Right and Left

Raffaello Tesi

originally published on 3.12.2004

What is right? What is left?
These might be political or ideological questions. Or philosophical?
Right and left. What are the differences? What are the characteristics that make us rationally decide to belong to one or the other side?

Let’s forget for a moment our cultural roots, our company, our past, our family tradition.
Let’s forget the prejudices that anyone has against the other side, let’s forget the maximum systems (of Right and Left) under which our society has been formed as good under any point of view.
Let’s look at the world today, meaning the western world, as a whole, through the instruments of democracy (if it is so) of the country where we live, and let’s try for a moment to understand what means to be on one side or the other.
Yes, what does that actually mean? What makes the difference, nowadays?
Maybe these are obvious things, and maybe in some countries and/or for some people they really are, but from our perspective, they are not.

One approach could be to trace back the historical roots of right and left to the defence of economical and social interests by some categories of the society (e.g. Tory and Labour in Britain during the industrial revolution).
Or we might think of a stronger ideological basis, with Hegelian roots: to think about the political ideology as an attempt of conceiving the society favouring a superior common good more than the individual good. A superior common good that can assume different shapes in a right or left view.

Maybe nowadays, a modern democracy should have accepted the state of right, give for granted some individual freedoms and never violate them, not even in the name of any common superior good, and accept the view of politics as a way to support and defend some interests within some rules.
Let’s then cut down politics to a mere defence of a part of the society. Maybe that is sadly true. However, it is unacceptable that an ideological basis does not exist.
Shall we waive any ideological assumption, and consider politics as a mere power administration?
Shall we think that, once some rules and preliminaries are accepted, the only possible governments are the ones whose provisions are once for one part of the society and once for the other?

This argument is not convincing. Because it doesn’t seem true, in our times, in our countries.
Maybe this cannot be applied to all the countries of the Western world (but we are here just to discuss this), but, still, if this political view might have been considered true until some time ago, nowadays there is no sharp social difference between a right or a left-wing person.

An ideological trend must exist and can be independent from a particular interest. If it is so, the political belonging can be more legitimated. If Right and Left are reduced to defending particular interests, how much dignity do they have?
They can have dignity only if they are seen as a practical interpretation of a vision of the world, in other words, of an ideology.
Decisions and opinions on how to solve social conflicts, on how to face new and old problems, must have an ideological inspiration.
In this way we can develop a nobler idea of politics, not as the defence of economical and/or social interests, but as a dynamic process inspired by ethical principles upon what is good and what is not, upon a vision of the world understandable and shareable by each social layer.

From a mere philosophical level, we like to quote an interesting definition of right and left given by the Italian philosopher Norberto Bobbio; which also gave us a good justification for subtitling this weblog Conservative and Progressive:

A progressive person is the one who thinks of what people have in common more than what their differences are. For a conservative person, on the contrary, the differences between a man and another are also politically more important than what they have in common.

Norberto Bobbio

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