Right and Left
Revisiting the issues of Left and Right, it was Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn’s analysis that placed identity on the Left and diversity on the Right. A similar analysis can be found in the writings of Robert Nisbet, but where EKL focuses on identity and diversity, Nisbet focuses on what he views as the two great traditions in Western thought: political monism and social pluralism.
Political monism is the philosophy that grants the State the ultimate authority in all of society and places an emphasis on the sovereignty of the State over all other forms of human association. Monism itself isn’t a political philosophy, but a social one that is essentially unitarian and horizontal in its outlook. All forms of monism lead to political centralization because of their philosophical underpinning that intermediary autonomous associations are external to Man and contrary to liberty. Social pluralism is the philosophy that views society as comprising of numerous authorities and associations – family, church, neighborhood, locality, guild, union, region, and other autonomous associations – all competing for individual allegiance and cooperation. The diverse associations in society – “little platoons” in Burk’s words – are guarantees of freedom and liberty to the social pluralist, but to the political monist these associations represent slavery and tyranny. In this analysis, political monists are part of the Left and social pluralists are part of the Right.
There have been advocates for monism or social pluralism from the entire socio-political spectrum, so neither philosophy is tied to certain conservative, liberal, or radical ideologies. Supporters of monism include Plato, Hobbes, Rousseau, Spinoza, Voltaire, Paine, Bentham, J. S. Mill, Hegel, Kant, Michelet, Fichte, Treitschke, Marx, Bakunin, and Goldman. Supporters of social pluralism include Aristotle, Aquinas, Bodin, Althusius, Montesquieu, Locke, Burke, Adam Smith, Hume, Jefferson, Tocqueville, Acton, Proudhon, and Kropotkin.
Specifically regarding rationalism and liberalism, F. A. Hayek also divided Rightest liberals (free market rationalists) from Leftist ones (constructionist rationalists). The same can be said of the divide between liberals in the latter part of the 19th Century. Rightist Darwinists – those in favor of spontaneous sociological evolution – included Herbert Spencer and William Graham Sumner; Leftist Darwinists – those in favor of a guided and controlled evolution – included Lester Frank Ward, Herbert Croly, and John Dewey.
Modern libertarians and anarchists have the same divide. Many anti-statists are social nihilists and every bit as critical of social institutions as they are of the State. They equate social authority with political authority. This is an egregious error. Whether they realize it or not, they are heirs to Rousseau and de Sade. These social nihilists, regardless of their hatred of the State, also ironically strengthen the philosophical foundation of centralized political control precisely because of their views on autonomous associations and social authorities.
This is not to say that all Leftist (monist) thinkers should be discarded by advocates of liberty, or that all Rightist (pluralist) thinkers should automatically be adhered to. There is value in the works of Voltaire, Paine, Mill, Bakunin, and Goldman, for example. But I do think that all of these thinkers were fundamentally wrong with their regard towards intermediary associations. Likewise, some pluralists like Bodin were correct in their view of society but incorrect in their view of the State (Bodin practically laid the groundwork for the absolutism of Hobbes). The correct line of thought for the anarcho-monarchist begins with those classical liberals that were pluralists – Locke, Burke, Tocqueville, Benjamin Constant, Acton, and Proudhon. Many modern libertarians should likewise reorient their thinking towards pluralism (Murray Rothbard and Hayek were both pluralists) and shrink away from the monism of Turgot, Paine, and Mill.
It is vitally important to recognize the evil that the State represents. But it is equally vital to recognize the importance of social pluralism and of intermediary associations. It is a frightening thing to stand naked, stripped of all external associations thanks to the liberation promised by Hobbes and Rousseau, before the Absolute State.