Wednesday 6 July 2011

A simple (and simplistic!) classification of the political Right


I have never presented a written-out and formal taxonomy of the Right so far - but reflecting on Bonald's more complex taxonomy which I posted two days ago makes me realise I implicitly use a simpler (and more simplistic) threefold taxonomy as follows:

1. 'Mainstream' (or pseudo) Right (which is actually part of the Left)

2. 'Fascist'/ commonsense Right - which is the secular anti-Left, a reaction against the Left

3. the Religious Right - which is pre-Left: it is what the Left was/ is reacting against.


So the chronological order, and causal sequence, is as follows:

First there was the Religious Right, and nothing else

Secondly there was the Left which was a reaction against the Religious Right, therefore Leftism = the anti-Religious Right (and includes the pseudo-Right, such as mainstream Conservatives and Republicans, and libertarianism).

NB: The Left is intrinsically and necessarily anti-Religious, although secularization of the Left was gradual, and remains incomplete except among the elite politically correct intellectuals. Insofar as a person or institution is Leftist, by that much they are anti-Religious (which is compatible with a relatively high level of religiousness, nonetheless; especially in a society where the average level of religiousness is low).

Thirdly there was Fascism which is Secular Commonsense anti-Leftism, therefore Fascism = the Non-Religious anti-Left.


And that's it!



Daniel said...

This is astute. There's room for both kinds of taxonomies. Yours has the advantages of simplicity and of being essentially true (as far as I can tell). And Bonald's, together with your recent addition, has the advantage of nuance and allows for the fact that different reactionary-right thinkers naturally emphasize different aspects of tradition.

Even within the traditional, pre-Leftist religious right (back when it wasn't the "right," but just the way things were), there have always been different parties that advocated one religion or another, or concentrated on one aspect of religious life/thought or another. Presumably both medieval Catholics and medieval Orthodox Christians can be considered part of the religious "right," despite the schism. Or to put a finer edge on it, does Luther get a pass? Was the Reformation too anti-authoritarian to fit into your first category? If not, it seems a bit bizarre to put Luther in the same category as Marx. With only three categories, despite (or perhaps due to) the simplicity of the arrangement, we are left with some grey-area cases, no?

I suppose one could take your taxonomy to the logical conclusion and say that any deviation whatsoever from absolutely True Religion puts one to the left of the True Right, but doesn't that leave us with the awkward assertion that every person is either a Saint/Church Father (or perhaps only the Apostles themselves qualify) ... or else he is a Leftist? At which point it's no longer sensible to talk about the political Left/Right distinction at all.

dearieme said...

How do you classify Charles I and Cromwell?

Bruce Charlton said...

@Daniel and dearieme -

First one should decide the relative position of two examples on the Right versus Left spectrum, and this is usually easy.

Where you draw the precise line between what constitutes Right and Left is obviously a matter of judgement and context and purpose.

So Cromwell is on the Left of Charles the First, without a problem. Charles the First is Religious Right, and Cromwell is an early example of Leftism - but when Leftism was still far to the Right of the current situation.

And from the position of Cromwell as a Leftist, there are elements of Fascist/ Common Sense/ Secular Right about Charles the Second - as was obvious in the decline of morals and the rise of science; decline of folk belief in fairies and traditional life etc.

There was not a true 'Restoration', but a modernization of monarchy which became less sacred.

Luther was obviously also an early example of Leftism, compared with the Western Catholic Church against which he was reacting.

And Western Catholicism was an example of Leftism with respect to the Orthodox Church against which it was reacting.

All of these Leftisms were introducing elements of secularism wrt that which they reacted against.

But who were the first *actual* Leftists? Well, any specific point is bound to be somewhat arbitrary.

Perhaps there is a point at which the proponderance of an ideology crosses a threshold and is *mostly* Leftist - this point is clearly reached by the time of Marx, but probably happened earlier - such as Hegel, or Kant, or Locke or Descartes...

What about the Reformation? My feeling is that this was a modernization (specialization) that helped give Leftism a push (set us on a steeper slippery slope) but the preponderance was not Leftist and secular for quite a while after the Reformation.

Is that clear enough?

Then, when Leftism began to accumulate strength and looked set to dominate, there are 'fascist' reactions against it, particularly in the 19th century - but maybe a hundred years earlier, with Herder and the like...

claudio said...

As is well known, the names right/left came from the seats taken in the French Assembly.
In that way, all political parties today come from that left, since all share the values called then of the left: liberty, equality and so on.
That view will share yours. Right then will be the one asking for theocracy, censitaire vote, slavery and so on.

Bruce Charlton said...

@claudio - or perhaps that was already much tainted by modernity?

No serious mystical religious reactionary would advocate any system of voting!

As for slavery - this is a fascinating business. Abolition was, indeed, an early Leftist cause - and advocated on Leftist grounds. Yet as the Left has evolved into political correctness, anti-slavery has become purely verbal and rhetorical - a stick to beat the Right - and having no implications for action.

Indeed the Left actively supports numerous slave societies and ideologies, and have done so for many years (e.g. the Soviet Union, and a variety of African states above and below the Sahara).

Also Leftists have even stopped suppressing slavery in their own Western nations - because the imperative for immigration and diversity trumps the wish to suppress that slavery (and abduction for the purposes of slavery) which these policies have reintroduced to the West.

So by their revealed preferences (their choices) it seems that nobody at all is *really*, in practice, seriously opposed to slavery nowadays.

Alex said...

Your association of fascism with secular 'common sense' isn't self-evident - at least not to me. When I congratulate someone for using their common sense, I don't suppose I'm approving some totalitarian impulse or other.

I think I know what's meant by 'fascism' and I think I know what's meant by 'common sense', but the policies of the fascist regimes in the twentieth century can hardly be described as 'applied common sense'.

To be more specific: If we were talking about the regimes of Franco, or Mussolini, or the inevitable Hitler, why should we characterise their political programmes, individually or collectively, as common sense in action? If we probed deeper and discussed the 'thinkers' who perhaps influenced these fascist dictators, what common sense principles could be picked out from their theories?

Apart from the interpolation of 'common sense' in your statement about fascism, I can't quarrel with the rest of your succinct classification.

Ariston said...

And Western Catholicism was an example of Leftism with respect to the Orthodox Church against which it was reacting.

This seems like an odd reading of the historical actuality. Reaction/revolution is not a good model for understanding the schism; both sides saw themselves—with good cause—as the original.

Bruce Charlton said...

@ Alex - but of these only Hitler's regime was totalitarian, surely? - and the Nazis were substantially Leftists.

But I have covered this ground before if you search 'fascist' - the main point is that anti-Leftism (reaction against Leftism) is called fascist *now* (and since the mid-1960s), and in fact this is not-unreasonable; common sense reactions against fascism have many features in common with 1920s and 30s fascism - not least the cause.

@Ariston - I disagree. The fall out was mainly about Latin innovations such as the filioque and scholasticism; the Orthodox always regarded the Bishop of Rome as primary, but denied his right to re-make Christianity in an open-ended way - or rather, they saw the Holy Spirit as working through the Church in a different mode, by tradition, by a divinely created consensus of Holy Fathers.

(I hope I have summarized that accurately!)

Ariston said...

There are a few specific problems with this view.

1. With the filioque, even though it is obviously incorrect to modern scholarship, the Latin divines certainly appeared to have thought the doctrine was antique and probably did so in good faith. Note that Cardinal Humbert accuses the Greeks from deviating on this point, rather than accusing them of refusing to accept a papal decree. Confusion on this point remained the norm for centuries; when the Tübingen theologians have their exchange with Patriarch Jeremias, they still hold to the filioque and its essential originality, despite the advances in scholarship by this point. I think this is one of the great ironies of the Anglican and Lutheran branches of the Reformation, but there it is.

2. I think the idea of Orthodoxy as inherently opposed to scholasticism is, in large part, a rhetorical re–reading of the past based on the positions of the neo–Palamites in the 20th century. During the lead–up to the schism, there is no "scholasticism" that you can differentiate from contemporary developments in the East—who is more "scholastic" between Eriugena and Photios? Later, when Aquinas first came to Greece, the reaction was largely positive, and the modern reading of the Palamite controversy being between a crypto–Thomist in Barlaam and the authentically Eastern Gregory seems highly suspect (recent scholarship on Gregory's reliance on Augustine, for example, is a helpful corrective). Post–Palamas theologians, while defending East against West often had a devotion to Aquinas, the most telling example here is Patriarch Gennadius Scholarius (the first after the Fall), who—while critiquing Catholicism—also called Aquinas his master. However, Scholarius stands at the end of a long tradition, when the apparatus necessary for sustaining speculative and systematic theological enterprises are about to fall away in the East. This is incidental to history, not something essential—it is far too easy for moderns to read back the current situation into the past, which is what I think the neo–Palamites generally did. The counterpoint to all this among the luminaries of 20th century Orthodoxy would be Georges Florovsky.

Since this is getting far off topic, if you want to drop the discussion or move it elsewhere, I'm amenable.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Ariston - you clearly know a lot more about this than I do.

But my attitude is in contrast to this "it is far too easy for moderns to read back the current situation into the past" - because, surely, it is precisely by reading back the current situation into the past that it - gradually - becomes clear what were the issues: in particular, who was the most correct.

It seems to me that this is shown by the comparative history of the two branches of the church: that the Western branch became the most corrupted by Leftism - scholasticism, the Reformation, and the numerous schisms and apostasies since.

(The Eastern branch has, of course, in its official branches - such as the USSR, or in some Islamic situations - been taken over by force at times. But I regard this as 'normal' worldly corruption plus - sometimes - overwhelming force; and different from the self-imposed modernization by the intellectuals of the Western Catholic Church. And the mystical core has been better and longer preserved, at least until recently.)

Daniel said...

Everyone in this discussion has done an impressive job avoiding the cheap and easy route here. It's a quote we've heard a million times, but I am made of lesser mettle and I cannot resist, for Dr. Johnson said it best:

"I have always said, the first Whig was the Devil."

Falkenberg said...

I generally agree with Mr Chalton's taxonomy, but would quibble with the name: Religious Right. This term has come to mean, especially in the US, modern evangelicals who remain mostly Leftist (from the historical perspective). I think the better term is 'Throne and Altar' Right, which was a term actually used during the relevant time period and more accurately captures what it appears you are going for.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Falkenberg - Thanks. I certainly agree with your distinction between what is called the 'religious right' in the US, and what you term 'Throne and Altar' Right - but I had never heard the T&A term until discovering Bonald's blog a few days ago.

Perhaps prefacing with the term 'Mystical' helps flag up the distinction?

The main distinction is that the primary underlying goal of society should be (should aim at being) Christian salvation - and other aspects should (ideally) be pursued such as to contribute towards this.

Bonald said...

Needless to say, I'm all for the phrase "Throne and Altar Right".

I've complained in the past about different denominations of Christians trying to prove their superiority by attempting to "out-liberal" the others, but I'm all in favor of religious polemic based on sects trying to "out-conservative" each other. The quest to prove themselves the true reactionaries will have good effects all around.

Still, I disagree that the filioque, whether or not it was a true or good idea, was a Leftist innovation. It's for the same reason I disagree with fellow Catholics when they cite the Reformation as an early Leftist/liberal action. It just stretches words like "liberal" too far, so that it comes to mean "any deviation from Eastern Orthodoxy" (or Roman Catholicism, depending on who's throwing around the insults). To be a Leftist movement, I think it should have to have something to do with freedom, authonomy, equality, individualism, or secularism. I don't see any of those coming into play in the Great East/West Schism or the Reformation. Maybe you have a more expansive definition of "Leftism", but that's mine.

JP said...

I think we have come so far to the Left that the "Religious Right" (even in the USA) is not really "pre-Left" at all, but in fact accepts a great many of the Left's operating assumptions.

What the Left today reacts against is not an actual "Religious Right" that exists in reality, but an imaginary "Religious Right" that Leftist elites use as a hobgoblin to motivate Leftist voters.

In short, the Religious Right today is not a true anti-Left force so much as a somewhat more retarded version of Leftism than the mainstream "moderate Right." If the "moderate Right" is the Left of last year, the "Religious Right" is the Left of twenty years ago.

The Left in the USA is not so much anti-religious as anti-prole-religion. There are "progressive" religions like the Unitarians to which Leftists can comfortably belong.

Anonymous said...

Vatican II is leftist, but deistic religious.

Unitarian Universalism is concentrated essense of leftism, but is religious in a vaguely deistic way

Gaia worship is religious, deistic and extreme left.

Manism (Oprah Winfrey) and spiritualism (spook worship) is pretty far left.

Roisy in DC is as right right can be, but does not fit into your categorization at all.

Bruce Charlton said...

@JAD - do you not recognize with where the likes of RiDC goes? - to me it is obvious, nay paradigmatic.

(Clue: it is not Religious Right nor is it Left).

tenkev said...

It just stretches words like "liberal" too far, so that it comes to mean "any deviation from Eastern Orthodoxy" (or Roman Catholicism, depending on who's throwing around the insults). To be a Leftist movement, I think it should have to have something to do with freedom, authonomy, equality, individualism, or secularism

Surely, then, even by this definition, Protestantism is a Leftist movement. How else can you describe the idea of "every man a priest" or the reliance on individual interpretation of Scripture instead of on Sacred Tradition and the authority of church hiearchy. It seems to me that Protestantism is pure Leftism at its core; but, applied only to theology. It tooks the following years to expand those beliefs into other aspects of life.

Brett Stevens said...

It seems to me the original right exists in Plato.

Natural laws; natural selection; divine order of monistic and transcendental structure; idealism, and of course, moral vigilance.

If you ask me (you didn't) it doesn't get better than that.

But this was the order before liberalism, when liberalism was poised to destroy Greece through Athens.

Bruce Charlton said...

@BS - What Pascal demonstrates throughout the Pensees, implicitly, was that Plato (perhaps above all others, along with Socrates) would *surely* have been a Christian (and perhaps now is!) - he would have been *compelled* to choose to become a Christian had it known it (or, at least, would have tried to do so - which amounts to the same thing eventually); compelled to recognize Christianity's Truth and superiority over Paganism.

Brent said...

I appreciate Bonald's comment at 7 July 2011 03:13.

As a Lutheran Christian, I'd like to stick up for the distinction between the conservative Reformation and the radical Reformation. The Lutheran Confessions (and confessors) are all about carefully pruning away only that which obscures the Gospel, and keeping everything else. Luther was vehemently opposed both to proto-Leftist conceptions of "liberty" and to the worship of Reason.

Like everything else in Church history, good and bad are wound together in the Reformation. Don't throw out the good with the bad. Do feel free to throw out Zwingli, Karlstadt and Muntzer though.

Gabe Ruth said...

I think Bonald's taxonomy was over-wrought, making needless distinctions between individuals (as Deogolwulf noted, the word romantic has been deprived of meaning, but if it has a meaning in the sense Bonald meant it, how could Chesterton be in a separate category?) because they focused on different areas. Yours is a good example of the tortured nature of the modern usage of left and right.

What I really want to quibble with though is this blanket of disdain for "mainstream 'conservatives'" that the reactionary tends to embrace. I am as opposed to relativism as anyone, and know that discrimination and judgment are not only not bad words, but duties. Still, the casual dismissal of so many irks me. This may be because I was one, and know many, and know that they agree with us (reactionaries) but haven't quite determined the extent of the rot of modernity yet, or seen some of the lies for what they are. I can forgive them for this because the picture painted by modernity is quite believable on a superficial level, and the mass of humanity has neither the time nor the inclination to engage in epistemic analysis of existence. (Which is not to say that I think the reactionary project is not worthwhile. I am gradually converting everyone I know.)

I think the source of alot of the disdain is the racial obsession held by so many reactionaries, and the hesitance of "mainstream 'conservatives'" to embrace it. I understand the impatience this attitude creates in of those that can see a couple steps down the road, but you have to understand that conservatives want to prevent chaos, and causing racial resentment is not at all a good idea for either side (granting that this is a main tactic of the Left, and most race obsessives on our side are just responding in kind). We are not all philosophers, and to think that if reactionary views ever came to power, there would be some ethical barrier preventing racial injustice in the opposite direction is naive. So, if you harp on race differences, as opposed to the awfulness that is official, "corrective" discrimination, I think you so the seeds of strife all over again.

I agree that they are very deluded about the efficacy of their methods. But to say they are part of the left is an Orwellian corruption of language.

Bruce Charlton said...

@GR - when you say 'you' do you mean me specifically, or people in general?

Because these criticisms don't apply to me specifically!

Have you read my forthcoming book? I can send you a copy if you e-mail.

Gabe Ruth said...

It is important to remember that Luther was tossed out of the Church. He saw things that were wrong, and said so. He did not start the Reformation, the corruption of the Church did.

Also, the only place the Roman Catholic church belongs to the left of the Eastern Orthodox is on a map.

Ariston, thank you for the details. I am a Catholic, but I've long admired aspects of Orthodox theology (superficially, from a distance), and felt impatience at some of Catholic doctrine. The complimentary nature of positive and negative theology are particularly interesting to me. I tend to think that the Schism was a tool of the Satan (obvious I guess) to divide these two methods and prevent a fuller picture of reality from entering the human mind.

Gabe Ruth said...

Dr. Charlton, I apologize for the "you". This is a trend I see in the broader movement, but I can't accuse you of it.