For the last twenty years, activists on the left have complained about the right-wing drift of major social democratic (or democratic socialist) parties. This was most noticeable in England where Tony Blair’s Third Way was viewed as a capitulation to market capitalism. Similar moderation in Europe and America followed. Some would argue it was the laxness of left wingers that lead – more than right wing deregulation – to the market collapses of 2008. Because the left had failed to be vigilant, bankers and venture capitalists went wild and nearly destroyed the world economy.
They may have a point.
The response has been interesting. In England, the Labour Party has elected its most left-wing leader in 50 years. While the mainstream media have declared that Jeremy Corbyn is unelectable in modern England, the same pundits also said he couldn’t win the leadership. Shows what they know.
In the United States we see the rise of Bernie Sanders. Though I still doubt that he can overcome the Democratic establishment, he has certainly made waves and may succeed in nudging the Dems back to the left – even if only a little bit. And, in politics, one should never say never. In Canada, the failure of a centre-leaning NDP to form government has fired up the left wing of the party who call for a return to traditional values and policies of the left.
The general view of the left is that the mainstream social democratic parties have been corrupted by market philosophies, becoming pale versions of their conservative opponents. The right has succeeded – in this view – because of their adherence to hard-core ideologies and by using extreme tactics of ‘truthiness’ to get their message across and inspire voters.
The problem is – the right is hardly consistent or, as Sarah Palin shows, even fully comprehensible in their policies or values. Take Palin’s accusation that the policies of the Obama government caused her son to punch his girlfriend in the face. It might seem to be partisan sniping but what lies behind it? Our former Prime Minister might well accuse Ms. Palin of ‘committing sociology’ – that is, blaming external societal forces for individual behavior. Rather than sticking to a true conservative value of personal responsibility, Palin excuses her son’s behavior and blames society. Maybe she is just a protective mother but I suspect something bigger.
Just as left-wing parties were infected by the central tenant of conservative philosophy – that the market is the most effective an efficient way to organise society – so have conservatives been changed by the major ideological weapon of the left –identity politics. As soon as a conservative propounds that social mechanisms have isolated an identifiable group (in this case white men) aren’t they accepting a basic idea of the left, that people live in a social system and are impacted by systemic social factors both in terms of their economic opportunities but also in terms of their individual actions and values?
Left and right have both become muddied by their opponents’ ideas. It may make for crazy politics, but oddly it holds out hope for the future of democracy. If people (and especially politicians) find out that they now have common ground, might they find ways to talk about it that doesn’t involve denunciation?
Whether that’s a good thing – or whether we need one side to win – remains to be seen.
And that’s ten minutes.