Saturday, November 07, 2009

American Right Wing

Tibor R. Machan

When those on the political Left refer to defenders of the free market system as "right wingers," there is understandable concern about how the term is being abused. Classical liberals, the supporters of both economic and civil libertarianism, have been anything but "right wingers," quite the opposite.

In European political history the Right has been royalists, fascist, traditionalists, and even militarist, while the Left included mainly socialists, communists, and welfare statists. Those who champion free market capitalism do not fall within either of these groups because they tend, in the main, to oppose statism or the use of the government for purposes of problem solving. For the classical liberal the problems in a society are best addressed within the private sector.

In America the classifications are different because America's distinctive tradition includes classical liberalism. The right wing in the USA isn't mostly fascist or royalists but religious and traditionalist but since a central feature of tradition in American politics is classical liberal or libertarian, labeling champions of the fully free system "right wingers" makes a certain amount of sense. But it can also serve a dubious agenda of the Left, namely, to associate free market capitalism with right wing statism, as if the likes of F. A. Hayek, Milton Friedman, Ayn Rand, and so on had anything at all in common with fascists and royalists. (The Left here is very eager to make it seem that Milton Friedman "Chicago Boys" embraced General Pinochet of Chile rather than the other way around!) But the association serves the not so hidden purpose of smearing them in virtue of how the Right elsewhere does veer very close toward fascism and royalism.

In the current dispute about the vast and rapid expansion of the role of government in society, increasing government's scope by leaps and bounds, charging opponents with being right-wingers comes in handy. These opponents are indeed a coalition of libertarians and American conservatives because libertarians oppose statism on principle and also for a variety of practical reasons and American conservatives oppose it as a matter of the American political tradition--for example, the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of rights. But the American right is quite selective about embracing liberty. Mostly American conservatives support free markets but not so much civil libertarianism. On that score the American Left is more like the libertarians, although mainly for opportunistic reasons.

This is evident on how readily the American Left, along with others on the Left across the globe, supports the likes of Venezuela's strong man Hugo Chavez as well as Fidel Castro. In the case of these political figures, the Left abandons its apparent support for civil libertarian ideals, mainly because the American Left tends to share the revolutionary goals of other Left wingers around the globe and any revolution, Left or Right, would be slowed down by principled civil libertarian policies. So while civil libertarianism is useful for the Left as it combats general right wing measures such as those included in the more hysterical elements of the homeland security, it is likely to be abandoned once the Left gains power in the USA. For example, the White House's overt attacks on Fox TV news, or global warming skeptics, or its badmouthing of the opponents of Obama & Co.'s health care ideas--instead of doing honest debate with them--shows how little the American Left cares about civil libertarianism. Yes, opposition to George W. Bush's policies vis-a-vis terrorism suspects has the ring of civil libertarianism about it. But at bottom that does not seem to be the main reason for it. We can tell that from how readily similar policies by Leftist governments around the globe do not disturb many on the Left. Political categorization is not always easy and there are too many exceptions in nearly all instances of it. (A Left oriented public figure and commentator such as Nat Hentoff cannot be considered merely opportunistic about civil liberties!)

In America the category of "right wing" is complicated by the fact that the American political tradition is classical liberal, not at all royalist or fascist. But without making this clear, those who label their opponents right wingers capitalize on the fact that the Right includes racists and anti-Semites, thus giving champions of free market capitalism a bad name by including them on the Right.

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