What has been for some time a shorthand to describe general political leanings no longer applies in the current political climate, and will not in the future.
Left and right lay on a linear graph built upon a certain common understanding, that a “middle” exists, and that left and right are the furthest apart from one another as possible.
This is not only untrue, but in fact actually harmful to the honest discussion of concepts of governance as it misses a crucial point – when it comes to basic attitudes towards the concept of power and how that power can and should be used, the far right has far more in common with the far left and the far left has far more in common with the far right than either side would ever dare to admit.
A more accurate description of politics would be circular, with the top of the circle being where political ideas that emphasize the individual lay and the bottom of the circle the domain of the totalitarians, no matter what they call themselves.
Specific policy battles, in this construct, are far less important than what a proposal says about the proponents attitude to power and how it will be used.
For example, when speech codes are pushed – either on campus or on one of the massive global internet platforms that now serve as society’s “town square” – they are touted as protecting the vulnerable and only “meant” to target “hate speech.” Without having to take any specific action, the person or group or organization that supports this notion can be defined – at their heart – totalitarian, as limiting what another can say is done largely out of fear – fear of what they might say, fear others will listen, and, therefore, fear that your status in society – financial/political etc. – will be diminished.
In other words, (not to seem glib,) the core difference between Hitler and Stalin was that Stalin was not a tea-totaling vegetarian like Hitler and that, unlike Stalin, Hitler had a keen interest in design and had Hugo Boss make the SS uniforms. Beyond those surface differences, they were both murderous nightmares made flesh whose attitudes towards power were identical.
And they both justified their rampages based on the same concept of power, which, at its center, is that the state (and the specific humans running that state at that moment) is mandated to control the lives of its citizens for their own good – even though the actual truth was that it was only good for the state and the people in charge despite the fact that millions of people truly believed in the rightness of the system.
The idea of left and right are deeply entrenched in the global popular imagination. But as the world becomes smaller and, oddly, both more closely interconnected and drastically further apart, a revision of that construct must be made to allow for a better understanding of the motivations behind the ideas of leadership and power and the societal hazards inherent in authoritarian constructs, no matter “right” or “left.”
Like the degrees on a circle, there are gradations, of course. It can also be argued that attitudes towards power overlap with outlooks – globalists and/or oligarchs (putatively benign systems like the neo-feudal nature of the current California or openly kleptocratic like Russia and Wall Street) stand in absolute, sneering, panicked opposition to localists, those that believe the closer a decision is made to their front door the more likely it is to be correct (nationalists can fall anywhere on the circle).
This circular paradigm places classic liberals and conservatives closer than they may like, but both ideas of societal governance are far more threatened by soft strangulation of the velveteen progressive wokeism currently on display than they can possibly imagine.
Much of the current foot-in-the-door, soft sell authoritarianism can be so tempting to the public that President Ronald Regan’s famous quote “The nine most terrifying words in the English language are ‘I’m from the government and I’m here to help’” could be modified now to “I’m from the government and I’m glad you asked me to help.”
And then the government never leaves.
Totalitarian constructs dress themselves in various ways as – when presented directly – they are anathema to the public. Getting rid of the Senate filibuster, for example, is presented as eliminating a racist impediment to the full expression of the citizenry, and not as eliminating the protection of transitorily minoritized viewpoints and destroying the idea that power itself should be a shared thing. Therefore, anyone or any group opposing that basic sense of “sharedness” by definition falls toward the bottom of the above circle, the part of the circle that limits the access of others to power.
Any idea – no matter how benign sounding – must be looked at through the lens of the fact that power itself is a zero-sum game – it can be sought to subjugate or to keep others from subjugating and anything that centralizes power is an effort to implement/exert authoritarianism.
The idea of centralizing power is, forgive me, central to the continued success of any authoritarian effort. The more focused a regime is, the easier it is to control the (fewer and fewer) power levers of society. To echo Caligula (or Nero or Stalin – either way not the best company to be in) things would truly have been easier for him if in fact “Rome had only one neck to strangle.”
Of course, that means the best way to thwart that desire is to create as many levers of power as possible.
And that means that more people have to “stick their necks out.”
Author’s note – This piece was in part inspired by comment thread discussion about an incomprehensible Spectator article by politihack Jonah Goldberg; credit where credit is due and here is that link: https://spectatorworld.com/topic/say-no-to-the-populist-war-party/
Additionally, a more in-depth piece – even with a barely serviceable graphic – in this vein can be found here: https://thomas699.substack.com/p/circle-of-power?s=w
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