Mulling over Morgan’s piece of the same title, which recaps a conversation several of us were having about the terms “Left” and “Right.” Morgan offers up three criteria for telling the difference between them:
Cultural Drive: The Right Wing seeks to drive our culture in one direction, where the Left Wing seeks to drive our culture in the opposite direction. We could pose to each side, or to an opinionated-person of unknown orientation, the following question: Is work just for suckers?
Relationship Between People and Government: Is there such a thing as Natural Law? This leads up to a question that has been asked, for ages, by Americans who couldn’t be bothered to read the Declaration of Independence: Do our rights come from government? And that leads to: What is a “right,” anyway? Is a right a right, if someone else has to pay for you to have it?
Foreign Policy: Liberals don’t define “peace” the way normal people define it. They seem to understand that for a peace to endure, someone has to do some compromising; but they don’t want to be the ones doing it. So if there is peace, but they’re not getting everything they want, then there can’t be any peace. Somehow, this means every military conflict that comes along is the fault of their opposition.
Good stuff, and I agree with all of it. But there’s a fourth dimension, and that’s where the heart of our friendly disagreement lies.
The more we look into it, the more we return to that pivot-point, like a homing pigeon, which is the difference in consequence. The Right Wing has to work with it, the Left Wing does not. It’s almost as if…I would say, exactly as if…the Left Wing formed its relationship to reality, when it got busted by its mom for taking cookies out of the jar, and pulled a fast one on her with a bit of nonsense about “Actually, I was putting it back.” And that worked, either because the small-em mom wasn’t into confronting them about the obvious falsehood, or she wasn’t the sharpest tool in the drawer.
Whereas the right-winger, in the same situation, ended up having to carve his own switch.
Truth, therefore, to a left-winger is whatever successfully sells the pitch. Belief is a dedication to whatever that “truth” is. It is only the right-winger — and, true, genuine centrists — who see truth as truth, something that is inextricably fastened to consequences. This brings us back to the analogy of “Did I put the lug nuts on the wheel the right way?” It inspires a whole different way of thinking, a whole different direction of thinking.
Again, I agree with this. But: I think this emphasis on consequences invalidates the idea that Pharaoh — or any but a tiny handful of governments — could be called “Left Wing.”
As Morgan says, folks who don’t adequately address the relationship of facts to consequences is doomed to fail. Which explains the brief, and usually spectacularly bloody, lifetimes of left-wing regimes. Consider the Soviet Union. Life expectancy wasn’t as long in the USSR for obvious reasons, but still, there must have been very many people who saw the red flag go up over St. Petersburg in 1917, and lived to see it come down in 1991. It wasn’t lack of political will that doomed the Soviet Union — guys like Lenin and Stalin were willing, indeed eager, to inflict every kind of barbarity upon their subjects. And it wasn’t lack of resources, since Russia was the other superpower. It failed because facts and consequences didn’t match up.
And that’s the best-case scenario for a fully left wing regime. With the most indomitable will, and all the resources of a space-faring superpower, you can keep buggering on in the face of reality for…. 74 years. Three generations (two of them, let us note, fully Sovietized, in case anyone wants to make the argument that “saboteurs” and “wreckers” from the old world caused the USSR’s downfall). A lifetime’s worth of hell for those poor souls caught in it, but a single human lifespan nonetheless. The lifespans of other communist regimes were even shorter — without massive subsidies from the USSR, pretty much every communist government worldwide collapsed within a decade (and the ones that didn’t either found a new sugar daddy, as North Korea did with the Chinese, or exist in enforced geographical isolation*).
But that’s not the case with Pharaoh, or any of the other old-timey “dictatorships” under Morgan’s rules. Egypt, for instance, was conquered a few times before succumbing for good to Alexander the Great, and our records of the very earliest times are pretty spotty, but that still gives us three thousand years or so of Pharaoh’s rule. The Western Roman Empire hung on for half a millennium, and the Eastern for a thousand years after that. If you consider the style of rule, as opposed to the names of the rulers, you could make a pretty good argument that the Chinese emperors ruled for about 99% of recorded human history.
Which is not to say that all Roman emperors or Egyptian pharaohs were even competent rulers, let alone good ones. But such history as we know of those regimes seems to indicate that the reality-averse ones were removed fairly quickly. Claudius might’ve been every inch the dictator that Caligula was, but he wasn’t crazy. Reality, in other words, made an impression on him, in a way it simply didn’t on his nephew. If you want to call Caligula a left-winger, be my guest (he and President Obama certainly seem to have similar opinions of themselves). But it’s hard to shove the shrewd, practical Claudius into the same boat.
Morgan’s rules do apply to the 20th century, though, and to the French Revolution, i.e. the one previous attempt to put Utopian daydreams into practice.
In brief, I’d say the distinction is more like what Thomas Sowell says in The Vision of the Anointed. Left-wingers believe there is nothing but this life. Therefore, all is possible in the here-and-now, and because there’s no supernatural constraints on behavior there are no Natural ones either. Right-wingers, by contrast, believe in the “Constrained Vision” — we’re bound by Natural Law or, failing that, at least by the laws of basic math.
*That’s why I’m ok with Obama’s decision to normalize relations with Cuba, by the way. Oh, I know he did it for all the wrong reasons — as with everything He does, it was just another chance to stick his finger in America’s eye. But the US Navy’s enforced isolation of Cuba is the only thing that kept Castro in power. After 1991, he have needed to move to Miami to find Cubans to rule, or doing his best pinata impersonation from the nearest lamppost.