American Culture

The contradiction of Left and Right politics

A person consists both of their being and of the works that their being produces. Whether those works are physical or as intangible as the time spent on a particular task.

A traditional Westminster approach to politics, with a typical Left / Right political duopoly, has become the gold standard of democratic representation. It is also conflicted and inherently incapable of resolving its core contradiction.

The way it is supposed to work is that Left-leaning parties are the parties of Collectivism while Right-leaning parties are the parties of Individualism.

Collectivism implies redistribution of wealth to look out for the marginalised or neglected members of society, and to ensure that everyone has equal opportunity.

Individualism implies innovation, uninhibited originality, wealth creation on an epic scale and each person rising to their own level of accomplishment.

The structure of the dynamic tension between the two political schools is designed to constrain the nightmare extreme scenarios of each approach. For Collectivism, that is the worst excesses of forced equality which impoverishes a nation and flattens innovation. For Individualism, it is the worst excesses of concentrated wealth that abandons a frustrated underclass to perpetual poverty in violent ghettos. A duality of parties that remains true to this ideal and recognises the threat from extremism of both their own and the other’s ideals is a very powerful social temper.

It provides its own feedback loop. As society twists one way, politics can twist the other, holding society in balance.

However, no more.

Each party is now hopelessly contradicted and the upshot is that neither side is capable of reconciling their objectives.

Parties of the Right have approached their mandate by supporting the rights of businesses, but not of individuals. As if you can accept the microwaves, toasters and high-definition televisions of the world, but not the people who made them.

Parties of the Left are no better, supporting the rights of people but bemoaning business. As if people have merit, but their works have none.

The Right provide bailouts and subsidies to businesses, while the Left provides entitlements and benefits to people. Somewhere in this has become cemented the belief that people – individuals – are separate from their works. That the works should be held accountable for their own existence and that people are the innocent victims of such works.

Labels, like “business” and “rich” and “poor”, are thrown around as if they’re not just distinct definitions, but unconnected, unrelated objects.

The truth will always be that they are not. It is impossible to promote individuals without also promoting their works.

A political party that promotes people may find that it cannot control their works, or the way that such works concentrate wealth. Spurts of inequality are an inevitable result of the innovation that results from individual freedom. A political party that promotes business may find that it cannot control the personal expressions, or social interactions, of the people who produce. An increasing space for alternative lifestyles is a natural consequence of business freedom to create consumer choice.

These inherent contradictions have become so entrenched that it is scarcely surprising that the most passionate devotees of either side sound so peculiarly detached and unhinged.

Until leaders reconcile these two contradictory approaches they will never return to the dynamic tension which enabled the innovation that built their societies in the first place.

5 replies »

  1. Nice piece.
    The parties are all screwed up and don’t sem to be able to maintain a coherent philosophy. I beilieve this is because they both try to pander to the various splinter groups of the party in order to maintain power via reelection.

  2. Thanks.
    I get the feeling that the party leaders don’t even want to reconcile the two, contradictory approaches…though at the uppermost level they seem to be on the same team. By magnifying and distorting the approaches, they’ve done a good job of setting the population against each other. It’s helped them, but not us.

    Where the contradiction really needs to be resolved is in our neighborhoods.

  3. As an aside, I urge everyone to seek out David Malki’s comics at Wondermark. Thanks to Whythawk turning me on to him not long ago, Malki has quickly become my favorite cartoonist.