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February 22, 2005

Comments

Aziz

the falsity of that dichotomy is exactly what I have been trying to address over at Dean Nation. Do stop by if you have time and lend your voice to the comments - and I'd really be interested in a guest post from you on this topic as well. What specific issues close to your heart can you articulate a position that transcends the L-R divide? Id be very interested in knowing.

Andrew

The "left" and "right" in American politics are also to some extent coalitional. Obviously there are lots of people who believe in both deregulation and anti-sodomy laws, but the Republican Party is also to some extent made up of economic libertarians and religious conservatives who see their own pet cause as important enough to compromise on their other policy preferences. (i.e., a pro-deregulation person who thinks deregulation is so important that it's okay to join forces with the religious right if that will accomplish the goal, even if they personally don't like anti-sodomy laws).

Abiola Lapite

"Do stop by if you have time and lend your voice to the comments - and I'd really be interested in a guest post from you on this topic as well."

Will do, sir.

"the Republican Party is also to some extent made up of economic libertarians and religious conservatives who see their own pet cause as important enough to compromise on their other policy preferences."

Those people I can understand: the ones I have problems with are those who combine a resolute belief in freedom of the individual in one arena with a vehement opposition to individual liberty in another, a belief system I find difficult to imagine anyone plausibly rationalizing.

It seems to me at least that what really happens is that people either inherit their political identification from their parents like tribal markers, or they have one particular issue which drives them into the arms of one party in particular; only afterwards do they then take on the rest of the political coalition's beliefs as if it were there own, and then in an unthinking manner, mostly as a matter of proving (to themselves and others) their membership in the club.

Andrew

"the ones I have problems with are those who combine a resolute belief in freedom of the individual in one arena with a vehement opposition to individual liberty in another, a belief system I find difficult to imagine anyone plausibly rationalizing."

I guess a lot of people don't frame their beliefs in terms of a liberty v. non-liberty dichotomy. For example, a Republican might be against progressive taxation because people who earn money "deserve" to keep it because they worked hard, but be for anti-sodomy laws because people who have "sinful sex" don't "deserve" to have equal rights. Or, a Democrat might be against anti-sodomy laws because it's not "fair" to discriminate against gay people, but be for progressive taxation because it's not "fair" for poor people to have to pay as much in taxes are rich people (proportionally) insofar as rich people can afford to give up more money than poor people.

So liberty is not necessarily the fundamental value for structuring one's political beliefs - many people use social justice, desert, equality, or self-interest... I can see that you disagree with non-liberty based philosophies but I would hesitate to say they are totally implausible...

Jim

Politics must be the only field where people tolerate this binary nonsense.

Can you imagine anyone really describing their religious affiliation in Protestant versus Catholic terms? (Anymore, that is.)
Are you Protestant? Umm, no, Orthodox - or - Umm, do you mean Calvinist or Lutheran? Or Baptist?
Well, Shaiva, actually.

How much is the survival of the Left-Right dichotomy just a historical artifact of two-party systems in the English-speaking world? Britain has more than two parties of course, but Labour and the Conservatives seem to get all the air.

Andrew

The left-right dichotomy is not dependent on a two-party system. Weimar Germany had no fewer than 7 major parties, all arrayed (pretty neatly) along a left-right spectrum (Communist, Social Democratic, Democratic, Center/Catholic, People's, National People's, and the infamous National Socialist German Workers' Party).

Jim

Andrew,
That example is valid. Then there must be some underlying basis to the split. It may be that although Germany had seven parties, the main conflict or opposition was between two sides, workers' parties and the synthesis of capitalists and aristocrats that Bismark perfected. Maybe in the 1850s the left-right dichotomy would have fallen between aristocrats and capitalists. So where the split falls in this or that society depends on whatever conflict is hottest at the time, but it doesn't describe the real ideological/ political divisions in the whole society. That has always been the case in the US, where the Dixiecrat demographic has moved from the Democrats to the Republicans without altering their core ideology. Yes, they have abandoned racial segregation because it was a losing fight, but they still talk as if they think the Yankees are forever trying to push modernity down thier throats.

Jim

Come to think of it, the Nazis are a good example of why the left-right dichotomy has a very limited descriptive power. For a while at Harry's Place there was a (heated)discussion over the extent to which the National Socialists were socialist, and they really did show a lot of the markings. They appealed to reactionary sentiment in the population and certainly delivered on that, but they also were obviously utopian.

Andrew

Re Nazi utopianism - but that just shows that utopianism is a feature of extreme ideologies on both the right and the left.

Meanwhile, let's not forget the Nazis declared total ideological and physical warfare on Bolshevism. That fact alone demonstrates the strength of the left-right spectrum.

To say that the socialist part of National Socialism shows that the left-right distinction is mostly unhelpful is, I think, to confuse leftist socialism / "social democracy" with corporatism. So yes, National Socialism included collectivism, price fixing, planned economy. But this was corporatism in a completely different direction from social democracy.

A comparative approach: in the 1930s in Europe, liberal (ie free-market) economic policy survived only in Britain, France and Switzerland. Elsewhere, the pressures of the depression and a strong working class movement were the death blow to liberal economics, leading to corporatism (planned economy by collective bargaining). In Scandinavia, the working class ended up in power and installed social democracy. In Germany and Italy, the middle class repressed the working class and installed fascism. In each case, you ended up with a political economy where prices and wages were set by collective bargaining/fixing between the government, unions, and businesses. Yet, obviously, social democracy was on the left and fascism was on the right, because of the huge difference in the balance of power between the three players.

Nicholas Weininger

Andrew, you say:

"Meanwhile, let's not forget the Nazis declared total ideological and physical warfare on Bolshevism. That fact alone demonstrates the strength of the left-right spectrum."

Yeah, but the Stalinists in their time also declared total ideological and physical warfare on Trotskyism. Which one of those groups was the right-wing one?

radek

Andrew:

"In Germany and Italy, the middle class repressed the working class and installed fascism."

I'd quibble with that account of history - I think you're trying to make the facts fit the mold of the right-left ideological spectrum rather than let them serve as evidence as to whether it is a meaningful concept.

(One always sees this - if there's a "Socialist Revolution" then it must be a "Worker's Revolution" even if its run by mostly lawyers, doctors and intellectuals. If there's a "Fascist Coup" then it always means that it's run by the capitalist even if it is carried out by, say the army, which is composed mostly of working class elements)

In both Germany and Italy the regimes that came into place had fairly broad support that cut accross class (though, in Germany at least, obviously not ethnicity or religion). In Germany, the workers became more radicalized over time - but this meant that they abandoned the moderate Social Democrats or CHDecs and went to either the communists or the nazis (which led to the nazis's victory since SDs lost enough to cease being majority and communists won too little to matter - they weren't numerous enough to begin with). But that doesn't say anything about whether the commies and the nazis were on the opposite ends of some ideological line (perhaps a circle is better?) or were merely two different factions of the extreme left, or that they were um,..., just two crazy parties that didn't (don't) fit neat categorizations.

"Nazis declared total ideological and physical warfare on Bolshevism"

That doesn't address the issue either. Once you get out into the extreme ideological la-la land your worst your enemy is often the person who thinks most like you, but who has the nerve to "deviate" by an iota. (Same is often true for religion. Often the worst enemies of the Protestants during the Reformation were other Protestants).

Anyway, personally I think that thinking in terms of left-right can be useful but only in certain cases - I'm perfectly happy to say that the Jacobins were far left, the Gerondists far to moderate left, the liberals (National Party) center, the "Royalist democrats" moderate right and monarchists far right. But, um, I don't think you can go much farther than that.

Andrew

"In both Germany and Italy the regimes that came into place had fairly broad support that cut accross class (though, in Germany at least, obviously not ethnicity or religion)."

In Germany, this is actually not true. As the Nazis steadily gained more votes from 1928-1932, they eroded the support among the various conservative and "bourgeois liberal" parties. But they never eroded support for the Social Democratic Party or the Catholic/Center party. In other words, the urban working class and Catholics never really supported the Nazis (until the dictatorship and propaganda started obviously), at least not to the extent that the upper and middle classes did.

Andrew

"(One always sees this - if there's a "Socialist Revolution" then it must be a "Worker's Revolution" even if its run by mostly lawyers, doctors and intellectuals. If there's a "Fascist Coup" then it always means that it's run by the capitalist even if it is carried out by, say the army, which is composed mostly of working class elements)"

Even if the Social Democratic Party was run by intellectuals (which it was to some extent), it derived most of its support from the urban working class. And in Germany, the army was not composed mostly of working class elements, but was still heavily influenced by revanchist anti-republicans. It is, in fact, true that the Nazis derived most of their electoral support from the lower middle class (petty bourgeois, white collar workers, farmers, etc.), with upper classes joining in support closer to 1933. (Notably, the Nazis were not the party of big-time industrialists and capitalists, until very close to 1933.)

"Once you get out into the extreme ideological la-la land your worst your enemy is often the person who thinks most like you, but who has the nerve to "deviate" by an iota."

Well, let me rephrase. The Nazi war on communism was the most extreme outcome of the party's hatred of "the left" - think rounding up Germany's Social Democrats and sending them to concentration camps, sending money to fight the Socialists in Spain, hating the Weimar republic, etc. They were fighting a war against a broad group of people with diverse values like republicanism, empowering the urban working class, not hating Jews, etc. It's pretty clear to me that these are not mere ideological quibbles like the difference between homoousis and homoiousis.

Jim

What Radek said. The nastier the fight the more alike the opponents probably are, if they are fighting for the same ecological niche.

"To say that the socialist part of National Socialism shows that the left-right distinction is mostly unhelpful is, I think, to confuse leftist socialism / "social democracy" with corporatism. "

The difference between leftist socilaism and coroporatism is superficial. Beneath a veneer of different terminologies they have the same structure and the same functioning. In both there is a managerial class, typically drawn from the same social and economic background. This managerial class is impervious to penetration from working class individuals, aside from tokenism.

Modern European socialism, from a distance at least, resembles European feudalism pretty closely especially as it morphed into State Capitalism. There is the same sense that there is supposed to be an almost pastoral relationship between the government and its people, in the degree of supervision that people tolerate from their governments and the degree of care and provision that they expect. That is a classic sign of a feudal relationship.

The obvious difference is that this new system is meritocratic rather than hereditary. ENarchs run France and their equivalents do the same in Germany and maybe also in Britain. Well, Europe is finally managing to get to the level of political development as Imperial China under the Han. Mao still called the supposedly meritocratic Imperial bureaucrcy feudal.

Andrew is right about the opposition between the Army and the Nazis. It got so bad that Hitler needed the Waffen SS as a counterbalance.

His point about the ideological differences is good as far as it goes. The Nazis capitalized on a reaction to the experience of modernity and its supposed proponents, Bolsheviks and Jews, and promised a return to some mythical, wonderful German past, when in fact the utopia they were promising was as non-traditional and ahistorical as what the Bolsheviks offered. This is a difference in packaging, not substance.

And when either Bolsheviks or Nazis got into power, they used all the same methods - rounding people up for concentration camps, consolidating control over industrial production, getting absolute control over education and youth programs, co-opting or destroying whatever Church there was, but either way neutralizing it, and on and on.

Andrew

"The difference between leftist socilaism and coroporatism is superficial."

At least in the 1930s incarnations of social democracy and fascism, there were not just superficial differences. In both cases, the government, trade unions, and businesses would get together to fix wages, prices, etc. But under Scandinavian social democracy, trade unions and the government (controlled by the political parties of the trade unions) held the upper hand. Under German/Italian fascism, the government and businesses held the upper hand - independent trade unions were crushed and transformed into organs of the party/state. That's a pretty profound difference and does actually speak to a difference between left and right.

"And when either Bolsheviks or Nazis got into power, they used all the same methods"

The grouping of communism and Nazism under the common heading "totalitarianism" is definitely useful, but only to a certain point. The terror in Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union in the 1930's was not equivalent. In Germany, if you were what was defined as a law-abiding "good German" (rabidly anti-semitic, attending all the right meetings, joining the right groups, toeing the ideological line, of "pure blood," etc.), you would be pretty safe; the terror was directed against well-defined outgroups (Jews, socialists, etc.). Whereas Stalin's purges and show trials were much less predictable. Nazism actually had a quite high basis in popular consent - terror by consent, if you will. Hitler was very sensitive to public opinion; Stalin was not so much. (Obviously this is not to deny that Nazi Germany was a brutal dictatorship - it's just that a lot of Germans implicitly consented to its policies.)

Jim

Andrew,
The comment contrasting Scandinavian SD arrangements are really valid and apposite. Another obvious difference is the complete absence of personality cults in Scandinavia - and no wonder.

Your point about the difference between Nazi and Soviet style is also very valid. Germans won't stand for much randomness of any kind and especially when the Nazis were peddling security, it wasn't going to happen. Terror by consent is a very apt description. It is a nasty side of human nature. Even if only in a very mild form, it is a feature of communitarian and utopian societies - the Massachussetts Bay Colony and Utah come to mind.

Stalin was also fairly popular - still is, really. Random and unpredictable as his repression was, it was aimed mostly at people who had always been targets in Russia, so that was normal and acceptable. Of course he crushed some peasants along the way. What good ruler doesn't, right?.....battered people think like battered spouses - a violent spouse is the only sure protection against worse threats.

This isn't just a trite discussion of the evils of collectivism. These are problems with utopianism and vanguard parties. The reason the discussion is important is that Marxist and other utopian solutions still have an attraction for a lot of people. identifying where the pitfalls are is important.

radek

"In Germany, this is actually not true"

Yes it is. Some years ago I went to a conference where I saw a paper presented by and made friends with this German guy who basically wrote his PhD disseration on the 1932 election. He did a thorough study, district by distric, village by village in order to understand how the NSDP got into power. His basic finding was that the Nazis captured the voters of ALL parties, except the Catholic one(you're right about this one), but including the SDs. That's why the SDs lost so badly in 1932 - a fourth of their electorate went commie, and a fourth went nazi.
So I'm rellying on my friends research in saying this (though it's been a few years since we've communicated) and some other stuff I've read. If you have a source which says otherwise, I'd be happy to look at it.

Andrew

"That's why the SDs lost so badly in 1932 - a fourth of their electorate went commie, and a fourth went nazi."

You're right about that part, but it hardly shows that the Nazis had "broad support" from the urban working class (after all, 1/4 of the SPD went even farther away on the ideological spectrum from the NSDAP). Certainly, when compared to the other major constituencies in the German electorate (especially the lower middle class, but by the 1932 election also much of the upper classes as well), the working classes were not big supporters of the NSDAP at all.

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