Space on the Right

Let’s say that “the left” is a spectrum including Marxism and its many varieties and successors, socialism, and all manner of egalitarianisms, especially radical egalitarianisms.

Let’s say that the centre (or centre-right, depending on your preferred terminology) is liberalism and capitalism, has more of a focus on individual rights and liberties, and is generally comfortable with some version of plutocracy, defending the rich either as deserving of their wealth or as playing a useful role in society, or both.

Those two categories seem to encompass all the possibilities that proceed out of the Enlightenment. Anything new that arises in the Enlightenment inheritance takes a place in, and fights for recognition among, the ranks of one or the other of those two.

The right, then, insofar as we are able to think of a position to the right of libertarianism within our present horizon, will be a massive basket containing all that came before the Enlightenment, and all that has developed since the Enlightenment that is outside the tradition of the Enlightenment. It is a bizarrely diverse array of standpoints, as diverse as the world is diverse, and diverse in a way that the centre and the left never can be. Even still, there are some points of family resemblance between the variety that can find a home on the right.

(The “conservative,” who favours the status quo and who prudently fights for at most incremental change in the great majority of situations, does not fit into any one of these three containers, since it can become whichever one is dominant in a given time and place. Chinese conservatives after the death of Mao, for instance, were the Maoists.)

These three can coexist in a single person in any combination, though given the polarizing and combative nature of political belief, it can sometimes require great personal effort to overcome biases in order to seek out the treasures to be found outside one’s primary camp.

And yet, there must always be a primary camp. However much we try, we will not be able to be a perfect and unbiased blend of the three, I feel sure. There must always be a starting point, a fundamental standpoint to which we can return in order to evaluate new ideas.

For me, the starting point is on the right, since in my view the pre-Enlightenment diversity represents something more human, more conformed to human existence, than does the Enlightenment and its children. I believe that it is easy, and even natural, to have a position on the right that is free of (for instance) the racism so common within the contemporary right, since that racism is itself, in its modern origins, a progressive fruit of Enlightenment rationalism.

The place I occupy on the right, however, is also deeply open to being informed by the best of the left and the centre. I am no admirer of capitalism or plutocracy, but I do believe that the free market is an incredibly powerful tool that can be wielded for the good of society. Modern economics has got it basically right, as far as it goes, and even though it may sometimes be necessary to transgress the rules of what is best in purely economic terms, it is important to know those rules and accept them as true within their given framework. Liberty (specifically negative liberty) is likewise not an absolute good, but it is a necessity to some extent in every society, and it can be a potent force for good if well apportioned.

I also doubt the value of equality as an absolute ideal, and yet I am an eager student in particular of what the left has to teach about the invalidity and injustices of capitalism’s division of rich from dependent poor. The left has also been a remarkable source of insight that shakes up some of our habitual assumptions about who “deserves” to be unequal and about whether our treatment of problem cases is really as effective as we think, a source of insight in ways that are sometimes less helpful and sometimes more, but from which I feel privileged to be able to learn.

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