The terms left-wing or right-wing where it pertains to politics come from the French National Assembly that was set up after the revolution in the summer of 1789. The anti-royalist revolutionaries seated themselves to the left of the assembly, and the traditionalists seated themselves on the right. Nowadays the terms are used to describe a ‘progressive’ or ‘traditionalist’ political stance.
The difference between what we would call left-wing and right-wing can be stated thus:
Emphasises traditional beliefs. People should take take responsibility for their actions — both in a positive way, so they are rewarded for being enterprising, and negative ways, so they are not bailed out if they don’t work for any reason and become homeless for instance.
At its extreme: very little government, laissez-faire capitalism, no government health system, no social security. Human rights limited to basic laws (the Ten Commandments), rule by appointed ruler.
If you help people out they won’t push themselves to reach their full potential
Emphasises changing laws as moral codes and ideas change. People should be able to reach their full potential and it’s the job of the state to help in this. People who earn more than average should be taxed and the proceeds used to aid the poor. State managed health system, strict control over companies. Rights of people enshrined into law.
At its extreme: no individual ownership, state management at every stage of life, Communism.
From each according to their needs, to each according to their ability
Nowadays, these distinctions get clouded. People can be socially left but economically right wing, for instance and politicians on both sides have one ear towards populism in order to get elected.
The strange thing is that like the Yin-Yang symbol, the extreme left morphs into its opposite. Communism in Russia became a dictatorship and Venezuela under Maduro (ostensibly a left-wing president) has become a dictatorship. In one sense, the extreme left-wing view contains the seeds of its own downfall. If the state is deciding what is best for the population, then this is incompatible with democracy. The state knows better than the people.
On the other hand the extreme right disintegrates into revolution. The masses who have had no say will revolt if they have nothing to lose. This was the basis of the French and Russian revolutions. So long as ‘strong leaders’ can keep their economies healthy, they are usually pretty safe. The result is that when they are under economic pressure they go to war. (George Orwell points this out in his book ‘1984’). In fact this is true even in democracies.
- The recession of 1910-12 resulted in World War I
- The Great Depression (1929–38) and the economic stagnation of Germany resulted in World War II
We are looking at the edge of an economic abyss and we can see world leaders posturing for a world war. Putin is still immensely popular in Russia because he has been able to deliver economic prosperity, mixed with a jingoistic nationalism that appeals to the Russian nature, but if the economy declines much more he knows he is trouble. The result will be Russia invading an adjacent country — probably one of the Baltic states — under the pretext of defending Russia against the US. The US economy is on the brink. Donald Trump could see a war as an opportunity of saving the economy and also gaining nationalistic support, as his predecessor George W Bush did after September 11th and Margaret Thatcher did during the Falklands’ War.
By Philip Braham on .