Greg Stephens at NZ Political Comments was asking recently about the usefulness and derivation of the left-right spectrum, and I suggested essentially that its usefulness is close to zero, except for those with minds as one-dimensional as the left-right spectrum itself.
As for its derivation, the terms derive from the seating arrangements of the Post-Revolutionary French Parliaments, one of the more venal and violent ruling bodies anywhere, anytime. The venality exposes the real truth of the terms: each post-revolutionary group wanted to plant its snout firmly in the trough of wealth opened looted and filled up by the Revolution’s executions and property seizures.
Those on the right-hand benches wanted to claim the loot for the already wealthy; those on the left claimed the loot for the poor (and then, like Rob Campbell and Ken Douglas, they moved to the right). And those in the centre? They just hoped to keep their heads on while all around them were losing theirs, courtesy of Madame Guillotine.
So that’s where it came from, and what it describes: Robin Hood at one end and the Sheriff of Nottingham at the other. So where do greens, fascists, communitarians, libertarians, Stalinists, Nazis and Helen Clark fit on the left-right spectrum? The correct answer is, ‘Uh, I don’t know.’
So is it any use then as a measure of political position? The answer is both yes and no. No, because government’s legitimate business is not looting from one group to enrich another (that is to say, it shouldn’t be), and thus terms coined only to delineate the snout in the trough should no longer be considered valid. Yes, because modern politics, unfortunately, continues to be an exercise in such venality. Modern politics is an exercise in getting the snout of one’s group firmly and permanently in said trough.
Self-appointed interest group representatives continue to clamour for special favours for their group at the expense of others. Lobbyists in Wellington pour arguments into the ears and alcohol down the throats of politicians in pursuit of these special favours. Politicians curry favour with their chosen groups - their ‘power bases’ - promising special favours bought at the expense of someone else in order to keep the politician momentarily above water before sinking under the weight of the group’s growing voraciousness, and the noise of the next group’s clamouring.
And the guy picking up the tab for all this is the one who’s completely forgotten about.
Such is modern politics – a disgusting, bruising process - and terms like “left” and “right” are used to mask the nature of it and to give it a veneer of respectability. This oft-used and archaic political ‘saw’ slices up the body politic into two kinds of thief, and helps give respectability to their thieving.
It is a saw that sees the “right” purportedly upholding the interests of business and existing wealth at the expense of others (as if wealth can only come at the expense of others), and the “left” purportedly upholding the claim of the poor and disadvantaged to their ‘fair share’ of the pie (as if wealth was a static and once-baked commodity). It sees the right upholding the censorship of personal, intellectual and moral values on the basis that “we know what is best for you," and the left extolling the regulation and emasculation of all wealth creation on the basis that it is “exploitative of the poor, and probably bad for the environment to boot." And it leaves the centre exposed as a “zero” i.e., Peter Dunne.
It is time to cry: “Enough! A plague on both your houses.” And on Peter Dunne. It is time to recognise that there is no ‘pie’ to be sliced ever more thinly and redistributed to ever hungrier groups, but only wealth created and owned by those individuals who created it; time to recognise that the saw’s slicing gives momentary succour only to the loudest and strongest of groups, with claims measured not on validity but on the size of the group and the volume of their voices.
For who misses out in this wolf-pack-ridden wasteland, this constant war of group against group? Who misses out is the smallest minority of all, that’s who: the individual.
When the two false alternatives of “left” and “right” are taken out for a drive, it is the engine of freedom that is left at the side of the road - an engine whose motive power is the thinking, creative power of the individual, and whose mainspring is the rights of all individuals to live their own lives in their own way, without fear of being forced against their will by others.
That’s why the seductive brandings of “left” and “right” continue to be used. Such groupings exclude all arguments for the rights and freedom of the individual from the debate in the same way as they were excluded from the Post-Revolutionary French Parliaments, and for the same reason. The left-right ‘political spectrum’ effectively excludes the two sides’ common enemy from the debate – individualism. That is the aim, and it is the measure of its advocates’ success that we continue to use such terms, meaningless, distortionary and antiquated as they are.
That is why I favour dropping the labels “left” and “right” as meaningless and divisive - they merely tell us which gang is making their illegitimate demands on us. I suggest instead making the spectrum two-dimensional instead of one by adopting the Nolan Chart (named after its inventor David Nolan) and its accompanying five labels Authoritarian, Libertarian, Left-Liberal, Right-Conservative and Centrist. You'll start to see those labels appearing on my sidebar as I start collecting responses to this quiz from fellow bloggers.
I have already been collecting over the last ten years the scores of MPs and their supporters, and I’ll shorrtly be posting many of them here as well. Two-dimensions and five labels do a much better job of explaining political positioning than one-dimensional thinking ever did, and most importantly two-dimensional thinking opens the door for the long-overdue inclusion of individualism in the political equation.
[DISCLOSURE: Recycled from a piece by myself originally published in the Herald, November 1997.]