I have formerly framed the left vs right spectrum of politics as socialism vs capitalism, or collectivism vs individualism. But as I was pondering the fundamental differences between the far left and the far right, I thought of a different pair of words that might be more accurate: inclusive vs exclusive.
I don’t mean that people on the left never have problems with tribalism; I’m not talking about the people at all. What I’m talking about is the philosophies that form the basis of these different models of government. If we go back to the origins of socialism, we find that it was conceived as a social movement in which the tension between the elite ruling class and the workers reaches a breaking point, where the much more numerous working class overthrows the elite and implements a classless economic system characterized by social ownership and democratic control of the means of production.
Let’s examine that definition a bit. Social ownership is not the same as state ownership–in fact, the two are almost opposites. Since socialism was meant to involve the destruction of a state ruled by the elite, the citizens would be the ones owning things. Instead of having a privately-owned company that earns profits for rich shareholders, you’d have a publicly owned company that earns profits for the local citizens. The people are the shareholders of a socialist economy. The “democratic control” part is equally important, because entrusting management of a socially owned economy to a handful of elites would recreate the problem of capitalism. Socialism calls for decisions and management to be handled by the people themselves, and no state involvement is necessary, which is why socialist anarchists exist.
On the other hand, capitalism is more of an “every man for himself” form of economics. The rich man who starts a company is entitled to all of the profits generated by that company, which means that people who are already rich are more likely to become richer, and people who are poor are less likely to succeed. It creates an imbalance by excluding people from participating at the same level; it creates a rift between the elite and the working class. Left wing policies are fundamentally about shrinking that divide and including everyone in the economy, while the right wing excludes those who can’t live up to the ideal via the same methods as natural selection–it’s essentially “survival of the richest”. On the liberal (anti-authoritarian) side of the spectrum, this looks like the right calling taxes and social welfare “theft” and falsely assuming that anyone who doesn’t succeed is just lazy, while the left recognizes the importance of giving everyone the opportunity to succeed in the first place.
It gets a lot more scary on the authoritarian side. Things called socialism or communism have failed when implemented poorly by demagogues who became dictators, ignored advice, and imposed their incompetence on everyone else. But capitalism has also been abused by the same sort, the dishonest businessmen and ideological fearmongers such as Donald Trump and the religious right. Every arrogant demagogue I’m aware of who has been elected turned out to be a disaster. It has nothing to do with left or right, it’s just the reality that closed-minded authoritarians of any sort are unfit for public office.
People call Trump racist, but that doesn’t quite cover it. His view of others is one of utter disregard for their humanity or value beyond what he can get out of them for himself. This is, to me, a patently obvious conclusion based on reading and hearing the words that have come out of his mouth for decades. I said it when I first heard him speak as a presidential candidate, and he only makes it more obvious every day…what Trump offers, whether he’s serious about it or not, is full-blown fascism.
Of course the right wing doesn’t recognize it. They’ve spent so long breeding hatred against a straw man of socialism that they’ve completely lost sight of the monsters lurking in the dark corners of their own side. It’s like they’re birdwatching on the porch, shouting “Danger! Police state!” at every random flash of red in their binoculars, while Trump holds the shotgun of authoritarianism to the back of their heads.
Or maybe that analogy portrays them as more innocent than they are. After all, these are the ideological descendants of the people who fought to keep slavery, who fought women’s right to vote, who fought the civil rights movement, and I’m sure a significant portion of them are in fact direct biological descendants of those people. It’s not just something that flared up because of economic trouble. It’s not just the result of 30 years of anti-intellectualism and fearmongering by the right wing. The seeds of Trump’s success were sown before the anti-socialist propaganda, before the old fascists like Hitler and Mussolini, before even the conservatives of the 1860’s who lost the Civil War. Those events only helped the narrative along.
The root of Trumpism is the attitude of a conqueror. It’s the view that anyone in your way can just be brushed aside, that you and people like you are the rightful heirs of the world, or at least some part of it, and that you are entitled to oppress, injure, kill, or otherwise harm humans who aren’t like you in order to protect your own. In American culture, it goes back to the moment we Europeans first settled here. It never went away, and whoever denies it is a hermit crab.
This attitude is, broadly speaking, an authoritarian brand of nationalism which aims to exclude certain people from society, which of course happens to be a major defining trait of fascism. But it flares up in many other forms as well. Often it looks like milder, more “socially acceptable” disdain for people of color, queer people, or religious minorities, which as history and Trump have shown can be easily magnified and turned to violence by a demagogue who’s sufficiently talented at telling his audience what they want to hear.
Normally these ideas are scattered; the Christians claim their weird religion is the best truth, white supremacists insist their thin skin is the best color, and so on. Everyone has their cause and most don’t overlap. The danger comes when an authoritarian (or a con man playing one) appeals to their common factors of tribalism and hatred of others. That’s when you can get a significant portion of the population unwittingly working together under the banner of fascism, each for their own goals. When Trump was elected, white supremacists celebrated for the cause of white supremacy, Christians celebrated for the cause of Christianity…everyone saw in him what they wanted to see.
Ultimately, it’s not enough to be right wing or left wing. It’s not enough to use the inclusive ideas of socialism if you implement them in a way that excludes people. It’s not enough to be anti-authoritarian if you abandon the poor to a system that excludes them from participating fully in the economy. You need to include everyone in the economic system and eliminate authoritarianism to maintain a democratic system of control.
Instead of trying to make an old system work, we must, at the very least, separate the fundamental necessities of life from capitalism. That means water, food, shelter, and healthcare. We need to acknowledge that certain things are too essential to the well being of the human species to risk their availability in the hands of powerful people who may not understand or care how their quest for wealth affects everyone else. As much as we try to regulate a capitalist economy, the problem will still exist because the root cause is how those goods and services are inevitably handled when the ultimate goal is profit. You can’t regulate away the flaws of an inherently flawed system; you need an entirely new one.
In my view it should be a localized socialization in which administration of the system directly involves the citizens and employs highly qualified local people. In other words, libertarian socialism. Instead of privately owned for-profit corporations providing goods and services to local populations while earning money for shareholders who could be anywhere on earth, we could have a publicly owned nonprofit providing the same goods and services, with the local citizens as the “shareholders”. I’d argue that this would be a great improvement over the current model for most types of businesses, because its ultimate goal is to maintain the well-being of humans, rather than obtain wealth. But people always ask, what will drive the economy then? If people aren’t inventing things and starting businesses for the ultimate goal of getting rich, how will anything get done?
I think the answer is simple. If your system is built to serve an ultimate goal of profit, then the people who are most successful will tend to be those whose goal is profit. But if your system is built to serve the ultimate goal of helping humanity, then the people who are passionate and knowledgeable about helping humanity will tend to be the most successful. Reward greed, and greed will rule. Why not try rewarding the sort of behavior that would be beneficial?