by Peter Franklin
Thursday, 29
October 2020
Idea
07:00

What will replace the old ‘Left-Right’ divide?

One American writer has a new proposal
by Peter Franklin
Credit: Getty

The old Left versus Right view of politics is on its last legs, but what to replace it with? Liberty versus Authority? Progress versus Tradition? Open versus Closed?

Thomas Chatterton Williams, the American journalist and cultural critic, has a new proposal:

https://twitter.com/thomaschattwill/status/1320355359316447232?s=21

Williams is an anti-woke liberal, so I can see why he’d want to distinguish himself both from the woke Left and the populist Right. His proposed “binary” not only achieves that, but it also pulls off the trick of grouping the extremists together. It’s a new take on the old horseshoe theory of politics in which the political spectrum isn’t a straight line, but bent round so that two extremes nearly touch one another.

But for all the similarities between swivel-eyed ideologues of whatever stripe, I don’t think we’ll ever see the political spectrum redefined in the way Williams would like.

Politics is always and everywhere defined by identities — it is never a contest between those who embrace and those who reject identity as a general ideological concept. For most people identity isn’t a matter of ideology at all, but more about feelings of belonging and solidarity. The specific divide varies with time and place. For instance, it might be class-based or generational or geographical, but whatever the distinction, any ideological labels are of secondary importance. Indeed, you might see a group of voters switch from a party on one side of the ideological spectrum to a party on the other if they feel that would better reflect their identity. The result of the 2019 UK general election is a prime example of that.

Another reason why we won’t see politics reorganised around universalist and identitarian poles is that these two positions aren’t quite so opposed as they might seem. Obviously, there’s a fundamental divide between those who recognise the full humanity of every person and those who don’t, but within the envelope of decency — one has to recognise that we naturally identify more closely with our own family than other families and with our own nation more than other nations. There are many precious things that are universally true of all human beings and the need for special connections is one of them.

Obviously, our loyalties to those with whom we most identity can be twisted into something hideous, but then so can universalism. A society where no one has any special loyalties except to society as a whole would be deeply dystopian. Indeed, it would resemble Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World where “everyone belongs to everyone else”.

So, if there really is a political spectrum between identity and the universal, then put me down as middle-of-the-road.

Join the discussion


To join the discussion, get the free daily email and read more articles like this, sign up.

It's simple, quick and free.

Sign me up
Subscribe
Notify of
guest
20 Comments
Most Voted
Newest Oldest
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Stephen Crossley
Stephen Crossley
1 year ago

The “binary” the author is searching for could be portrayed more appropriately in the following way. When faced with a problem we ask ourselves one of the following:

Either

How do I fix this problem?

Or

Who should fix this problem for me?

Which of these questions we tend to muse upon generally determines how we vote. One of the many ironies of modern politics is that the association of the right as authoritarian and the left as liberal have been exactly reversed without the chattering classes noticing.

Hardee Hodges
Hardee Hodges
1 year ago

That reversal seems appropriate as the excesses of each side become intolerable they reverse course. There remain those who prefer self-reliance with some assistance to those who prefer more help from society but refuse the rules.

Mike Finn
Mike Finn
1 year ago

A bit of a Russell’s paradox here as the group of those who don’t believe in identity tend to form an identity grouping of their own.

Nick Whitehouse
Nick Whitehouse
1 year ago

I have always viewed politics as more like a clock.
Twelve o’clock representing both fascism and communism, as I see little difference between them

Alex Mitchell
Alex Mitchell
1 year ago

I have always viewed it as mobius strip. Keep going in either direction and you reach he same place but on the other side

odensprouse
odensprouse
1 year ago

The one thing I wish people in the US will understand about communism or socialism. Other that it doesn’t work is you don’t own any thing every thing you work for is for the workers party. The land you live on is not yours.
The young people today for some reason don’t want to learn history. There all ways talking about freedom we won’t have it if we’re communist. China will send us the jobs making toys and shoes and they’ll take the industrial manufacturing jobs. We won’t have food in the grocery stores.

Zaph Mann
Zaph Mann
1 year ago
Reply to  odensprouse

this is highly inaccurate – socialism is not communism. There have been very few, and brief examples of socialism in the world – none in the USSR or China

Jonathan Barker
Jonathan Barker
1 year ago

But where does the left versus right divide really come from?
It is a psychic projection of the two sides of the brain, nervous system and body.
The “left side” of the bodily being expresses and corresponds to the inward-turning, upward-moving, passive, receptive, emotional-psychic, quality or force of bodily life. It is in opposition or play with the “right side”, which expresses and corresponds to the verbally or analytically motivated, outward-turning, down-ward-moving or life-oriented, active, penetrative, vital-physical, expansive quality or force.
The left side is controlled by the right hemisphere of the brain, the locus of the psychic, spatial, nonverbal, holistic-intuitive functions, whereas the left hemisphere, which controls the right side of the body, is the locus of the intellectual, linear, verbal, analytical-deductive mental functions.

At the level of gross politics the self-divided man now rules.

The divided man is one in whom the psycho-physiological mechanisms of the left and right sides of the brain and body are OPPOSED to one another, rather than positively and harmoniously POLARIZED towards one another.
Such is the nature of the dreadful sanity of the normal every-person in todays world.
This split/divide manifests as the war of “spirit” versus “flesh”, a war which has brought the entire world to the point of oblivion. We are now faced with the test to liberate ourselves from this profound lie and disturbance

Fraser Bailey
Fraser Bailey
1 year ago

‘The left side is controlled by the right hemisphere of the brain, the locus of the psychic, spatial, nonverbal, holistic-intuitive functions, whereas the left hemisphere, which controls the right side of the body, is the locus of the intellectual, linear, verbal, analytical-deductive mental functions.’

I suggest you check out Iain McGilchrist and his book ‘The Master And His Emissary’. He has an entirely different view of how the brain works. Yes, there is a right and a left side, but he contends that they do not operate in the pop-culture way that most people think they do. Obviously, I don’t know if he is right or wrong, but I have read the book and it is fascinating stuff.

Actually, under Gilchrist’s analysis, the right brain would probably be more conservative and able to see the big picture, while the left brain would probably more left-wing – more concerned with bureaucracy and control. But that is a massive over-simplification of his thesis.

As for what will replace the left/right divide, I think it is probably nationalism/localism v globalism. This is, for instance, Steve Turley’s contention and this is what is being played out in the US election right now. It is one world govt v independence (and, in my view, freedom).

Robert Forde
Robert Forde
1 year ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

The view that the left side of the brain does X and the right side Y is grossly oversimplified. In fact, they don’t work in the almost independent way this model implies. There is a large structure, the corpus callosum, which bridges the two and ensured this doesn’t happen, unless it is severed by some accident, in which case the two sides can function separately. In that case, a person might be able, for example, to draw two different pictures at once. But that is rare.

Not sure about replacing the left-right divide. One difficulty I have is that politicians (and economists) are very good at declaring that their model is based on “human nature”, without any evidence about what that is. There is now a ton of psychological and anthropological evidence that human nature is complex, and fundamentally largely co-operative. This doesn’t suit the Right, who stress competition. In fact, this occurs naturally between rather than within groups, and mostly when resources are scarce. Even the early theorists of capitalism accepted that capitalism required scarcity – there’s no requirement for competition when everything we need is abundant. One of its difficulties is that, in the developed world, this is now the case, at least in principle. However, it is so poorly distributed that scarcity still exists for many, thanks to Thatcher, Reagan, and their political heirs: economic liberality with administrative Stalinism.

This is not to deny the value of free enterprise, but anyone who confuses free enterprise with capitalism doesn’t understand either. One of the issues that Franklin misses, in my view, is that social and economic values don’t always match. For example, UK working class people tend to be conservative socially but not economically. I think the collapse of the so-called “Red Wall” constituencies was not about an embrace of capitalism, but an embrace of the “Get Brexit Done” message when the Labour message was confused. This is why I expect the trend to reverse, unless the Conservative Party really does manage to resurrect the concept of One-Nation Tories. On current performance, they aren’t doing so yet.

Jonathan Barker
Jonathan Barker
1 year ago

Some resources re some people and groups who provide various ways whereby humankind can perhaps transcend the dreadful dilemma that we are now all in. None of which you will (perhaps) never-ever hear about in any of the usual dreadful left-versus right shouting matches in the main stream media or any of the countless websites and talking heads that play upon the always awful dreadful daily “news”

Check out:
Sacred Activism by Andrew Harvey
The websites

http://integrallife.com

http://www.terrypatten.com/

James Wardle
James Wardle
1 year ago

I have to admit as a UK citizen that I have taken the decision not to vote at all. Some will likely be highly critical but when you have choices like the UK has, forgive the slightly OTT inappropriate analogy, but it’s like deciding between Myra Hindley and Ian Brady! Ok, most politicians are not psychopathic child murderers as far as I know, but if more people who felt the same, didn’t vote ,as opposed to voting for any old shower that is the best of a bad bunch, maybe it would be so many, reform would be a fait accompli.

Real change might be forced that way.

My problem with our system is that the government is managing long-term societal issues but in a short term window. If Labour were elected, 1000s of Tory decisions would be overturned, laws repealed and replaced with their own left leaning legislation and a lot of our money may as well have gone up in smoke. And I’m not picking on just Labour as vice-versa, the same with a Tory government.

Mental health is a really good area to look at and personally has affected me Without playing victim here, keeping to the facts and without gory details I was seen by the NHS and determined to require specific, less available therapy with a psychologist urgently. After 4 years waiting urgently, I moved, disengaged and just gave up.

I never received the urgent therapy (CPTSD related) and having worked all my life, mid level HR, such was and remains the severity of the condition, I cannot work at the moment, selling my house etc and using savings to live for the last 4 years as well as pay £1000s for private treatment. I have made myself poor in effect, with the help of our government.

To resolve our mental health crisis is a simple thing probably with most NHS health crises. More people, 1000s more like community MH nurses who are assigned cases like me and who get to know me, building a relationship with me.

Trust is a big thing too and fyi, re helplines, I say to yoU (who have good mental health and genuinely, good for you), imagine you have the worst treatment resistant venereal disease and have to calll a helpline to discuss It with a stranger, perhaps a woman when a man is preferable and vice versa… all the gory details of symptoms, the why’s and wherefores.

Those with poor mental health usually have a litany of bad things done to them by people which is difficult to discuss with faceless strangers. That is not the answer and for crisis only at worst if there’s nothing else. I am told to go to casualty if I ever feel like harming myself. You go to casualty on a Saturday night and wait for hours with nothing to do but wait, for me, that would take me one step closer!

From the political aspect, this is a long term problem in that if you pay now to treat and support, many could go on to work, start and run businesses and ultimately contribute to the economy.

Less violence would be an outcome, particularly fewer men in prison (figures of 50% or more suggest child abuse and neglect are a feature in their past which causes many cases of C-PTSD and other illnesses). So we save money by not jailing people as it’s darn expensive.

This is not rocket science but it’s a long term project, 25 years perhaps, which will have to be reviewed against objectives that will likely change along the way. But it needs money, time and expertise. Long term focus.

4 year government isn’t compatible with societal issues like that.

It’s almost as if you need day-to -day firefighting and administration over 4 years but cross party or even external organisations, with specific long term but practical objectives, whereby there is still democracy but these issues are less influenced by the short termism of our political system. As apolitical as possible, but subject to democratic scrutiny.

For anyone who has been relatively unscathed by mental illness, I (and others let down by waiting for treatment) paid £100,000s of tax into UKGOV and yet when I needed help I had to fend for myself I was let down and in any other private organisation, I’d get my money back and possible more for the resulting harm, like a free courtesy shower cap and a cheap plastic pen perhaps.

I could have been paying tax for 4 years now and contributing to the economy. I and 1000s more like me, who have to wait sometimes 6 months for 10 mins with a psychiatrist (I paid £150 to get a private apt within a day or so because I luckily had resources). Most cannot do that and suffer, housebound and isolated when the opposite is needed: connection.

Our system fails spectacularly on its short term, quick win ethos to keep a big slice of uninterested and dumb press and electorate happy).

And someone needs to think differently (Apple was think different but that’s by the bypass).

If you want to make this place better, our system must change as the generations behind me take more and more pills.

Why? Pills are cheap.

Nurses, Psychiatrists and Therapists and their like are more expensive in the short term, but their lack thereof, means they are simply ineffective against a ginormous workload.

There are dozens more issues like this that linger and never improve enough due to our system, like poverty and it’s effects, for example.

My view is simplistic and I’m not an expert.

The detail might be unrealistic and idealistic but the general principle that our short termism stymies lasting change for the better is the main one..

We forgot about being visionary, dreaming of far better, being a leader and showing the world how we started again, a blank sheet and built something that effects real and lasting change for the better.

We suck and are globally tired and old hat.

Robin Lambert
Robin Lambert
1 year ago
Reply to  James Wardle

Real Change Get in Independents ,Who have No Party axe to grind ,or subject To Whip’s office blackmail.? Unfortunately I am pessimistic How Easily people can be manipulated by Mainstream ‘news” hysteria, believe Climate is Affected by motor car ,rather than Sun ,Volcanic activity, Solar Flares. huge Metoerites..

Steve Gwynne
Steve Gwynne
1 year ago

I would say if there was a simplistic framework by which to describe the Left and the Right, then it would be the continuum between equality and inequality.

In this respect, the Left seeks to capture the State to impose distributive measures through taxes and State transfers, along with an adequately funded public sector that goes beyond statutory duties which includes agencies that can strongly regulate. The driving principle being individual rights.

The Right seeks to capture the State to allow a greater degree of self organisation, individual liberty and the unimpeded formation of stratification. In this context, the public sector is funded to provide statutory duties and temporary maintenance of strategic interests if the private sector is unable to do so. Regulations are constructed to achieve the above with a baseline of necessary protections in mind.
The driving principle being individual responsibility.

The Centre is a mishmash of the two.

Terry M
Terry M
1 year ago

In my view the fundamental divide is between individualists and collectivists. Our Bill of Rights was written to protect the individual from the government (the collective). Many on the left praise the idea of sacrificing for the good of the many. This is fine as long as it is voluntary. Where it goes off the track is when it is imposed in law/regulation by the many on the individual.

The lockdowns are a perfect example. The gov should be giving recommendations and advice, describing the outcomes that can be expected for each action, and allowing people and businesses to decide for themselves how to act. Most people would (and did) act responsibly. Those who do not (bars and private parties) will suffer the consequences themselves. In this scenario it is imperative for individuals to protect themselves from the irresponsible. Those who cannot act for themselves (care facilities) should be protected, and this is where the gov has a role.

Businesses could have days or hours when masks are required or when the elderly alone are welcome. Other times it could be open to all. But it should be up to the business to choose and the customer to choose whether to use that business.

Schools in my town have optional in person or electronic attendance. About half of the kids are goiing to school and half Zooming. Each family is free to choose. (Free to Choose book and program by Milton Friedman is 40 years old and available on Youtube; should be required reading/viewing in high school)

Steve Gwynne
Steve Gwynne
1 year ago
Reply to  Terry M

How do you manage the unintended consequences of individual decisions.

A bar decides to remain open in an area of high transmission rates and inadvertently facilitates a cluster overdispersion event.

Is the bar then liable for the increased rate of infection which say increases hospitalisations, incidences of self isolation or is it the case that anyone who attends the bar and catches Sars-Cov-2 is personally liable.

However, what is that consenting individual inadvertently passes it on to someone who then dies.

Who is accountable for the death of a person who did not even enter the bar.

Terry M
Terry M
1 year ago
Reply to  Steve Gwynne

Maybe you missed this sentence:
In this scenario it is imperative for individuals to protect themselves from the irresponsible.

Our society has downplayed personal responsibility so much that everyone wants to blame others for their every problem. Time for people to become adults and take care of themselves. Bar owners are not responsible for your behavior – if you go there you are taking the risk of your action. The only thing the bar owner is responsible for is enforcing whatever restrictions he/she chooses to have within their establishment, i.e. masks, distancing, etc.

Sweden did something along this line and are getting on better than most places.

Terry M
Terry M
1 year ago
Reply to  Steve Gwynne

You may have missed this:
In this scenario it is imperative for individuals to protect themselves from the irresponsible.

We are each responsible for ourselves. If you are engaging in high risk activities you must assume the risk. It’s called personal responsibility. I know it’s a quaint concept these days. We have too many people blaming others for everything that happens to them – victimhood is very popular.

The bar is not responsible for your going to the bar. They (should) have the option of requiring masks, handwashing, even burkas if they so desire, or not. You attend at your own risk. The only responsibility the bar has is to make their policy easily visible to anyone before they enter. That way each person can judge the risk for themselves.

kirsten2
kirsten2
1 year ago
Reply to  Terry M

If the consequences were only visited on the people who chose to go to bars or other gatherings and not protect themselves this would be fair. But the people who engage in non-protected behavior may contract Covid and then go among vulnerable people and infect them as well.

Hardee Hodges
Hardee Hodges
1 year ago
Reply to  kirsten2

Life is full of risk. The irresponsible person remains a threat to society anyway, bar or not.