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.