Some concepts are so commonplace that we rarely spend any time evaluating them, taking them for granted. Human beings spent centuries converting carbon dioxide into oxygen without ever understanding the complexities of their respiratory system. How many apples were seen falling from trees before Sir Isaac Newton discovered gravity? Why is water unquestionably more important than diamonds, yet unquestionably less expensive (if you are curious it’s because of the economic law of diminishing marginal utility.)
An example of this phenomenon in political science is the concept of a political “right” and a political “left”. Fascism, we are told, is a “far-right ideology” while socialism and communism are “far-left”. George W. Bush is “right-wing” while Barack Obama is “left wing”. If Sarah Palin is a “far right” politician, what does that make Ron Paul? Is prohibition “left-wing” or “right-wing”? What is the “right-wing” position on civil rights? The clarity of definition is needed.
Where did the notion of a political right and left come from? The French Revolution. It was first during the National Assembly where those in favor of conserving the monarchy arranged themselves on the physical right while those in favor of revolution were moved to the left. This division would remain as the Legislative Assembly replaced the National Assembly in 1791. This alignment of French politicians established the political spectrum: reactionaries on the right, revolutionaries on the left, moderates in the center.
While France and her European neighbors were countries founded upon monarchy, state-religion and nationalism, America was founded on liberalism (of the classical variety, today referred to as libertarianism) - it is important to understand the consequences of this difference. By changing the political foundation of a country, you change the political spectrum of the country. George Washington is a revolutionary figure in Europe, but a reactionary figure in American history. Therefore an American conservative and a European conservative are of two very different ideologies.
While the French Right would go on to support the reactionary causes such as a return to monarchy and re-establishment of the Roman Catholic Church, it would be nonsensical to connect these beliefs to the American Right. Likewise it would be similarly nonsensical to arbitrarily connect the position of a certain modern political party to a side on this timeless political spectrum; it is the position an individual or party takes that places them to the left or right. If the Republican Party tomorrow advocated the establishment of Christianity as a state religion, this would be a revolutionary act and a violent rejection of the wishes of America’s Founders.
While Marxist socialism has failed when implemented, Karl Marx is still arguably the most influential philosopher of modern academia. This point is made quite clear whenever one finds an intellectual who views political or economic matters in terms of “class”. Sociologist Robert Maclver in his book The Web of Government wrote:
The right is always the party sector associated with the interests of the upper or dominant classes, the left the sector expressive of the lower economic or social classes, and the center that of the middle classes. Historically this criterion seems acceptable. The conservative right has defended entrenched prerogatives, privileges and powers; the left has attacked them. The right has been more favorable to the aristocratic position, to the hierarchy of birth or of wealth; the left has fought for the equalization of advantage or of opportunity, for the claims of the less advantaged.
It is quite easy to point out the failure of this position. Constitutionalist Ron Paul, for example, has been the most vocal critic of the Federal Reserve in modern American politics; one of his major criticisms of the reserve was its providing unchecked power to bankers and politicians in American fiscal policy. Deregulation of industry, considered a “far-right” position, empowers consumers at the expense of politicians, bureaucrats and corporations. Unless one wishes to attempt to label the Tea Party as a “far-left movement”, this is an indefensible definition of the spectrum.
So is President Bush, a man who bailed out the banks, advocated for an increased Federal role in education, and a large advocate of international welfare a right-wing President? Is fascism a right-wing ideology, in the American sense? (National Socialism was a return to the policies of Otto von Bismark, which is why it was even considered right-wing in a German sense.) Is it reactionary to kill abortion doctors?
I think the issue of Gay Marriage provides an interesting view of the right-left spectrum. Are progressives, who are advocating against a Christian bias in government, on the right of this issue? No. Progressives don’t simply want equal treatment, but want to use government to elevate a homosexual relationship to the same level as a heterosexual relationship – an attempt at social engineering. Conservatives (and I use the term in it’s modern usage), similarly want to use government to keep homosexual relationships lower than their heterosexual counterparts, typically grounded on a religious position. This too, I contend, is not a right-wing approach.
The problem, a true American classical liberal would say, is the role of the State in the process.
The reactionary position would be for the government to get out of the institution of marriage entirely. Instead of marriages, which should be between a couple and God, a civil union would be a contract between two sovereign individuals and their government. What’s the difference? To illustrate I will point to the Golden Girls. The sit-com placed three widows and a divorce into a house that became a pseudo-family. The relationships were all platonic, and neither of them would have had interest in marrying another. What they would have had interest in, however, is securing similar familiar rights for occasions such as hospital visitation and financial matters. Blanche should have been able to have a civil union with Rose, with all the benefits and liabilities a contract like that would secure. A civil union would be a documented mutual legal agreement between two sovereign individuals.
This solution retains the philosophy of self-governance advocated by the Fathers, is religiously value-free, and serves to eliminate any attempt (be it progressive or Christian) at social engineering.
I have come to consider the 20th Century to be a Dark Age of Western Civilization; a return to the statist collectivism champions of liberty thought the Enlightenment destroyed. The 1900’s saw the perversion of such key concepts as liberalism and individual rights, best demonstrated with FDR’s Second Bill of Rights. The irony of today’s divide between conservatives and liberals is that neither side is conservative or liberal - it is only a libertarian (not to be confused with a Libertarian) that can intellectually claim to be either an American conservative or a classical liberal. For most of the 20th Century, America has had the choice, not between right and left, but of a traditionalist progressive or a secular progressive. Let’s not allow the same to be said of this century.