There is a very interesting post at Normblog on the whole vexed question, which I’ve mentioned a time or two here, of what exactly is ‘left’ (or ‘right’) anyway, and who gets to decide, and how do we know, and why does it matter.

I find it odd, especially given that Marc himself was a supporter of the Iraq war, that he should feel it appropriate to frame the discussion as one about moving rightward – as if it’s already pre-defined where, in this division of opinion, the authentic values of the left lie, and we can gauge from that who’s moving which way. Why couldn’t it be, rather, that the left, like pretty well the rest of the world, was internally divided over a major political and moral issue of our time, and that’s it? To think of it in terms of rightward movement and ‘renegacy’ (even if this last is in scare-quotes) concedes too much to a way of thinking for which the left has already paid a heavy price: a way of thinking, that is, according to which there can only be one legitimate viewpoint on the left.

That’s just it, you see. What are the authentic values of the left, where do they lie? I must say, the more I read and hear of the bizarre ravings of people who think it’s left-wing to despise reason and logic and secularism and the Enlightenment, that it’s left-wing to be ‘sensitive’ towards the culture of the Other no matter how disgustingly the people with all the power in that culture treat women or untouchables or child slaves, that it’s left-wing to upbraid critics of such practices for being Eurocentric and hegemonic – the more I think I’ve gone through the looking-glass. That’s certainly not what I mean by left, or progressive or socialist or radical or whatever you like to call it. In short, the word has reversed its meaning in a lot of ways, so claiming people have moved to the right needs a lot of unpacking before we can even understand it.

…what I care about are the values that I’ve always thought of the left as standing for, and not my spatial positioning in relation to anybody else.

Just so. Left, right, up, down, back, front – whatever. Who cares. At a time when so many putative ‘left’ ideas are ones that Edmund Burke would have greeted with cries of joy, the word just isn’t all that useful.

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