What Is the Extreme Right?
"…is the modern world really anything whatever but a direct denial of all traditional truth?" —René Guénon, a genuine right-winger
"…that which the vast majority of men now living celebrate as 'progress' is exactly what is now presented to the reader as a profound decadence, continuously accelerating, which is dragging humanity toward the pit where pure quantity [as opposed to quality] reigns." —the same
One of the many benefits of the Trump presidency in the USA is that people are more politically aware and involved than ever before in my lifetime. Everyone is talking politics now; and although it is rather hysterical at times, with quite a lot of negative feelings being vented, in a functional democracy, in which the people themselves are supposed to be governing the nation, political awareness in the populace is definitely a plus.
And so, one hears plenty of talk flying around of radical leftists, social democrats, centrists, fascists, the hard right, and other such factions, implying a political spectrum of left and right, with so-called moderates lurking somewhere in between. But it seems to me that much or even most of this talk is indulged in without the speakers (or writers) having a clear idea of what the left/right spectrum really means. In fact I myself have been trying, with limited success, to understand this political continuum. This post is another one of those in which I’m not exactly trying to provide answers, but am searching for them, investigating—thinking out loud, sort of.
When I was in high school many years ago I was taught that the extreme left is represented by Communism, and that the extreme right is represented by Fascism. Up until relatively recently I accepted this as common knowledge. But as I wade through comments sections and politically oriented social media I see that pretty much everyone, with relatively few exceptions, disowns Mussolini-style Fascism and places it on the opposite side of the spectrum from themselves. Rather than being hard right, some say Fascism is a kind of socialism, and thus a kind of leftism; and others claim that Fascism is a sort of radical centrism. It is true that the Fascists and Nazis of the 1920s-40s adopted some socialist policies, and modern North Korea seems pretty damned fascistic even though it’s also at least nominally Marxist. So, I’ve tried to figure out what the extreme right would represent.
That the extreme left is communistic is fairly straightforward and uncontroversial, although what “pure” Communism would consist of is a contentious issue for some. For example, non-Communists would point to Bolshevik Russia and Maoist China as examples of Communism, whereas devout Communists in the west are likely to insist that there really are no good examples, as “true” Communism has never been fully implemented (while rejecting the very idea that this is because it’s simply not a workable system). But still, there appear to be definite character traits of uncontroversially leftist political systems, and so it would appear that a good logical approach to finding the opposite of Communism would be to determine what characteristics or qualities are possessed by it, and then attribute the opposite characteristics or qualities to the other extreme. So, that is what I will try to do in what follows.
I may as well begin the investigation with a definition from my New Oxford American Dictionary.
a political theory derived from Karl Marx, advocating class war and leading to a society in which all property is publicly owned and each person works and is paid according to their abilities and needs. See also Marxism.
The most familiar form of communism is that established by the Bolsheviks after the Russian Revolution of 1917, and it has generally been understood in terms of the system practiced by the former Soviet Union and its allies in eastern Europe, in China since 1949, and in some developing countries such as Cuba, Vietnam, and North Korea. Communism embraced a revolutionary ideology in which the state would wither away after the overthrow of the capitalist system. In practice, however, the state grew to control all aspects of communist society. Communism in eastern Europe collapsed in the late 1980s and early 1990s against a background of failure to meet people's economic expectations, a shift to more democracy in political life, and increasing nationalism such as that which led to the breakup of the Soviet Union.
This definition is unfortunately not very helpful, as Marx and class war would have little in the way of opposites on the far right, unless we insist that a far right society must come about peacefully, or else by some other kind of war—say, by invasion and ethnic cleansing. The absence of private property we’ll get to; and as for everyone working and being paid, etc., well, the opposite would be pretty much nonsense: nobody works and people are paid in total defiance of their abilities and needs. Actually, to hell with this definition. I’ll work it out myself. Maybe as an opposite to Marx I could propose Ayn Rand.
First there are a few factors to be taken into consideration which are not necessarily leftist, or rightist either. Consider democracy. A population of saints, or morons (saintly morons?), could voluntarily elect into power a radical Communist government, and might even be willing to keep voting for it after they see what it’s like—or then again, some dictator (or Chairman) or Party oligarchy could impose by brute force the same sort of communistic society. And although we haven’t yet determined what a radical right-wing society would be like, we might suppose that since the extreme left may or may not have democracy, the same may go for the extreme right. (At this point I have a philosophical question: Considering that the ideal of Communism seems to entail everyone in the society sharing a kind of insect-like hive mind in which everyone has the same political sentiments, maintained by conditioning and propaganda, could such a society validly be called democratic, even if they vote? Is this a trick question?)
Another phenomenon which is not specifically left- or right-wing is a concern for justice. We haven’t arrived at the extreme right yet; but considering the moderate left and moderate right, one can see that both sides of the aisle speak of justice, sometimes even sincerely. The difference is the kind of justice, its interpretation—which I’ll get to eventually if I don’t forget.
The third and last indeterminate quality I mention, before wading into the traits of Communism and its hypothetical opposite, is spirituality. Marxism of course is thoroughly materialistic, rejecting God for the gospel of Marxism itself; and it does seem like theocracies tend to be conservative or right-wing; but this is not necessarily the case. Anyone who has read the New Testament may recall that the archaic Christian community in Jerusalem described in the Acts of the Apostles was essentially communistic, with everyone pooling their wealth and allowing it to be shared out according to need. Presumably a radical right-wing society also could be materialistic, adopting Scientism as its religion, or some such.
Anyway, it’s time to consider characteristics of far-leftist societies, so that we may attribute their opposites to the extreme right; and the first characteristic to be considered is that leftist governments tend toward large, all-controlling centralized government. The Marxists, of course, claim that with Socialism the government becomes large and centralized, but when the miracle of Communism comes to flower in all its glory, culminating in the Brotherhood of Man (or, in more recent politically correct lingo, the Siblinghood of Person), the government somehow withers away and disappears, with everyone uplifted and conscientious and joyfully cooperating in anarchistic harmony. But as the dictionary pointed out above, this is yet to happen, and quite possibly won’t happen, ever. Empirical evidence suggests that the farther left one moves on the spectrum, the larger and more controlling the government becomes—which makes sense if only because the farther left one moves, the more coercion is required to get real live people to cooperate with an unnatural, artificially engineered system. So we may conclude, hypothetically, that an extreme right-wing society would have small, localized government, or else no government at all—minimal government, let’s say, if not total anarchy. (Or maybe, just maybe, we can say that the opposite of Marxism would somehow entail smaller and smaller government until, somehow, it all of a sudden becomes huge, centralized, and all-controlling. This may actually be the case, in a way, as will be mentioned later.) And of course, almost needless to say, the right tends toward minimal taxation and no welfare state.
As my dictionary asserts, a Communist system abolishes private property; so an extreme-right system, being the exact opposite, presumably would have everything as private property—roads, forests, post offices, rivers, schools, attack helicopters, everything. Nothing would be owned by the government, and thus we might have an extreme, radical form of capitalism.
As one moves farther left politically, there appears to be a greater emphasis on equality, with the extreme tending toward the aforementioned sameness of the insect-like hive mind. Thus the opposite of this communistic ideal would be standardized inequality, possibly even involving serfdom or even slavery. Almost certainly it would involve a distinctly stratified class system; although whether there would be the possibility of social mobility seems uncertain. With minimal government and a kind of sovereignty of the individual, I suspect that the social classes would have permeable boundaries, with the strong rising and the weak falling, in accordance with the law of the human jungle. But that’s just my guess.
Returning to the concept of justice, the left tends toward equality of outcome as evidence of equality in general, going with the assumption that everyone is essentially the same, at least with regard to genders and ethnicities. The right’s concept of social justice is more directed toward equality of rights, of freedoms, and of opportunities—that is, a level playing field—which, however, inevitably results in inequality of outcome.
Considering that Communism works toward that insect-like group mentality, with everyone in agreement at least with regard to politics and economics, it may be hypothesized that a far-right society would foster some sort of cult of individuality, possibly even total alienation; although Communist regimes, in their authoritarianism and dislike of the nuclear family, historically have encouraged family members to distrust and report each other as a way of gaining a monopoly on power. So again, this may represent another issue that is indeterminate, in the sense that any functional society will require a minimum amount of agreement and shared values. Perhaps an extreme right-wing society would have the minimum in this respect; then again, maybe not.
Since I mentioned the nuclear family just now I may as well add here that, whereas Communism prefers communal raising of children and possibly even communal sharing of mates, the right historically, and also in our logical exercise of the application of opposites, emphasizes the importance of a strong family unit. This is at odds with the emphasis on individualism or even alienation mentioned above, which just goes to show that trying to apply opposites to leftism in an attempt to find the essence of rightism won’t always work. But still, in a right-wing society the support of a strong family unit would certainly do much to replace a welfare state; this is conservative in the sense that this is the way people have lived for countless millennia—when you’re old or sick, your family takes care of you, not the government.
Communistic governments have necessarily used propaganda and coercion to compel citizens to act “equally”; thus our hypothetical extreme right-wing government, or anarchistic society, would let people act differently, in accordance with the sovereignty of the exalted individual, with no attempts at mind control. (This is another case of opposites not always being compatible—if there is slavery or serfdom, then there will be control of some individuals anyhow; but I suppose this could be a case of the coercion being private and not government-owned.)
One fairly universal characteristic of communistic economic systems is that they experience stagnation and eventual failure; therefore may we assume that an extreme rightist system would be characterized by prosperity and success? Ha, better move on to the next one…
Leftists, in the sense of being “liberal” or “progressive,” desire change, always looking to the future and seeing the squalid present as being unsatisfactory and unacceptable. Change is good for them. Thus, pretty obviously, the hard right would be ultraconservative and resistant to significant change. Change is bad. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Leave well enough alone, and all that. It may even be the case that an extreme rightist society would be atavistic and prefer the past to the present. There is more than one way to interpret opposites, which to some degree is fucking up my mission here.
Since the left values and emphasizes change towards some future ideal state, it also emphasizes intellectual theorizing with regard to formulating this ideal state, as well as the means of arriving there. The right, contrariwise, relies heavily on tradition—i.e., on what has been proved by experience to work. Thus we have a kind of theoretical idealism opposed to pragmatic realism. This could even be interpreted as a dichotomy of artificial human law emphasized by the left and natural law emphasized by the right.
The farther left a society goes, the more transnational it tends to be, with extreme Communists insisting upon a borderless World State. The opposite to this, pretty obviously, is nationalism and the balkanization of the entire globe. In fact the balkanization could go all the way down to tribalism, or family units, or the total independence and alienation of the individual. The left deals with masses, classes, and universal categories, the right more with the individual. So again, the right may tend all the way to anarchy at its extreme.
As James Damore pointed out in his infamous Google memo, the left is characterized by compassion for the weak, whereas the right places more emphasis on respect for the strong. Thus the right might be more likely to tend toward personality cults and hero-worship, if only the extreme sovereignty of the individual didn’t prevent it. The left, especially nowadays, appear actually to resent the strong. But the right’s respect for strength does not indicate, contrary to what many leftists would prefer to believe, that conservatives or right-wingers have no compassion for the weak. They certainly may—in which case they endorse private charity rather than a welfare state. Studies have indeed shown that conservatives in America donate more to charitable causes, on average, than do liberals. Nevertheless, in our hypothetical extreme rightist society, some of the weakest, most unfortunate individuals might very well starve or freeze to death, in accordance with natural law and Charles Darwin, thereby strengthening the species.
Security and freedom are themselves practical opposites. Absolute freedom is a state of being naked in a jungle; and maximum security is found in a prison cell. And with regard to this dichotomy, the left prefers security, with resultant loss of freedoms, and the right prefers a more dangerous liberty. Thus our hypothetical hard right society might be a kind of wild west scenario, with each man being a law unto himself.
One last characteristic I will consider is another one pointed out by Mr. Damore in his heretical tract: the left places more emphasis on cooperation, and the right more emphasis on competition. So again, a hard-right society would be a very competitive one, with the strong rising to the top and the weak sinking to the bottom. So again, there is a kind of divergence between artificial law in defiance of Mr. Darwin and natural law acknowledging him as God Emperor.
And so, it would appear that the opposite of hard-left Communism really isn’t Fascism (and where Fascism lies on the spectrum is irrelevant here), but, if not total anarchy, a kind of anarcho-capitalist libertarianism, with minimal government control, and that being localized as much as possible, minimal regulations and laws, and maximum freedom—at least for the strongest. Or, somehow, the hard right could entail some sort of archaic monarchism; but I do not see how libertarianism and ultraconservatism could be mutually compatible. I mentioned above that, considering that Marxism supposedly leads to bigger and bigger government exercising greater and greater control over the lives of its citizens…until it somehow evaporates upon reaching the ideal, even so our ideal extreme right may tend toward greater and greater freedom, with little or no restraint…until the most powerful human shark, in accordance with the law of the jungle, takes over and owns everything, and possibly everyone too, resulting in something like Pharaonic Egypt—absolute monarchy. Another possible outcome might be some sort of feudalism. But these latter wouldn’t be perfect rightist states so much as results of an unstable extreme state—in this case, extreme anarcho-capitalist libertarianism. In the 21st century the absolute monarch might not be so much a warlord as a corporate CEO.
It seems to me, in accordance with basic Buddhist philosophy, that the extremes of left and right are unstable and best avoided—if they are even attainable at all in reality. Just as perfect Communism has never been achieved, so too the extreme hard right may prove to be a unicorn. A Middle Path between absolute security and control on the one hand, and absolute freedom on the other, or between change and stability, is simply a pragmatic necessity. The perennial issue, of course, is where to draw the line between left and right—where, for example, to draw the line between subsidizing the weak and just letting them fail. My own inclination is to value freedom over security; I’m just socialistic enough to allow that in a civilized society nobody should starve to death or freeze to death or die of neglect of some easily curable disease (unless that is the person’s own choice); but that when the dole becomes munificent enough that living on it becomes an attractive career choice, as it has become for many in the USA and elsewhere, then it encourages parasitism on, and unnecessary weakening of, society—possibly even its eventual decline and fall.
Anyway, if anyone disagrees with my tentative, hypothetical determination of the hard right, feel free to rebuke me and set me straight, preferably without sending political stormtroopers to my monastery to beat me up. As I said at the beginning, I’m just trying to make sense of things here. But my experience has been that extremists are not extraordinarily tolerant of “wrong view,” and furthermore don’t have much of a sense of humor.