“Iona is no leftist,” a Twitter acquaintance recently asserted. It’s left me pensive as to what it means to be on the left (or not) and why so many of us lifelong left-leaning voters find ourselves described by our fellow lefties as, bafflingly, “right-wing.”
I think of myself as left-leaning primarily because of my belief in a strong welfare state. Communism is a failed ideology, incompatible with human nature, which can only be maintained by the most severe and inhumane forms of authoritarianism. But, while I am therefore a reluctant capitalist, I feel we have a duty of care towards the weakest members of our society. I believe in free-at-point-of-use healthcare and education at all levels. I favor a robust welfare state and am far less concerned about possible abuses of hand-outs than I am about the many deserving but less successful people who slip through the cracks. I would like to see far greater support for single mothers and more affordable childcare for all who need it; I’d like drug users to be treated with compassion, not criminalized; I’d like us to provide a dignified life for the elderly, ill and disabled. As far as possible, I’d like to see everyone given equal opportunities to thrive, whatever their background and I do not want us to abandon anyone to misery. And I can see no place for religious dogmatism of any kind in government which must remain completely secular and uninfluenced by politicians’ personal faiths. These are not right-wing views.
If I were in charge of such things, everything following the first line of the second paragraph would have been taken outside and impaled upon a row of red editor’s pens, on the grounds that it consists of nothing but platitudes better suited for a politician’s stump speech than a poli-sci discussion. But I guess I would agree that “belief in a strong welfare state” marks an important distinction — more because of the “belief” part, though. The stakes between Trinitarians and Arians were no less important (or deadly) just because all parties involved were arguing over a nonexistent God; likewise, the fact that the welfare state keeps growing more elephantine regardless of what any particular priests thunder about from the pulpits renders the argument strictly academic from my perspective. Sayre’s Law in full effect. But, okay, fine, you guys fervently “believe” in the righteousness and goodness of this system that is far too massive and complex for any faction to control; you guys don’t “believe” in it and would like to go back to some golden age of laissez-faire; and you’re both ready to settle down to decades of trench warfare over it. Gotcha. Just let me remove myself to a safe distance before you start trading artillery rounds.
Well, I should amend that a bit. That last line, “These are not right-wing views,” also signifies something substantial, namely, what Christina Hoff Sommers accurately called “the liberal fear of looking conservative,” a debilitating trait that permeates every single article in this burgeoning genre. Not only does it reek of fearful defensiveness, it situates the argument on an axis of ideological proximity rather than principle. Worst of all, the whole tendentious classification breaks down as soon as you try to apply it to the original culture warrior and welfare-stater.