Right and left meet not only in totalitarianism

When I was a high school student, I remember being told by a social studies teacher that the ideological right and left should be thought of, not as a line, but as a circle. When you get to an extreme enough position in either direction, you end up with totalitarianism, as twentieth-century history has demonstrated.

There is some truth to this. I think that my teacher must either have been influenced by Hannah Arendt’s analysis of totalitarianism, or have been taught by someone who was influenced by it.

Totalitarianism is indeed one place where right and left can meet and become so similar that their differences are all but unimportant. I’ve grown more and more convinced, however, that it’s not the only place.

In another sense, the centre is of course a place where the two sides can meet, where equality of opportunity and inequality of outcome and freedom to do your own thing while material conditions will (all else being equal) improve is a place where one particular version of left and right could intersect quite comfortably.

There’s also a homesteading, hippyish, intentional community, back to nature approach to politics (or perhaps withdrawal from politics, on some accounts) where the two can look very similar.

I think often of a 2016 movie called Captain Fantastic. A homesteading family grows their own food, perfects their bodily strength and health, and voraciously studies classics and economics and languages. It could sound like it is written as a right-wing utopia, but it is actually a vision generated from a pretty far left approach to the world.

Belloc and distributism were the source of my first attraction to this sort of politics (although Belloc’s own economic vision is closer to industrial capitalism, in some respects, than this). There are old romantic economists (especially German ones, from early in the history of capitalism) who advocated something closer to this. There was a movement called “crunchy conservatism” several years back that I found quite compelling. I was interested recently to learn about a little cult of Covid-deniers who bought a large parcel of land in the UK to withdraw from modern society together. I’m not saying that people on the left and people on the right who do these sorts of things would entirely agree with one another on everything or even that they would be able to tolerate one another, just as the Nazis and the Bolsheviks deeply disagreed and disliked each other. But they do, still, end up looking a great deal like one another.

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