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Lesson #29 : The Ideological Continuum (Part I)

The JuicyLesson for today and Sunday, (Oct. 13) will examine the Ideological Continuum. Please consult the diagram preceding this post as you read and digest these two lessons.

There is one principle which differentiates the left from the right. As we move from right to left on the ideological continuum, wealth and power become more equally distributed. As we move from “reactionary” all the way through to “radical” on the spectrum portrayed in our diagram the well-being of the collective, that is of the citizenry as a whole, becomes increasingly important while that of the individual is de-emphasized.

Note: The capitalized terms in the accompanying diagram refer to political and/or economic systems or to a specific form an ideology may assume – Communism, Socialism, etc. while each small-letter term is an adjective used to describe each system or ideology or a person who follows each particular ideology or both. For example, a progressive is a person who believes in Socialism, an economic system characterized by state intervention in the economy and in government ownership, control and/or regulation of important sectors of the economy like the banks, railways, airlines, heavy industry etc. Here the adjective “progressive” describes the ideology of Socialism as in ‘socialism is a progressive ideology’. By the same logic, the term radical describes Communist ideology in general as well as a person who believes in Communism. Hence the statement that radicals believe in Communism or that reactionaries are Fascists. Equally true are the statements that Communists are radicals and that Fascists are reactionaries.

A point of clarification: when the state or government intervenes in any economy to keep prices down, this is considered to be leftist because lower prices help consumers – the working and middle classes – the majority of the society in a manner of speaking. Government ownership of certain economic sectors also assists the collective in the sense that governments are not supposed to be economic agents purely to make a profit as entrepreneurs and business people are. Therefore, a government owned railway or airline for instance can afford to pay its workforce more and to charge less for the services it offers than a comparable private sector (as opposed to public sector, or government owned) industry like Cunard Steamship Lines, for instance. Therefore the majority of society, the collective in other words, benefits from both higher wages and lower prices for goods and services in a situation of government control and/or ownership. Therefore government economic intervention is leftist.

Communism in theory is leftist if the government of a contemporary Communist nation like Russia rules in the interests of the majority of the country which, clearly, it doesn’t. Therefore Communism is not really leftist at all but
falls instead onto the “rightist” side of the continuum. Instead of working for the collective interest as radical and progressive forms of government purport to do, most Communist countries today are dictatorships in fact, and are repressive rather than freedom loving as leftists are supposed to be.

What about liberals? How do they fit in? Liberalism
is a politico-philosophical system founded on the principles of individual rights. Liberals are of the opinion that the state or government has a role to play in protecting the rights of the individual over those of the collective, very at odds with the theoretical Communist conviction that the interests collective should take precedence over those of the individual.

Conservatives believe in “conserving the past” as far as possible, while reactionaries would be”re-actionary (as in repeating an action from the past) because they want to actually go back to the past bringing back capital punishment, returning to a time when abortion was illegal and government intervention in the economy was minimal. Conservatives and reactionaries oppose ObamaCare and socialized medicine on principle on the grounds that it represents government intervention in the economy and that the economic welfare of the individual becomes sublimated to that of the collective.

The first truly piece of progressive legislation passed in history was the British Factory Act of 1832. The legislation contained in this Act is draconian compared to working conditions today, but limiting hours and ages of work during the first part of the nineteenth century in England as accomplished by this first Factory Actvwas certainly a step in the right direction. The British National Health Act of 1911 provided that the state pay certain small sums of money to those who, due to sickness or accident (work-related or otherwise), for example, could not work. These Acts are classified as progressive because they allowed for a certain degree of redistribution of wealth to occur in the sense that middle class taxes were redistributed to the unemployed in the first social welfare scheme in the modern historical age.

As we move from the “Left” to the ”Right”, wealth and power become concentrated in fewer and fewer hands. What this means is that a dictatorship is classified as rightist in the sense that power is controlled by one person or a by small group of people, the latter often referred to as an oligarchy. In the case of a dictatorship, the vast majority of people are largely disenfranchised, i.e. most people in a situation of one-man rule, or in an oligarchy, have no say in what goes on. No (or rigged) elections and military rule usually characterize this type of political system.

Ideal Communism, on the other hand, is on the far Left. This radical philosophy believes that government is not needed and that society would function based on the principle “from each according to his (her) abilities, to each according to his (her) needs.” Total equality of power would be one characteristic of an ideal Communist “state” and since private property would be abolished, complete equality in terms of the distribution of wealth in such a society would be predominant. Further there would be no money within the bounds of ideal Communism.

So we have just moved from one extreme to the other within the framework of the Ideological continuum, from a reactionary dictatorship where power, and by extension wealth, are concentrated in a few hands to a radical ideal communist state within which power and wealth are evenly distributed among the population. It must noted at this
point that Ideal Communism exists in only in theory, its closest approximation being the Israeli Kibbutz and “life on the farm-type” Communes wherever these exist at present. Both the Kibbutz and Back to the Land movements are more organized than the ideal Communist society would be; kibbutzim have a management structure alien to ideal Communist theory the latter preaching the need for total equality and thus not requiring an administration of any kind whatsoever since everyone would automatically do the right thing. Further, a management way of doing things implies that one person has the power to order his “inferiors” around, thereby putting the boot to the concept of total equality, which theoretically would permit no one to possess either the power or the right to tell others what to do. It is noteworthy that individuals in the Kibbutz don’t have their own money, theoretically that is, so if someone has a wedding to go to in Tel Aviv, let’s say, the trip is totally subsidized by his/her Kibbutz. One tenet on which the theory of ideal Communism is based is the idea that everyone owns everything or, alternately, nobody owns anything. The implementation of a truly Communist society would require monumental changes starting or ending with a total change in human nature partly as a result of human beings having been socialized into a system of sharing rather than one based on cut-throat competition and getting ahead as our modern system of liberal capitalism is. Alas, all that is for a different JuicyLesson somewhere down the road.

Now as we move to the centre from either pole towards Liberalism, the distribution of power and wealth changes. Moving from the “right” will see power and wealth more evenly distributed among members of the collective at large; movement from the “left” towards the centre of the line will entail an increasing concentration of wealth and power in fewer hands.


Sunday: The Ideological Continuum (Part II)

Have a nice, relaxing weekend and don’t let your kids drive you nuts.

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