I have been thinking about this topic for some time. It is clear that the mainstream definitions, such as those describing political parties, are meaningless. It is also meaningless to offer that communists are left and fascists are right. Stalin’s communists were international socialists, while Hitler’s Nazis were National Socialists. Other than who was to be considered as part of the “in” group (not a small matter if you were in the “out” group), there is little separating the two ideologies.
It is clear in the US political scene that left and right (as commonly offered) is meaningless. There were those traditionally on the left that voted for Trump in sufficient numbers to put him in office. There are many on the right that hated the idea of him being in office. Understanding why the groups reacted the way they did might help clarify their reasons – and clarify an understanding of left and right.
I have been paying some attention to this dialogue of the meaning crisis – brought to the fore by Jordan Peterson, carried on by John Vervaeke, Paul VanderKlay, Bret and Eric Weinstein, even Peter Thiel. Most, if not all, participants can be identified with the political left yet the discussion has attracted many on the political right – so much so that Peterson is labeled a fascist (in the mainstream “right-wing” meaning of the term), and Bret Weinstein loses his teaching position for taking the wrong side in some social justice cause.
How is this possible, that these self-identified liberals are attracting – at least for a good portion – self-identified conservatives? What I am finding through this dialogue is that the dividing line has nothing to do with left and right as is popularly understood; instead, the dividing line is to be found in the search for natural law.
To oversimplify, natural law (as I see it) is grounded in the following: All human beings are made in the image of God; humans act with purpose toward the good; the good is developed via focus on the four cardinal virtues (and, I believe, cannot be fully realized without also some grasp of the three theological virtues). If these characteristics better define the right (as I believe they do), then most on the political left and many on the political right will, therefore, be considered “left” in this view.
The four cardinal virtues are wisdom, courage, temperance, and justice. The three theological virtues are faith, hope, and love. I have expanded on this here. I have developed something of what I see as the connection of natural law and liberty here.
Then we come to the protests over the last few days – a perfect demonstration of left and right, divided not by any current concept of political parties, but on this notion of natural law. We see the exact opposite of the four cardinal virtues on display. Here, I suggest, is the precise definition of “left.”
The non-aggression principle provides only a few answers here – certainly regarding aggression against person and property in the case of these protesters, but nothing on the virtues that underlie respect for person and property. Without these virtues, there is no foundation on which one can construct non-aggression.
Why am I writing this now? Well, besides the events of the last few days that have pushed things over the top? What I have written on natural law thus far follows a string from Plato, Aristotle, Aquinas and Lewis – with a few others thrown in here and there. I have been reading recently some of G. K. Chesterton and Frank van Dun – on the former, much of what he writes fits into this topic; on the latter, specifically his writing on this topic of natural law.
But I am thinking that the best way for me to frame this as I read through Chesterton and van Dun (at least given my current understanding) is to consider left and right as I have offered here: the dividing line is natural law – with all men made in the image of God, humans act with purpose toward the good, and the good is understood through the virtues.
If this strikes a chord with you, then consider yourself on the “right” in this discussion.