What is the “extreme right”? What are “liberals”? This is why all political discussions sound like teenage gossip.

As I was writing yesterday’s post, I was reminded yet again that I do not have the necessary words to say what I want to say about politics and culture.  The problem is that these words – left, right, conservative, progressive, liberal, leftist, traditionalist – don’t seem to have precise meanings and instead are used in any given situation to denote the speaker’s or writer’s affiliation with or opposition to some particular group of people.

I was reading through a CNN article while drinking my morning coffee today and thought of this problem again

Homegrown extremist threat remains 20 years after Oklahoma bombing:

“The significance of the Oklahoma City bombing, in terms of its service as a warning about right-wing violence, became greatly lessened [after 911].

This is a lesson that Americans must now recall and recover.

Radical Islam, whether abroad or homegrown, represents a serious threat to the safety and security of Americans. But right-wing extremism did not disappear after September 11. Its history since the Oklahoma City bombing has consisted of a steady stream of plots, conspiracies, terrorist acts, and hate crimes. It, too, represents a serious threat.”

The article warns that while yes, “radical” Islam is a threat to our security, a huge and ignored problem is the domestic “extreme right” as personified by Timothy McVeigh, Ruby Ridge, and the Branch Davidians.  These are all incidents from the 1990s and the lack of anything similar in the past twenty years is chalked up in the CNN article as being due to American right-wing extremism being ignored by government and the media.

I started thinking about who or what exactly comprises the “extreme right”.  The above groups/individuals are the only ones named, and the only ideology highlighted in the article is “white supremecism,” which is another term that has been rendered nearly meaningless.  It used to mean people who held a particularly violent hatred for non-whites, but now the term is used for people who even point out that there are averaged racial differences in performance on standardized tests such as IQ tests, so saying that the “extreme right” is comprised of white supremecists is mostly meaningless, though it does make one suspect that when CNN uses the terms “conservative” or “the right,” they mean those phrases to be all-purpose insults toward Caucasians.

So what is right-wing extremism?  What is the “far right”?

Does it mean being religious?

No.  Timothy McVeigh, the man responsible for the Oklahoma City bombings, was an atheist.

Does it mean supporting small government?  Or constitutional democracy?

No, monarchists are generally lumped in with the “right” or “extreme right” but don’t believe in small government or constitutional democracy.

Does it mean being a capitalist?

No.  Hitler is considered the personification of the extreme right, but his party was socialist.

Is it all about maximal personal “freedom”?

No. Some libertarians identify themselves with the right but more libertarians self-identify as liberal and were former Democrat voters.  Some people who get labeled as being the “extreme right” are Christian “patriarchalists” who don’t support maximal personal freedom but rather a defined hierarchy of leadership and submission to leadership.

Does it mean being anti-semitic?  Pro-semitic?

No.  You’ll find both pro-Israel and anti-semite voices among those labeled “the far right”.

Does it mean espousing traditional sexual morality?

No, you’ll find both Christian traditionalists and pick up artists listed as being “on the far right”.

I have no idea what is meant by “right-wing extremists” or the “far right,” but I actually have a lot of trouble pinning down exactly what the boundaries of liberalism are, too.  After all, I don’t support a complete deregulation of the natural world because too often that ends up benefiting large corporations at the expense of ordinary citizens.  But as I’ve mentioned before, most liberal environmentalists are human-haters, which I am not.

So to talk about politics, we have to use these grossly inaccurate terms that don’t really mean precisely or even approximately what we want to say.  We end up sounding like teenage girls gossiping about their frenemies instead of mature adults using wisdom and good judgement to decide upon a course of action.

I’ve been called a right-winger, I’ve even been called the Christian taliban, but I don’t think of  myself as a right-wing extremist in any way.  In fact, I no longer consider myself on the right or the left.  This political model does not encapsulate my beliefs nor the beliefs of many people I know.  I oppose the commercialization of all areas of public life, the way that unfettered capitalism in a liberal democracy leads to the break down of the extended (and even nuclear) family, I am pro-life and pro-traditional marriage, I believe in some environmental regulations when they are grounded in a love of rather than a hatred for humanity, I am a Christian…do I fall on the left or the right?  I don’t fall on either side, yet I’m certainly no political kin to the centrists.  And I am meeting more and more people who seem to think as I do.

 

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11 thoughts on “What is the “extreme right”? What are “liberals”? This is why all political discussions sound like teenage gossip.

  1. “I was reminded yet again that I do not have the necessary words to say what I want to say about politics and culture.”

    Me neither, but that’s mostly on account of the fact that I’m not supposed to use excessive bad words. 😉

    I actually live in the midst of the far left and the far right. It’s a bit of a joke, but there are no moderates here. One of the things that is so maddening for me is that many of them are actually all on the same page. Not all, but most of us have some real things in common. All these labels really just serve to divide us and make us think we disagree.

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    • This is true,which is why “right” and “left” are not serving us well as we try to create functional societies.

      Consider someone like Bodycrimes; she is a feminist and (I think) an atheist, yet she and I agree on some big issues (like the problem of commercialization of every aspect of our lives). Do I have more in common with Bodycrimes than some of the big-name conservative politicians? In some ways, yes I do, other than the abortion issue, which is a deal-breaker for me ever wanting anything to do with “the left”.

      Then again, I’ve met plenty of neo-reactionaries in the blogosphere who think abortion should continue to be legal but consider themselves far right. So.

      Liked by 1 person

      • It’s kind of interesting, isn’t it? People have become a bit too much like avatars, all ideology and rhetoric, so what they really, truly believe is often buried underneath all our assumptions. It seems as if we’re walking in a world comprised of mostly stereotypes.

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  2. It has been a slow process but, over the last few decades Charlie Brown cndidates have chased hard after the most ephemeral of voters to the neglect of those who are loyal.
    It does tend to play with definitions when you can’t pin leedership down.

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  3. Thanks for the nice words. I wouldn’t consider myself ‘left’, by the way. By the lights of my milieu, I’m pretty conservative, on a whole range of issues.

    Conservative is an almost meaningless term in a global world. It’s all situational. Stuck in an airport the other month, I met a Scandinavian politician, who earnestly listed his policies for me. Less welfare, more labour market flexibility, pretty anodyne stuff. In his own country, he’s called a right winger. To your average American, he would be a caricature socialist, complete with gay husband.

    I think the US is almost unique in demanding that people line up along rigid ideological lines e.g. if someone tells you they’re a liberal, that one word encapsulates a very specific set of beliefs that are all linked. It’s not like that elsewhere.

    Maybe it’s because in most Western democracies, there aren’t two clear parties, but rather loads of fragile coalitions, which force ideological opponents to work with one another and compromise a lot more.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. I gave up on right & left back in high school. My political tendencies are informed by BIblical morality (sorry, not going to stone you, that’s law of Moses), paleo-conservative/classical liberal economics, and a strong doctrine of what does and does not constitute a public good.

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  5. The problem is that political philosophy isn’t binary — left and right. These are rough approximations for various beliefs that often have little in common with each other. However, I think a right-winger or conservative means someone with a strongly held belief that stands against the march of liberalism. Tim McVeigh may have been an atheist but his strong opposition to the federal government makes him an enemy of the liberal state. Hitler was a socialist, but he didn’t have the right views on race so that makes him an opponent of the liberal idea of a post-racial panacea. Christians are a throwback to a pre-Enlightenment worldview because they put faith over reason and science. Being against any tenet of liberalism is sufficient to get one labeled as a right-winger or conservative.

    Just call yourself a Christian.

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  6. Pingback: The ugly stepsisters in the Overton Window | The Sunshine Thiry Blog

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