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Left/Right Dichotomy
by Dean Esmay
Issue 10
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A common left-wing viewpoint is that human beings are innately, inherently, naturally good, and that to the extent that they are bad it is because of the dysfunctional nature of their society or of civilization as a whole. Most of what is wrong in society can be viewed as the fault of hidebound tradition and dysfunctional or outdated patterns of living. Some date this thinking with the philosopher Rousseau, but I think it's probably far older than that. Still, let us for the sake of discussion call that the Rousseauian view.

A common right-wing viewpoint is that human beings are innately wicked and wretched. Only by careful inculcation of the proper spiritual mindset and rigorous teaching can we be made anything other than depraved. Even to the extent we succeed in raising people above the level of savages, we are always on a slippery slope, and should we slip too much then the result will be savagery and depravity and madness. Although this view predates Hobbes, let's call this the Hobbesian view.

I think that if you look carefully at a lot of political arguments today, especially the most vociferous, most of them seem to stem from people arguing (whether consciously or not) from one position or the other.

Which is rather frustrating for those of us who consider both positions innately flawed. If you believe there is indeed such a thing as human nature, but that human nature is neither inherently depraved nor inherently enlightened, neither inherently selfish nor inherently selfless, a lot of people are simply puzzled when they argue with you. You wind up agreeing a lot with the Hobbesians, but then you say something that makes them suddenly turn and look at you like you're from Mars (like, "looking at porn ain't so awful" or "one sin does not necessarily lead to another"). You also say a lot of things that make the Rousseauians say "right on!" but then say something that utterly infuriates them (like, "boys and girls are innately different, exceptions notwithstanding" or "capitalism is imperfect but works far better than socialism").

Some call this thinking "third way," and point to politicians like Tony Blair and Bill Clinton (and the more astute among them add George W. Bush), but it would be nice if we had a philosopher-figurehead to which to attach this line of thinking. Although it may be gauche to suggest a living thinker, would Pinkertonian perhaps be a good label? Or is there someone dead to which we might better attach this line of thinking?

Suggestions will be cheerfully entertained in the comments, as well any serious contemplations of the related concepts discussed in this missive.


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