In contemporary political discourse, the terms left and right are thrown around so often that they’ve nearly degraded to the point of being insubstantial memes. “Right-Wing Extremists” has been a term swung like a baseball bat by the media and by academics since the New Left rose to prominence in the sixties, and it was an amusing enough rhetorical cudgel given the fact that almost none of the terrorist acts committed by Americans during those chaotic decades were even remotely ‘right-wing’ no matter how you defined it. “The Left,” on the other hand, has become a lovable boogieman used by alt-media commentators since the internet became a usable media platform, but it’s devolved to resembling a word that simply means whatever I don’t like.
Your conservative friends will probably tell you that the terms refer to a sliding scale with collectivism on the left and individualism on the right, but your conservative friends are probably self-identifying “classical liberals,” so what the hell do they know? Your leftie friends (aka everyone else) will probably just give you a blank look when the term “left” is even brought up—if they were Poli-Sci majors, then they’ll likely give you some confused, mumbled response about the “left” referring to the state’s prerogative to look after its citizens while the “right” involves something along the lines of genocide. It goes without saying that both of these approaches are idiotic.
You’d better grab yourself a beer or refill your coffee, because this is gonna be a long one.
The Commies vs the Anarchists
If you’ve been around political conversations for the past ten years, you’ve probably seen the same tired cliché pop up again and again among conservative circles. The right wing defines itself around the principles of free enterprise, individual liberty, natural rights—individualism, responsibility, the free market, etc., etc., etc.! The left, according to the same circles, is a loose hodge-podge of everything that isn’t defined by classical liberalism, all thrown under an ominous umbrella called collectivism. This would mean that monarchical and aristocratic political states share a space on the left with Stalinist socialism and the egalitarian, regicidal nightmare of the French Revolution. As many self-identified leftists have pointed out, this is as shoddy a definition as you can come up with.
Try and unpack this for a second. The lofty utopic goals of classical Marxism, with its dissolution of centralized authority and freeing of the individual from the state—this sounds a bit like the utopic goals of anarcho-capitalist anti-statism at their finest. But that can’t be right; ancaps are faithful adherents to individual liberty and respect for the Non-Aggression Principle. Those damn commies want to reorganize society by force, usually with machine guns and gulags. But the citizens of Ancapistan, they just want to remove those that don’t agree with them—preferably with one-way helicopter rides straight up to about one thousand feet.
If you’re having a hard time seeing the difference, don’t worry, it gets better.
But let’s be easy on the anarcho-capitalists. Sure, they’re anarchists, and sure, they don’t tend to have a problem with violent revolution to achieve their ends. And sure, they’re utopian in philosophy and radical in their platform. But for the anarcho-capitalist, it’s all about consent. The Non-Aggression Principle is founded on quality of consent in everything—in transaction, in bonding, in labor, and presumably in law. Meanwhile, classical Marxism is outdated and, it turns out, verifiably wrong. The organic Marxist revolutions predicted by Marx and Engels didn’t happen; instead of experiencing the widespread revolt of industrial workers in developed nations, all the revolutions that occurred happened in agrarian countries with only the barest beginnings of industrial sectors. In fact, it was largely the socialist governments in those countries that got industry booming. Talk about a backwards fulfillment of the communist ideal.
The modern progeny of these Marxists, however, are no less utopic than their predecessors, and no less global. “Ah!” the Ancap may remark, “but we’re not globalistic at all!” And with that, he holds up a crudely-drawn image of Hans Herman-Hoppe throwing Karl Marx out of tiltrotor. Clearly, globalism must be the difference.
And yet, the anarchist in the heart of the Anarcho-capitalist would scream for the dissolution of national boundaries in their entirety. As realistic as Hoppe has tried to formulate an Ancap model, the moment organization along any lines begins—ethnic or not—the formulation of a political body is always hot on its heels. Capitalism, with its interest in the free movement of labor, necessitates the breakdown of such borders in even its more moderate forms. Even the Ancap’s less socially-astute big brother Libertarianism recognizes this. Capitalism, at least overtly, espouses the freest movement of capital possible, and that means breaking down those borders so labor can go wherever it wants. That usually comes at the expense of the nation.
And it doesn’t matter the extent of the nation’s patriotism. Free trade is capitalism taken to its logical extent: the competition and interlinking of labor on an international scale, and the merging of populations into a single market from which is drawn a single pool of workers. It’s the conceptualization of a “global citizen.” If this sounds like an “international proletariat,” you’re a dirty commie sympathizer but not off the mark. The patriotism of a Western country, to the extent you can still call it a country, ceases to be nationalism so much as just a generalized belief in a set of values. But values don’t form nations; people do. The best a global Ancapistan paradise can hope for is to have nations be formed by consumers rather than by ethnicities—something that the likes of NAFTA and the EU practically state in their charters. So much for individualism.
Stalinism was fiercely patriotic, and for good reason: it had a war to fight. But even after Nazism was crushed beneath millions of Soviet corpses and the weight of its own egoism, Soviet patriotism spoke to a trans-national consciousness in both its propaganda and its foreign policy. Regardless of whether it viewed the revolts across South America, Africa, and Asia as tactical opportunities to defeat the United States or as genuine expressions of an international proletariat ethnos, the Soviet regime’s efforts to degrade national identity manifested in very tangible ways. For every international agreement spread under the guise of capitalistic Free Trade by the West, Soviet arms and espionage flooded into countries that had even just an inkling of revolutionary thought. Borders meant less and less as the century wore on.
So which one of these systems is individualistic? Which one is collectivist? Is the more individualist system the one that takes it upon itself to socialize whole sectors of the economy in an effort to guarantee an individual’s wishes to pursue his dreams, or the one that de-regulates business restrictions in order to make it easier for a guy to start his own enterprise? Is the more collectivist system the one that forces industry to comply to crippling centralized planning and wipes clean history books to push politically-defined truthiness at an academic level, or the one that imports so much cheap labor as to expand the working class until retirement becomes a myth while the worker is reduced to a taxable economic unit with no care as to the security of family or social cohesion? It isn’t that one system is more overtly collectivist or individualist than the other; it’s that these are awful measuring sticks to differentiate political systems in the first place. Both attempt to erase national borders. Both manifest a distinct hatred of national and ethnic identity. Both operate with a utopian notion of an idealistic individual—be it a global citizen or an international worker—at heart. In modern parlance, the left-right scale isn’t one that defines ends, it simply defines means.
Rewind a Bit
Where the hell did the terms come from in the first place? They’re relatively young in terms of usage, dating back only to the period of the French Revolution. Prior to the unceremonious beheading of the king in 1793, the members of the French National Assembly divided themselves in seating arrangements with relation to the president. Those to his right were defenders of the ancient regime, while those to the left fell in with more revolutionary aspirations. The terms became part of the common discourse through the newspaper accounts of the period.
Of course, the National Assembly’s very existence was something inclined toward revolution, and within just a few years those defenders of the crown and Church had been replaced by ‘moderates’ who adhered to the written constitution of the time—a step away from the traditionalism and nationalism that the aristocratic classes symbolized. At its initial conception, the right might very well have corresponded to genuine traditionalism, but the mere formulation of such an ideology—in reaction to the revolutionary Jacobin causes—foretold its eventual demise. “The right” per se is every bit as modern a political invention as the left is.
Modernity is defined by a distinct, revolutionary impulse. This is not just a characteristic of the left; the right, coopted today as it has been by the so-called conservative movement, remains a movement based on modern principles and operated according to a strategy of compromise. Conservatism, far from what its namesake implies, is simply a vehicle used to string along less-radical progressives down the same track—liberté, egalité, fraternité. A brief look at the conservative movement in just about every country that’s had one and you’ll find the same thing: it’s incapable of conserving anything at all. At its core, conservatism believes all the same things that progressivism does; its anthropology is the same, its metaphysics are the same, and its utopian aspirations are the same. All that’s different is the lip service paid to religious morals and the methods embraced to rally the Enlightenment experiment.
But okay, you might say, what’s the alternative? The so-called Third Way politics of the last century didn’t exactly go so well. Even ignoring the bloody atrocious reputation that everything associated with Fascism gained in the wake of the Second World War, it’s impossible to ignore the fundamentally utopian outlook of the major Fascist movements in Europe at the time. Instead of trying to discover and then create a global consumer or an international proletariat, Fascism was looking to use a totalitarian state to create the ideal national citizen—the perfect implementer of law. Even here, the revolutionary spirit of the Enlightenment finds a willing avatar.
Utopian movements do not work. There is only one utopia, and it’s only coming about after the Apocalypse; all talk of implementing Heaven on Earth is simply an attempt by someone to sell you something in exchange for political control. If the architecture of your political system has as its building crown and then everyone will get along fine, you’d better take a step back and reevaluate exactly who you’re talking about. Utopian theories consistently fail to take into account the theologically-asserted aspect of human nature—namely, that it’s a fallen nature and that no amount of legislation or arbitration by fellow men will make up for that. But this is beyond the purview of a philosophical statement; falling as it does firmly in the realm of the religious, Enlightenment reasoning has no use for it. It simply ignores the existence of Man’s fundamental flaws and chocks them up as things to be overcome merely by hard work and guts. It should be no surprise, then, that more hard work and more guts have been spilled in the name of these utopian fantasies than could previously have been imaginable.
Both the left and the right have been coopted by these utopian pursuits, but it’s hard to deny that just about anything that doesn’t fit into the global-socialist model today has been pigeonholed into being ‘right wing’. The left, still clinging to the vestiges of the New Left from fifty years ago, has come to define the right by the only thing that newly-emerging movements have common: nationalism. And nationalism makes both wings cower. The neocons don’t like it, the libertarians don’t tend to like it, and the left most certainly hates it.
The brighter news is that things seem to be turning around. There’s been a push in recent decades to identify the right with something beyond this Boomer-tier understanding of economics and materialism, binding the right to, at the very least, a Burkean model of ethnicity and reason. This is at least a start, since it recognizes the established order of the world that relies on established nations grounded in the existence of peoples, rather than high-minded ideas of political theories. On the other hand, the increasingly secular direction that political discourse has moved means that talk of nationalism and ethnos will likely result in the same sort of Third Way disasters that culminated in World War Two. Likewise, the emphasis on contemporary political study to begin with flawed anthropological assumptions about man’s unhindered capacity to reason and behave will, also, lead astray any well-intentioned effort to organize the revolt against the modern system. Implementing a new system will make no difference when it’s using all the same hardware and software.
For the rest of us, the only option is the same one that’s been before us for millions of years: avoid modern tendencies toward vice and pursue virtue wherever it is possible. Establish strong families. Respect the bonds between people. Political utopianism, relying as it does on the totalitarian state, begins with broken households and distrustful neighbors, and it ends with farcically-designated housing complexes and most of those neighbors floating face-down in ditches. Begin from the opposite direction: maintain bonds. Those bonds—of family, blood, and community—are what keep a people from disintegrating. It’s what forms a nation.