What's Left and What's Right
Left, Liberal and Conservative Values
It is absurd that our confrontational politics insist on
It is absurd that our attacks on the faults of each -ism and
social movement are not accompanied by also considering what could be
taken from each and valued.
Let us say that the Left stands
'from each according to his ability, to each according
to his needs'. This has Judeo-Christian fore-runners in calls for
social justice, and using talents to serve others, and the
fundamental equality and value of man (generic) as all children of
God - but practices and prophets have also been strongly secular.
Democracy has Greek and Roman origins, although for these ancient
classics, male citizens were more equal than the hoi polloi. But the
Left does tend to say, "We are a community" and to be pretty keen
about responsibilities. The far Left abhors capitalism because it can
let loose individual greed at
the cost of the community, and attacks the State because it protects
Let us say that Liberal and
emphasise the rights of the individual, particularly
the rights to achieve and to property. This emphasis on the
individual also has Judeo-Christian roots - most other societies and
religions have emphasised hierarchies and keeping one's place and
submission to Fate, however that may be deified. But the quest for
individual salvation and justification is straight from the New
Tawney's 'Religion and the Rise of Capitalism' and the Weber
thesis shows how the Protestant Reformation with its emphasis on
individual decision and action by conscience and its other
individualist religious concepts developed into concepts of work and
personal justification that gave Protestant Western Europe a
tremendous push into the industrial age.
On the Right,
the constellation of Conservative values has been
about keeping what is best of the old things - including preservation
of property and the status quo. The constellation of Liberal values
has been to emphasise Liberty - liberty of speech, liberty to do
one's own thing, and 'who dare meddle wi' me'. Here again in both
Liberalism and Conservatism there are roots in Christian teaching and
in Roman law and in Greek democracy, and in the old Anglo-Saxon ways
of running things as well.
But the far Right emphasises the rights of
the individual against the State, and the right of the individual to
fight the State and anyone else with arms and anything else, in
defence of those rights. The less government the better. As with the
far Left, the modern State is the enemy.The liberal goal of the full human being was 'life, liberty and
the pursuit of happiness', as a cultured, civilised, tolerant citizen
of the world.
The great liberal economic, political and social
philosophers also emphasised reason, and toleration, and the
classical Greek values of 'nothing too much'. The Greeks viewed
excess as madness, and 'whom the gods destroy, they first make mad.
Excess is a modern goal now, but it has not always been a goal of the
philosophical right. Desire to amass money far beyond needs is not a
value of the Left. Neither should it be regarded as Right.
Today we have Liberal governments that are not liberal with
freedom and Conservative governments that tear down more than they
build and Labor governments that betray the workers.
To redress the balance of the
Left with the values of the Right should not be to
emphasise the Right's value on property and lack of regulation, but
rather, to recognise the individual's right to achieve and to speak
freely and to be enterprising, and the conservative value of reform
rather than revolution, and of valuing and keeping what is best in
In all things our seeds have come from the past - which is one
reason why stopping the study of history is dangerous. Loss of memory
can condemn us to go round in failing circles, instead of being able
to discriminate what to keep, what to discard and what needs
inventing for the future.
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