Victoria MacDonald, Queens University.
Now more than ever, the political terms “right” and “left,” have become confused, stale, damaging, and encourage a toxic binary within a political moment that is nothing if not multi-dimensional. This political ideology has lost its core, and now actively dissolves the boundary between definition and discourse. However, contrary to popular belief, the opposition of the “right-wing” and the “left-wing” has less to do with political events, and more to do with the political conception of progress. These conceptions of progress from the “right” and the “left”, are severely incoherent and prone to fundamental contradiction.
Let it be made clear that the objective of this article is not to endorse one stance over the other; rather it is to offer a glimpse into how this binary has become politically damaging and promotes confusion.
For those less familiar with the right/left political spectrum, it can be summed up as follows: generally, the left-wing is associated with an emphasis on “equality, fraternity, rights, progress, reform, and internationalism,” while the right-wing is associated by an emphasis on “notions such as authority, hierarchy, order, duty, tradition, reaction”. Examples this left-right dichotomy include: conservative versus liberal, progressive versus reactionary, socialist versus capitalist and communist versus fascist.
Only later with the emergence of Marxism was right/left spectrum fully developed into a tangible political theory. It was not until the early 20th century that this idea was transported to English speaking countries.
In the contemporary moment, these two ideologies have established two distinguished political tribes; most notably in Canada, this is seen between Liberals and Conservatives. This binary has been so deeply engrained into society that the right-wing and left-wing refuse to listen to one another, any idea aside from their own is rejected before it can reach maturity. This sort of political divide enjoys wide and dangerous pitfalls, most notably regarding facts and the denial of facts; the habit of thinking from a position, rather than about a position. We are situated within such a precarious political moment, here, the debate does not originate as a reaction to events, debate results from the notion of whether events themselves are even events. A prominent illustration of this is the climate-change movement, and those who identify as activists for the “climate-emergency” against those who are “climate-deniers.”
This opposition becomes extremely relevant in the political debate over free speech. The “left” has obsessed itself with the premise of discrimination, even going as far as to legislate hate-speech as a criminal offense. The “right” views this as an infringement on the liberty of the individual, who is inherently allowed freedom of expression.
These terms then graduate to become political tools, which utilize these categorizations to demonize opposing views, terms such as, the “alt-right” or the “far-left” are easily available examples of this.
The reality is, the perceived positions of both the “right” and the “left” are not so grounded as they seem, they are both fraught with inherent contradiction. This becomes evident when examining the opposing definitions of “equality” and “liberty,” within the ideology.
The “left-wing” believes in the fundamental human right to equality, therefore, this political camp almost always calls for a boost in economic and political programs that promote equitable relations. This usually involves the promise to dedicate more money towards government programs such as healthcare and education. The result has been a welfare state that is incredibly pervasive, and institutions that give access to compulsory public education. These are achievements of the left. However, how much have these institutions contributed to an equitable society? Using education as a case study, it has been proven that this structure has rendered an intergenerational hierarchy through reflecting status divisions. These institutions are a snake-pit of hierarchal relations that do not reflect equality.
In contrast to this, the “right-wing” promises to uphold the fundamental human right to “liberty.” This discourse supports the notion that individuals have a responsibility over their affairs, and therefore, less money should be delegated to social programs and more towards security. Often, the result is political campaigns that emphasize a cut in taxation and government programs, allegedly under the guise it allowspeople more freedom. However, how does this notion of liberty translate into social politics that harbor an opposition to gay marriage and marijuana legalization, or with several measures of securitization within the state?
Lost in translation is the middle ground, here, these voices dissipate between the harsh binary of the “right” and the “left.” Polarized situational politics are amplified by social media, where an extreme, simplistic version of politics is encouraged. One either aligns with the “right” and is painted as a bigot, or they align with the “left,” where they are painted as a snowflake. The questions become, why are Canadian politics so angry, judgemental, petty and close-minded? Where is the nuance in our current political sphere?
Both Conservatives and Liberals have promised “progress,” but, how much have either of them delivered? Justin Trudeau has plundered Canada into 31 billion dollars into debt; Doug Ford made cuts to education that resulted in the disposal of nearly 3,500 teachers from public education.
People have stopped reflecting on their perception of progress, we reside in a country that simply follows their tribe, halting thought regarding their own perceptions; a generation of zombies who accepts any information fed to them by their political sphere.
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Lang, Dwight. “Education, Stratification, and the Academic Hierarchy.” SpringerLink, Kluwer Academic Publishers, https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/BF00974866.
Legislative Services Branch. “Consolidated Federal Laws of Canada, Criminal Code.” Criminal Code, 11 Oct. 2019, https://laws-lois.justice.gc.ca/eng/acts/c-46/section-319.html.
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Sartwell, Crispin. “The Left-Right Political Spectrum Is Bogus.” The Atlantic, Atlantic Media Company, 20 June 2014, https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2014/06/the-left-right-political-spectrum-is-bogus/373139/.
Shum, David. “Ontario to Lose 3,475 Full-Time Teachers over 4 Years: Ministry Memo.” Global News, Global News, 5 Apr. 2019, https://globalnews.ca/news/5132545/ontario-teachers-job-cuts/.