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Fri Dec 21, 2012, 11:44 AM

Right vs. Left vs. Progressive vs. Conservative

(Warning: this post uses a definition of "progressive" different from its modern usage, and closer to what it meant a century ago.)

So as we watch the Republican party implode yet again, I'm led to rehash some of my thoughts about the political spectrum in this country and how the current party system does and doesn't represent it.

Noah Millman (one of the few conservatives I heartily encourage liberals to read as much of as possible) has an interesting model that I think merits a lot more attention than it gets. Right and Left are ideologies; Progressive and Conservative are temperaments (beware spellcheck on that last one: "temperment" describes a musical instrument's tuning; "temperament" the innate parts of a person's psyche). The right, speaking broadly, sides with winners, and the left, speaking broadly, sides with losers. There are moral arguments for each; as a leftist I obviously find the left's more cogent, but they exist on both sides. This piece of his on Tolstoy and conservatism is probably the best description of it he has, and also well worth reading on its own.

Progressive and conservative, on the other hand, are temperaments. To speak broadly again, conservatives think change is inherently dangerous and Progressives think it's inherently neutral or even good. Progressives like broad, sweeping changes, creating or destroying institutions to solve problems, while conservatives' instinct is to adapt existing institutions to new needs, even if that seems less optimal than a new institution would.

So here you have four possible combinations, and I think there's some representation currently for each, still:

Left Progressive: Henry Waxman.
Left Conservative: Barack Obama.
Right Progressive: Paul Ryan.
Right Conservative: John Hunstman.

(The famed friendship between Kucinich and Ron Paul may have something to do with the fact that they're both by this definition quite progressive.)

Now, once upon a time, the Democratic and Republican parties were, approximately, the progressive and conservative parties. The Democrats leaned left, and the Republicans leaned right, but what kept them together was their common temperaments; their beliefs about what process of change is best.

As party power shifted back and forth over the last century, it was usually because one party picked up three of those four groups in a coalition. So in the 1910s you had all of the left plus right progressives in the "progressive" coalition. Or in Nixon's days you had all of the right plus the left conservatives in the "silent majority" coalition.

So, we had a situation where there were two parties and separate from that two broad ideologies. There were left-leaning Republicans and right-leaning Democrats. This was more or less a functional system despite all of its flaws, and it is completely dead now. We're looking at a much different way of governing than we have for the past century, and we need to figure out what that is going to be.

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Reply Right vs. Left vs. Progressive vs. Conservative (Original post)
Recursion Dec 2012 OP
IDoMath Dec 2012 #1
Recursion Dec 2012 #2
tama Dec 2012 #3
Eleanors38 Dec 2012 #4
Zorra Dec 2012 #5

Response to Recursion (Original post)

Fri Dec 21, 2012, 11:51 AM

1. Not to get too bogged down in semantics but...


I was taught the that spectrum was;

radical/progressive --- Liberal --- conservative --- reactionary

So your "right progressive" looks like a reactionary to me.

Or do I need to just set these aside for your analysis?

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Response to IDoMath (Reply #1)

Fri Dec 21, 2012, 11:58 AM

2. It's Millman's peculiar term

I think his model is not that radicals are "more liberal" than non liberals, or reactionaries "more conservative" than non reactionaries, but that there are two separate axes here. You might have someone who is significantly more liberal than a radical (eg, he wants to get rid of all private property whereas the radical just wants to end bourgeois capital ownership), but he wants to use existing institutions to gradually make that happen. It's about the trajectory rather than the goal. It's probably not the best choice of terms, but I can also see why he made it.

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Response to Recursion (Original post)

Fri Dec 21, 2012, 12:04 PM

3. Tolstoy on anarchy



The question is not, I repeat, which community will be the more secure, the better — the one which is defended by arms, cannons, gallows or the one that is not so safeguarded. But there is only one question for a man, and on it is impossible to evade: “Will you, a rational and good being, having for a moment appeared in this world, and at any moment liable to disappear — will you take part in the murder of erring men or men of a different race, will you participate in the extermination of whole nations of so-called savages, will you participate in the artificial deterioration of generations of men by means of opium and spirits for the sake of profit, will you participate in all these actions, or even be in agreement with those who permit them, or will you not?”

For man of peace, conservative in respect to maintaining balance with man and environment, progressive in respect to adapting to constant environmental change to maintain balance.

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Response to Recursion (Original post)

Fri Dec 21, 2012, 12:29 PM

4. Interesting stuff. Without reading through all his stuff...


it sounds as if much is centered on ownership of private property (or not). In my involvement with American politics -- including radical & leftist thought & action -- that contesting ownership of private property was an exercise by few.

A more fundamental shift has occurred with the Democratic Party: It has moved steadily to a non-ideological and pro-corporate outlook which brooks little tolerance for the "leftism" of George McGovern, and is willing to let the fundamentals of union-organizing fall by the road; it seems to abandon positions as soon as they are attacked by the GOP/RW, perhaps because it has such confidence in its duck 'n' hide politics.

The GOP has lurched to hard-right since the early 90s both in terms of ideology, corporate goals and a sublimely aggressive temperament. But this has been going on since the early 60s. The GOP's transformation is clearer and more linear.

Our politics is now measured along a continuum of Far Right and Center Right. There is little left of the Left.

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Response to Recursion (Original post)

Fri Dec 21, 2012, 01:07 PM

5. We need to work on eliminating the notion that conservatism has any value to humanity, other

than as something to be eternally recognized as deadly, and as something that needs to be kept in a secure and vigilantly monitored cage, and never let out of the cage.

The very essence of the difference between progressives and conservatives is economics. Progressives believe that economic engines must be strictly controlled and monitored in order that their primary function will be to best serve the interests of human beings and genuine democratic government. Conservatives believe in an unregulated free market, the consequence of which can only inevitably be some type of conservative political, social, and economic oligarchy.

There are other phenomena/noumena that may define progressives and conservatives to a lesser extent, but these phenomena/noumena are secondary to economics when we talk about potential systems for our country and planet. A healthy progressive economic system will necessarily lead to general progressive evolution and progress in the political, social, and environmental realms as well. A conservative economic system can only lead to regression in the political, social, and environmental realms, and will inevitably destroy the planet.

Generally speaking...

Today's progressives want to eliminate and replace institutions which are irrevocably corrupted, in order to institute a system that primarily serves the needs of human beings. Dennis Kucinich is an example of this type of progressive. He understands that regulating wealthy private interests is a primary avenue toward achieving a flourishing and sane egalitarian country and world.

Conservatives want to maintain and strengthen these institutions and allow the corruption within them to flourish unimpeded, in order to maintain a system that primarily serves the economic interests of a wealthy elite. Ron Paul is an example of this type of conservative. He talks a somewhat progressive game, but the heart of his philosophy is an unrestricted free market, which as I mentioned earlier, can only lead to general destructive conservative oligarchy.

Conflating the ideological stances of Ron Paul and Dennis Kucinich might be fun for some, and right leaning moderates may use this conflation for subtle nefarious propaganda purposes in order try to denigrate the progressive positions of Rep. Kucinich, but in reality, Reps. Paul and Kucinich are at almost completely opposite ends of the progressive/conservative economic/political/social spectrum.

Economically speaking, all evidence points to the fact that President Obama is far more similar to Ron Paul in ideology than Rep. Kucinich.

The keys to instituting and maintaining a constructive and evolving progressive society that provides for the maximum rights and opportunities to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness for the greatest majority of human beings are first preventing wealthy private interests from using wealth and deception to neutralize democracy, and then to democratically prevent regressive authoritarian personalities from assuming any positions of leadership.

Our current system requires revolutionary change ~ the complete abolition of some institutions, the alteration of others...and an understanding of the old saying "don't try to fix what ain't broke".

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