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Kontos Column: Looking at the political concept of “Left” vs. “Right”

By Dan Kontos

So, with politics so prevalent and in the forefront of 2020, we often hear the terms “left” vs. “right” to help define ideological thinking. We are called to imagine a one-dimensional spectrum—similar to a ruler, where, in this nation, the Republicans are on the right and the Democrats are on the left. 

Politics, like all human relationships, are far more complicated than that. In no fashion can you adequately model all of the intricacies and complications of the political world, which is more akin to a sphere of interactions than a simple ruler. However, since the legacy media and political conversations persist in using this simplified model, we need to look at this in some depth to try and understand what is happening.

We need to start with a little history of the origins of these terms. With a hat-tip to Mr. Peabody, it’s time to step into the Way Back Machine. The traditional narrative brings us to a post-French revolutionary war in the summer of 1789. Then, members of the French National Assembly met to craft a new constitution. The members of the Assembly were deeply divided over the degree of authority that King Louis XVI should have in this new democratic monarchy. 

The two main factions gathered in the great assembly hall. To the left of the President sat the classical liberals (not to be confused with modern liberals) consisting mostly of anti-royalists and revolutionaries, committed to the principles of liberty, individual and property rights, laissez-faire, and limited government. Seated to the right were the supporters of the monarchy, high ranking clerics of the Catholic Church, large landholders, and aristocrats, who supported an expansive government with sweeping powers, limited individual rights, centralized control over the economy and trade, and subordinate individual rights to the power of the Crown.

In the contemporary western world, we have come to flip the terms, where we have developed a liberal progressive “left” and a traditional conservative “right.”  But what does this mean in modern terms? To explore this properly, we have to look past the labels and generally associated political parties. To truly appreciate the differing ends of the spectrum, we must look at what they champion as goals and beliefs, and how this looks in modern history.

The left generally espouses the value of an expansive and strong central government, preferring national solutions to federalism, globalism over nationalism, and comprehensive authority when it comes to the individual. With another hat-tip, this time to Mr. Spock, you might say that the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few. They believe in higher taxes using redistribution of wealth to meet “socio-economic justice” goals.  Wealth and private property are often considered gluttony and an afront to what is fair to the have-nots – who rely on the government to protect them. Remember the line, “From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs?” 

The Constitution is seen generally as an impediment to achieving the greater goals of society; considering it a “charter of negative liberties.” They believe that judges should work for a fair outcome and rule using their inherent wisdom, and the Constitution is a living document to be interpreted according to current community values. Generally, the end justifies the means. If taken to its extreme, the far-left wing supports socialism.

A modern example of an extreme left nation includes China, now ruled by the Chinese Communist Party, which is in fact a socialist nation – as the term communist turns out to be more aspirational than actually achievable. They believe in those things I have listed above, including a centralized government that devalues the individual. Other examples include Venezuela, Cuba, and Laos.

In the mid-20th century, another extreme example is WWII Germany, ruled by the National Socialist Party, otherwise known as the Nazi party. Now before your head explodes, I am not equating the bulk of the left with Nazis; that’s ridiculous. What I am pointing out is that the popularly pushed narrative that the Nazis were a right-wing fascist regime is incorrect. Looking at their methodology, they actually pursued many of the goals of the left, which again includes a centralized government that devalues the individual. While they never pursued the socialist Marxist-oriented ends, and even purged socialists from their ranks, this reveals one of the many flaws in the traditional one-dimensional model. Their methods and tactics prove this out.

The right generally champions individual liberties over the authority of an expanding government. To them, the Constitution outlines what the federal government can do, albeit in a limited form, reserving those rights and authorities not listed for the states and the people. Federalism and home rule are important aspects of American life. 

They believe in private property, see the accumulation of wealth as a sign of success which is to be respected, and believe in that old French doctrine of laissez-faire. They believe in American exceptionalism, and want to save, or “conserve” (as in being a conservative), their rights and freedoms as laid out in the Constitution. The right also believes that the Constitution should be the bedrock of American law, with only constructionists and contextualists taking the bench. The concept of an extreme far-right nation is a bit of an oxymoron, as that part of the spectrum tends to fragment into tribalism, rather than coalescing around a national flag.

For a modern example of an extreme right-wing organization, you can look to the self-created militias, espousing a distrust of the government and preparing themselves for the inevitable fight. Additionally, people such as Cliven Bundy show the lengths that individuals will go to in opposing what they see as government overreach and oppression.

What about the anarchists? Where do they fall? This shows another reason that the traditional left-right model does not work well. If anarchists believe in the abolition of all government, you would think that this means they are far-right, but they fight for the left. How can this be? Well, because instead of a one-dimensional model, we see that things begin to look more like a two-dimensional ring, where if you go too far right, you actually move to the left, and too far left becomes the right. As I stated before, I prefer a collection of rings as a model that all form a three-dimensional sphere, or a globe-shaped model. 

I’m trying to keep it simple, but I know, politics is complicated. Thank goodness you have me, right? My point is that we should strive to live our lives based on principles and goals, rather than teams and “sides.”  Put the labels aside, and decide for yourself what is best for you and your family. What can I say? We live in a complex world.

I hope this made you think, and perhaps you even learned a little something. Our discussions and debates help spark understanding and ultimately respect. Free speech is a hallmark of our nation, and a key component in a civilized society. Expect more of this from me in the future. Until then, God bless.

Dan Kontos is a paid columnist for the Metro Wire. He chooses his own topics and his opinions do not necessarily represent the staff of the Metro Wire. He lives with his family in Whiting. 

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