What's Left and What's Right

Left, Liberal and Conservative Values

It is absurd that our confrontational politics insist on polarities

It is absurd that our attacks on the faults of each -ism and social movement are not accompanied by also considering what could be taken from each and valued.

Let us say that the Left stands for

'from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs'. This has Judeo-Christian fore-runners in calls for social justice, and using talents to serve others, and the fundamental equality and value of man (generic) as all children of God - but practices and prophets have also been strongly secular. Democracy has Greek and Roman origins, although for these ancient classics, male citizens were more equal than the hoi polloi. But the Left does tend to say, "We are a community" and to be pretty keen about responsibilities. The far Left abhors capitalism because it can let loose individual greed at
the cost of the community, and attacks the State because it protects capitalism.

Let us say that Liberal and Conservative values

emphasise the rights of the individual, particularly the rights to achieve and to property. This emphasis on the individual also has Judeo-Christian roots - most other societies and religions have emphasised hierarchies and keeping one's place and submission to Fate, however that may be deified. But the quest for individual salvation and justification is straight from the New Testament

Tawney's 'Religion and the Rise of Capitalism' and the Weber thesis shows how the Protestant Reformation with its emphasis on individual decision and action by conscience and its other individualist religious concepts developed into concepts of work and personal justification that gave Protestant Western Europe a tremendous push into the industrial age.

On the Right,

the constellation of Conservative values has been about keeping what is best of the old things - including preservation of property and the status quo. The constellation of Liberal values has been to emphasise Liberty - liberty of speech, liberty to do one's own thing, and 'who dare meddle wi' me'. Here again in both Liberalism and Conservatism there are roots in Christian teaching and in Roman law and in Greek democracy, and in the old Anglo-Saxon ways of running things as well.
But the far Right emphasises the rights of the individual against the State, and the right of the individual to fight the State and anyone else with arms and anything else, in defence of those rights. The less government the better. As with the far Left, the modern State is the enemy.The liberal goal of the full human being was 'life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness', as a cultured, civilised, tolerant citizen of the world.
The great liberal economic, political and social philosophers also emphasised reason, and toleration, and the classical Greek values of 'nothing too much'. The Greeks viewed excess as madness, and 'whom the gods destroy, they first make mad. Excess is a modern goal now, but it has not always been a goal of the philosophical right. Desire to amass money far beyond needs is not a value of the Left. Neither should it be regarded as Right.

Today we have Liberal governments that are not liberal with freedom and Conservative governments that tear down more than they build and Labor governments that betray the workers.

To redress the balance of the Left with the values of the Right should not be to emphasise the Right's value on property and lack of regulation, but rather, to recognise the individual's right to achieve and to speak freely and to be enterprising, and the conservative value of reform rather than revolution, and of valuing and keeping what is best in the past.

In all things our seeds have come from the past - which is one reason why stopping the study of history is dangerous. Loss of memory can condemn us to go round in failing circles, instead of being able to discriminate what to keep, what to discard and what needs inventing for the future.