ROLE OF LEFT/RIGHT IDEOLOGIES TODAY
‘Left’ and ‘Right are widely used terms today which are differently by scholars. The essay seeks to explore the history of the Lefts and Rights. It defines their views, analyses its importance in the context of the past as well as the present. The relevant terms have a different meaning in varied political systems. An attempt has been made to give it an objective, perspective and to view its varied dimensions critically. We understand how the ideological beliefs have changed over time and the importance of role played by the Left/Right has altered.
The Left-Right political spectrum classifies political Positions, ideologies and parties. The Left includes the socialists, communists, secularists, anti-imperialists, anarchists and anti-capitalists. The Rights are the conservatives, capitalists, monarchists, traditionalists, Nazis and Fascists. The main factor dividing them is class. The Left’s target is ensuring social Justice via economic policies but the Rights defend private property and consumerism. The Left upholds the power of human reason to attain progress, believes in secularity and sovereignty exercised through legislature. To the Rights, this is anti-clerical, unrealistic and reveals class hatred. They believe that the Church is instrumental in binding people socially and a strong political leadership can reduce social and political divides. The Left oppose this as authoritative, repressive and dislike any religious doctrine being imposed on the population.
HISTORY OF LEFT/RIGHT IDEOLOGY
The term Left and Right evolved during the French Revolution of 1789, when the members of the National Assembly were demarcated. The supporters of the king were positioned to the President’s right and the revolutionists to his left. With different historical phases, the seating arrangements changed. The terms had no link to political ideology but only to seating in the legislature. The 19th century saw a cleavage between Monarchists and Republicans after the Third Republic was established there was a demarcation between supporters of a strong executive on the Right and the people who supported the primacy of the legislature on the Left. But in the twentieth century, Left and Right described the citizen’s specific political ideologies. The Rights were the party who upheld the interests of the upper or dominant classes while the left was associated with the lower economic and social classes. While the Rights favored aristocracy and wealth, the Lefts fought for equal opportunities for the less advantaged. (Left-Right Politics)
CURRENT PATTERNS OF LEFT AND RIGHT IN DIFFERENT POLITICAL SYSTEMS
Different geographical regions have different patterns of Left and Right. Political thinking has expanded from its Western European origin all over the globe except the Middle East. Most citizens including the voters and political elites in developed democratic countries use the Left/Right scale for their political programs, government, parties, candidates, issues and social movements. It plays a significant role in the making voting decisions and giving support to the political parties. Though Japan and US still have a liberal versus conservative outlook, the Left/Right considerations affected 90% of the highly educated to define where politics is shaped by religion, ideological Left/Right divisions are not considered. In Communist countries which are now being exposed to western influences, the Leftists or ex-communists parties which adhere to earlier social systems are “conservative”, whereas the Rightists are regarded as “liberal and revolutionary”. In less developed countries like Uganda, the Left/Right dimension is seen by elites as an economic issue while the masses view it from the political angle. But in all regions the Left/Right identification is prevalent among the educated and those who are politically active. (The Limits of Ideological Globalization)
RELEVANCE OF THE RIGHT/LEFT IDEOLOGIES
History reveals that ‘Left’ or ‘Right’ are terms that are antithetical as well as exclusive because no doctrine can simultaneously be both ‘Left and ‘Right’. The gulf between the two cannot be bridged because they are poles apart. They are in reality descriptive because they analyze two sides of a conflict. They are evaluative as they argue on both the positive and negative aspects. Left/Right is not just related to politics but influences sociology, economics and philosophy too.
The political universe has adopted two opposing ideologies – ‘Left’ and ‘Right’ which gives shape to their political thought and government. Sartre says that ‘Left and ‘Right’ are just ‘empty vessels’ without any analytical value. Political debaters have used these terms but they have no evaluative application. It can be argued that ‘Left’ and ‘Right’ are not just ideologies but are opposing programs related to solving political problems and social interests. Therefore, it is suggested that new groupings based on problems should be formed.
The present democratic society is multifaceted, where many forces operate. These forces agree on some matters and disagree on others. So two contradictory forces exist but there is also an intermediate central position which leans either towards the ‘Left’ or ‘Right’. Hence there is a moderate left which leans towards the centre and an extreme left opposed to it and vice versa for the right.
In politics the antithesis between Left and Right is dependent on the period and the circumstances. After the Italian unification, the Rights were predominant but this was followed by a period of Left predominance. Fascism – a Right wing movement – failed, and the Lefts rose to prominence. It is a universal fact that two opposing parts are interdependent and if one is nullified the other too becomes invalidated. Left and Right are two parts of a whole, which stand and fall together.
With the decline of Communism, a radical expression of the Left, the Rights were on their way up. The collapse of the Soviet government put an end to a Left wing government of a specific historical period.
In modern mass politics, this political cleavage classifies ideologies, differentiates parties and their candidate’s proposals and acts as a communication tool between politicians, the mass media and citizens. It is also instrumental in guiding the electors to comprehend complexities of politics and reach conclusions. Most people subscribe to the view that a demise of ideology has been reached and traditional differences between the ‘Left’ and ‘Right’ have been overcome. But research on electoral behavior in legislative elections has revealed that an individual’s Left/Right self placement is a major predictor of voting choices and its importance is increasing. The Left/Right is important today as an explanation of voters’ choices especially in European Parliament elections.
Though the terms Left and Right are challenged by many they are still a part of political terminology. Since socialism is declining, one wonders at the future of the Left. The old Left is analyzed and assessed in order to form a new Left. In democracies, one can hear of “Left in Parliament” and “Right in Parliament”. Even politicians are termed As Left winged or Right winged. Left and Right are terms used to differentiate political thought and activity.
It is now claimed that the two labels are fictitious. Both the Left and right wing movements today face complex and novel problems. In the end their programs for electorates are more or less the same and they propose the immediate ends. On the basis of this argument, the Lefts and the Rights do not have a reason to exist because alleged differences and disputes between them do not exist. Personal animosity is unreasonable because the opposing sides are arguing for the same targets. (Left and Right – Significance of a Political Distinction)
ALTERNATIVE DIMENSIONS TO THE LEFT/RIGHT AXIS
Left and Right, today, are non-adequate terms. The present confusion may give birth to new dominant ideologies. New ideas make old alignments inappropriate. To make necessary changes, work should be done at a quicker pace, according to the current political scenario.
The industrialized nations of the world, including the US are confronted with a situation where the obsolete political groups cannot be called a Left/Right axis as they have become multi-dimensional. In US, the Republicans and Democrats are confused as to how to form alliances on the basis of these dimensions. This lack of coherency is creating difficulties in taking political action.
The first dimension is that of secularism versus religion. The religious group who has hitherto played a traditional role is challenged by the advent of science, which is playing a pivotal role by the influence it has. This threatens the security of the religious leaders who are retaliating by seizing political power.
Another dimension is the ethnic domination versus multi-culturalism. The large ethnic groups like His panics that have arisen have wrested political control. The point now is more than inclusion versus separation and the ‘melting pot’ model US had as a part of its national creed is questionable.
Thirdly, the neo-colonial dimension that prevailed is now confronted with internationalism. With the evolution of the World Bank and IM, trade is controlled by the industrialized world which in turn leads to control of political philosophy. Ethnic and religious domination is now insecure because of internationalism and secularism.
The fourth dimension is that of Laissez Faire capitalism versus government oversight. Capitalist economy has resulted in social and wealth inequality. US has ignored basic infrastructure investments, health, and welfare and introduced policies which favor financial manipulation. A new wealthy class has arisen and resulting in marginalization of organized labor.
Economic disparities and the growth of a wealthy class highlight the dimension of conservation versus growth. While growth is favored, its implications on earth are overseen. Overpopulation excessive consumerism and waste in industrialized countries depletes natural resources. This excess results in disaster. It has already affected the availability of fresh water and fossil fuels. Shortage of these materials would result in persuading those that have them, to give them up. The conservationists would be willing to introduce changes in consumption patterns but not make real sacrifices. (The End of Left/Right Politics)
After analyzing the various aspects of Left/Right politics various conclusions can be drawn. It has existed since the time of the French Revolution, yet, its significance and role in politics has changed. After analyzing the current patterns in various political systems we see that ideological differences based on the Left/Right polarization still play a vital role in politics world over. Therefore, it can be concluded that the Left/Right polarization is not redundant rather it has changed its form and ideological beliefs.
Left-Right Politics http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Left%E2%80%93right_politics
The Limits of Ideological Globalization-Hans Geser http://socio.ch/internat/t_hgeser5.htm
Left and Right – Significance of a Political Distinction – Norberto Bobbio
The End of Left/Right Politics – Robert Feinman http://robertdfeinman.com/society/left_right.html