Words can be used to honestly convey ideas, or they can be used as weapons designed confuse the enemy. When conducting political warfare, the most devious propagandists sow confusion with glee, considering it a grand victory they can so confuse their opponents that they cannot discern friend from foe.
What are the terms “left-wing” and “right-wing”? Words so twisted they have become meaningless. Words now designed to confuse.
Where do the terms “left-wing” and “right-wing” come from? How did these terms become twisted? Let’s begin by looking at the origin of the words. Election 101: Where did the terms “left wing” and “right wing” come from? (history.com) provides the traditional definition in the text. In the video on the history.com post, a grinning George Stephanopoulos reminds us of the power of the news media, how the TV networks coordinated to stick the color red on the Republicans, but that’s another gripe. Here is how the text of the post starts.
Today the terms “left wing” and “right wing” are used as symbolic labels for liberals and conservatives, but they were originally coined in reference to the physical seating arrangements of politicians during the French Revolution. The split dates to the summer of 1789, when members of the French National Assembly met to begin drafting a constitution. The delegates were deeply divided over the issue of how much authority King Louis XVI should have, and as the debate raged, the two main factions each staked out territory in the assembly hall. The anti-royalist revolutionaries seated themselves to the presiding officer’s left, while the more conservative, aristocratic supporters of the monarchy gathered to the right. “I tried to sit in different parts of the hall and not to adopt any marked spot, so as to remain more the master of my opinion,” one right-wing baron wrote, “but I was compelled absolutely to abandon the left or else be condemned always to vote alone and thus be subjected to jeers from the galleries.” (continue here)
Is this the true story? There does seem some confusion about the matter. Where did the Right and the Left come from? (www.spectator.co.uk) and The history of the left-right divide: A centuries-old argument defines our politics, and offers a way forward (salon.com) suggest the terms originated during the debate (both men wrote) between Edmund Burke and Thomas Paine over the French Revolution.Yet what put Burke on the Left and Paine on the right? Burke was a Conservative, not ready to completely abandon the past (religion and monarchy), and Paine was more Liberal, more willing to change? Perhaps.
What makes the labels “left-wing” and “right-wing” absurd, however, is when we call the fascists “right-wing” and communists “left-wing”. As a practical matter, there isn’t a dime’s worth of difference between fascists and communists. Furthermore, both Burke and Paine would have regarded both fascists and communists with equal horror. Yet the news media puts fascists on the Left and communists on the Right all the time. Why? If they are not propagandists, why would they do something so utterly stupid?
Well, at least some news organizations realize just how stupid that is. Here, from Left-wing, right-wing: The case for realignment of political labels (thehill.com), is an example.
Perhaps nothing contributes more to the rancor of political discourse than the indiscriminate use of political labels as partisan epithets. Labels such as “left-wing” and “right-wing,” “red state” and “blue state,” “liberal” and “conservative,” or “communist” and “fascist” have ceased to provide meaningful distinctions between competing ideologies and political movements. If such labels are ever to have any use in communicating ideas or in describing an ideology, they need to describe, at the very least, a common denominator of the people within them. (continued here)
What is the difference between fascists and communists? They are both totalitarian socialists, but fascists use racial differences to divide and conquer and communist focus on class differences. Fascists use heavy-handed regulations to “socialize” wealth, and communists insist upon direct ownership by the state.
What is the point of the terms “left-wing” and “right-wing”? Isn’t the object to meaningfully divide the political spectrum? How should we go about that?
- First, we must identify appropriate parameters to characterize the differences between differences between the various groups. Since these differences are not one-dimensional, the terms left and right don’t work. It is not even clear what parameter left and right refer to.
- Second, we must characterize what various specific groups stand for and then fit them into the spectrum. Why is that a problem? It is a judgement call, and most of us are hypocritical. What we want to do and how we want to be perceived are two different things, not the same thing.
What will the process of creating a political spectrum produce? That depends upon what we consider important. Here is a clip of a video produced by The John Birch Society. Given the way our news media propagandizes us, I am not certain what to make of The John Birch Society, but I like the approach in the video.
Note: I think the video is well worth watching. However, many people balk at spending the time (even though it is only a ten minute video). So if you want a summary, see this comment from below => https://citizentom.com/2018/05/10/of-twisted-words-left-wing-and-right-wing/comment-page-1/#comment-80815.
Here is a longer version of the same video.
If you search online, you will find The John Birch Society characterized as extremists. Since the The John Birch Society seems to have been most relevant for a short period after WWII, I don’t know much about it, but I don’t doubt that some of the organization’s leadership said things they probably should not have said. Nevertheless, I am a bit puzzled. Given the abysmal record of The Democratic Party, the things it stands for and has stood for, we still tolerate it. By comparison, what has the The John Birch Society done? It seems to me that the Democratic Party has had better propagandists supporting it.
There is a complete list “Of Twisted Words” posts at the first post in this series, OF TWISTED WORDS => FEMINISM.