Specifying labels

“Left” and “Right” and their synonyms are recognized as labels, or names with some unspecified but glaring inadequacy. To specify:

1.) They’re relative. In their likeness to the left and right of position, the meaning of the one is bound up with its opposition to another. But it’s a strange sort of opposition since neither side thinks the other is unjust. Part of the distinction is acknowledging the reasonable limits of disagreement. That’s just the puzzle, though. Why such strong opposition? Why the sense that one’s identity is tied up with nothing more than one side of the reasonable limits of disagreement? The relation, however, wouldn’t be so bad were it not also the case that…

2.) They’re highly variable. Not all relative terms are variable, but all senses of Left and Right are. Today’s Left is tomorrow’s fascism, today’s Right is tomorrow’s progressive vanguard. One and the same action gets rebranded as different beliefs. All this would be bad enough even before…

3.) They get applied willy-nilly to everything. So there is a (conservative or liberal) parish, country club, grade school, homosexual organization, recruiting policy, approach to blitzing… and this is before we get to anything directly political like health care, warfare, welfare, prison policy…

In general, the terms are a case study in the worst elements of the demos: the muddled thought mixed with volatile passion, the historically limited field of view, the indiscriminate and breezy binary universal classifications, etc.



  1. September 4, 2017 at 9:35 pm

    Id love to read one of your posts about Gods (real?) relation to the world.

  2. The Lambton Worm said,

    September 6, 2017 at 6:14 am

    Point of order: it’s manifestly false to say that neither side thinks the other is unjust.

    I know that a great many people on the left, at least, think that the policies propagated by the right are often contrary to justice, even to the extent of being beyond what ought to be considered the reasonable limits of disagreement: an obvious example would be the UK Parliament’s 2016 budget, which combined massive cuts to disability benefits with egregious tax cuts for the rich (and this passed in the context of studies by charities showing that a previous set of cuts to the disability benefit had had terrible consequences for many people, up to the point of causing in a fairly direct way a rash of suicides by disabled people).

    Of course this doesn’t necessarily mean that ‘the left’ as a ‘side’ thinks that the right as a side is unjust. But in Britain at least the argument that the right’s policies are unjust is a huge and perennial part of the left’s discourse: on the political front benches since Corbyn was elected leader of the labour party, and for longer than I’ve been alive amongst common people in the old Socialist north (I’m thinking especially of places like Sheffield and Sunderland). All the tradition of British Socialism from The Ragged-Trousered Philanthropists on up has talked unceasingly about justice.

    The claim that neither side thinks the other is unjust may well make sense in the context of middle-class people arguing politics over dinner. But it bears no relation to political discourse as I continually meet with it in practice.

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