CHAPTER FOURTEEN: Myth
The American political spectrum is generally (and incorrectly) perceived as being arrayed from the “left” to the “right”. This is the Left/Right Paradigm that governs our political discourse. Although it is widely held to be true, it is actually a lazy myth under which people are encouraged to view the primary faction of the left as “progressives” and the primary faction of the right as “conservatives”.
A progressive is thought to favor economic security being provided primarily by the government and believes that justice is derived not from equal opportunity for all but by equitable outcomes for the disadvantaged. These two ideals, government-provided economic security and equitable outcomes, also form the basis of the way Americans generally think of “socialism”, which is perceived to be aligned with and slightly to the left of progressivism in the Left/Right Paradigm. A socialist is seen as a slightly more committed progressive.
While progressives will flirt with socialism, they are uncomfortable with “communism” because that is generally seen by Americans as being far too much socialism. Progressives, because they are Americans, like money as much as anyone else and understand that any utility that communism may provide in achieving equitable outcomes will come at the cost of economic advantage. As a result, communism exists at the leftmost end of the mythical Left/Right Paradigm where only a small minority of Americans are willing to dwell. Nonetheless, through a sympathetic media and academia, communists are generally perceived as well-meaning if misguided.
A conservative is thought to favor economic security being provided by the marketplace rather than the government, which he views as a drag on the economy rather than a boon to individual wealth. Conservatives are also seen as antagonistic to the progressive view of equitable outcomes as a public-policy imperative because they think it is impossible to achieve and too costly to undertake even if it weren’t. For the conservative, even a little bit of socialism is bad because it is the gateway drug to the ultimate addiction of full-blown communism.
In the American perception“ fascism” is the antithesis of communism and dwells at the far right end of the mythical Left/Right Paradigm. Just as the conservatives see communism as the inevitable end state of any flirtation with socialism, progressives view fascism as the ultimate destination of even the best intentioned conservative. Through unfavorable media, the general public views fascists as evil rather than well-intentioned but simply misguided.
“Moderates” are perceived to be in the middle of the mythical Left/Right Paradigm. They are not progressives, although they may embrace some progressive ideals in principle if not in practice. Nor are they conservatives, although they may share many conservative values in practice if not in principle. A moderate is a man who believes that his tent is pitched in the most reasonable area of both camps. He will often call himself “socially liberal” and “fiscally conservative”, because that allows him to pay lip service to the notion of equitable outcomes while declining to pick up the tab for what it would cost to achieve them.
Progressives and some moderates will sometimes call themselves “liberals”. But what they really should be called is Liverals, because it would better describe the progressive and moderate tendency to accept any person’s self-proclaimed “lived experience” or “lived truth” as having subjective moral superiority over the Societal Traditions, which are fundamental beliefs about human nature that have gradually developed over thousands of years of history, and which form the ligaments of liberty that bind Americans together as a people.
For example, Liveralism leads a progressive/moderate to give credence to a man’s claim that he is actually a woman without any further proof or argument that this could possibly be so. Both progressives and moderates consider themselves (and everyone else) to be ill-equipped to question the subjective beliefs of any person who contends to have obtained them through their lived experience, regardless of how outlandish, self-destructive or contrary to Societal Traditions they may be. As a result, Liveralism has no objective limiting principles, but is rather governed by the Subjectivity of a single person’s transitory feelings and emotions.
A true Liberal (not the "liberal" of the mythical Left/Right Paradigm) opposes both Liveralism and Subjectivity. He will not easily jettison his reliance upon Societal Traditions to accommodate someone’s feelings and emotions because he believes it to be a strange kind of love to leave a man living in a lie when the truth would set him free. Thus, unlike a moderate, a Liberal is unwilling to pay lip service to something he doesn’t believe to be objectively true.
For progressives, this rejection of Subjectivity is viewed as a manifestation of the fascist tendencies that they suspect are lurking in the hearts of all men of the mythical right. A moderate might not go that far, but he would still question the utility of defending mere “concepts” like objective truth and Societal Tradition from the predations of ephemeral cultural fervor. Nonetheless, despite his tendency to accommodate the progressive view of equitable outcome, there is a line the moderate thinks he would not cross, although he would be hard-pressed to define exactly where it is.
Nestled between the conservatives and fascists in the mythical Left/Right Paradigm are the “libertarians”, who are perceived by Americans to be conservatives on steroids. Where a conservative is dubious about government intervention into most areas of people’s lives because he believes it to be incompetent, the libertarian is overtly hostile because he believes the government to be an instrument of oppression that must be beaten back.
Although conservatives and libertarians share many of the same Societal Traditions, principles and values, they do not always align well. Because conservatives have an interest in governing in order to defend their principles and values from the machinations of the progressives, they will periodically soften or modify some of those principles in an attempt to woo enough moderates to win an election. Because they view that as craven rather than pragmatic, libertarians have their own political party with candidates who claim to be unwilling to compromise with the moderates. “Pure” as it may be ideologically, this does little more than siphon votes from the Republican Party. In a two-party system such as ours, third parties perform no other actual function.
This is not a problem that the progressives have with socialism. While a socialist may have similar criticisms of progressive electoral efforts to woo moderates that the libertarians have of conservatives, there is no longer a Socialist Party to actively siphon votes from the Democratic Party. Luckily for the Republicans, the population of true libertarians is very small. Although there remain many people who say “well, I lean Libertarian but I vote Republican to keep the Democrats out of office”.
This description of the mythical Left/Right Paradigm is how most Americans view our political landscape. Popular as it may be, it is largely inaccurate. In the next chapter, I will explain why.