There exists significant disagreement among political thinkers as to what left and right are, which thinkers and which beliefs should be classified as leftist and which as rightist, and even whether these terms are meaningful. I am going to attempt my own definition of the terms, which will capture and justify as nearly as I find possible the intuitive common usus loquendi.
To understand the Right, you must understand the Left. These forces are not independent of each other, and the Left came first. Without the Left there is no need for a Right; and indeed a sincere rightist would like nothing better than a world which has no Right, because it has no Left.
The second thing that must be understood is that Left and Right are directions, not positions. This is obvious enough when the first letters are put in miniscule, but oddly, when one capitalises them and uses them to refer to political positions, all of a sudden in the common man’s mind they become fixed. The Founding Fathers, for instance, become ‘conservative’ despite working very hard to overthrow significant parts of the social order they lived under, simply because ‘conservatives’ now support many of their views (though in truth I think it must be conceded that ‘conservatives’ today are far closer to leftists today than they are to the Founders on, for example, the issue of race). The reality is that these terms are relative. To refer to ‘leftist positions’ rather than a ‘leftist direction’, we need a defined centre. And in the modern political milieu the centre is always moving.
I therefore propose the following definition, which I hope will not be dismissed as excessively grandiose: The Left is the party of rebellion against God, or against the natural order, or against reality. Take your pick; as it touches Earth it amounts to the same thing. The Left is the ultimate party of artifice. It elevates reason to the supreme place and rejects the sacred, the transcendent, the natural, and the emergent. Although it claims to want equality, what it in fact wants is an entirely artificial hierarchy constructed by its own reason. This is why when Leftism began it wanted to shrink the state; the old states were organic, sacred, and nonrationalistic. Now, however, that we have ‘scientific government’ and ‘meritocratic democracy’, the state must be built up and indeed must swallow all the old holdouts of natural structure and hierarchy: the family, the church, even local and diverse expressions of the state.
The Right, in contrast, is not a thing. It is not a coherent ideology; it is not a party, it is not an idea. It is an umbrella term that embraces everything that is not the Left. These terms are relative and context-sensitive, of course. If you believe that the political order created by America’s Founding Fathers was basically righteous and should be re-established, you are on the Right by generally accepted standards in 2013. If you thought that in 1775 you most certainly were not on the Right.
This means that the political spectrum is not so much a line as a pair of rays extending at an angle from the left-wing singularity. The farther right you move the more variety and (ironically enough) diversity there is, and the more likely you are to find people who hate each other.
It has been observed that leftists follow the maxim Pas d’ennemis à gauche, that is, no enemies to the left. Leftists are never really scared of other leftists, even if those other leftists are far more ‘extreme’ than they are. Conservatives denounce Nazism and even monarchism far more often than liberals denounce Communism.
Again ironically, this means that ‘guilt by association’ is far more valid as an attack on leftists than it is on rightists. Nazism’s status as right-wing in its own time was debatable. By the standards of today it is certainly right-wing. Nevertheless it has little to nothing meaningful in common with the feudal order, which is also right-wing. On the other hand, social democracy has a great deal in common with communism. Thus, criticising social democracy by comparing it with communism makes a lot more sense than criticising feudal monarchy by comparing it with Nazism.
Again, these are directions, not positions. There is no such thing as a left-wing order, except in the following senses:
a. The left-wing singularity can rightly and absolutely be described as a left-wing order. I doubt, however, that this has ever actually been realised.
b. Any order which is left of ‘the centre’, however defined, can be called left-wing in that context. This is relative; from my perspective, for example, these united States have been irredeemably left-wing since at least 1776.
c. Any order which moves progressively leftward, as ours does, may be called left-wing. The object-level beliefs of progressivism change, but only in one direction: namely, toward more civilisational breakdown, more materialism, more rationalism, and a sharper rejection of God.
Likewise, there is no such thing as a right-wing order, except in the sense that there are orders which stand opposed to the left as it presently exists or as it existed at some point in the past, that is, that are right of whatever centre we choose to use.
So with right and left defined, we can see why rightists have so much trouble forming coherent coalitions; they simply are far less homogeneous than leftists. We also see the coherence of left-wing movements throughout history, which should do a great deal to explain the utter impotence of moderate conservatism. I believe this definition will stand up to the general usage of the terms throughout their history since the French Revolution, and perhaps to a few earlier cases by extension.
Comments are open as always and I welcome any thoughts you may have.