Written by: Dillon Williams
In modern political discourse there’s much talk about the political ‘right’ and the political ‘left’, although there’s very little discussion as to what these concepts fundamentally are.
The argument put forward by Paul Gottfried, Professor Emeritus of Elizabethtown College in the United States, is that the key difference between the left and the right is the issue of equality. At face value, that may seem merely an assertion, that equality is the driving force of the political left, but if you look at the thought of leftist political theorists such as Karl Marx, moral theorists like John Rawls, modern politicians like Bernie Sanders, Jeremy Corbyn or Julius Malema, the fundamental driver is unquestionably equality to some or other degree. The aforementioned politicians push primarily for equality of wealth, leveling what they perceive to be the excesses of the wealthy and giving the loot to the deserving. But equality isn’t always advocated for on the basis of material wealth.
In the United States there’s been a tremendous amount of pressure from the left for social equality of the transgendered. The push wasn’t that the law should be changed to cease legal oppression against transgender individuals – there is no legal persecution of transgendered persons in the United States, who make up a very, very small portion of the population – but rather that the benighted masses accept their lifestyle and gender dysphoria as equitable with their own with the state hopefully providing the muscle to make that happen.
The push was for transgenderism to not merely be tolerated – which it absolutely is – but heralded and that backwards institutions opposed to such lifestyles be attacked, like the church or other civic organizations and groups of free association. The mere fact that groups existed, which didn’t hold transgenderism to the same esteem as their own in-group practices and beliefs, was a moral outrage that required massive pressure to lobby for state-sponsored sanctions against free association and the use of one’s property as they saw fit. Whether or not the state should have the ability to force people to associate with each other or that people should be told what to do with their property was a question never raised by the left.
In the South African context, the left has pushed for lower fees at university and ultimately-free tertiary education. Why? Because of the belief that it’s an intolerable injustice that some people cannot afford the cost of a tertiary education, already largely subsidized by the state, and money must further be drawn from the taxpayer to provide to the unfortunate poor who, apparently, have a natural born right to a collegiate education.
The ‘Fees Must Fall’ movement was a call for legally-sanctioned equality of experience, in this case university experience, and that the state should make it so that anybody who wishes and who has a knack for book learning be allotted the positive right to study at the expense of others in the name of equality and social justice. Regardless of the policy, whether it’s Malema’s calls to ‘take back the land’ or Sanders’ wish to redistribute wealth from the ‘top 1 percent’, social agitation in the United States for transgender bathrooms in private businesses, or student protests at the University of Cape Town for lower fees or free college, the goal is always the same: equality.
The pull on the left’s political compass – what steers their values and policy prescriptions – is and has always been the pursuit of unbridled equality. Leftist equality is unbridled in that it comes before property rights, legal precedent, thought for unintended consequences, economic implications, or social cohesion. These things must first bow to the god of equality and come following on the coat tails if they can survive.
The right, to varying degrees and for various reasons, rejects the notion of equality as a rebellion against reality, history, culture, and the constraints put upon all of us by existence itself. To the right, inequality is a fact of life, pleasant or not, and in some cases it’s a good thing. A very smart and enterprising person who creates a product or service that improves the lives of millions and employs thousands of people is obviously superior in their knack for business and richer than the average person. There’s an inherent inequality between me and that person, and thank God for that.
That exceptional entrepreneur in effect has benefited an enormous amount of people and effected real change in a way I couldn’t. The doctor who invents a lifesaving medication or surgical practice has a superior knowledge of the human body and a higher demand for his scarce labour than the plumber whose skills are comparatively commonplace. That’s not to denigrate what a plumber does, but to take note of an empirical fact: the pioneering doctor provides more utility than the average plumber.
Inevitably what stems from this inherent inequality between people is a form of spontaneous, naturally-occurring hierarchy and inequitable results which the left fundamentally objects to. A free society will produce and allow for inequality, which the left cannot accept, even if it materially enriches society as a whole, which history clearly shows that it does.
Understanding this fundamental difference between the left and the right is essential to effectively conveying the message of free markets and free peoples, understanding its opponents, and being able to take South Africa and other countries to more free, prosperous and dynamic futures.
The world has become increasingly liberalized as time’s gone. Western nations have almost-unanimously recognized the just efficacy of equal protection under the law. The score of history is clear in that the best way to afford people prosperity is to let them seek it themselves. The way forward is not to have the state stand between people and the pursuit of their own self-interest. The best way to deal with the left, who are the prime opponents of liberty today, is not to combat them on an issue-by-issue basis, for their position is fundamentally one of misplaced faith and values, not reason.
The way to defeat the left is to treat them as you treat all ideologues: with ridicule, reducing their arguments to absurdity before the public, undermining their credibility, not apologizing for our ideas of individual liberty, and letting them figuratively be hung with their own false god of equality.
Whatever else they may have been in the past, classical liberals, libertarians, anarcho-capitalists, small government conservatives, individualists and traditionalists currently form a disjointed, ragtag collection of strange bedfellows who can be characterized as being on ‘the right’ because they all accept one common realization. That realization is that an unhinged push for equality is a false god that spells doom for any society.
The disparate opponents of leftism need to finally recognize this, unify, and capitalize on this common understanding if we are to have a freer and more prosperous future. If it moves the needle of liberty forward full steam ahead.