NTSS over at his blog Carlsbad 1819 has put up a rather good post, The left-right spectrum put in its proper meaning and context. Initially, I thought I would put up a comment over there but as it ended up being too long I thought I'd make a post of it. I've got a lot of respect for Nulla and so the the following comments are made in the spirit of honest criticism.
How you frame a question in many ways predetermines the solutions to it. How does the Left differ from the Right is, in my mind, the wrong question, as it tends forces the mind to concentrate on what are the differences between the two camps with the assumption that any difference between the two is meaningful. Choosing between International Socialism and National Socialism still leaves you with Socialism in the end.
I think that one of the greatest advances in human anthropology has been the realisation that human rationality is more far more complicated than we first thought. Rationality, still relatively undifferentiated by philosophers, has been demonstrated to have both an intuitive and deliberative component with intuitive rationality being the default mode of thinking for the majority, even the hi-IQ types.
One of the features of intuitive intelligence is that it tends to be associative in nature, and one of the results of this intuitive approach is the conflation of conservative with Right and liberal with Left. Once we start realise that right/conservative and left/radical catergorisations are associative conflations disentangling things makes things a lot clearer.
The first thing to realise is that conservative and liberal are primarily temperamental types with voting behaviour being strongly linked to personality type. Numerous studies have show temperamental differences between conservatives and liberals. For example, Conservatives are high on the neuroticism and purity temperamental traits while liberals are higher on openness and impurity elements. When you start analysing politics through this dual lenses of intuitive rationality and personality type a lot of politics becomes far easier to understand.
Suppose socialism becomes the flavour of the month. The conservative elements in the population are going to be advocating for a more structured, "pure" and orderly version of Socialism while the liberals will vote for its more open liberal variant. Fascism, is quite literally Socialism made for the Conservative temperament.
Likewise, when we talk about the conservative faction of the Communist party--what would superficially appear to be an oxymoron-- we're talking about the personality types that don't want any innovation with regard to communism and stick to the orthodoxy. It is not deliberative reason that's determining the position, it's the temperament. Orwell understood this phenomenon completely. He recognised that "bellyfeel" motivated political orientation more than rationality.
It's not as if this some kind of new insight. If we look at Oakeshott's famous definition of what it means to be Conservative:
"To be conservative ... is to prefer the familiar to the unknown, to prefer the tried to the untried, fact to mystery, the actual to the possible, the limited to the unbounded, the near to the distant, the sufficient to the superabundant, the convenient to the perfect, present laughter to utopian bliss."We see that it applies just as equally to political theory as it does to cheese. Anglo Conservatism--with its strong temperamental justification--is largely devoid of any ideological content. It is simply an aesthetic/preferential approach to things rather than an epistemological or metaphysical position.
This type of conservatism is always going to fail and will drift (in any direction) over time for two reasons. Given it's conservative nature it's unable to initate direction, leaving the initiative to the non-conservative elements in society. Secondly, lacking any fixed ideological or epistemological positions it will eventually move given enough social pressure and habituation. As its own cognitive elements become habituated to the change it becomes to see it as part of "present"-- (Oakeshott was big on this)---and accepts it now as the new tradition.
Therefore it's vital to disentangle the liberal/conservative temperamental dispostional elements from the epistimological/metaphysical dimension of the Left/Right divide.
Once we get rid of all the purity/hierarchy/preference for order stuff what exactly have we got: What does it mean to be "Right"?
to this discussion. Once again the Left/Right distinction tends to obscure rather than clarify. Being anti-Left is of no virtue if the resulting positions and beliefs are not calibrated to reality. This is the real danger in defining the Right as the anti-Left, since the it frames the distinction primarily along the lines of the Left and not upon the relationship of its positions with reality: the thing that matters.
As far as I'm concerned the core distinction between Right and Left is where they sit on the realist/anti-realist spectrum. Overlaid upon this are the conservative and liberal temperaments which colour this distinction. What you end up is with the following matrix.
Once we strip the tempramental/dispositional elements from the analysis were left with how the Left and the Right relate to REALITY.
THE DIVIDING LINE BETWEEN LEFT AND RIGHT IS THEIR RELATIONSHIP TO REALITY.
The Right believes in Truth the Left believes in Ideals, no matter how divorced from reality they are.
The thing to remember is that those of a conservative temperament are just as capable of believing in bullshit--i.e. being reality averse--as the most radical leftist and hence these people are also the enemy. Calibration to reality is the defining feature of the Right, not a laundry list of "preference" options.
The thing is that in real life, given the reality that people are by and large System 1 driven, people are going to align themselves with others of the same temperament. Hence we find the strong historical association between trads/integralists/natsocs and libs/socialists/communists. Their union is based upon a superficial bellyfeel analysis rather than cool cognition. The bulk of humanity, even the eggheads, run with their gut rather than their heads.
The other disadvantage of this doleful state of human affairs is that the intuitive conservatives have more sympathy for those who a conservatives in error rather than liberals in truth. What this means is that statistically Traditionalists are more likely than not to opt for error rather than truth when confronted with a novel situation. Exhibition 1: Meriol Trevor writes of one of the poster boys of the Traditionalist Catholic Right, Pius X;
Even at the time the Holy Office was forced to examine the morality of the Action Francaise and after long delays reported to the Pope that the movement's moral principles were not compatible with the Catholic faith. In spite of this, Pius X decided not to publish the condemnation. Marc Sangnier, the faithful Catholic democrat, was disowned, but Charles Maurras, the avowed atheist, was allowed immunity. Seldom has political sympathy influenced more clearly a papal act, or refusal to act.Let that sink in. This champion of Catholic "Orthodoxy" supported a atheist who thought of the Church with contempt while condemning a faithful believer.
This is one of the main reasons why I like to put the hurt on the Trads. I recognise that Traditionalism is a repository for a lof of truth but what I realise is that for a variety of reasons tradition must be able to be modified or built up in light of the advance in human knowledge in a way that is compatible with the past. Traditionalists completely close this option off, and while liberals, by and large, promulgate error, traditionalists do not allow changes to be affected even if doctrinally or epistimologically sound.
Exhibition 2: Oh, and here's another howler I found just the other day which is quite appropriate given the inane utterances of some U.S. bishops regarding illegal immigration.
Here again de Lubac found himself in opposition to many of the neo-scholastics and members of the Action Francaise who supported Marshal Petain's Vichy government. Foremost among these was Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange who was of the view that support for the stance of General de Gaulle was not merely a case of backing the wrong team, politically or prudentially speaking, but was actually a mortal sin.You can't make this stuff up. One of the leading Thomistic theologians of the 20th Century actually though it a mortal sin not to support a Nazi puppet state. This is why its so important to disentagle conservatism from Rightism. Simply so as not to make these idiotic mistakes.