Political Terminology Needs to be Rethought - Some Personal Thoughts on the Political Spectrum
Thoughts on Today's Political Terminology
I just want to preface this article with a reminder that I am not a political scientist. I am a philosopher and theologian, but many of these topics do intersect. In this post I just wanted to share a few personal insights about a problem that I am seeing in American politics. If there is some major gaff on my part, please feel free to correct me in the comments section.
The "Left and Right" Spectrum is Meaningless
If one looks at the political discourse today (if it can really even be called discourse) it is interesting how in our language we conceive of the diversity of beliefs as a line from "far left" to "far right." What I find interesting about our use of language is that having beliefs in a linear relationship implies that there is some type of shared common denominator by which we can know where to place them on the line. But, wait, is there?
If there was some type of common denominator between these political beliefs being expressed in directional terms (left, right, middle), it would be the totally relativistic metric of: Either a belief staying the same, or a belief being new and causing change. The ideas which are newest, or would change the status quo, would be those the farthest left. The ideas that would most retain the status quo of the past would be farthest right. Whoever finds themselves as a mixture of the two would consider themselves in the middle.
Again, this is relativistic because what ideas are considered left, right, or middle is simply based on the current climate or that time. There's nothing inherent or unchanging in these terms. For example, free speech in the 1960's would have been something seen as being of "the left," and yet now, in 2022, free speech is a belief of "the right." The "most progressive idea" could not be defined, nor the "most conservative idea," outside of how it is defined at this particular moment. Likewise, given the rapid nature of how politics in shifting right now, these terms almost become meaningless from year to year, month to month. (Also, consider this metric with a little bit of historical perspective. I believe that, for the most part, "there is nothing new under the sun" when it comes to ideas. Rather, many ideas cycle through history, falling in and out of fashion. Just a look at Ancient Greece will give a snapshot of many of the ideas which most consider to be new ... but they aren't really.)
What this does is it renders political speech meaningless. It causes massive amounts of confusion because terms that meant one thing 10 years ago, now meaning totally different things. And so, what conversation is anyone really having when they use terms of left and right? It becomes very hard to tell. Rather, wouldn't it be much more fruitful and clear to describe people based on the belief system that they ascribe to? Belief systems with actual names have objective meanings. They entail a set of beliefs that can actually be nailed down. Regardless of what belief system you ascribe to, at least it would make people actually intelligible to one another in speaking.
The Political Circle
Another sinister aspect of why political beliefs are crafted into a relativistic line from left to right is that it allows people to place whoever they see as their enemy as part of the "extreme." For example, today, Communists and Progressives label anyone who is religious as a "far right fascist." In their mind, they are on the side of justice and the utopia, while on the far right are the Christian theocratic fascists who are stuck in their old beliefs which cause trauma to people today.
All political systems are belief systems, meaning that every one of them has its foundations in a set of axiomatic principles that are accepted and believed to be true, yet always involve some amount of faith in doing so. Communism, Fascism, Methodological Naturalism, Enlightenment philosophy, Christianity, Atheism, etc... All of them are the same in that every narrative about the world, and how humans should live, involve faith. (Most especially any type of scientific atheism or skepticism ... those may require the most amount of faith to believe in than any of them, contrary to any type of objectivism with which they try to paint themselves with. In my opinion it requires much more faith to be an atheist than to be a Christian.) And so the current political terminology determines their value by which ones are new and which ones are old? That makes no sense.
To take a brief side note about 20th century communism and fascism ... In reality, the two of them are almost exactly the same, more than any of the other belief systems mentioned. (We all intuitively know this when "Antifa, the "anti-fascists," act exactly like Hitler's Brownshirts fascists.) To play their game, a more correct representation would be something like a political circle, instead of a line. The circle would have communism and fascism both touching at the 6 o'clock position because of how similar they are.
Consider how alike 20th century communism and fascism are:
- Both were totalitarian dictatorships with a leading head figure.
- Both controlled the means of production, and ordered it to the use of the state.
- Both were collectivist in their view of human dignity. Humanity above the human.
- Both were anti-Christian and imposed their own state ideology/beliefs on society.
- Both ended up with an oligarchy of powerful people over a mass of impoverished citizens with no rights.
- Both usurped the role of the family for state indoctrination.
- Both were concerned with an eradication of opposing ideas to protect the ideology.
- Both sought an earthly utopia as their final goal.
- Both separated humanity into two groups, the oppressors and the oppressed.
How is it that today we put these ideologies at the opposite ends of the spectrum? They are almost identical.
We can play games with political language by constantly changing the meaning of the terms left and right, democrat and republican, progressive and conservative ... but these words meaning nothing at the end of they day because they are always relative terms. Whether something is new or old doesn't matter. It's the content of the idea that matters. We need to identify political ideas by their worldview, and with identifying names that actually definitively mean something. We need to break the whole narrative around political terminology given it seems more about manipulation that understanding.