Left, Right: What Really Matters
I have used the term, “The Left” on my blog innumerable times to denote, as a whole, the post-colonial, anti-Western, pro-Islam column in the non-Muslim world. The term serves as a shorthand, but I am slightly uncomfortable with it. The division of politics into “Left” and “Right” is simplistic, not in that it does not reflect an existing polarity, but in that it gives the impression that there is only one polarity, and a mutually exclusive one at that.
The terms have been a catch-all for political opposites ever since it was coined after the seating of the opposing factions of the French Revolution. The polarities the terms denote are real; however, they are of more than one kind, and there is no preventing one person from being a right-winger in one area and a left-winger in another. This has some startling ramifications for the current global conflict. Here is a partial view of the areas in which the Left/Right dichotomy is expressed:
- Economics: “Left” stands for the view that the state should intervene in the economy for the sake of economic equality of the citizenry; “Right” favors a free market.
- Social values: “Left” stands for the view that social values are each person’s own business, and that deviation from, or entire replacement of, traditional values should be permitted; “Right” stands for the view that traditional social values are healthy to society and should be upheld by law for the public good.
- Foreign policy: “Left” stands for intervention for the sake of international interests and against intervention for the sake of purely national ones; “Right” stands for the opposite of that. However, this distinction can be inverted depending on the situation, as the Iraq affair shows.
- Relation of the individual to the group: “Left” stands for being for the collective good in order for the individual to benefit, “Right” for individual freedom in order for the collective to benefit; again, as above, the situation at hand can easily invert this.
Already from this very brief outline, one can see how perceptual this whole “Left vs. Right” distinction is. A political science major would tell you it should be avoided altogether if we aim for any exactitude. So why do I write about it at all? Because, as most people know well, perception matters in this day, in an age when the public image can bring governments to back down from sane steps all because of “what the polls will say”.
Granting, despite its problematic nature, the usefulness of the Left/Right dichotomy, it does not cover (even perceptually) another, very important, issue: liberalism (in the original sense of the word) versus authoritarianism. Here the Left/Right dichotomy cannot be applied at all, for this polarity is disjoint from all the others. At most, it can be said that those who lean far to one of the sides tend to be authoritarians (Far Left, Far Right). “Fascism” is not synonymous with “Right”, and “Communism” is authoritarian not because it is left-wing but because it is Far Left.
I will exemplify all this political terminology on myself:
- Economics: probably a centrist, advocating either center-left (Keynes) or center-right (Hayek) positions according to the best fit, never far left (Communism) or far right (unbridled capitalism) policies.
- Social values: right-wing (conservative), as in, for example, “Marriage = One Man + One Woman”, and so on.
- Foreign policy: the folks at Daily Kos would without hesitation call me a right-winger, seeing as I stand for the national interests of Israel (Zionism), yet my calls for worldwide resistance to Islamic imperialism and my writings attempting to instill native self-confidence among guilt-ridden, self-flagellating citizens of the West would, according to the perceived tendency, ironically make me a left-winger (while they, with their now prevalent “America First” sentiment, would be right-wingers)!
- Relation of the individual to the group: probably right-wing, as I oppose state-based collectivism; and yet, I reject the “every man for himself” type of individualism, especially in our critical time.
Once again, contradiction and lack of clarity are justifiable charges. If they are made, then I could say I have succeeded in showing how perceptual and incomplete the Left/Right dichotomy is. Lastly, on the other axis, that of liberalism versus authoritarianism, I’m for liberalism, of course. Although I believe in the Orthodox Jewish vision of G-d’s kingdom at the End of Days, I reject the idea of it being established as an earthly theocracy by human beings, for human beings cannot be trusted to stay uncorrupted by absolute power until G-d converts their hearts as foretold at the very end of His prophecies. (The present State of Israel is only “the beginning of [the Jews’] salvation”, not the real thing itself.)
All this so far has been, surprising as it may sound, just the groundwork for the heart of the matter: the relation between the perceived “Left” of today, the perceived “Right” of today, liberalism, authoritarianism, dovishness, hawkishness and, above all, Islam.
Where does Islam stand on this political compass? I will reiterate the areas:
- Economics: no conclusive verdict; apart from almsgiving and the prohibition of usury, a wide range of economic views can exist under it. The same is true for Judaism, by the way.
- Social values: extremely conservative, so far as to mandate the suppression of even thinking about opposing the social norms laid down by it. Far, very far, Right.
- Foreign policy: intervention for the sake of international ideals, represented by Islamic law (the law for all mankind, according to Islamic belief), is an obligation unto every Muslim. Far Left.
- Relation of the individual to the group: the collective (ummah) good is highest, the expectation for every good Muslim being to sacrifice even his life for it (hence British Muslims doing jihad in Somalia), and deviation regarded as treason and punished by death. Far Left.
From the above it is clear that, on the second axis, Islam is authoritarian. It shares this, fascism, with the previous two threats to the liberal world. Communism could be placed clearly in the Far Left. National socialism was Far Right in its intervention for national interests, a mixture of Left and Right in social values (social conservatism in some issues, “destroying the old order” in others), and economically center-Left (Keynesian; Hitler and Roosevelt employed similar economic policies in response to the Great Depression). In all those three forms of fascism, the Left/Right dichotomy can be seen to be of little importance in comparison to the authoritarianism. Each of them have a different basis for their authoritarianism—racist ideology in the case of Nazism, class warfare in the case of Communism, religious supremacism in the case of Islam—but all are illiberal and, furthermore, expansionist, having the whole world as their goal.
Anyone who stands for liberal values cannot possibly sympathize with, let alone support, Islam. The fact that so many left-wingers, even non-Marxists, do so is, I might surmise, because of the overemphasis on the Left/Right dichotomy and its details. If Leftism consists in opposing intervention for the sake of national interests, and the current right-wing government is thought to be doing just that, then left-wingers rush to support the Muslims as part of their ideology of internationalism. If Leftism consists in standing for individual choice of lifestyle, and in repudiating criticisms and value-judgments of unusual lifestyle, and the right-wingers (called “Christofascists” in the USA in that context) are perceived to be pushing for outlawing non-traditional and heterodox lifestyles and practices, then left-wingers support Islam as a lifestyle choice just as they support homosexual civil unions. This consideration, of “The enemy of my enemy is my friend”, trumps all others and blinds a good deal (and growing) of the left-wingers, even the truly liberal, anti-Marxist ones, to the grave threat that the religion-based strain of fascism poses to them as well as to the right-wingers.
The Left/Right distraction, if not removed soon, could be the downfall of the West. It is the other axis, that of liberalism versus authoritarianism, that should be emphasized now.