What does it really mean to be left or right?

Think for Yourself


Someone mentioned to me that my articles sometimes confuse her. She told me that sometimes I sound like a Republican and sometimes a Democrat, sometimes a conservative, and sometimes a liberal. So, I will start to explain the problem in the space I have left. This article is the first in a series of articles spread over the next three weeks.

First, the historical definitions of the political left and right have changed since World War II. The terms originate from the French Revolution period from the seating arrangements of the Assembly as seen from the speaker’s seat. Those on the right side of the room supported the monarchy, aristocracy, and the Catholic Church. They opposed most changes. They were conservative and authoritarian. Those seated on the left supported a limited government, civil liberties, secularism, and capitalism. They sought something new. They were liberals and represented the middle class. The unrepresented poor sided initially with the left but later joined the intellectual elites to champion communism and socialism. Communism, socialism, and fascism depend on the authoritarian centralized government control traditionally supported by the right.

Roosevelt and Stalin had more in common politically with Hitler and Mussolini than with Churchill. The United States and the Soviet Union were each friendly with Germany and Italy before entering the war. Germany declared war against the United States after Japan bombed Pearl Harbor. Americans like to believe that we entered the battle to liberate Europe and save the Jews, but we did not. The Soviet Union was allied with Nazi Germany for about two years. Together, they divided large swaths of Europe that they invaded and conquered. In 1941, Germany attacked Soviet positions to gain total dominance. The Soviets only entered the war out of a desire to preserve their earlier gains. British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain tried appeasing the Fascists at first. Only after Germany had reneged on earlier agreements and subsequently invaded Britain’s ally, Poland, did Chamberlain declare war.

After Chamberlain later resigned, the anti-socialist Winston Churchill held the line against the spread of fascism and Soviet expansion until actions by Hitler drew the United States and the Soviet Union into the war against fascism. After the war, the Soviets, and other socialists like Roosevelt, were embarrassed and ashamed. They corrupted the original definitions of the political left and right to create a narrative that hid their initially close ties to fascism.

The corruption of terms has continued ever since until most have become meaningless. My political positions sound confusing because most political terms today are useless. People assign their meanings to terms. People use labels and terms without clear definitions or understanding of the original meanings. This lack of clarity contributes to the political divisions in this country. American politics is the art of confusing and distracting people. People need to understand each other and recognize the intended confusion. People choose and assign labels without any understanding. I could teach an introductory political science and moral theory course, but people would only read those articles if forced to. Instead, I offer the simple phrase, “Think for Yourself.” I could have said, “Know Yourself.” I am on the left side of the classical spectrum. Like many of our founders, I believe a small, limited government is best. I believe in personal responsibility and civil liberty. I believe in capitalism. I believe that my rights end where yours begin, and yours end where mine begin.

It does not matter what I think. It does not matter what some dead politician or philosopher believed. It does not matter what labels people try to use. What matters is knowing what you believe, how to communicate what you think effectively, and understanding what other people are saying despite their use of ambiguous terms and labels. Ask questions. Seek clarity. Pick ideas that sound good, not labels that sound good. Think for yourself.      


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