“Iona is no leftist,” a Twitter acquaintance recently asserted. It’s left me pensive as to what it means to be on the left (or not) and why so many of us lifelong left-leaning voters find ourselves described by our fellow lefties as, bafflingly, “right-wing.”
I think of myself as left-leaning primarily because of my belief in a strong welfare state. Communism is a failed ideology, incompatible with human nature, which can only be maintained by the most severe and inhumane forms of authoritarianism. But, while I am therefore a reluctant capitalist, I feel we have a duty of care towards the weakest members of our society. I believe in free-at-point-of-use healthcare and education at all levels. I favor a robust welfare state and am far less concerned about possible abuses of hand-outs than I am about the many deserving but less successful people who slip through the cracks. I would like to see far greater support for single mothers and more affordable childcare for all who need it; I’d like drug users to be treated with compassion, not criminalized; I’d like us to provide a dignified life for the elderly, ill and disabled. As far as possible, I’d like to see everyone given equal opportunities to thrive, whatever their background and I do not want us to abandon anyone to misery. And I can see no place for religious dogmatism of any kind in government which must remain completely secular and uninfluenced by politicians’ personal faiths. These are not right-wing views.
But, increasingly, I find myself at odds with the left because of other aspects of my political and ethical convictions. I am a firm believer in free speech, including speech which might be deemed offensive or hateful. I believe in equal opportunities for men and women, but I see no reason why this should necessarily lead to equal representation of men and women in all spheres of life.
I believe in equality between people of all races and skin colors, but I think we should strive to achieve that by making skin color and ethnic origin as irrelevant as possible in every important social and professional situation. No one should be either praised or blamed for the color of their skin or the content of their knickers. I think we should offer assistance to those who are struggling, but this should be on the basis of their personal circumstances, on whether or not they have access to food, shelter, education, health. Not on the basis of their melanin levels alone. I think we should right injustices, but not make a virtue out of victimhood or anxiously seek out imagined slights. And, while I think we must vigilantly protect women from rape, sexual assault and harassment, I do not believe we need to be sheltered from awkward flirting, lewd jokes, unwanted (but not coerced) advances, sexy video game characters or T-shirts with bare-breasted women on them.
My ethics is also not dependent on science. Questions such as whether there are two sexes or more, whether gender dysphoria is real, whether women on average prefer careers which prioritize dealing with people to jobs in engineering or tech and even whether African-Americans have a lower average IQ than Asians are matters for scientists to decide. I don’t feel qualified to weigh in on them. But, in any case, none of these speculations about averages and statistical tendencies need affect our moral views. No matter what characteristics any group may or may not display on average, each person is an individual. And every individual must be treated on a case-by-case basis, without prejudgements. Not viewed as black or white, man or woman, but as a unique fellow human being. We need not deny, manipulate or distort science to know this.
I’ve recently witnessed many people on the left “called out,” harshly critiqued, even demonized for sharing the views I’ve outlined here. Scorned, shunned and ostracized by the left, they’ve often sought out the sympathetic ears of media personalities, interviewers, talk show and podcast hosts who are right-leaning. Some of the more unsavory elements of the right have been behaving like ambulance chasers, waiting to cash in on the latest victims of the left’s woke-on-woke purity pogroms. We have only ourselves to blame for this. If we don’t want so many people to fall into the clutches of these self-interested faux-Samaritans, we shouldn’t leave them battered and bleeding by the roadside to begin with.
We on the left have the responsibility to build a broader consensus. To define and defend our core values and welcome all who share them, even if we disagree on details. Those values — equal opportunities, welfare provision, compassion for the poor, social responsibility — are too important to abandon. Yes, I’m a leftist. And there should be room for me on the left. And for others like me. Many others.
“I thought you were a progressive.” That actually stung more than “typical, from a Trump supporter.”
[…] has been much criticism of identity politics by social commentators with a variety of political views as well as analyses of how it could contribute to the popularity of Donald Trump, the rise of […]
Rhys: My point of reference is UK/Argentina, not the US. But in any case, there’s no political climate in which favouring big government over small, high taxes over low and wanting significant investment in the welfare state is a *right* rather than a left wing position. I’m not right wing. These aren’t right wing views.
Jontou: I don’t see them as free. They are free at point of use, i.e. those programmes are funded by taxpayers money. That is what I advocate. Not charity.
Eric: I can’t see any earlier comment by you. Please don’t be paranoid. Right, left and middle can all have computer failure. Resend your comment, please.
“equal opportunities, welfare provision, compassion for the poor, social responsibility” These are also values for the right.
Do you see taxpayer-funded government programs as free? The charity and volunteer culture that was communal, adaptive to the individual, and free has been largely displaced by rigid federal government programs that waste great sums from the labor of a vast middle- and the few upper-classes.
Once I was young and impulsive
I wore every conceivable pin
Even went to the socialist meetings
Learned all the old union hymns
But I’ve grown older and wiser
And that’s why I’m turning you in
So love me, love me, love me, I’m a liberal
Wait just a second. My comment was deleted? Apparently the left, the right, and the middle censor criticism. Obviously not worth my time or effort.
In parts of the Anglo-sphere what you described is now considered right leaning neo-liberal. To me- it has always been more about the left losing the ideas battle re economics (capitalism > communism) but the left winning the ideas battle re civil rights. When the left/ right dichotomy pre-dates civil rights (it also pre-dates the economic systems we discuss) it has been appropriated to place emphasis on economic system preferences rather than civil rights issues. I appreciate I look at these things through the eyes of an Australian and I don’t have the insight to the USA landscape which dominates much of the political ideology discourse- in Aust we have 2 major parties that are both progressives- one is more classically liberal (Liberals) and one more union/ socialist (Labor). The conservatives in Aust prefer the classic liberals and therefore support the Liberal party and press a more conservative slant in… Read more »
Hank and Mybrid: Unfortunately I think a left-right division is inevitable, especially in a virtually two party FPTP democracy. I identify with a lot of Lib Dem viewpoints but in my constituency they stood no chance of winning. Rational Centrist sounds like a wonderful thing. But if it somehow involves voting Tory, count me out. I find thinking in terms of left v right still a very useful distinction. Of course, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to reach cross-party consensus on many important issues, such as global warming. But without a government and a strong opposition, you don’t have democracy. Democracy thrives on the conflict between opposing parties. And the means through which we exercise it is through political representation. I align with the left on all the main points of their political programme (especially important to me right now is preserving the NHS). So it doesn’t make sense… Read more »
You’re like me. You really AREN’T a lefty anymore. Considering the craziness and hate that now consumes every discussion on the left, no thinking person should feel comfortable there. Fortunately there’s a third option, one that is neither left nor right, but RATIONAL.
I call myself a Rational Centrist.
How wonderfully sensible.
Well met. I have my own political agendas that are not defined by left or right. Given this experience perhaps you might consider exploring the notion that left vs. right is a false dichotomy to begin with. Up until around the year 2000 the Democratic party touted itself an umbrella party of loosely affiliated interests. Reagan won as Republican by identifying the three-legged stool of Republican conservatives. The Republican Libertarians of the western United States have all but been silenced with exception of Rand Paul. The US has 300 million people and arbitrarily assigning all them to left or right is as futile as it is pointless. The world has 7 billion people and we are to believe these 7 billion must be cast into a left right dichotomy? No. For me one of the singular benefits of the Information age is we now have the technology, the Internet, to… Read more »
It’s the author here, Iona (I have a funny sounding moniker on WordPress)
Dave: I’m not sure but I think Labour is salvageable and I’m not a fan of splitting into smaller parties. However, I find it very hard to support Jeremy Corbyn in any way. Although we are fairly aligned on domestic policies, I feel he is a supporter of so many things and people I despise that I cannot respect him at all. I’m waiting for his reign to end.
The BiggestBottleski: Very astute comment.
Jeff X: wonderful statement. I agree with every word.
Finknottle: Yes, indeed.
Very good piece
With one minor caveat on childcare all I can say is “spot-on”
A question – Do you think we need a new political party to realise these principals?
I am not sure but I am becoming increasingly convinced that Labour are effectively permanently lost to us so I would support a new party of non-dogmatic centrism.
My worry about the much vaunted new centrist party is that many of those talking about it seem to be just single issue anti-brexiteers.
I voted “leave” but I would see “remaining” as a price worth paying for a genuine political realignment, but not if the “new” party is a single issue group of reamainers.
I would appreciate your thoughts.
Keep up the good work
Bravo. Have always been on the left, but now recognize more than ever the need to check the anti-liberal Left.
As a center leftist, my principles are based almost entirely on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. I therefore believe that… We should abandon political correctness, identity politics, and moral ambiguity, and instead, embrace the fight against tyranny, oppression, and those who would undermine the rule of law. We should avoid friendly relations and trade with theocrats and authoritarian governments who promote discrimination, sexism, antisemitism, racism, and genocide. We should not remain neutral in the face of barbarism and commit ourselves to the notion that free speech and free expression represent the highest aspirations of the common people. We should attribute greater value not to the collective but to the individual, and avoid common cause with regressive political and religious institutions. We should avoid the trope that all modern geopolitical, religious and ethnic conflict can be attributed to colonialism and western imperialism, or that racism was invented by the west.… Read more »
I feel pretty much the same. It often feels like the Left has come to describe an ideologically purist club rather than a political tendency. I, too, feel alienated from many of my fellow left-leaners, but as someone who voted for Bernie and then Hillary, and who participated in Occupy Wall Street-related civil disobedience in 2011, it’s hard to describe myself as anything other than a leftist, or at least a liberal (in the American sense).
I think part of it is that those of us whose definition of the left is primarily about restraining corporate power and expanding the social safety net aren’t necessarily in the same project as “the woke left.” Many individuals are in both lefts for the sake of reinforcing already-existing alliances, but this creates a tendency toward extremism which alienates freethinkers.