At Z Man’s, an interesting post and discussion about how the old Left/Right paradigm doesn’t work anymore (and what happens to the poor bastards who make their livings off it when it finally dies). I’ve been interested in this for some time, and we’ve had in-depth discussions about it over at House of Eratosthenes. Back then, I suggested replacing Left/Right with a series of “buckets,” for lack of a better term (hey, I’m not in Marketing):
Imagine that we set a whole bunch of famous leaders down and gave them a pop quiz: “What is the purpose of government? What is the State for?” Then we sort them into buckets.
One common answer would be “the State exists to create Utopia here on earth,” and guys like Lenin, Hitler, Mao, and Obama would be in that bucket. Their Utopias would all look different, and they’d employ different means to get there, but all those guys would agree that their governments are trying to create a perfect world.
Another bucket contains guys like Oliver Cromwell, Suleiman the Magnificent, Charlemagne, and Ferdinand and Isabella. Their answer is something like “government exists to give greater glory to God, and/or punish His enemies.”
A third bucket is full of guys who answered “the purpose of the State is to give me and my entourage the highest possible standard of living” — Genghis Khan, Louis XVI, pick your ancient empire-builder.
A fourth bucket reads “the State exists to keep the natural world in balance.” Egyptian pharaohs and Confucian emperors fit here — they have to do their daily rituals or the world falls out of whack.
A fifth — very small — bucket reads “Government exists to protect its people’s life, liberty, and property.” Here you find George Washington, Jefferson Davis, William Pitt, and (arguably) guys like Pericles and the consuls of the Roman Republic.
I’d argue that the guys in the “state as utopia” bucket are the Left, and the “protect the people’s rights” bucket are the Right. That leaves the vast majority of all governments that have ever existed in the middle three buckets. Doing it this way, I think, helps clear up some of the confusion about behavior and attitudes — Obama, as you note, behaves as if he believes His presidency has kept the seas from rising, but I don’t think He actually does. Nor do His followers.
It works ok, I think, if you look at governments which have actually existed. But there’s an even simpler theoretical divide, one that doesn’t assume the existence of The State like my “buckets” theory does: Do men have Natural Rights or not?
If you’re not sure you have an answer, there’s an easy litmus test: Can you give the full Jefferson quote? The one about Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness. Here’s the complete sentence:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
The bold part is the key. Whatever kind of half-assed Theists the more advanced thinkers among the Founders were, it’s clear that they all believed in the traditional conception of Natural Rights — Man is a unique being, which by a kind of special creation alone has Reason, from which flows his Natural Rights (whatever they turn out to be; the history of political philosophy is the attempt to figure that out). Moreover, it’s obvious that we are this way, and thus have these rights. Whatever Justice in the abstract turns out to be, whatever the optimum form of the State is, whatever subsidiary rights might flow from the unalienable ones, any answer that conflicts with with the God-given Big Three must be wrong.
That’s Jefferson, mind you. I disagree with him on lots of things, especially that “pursuit of Happiness” bit — we could’ve been spared a lot of trouble if, when biting John Locke’s philosophy, he’d kept the original wording: Life, Liberty, and Property. But whatever, the point is: Without a Creator, Natural Rights are meaningless. No God, no Rights, which is why the Left always mangles the quote.
To their credit (if that’s really the word), the Original Left — those guys in the Estates General that certain spergs are still going on about 200 years later — recognized this. The Cult of the Supreme Being was a grotesque farce, but Robespierre was smart enough to realize that without some kind of Deity, the Rights of Man and Citizen lost their capital letters and became “whatever we decide not to guillotine you for today.” Karl Marx saw it, too, and though he was officially a militant atheist, his Capital Letter Stuff — Dialectical Materialism, History, and whatnot — is obviously just God-Lite. It had to be; otherwise, what’s the point? If History isn’t really some kind of vengeful god to be propitiated, why wouldn’t you just sit back and wait for the Revolution that St. Karl proclaims inevitable? As a Russian critic of Lenin’s put it, Marxists are like astronomers, who are mathematically certain an eclipse is coming… and then form a Party and start killing people to make sure it does.
But then Darwin happened, and the Left, with their fucking love of science, finally cottoned to the obvious implications a century and a half later. If there’s no God, then there’s no History either. All is atoms and void; life itself is accident and error; and only the strongest survive to mindlessly, pointlessly propagate. There is, therefore, nothing but Power. Stripped of all its god-bothering illusions, human life — all actions, from the “noblest” to the “basest” — are just power transactions: Domination, Subordination, and Resistance. From this, it follows that all human culture, from calculus to concertos, is really just talk — Discourses about Power, which is why everything is, in the PoMo Left’s favorite phrase, a “social construction.”
Which, when you combine it with the special kind of stupidity only a Liberal Arts degree can provide, explains the modern Left’s whole thing. Because they believe the universe is nothing but Words and Power, your “rights” are whatever we say they are today. Because they’re stupid, they think “we” and “the government” are the same thing, and the relationship is unidirectional — the government will never decide that “our” “rights” are anything other than what “we” say they are.
That’s your modern political divide, right there. Are there Natural Rights or not? The “Right,” to stick with the old-n-busted terminology for a second, for convenience, says “yes,” and wants to be left alone to exercise them. The “Left” says “no,” and will be happy to have you shot to prove it.
Whatever terms we (see what I did there?) ultimately decide on to name these two sides, that will remain the basic split. If that results in a theocracy, well, so be it. The Inquisition will kill you in order to save your soul; the Cheka will kill you because you’re inconvenient, or because you had a rich ancestor, or because they feel like it. How can you possibly object, comrade?