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March 27, 2006



the typical response to this is the political compass* but i'd prefer to think of it as a triangle - the left and right are polar extremes but both are collectivist. Whilst socialists and fascists argue about the correct use of government intervention, they're in agreement over the fundamental issue of the appropriate mechanism for social change.

This distinction (between collectivism and anti-collectivism) was very well made by Robert Skidelsky in "The Road from Serfdom"

Alternatively, check out the work of Aaron Wildavsky on the Cultural Theory of Risk** which seperates individuals into 5 distinct biases. This is a type of behavioural economics but approaches it as a deductive method rather than the experimental bullshit dones by Thaler and the like.

* http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Political_Compass
** http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cultural_Theory_of_Risk

Patrick Crozier

What is your objection to business? And what do you mean by business? The joint-stock company? The sole trader? The collective?

Robert Schwartz

By the end of the great war, the left right distinction was meaningless. The right (the true ancien regime, monarchist, orthodox party) died in that war. The liberals, who had formerly been on the left were faced with the sydicalists (who sometimes claimed to be on the right and sometimes on the left) in German (Nazi), Russian (Soviet), or Italian flavors. With the collapse of syndicalism in the west (it thrives as islamism in the east), everyone is disatisfied with politics.


Syndicalism thrives as islamism? Are you on crack? That is the most bizarre thing I've heard all year.

More seriously..isn't collectivism vs anticollectivism a false dichotomy too? People are always going to live in some sort of collective environment - it's the evolution, stupid. And a lot of the people (libertarians, North American subtype) who rant against "collectivism" are also very keen on "the town hall", "the public square" and similar notions. Collectivism, it seems, is what the other guy does.

Perhaps the divide is authority vs. anti-authority? Another point is that now it's not the market that provides the cardinal point for political alignment, but the participants.

Robert Schwartz

In his best-known work, Reflections on Violence (1908, tr. 1912), which became the basic text of syndicalism, Sorel expounded his theory of “violence” as the creative power of the proletariat that could overcome “force,” the coercive economic power of the bourgeoisie. He supported belief in myths about future social developments, arguing that such belief promoted social progress.


... it will not do simply to call Osama bin Laden an Islamic fundamentalist. For the Islamism of which he is a symbol and a spokesman is not a movement aimed at restoring some archaic or pristine form of Islamic practice. ... it is best understood not as a traditional movement but as a very modern one.

Groups like al Qaeda, the Boroumands write, owe an explicit debt to 20th-century European doctrines of the extreme right and left. One stream of influence can be traced to Hassan al-Banna, the schoolteacher who founded the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt in 1928. From Italy's Fascists, al-Banna borrowed the idea of unquestioning loyalty to a charismatic leader, modeling the slogan of his paramilitary organization--"action, obedience, silence"--on Mussolini's injunction to "believe, obey, fight." Taking a cue from the Nazis, he placed great emphasis on the Muslim Brotherhood's youth wing and on the marriage of the physical and the spiritual, of Islam with activism. Unsurprisingly, al-Banna also taught his followers to expect not encouragement but repression from traditional Islamic authorities.

A second European source of Islamism can be traced to Maulana Mawdudi, who founded the Jamaat-e-Islami movement in Pakistan in the early 1940s. A journalist well-versed in Marxist thought, Mawdudi advocated struggle by an Islamic "revolutionary vanguard" against both the West and traditional Islam. As the Boroumands observe, he was perhaps the first to attach "the adjective 'Islamic' to such distinctively Western terms as 'revolution,' 'state,' and 'ideology.' "

These strands of the radical right and left eventually came together in the person of Sayyid Qutb, the Egyptian who became the Muslim Brotherhood's chief ideologist after World War II. In his most important work, "Signposts Along the Road," Qutb called for a monolithic state led by an Islamic party, advocating the use of every violent means necessary to achieve that end. The society he envisioned would be classless, one in which the "selfish individual" of liberal societies would be abolished and the "exploitation of man by man" would end. This, as the Boroumands point out, was "Leninism in an Islamist dress," and it is the creed embraced by most present-day Islamists.

... As the Boroumands conclude, the key attributes of Islamism--"the aestheticization of death, the glorification of armed force, the worship of martyrdom, and 'faith in the propaganda of the deed' "--have little precedent in Islam but have been defining features of modern totalitarianism. The seeming rigor of Osama bin Laden's theology belies the reality of his highly heterodox beliefs.


Tim Hicks

I've always taken Left/Right to be a dimension reflecting (re)distributive preferences. In that light, I think it is still a (the?) fundamental aspect of politics.

Big versus small state, markets versus "popular collective action" versus command economy; these are just methods through which people of differing fundamental Left/Right preferences have sought to advance their ultimate goals.

Things are complicated enough that reasonable men can disagree about the consequences of these policy decisions.

I might add, the notion of exactly which community of individuals is appropriate to redistribute within is also rather an important one that complicates the picture a little.

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