Oct 14 2008

Two Americas: but is the divide one of ideology, not wealth?

Category: left,rightharmonicminer @ 8:49 am

Dennis Prager writes that there are Two Irreconcilable Americas .  Here’s a bit of it, but the whole thing is very much worth reading.

It is time to confront the unhappy fact about our country: There are now two Americas. Not a rich one and a poor one; economic status plays little role in this division.

There is a red one and a blue one.

For most of my life I have believed, in what I now regard as wishful thinking, that the right and left wings have essentially the same vision for America, that it’s only about ways to get there in which the two sides differ. Right and left share the same ends, I thought.

That is not the case. For the most part, right and left differ in their visions of America and that is why they differ on policies.

Right and the left do not want the same America.

He’s correct, with some qualifications I discuss below.  In this article, Mr. Prager makes the case that the Left is primarily focused on equality, thoroughgoing secularism, and internationalism/moral equivalence, while the Right is focused primarily on freedom, a more or less Judeo-Christian society with secular government that is not hostile to religious values, and American exceptionalism/patriotism.

The left subscribes to the French Revolution, whose guiding principles were “Liberty, Equality, Fraternity.” The right subscribes to the American formula, “Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.” The French/European notion of equality is not mentioned. The right rejects the French Revolution and does not hold Western Europe as a model. The left does. That alone makes right and left irreconcilable.

(Of course, Canada’s tripartite formula is “peace, order, and good government”, which sounds positively stalinist…. and sometimes works that way.)

As far as it goes, I think Mr. Prager is correct in terms of the ideological influences for Right and Left. In its way, it is a thumbnail, pragmatic sketch of something that Thomas Sowell handled more theoretically in A Conflict of Visions. However, I would add other observations.

The Left is made up of three groups of people. There is, of course, some overlap, but these three groups contain the entire Left, as far as I can see.

One of those groups directly benefits from the secular, redistributionist ethos, which gives them things they did not earn, and license to behave more or less as they wish, regardless of its relation to traditional morality. Of course, there will be some who behave “morally”, but are willing to take what they can get, and there will be some who work very hard, and support themselves, but live quite immorally. Both sub-groups directly benefit from the secular, redistributionist ethos. All too many belong to both sub-groups, using what they can take to slake their appetites.  Generally, neither of these sub-groups is much inclined to take a role in national defense, less for ideological reasons than for feeling insulated from the dangers of the world.  (Some of this group got temporarily focused by 9/11, but have now fallen back into the old apathy.)

Another of the groups is the true ideologues, the “true believers”, the honestly committed secular humanists for whom the only absolute is that there are very few absolutes, possibly only nature-worship and human equality (which leads straightaway to “default pacifism”, because our differences aren’t worth fighting for). They are the true pagans of our era. One way to distinguish them is that they may not have any of the power of the third group, defined below, and may not directly benefit in any obvious way, like the first group, yet remain utterly committed to the cause.  Some of these are the “foot soldiers” for the quasi-pacifist, internationalist orientation, easily manipulated by the next group.

The other main group, though far smaller than the first two, but far more powerful in many ways, is the group of people who manipulate the first two groups for the sake of political or social power. These are the very wealthy Left leaning politicians (who will never have THEIR wealth redistributed, and never have THEIR medical care limited to what will be available under a nationalized system, and who hire armed body guards while denying arms to the rest of us), the rabble rousers like Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton, opportunists like the Clintons, and international moral/equivalence types like Jimmy Carter, though some of his ilk overlap groups two and three.

Included in this third group, sadly, will be otherwise more Right leaning people who decide that there own political interest lies in pretending sympathy with the first group, the benefitters, and some level of agreement with the second group, the true believers.  We call them “conservative Democrats”, even though they rarely vote conservatively, because to do so might cause them to lose the next election.

So, the Left consists of the benefitters, the true believers, and the politicians who manipulate the first two groups, and each other, for power.

Now consider the Right.  It, too, has three main groups. There is, of course, some overlap, but these three groups contain the entire Right, as far as I can see.

One of those groups directly benefits from the freedom and private property ethos,which lets them keep things they’ve earned, and maintains a sufficiently free and stable economic environment where they can earn more.   This might include “country club Republicans”, but it also includes the small business person, and anyone who works hard but depends on a growing economy to keep jobs, find jobs, or find markets, etc.  Some of these people think that freedom is worth fighting for, and believe there is a least some danger to it in the broader world.

Another of the groups is the “true believers” of the Judeo-Christian heritage, committed to traditional morality in public life and as a private ideal.  One way to distinguish this group (not the only way, but still useful) is to note those who lean Right even though they might “benefit” from the economic plans of the Left, at least for awhile.

Many of this group also identify with the freedom/private property orientation of the first group, and among them will be found the majority of those who believe the USA is worth fighting for, and who believe in some form of American exceptionalism/patriotism.  These “double identifiers” are also likely to be those who believe there are serious international threats to the USA (and are the source for a considerable majority of military enlistments), and that the solution for those threats will be direct policies of the USA more than internationalist, moral equivalence based, UN-limited action.

The other main group of the Right, though far smaller than the first two, but far more powerful in some ways, is the group of people who manipulate the first two groups for the sake of political or social power. This usually involves people who leaned Right first, because of genuine membership in groups one or two, and who now are trying to unify the first two Right groups in their part of the electorate in order to get elected and stay in office.

Included in this third group, sadly, will be otherwise somewhat Left-leaning people who decide that there own political interest lies in pretending sympathy with the first group, the freedom/private property folks, and some level of agreement with the second group, the true believers.  We call them “moderate Republicans” or even RINOs (Republican In Name Only), because too often they vote with the Left, and occasionally can’t help but use Leftist talking points.  You can recognize them as Republicans who spend more time talking about Wall Street greed than government corruption, and who “reach across the aisle” a great deal.

The bottom line

It boils down to this:  both Left and Right have people who benefit, people who believe, and people who manipulate.  The difference, in the end, comes down to two things:

1)  the “benefitters” of the Left get their benefit by using the power of government to take it from someone else, while the “benefitters” of the Right just want to be free to earn and keep what they earn, but
2)  the true believers of the Left are aggressively secularist and essentially pagan-nature worshippers, while the true believers of the Right follow the Judeo-Christian tradition, primarily.

So Mr. Prager’s description, while very accurate, applies mostly to the true believers of each side.  It does not help us understand why people who are nominally Christian (and so should lean Right on values issues) will nevertheless vote Left (perhaps because of the selfish benefit they expect from it, or guilt from the selfish benefit they believe they’ve already gotten from the Left, and a desire to avoid cognitive dissonance).  I think my description helps us see exactly where the priorities are for each group.  There will be people who will exhibit divergent tendencies from various combinations of the three subgroups of Right and Left, but in the end, they must choose, and it will be the most powerful identification that will determine that choice.

One group of great interest is people who are committed both to freedom/markets/private property and Judeo-Christian “traditional morality in public life and as a private ideal”, but are also more or less pacifist on what they believe to be sound biblical grounds.  They are properly understood as “true believers”  who must decide, at some point, which of their perspectives is most important to them.  Those who stress the pacifist aspect will sometimes vote Left, joining people with whom they disagree on nearly every other point.  (People who do this eventually seem to talk themselves into adopting other Leftist perspectives as well.)  Those who decry war, but cannot let go of “traditional morality in public life and as a private ideal” will normally vote Right, but uncomfortably.  Lurking behind this is the reason why Christian pacifists have sometimes taught complete withdrawal from all governance/politics, because they are unable to support either side.  In the end, of course, that too is a choice.

One interesting sidenote:  there are Christians who are nevertheless true-believers of the Left.  But, by and large, they are not Christians for whom “traditional morality in public life and as a private ideal” is more important than equality, or radical environmentalism/nature-worship.  (Touchstone:  they are less concerned that you be chaste than that you recycle, support diversity, and cheerfully vote for high taxes on the rich, as long as you appear to feel properly [slightly] guilty about your “sin”, and can quote verses supporting environmentalism and equality.)  You can recognize them because they quote the Sermon on the Mount a great deal, rarely mention the specific personal moral standards and teachings in the letters of Paul or the Gospel passages where Jesus discusses Himself and His role in the world, quote only those Old Testament verses that criticize mistreatment of the poor, torture scripture in frighteningly sophisticated hermeneutics to discover a mandate to live “Green”, and are likely to refer constantly to Jesus as “a revolutionary” or even “a community organizer”.  They are often approvingly quoted by members of “the emerging church” and other liberal Christians.  Some of them, sadly, teach at Christian universities.  Well, quite a few of them, actually.

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One Response to “Two Americas: but is the divide one of ideology, not wealth?”

  1. harmonicminer » The Left and the Right. says:

    [...] I WISH this was true.  But if the divide were so simple, if mere emulation of Europe was the goal of the Left, then when European governments occasionally take a step to the right, the American Left would want to emulate that.  Obviously, they do not.  A more subtle piece on the left/right divide was written in 2008 by Dennis Prager, and I commented on it here. [...]

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