Thursday, June 13, 2013

Are conservatives "Right-wing"?

I wrote a little on the above topic here a little while ago.  Since then I have however considerably expanded my coverage of the question and used the expanded text as an improved preface to my big essay on the history and psychology of conservatism.  Since the readership of big essays seems to be small, however, I thought it might be useful to extract that preface and present it here as a separate post.  See below -- JR

For the excellent reason that Right is the opposite of Left, opponents of the Left are commonly referred to as Rightist -- and that should be the end of the matter. But it is not. The problem arises from the expression "extreme right". What is "the extreme right"

The answer to that has been greatly distorted by Leftist disinformation about Hitler. Hitler was by the standards of his day a fairly mainstream socialist. Even his ideas about "Aryans" were shared by such Leftist eminences as U.S. President Woodrow Wilson. But Hitler's defeat in war created a desperate need in Leftists to deny all that. So they invariably describe him as "right-wing" to deflect attention from the fact that he was in his day one of them. He was in fact to the Right of Stalin's Communism only so the Communist view of Hitler has been conveniently adopted by the Left generally. See here for full details about Hitler's ideas and background.

So Leftists tend to describe all tyrants and dictators as extreme Right on the grounds that their behaviour is like Hitler's. But all the great tyrants of the 20th century -- Lenin, Stalin, Hitler, Mao, Pol Pot -- were in fact Leftists so the various postwar tyrants should logically be called "extreme Leftists" -- though that's not logic that Leftists like, of course.  It's only when a tyrant or a tyranny is clearly Communist (as in, for example, Peru, Nicaragua and Nepal) that Leftists will generally desist from calling the tyrant  "Right wing".  It would probably be most accurate to say that most tyrants are wingless:  They believe only in their own personal power

So calling conservatives Rightists does little harm when normal everyday democratic politics is concerned but once we start talking about extremes of belief a large problem arises. Conservatives reject utterly the association with Hitler that Leftists try to pin on them.

There is clearly a lot of variation among postwar tyrants so presumably some are better examples of what Leftists call "right-wing" than others. The Latin American dictators seem to be prime candidates but what do we make of clowns like Idi Amin or democratically elected authoritarians like Lee Kuan Yew? Exactly WHICH dictators are good examples of "Right-wing" seems to be vague. Leftists appear to have no systematic thinking on that. So some lists include Fascists like Chiang Kai Shek, the monarchs of the Muslim world and even in some cases undoubted Communists like the Kim dynasty of North Korea.

So I too will have to leave vague just who is a good example of an "extreme Rightist". For the sake of looking at the subject at all, I will use "Hitler-like" or "Fascist" as a specification of what Leftists are talking about when they say "Right wing extremist" -- and leave it at that. I have however given separate coverage of the Latin American dictators further below. They have mostly been Bolivarists, a form of Fascism. And that Fascism is/was Leftist I set out at length here.

There are also of course a few individuals around in Western countries who are Hitler sentimentalists but they are so few and so unorganized that they are essentially irrelevant to modern politics.  I do however have a discussion of them here.

Extremism versus stability

We are accustomed in political discussions to describe both ends of the political spectrum as "extremists". But what are the extremes? In the case of the Left it is easy: Communism. But what is an extreme conservative? The Left are sure that it is someone like Adolf Hitler but the logic of conservative commitment to individual liberty and suspicion of government makes libertarianism a much likelier extreme form of conservatism.

At this point I am going to skip forward a little, however, and say where I think people go wrong. I don't think there IS any such thing as extreme conservatism. Libertarians believe in a lot of stuff that conservatives reject. But I do believe that there is such a thing as extreme Leftism. How come?

I think that the whole polarity of politics is generally misunderstood.  The contest between Left and Right is a contest between stability and irritability/anger/rage. Conservatives are the sheet anchor of society. They ensure that there is some continuity and predictability in our lives. They are the anchor that prevents us all from being blown onto the shoals of arrogant stupidity in the manner of Pol Pot and many others.

For various reasons most people in society have gripes about it. Even conservatives can usually give you a long list of things that they would wish otherwise in the world about them.

But some of the discontented are REALLY discontented -- discontented to the point of anger/rage/hate -- and among them there is a really dangerous group: Those who "know" how to fix everything.

So the political contest ranges across a spectrum from valuing stability to various degrees of revolutionary motivation.

But can there be an extreme of valuing stability? In theory yes but I have yet to hear of ANY conservative-dominated government that lacked an active legislative agenda. BOTH sides of politics have changes they want to legislate for. Conservatives don't want stability at any price any more than they want change that threatens stability. So as far as I can see, ALL conservatives want change PLUS stability. And mostly they get that.

Pulling against that anchor that keeps society going on a fairly even keel, however, there is the Left -- who want every conceivable sort of change. Some just want more social welfare legislation and some want the whole society turned upside down by violent revolution. And the latter are indeed extremists.

So there is no sharp Left/Right dividing line -- just a continuum from strong support for stability amid change to a complete disrespect and disregard for stability among extreme advocates of change.

It is possible that there is somebody somewhere in the world who values stability so much that he/she want NO change in the world about them at all. If so, I have never met such a person. Everybody has gripes and change is a constant. The only question is whether we can manage change without great disruptions to our everyday lives. Conservatives think we can and should. Leftists basically don't care about that. For them change is the goal with stability hardly considered.

Now let me skip back to a question I raised earlier. I think we are now in a better position to answer that question. The question is why do conservatives and Leftists disagree over what extreme conservatism or extreme Rightism is? And the answer is now obvious. If it does not exist, no wonder people disagree over what it is. The theoretical inference would be that an extreme conservative wants ZERO change: he/she wants stability alone. But, as I have noted, such people appear not to exist and if they do exist they are surely too few to matter.

But what about the Leftist conviction that society is riddled by people like Hitler: "Racists" and "Nazis". Leftists never cease describing those they disagree with that way. Even a moderate and compromising Christian gentleman such as George Bush Jr. was constantly accused of being a Nazi during his time in office.

Again our conception of stability versus extremism helps answer that -- particularly if you add in a dash of history. Take the "racist" allegation:

Some history

Before WWII, everybody was racist in the sense that they believed that racial differences are real and that some of those differences are more desirable than others. Both conservatives and Leftists agreed on that. And if they feel safe to say it, many conservatives still think that. I do.

But, exactly as I have pointed out above, prewar Leftists went a lot further than that. They carried their views to an extreme. They did not care how many applecarts they upset. They wanted either to breed out the inferior races (American progressives) or to exterminate them (Hitler). See here. Where conservatives just accepted a complex reality of long standing, Leftists KNEW what had to be done about it and so hurt a lot of people and did a lot of damage in the process.

When their old friend Hitler lost the war, however, Leftists had a desperate need to disavow all he stood for and so threw their whole rhetoric into reverse gear. They were still obsessed in their minds by race and racial differences but denied their previous destructive intentions towards other races. They now claimed benevolent intentions towards other races.  Abandoning all interest in race was apparently beyond them.  And in good Freudian style, they projected what they now disapproved of onto their opponents, conservatives.  They accused conservatives of being what they still deep-down were.  To see what's true of Leftists, you just have to see what they say about conservatives.  They are too alienated from society to understand their fellow-man very  well so they judge others by themselves

Leftist ostensible attitudes had flipped.  But since conservatives had opposed Hitler and Leftism generally, conservatives for a long time just carried on with their existing moderate, balanced views.  But for various reasons, what is moderate and balanced will change over time and conservative views do change to reflect that.  Conservatives hold the middle ground. And while there is some change, there is also a lot of continuity in the middle ground.

For instance, a conservative today will most likely welcome Jews to his club where a conservative of the 1930s would not.  But having separate clubs is hardly a major impact on civilization and the stability of society is not threatened in either case.  Club  membership and gassing millions are worlds apart in any objective evaluation of the matter

So in a sense Leftists are right to see that Hitler and conservatives have something in common -- some willingness to admit racial differences, for instance -- but are very wrong in their implicit claim that conservatives would carry such views to any kind of extreme. Extremes are for the Left -- not just theoretically but as a matter of historical fact. So Leftists are now as extremely anti-racist in their advocacy as they were once pro-racist. Conservatives by contrast just jog along trying to keep a firm hold on reality

So Leftists now say that what they once believed (until it became inconvenient) is "Rightist". Beat that!

Leftists take some generally accepted idea and carry it to extremes, hoping to be seen as great champions by doing so. Their extremism is a "look at me" phenomenon, a claim on especially great virtue. So whatever is conventional at the time will be something that leftists loudly champion, hoping to gain praise for doing so.

If it is eugenics that is a popular idea (as it was before the war) Leftists will energetically champion that. And they did up to WWII. Conservatives at the time also saw some sense in eugenics but did little or nothing to push it -- pointing out how eugenic policies would conflict with other values (Christian values especially) and could lead in unexpected and nasty directions.

Antisemitism is also a good example of how the Leftist decides on policy. Long before and up to WWII, antisemitism was virtually universal. Nobody liked the Jews and some degree of discrimination against them was normal and accepted. Not allowing Jews in your club was the commonest form of that.

So Leftists took antisemitism to extremes and became the leading critics of Jewry, culminating in the holocaust, which was the work of the National Socialist German Worker's Party. Leftists transformed minor discrimination into mass murder. Leftists don't present new ideas. They just push existing ones to extremes.

When Hitler lost the war, however, antisemitism suddenly had bad associations so Leftists abandoned it forthwith and became, for a while, great champions of Israel. Democrat President Truman recognized the state of Israel within minutes of its being proclaimed and the Soviet Union was only three days behind him. Popular sentiment had changed so Leftists became energetic champions of the new sentiment.

The document above signed by Truman gives a vivid contrast to what his Democrat predecessor BEFORE the war did. FDR is of course well known for sending a shipload of German Jewish refugees (aboard the MS St. Louis) back to Hitler, rather than allowing them to disembark when they arrived at Miami.

For another example of "how we were" (or how prewar Leftists were) read the following from the Old Grey Lady (NYT) herself:

"In so far as Mexican immigration is concerned, it would be idle to deny the economic usefulness of Mexican laborers. But it is essential to face the fact that the great mass of Mexican immigrants is virtually not assimilable. For the most part Indian in blood, their traditions as well as standards of living are very different from ours." [Immigrants From The New World, Jan 16, 1930]

So the default meaning of "Right" or "Rightism" in the following essay will be: "committed to stability". That is only a minimum meaning, however.  There is a lot more to conservatism than that. And I hope to present below extensive historical evidence to show what conservatism is and to show continuity in how conservatism works out in practice.

Flavors of Leftism

At this stage, however, I think I should flesh out my contention above to the effect that the beliefs that would be described by the Left as extreme Right are in fact just another flavor of extreme Leftism -- perhaps a broadly old-fashioned form of Leftism but Leftism nonetheles.

Leftists would decribe that identification as patently absurd.  They would say say of the "extreme Right" that "they stand for everything we are against: antisemitism, capitalism, patriotism, eugenics etc."

That is a rather amusing list but before I go on let me introduce you to the People's Action Party, long-time rulers of Singapore.  At first glance, the identification of the PAP as extreme Right would seem easy.  They are arguably the most pro-business party in the world.  They are a shining example of the economic triumph of capitalism.  And they are also very authoritaraian, with strict limits on free speech and control of even minutiae of Singapore life.

So surely the PAP is a prime example of "far Right"?  Just one niggling little detail, though.  They were for many years a member of the Socialist International.  Their origins are on the Left and their authoritarianism is what all Leftists try for  -- as is the PAP's regulation of the private sector, activist intervention in the economy, and its welfarist social policies.  And its self-identification as a "People's" party is in fact characteristic of the far-Left.  And for a bit of color say what the party symbol below reminds you of:

Singapore is a long way from being Nazi but it illustrates that Leftism is a house of many mansions and that support for capitalism is no bar to being Leftist.   The PAP was joined in that not only by Hitler but also by 20th century Sweden.  And even the U.S. Democratic party gives at least lip-service to it when in campaign mode.

The PAP even has a eugenic program.  It subsidizes and otherwise supports well educated women to marry and have babies.

And then we come to antisemitism.  I feel I hardly need to say anything about Leftist support for antisemitism.  It goes at least as far back as Karl Marx and, under the thin disguise of "anti-Zionism" is as virulent among the modern-day Left as ever.  Truman represented only a short-term blip  in Leftist antisemitism.  So antisemitism is certainly no bar to being Leftist.

What about patriotism?   Leftist intellectuals scorn it as a weakness of simple minds so can you be a Leftist and a patriot at the same time?  Again I don't think we need to go far to answer that.  The U.S. Democrats claim to be patriotic and the pompous challenge, "Are you questioning my patriotism?" always seems to come from Democrat politicians.  Democrat patriotism does seem to be mostly a hollow charade these days but we only have to go back to the revered JFK to find it breathing unaided:  "Ask not what your country ....".  And the popular patriotic song "This land is my land" was written by Woody Guthrie, a Communist.  And Stalin referred to his war with Germany as "The Great Patriotic war".  Yes. you clearly CAN be patriotic and Leftist.

So there is nothing incongruous at all in identifying the so-called "extreme Right" as just another flavor of Leftism.  Anybody who has had much to do with the far-Left will be aware of how fractious they are and the ice pick in the head that Trotsky got courtesy of Stalin is emblematic of that.  Leftists can hate one-another at least as much as they hate conservatives and the rivalry between the "far Right" and the modern-day Left is sibling rivalry  -- just as it was in the days of Hitler and Stalin.

So after that detour we can now go on to look at the full complexity of what actual conservatism  is and why


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