Hendo’s leftie list

Fortuitously given the ongoing skirmish between Chris Sheil and myself about the utility of the label “left”, RWDB bete noire David Marr delivered a long lecture partly on that very subject a couple of days ago. It’s reproduced at tiresome length on Margo’s Web Diary.

Incidentally, I’m pretty sure I agree with most if not all of Chris Sheil’s reservations about the utility of crude generalisations like “left” and “right”: principally that no-one fits any such box neatly, and everyone means something slightly or even radically different when they use those terms. And both “right” and “left” are inherently relativistic and therefore changeable concepts over time. Moreover, “left” has become an especially problematic concept since communism and broad-scale state-owenership socialism fell out of favour even with most people who happily self-label as lefties.

My position is simply that the meanings of the terms “left” and “right” aren’t so radically indeterminate as to rob them of all utility as short-hand descriptors for initial finding and crude sorting purposes.

Marr attempted to assess the extent to which RWDB labelling of others as “lefties” involved any consistent generally agreed meanings. He did that by asking Andrew Bolt of the Herald Sun, Piers Akerman of The Telegraph, Tim Blair of The Bulletin and Gerard Henderson of the Sydney Institute to explain what beliefs they identified as connoting a leftie.

As you might have expected, Blair, Bolt and Akerman gave answers that varied from simplistic to downright silly via cartoon caricature. Nevertheless, I would be fairly comfortable in labelling as a leftie anyone who held a majority of those viewpoints.

Henderson’s list is another matter. Although one could certainly quibble with aspects of it, Hendo’s 9 point list of leftie beliefs is a bit more substantial, as Marr observed himself. However, rather than arguing about Hendo’s list, I thought it might be interesting to assess my own beliefs against it. Am I a leftie in Hendo’s eyes? Not that I actually give a rat’s arse, but I’ve finished work for the day and I haven’t got anything better to do until Jen gets back from gym and we go and play tennis. So here’s Hendo’s list and my responses:

1. A belief in the desirability of wide scale government intervention (funded by taxation) in the domestic economy – in such areas as education, health, welfare and the environment. Along with a corresponding scepticism about private solutions in such areas as education, health, welfare and the environment. In other words, a view that the public sector is good in itself and that the private sector is, at best, a dubious exercise.

Not guilty. I’m equally sceptical of both governments’ and corporations’ propensity to interfere with my freedom and happiness. I subscribe to much of the neoliberal prescription in relation to the efficacy of markets, but I don’t accept that private is necessarily better, especially in areas of natural monopoly, and experience tells me that self-regulation doesn’t work.

2. A belief that governments should not interfere in the realms of private morality – covering such areas as abortion, censorship, same-sex relationships etc.

Guilty. But those beliefs are equally held by classical liberals and libertarians, who would not be labelled “lefties” by most people. I regard myself as a classical liberal with slight social democratic tendencies.

3. A scepticism about Western religious beliefs – in particular traditional Christian churches and the emerging fundamentalist Christianity.

Guilty. But again these are beliefs widely held by classical liberals and libertarians as well.

4. An unwillingness to support the use of military force abroad – along with a disdain for patriotism at home. An ambiguity towards, or outright opposition to, the Australian-American Alliance¢â¬âalong with concern about Israel’s role in world affairs.

In the wake of the Iraq conflict, my reservations about resort to military force except as a last resort have been reinforced. However, I’m neither ambiguous towards nor opposed to the American alliance. But supporting it doesn’t mean that Australia’s interests and those of the US will always coincide. Righties like Blair, Bolt et al seem to view any expression of an independent viewpoint as leftie treason.

As for Israel, I’m equally condemnatory of its actions in Gaza and the West Bank and of the Arab States’ ongoing determination to obliterate the entire State of Israel

5. An abiding sense of shame and guilt for the past acts of Western nations in their colonial manifestations – a commitment to reconciliation with native peoples.

Not guilty. Nevertheless, I do support reconciliation with Australia’s Aboriginal people, as long as it means seeking genuine mutual understanding and accommodation, not just saying sorry and signing treaties agreeing to hand over big mobs of land and money to anyone with a couple of drops of indigenous blood.

6. A belief in the sanctity of international solutions to international problems – comprising a commitment to the United Nations, despite its evident inefficiency and virtual impotency.

I think internationally-mandated human rights standards are to be commended and fostered. I also think that jingoistic nationalism (like religious fervour) have been major sources of human misery and bloodshed throughout history, and that internationalism may have some potential to mitigate such evils. But the current UN system, with its great power Security Council vetoes and a majority of General Assembly votes held by third world authoritarian regimes, is corrupt almost beyond redemption and does little in practice to protect human rights.

7. Opposition to the globalisation process of economic reform – including a resentment to such international organisations as the World Trade Organisation, World Bank, International Monetary Fund. A preference for international aid over the reform of the political systems and domestic economies of third world nations.

Not guilty on either count.

8. A tendency to be alienated from elected mainstream political leaders (whether conservative or social democrat) and a conviction that the modern democratic system is inhabited by politicians who lie by habit.

Not guilty, but lying as a habit is true of Howard, and I do subscribe to Lord Acton’s dictum that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely

9. A tradition of moral compromise – leading to a belief that democracies are not much better than dictatorships in the way they operate. In other words, moral equivalence.

Not guilty. But agreeing on a generally-accepted set of core moral values isn’t as easy as Henderson’s statement seems to imply. So tolerance, civility and open discussion are useful places to start.

About Ken Parish

Ken Parish is a legal academic, with research areas in public law (constitutional and administrative law), civil procedure and teaching & learning theory and practice. He has been a legal academic for almost 20 years. Before that he ran a legal practice in Darwin for 15 years and was a Member of the NT Legislative Assembly for almost 4 years in the early 1990s.
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Jason Soon
Jason Soon
2022 years ago

Good piece by Marr. Gerard Henderson and Greg Sheridan are probably the only intellectually serious and substantial columnists around who could be identified as right-wing (I won’t count my friend and co-blogger Andrew Norton and others in the CIS stable because they aren’t published regularly or as often enough as the commetariat) and what distinguishes them? They have been known to criticise the Howard government on more than one, two, even three occasions. Blair, Bolt, etc are embarrasing pygmies and clowns by comparison.

aj
aj
2022 years ago

As for Israel, I’m equally condemnatory of its actions in Gaza and the West Bank and of the Arab States’ ongoing determination to obliterate the entire State of Israel

… a belief that democracies are not much better than dictatorships in the way they operate. In other words, moral equivalence.
Not guilty.

It’s certainly reasonable to criticise Israel for many things, but condemning building a wall and targetted assisantions of leaders of terrorist groups equally with attacks deliberately targetting civilians, and a government that’s heavy on censorship and terrorist links, and light on democratic elections?

Francis Xavier Holden
2022 years ago

tick mmh tick tick …well bugger me – it looks like I’m a “parishite”

Factory
Factory
2022 years ago

Hmm I don’t think litmus tests are a good way of determining left and right, psychology and political philosophy are far more important. Still at least the points listed do not fall into the trap of trying to describe the other side, and ending up just demonizing them.

Alan Green
2022 years ago

Gerard’s list is all about feelings and beliefs. It reads as though noone could hold a “left” position – on any issue – on rational grounds. Interesting.

cs
cs
2022 years ago

Ken, I swear you are addicted to internal ‘sphere factional politics. Like you, I doubt we have many diferences in the more or less general value of the left/right descriptors.

My standing objection is to (what is to me) the double standard in that you claim the ‘centrist’ position for yourself. If you go back to the origins of the spectrum, the centre is the speaker. No matter how vociferously and sincerely you claim you are substantively in the so-called ‘centre’, it remains a privileged position in the spectrum metaphor. If I am to your ‘left’, you are not to my ‘center’.

The best solution, as I’ve often said, is to have two categories, the self-named ‘RWDBs’ and “the rest’. Imagine the utilty! Go one way and you can have a dust up, go the other and you can have a decent discussion.

Down and out in S
2022 years ago

God: this is one of those posts where I wish I could post with my real name. However, it may be illustrative to compare Hendo’s points with that of a REAL leftist government: i.e., Việt Nam:

1. A belief in the desirability of wide scale government intervention (funded by taxation) in the domestic economy – in such areas as education, health, welfare and the environment. Along with a corresponding scepticism about private solutions in such areas as education, health, welfare and the environment. In other words, a view that the public sector is good in itself and that the private sector is, at best, a dubious exercise.

Historically true, but reducing by the year. I believe that the private GDP is far greater than GDP. And the government is looking more and more towards private investment.

2. A belief that governments should not interfere in the realms of private morality – covering such areas as abortion, censorship, same-sex relationships etc.

Utter bollocks, as far as VN is concerned.

3. A scepticism about Western religious beliefs – in particular traditional Christian churches and the emerging fundamentalist Christianity.

Well, the government has been sceptical (hey – that’s an understatement!) of organized religion, but with the strong Buddhist/Catholic traditions here, and the acceptance of customs such as Tết (Chinese New Year) – it can’t push too hard. It has (and continues to be) nasty with Protestant tribesman, and even forcible trying to unconvert people of that faith.

4. An unwillingness to support the use of military force abroad – along with a disdain for patriotism at home. An ambiguity towards, or outright opposition to, the Australian-American Alliance–

David Tiley
2022 years ago

Hendo has a reasonable list IMHO, except that 5, 8 and 9 are traditional right wing straw man fantasies.

The usual silly argumen where they get hysterical and attack things we don’t believe anyway.

Not too sure about 7 either. Reform yes, but globalisation doesn’t necessarily get us there.

The really alienating thing about his description is that it does not contain the words power or oppression.

saint
2022 years ago

“The really alienating thing about his description is that it does not contain the words power or oppression.”

*wipes tears from eyes laughing*

Comment of the week.

mark
2022 years ago

The political left is badly fractured, and less capable of banding together for a common purpose than a group of Terry Pratchett’s witches; this is why, for example, some groups of anarchists and Socialists used the anti-war protests of years past to try to hand out their own propaganda, thus undermining their own causes in a bid to one-up their leftist opposition. However, it’s possible to broadly identify some principles that lefties could agree on (like the importance of equality), but I’m not sure Hendo has hit the mark here.

1. A belief in the desirability of wide scale government intervention (funded by taxation) in the domestic economy – in such areas as education, health, welfare and the environment. Along with a corresponding scepticism about private solutions in such areas as education, health, welfare and the environment. In other words, a view that the public sector is good in itself and that the private sector is, at best, a dubious exercise.

(on the first part of Point 1): sure, why not? But I think a better test is whether or not you view his “in other words” bit as bullshit. You might be able to find a hard-line Communist somewhere who agrees with his final sentence, but I doubt even that.

2. A belief that governments should not interfere in the realms of private morality – covering such areas as abortion, censorship, same-sex relationships etc.

This is broadly a tenet of leftist thought, although social freedom is not exclusive to lefties (some Libertarians can be considered lefty based on this; the difference between a right-leaning Libertarian and a left-leaner is how important they consider money). Also, not all lefties agree here, either — watch a “social freedom” lefty and a Feminist debate pornography one day.

3. A scepticism about Western religious beliefs – in particular traditional Christian churches and the emerging fundamentalist Christianity.

Bzzzt! “scepticism about Western religious beliefs” is bullshit; many lefties are Christians, many Christians are lefties. And scepticism about the rise of fundamentalism in the West isn’t a trait peculiar to lefties; anyone with two brain cells to bang together feels the same level of alarm at the sight of the Evangelical movement in America, or the growing power of the Hillsong crowd at home.

4. An unwillingness to support the use of military force abroad – along with a disdain for patriotism at home. An ambiguity towards, or outright opposition to, the Australian-American Alliance–

tim
tim
2022 years ago

Marr claimed:

“I went back to all four combatants and asked: is it really about money? The Left is never going to seize the assets of the rich, but the Left has plans and they’re expensive. They cost a lot of other people’s money. Is this where the fear comes in? The idea drew a blank with all four of these anti-Left warriors.”

Not so. I sent this reply:

“I’m not sure that the divide is over money so much as it is over process. Well, maybe that isn’t the view from both sides — I think from the Right the divide might be over money (and, implicitly, individual liberty) but from the Left (judging by my massively prejudiced take on things) the view seems that public/regulatory/government-funded is simply the Correct Course to Take. Money is rarely mentioned by defenders of the ABC, for example.”

He’ll correct this on Media Watch, I expect.

Ken Parish
Ken Parish
2022 years ago

Tim

That’s a good answer, although the ABC defenders example probably doesn’t support it (they frequently DO complain about funding cuts as part of the perceived assault on the ABC’s independence and integrity). But it’s certainly true IMO that your response to Marr’s email makes his characterisation of it as “d[rawing] a blank” blatantly dishonest.

Incidentally, I also listened to the online “debate” between you, Marr, McEvoy and a couple of others at the 2004 George Munster Award for Independent Journalism (won by Media Watch for fearlessly reporting the sins of the ABC!!) (Real Audio here). I have to say that I was a bit disappointed that you didn’t manage to lay more gloves on Media Watch for its selective blindness towards the journalistic sins of its favoured sons and daughters. The overall impression Marr and McEvoy managed to leave with listeners was that the Right’s gripe with Media Watch really came down to the proposition that it failed to bring Phillip Adams to task for plagiarism (and that this was unfair nitpicking). That is a long way from the truth. There are myriad other examples of Media Watch bias. Maybe you made that point towards the end of the debate, but the quality of the audio feed I was listening to deteriorated to such an extent that I had to give up.

Stan
Stan
2022 years ago

This quote from an old leftie, Christopher Hitchens, might be useful:

He realised he was not a socialist any longer around three years ago. “Often young people ask me for political advice, and when you are talking to the young, you mustn’t bullshit. It’s one thing when you are sitting with old comrades to talk about reviving the left, but you can’t say that to somebody who is just starting out. And what could I say to these people? I had to ask myself – is there an international socialist movement worth the name? No. No, there is not. Okay – will it revive? No, it won’t. Okay then – but is there at least a critique of capitalism that has a potential for replacing it? Not that I can identify.”
“If the answer to all these questions is no, then I have no right to go around calling myself a socialist. It’s more like an affectation.”

Is there an ideology that defines the left, or are there only Causes left?

Don
Don
2022 years ago

Let’s try go through the looking glass Henderson’s list. If the archetypal leftist believes each of these 9 things can we assume that someone who opposes them is an archetypal rightist?

If os it seems to me that Henderson’s right wing archetype would be an American neo-conservative – someone like Irving Kristol.

1. Neocons are ‘two-cheers’ supporters of capitalism who are deeply suspicious of an expanded role for government.

2. They believe that governments ought to lend support traditional moral values – or at least stop undermining them (eg by supporting gay marriage).

3. Even if they personally happen to be secular and Jewish, neocons support traditional Christianity.

4. Their faith in the goodness of American institutions when compared with communism or Islamic dictatorships gives them the confidence to support military interventions abroad.

5. Neocons are proud of America’s political institutions. They think everyone should be.

6. They tend to think the United Nations is corrupt and impotent.

7. Free markets and democracy for everyone!

8. Neocons like to think of themselves as pragmatic idealists. Statescraft is never going to be a morally pure profession. Governments can be better or worse but never perfect.

But the funny thing is that Australia doesn’t really have a neocon community. America’s neocons are intelligent and well read. Most of our intelligent rightists tend to be dry economists or economic liberals while the others are either populists of traditionalist moral bigots. Maybe Henderson is an exception.

Kay McCulloch
2022 years ago

I think I’m with mark on this one.

Whereas I am completely confused by Factory’s comment: “Still at least the points listed do not fall into the trap of trying to describe the other side, and ending up just demonizing them.”
Unless it was intended as sarcasm? Surely that’s exactly what it does? I would definitely identify as left – libertarian left – and yet I would disagree with a good number of those statements.

I think a more useful way to draw the distinctions is to ask not only are you left or right but also are you libertarian or authoritarian. There have been plenty of leftest authoritarians (Saddam Hussein comes to mind).

But even with this in mind, and assuming that Hendo is defining a leftie as someone of the libertarian left, he sets up to many straw men.

Nabakov
Nabakov
2022 years ago

This debate is so 20th century. The city states that most of us crapping on here live in, exist because of a mixture of “left”

Jim
Jim
2022 years ago

I admire Marr’s honesty – he accepts and acknowledges that his spiel is coloured by his politics. I disagree with him on most things – including many of the assumptions in his paper – but applaud him for his lack of pretence of complete disinterest.
Perhaps we have to bow to the advent of openly partisan journalism – similar to the UK system.
Maybe we were always fooling ourselves and now we’re facing up to the truth.
Or have things actually changed?
Over the last few years in Australian politics at least, a pattern has emerged.
It’s now possible to predict the line a journalist or publication/media source is going to take with a high degree of confidence.
Is this because of Howard or is it something else?
I recently heard an interview (on Radio National I think) with a BBC appointee trying to clean up the mess from Andrew Gilligan. He said words to the effect that the solution was for journalists to again adopt a universal scepticism and to approach a lead without a pre-conception as to where “the story” lay.
Whilst I don’t know a Blogger who declares him/herself completely neutral,most newspapers still seem to assume their readers think they are.
There is a shift underway and I don’t know if it’s for the better or the worse.

Martin Pike
2022 years ago

Form vs Substance, procedural fairness vs outcome fairness, are significant philosophical divides in my view; certainly among the so-called intellectuals of each side. It’s all broad generalisation, but then again that’s what we are doing on this post.

Freedom and liberty are the best examples of this. Take a scenario where employers can take on who they want, without good reasons, and discriminate arbitrarily. Right wingers talk of the freedom to employ who you want, and of the potential employee’s “freedom” to choose “another” job.

Lefties talk of the fact that in substance there might not be choice, if you consider the more complex and subtle things going on in that person’s world (mouths to feed, studied for 5 years for that job etc), and the wider effects on limiting people’s freedom to be who they want to be in society.

At the extreme this makes lefties support so-called “positive” discrimination because even though at law all may be equal, a desired result has not surfaced (eg 50% representation of women).

Alan
Alan
2022 years ago

I was with you all the way until this …

7. Opposition to the globalisation process of economic reform – including a resentment to such international organisations as the World Trade Organisation, World Bank, International Monetary Fund. A preference for international aid over the reform of the political systems and domestic economies of third world nations.

Not guilty on either count.

Haven’t you read Robert Stiglitz?

I guess that makes me a liitle leftier than thou, but I’m way to the right of Hendo and the rest of the RWBs when it comes to user-pays for road & water use.

James Russell
2022 years ago

no-one fits any such box neatly

And yet there seem to be so many people in the blogosphere doing their damnedest to fit their particular box as neatly as possible.

snuh
snuh
2022 years ago

it’s interesting that henderson can’t bring himself to include in his list of leftisms anything with which he happens to agree. i mean there are agendas — such as multiculturalism and feminism — that are widely identified with the left, even if hendo himself supports them.

one suspects that the reason for omission is that hendo is only interested in presenting the left as a hateable other, something totally distinct from his own sensible worldview. one might describe blair et al as being given to “cartoon caricatures” of the left, but notwithstanding hendo’s erudition, is he really all that different?

also, i like how number 7 conflates opposition to the world trade organisation with opposition to world trade. that’s class, that is.

trackback
2022 years ago

Left, Right And The Hi-Diddle-Diddle

Ken Parish, of Troppoarmadillo makes an interesting link to this article by ABC ‘Media Watch”s David Marr. Marr, in a…

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EDDIES TEN AND ELEVEN

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2022 years ago

Blog comment of the day

Mr Tiley alerted me to this one, which comes from politblog comment box regular Nabakov. The context is a post by Ken Parish pondering a checklist by Gerard Henderson of the things Hendo reckons make a person a leftist, to…