Yes, there are two paths you can go by
But in the long run
There’s still time to change the road you’re on.
And it makes me wonder.
It is conventional to express the political spectrum in a linear fashion, running from “far left” to “far right”. This conventional view thus requires that if you are trying to “reach out” to people on the other side of the median, to try to bring them over to your side, one must necessarily do so by building a path through that middle ground. Thus the Democratic political establishment spends a great deal of time shushing the liberals and the left for fear that we might scare off center-rightists being gently escorted through that moderate minefield.
But reality is that the political spectrum isn’t so one-dimensional. It is more a circle, or even a sphere, and as an online column published today by a former Reagan Administration official illuminates, there is another path you can go by, a back way, a hidden portal, when you decide to change the road you’re on. It’s the path that takes you from far right to far left, and it’s a path I know well, the one I myself traveled to become a leftist. Come on over, I’ll see you on the dark side of the moon.
h/t to rjones2818 for the link that inspired this piece.
I wasn’t always a leftist. Far from it. I grew up in a declining lower middle class/working class industrial community, and my family’s fortunes were declining even faster than most of the town. Like many struggling American lower-middle-class and working-class families, particularly white ones, right-wing views, even far right-wing views, dominated the political thought in our family.
Right-wing politics works in such an environment because it gives you somebody nearby and visible to blame, an object for your frustrations and disillusionments. When there’s no way out, such scapegoats provide at least occasional temporary senses of relief.
However, what far right-wing politics cannot do for struggling, even ruined, working people, is explain satisfactorily why they/we struggle so, why things never seem to get better, only worse, and how and where we fit into the whole scheme of society at all. Because to explain those things requires shining lights on things which are sacred to the right in terms of established hierarchies of power and order, it means recognition of the role of class, and particularly the role of the ruling classes maintaining their rule and wealth, in shaping our fates and limiting our horizons. My hard right-wing views however desperately I clung to them weren’t answering these nagging questions I had.
I’m not going into the long and boring (and sometimes ridiculously cliched) ways that I found myself on the path from far right to far left, although discovering the words “ruined petty bourgeois” in a pamphlet about Marx suddenly answered a lot of questions I had about what had happened to my family and how I fit into society, questions no one else had answered or even taken seriously before.
The important thing I take away from my own experience is that I would never ever have crossed the line from right to left via “moderation”. I had to go around the back way, there was no other way I was going to get there. And I would argue that for those who are closer to the wing than to the center, it is always more effective to reach them through that same second path between far right and far left than to try to lure them into a center they have no affinity for. I think this is highly pertinent in the boiling tea party atmosphere of populism that has erupted in particular since the bank bailouts of last fall. Let’s face it, there’s a far more legitimate and coherent left critique of how we arrived at this economic strait than anything any right-winger can offer, and anyone who has paid attention has noticed that a large part of the political energy and resentment fueling the tea parties stems from the bailouts.
All this was brought to my mind today by a online column by former Reagan administration treasury official Paul Craig Roberts at Counterpunch. Who would ever have imagined that such a staunch Reaganite economic conservative would write a column on economics acceptable to the notably leftist Counterpunch? But Paul Craig Roberts seems to be walking that second path from far right to far left; his column begins with these words:
“Capital is dead labor, which, vampire-like, lives only by sucking living labor, and lives the more, the more labor it sucks.”
Read it all here.