On one of his daily radio programs in early 2016, Rush Limbaugh was discussing the meaning of the terms “conservative” and “liberal” and their relationship to “The Left-Right Scale” in politics. He had a caller who was asking about how it is that in some countries, the hard-liners are referred to as “conservative” when sometimes those so-called “right-wing” hard-liners are communists or fascists? Rush said this is a subject he has spent considerable time thinking about and he had begun to conclude that the left-right scale isn’t really a straight line, but rather a circle. His theory is that if you go far enough to the right, you eventually begin to come back around to the left.
Here is the problem with that logic. The terms “conservative” and “liberal” are meaningless without context. The Left-Right Scale is not about liberalism or conservatism at all. Period. Full Stop.
Read that again. The Left-Right Scale IS NOT ABOUT LIBERALISM OR CONSERVATISM AT ALL!!! Neither is it about any other particular political philosophy. It is simply a scale upon which political philosophies can be placed in order to identify how they relate to other political philosophies.
My apologies for the virtual shouting, but it has to be absolutely clear that this old paradigm is completely wrong and we all need to erase that concept from our minds. Liberalism and conservatism cannot be on the scale and at the same time define the scale. That makes no sense! These are political philosophies, just like communism, fascism, libertarianism, and all the rest. The only way we can truly see how they relate to these other political philosophies is if they do not also define the scale on which we place said philosophies.
So, before I explain what The Left-Right Scale really does represent, let us first define two important terms.
“Maximum Freedom” is herein defined as the maximum amount of freedom an individual human being can have without infringing on the freedom of another individual human being. If you take it any further than that, then it becomes self-defeating.
“Maximum Slavery” is herein defined as the least amount of freedom an individual human being can have without being incarcerated. Since the entire world cannot possibly be incarcerated, incarceration cannot and need not be part of the definition of maximum slavery. A person does not need to be incarcerated in order to be subjected to total control by another person.
Presently, The Left-Right Scale is defined as Maximum Slavery on the absolute far left end and Maximum Freedom on the absolute far right end.
Think about this. The only context required for this definition is an understanding of what freedom and slavery are. These are two terms that are generally understood by everyone and are generally not confused with each other. And if The Left-Right Scale is defined thus, then it does not need to be a circle, a sphere, or any other shape other than just a straight, two-dimensional line on what mathematicians would call the horizontal or X axis. There doesn’t need to be a vertical or Y axis, nor a third-dimensional, perpendicular, or Z axis. Just one, straight, horizontal line scale. Period. Done.
Suddenly, with this definition, everything becomes clear. When some “journalist” writes a story about some right-wing, hardline communist, fascist, or theocratic government leaders, everyone can see that these forms of governance are not right-wing at all, just because some “journalist” chooses to call them that. Or even if the leaders of such groups and their constituency call it that, we can all know the truth simply by looking at the degree of freedom of the citizenry of such states and placing it where it properly belongs on The Left-Right Scale as it is now defined.
A brief word about anarchy. Anarchy, because it seeks a degree of freedom that can only be attained with no government at all, and thus no laws or law enforcement, lies beyond the righthand end of The Left-Right Scale, as shown in the graphic below.
Conservatism in America today refers to conservation of the goals for individual freedom set by our nation’s founders. The goal of our nation’s founders was simply the far right end of The Left-Right Scale, as defined above. That said, there are probably some who would question this statement because of confusion over just what the term “conservative” means. Let me clarify this issue.
When America’s founders were alive, there was no such thing as a “conservative” in any sense of the word as we use it today. A conservative in their day would have been a Tory, a Loyalist, someone who wanted to conserve the existing form of government under the King of England. In those days, the founders were liberals. And radical liberals to be sure. These men applied classical liberal thinking to the subject of how to establish a nation that provided maximum freedom to its individual citizens and came up with the most radical document ever written in the history of humankind: the original articles of the United States Constitution and the first ten amendments, also known as the Bill of Rights. This Constitution was based on the philosophy described in the Declaration of Independence; the most famous lines of which declare “that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
In the days of our nation’s founders, moral values were ingrained in our fledgling nation’s culture. To be sure, the question of gay marriage would have never been conceived in their time. That is not to say that there were no gay people back then or that there were no immoral people back then, either. It is just that the evolution of American culture has brought us only recently onto this ground that had never before been tread upon, because no one back in the days of America’s founders questioned the importance of moral values to the success of our national culture, and homosexuality was considered a curse, not something of which a person should be proud. Moral values are a foundational component of American culture and society.*
In this day and age, moral values have been associated with a desire by conservatives to control the behavior of others, and thus limit freedom in a way not intended by our nation’s founders. So, to some extent, libertarianism more closely resembles the goal of our nation’s founders. It’s just that in the days of our nation’s founding, because moral values were, for the most part, an assumed part of our national culture, no one felt compelled to address issues like gay marriage. So, conservatism today also incorporates a desire to re-establish moral values as part of our national culture. Which, naturally, puts it at odds with the goal of our nation’s founders, so long as it seeks to do so through legislation. An entire book could be written on the subject of legislating morality (and the utter failure of such attempts), so I am not going to spend any more time on it here. Let us just move forward with the idea that in terms of degrees of freedom, both libertarianism and conservatism in American politics refer to attempts to maximize individual freedom, the latter simply adds the re-establishment of strong moral values to our national culture through legislation.
The “classical” liberalism of our nation’s founders was a political philosophy that sought maximum freedom for our nation’s citizens. Liberalism (or progressivism, or neoliberalism, or socialism, or communism), in its current form in America today, on the other hand, refers to the opposite of conservatism. Or, more specifically, to maximum control, down to the last tiny detail, of our citizenry. And though it has been over 200 years since our nation’s founding, people are still often confused by the evolution of the meaning of liberalism over this time from the former, classical definition, to the latter, modern definition. Many liberals in America today advocate for laws that force people to do things against their will, such as buying health insurance and paying for and performing services for others which run counter to their deeply held religious beliefs.
Of course, proponents of liberalism never see themselves as the target of their own philosophy. They wish to be the controllers. They do not see themselves as being among the controlled because they desire to live their lives exactly the way they want to force others to live theirs. In their minds, they are not being controlled if such a lifestyle is voluntary.
And what is control of another human being but enslavement of that human being? The very definition of slavery is having no freedom to live one’s life as one chooses. If one chooses to work for himself or herself, he or she is not allowed, by others who control him or her, to do so. A voter who believes he or she is controlling his or her neighbor by voting for more governmental control over ourselves does not believe he or she is also voting for more slavery for him or herself, because they are voluntarily asking for it. I would ask what would happen if they were to change their mind afterwards and choose not to voluntarily submit to the very control they advocate?
Quite obviously, they would discover that they, too, are slaves. For example, it has occurred throughout history that some slaves have enjoyed and even preferred their situation, even being treated like family members in some cases and not desiring to be freed, but this did not change the fact that they were still slaves none-the-less.
We are all subject to varying degrees of control by others. It is impossible to escape, save by death. Hence the definition of maximum freedom, above. Even the hermit living far off in the wilderness, alone, is indirectly controlled by virtue of the fact that he or she is forced to breathe the same air polluted by others far away. He or she may not remain a hermit and live among society. And so forth.
So our nation’s founders were not attempting the impossible, merely the possible; to achieve maximum freedom for the individual human being as defined above. And since maximum freedom is the precise and exact opposite of maximum slavery, it follows that maximum control equals maximum slavery. Everyone knows that any degree of slavery is wrong and evil and that maximum freedom, as defined above, is right and good.
Which is why conservatism in America, being right, is on the right end of The Left-Right Scale.
*Note: While some today might not like to equate homosexuality with immorality (and that is not my intention here), this is only a very recent cultural development. In America at the time of our nation’s founding and until relatively recently, homosexuality was universally condemned as immoral. Many people still believe this, although there is a growing number of people who do not. The purpose of this article is not to attempt to establish whether it is or it isn’t, but to use the subject as an example of how cultural changes over time have affected the meaning of conservatism in America.