Wandering Thoughts

September 21, 2009

What’s Left

Filed under: Ramblings and Musings — terence @ 8:34 pm

More jotted notes, sorry…back to the hillsides and horizons stuff soon, I promise!

I’m trying to think my way through a technical, and neutral, definition of left-wing politics. Historically, the left was defined by a concern with equality but I don’t think this is true any more – quite a few on the left would be happy to tolerate inequality if it led to absolute increases in welfare.

So my draft definition would be:

An active concern with the welfare of the less well off, and a belief in the need for collective action to improve the welfare of society’s less well off.

The key distinguishing feature between left and right being the belief in the need for collective action (collective action, not state action so as to include anarchists). It’s not that the Right doesn’t have concern for the less well off, but rather that they’re more sceptical of active collective efforts to improve things.

Obviously, this is all about degree: most centre right parties favour some collective action in the area of improving welfare, but typically it’s less than advocated than by groups to the left of them.

One other type of definition I thought of was that the left tend to argue that actions that appeal to a deontological ethics (sharing, cooperation etc) will lead to better outcomes in a consequentialist sense too. Of course some segments of the right, particularly libertarians, do this as well, with a completely different set of deontological ethics (particularly geared around self-ownership and property rights), but much of the right (classical conservatives, if you will) argues against the deontologically appealing with the claim that it just won’t work.

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