I’ve been reading some books lately which have got me thinking about politics and society. The books in question include: The Eliminationists by David Neiwert, The Authoritarians by Bob Altemeyer, Conservativs Without Conscience by John W. Dean, Bite the Hand That Feeds You by Henry Fairlie, several books by Richard Hofstadter (in particular, The Paranoid Style in American Politics), and several books by Strauss and Howe (in particular, The Fourth Turning). All of them relate to the topic of the differences between the right and left in contemporary politics and how our country has become this way.
What specifically inspired this post are some discussions I was having on YouTube with fiscal conservatives, anarcho-capitalists and libertarians. What I’m constantly amazed by is that those on the right rarely have any understanding of the political views on the left. Libertarianism is understood at a basic level by most politically knowledgeable people both on the right and the left. But socialism is blatantly misunderstood by those on the right (and I’d add by many on the left as well). I don’t think it’s necessarily ideologically-motivated willful ignorance. Some seemingly intelligent and otherwise well informed conservatives will often identify socialism with communism and fascism. One of the rightwingers I was arguing with even claimed to be a B.A. in International Political Economy, but I hope that isn’t true because that would mean there was a serious lack in the quality of his education.
The basic confusion is based in the idiosyncratic and changing definitions in the US of conservatism and liberalism and of how they relate to the two parties. Once upon a time the Democrats were ruled by libertarian-leaning Dixiecrats and the Republicans were the party of Lincoln. Democrats became modern liberals by fighting for civil rights and Republicans became modern conservatives by (with the Southern Strategy) resisting the civil rights movement.
The even more confusing part is that liberalism and libertarianism both have their origins in classical liberalism. Also, libertarianism had it’s beginnings, according to Noam Chomsky, in the European socialist workers’ movement.
The Wikipedia article about socialism mentions anarchism 24 times and libertarian 8 times (mostly in relation to the history and development of socialism). However, it only mentions fascism twice and only in reference to the fact that certain socialists identify fascism with capitalism. Here are a few examples of different versions of socialism that aren’t included in the simplistic conservative understanding: libertarian socialism, social anarchism, libertarian Marxism, syndicalism, anarcho-syndicalism, individualist anarchism, anarcho-collectivism, and anarcho-communism. The last one even proves communism isn’t simply equated with centralized state govt control.
Maybe I shouldn’t be so hard on conservatives considering that many liberals are so confused about liberalism that they even identify as conservatives. Obviously, there are some major problems in our education system and in our mainstream media.