What is Left? What is Right?
On the rapidly changing American scene the distinction between Left and Right is becoming more and more a question of personal psychology. The scramble of ideologies is undergoing such an upheaval at present it is virtually impossible to label a political candidate on the basis of his position papers. When Norman Mailer ran in the Democratic Mayoralty primary in New York City last year he identified his political position as “to the left and to the right of everybody else.” And he was right. His radical decentralist program defied all standards of liberal/conservative traditionalism. He scornfully referred to this tradition as “the soft center of American politics” and offered a program closest to the quasi-anarchist position of Paul Goodman.
Anarchists, and those calling themselves anarchists, abound on both sides of the political spectrum, from the grabbag collection of SDS to the split-off faction of YAF. Timothy Leary, running for Governor of California, adopts a platform of pure free-market libertarianism and is called a “Radical Leftist”. Ronnie Reagan, long-time favorite of conservative free enterprisers, promises to Preserve and Protect the corporate-liberal status quo even if he has to break some skulls doing it.
(Curious, isn’t it, what superb bulldogs the conservatives make for the liberal superstructure?).
As Bulldog Nixon swings the Right more accurately into a position of total repression, and Spiro the Righteous roams the earth impugning the courage of those who would rather live than die in Vietnam, everyone of even the slightest libertarian sympathies is polarized more sharply to the Left. So Left is Right and Right is Left. Free market is Left and Socialism is Right. Voluntary communes are Left and State Capitalism is Right.
It’s enough to give you a headache.
But the long-term test of whether an individual will identify with the Left or with the Right is one—as I mentioned earlier—of personal psychology. The Left, it seems to me, has the capacity of bleeding for flesh-and-blood human beings. Even the horrible liberals, lately scorned by both radical capitalists and pot-happy flower children, were originally motivated by the desire to “help the oppressed”. The fact that they chose the worst means possible of doing it—coercion rather than freedom—is another question entirely. The concern for fellow human beings which originally motivated them was genuine. Now they are fat and powerful and they use the Reagans and Agnews to protect them when all attempts at co-optation end in failure. They are the New Conservatives while those who call themselves conservatives are nothing more than bully boys for their corporate-liberal mentors.
The Left bleeds for flesh-and-blood people.
The New Left—the radicals, the revolutionaries, the students who are turning against their social democratic parents—are driven by outrage; they are obsessed with a mania for justice because other human beings are victimized by racism, because fellow humans are imprisoned in rotting tenements riddled with filth and rats. They see the injustice that exists around them and they are incensed because they have the capacity to identify with the victims of an unyielding and thoroughly unresponsive superstructure, a system controlled and operated by insatiable racketeers and their political puppets who will never give up power until they are smashed out of existence.
The Left bleeds for people.
While the Right—even our anarchist friends recently separated from YAF—concern themselves with abstractions. They are more upset over the fact that their free market principles are not given a chance to operate than they are because fellow humans are trapped in overcrowded schools and ghettos. They seem to be incapable of emphasizing [empathizing] with suffering individuals and dismiss all such concern as misguided altruism. Their notion of justice is one which involves only themselves, and they fail to see that they will never enjoy personal freedom until all men are free of injustice. The Objectivist drive for liberty is not so much to create a world in which all men are free to live their lives in peace, but rather to conjure a society in which Galt-like superheroes with wavy hair and “ice-blue eyes” can demonstrate their economic superiority over “parasitic illiterates who litter the welfare rolls.”
Thus it is possible for our anarcho-Objectivist friends in Philadelphia to hold demonstrations calling for the “Release of John Galt”—while Bobby Seale is fighting for his existence in Chicago.
Thus it is possible for our Objectivist friends in Maryland to ask me to prove that Fred Hampton and Mark Clark “had not committed or threatened to commit violations of the rights of others . . .”—after they had been shot in their beds at four in the morning by Chicago police (this article is my answer to them).
Thus it is possible for these same right-wing anarchists to speak of the Vietcong as “communists” and “morally evil” despite the fact that ninety-five percent of them have probably never read Karl Marx and are concerned mainly with the swollen bellies of peasant children.
How does one begin to understand such a mentality? How does one begin to understand an individual who can bleed for an unlikely, dehumanized character out of fiction but not for the young victims of an early-morning police raid on the apartment? How does one understand the special arrogance of fellow “anarchists” who are content to establish a personal sphere of economic freedom and let the rest of society go to hell with itself? How does one understand a “libertarian” organization which wears on its masthead the American dollar sign (hardly the symbol of free market currency), or fellow “anarchists” who cavort in public in stretch suits and gigantic dollar signs plastered over their torsos?
It would be too easy to blame it all on Ayn Rand. This gentle lady did not create this special psycho-mentality out of nothing; she merely tapped an attitude that was already there simmering under the surface and brought it into the open. The fact that so many people responded so enthusiastically to her Cult of Total Self-Absorption (as distinct from genuinely rational self-interest) provides a good deal of insight into the makeup of the right-wing mentality.
The Objectivists, despite all their talk of individual liberty and limited government, are inveterate Right Wingers. Anarcho-Objectivists are no exception for they still adhere to the psychology of fiction-worship and are incapable of bleeding for the flesh-and-blood world surrounding them.
The philosophical division between free market anarchists and voluntary communists is growing less important in light of the current struggle to free the neighborhoods from outside control. The purist ideals of total communal sharing and a totally free market of individual traders are important in themselves as ideals, as logical ends of different though consistent processes of reasoning. But the most important factor in the rough-and-tumble struggle for survival, the war to secure the right of flesh-and-blood people to control their own affairs, is the psychology of comradeship. It is the ability to identify with the actual victims of injustice that cements the bond uniting revolutionaries on the Left, whether they call themselves anarcho-communists, free market anarchists, or just plain radicals.
Terminology has ceased to be important. As we enter a period of overt repression it is this crucial psychological attitude toward our fellow human beings that will determine on which side of the political fence each one of us will stand.
|The Libertarian Forum, February 1, 1970|
More from Jerome Tuccille