Everything is negotiable on the right (and left)

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I’ve heard people express the following astonishments:

“Why are conservatives arguing for everyone to go back to work? Aren’t conservatives supposed to have stronger disgust and fear-of-disease instincts?”

“Why do conservatives so often viciously criticise Democrats who had military careers, aren’t they supposed to respect troops?”

“Why are so many conservative commentators criticising doctors and nurses online, don’t they venerate first responders?”

“Why are conservatives tied to capitalism? Isn’t it corrosive of established traditions and the family?”

What they’re not understanding is that while individuals may care about principles in politics, on the whole, politics is about coalitions not ideas or principles. Ideas are wielded strategically on behalf of coalitions. The right represents a coalition of the powerful and in our society, the core of that coalition is capital and capitalists. The left represents a coalition of the disenfranchised. Any principle claimed by either the right or the left will be dropped, at least by a majority, if it conflicts with the interests of their coalition.

This is why I’m on the left. On average, the demands of the weak will be more righteous than the demands of the powerful. There are diminishing returns to status, money and power in terms of how it can make your life better. Thus those with little status, money and power will benefit more from gaining some extra than the powerful will benefit from clinging to it, or grabbing more. If you want to get involved in politics with open eyes, the first step is to ask yourself not what ideas are more right but whose claims are likely to be more often just.

If you want any leverage on historical processes you’ve generally got to cling to one coalition or the other and try to advance it and steer it. Sometimes you’ve got to try and steer it sharply, and drag it in a new direction but not so sharply you’re flung off. As a rule, the world is ruled by people, not by ideas (although people rule through ideas).

2 thoughts on “Everything is negotiable on the right (and left)

  1. “This is why I’m on the left. On average, the demands of the weak will be more righteous than the demands of the powerful.”

    Your argument presupposes that governments of the left will increase the ‘status, money and power’ of ‘the weak’. This is rarely the case.

    It’s more accurate to state that politicians of the left claim to be motivated by concern for the weak more often than politicians of the right make that claim. In practice, governments of the left will reliably increase the status, money and power of the government (and sometimes labour unions), while governments of the right will diminish the very same. As far as the welfare of ‘the weak’ is concerned, that’s a different matter altogether. How sure are you that the poorest among us are better off in government dominated societies than in free ones? Surely what matters isn’t which claims are just but which policies will promote justice?


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