We are developing the social individualist meta-context for the future. From the very serious to the extremely frivolous... lets see what is on the mind of the Samizdata people.

Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

Samizdata quote of the day

The traditional political division into ‘left’ and ‘right’ must be used with caution. For much of Europe ‘right-wing’ refers to nationalist authoritarians seeking to impose traditional values on society at large. I would be uncomfortable in such company. No right-winger on the Continent and few in America would share my stance on what they would call ‘social issues’ and I would call ‘none of your damned business.’

The ‘good guys’ of Continental Europe are usually called Liberals. The bad guys of American politics have made that glorious name unusable in English. In their constant gee whizz quest for euphemism, our American cousins have made a cuss-word out of a formerly-useful term. They do that a lot. How little of a life would you have to have to keep up with American fashion on what to call a black man or a red indian, for example?

– ‘Tom Paine‘ @ The Last Ditch

45 comments to Samizdata quote of the day

  • FlyingPig

    British English has done the same to perfectly acceptable American English words. I could tell my old Baptist Grandma that I fell on my fanny and not raise an eyebrow. When I get back home to the UK, being male, I don’t have one to fall on. And it’s not talk for polite company.

    ‘Paine’ is correct about some LibDems being nothing more than Labourites with a high snob quotient.

  • staghounds

    “Red Indian”?? Off to rehab for you, RAAAACIST!!!!

  • But the American right’s use of the word liberal as a negative is useful as it highlights ‘liberalism’s’ social and moral free-for-all philosophy. It is useful to distinguish liberals – weaker progressives – from socialists, as socialists can believe a host of socially-conservative things and be nationalists.

    Liberals support legalisation of drugs because of the pleasure factor, not because they believe that freedom is a noteworthy right (if they did believe it was a right, they would not do or support 90% of the things they do or support). Post Marxism offers an explanation for why pleasure, for the left these days, is so important.

    As for right wing or left wing, ideally, it just reflects the size of the state – not the quality of the authority involved or any reference to morality. Of course political perversion has taken place, calling Hitler “right wing” for example, which is hilarious but very useful to liberals. The Far Right are actually anarcho-capitalists. These days, again for propagandist purposes, “right wing” is magically associated with oppression and authority, which are all historically, if anything, intimately linked with the left: funny how that happened.

  • Molly

    your comment is completely incomprehensible to me, poosh, as you don’t actually seem to be aware of the semantic issues being discussed.

  • Russ in TX

    Hrm. Not following Poosh either here – the idea that the “right” in the US is associated with smaller government, well, let’s say it seems counter-intuitive.

    Perhaps “I’m not a Progressive, I’m a liberal” might be a good entre to the “sneak in from the left” approach generally advocated by this blog, when talking to us yank types. I’ve used it to good effect out in California and in Wisconsin.

  • RogerC

    He did say “ideally”. The reality is somewhat different, as we know.

    I find the left/right scale to be a tricky one to put a practical definition on, frankly. I’ve seen a number of definitions offered, but none that seem to cover all the bases in practice. Both favour hierarchy, but they differ on the nature of the groups involved and the order of the heap. The left usually defines this in terms of class, but at certain points in history, the right appears to do this too – they just put the classes into a different order. The left is usually socially permissive – but not always. I’m starting to think the whole thing’s a red herring.

  • CaptDMO

    Hmmm. I find the opinion put fourth by “Poosh” quite focused.
    The simplest way I’ve found to separate the left/right label issue is-
    Which group has usurped “new names” for themselves, palatable to the easily duped, for the strictly disingenuous purpose of amelioration, throughout history?
    Which group consistently follows a script to “project” the known evil of their past onto stereotypical “straw” members of their critics, and independent students of history?
    Which group has a sophomore’s grasp of Basic Political Science sounding words and phrases, yet is apparently unfamiliar with actually-realized post “oratory service” um…progress?

    There ARE simpler, plain terms I could use, suitable for a child’s level of comprehension, to define these phenomena.
    Sadly, “somebody” has deemed such lifestyle choices uncivilized, and actionably “illegal”.

  • CaptDMO

    Hmmm. I find the opinion put fourth by “Poosh” quite focused.
    The simplest way I’ve found to separate the left/right label issue is-
    Which group has usurped “new names” for themselves, palatable to the easily duped, for the strictly disingenuous purpose of amelioration, throughout history?
    Which group consistently follows a script to “project” the known evil of their past onto stereotypical “straw” members of their critics, and independent students of history?
    Which group has a sophomore’s grasp of Basic Political Science sounding words and phrases, yet is apparently unfamiliar with actually-realized post “oratory service” um…progress?

    There ARE simpler, plain terms I could use, suitable for a child’s level of comprehension, to define these phenomena.
    Sadly, “somebody” has deemed such lifestyle choices uncivilized, and actionably “illegal”.

  • I swore I was quite sensitive to the semantic issues, was I not just, quickly, trying to offer some explanations for these issues?

    Language is fluid, that might be good or bad, but it is fluid. The American use of the term ‘liberal’ in politics, to me, is very apt and superior to how Europeans use it. I mean Europeans do not use ‘liberal’ the same way you think either, often it is anti-free-market: so even in Europe our phrases and terms are not uniform. I much prefer “libertarian” as I can infer the motives and agenda, or “classical liberal” as opposed to liberal.

    The fact is leftists and “liberals” (socialists, progressives) have been allowed to frame, falsely, what “right wing is”, and that is why there is some confusion for all.

    Perhaps I missed something.

    Both left and right do not have to “favour hierarchy”, dito with authority. The right left scale, as I said ideally, is free from these loaded claims. Authority or tyranny can be inserted at any point on the left/right scale. A small state is very right wing, but in some, limited areas, authority might be absolute; a communist utopia is *meant* to be free from all authority.

  • CaptDMO

    Hmmm. I find the opinion put fourth by “Poosh” quite focused.
    The simplest way I’ve found to separate the left/right label issue is-
    Which group has usurped “new names” for themselves, palatable to the easily duped, for the strictly disingenuous purpose of amelioration, throughout history?
    Which group consistently follows a script to “project” the known evil of their past onto stereotypical “straw” members of their critics, and independent students of history?
    Which group has a sophomore’s grasp of Basic Political Science sounding words and phrases, yet is apparently unfamiliar with actually-realized post “oratory service” um…progress?

    There ARE simpler, plain terms I could use, suitable for a child’s level of comprehension, to define these phenomena.
    Sadly, “somebody” has deemed such lifestyle choices uncivilized, and actionably “illegal”.

  • Surellin

    Slightly off-topic, but I suspect that the confusion of fascists as right-wing has historical roots. Dating from the Nazi-Communist struggle in Germany in the 1920s, the Communists have portrayed Fascists as “right-wing” – that is, as the complete opposites of the Communists. This was a useful fiction for the Allies in WWII, as well. As far as I am concerned, if you are in favor of an authoritarian collectivism in which government runs society, then it doesn’t matter whether you are waving a red flag or a black flag.

  • Jaded Voluntaryist

    Sometime around the 50’s someone had the bright idea of appropriating the legacy of the Classical Liberals into a new cause. To do this they referred to all of that liberty nonsense as “negative rights”, to be contrasted with their much more awesome “positive rights”, such as the right to a free taxpayer funded house.

    These new liberals have nothing in common with their supposed forebears. Look at the Liberal Democrats for example. They claim to be essentially libertarian, but every single one of their policies looks like it came straight out of the “Third Way Socialist Playbook” by the Rt. Hon T. Blair. They’ve voted for the surveillance state we live in and for the ’96 gun ban for crying out loud.

    Liberals aren’t liberal.

    Don’t be down on the Americans just because they noticed the switch when it was pulled, whereas Europeans still fall for it.

  • Regional

    They’re all wankers

  • Paul Marks

    Sadly the real “Tom” Paine set a bad example.

    Lots of talk about liberty – then wild promises of government paying for education, old age, poverty (and so on). “Rights of Man – Part Two”.

    First it could all be paid for by getting rid of the monarchy (the sums did not add up – look at the small house that George III actually lived in), then in “Agrarian Justice” it could be paid for by taxing the rich (up to 100% of big land owners).

    A centralised, secular government promising everything to everyone.

    Sounds like the nonMarxist moderate faction of modern American Progressive “liberalism”.

  • Paul Marks

    On interference with private lives……

    Some American “social conservatives” do favour such interventions – but far fewer of them than many libertarians would guess.

    For example, hardly anyone wants to make homosexual acts illegal or ban the sale of contraception.

    The big exception is abortion – where (rightly or wrongly) social conservatives do see as a crime (not just a sin).

    Historically banning lots of things was actually part of the Progressive movement in the United States.

  • Paul Marks

    I agree that in Continental Europe (not Britain) the good guys (and ladies) are normally called liberals – at least that used to be true.

    Trouble is that most European Liberals seem to be pro E.U. – regardless of the endless regulations that the E.U. pumps out.

    This “uniting Europe is more important” (more important than rolling back the state) is rather similar to the attitude of German and Italian liberals in the 19th century.

    “Unification is more important”.

    Hence more government spending, higher taxes and more regulations (such as conscription in Sicily and language persecution all over Italy) all a price worth paying for unity. Just like the E.U.

    I hope this changes.

    After all the anti E.U. liberals got just as many votes as the pro E.U. liberals in the recent German elections (in spite of a vicious smear campaign against the anti Euro party by the media and the education system) although this meant that neither pro or anti Euro liberals now have any representation in the German Parliament.

  • Eric

    The problem with the right-left taxonomy is it’s too simple to be useful. You need at least one more axis. In the US both the bible thumping socialist who thinks we should put God back into the schools and the atheist libertarian are considered “right wing” by many, even though they’re polar opposites.

    Agreed on the corruption of the word “liberal”. I don’t use it any more – US “liberals” aren’t.

  • Regional

    Any one who subscribes to any ideology can’t think for themselves.

  • Sadly the real “Tom” Paine set a bad example.

    Yes but please stay on topic.

  • “Historically banning lots of things was actually part of the Progressive movement in the United States.” — PM

    Still is. What you think (hateful/incorrect thought), what you say (hate speech), what you drive (Cadillac Escalade), what you eat (fatty foods), what you drink (fizzy soft drinks) — all these and many more fall under the baleful glare of Progs, under the auspices of “we know what’s good for you, and you don’t”. In the old days, conservatives only sought to control the above where proscribed by religion; not anymore.

  • Regional

    The Progs are narrow minded hedonists

  • Lee Moore

    I think Paul Marks is right, allegations that the American right is as willing as the American left to ban things it doesn’t like, are greatly exaggerated. For those who wish to ban abortion, it’s just an example of murder, not a new category of things to be banned. There’s immigration and drugs, I suppose, but the class of non commercial acts that the right is slavering to outlaw is quite small. Whereas the lefties don’t just want to regulate all commercial activity, and spend everyone’s money for them, they’re authoritarian in non commercial areas too – hate speech, education, child rearing, anti-discrimination, boxing, smoking, foxy-woxies – you name it, there’s a bill being drafted to ban it.

    I think where folk like Tom Paine go wrong is confusing

    (a) having a view on whether other people should behave in a particular way, and saying so, and
    (b) requiring them to comply by law

    The right is full of (a) type stuff. The left is full of (b) type stuff. It was not always thus, of course, but at present it is. But anyone who genuinely believes in minding his own business in the economic and non economic spheres, who imagines that he is equally estranged from left and right, has his head up his arse. The reality is that he is indeed estranged from the right, but not because of its eagerness to regulate social behaviour, but because it is not that much less willing than the left to regulate commercial behaviour and to spend up a storm.

  • Todor Kamenov

    P.J. O’Rourke sait it best: The Right will tell you that you shouldn’t make fun of deaf people. The Left will tell you that you cannot make fun of deaf people.

  • Todor Kamenov

    P.J. O’Rourke said it best: The Right will tell you that you shouldn’t make fun of deaf people. The Left will tell you that you cannot make fun of deaf people.

  • Tedd

    Is it actually true that American usage morphs more quickly than British usage? It certainly seems so when you look at the word liberal. But then there is FlyingPig’s example of fanny, which seems to be the other way around (so to speak). Somewhere, there’s a linguist who can answer the question.

  • RogerC

    @ Eric

    The problem with the right-left taxonomy is it’s too simple to be useful. You need at least one more axis.

    Better and more concisely put than I managed.

  • Tom

    I am honoured to feature in ‘quote of the day’ and entertained by the resulting debate. Yes the original and best Tom ruminated on issues of land tax as well as social security. In agrarian times when land was the only real asset, I can understand his stance. Now that land is mostly just one asset incidental to production, it’s a bit outdated. His notions of social security were probably just an understandable product of concern for those without land.

    For those on the Left who claim Tom as their own, I cite his following words.

    “Society in every state is a blessing, but government, even in its best state, is but a necessary evil; in its worst state, an intolerable one. The trade of governing has always been monopolized by the most ignorant and the most rascally individuals of mankind.”

    When, in their lust to govern every detail of our lives, they acknowledge those truths, I will take their claim more seriously. I only started to use his name for blogging because I admired his vibrant prose and it seemed to me ‘Common Sense’ was the best prototype of a political blog post. He is a hero of mine, but all views I express are my own. I don’t claim to speak for his shade.

  • Lee Moore

    Eric : “The problem with the right-left taxonomy is it’s too simple to be useful. You need at least one more axis.”

    Well, you can have as many axes as you like, but I’m not sure that left-right needs to be one of them. Political Compass which is mentioned in the comments thread on Tom Paine’s blog offers a Left-Right axis, plus and Authoritarian-Libertarian axis, but this is simply a ruse to allow lefties to preen themselves as being non authoritarian. Unsurprisingly, if you delete the area in which lefties like to be most authoritarian – economics – from consideration when you’re assessing where you are on a libertarian-authoritarian axis, it’s a bit easier for lefties to show up as not as authoritarian as they really are. If they weren’t trying to spin it, they could just have the one axis : Authoritarian-Libertarian, and incorporate economic authoritarianism into the overall score.

    (it’s amusing to note though that they carefully avoid asking questions that would put lefties in an embarrassing position on the social authoritarian scale. They’ll ask you about drug liberalisation, but not about bans on smoking in pubs.)

  • Jason

    When asked about my political colours, I try ‘Whig’. While perhaps not strictly true, it does tend to stop people jumping to the (wrong) conclusion that usually ensues form answering ‘liberal’. The answer ‘classical liberal’ usually gets confused as well.

    I did try ‘extreme Northerner’ for a while, (from the link below), but that just seems to cause more confusion.

    http://www.la-articles.org.uk/pc.htm

  • Jason

    While it turns out I am a southerner on the test below.

    Usual internet nonsense, but an agreeable distraction and one that seemed – by luck or judgement – to have accurately summed up my position:

    http://www.politicalcompass.org/test

  • Jason I have long argued that Political Compass was a complete load of bollocks.

  • Jason

    Stop pussyfooting Perry, just say what you mean.

    It did strike me that in Political Compass setting up its definitions – which, if I understand some of your criticisms, you consider over-simplistic to the point of misleading – and then using those definitions to find evidence for them, comprised something of a closed loop. In having to make a choice between two views one holds (or opposes) equally, it feels as if one’s answers are being coerced into a mindset one might not share (although I would point out this may have been a deliberate device to examine which confounding choice the questionee opts for).

    However, it does at least attempt to explain why, from a certain point of view, the statist right is indistinguishable from the statist left, a point rarely obvious to many. It is perhaps a reflection on the current standard of political debate, that it usually takes much more explanation than is expected to describe one’s views as being neither particularly left nor right in the conventional sense.

    And it is almost axiomatic to point out that most people run away with completely the wrong idea with the term ‘liberal’. Is there a more useful term, which does not come preloaded with popular assumptions?

  • Tedd

    This is better: http://www.theadvocates.org/quiz/quiz.php. The axes make more sense. The questions have changed a lot over the years, though, and I don’t think they’re nearly as good as they used to be.

  • Laird

    “But anyone who genuinely believes in minding his own business in the economic and non economic spheres, who imagines that he is equally estranged from left and right, has his head up his arse.” Sorry, but I don’t understand that at all (or rather, if I am correctly interpreting the words I completely disagree). How is such a person different from a garden-variety libertarian? Are you saying that all libertarians suffer from cranial-rectal inversion?

  • Paul Marks

    Sorry Perry…..

    To get back on topic

    I am a less and less confident of the various Liberal parties of Continental Europe.

    The seem to be getting like British or American “liberals”.

    The sort of mentality that thinks the state as father to many (or even most) babies (with them living off state benefits) is actually a GOOD thing – like my dear friends at the you-no-what magazine. Half the population either working for a layer of government or living off benefits – jolly good! “Public services” that is what freedom is about! I kid you not.

    But was the Liberal tradition ever that wonderful?

    After all (to take my home town) I can think of no issue of domestic or foreign policy on which I would have been on the side of the Kettering Liberals against the Kettering Conservatives – and I mean in the late 19th century (supposedly the age of the Classical Liberals), the early 19th century was different (then the things dividing the parties were such things as the Corn Laws – which split the Tory party and sent the tradition of Robinson, Canning and Peel off in the Liberal party direction for a few decades).

    So how real is the Liberal tradition?

    It was not real in Germany (unification more important to them), it was not real in Italy (again unification more important to them). There were indeed true libertarians in both these areas – but they did not control the Liberal parties (which were more interests in “scientific nationalism” [they were also in building up INTERNATIONAL states - how they squared the circle I do not know] and bashing the Church, than they were in rolling back the state).

    And it was not real where I am sitting – in this town.

    Around here a Liberal was someone who was in favour of setting up a local council, then taking over education, and (often) wishing to ban booze as well.

    And then was the Liberal dominated land nationalisation movement – but that would way off topic.

    There were a lot of good Liberals in the 19th century – but the bad elements were always there (and not just in Britain), that is why the take over of the 20th century was possible.

    Perhaps we should say we are libertarians.

    Of course the left want to take that word also – and turn its meaning to “hate the rich – down with the capitalists!”.

    Why do the people with the Black Flags march with the people with the Red Flags?

    They march with them because, at a fundamental level, they believe in the same thing.

    As for the modern Continent……….

    Well in Sweden there is a “Classical Liberal” party.

    Sadly they got less than 0.1% of the vote at the last general election (just over 700 people voted for them).

    The only large party that opposes the Islamic conquest of Sweden (not an extreme way of describing what seems to be gradually happening in places such as Malmo) are the “Swedish Democrats”.

    Are they the thuggish authoritarians that the quotation warns us of? Perhaps they are – I do not know.

    If so what is the (non suicidal) alternative to them?

    One can say the same about France, Belgium, Holland, Denmark, Norway……

    Are the various Progress parties (Norway and Denmark) “thuggish authorities”?

    Is the freedom party of Holland made up of “thuggish authoritarians”?

    What about the party in Flanders?

    The party in Greece is certainly GUILTY (they really are thuggish authoritarians).

    I hope the anti Islamist parities are not really “thuggish authoritarians” (although YES they may be – I do not know).

    As if one is interested in preventing the Islamic conquest of Europe (which I do not believe would be liberal – regardless of how one defines the word “liberal”) would it not be logical to support those who oppose it? If (and it is IF) they are not thuggish authoritarians.

    As the Liberal parties are of no use.

    “But if the immigrants and their children could be converted…..”

    Converted to what exactly?

    Have not the liberals (and the socialists) been only two successful in undermining the very things they could have been converted to.

    Not just religion – but art, architecture, and so on. The work of centuries swept away in only a few years (it is far less difficult to destroy than to create – the second law of thermodynamics).

    All have been attacked for a very long time indeed.

    And in the 1960s the decline of Western beliefs and Western culture became a collapse (to the joy of the liberals of Europe – just as much as the joy of liberals in Britain ad the United States). They seemed to have no idea that in nature there are far more lethal mutations than beneficial ones (that one use extreme care in examining cultural changes). Any change must be good (by definition) – because it was change “evolution” (real evolution is not planned by “intellectuals” – but they never understood that point).

    And the “social conservatives” were proved correct.

    The collapse of Western belief systems and culture practices (such as married families) led to the explosion of the Welfare States.

    Of course it did, it was INTENDED TO DO SO.

    The Frankfurt School was originally from Europe (it was not Frankfurt Kentucky) and European universities are dominated by such types.

    And mass Third World immigration was encouraged (I stress the word encouraged – it was NOT a market process) for the same fundamental objective – the destruction of the traditional West (the academic intellectuals of the time were quite open about their objectives – the newcomers could be treated as a victim group and an Ice Breaker).

    The newcomers would not be coming to join the existing culture (which would be a good thing) after all there would soon be no culture left for them to join if they wanted to.

    And they would not live in enclaves apart. No – they would seek (be encouraged) to seek to change the lands around them. It did not matter than their “social values” were often poles apart from those of the academics and media folk – as long as they could be used to attack the existing civilisation it did not matter what they believed.

    That explains the (otherwise baffling) alliance between Islam and the far left in Europe (not just in Britain and America – in Continental Europe also).

    And the “liberals” of Europe in the 1960s onwards?

    “They waved a senile hand at anything called progress”.

  • bloke in spain

    From very much an outsider’s point of view, one does find this academic obsession with attaching labels to things somewhat irrelevant. Is it that you have trouble considering anything unless the correct taxonomy has been applied first? To us ill educated, whether it’s a horse or a pony is less important than whether you can ride it.

  • From very much an outsider’s point of view, one does find this academic obsession with attaching labels to things somewhat irrelevant.

    Farmers and herders are the originators of taxonomy, not academics. To the ill educated, whether it’s a horse or a pony is less important than whether you can ride it but to a horse breeder, it is actually rather important.

  • rosenquist

    to reduce political thought to a crude dichotomy of ‘Left wing’ and ‘Right wing’ is of course a huge oversimplification. nevertheless people still have a visceral attachment to these labels.

    as an example; If I say that libertarianism and classical liberalism have their roots not on the political right, but on the political left, then I know that for many on here a red mist will quickly descend.
    Such is the emotive attachment that people have to their chosen taxonomic designations.

  • bloke in spain

    Mr deH. The academic profoundness of your response leaves us ill educated completely baffled. If this was the intention, well done Sir!

  • No need to thank me, I am always happy to drop my draws and cast a little light into the miasmic hovels of the hoi polloi.

  • bloke in spain

    Er, no thanx intended Mr deH. That was about as illuminating as a black cat in a coal cellar during a power cut.
    Zoology- the scientific study of the behaviour, structure, physiology, classification & distribution of animals
    No mention of farmers, herders or even horse breeders
    Academic-relating to an educational or scholarly institution or environment.
    Again farmers, herders & horse breeders get a miss from the OED
    Accidental omissions? Sheesh. Lexicographers aren’t what they used to be.

  • Paul Marks

    Ouch Perry!

    I am an unlettered barbarian – but you are not.

    You know that “hoi” is “the” in Latin – do not write “the the people” (unless I am wrong – I repeat that I am unlettered barbarian).

    As for the specific problem (are the parties of “the right” in Europe thuggish authoritarians) – I believe the way to deal with it is to ask specific questions.

    For example…

    Are you (the party in question) in favour of making homosexual acts illegal – yes or no?

    Are you (the party in question) in favour of judging people on the basis of their beliefs on their skin colour?

    For example – this brown person over hear has renounced Islam and sincerely wishes to fight against it, yet you seem unwilling to embrace him as a brother.

    Why?

  • Greek, not Latin, Paul… and whilst you are correct that technically “the hoi polloi” has a redundant “the”, that is indeed how it is used in English, which makes sense given that although many understand the meaning of the phrase, most English speakers do not actually understand the literal translation of the words.

  • Paul Marks

    Perry – silly me, my apologies.

    And “hear” should be “here”.

    It is an important question.

    What is objected to?

    The belief system?

    Or the race?

    The confusion goes all the way back to Herder (long before Darwin – so Darwin can be to blame, Glenn B. please note).

    Herder claimed (assumed)that culture was a racial product.

    Demented – but a wildly influential view over the last couple of centuries.