“Left wing” and “right wing” – two quite silly terms with their origins in the French revolutionary period. They are named after the seating arrangements in the French National Assembly – just before the terrible regicide and revolutionary terror (in which around 400,000 people were slaughtered) that was to follow.
Those on the left wing (Cote Gauche) were revolutionaries, “progressives”, liberals and radicals, whilst those on the right wing (Cote Droit) were supporters of the Ancien Regime: monarchists, social hierarchists, conservatives, reactionaries and traditionalists.
Today the idea of left and right have grown into a vast compendium of political opinions. A whole host of ideas are classed as “left wing” and an alternative nexus of ideas are classed as “right wing” – and people are classed as right or left wing based upon which views they hold.
When people are young and/or stupid enough (if they take any interest in politics at all they) will probably squeeze themselves neatly into this bipolar world. If they support the welfare state, the national health service and the minimum wage then they will convince themselves that they also support everything else lumped into the definition of “left wing”. If they are socially conservative they will probably convince themselves that they also support free market economics and everything else that gets lumped into the definition of “right wing”. The force that causes this is tribalism and wanting to fit in with the group.
However in reality individuals, who are not dominated by political tribalism, look each separate area of political thought on an individual basis and as a result develop a mixture of views, some of which may be classed as “left wing” and some of which may be “right wing”. Yet it seems the whole society is addicted to irrationally straitjacketing politics into to only essential types based upon French political seating arrangements – centuries ago. *
One example of how this over-simplistic straight jacket can skew understandings is how ever since the libertines of the “new left” subverted the left in the last third of the 20th century and introduced particular social views as being essential left wing qualities many natural “left wingers” have been alienated from the left. It became the case that to be ‘left wing’ you had to support ‘sexual liberation’, ‘gay rights’ and abortion.
If you didn’t then you were now a “reactionary” not a “left winger” – despite the fact that the non-Marxist left had never held these views prior to this time. Indeed several British Labour governments had presided at a time when Britain was a Christian traditionalist country with an Empire and the death penalty and where abortion was a crime. Thus according to the later definition of ‘left wing’ every British Labour government until that of Harold Wilson was in fact very “right wing” – of course in reality this was not the case.
People need to get beyond this silly ‘left-right’ dichotomy. It makes simple things seem complicated and does a great job of hiding reality. Getting beyond silly ‘left-right’ over simplifications we may get quite a good description of someones political views using a similar system to the following 3 key variant descriptors.
Indeed just by moving from an over-simplistic binary method of describing political views to a still somewhat simplified 3 leanings model makes it possible to convey a much more complex and accurate level of information. Obviously 5 or 7 descriptors would make the system more accurate, but simplicity is key for any such model to be widely useful. For example…
- Are they “C” Socially Conservative and a Traditionalist or “L” Socially Liberal and a “Progressive”?
- Are they “C” Pro-Capitalism, Free Trade and Growth or “P” Pro-Protectionism, Social Democracy (or Socialism) and Sustainability?
- Are they “N” Anti-immigration & Nationalist or “I” Pro-Immigration & Internationalist?
So a person who is a social conservative, who believes in protectionism, social democracy and sustainability, who is anti-immigration may be be described as an CPN, or a person who is a capitalist, who supports free trade and growth, is internationalist and pro-immigration and is socially liberal and “progressive” may be ever so simply described as an LCI etc and practically any arrangement of these key political viewpoints is possible.
Now of course I am not suggesting that everyone should use this particular example, rather the idea is to show how easy it is to develop a more helpful system that gets beyond the over simplistic and outdated binary political classification of ‘left wing’ or “right wing”.