A Short Primer on Political Left & the Political Right
How they Differ, and what They Share
Liberal capitalism, and its neoliberal successor or development, has never proceeded without facing principled criticisms from both the Left and Right.
It is important to understand what divides these criticisms, as well as what unites them. For a great deal of political life, and many political arguments, are predicated on misunderstandings, which are sometimes unwitting, and sometimes willful.
Moreover, some agents who benefit from the confusion suggest that there is no difference at all between the opposing modern political poles. This is not true, and the core difference always concerns the idea of equality.
From the Left, there has been from shortly after 1789 the activism of workers’ movements. These claimed a greater share in the social product in exchange for their productive labor. Together with other citizens’ groups, they also advocated for forms of social insurance against illness and unemployment, and the improvement of working conditions for ordinary people.
Then there have been forms of feminism, demanding the inclusion of women in the franchise, and greater equality between the sexes in the social and economic spheres. More recently, the Leftist aim to secure the preconditions for leading good lives for all has seen the emergence of new social movements based on race and sexuality.
The primary value of the Left is “equality” — albeit that like “freedom”, this word by itself is open to many competing understandings (equality of dignity, opportunity, worth, value, desert, wealth, conditions …)
Not everyone on the left is a Marxist or even a “neo-Marxist”, where the “neo” is unscientifically vague. This claim has as much accuracy as saying that everyone on the Right is a “fascist”, and we should treat it with the same caution. It is facile, and multiplies confusions.
We see the truth of this in the US, where until yesterday, the Left was dubbed by its foes “liberal”. This label accurately captures the progressive side to the liberal tradition, which was developed in thinkers like T.H. Green into conceptions of “social liberalism” which justify social welfare, and a conception…