these terms. Therefore, as we look to American history, the big landowners, the wealthy, the business magnates- these all tended towards parties defined as Right wing, while the working class, the disenfranchised, the Unions and so on, tended towards the Left.
But everything has changed now. Look at American politics in 2020. Many working class people vote Republican, while many rich people vote Democrat. Those working class people see the Democrats as the party of the “elite,” the liberal, Hollywood, academic elite, while Trump (a billionaire member of the financial elite) in their minds, is a champion of “the little guy.” In the meantime, multi-billion multi-national corporations cater to ‘liberal values’ by launching pro LGBT campaigns, and many Wall St. executives and super rich celebrities are donors to the Democratic Party. Working class Right wingers rail against the monopolies in Big Tech, and in deeper rabbit holes, accuse the Left as being responsible for the “satanic elite pedophile rings” while the Right and particularly Trump, are perceived as the bastion of moral opposition to them.
Once upon a recent time, the Right promoted free trade and railed against deficits. Today, they promote protectionism and crickets are heard regarding Trump’s increased deficits.
Once upon a time, the Left railed against illegal immigration exemplified when César Chavez himself fought against it, as he was trying to elevate the wages of the union workers he was representing, arguing that a large flow of cheaper imported labor would put downward pressure on working class wages -which was perceived as desirable to big business but not workers themselves- which is why the Koch Brothers are supporters of it.
In 1963, the Left wing Martin Luther King gave his iconic I Have a Dream speech, where he envisioned a society where people would be “judged not by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” Today, there are attempts once again at segregation- this time, instead of from a top-down imposition by a Right wing government, it’s self-imposed by self-identifying Leftists- hardly not the universalist, communitarian, Left wing agenda of not judging by skin color that MLK proposed.
Once upon a time, “free speech” was the Left wing idea that subversive, radical ideas should not be suppressed by a conservative state. Today, it’s the Right wing idea that conservative opinions that hurt liberals’ feelings should not be suppressed by liberal censorship and safe spaces. Once upon a time, “political correctness” was the bastion of polite, conservative society, not allowing anything too radical to be uttered. Today, it’s the bastion of liberals unwilling to confront uncomfortable topics- and are hence under a false Right wing consciousness- why? because political correctness is the perfect tool for global capitalism to sanitize and appeal to the broadest possible audience to maximize sales. In order to tell truth to power, you must be politically incorrect.
Philosopher Karl Popper explained the notion of the Tolerance Paradox, which states that “if a society is tolerant without limit, its ability to be tolerant is eventually seized or destroyed by the intolerant.“ Karl Popper described it as the seemingly paradoxical idea that, “In order to maintain a tolerant society, the society must be intolerant of intolerance.”
Once upon a time, the Left was a bastion of secular, humanist values, railing against the moral legitimacy of Abrahamic doctrines, promoting science and reason. Subjugation of women and homosexuals, especially on religious grounds, was seen as an emanation of oppressive patriarchal Right wing thinking. This is why the Church and the Left have historically had such a contentious relationship. The Church saw the liberalizing attitudes towards women and homosexuals as degeneracy, while the Left saw it as liberation for the oppressed. This is why the Left vehemently fought for years for gay rights against pushback from the religious Right. Now, all this has been forgotten in regards to the third Abrahamic religion. Malala Yousafzai, almost murdered for being a woman desiring an education, or Ayaan Hirsi Ali, victim of genital mutilation cry out to the liberal West with stories of oppression by Right wing conservative hands, and cognitive dissonance responds. Instead, other Right wingers in the West, who covertly claim “my Right wing conservatism is better than your Right wing conservatism” are the only open criticizers. All the while, the pseudo-Left fights for gay rights with one hand while shutting down critique of LGBT oppression by an Abrahamic religion with the other- a cognitive dissonance of the false compatibility between pussy hats and hijabs. Instead, modern pseudo-Left liberals claim these critiques to be “racist,” instead of critical of a Right wing conservative ideology- insulting the black and brown gays and apostates that have been persecuted and murdered- abandoned by their supposed liberal allies in the West.
What’s going on here? If what’s Left or Right has a 100% range and can become its own opposite in one generation, this means that these labels have lost all meaning. “Platonic” Left and “Platonic” Right are no longer aligned with today’s pseudo- “Left” and “Right” if the former defend divisive identity politics, conservative religious ideologies and comfortable middle class lifestyle values over working class values, and the latter are increasingly working class and up in arms against “the elite.”
How Did This Happen?
The Left was true to itself up until the 1950’s. Then, its legacy in the U.S. was that of labor movements, progressivism, and the New Deal. It rallied against the interests of the big banks for the interests of the working class. It fought for women’s suffrage, workplace rights, higher wages and monopoly busting. This is when the Left was about class interests.
Then, a pivotal mutation occurred with the advent of Beatniks, Hippies and Punks- now, lifestyle and culture began to start defining the Left. Most crucially, the Left shifted from being about the communal to being about the individual. From Jacobins, to Communists to Progressives to New Deal Democrats- the traditional Left, however far on the spectrum they were, were always defined by solidarity and the collective. Now, individualist Leftism arrived, which, while it was a protest against “The Man” and conservative values, was nonetheless defined by the primacy of individual expression and sovereignty.
Individualism is, in its very DNA, a Right wing concept. Historically, the individualism of kings, potentates and oligarchs were at odds with the collectivism of plebeians and workers. The former drew their power from their access to resources and cultural legitimization and the latter gained their power from their ability to unify their greater numbers in solidarity- a back and forth class tension that the philosopher Hegel called the “Master-Slave Dialectic.” The culture of “the individual,” which individually benefits private elites already at the top of the pyramid, was traditionally counter-revolutionary.
The 1960’s saw the “Left” wing individualism of the hippie movement, as individual self-expression against the system began to erode notions of class solidarity, combining culturally with Right-wing individualism in the era of Ayn Rand and Murray Rothbard. These two individualisms fused and became modern Neoliberalism and Cultural Capitalism, whose result was champagne socialist, avocado-toast lifestyle-liberal Democrats who “individually expressed themselves” via the capitalist brands they consumed. Under Democrats, Wall St. would be deregulated and bailed out, and multi-billion dollar corporations would launch politically-correct ad campaigns catering to liberal values. All the while, income inequality would ceaselessly climb.
Therefore, the mid to late-century “individualist” lifestyle mutation of “Leftism” was ultimately a subversive one for class solidarity, ultimately leading to its current intellectual dishonesty and inversion of its very soul. Rather than being focused on uniting an entire economic class, it is focused on Identity Politics- in other words- the crypto-Right wing concept that divides the 99% against itself.
Humanity faces an epidemic- the epidemic of narcissism that has been intensified by social media. Enter the culture of liberal virtue signalling- posting selfies with thoughts and prayers and anti-Trump status updates, all for the not-so concealed purpose of giving followers a vacuous press-release on how ‘woke’ they are, yet with actual group organizing conspicuously absent.
Hippies railed against “The Man,” which was conceived of as a conservative state establishment. Today, the Left can only find itself anew if it rails against the actual “Man”- the corporate, advertising, marketing complex that instills a false consciousness of consumerism into modern liberals. As long as mainstream “Left” are divided by race, divided by their social-media induced narcissism, smug and elitist against the working class, cognitively dissonant regarding their incompatibility with reactionary, conservative religions, and valuing political correctness over speaking truth to power, then they will be a broken, fractured shadow- a liberal pseudo-Left which has abandoned solidarity and progress.
To restate, comfortable middle and upper-class liberal values, not class solidarity define the Democratic party base. The mass of working-class people in the country who do not culturally share Democratic bourgeois values are considered ‘deplorable’. Unity of the 99% has been subverted by this trend. Super-rich celebrities flock to the Democratic Party- and factory workers flock to the Republican Party.
Now, working class people who hate the elite consider themselves Right wingers. Who are their most conspicuous targets? Capitalist billionaires George Soros and Bill Gates. Jefferey Epstein and the elite ring of pedophilia he is associated with, is railed against by the Right as part of the liberal elite, exemplified most by involvement of Hollywood celebrities and people like Bill Clinton. This side too, like the Left, has been inverted by false consciousness. The irony is epic in scale that their hero Donald Trump is a billionaire member of the elite himself, an inheritor of wealth and a predatory capitalist.
So, middle and upper class bourgeois liberals despise much of the working class, and conservative, Right wing working class despise the elite. It’s the Twilight Zone! “Platonic” Leftism has made its way into the working class, anti-elite sentiment of the modern “Right” and “Platonic” Rightism has made its way into the bourgeois identity politics of the modern “Left.”
As I’ve written elsewhere, America’s political party system is about to have an overdue political party realignment. That part is simply the outward, systemic realignment. The true realignment needs to be a sociocultural and psychological one. If the political parties realign along the same pseudo-Left-Right paradigm, it will only be a superficial rearrangement. Only once the Left discovers its anti-elite, class solidarity and humanist roots, and once the working class, anti-elite “Right” can be courted once more into their Left wing roots, will progress be made. So long as Wall St., big corporate interests and Old Money lord over a pseudo-”Left” that bickers among themselves horizontally rather than uniting to look up vertically, progress will be halted.
Let’s go back to our roots and sit once more to the left of the King- Let’s trade in inter-class bickering and narcissistic elitism for solidarity, unity and social progress- only these will move us forward in these trying times.