The Roots of Left vs. Right Ideologies
June 15, 2009 · Posted in Philosophy
Right wing and left wing movements, when viewed from a public policy angle, may appear utterly inconsistent and contradictory. Right wing movements nowadays appear and/or profess to favor little government involvement in financial affairs, but don’t seem to be too keen on civil liberties or a smaller military. Left wing movements appear to focus on civil liberties, and a more humble military, while supporting government intervention in financial affairs.
How, may one ask, does this make any sense?
Well, none of the above definitions actually look at the root of these ideologies which in my opinion are rather emotional inclinations more than anything else. I recently posted a comment to The confusion between right and left which explains it:
Left vs. Right Ideologies
But left vs. right ideology emerges from emotional tendencies and then guides one’s political actions and decisions. Whether one leans toward one or the other rather seems to be rooted in one’s childhood upbringing, and the role that authority figures have played in one’s life. Thus it needs to be analyzed as such:
Left wing sentiment is rooted in the feeling of guilt and a resulting pity for weakness. As a corollary that means pity for the poor, pity for minorities, pity for the elderly and the disabled, etc. This naturally means that left ideas oppose power and strength as an end in itself (but not necessarily as a means to ends that satisfy their pity for the weak). It also means that left wingers have a high tolerance for the notion of surrendering one’s body to earthly pleasures, which most people consider a weakness. One could reasonably argue that left wing thinking, as a tendency, is the projection of a rather maternal upbringing, mostly stressing instincts that prevail on the female side rather than the male side, such as caring, kindness, forgiveness, weakness, dependency. These are attributes that go way back to the beginnings of the human species and while they are becoming less and less relevant on a practical level in today’s advanced world, they still play a role in the psychology of the human mind. (This is not to generalize, just to point out general psychological tendencies in the different genders of the human species, of course always duly accounting for exceptions to the rule.)
Right wing sentiment is rooted in the feeling of fear and the admiration of strength as a perceived necessity to combat it. As a corollary this means admiration of military and the glorious nation state. It also comes with a high relevance assigned to strength through discipline and the rejection or at least a curbing of indulgence in earthly pleasures. At times it may be expedient for right wingers to pull the “fiscal discipline” card, just another corollary of the idea of discipline in the minds of many people. Right wing sentiment leads, as a tendency, to a rejection of protection for the weak and/or minorities, and a general animosity to indulgence and pleasures. One could reasonably argue that right wing thinking, as a tendency, is the projection of a rather paternal upbringing, mostly stressing instincts that prevail on the male side rather than the female side, such as strength, discipline, order, and independence.
Important: What I am pointing out above are the extreme ends of the spectrum. Moderate left and right ideas can be placed anywhere between those two extremes.
Now, whether one supports state control of the economy depends on one’s premises. If the overall mood is such that the economy should be regulated to curb the actions of the powerful successful industrial tycoons, for the supposed benefit of the weak and poor workers, then a leftist ideology is rather likely to support such policies, while a right wing one would lean toward rejecting it. (It is certainly fair to compare the current mood with this scenario.)
If, however, the mood is such that the currently powerful and rich have attained their status by state means, and that free markets enable poor people to rise to the ranks of wealthy ones, then a leftist ideology may actually favor less government involvement while right wingers may support the opposite. (This scenario can be more or less compared to the mindset that generally prevailed during The Age of Enlightenment and arguably during the founding days of the United States.)
Nor do left and right wing ideas have their roots in conservatism vs. progressivism. The left wingers of the Cuban revolution are today referred to as conservatives because they want to keep the current system in place. The same applies to virtually all radical subversive left wing movements that tried to establish a socialist or theocratic utopia.
My point being, left and right ideologies first and foremost emerge out of emotional considerations. How their supporters stand on specific matters of public policy largely depends on the overall conditions and mood that prevails in public opinion.
(Non-political) Libertarianism is completely indifferent to right or left wing ideologies. It doesn’t need emotions to justify its proposals. Its method rests on logic and evidence, and as a result the recognition of universal human rights derived from consistent and universal ethics. It is in its fundamentals not a pre-conceived ideology, but a scientific world view. A libertarian will endorse changes to his views wherever one convinces him on logical grounds. He will never cling to creeds for their own sake or to merely manage his anxiety about existing societal problems. He views them as a means to attain a better society.
Libertarianism is to economics and politics what Galileo’s theories were to geology, what Einstein’s Theory of Relativity was to physics, or what Darwin’s discoveries were to biology. It really has nothing at all to do with political ideologies.
While the right wing ideologue will oppose leftist welfare proposals on the grounds that they are “liberal bleeding heart socialist” ideas, the libertarian will simply point out that he, too, shares the objective of lifting the poor out of their current predicaments and helping them enter the ranks of the middle class, but that the leftist proposals will actually accomplish the exact opposite of the desired outcomes.
While the left wing ideologue will oppose right wing militaristic ventures on the grounds that they are harmful to the many weak nations we occupy, the libertarian will argue that he shares the objective of having a strong defense, but that spreading militarism across the globe will actually weaken your security, harm your troops, and attain the opposite of the ends sought.
It is hard to tell how long it will take for all the false ideas that still prevail in economic and societal matters to be rejected by the majority. But whoever truly opens up his mind, sets aside emotional and preconceived notions, and begins approaching important questions from first principle, will never again listen to the proponents of those false ideas the way he used to.