Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Stephen Hicks on Left and Right

The very hard-working Stephen Hicks is a philosopher who takes a great interest in history. He wrote a book some time ago which I critiqued. He subsequently wrote a reply to my critique but my intention to reply to his reply got crowded out by other things. But I would like at long last to address some of what he said.

His point that the political polarities in 19th century Europe were different from the political polarities we see in the English-speaking world today is in my view both true and trivial. I would go further and say that the political polarities in Europe and in the English speaking world are STILL different. There are even considerably different polarities in some parts of the English speaking world -- Ireland particularly. I have for that reason limited myself in my monograph on the meaning of conservatism to the Anglo-Saxon countries. The fact that Left and Right are common political terms in both Europe and in the English-speaking world does suggest some convergence and some convergence can in fact on some occasions be discerned but I think that is incidental to an understanding of what Left and Right are in the English speaking world. So I re-iterate my criticism that it is absurd to say, as Hicks does, that you can be of the political Right and also be a socialist! Whether or not such strange terminology was once used in Europe, it makes no sense in current political discussions of the English-speaking world. In our world, the two terms are about as opposite as you can get.

And, just as the denotation of Left and Right is different between nations, it has varied over time. It is a sign of how badly history education has been corrupted that most people in the English speaking world are blissfully unaware of how changeable Leftist policies have been. The basic underlying theme of Leftism -- a hatred of the world they live in and a desire to tear it down and replace it with something more to their liking -- has not changed but the policies they advocate in order to get themselves into power are as changeable as women's fashions. In the first half of the 20th century, for instance, they saw nationalism and racism as the path to power -- precisely what they now deride. Details here.

And it so happens that the American Left of that era (the "Progressives") had comrades in arms in Europe -- people in Europe who had very similar beliefs. We know those people as Fascists and Nazis. That great hero of the American Left, FDR, decribed Mussolini as "that admirable Italian gentleman". So, regardless of the terminology one might use in Europe, in OUR terminology the Fascists and Nazis were Leftists by the standards of their day and to call them Rightists is simply unhistorical.

And it was the Nazis and Fascists rather than the Marxists and the Bolsheviks that the American "Progressives" had an affinity with. American Leftists may have been filled with anger at the world about them and have seen it as in need of much reform but the Bolsheviks and Marxists were filled with RAGE at the world about them and wanted to tear it down utterly and rebuild it from scratch. The Fascists and Nazis, by contrast, were more moderate -- as were the Progressives. They saw the need for big change and for big government to carry it out but they saw enough of value in their existing society not to want to upend absolutely everything.

And it is not only unhistorical to describe the Nazis and Fascists as Rightists but it is also misleading in the context of today's politics. There are certainly people who hold similar racist views today. And it is again on the Left of contemporary American politics that we see constant outpourings of antisemitism. American conservatives want nothing to do with antisemitism and are generally supportive of Israel.

There is also of course a tiny minority who are antisemites but who see themselves as being on the Right. As it happens, I spent a number of years studying just such people intensively. See here and here. And I can assure everyone of two things: 1). Conservatives won't have a bar of them and kick them out of any conservative political party they try to join; and: 2). The policies they favour are collectivist and authoritarian, just as Hitler's policies were. And again like Hitler, the way they differ from the Marxists is that they don't hate their fellow citizens. They want to see a lot of change but they also see much of value in their traditional society that is worth preserving. But to say that their views define the Right is to define the dog by its tail. There is a connection but the dog would still be a dog and get on well without its tail -- as many dogs do.

There is much more I could say on these matters but I have already said much of it here, here and here so I will call a temporary halt at this stage.



My comment on the Virgina Tech shootings is on GUN WATCH. The gun banners bear a heavy load of guilt today.

SCA has a good comment too: "The escalation of gun violence and the kind of hate to leads to that kind of violence in this country is can be attributed to one cause and one cause alone. When violence or threats of violence are considered legitimate forms of political or social expression, inevitably violence or threats of violence will manifest themselves.Terror has becomes an accepted form of political and social expression, that status granted by those who most profess to be non violent or peaceful. The terror we see here has it’s origins in faraway places brought to our TV screens every day. Those in this country who defend, apologize and legitimize the terror and evil committed elsewhere have facilitated the introduction of terror in this country. They will sooner defend the perpetration of evil and violence than those who would fight that evil ideology that embraces that kind of evil."

"Getting" Wolfowitz: "Wolfowitz was absolutely right to say that the bank had been too tolerant of the risk of corruption for too long, out of the best of intentions - the desire to keep the money flowing and the fear that impoverished societies would suffer if they were penalised for the sins of their leaders. But he did point out, more bluntly than the bank has often acknowledged in the half-century of its existence, that there is such a thing as wasting all the money - not a tenth, not a half, but all of it. No, he wasn't the first person in the bank to say it; yes, he was abrasive; that didn't make him wrong.... Much of the criticism of Wolfowitz's supposedly preferential treatment of his girlfriend looks like an opportunist attempt to hit at an executive who was always too controversial and too resented to be as effective as he might have been. The e-mails that have been released show that Wolfowitz, on his appointment, alerted the bank to the potential conflict of interest with Shaha Riza ... It is not the real cause of the opposition ... That stemmed from opposition to his reforms... But the danger is that the attacks on him will deflect attention from his attempt to change the bank. There is plenty of sign that this is the express aim of some of his critics."


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"Why should the German be interested in the liberation of the Jew, if the Jew is not interested in the liberation of the German?... We recognize in Judaism, therefore, a general anti-social element of the present time... In the final analysis, the emancipation of the Jews is the emancipation of mankind from Judaism.... Indeed, in North America, the practical domination of Judaism over the Christian world has achieved as its unambiguous and normal expression that the preaching of the Gospel itself and the Christian ministry have become articles of trade... Money is the jealous god of Israel, in face of which no other god may exist". Who said that? Hitler? No. It was Karl Marx. See also here and here.

The Big Lie of the late 20th century was that Nazism was Rightist. It was in fact typical of the Leftism of its day. It was only to the Right of Stalin's Communism. The very word "Nazi" is a German abbreviation for "National Socialist" (Nationalsozialistisch) and the full name of Hitler's political party (translated) was "The National Socialist German Workers' Party".


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