Tradition and Emancipation

Raffaello Tesi

Originally published on 28.12.2004

I quote here a little passage from Norberto Bobbio’s “Left and Right: The Significance of a Political Distinction“, who quotes Dino Cofrancesco (translation by Allan Cameron):

On careful reflection, the liberation of mankind from unjust and oppressive power […] is still the nucleus of the left as a “political category”, which is capable of resisting any attempt at demystification. On the other hand, even the right «represents something typically human» because it expresses «one’s roots in the soil of tradition and history».
One can only explain the confusion or overlaps which lead one to suspect that the distinction was incorrect from the very beginning, or has become useless in a given historical context in which right-wingers and left-wingers find themselves in the same camp, if the two terms are interpreted as referring to a profound intention, an attitude which remains constant, independent of the system of government adopted.
According to this approach, «the right-winger is primarily concerned with safeguarding tradition, and the left-winger on the other hand wishes, above everything else, to liberate his fellow human beings from the chains imposed on them by the privileges of race, class, rank, etc.».
«Tradition» and «emancipation» can be interpreted as final or fundamental aims, and as such cannot be renounced by either side; but they can be achivied by different means in different times and situations. As the same means can be adopted from time to time by the left and the right, they can consequently coincide or even change sides, without however ceasing to be what they are. Yet it is precisely this possible use of common means which gives rise to confusion and hence motives for challenging the distinction.


Why only LEFT and RIGHT? Why should we even categorize opinions, give them a label, a color, a taste? There are not only left and right. The way we face the world, the social and political themes, cannot be simply limited to few categories. Humans are complex, and complex is the way they think. To divide human thinking in left and right approach is just like to say that in world there are good and bad ones: tales for children. Let’s move on, let’s go ahead, let’s grow and become more mature, an adult civilization. Or let us continue to play as children to the white hats vs. the black hats, being aware that it’s just a game and that we are not yet ready to live a serious life.

Posted by Dario de Judicibus on 31 December 2004 – 21:40

Dario, you say “humans are complex”. I’ll add “humans are unique”. My belief is that there is no way to classify a single person. The single is unique. There is nobody like myself, nor there will be.
But I know that many of my behaviours are not unique. I don’t live my life in the woods but in a society. And a society has inevitably modelled some of my behaviours. And, actually, if I had lived all my life in the forest, surely the contacts with animals and plants would have modelled me in a different way.
We are unique entities in a world that gives us some instructions. Some of them are unchangeable (eating, sleeping), others are given to us by other humans.
Classifying typical behaviours (behaviours, not people) can be also a way to understand them (behaviours and people), and understanding is a way to make ourselves more free.
I’m not a conservative nor progressive. Some of my behaviours are conservative, others are progressive. Some others cannot be classified in either way. Some are good, some are bad, some I don’t know (yet).
The way to classify ideas and opinions in left and right is just a way to try to understand. Incomplete, yes. But you have to start from somewhere.
Montanelli used to define himself as a “conservative liberal-democrat”. Left or right?

Posted by Raffaello on 03 January 2005 – 00:38

Raffaello, I really totally agree with you about behaviours and most of your reply. In fact, in psychology scientists classify behaviours rather than people. I simply disagree about left and right classifications. It is too raw and too culture oriented. For example, Anglosaxon left has no relation at all with Italian one. I think we should find a better taxonomy in politics.

Posted by Dario de Judicibus on 03 January 2005 – 02:46

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