Someone asked me to write this a while back, and I’d completely spaced it until he reminded me on Facebook.
But sometimes, particularly when dealing with multinational twitter mobs, I feel like we’re speaking different languages and terms like “right” and “left” wing get wildly misinterpreted, leading to a certain twit(teriac) for instance saying I hated everyone to the left of Jeb Bush (Hate, no. Despise their politics, yes. And I include Jeb Bush and quite a few people nominally to the right of him in that.) while others claimed I was a big Jeb Bush fan because they think that’s what “right wing” means and they’ve self-obviously decided I’m right wing since I hate Marxists.
First, right-left have almost no meaning to where I stand. I define myself in the authoritarian/non authoritarian axis, which is completely separate, and where I’m just a little shy of the “no government nutters” (I can call them that because, you know, they differ far less from me than the “government in your face” weasels, so I can say they’re totally crazy.) Round about where the founding fathers were. Government is a good servant but a bad master, and all that.
Of course, in the American spectrum, uninfected by the European Spectrum, that is indeed what should be called “right wing.”
The problem of course is that the spectrum is NOT uninfected, since we’re in an era of global communications and the meaning of Right Wing in Europe has started to seep in over here, both in leftists minds and in the minds of those who are self-defining as the right.
The other problem is that technically, if you go by the original meaning, the sides should be flipped.
Clear as mud?
Don’t worry, I can confuse it more.
Let’s start with the ever-reliable wikipedia: In France, where the terms originated, the Left has been called “the party of movement” and the Right “the party of order.” The intermediate stance is called centrism and a person with such a position is a moderate.
Let’s first correct the obvious problem. If you’re precisely in the center, the position is called “dunderhead” — and this applies to anything, not just politics. That out of the way, if center is defined by “not following an exact party line” I think most of us would be.
OTOH look at that definition again. “The party of movement” and “the Party of order.”
First of all impossible, since life is movement. This is where I think the left gets their bright idea reality is leftist, except they’re missing the point of where these definitions originated and what “movement” and “order” really mean.
This was of course in revolutionary France. Movement had a very specific meaning — mostly towards Madame Guillotine, obviously — in terms of you wanted to change everything, the hours of the day and the names of the days of the week included. Order, meanwhile was the “not so fast, this structure works.”
So, what that actually means is that left is the side of “let’s change everything” and the right the side of “let’s keep everything as it is.”
If you apply that to the current spectrum in the US (and most of the west) where socialist-like-structures and “leftist” ideas have permeated the political lives of the citizens for far longer than anyone reading this has been alive, the spectrum does a tilt-whirl and suddenly we who are don’t tread on me libertarians and who think the cause of liberty could be justly served by taking everyone from office and putting them in jail become left wingers, in the mold of the ones who shouted “Aristo, aristo, to the lamppost.” (And since I’ve often felt like shouting that, I empathize.)
BUT that is not really a good picture. We know how the French revolution ended. Having dived down that rabbit hole in order to write Through Fire, it became obvious that the French Revolution, the “leftist” movement of our time par excellence, the grandmother of the Russian Revolution and of every other movement that has fed the graveyards of the 20th century was very much a STATIST revolution. If you ask yourself what the difference between the American and the French revolution was, it would be that in the American revolution the people were set free to pursue happiness and equality before the law, while in the French revolution, both happiness and absolute equality were ENFORCED. (If you think happiness wasn’t enforced, read some of the trials of people who declared themselves less than ecstatic in post revolutionary times.)
So, left would be best defined as “movement towards an imaginary utopia in which the government grants all sorts of happiness, equality and other boons.”
And the right?
Ah, there we hit on the crux of the problem. While we’re fairly sure what the left is (and btw, the definition above is why they believe they are the party of the future and they will inevitably win, because in their scatology any “progress” ends one way, with the government as a sort of smiling goddling dispensing benes to the happy people
of Brutopia.) “right” can mean many things.
First let’s dispense with the left-enforced definition of right which ends in Hitler. To quote a public figure “that’s just retarded, sir.” Just because Hitler and Stalin had a big tiff and pulled each other’s hair, it doesn’t mean they weren’t both leftist, socialist bastards. They were just arguing whether socialism — that utopian final stage of the revolution where the state looks after everyone like a mother or a father, depending on your language of origin — should be national or international. And in this case “international” meant “Russian” — or at least it did in the seventies, and I have no reason to think it changed — while national meant “of the genetically related people.”
(For instance when Bernie Sanders announces he’s a socialist but a nationalist then says he’s not a communist, I believe him. The appropriate name for his announced ideology is Fascist.)
That fascination of the fascists with nationalism, btw, explains why the left can’t seem to accept national love/pride (i.e. they’re not NATIONAL socialists) and why so much of Europe thinks patriotism is a precursor to war. Europeans are taught that in school too. I was.
Okay, so that’s disposed of, now … if the right isn’t National Socialism, what is the right?
If I had to hazard a definition that would fit both Europe and the US I’d say the “right wing” meant “a clinging to the essence of what the nation means and to the nation’s original idea”, as it were.
In Europe, of necessity, right wing means a lot of “our people, our land” and really in its ultimate expression “our king.” Right wing parties in Europe are often associated with keeping or reviving ancient traditions, with the country’s state-religion and with the “way things have always been done.” There will almost always be a reflexive xenophobia, for instance, which is not necessarily a bad thing. It is not racist to say “our land, our customs. You want to live here, you conform to us.” (The left’s reflexive oikophobia tends to chew the ground out from what people know they can count on, from language in everyday interactions to things like protection of children and women. It is time the European right learns to say “No, not all cultures are alike.”) If you’re thinking that this is the same as us saying “if you want to live here, speak English and conform to our laws”… not quite. In Europe an immigrant will never be “of the land, the people, the traditions.” You could be Yoless from Pratchett’s Johnny Maxwell, and learn Morris dance, and you’d still not be “quite British.” Assimilation takes generations, and sometimes not even that. Other things come with that definition as freight. The right will still prefer to keep women and men in traditional roles, and they’re often shocked half to death by differing sexual personas.
Now if that description sounds familiar, it is because it is what the left assumes the right here is. And some right wing people, reflexively, will embrace it and claim it. Just because the left hates it.
But by and large, as someone who has cruised right of center blogs in this country for a very long time, no. That’s not what right means in the US.
This is why when the leftists (who true to their origins only understand themselves as in opposition to the European right) come cruising in, they’re always shocked when we don’t rise to the bait of “racist, sexist, homophobic.” They’re always terribly confused a lot of people here in fact are of “non conforming religions” (or none at all) and non-conforming sexual habits, and varying shades of tan. And the only explanation they can find is “self-hating.”
That is because the left (worldwide, really) since the collapse of their model, the Soviet Union, has gone a little loony and fallen down a time-space-funnel, in which they’re fighting “right wing” in Europe (and probably circa the eighteen hundreds, but never mind that) not in the States.
The right in the US is the side that clings to the origins and the founding. This is the side that believes ultimately sovereignty rests in the individual and the government should bow and doff its hat to us. We’re the side that believes that no matter what color, size, sex or whomever you decide to sleep with, you’re still an individual, entitled to equal protection under the law.
We believe in life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
Which means in many ways we’re the horror of the European right. If it weren’t for the fact that both “rights” are fighting the much greater evil of the Marxist theology unleashed upon the world (and yes, it is more evil than even the European right) we’d be going at it like two equal weight boxers in a ring.
My dad, who is Europe-right (mom weirdly is MOSTLY American-right. Not fully, because she still thinks morality, etc. should be enforced, but I think that’s a generational thing. And no, I don’t know how she ended up don’t-tread-on-me in Europe. She didn’t even read Heinlein) for instance believes it is not only the government’s right but the government’s duty to look after things like health care. Oh, and if the government periodically shoots the wrong guy, well, that’s the cost of keeping other people safe. He’s not a bad man, understand — but he’s a man of his time and place. He draws the line at communism, not just because it’s evil, but because it’s a stranger to his country and enforced from outside.
We’ve gone the full rounds (one of the few times we’ve yelled at each other) because he can’t understand that I don’t view the government as some thing that should “look after” me, but as something that should do the minimum possible to ensure I have the space to look after myself, and anything more than that is a violation of my rights and a thwarting of my duties as a free human being.
And that’s the difference between our right and their right. I’ve found it easier and far more conducive to familial harmony to pretend there is no difference, and to nod along with their serene belief that “right wing” in America means the same it does there.
Since our left doesn’t see the dividing chasm, they often refer to the “right” as monolithic and what they get in their press (which is to the left of ours) is convenient in obscuring the differences.
No reason to shock mom and dad by letting them know their daughter has become a USAian radical, after all.
BUT the actual meaning is radically different (quite literally RADICALLY different. We are the “radicals” who turned the world upside down by believing authority flows from the individual up, not from the state down.) As I hope it shows above. Though being a word more often defined by opponents and people with the “feels” it has the imprecise quality of a mirage rising from asphalt on a hot day.
One caveat is that the American right wing might never make any sense in Europe. Culture is something that changes very slowly and often doubles back. So I restrain my evangelizing impulses there. They might come to be like us, but it won’t be in my life time.
And the right in Europe only makes upside-down sense in America. It would be impossible to create a right-wing-in-European-terms country out of the US. Our multi-cultural, multi-religious and multi-racial country couldn’t turn into an European traditional country. Not for a few hundred years at least. Which is why all movies that do that are profoundly unconvincing. And why it’s so weird that the left doesn’t see the difference between the two rights.
It is also, unfortunately, why the sf books from the fifties or so, particularly the ones by Heinlein, which show the whole world unified under the American system are such a pipe dream.
It might have seemed logical and even attainable after WWII but as he himself seems to have realized in Tramp Royale, the real world is too diverse and culture and cultural differences too real for that utopia ever to have been possible.
America is a place in the heart, and as such it can only be won one heart at a time.