The Illusion of Left and Right – Part 2

The Modern Landscape

In The Illusion of Left And Right we discovered that the terms “Left” and “Right” in politics came from the French Revolution. One important takeaway from that is that those who seek to preserve the status quo are on the Right, and those who seek radical change are on the Left. 

So how well does this principle of conservation vs. change fit with the modern view of Left and the Right? Not very well. This is a simplistic depiction of how many perceive the political spectrum today:

A common view of the political spectrum today.
A common view of the political spectrum today.

The first thing you should notice is that the Nazis are shown on the right along with Republicans and Conservatives. Does that make sense?

The goal of the historical German Nazis was to radically change the society of the Weimar Republic. They accomplished that by taking Germany from a democracy to an absolute totalitarian government where one’s only justification for existence was to serve the state and the Führer. The desire for radical change is a trademark of the Left.

Compare that to the Conservatives in the above diagram. Conservatives, among other things, want to conserve the principles of the United States Constitution with limited government power and protection of individual rights. There is a huge divide between the views of the Founders of the United States who created a government with intentionally limited power and the Nazis who created a ruthless, totalitarian regime.

The Communists, indisputably on the Left, also created a totalitarian government just as ruthless and murderous as the Nazis. By those standards we ought to take the Nazis in the diagram above and put them on the Left right next to the Communists (where they truly belong).

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The Illusion of Left And Right

What goes where?

You probably think that politics can be neatly divided into two sides. There is the Left and there is the Right. Everything has to fit in somewhere on that line. You probably think there is some clear and logical principle that will tell you where to put every political persuasion on that line.

A simple political spectrum

A lot of people do see it that way. 

The reality though is that things are not that simple. The reality of human thought and political belief can’t be captured on a single one-dimensional line. There are many dimensions by which we can measure political persuasions. 

Before we look at those other dimensions we need to understand where this one came from. It is a surprisingly simple story.

Left & Right came from where people sat.

The terms “Left” and “Right” in politics came from where people sat in the French National Assembly leading up to the French Revolution in 1789. Those who supported the rights and privileges of the King, the aristocracy, and the clergy were on the right of the president  (the “Right Wing”). Those who were on the left (the “Left Wing”), angered by those same privileges for the elite sought to establish a more egalitarian society. 

That happened over two centuries ago. So how did that work out? 

It didn’t end well.

Not very well actually. The First Republic dates to 1792. In 1793 they executed King Louis XVI. The dictatorship of the Committee of Public Safety and the Reign of Terror soon followed with some 17,000 public executions. As many as 10,000 died in prison without a trial. Historians don’t agree on the count in the Vendee Genocide, numbers ranging from tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands. After interminable turmoil, Napoleon Bonaparte took control in 1799, and was declared Emperor in 1804. This led to the Napoleonic Wars that finally ended in 1815 with the final defeat of Napoleon.

The French Revolution started out with the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen. It ended with a bloodbath, dictatorship, and wars that decimated France and Europe. 

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E PLURIBUS UNUM – ONE FROM MANY

E PLURIBUS UNUM” is a Latin inscription on the Great Seal of the United States. It means “ONE FROM MANY.” This was one of those ideas that made America great; a land of one people united under the founding principles of liberty and freedom enshrined in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States.

 

The Great Seal of the United States
The Great Seal was adopted by an Act of Congress in 1782 and for most of American history was the unofficial motto of the United States.

It is a fact of history that Americans have not always lived up perfectly to those ideals. They were in fact difficult ideals to live up to. The vast span of human history is a witness that few had ever – before America – either understood or attempted to live up to these high ideals. Americans paid a heavy price for their failures. Over 2 million men in the Union Army died in the Civil War to end slavery in the United States.

Once upon a time people came to America for an opportunity to work and create a better life for themselves and their families. They expected to earn that new and better life through their own hard work and perseverance. For immigrants arriving in America in the 18th and 19th century America was an opportunity, not an entitlement.

One from many” was truly one of the ideas that made America great. If we want to make America great again then we need to focus on uniting, not on dividing. No matter our race, sex, or where our families may have come from in the past, or done to each other in the past, we are all Americans now. That is something that we as Americans have every right to  be proud of.

However one political party in America is doing everything it can to divide Americans into rival tribes, not to make America great, but to consolidate political power. The Left in general and the Democrats in particular have for some time been preaching Identity Politics where the principle is to divide Americans over claims of grievance and entitlement. If they had a Latin motto it would be “EX UNO PLURES,” meaning, “MANY OUT OF ONE.

In the Identity Politics of the Left your value as a person does not depend on what you have accomplished in life. In Identity Politics your value and worth as a person depends on the color of your skin, or your gender identity, or your national origin, or how you like to practice sex. It sets blacks against whites, gays against straights, and women against men.

The Left first divides people along lines of identity and grievance and then unites them under the umbrella of a political platform that promises entitlements and revenge against the perceived oppressors. Perhaps that is why so many on the Left get so angry over the phrase “Make America Great Again”? They perceive, correctly I think, that if we actually solved many of the problems in America while making it great again they would lose their hold on political power.

That makes me wonder whether the Left really wants to solve problems? Somehow I don’t think so. Their agenda is to keep people divided and angry at each other. That is where their power comes from.  They are simply practicing a very old tactic in politics, the tactic of “divide and conquer.”

As people who are still proud to be Americans we need to do just the opposite. We need to work to unite. “E PLURIBUS UNIM” should be our guiding principle.

© 2018 Lawrence W. Kennon. All Rights Reserved.