A left-leaning friend who shall this time remain nameless wrote a column, which I understood as offering the proposition that the left was all about “community,” while the right was all about “individualism.” I sent him an email arguing that the premise was false, and he wrote back only the simple sentence “No, I didn't say that.”
Rereading, I still think that is exactly what he said. He wrote, for example, “The alternative to community is individualism.” So far, so good--but it sets up the opposition. Then: “The right tends to takes a vigilante response. If you don’t like something, you take individual action against it -- the lone gunman who shoots up a newspaper, a night club, a concert, a school.” “By contrast, the so-called left knows that it needs government to control the corporations it doesn’t trust. So it has to take collective action.” “So the characteristic of the left is that it organizes.”
Even if it was not, it is certainly what I have heard many times from those on the left: the left is about community, the right is about individualism. Consider Obama's statement that “government is just our word for things we choose to do together.”
The subtext, of course, is that “individualism” really means “selfishness.” With a mental image of the cartoon “greedy capitalist.”
|"Organized big business interests."|
I suspect that my friend's response really reveals that my points in rebuttal to this claim were strong enough that he did not feel able to counter them. So I think they may be worth posting here.
Because the premise is wrong. Edmund Burke, for example, was all about community and people helping one another in human solidarity. And he is considered a founder figure to most modern conservatives.
I think Robert Reich [whom my friend quoted on this] is closer to the mark when he says that the right trusts corporations more than government, and the left trusts government more than corporations. The left thinks government is necessary to restrain corporations. The right thinks private enterprise is necessary to restrain government. But either a government or a corporation is a community in the basic sense. Neither is an individual. The essential difference is not community versus individual, but that a corporation is, for all participants, basically and theoretically a voluntary association, while being subject to a government is, by and large, a forced association—you can move, but within limits. That is a different issue, voluntary or forced, not community or individual. Or perhaps it is not. I think it could be argued that no forced association is a real community, on the grounds that any real community is based on love, not power.
You also mention, as examples of community, churches. Right. Perfect example. But any number of polls show that, the more people are involved in a local church, the more likely they are to vote on the right, and vice versa. I believe this is true as well of just about all other voluntary associations: service clubs like Rotary, amateur sports associations, charity groups, Scout troops, and so on. Think about it. Strong evidence that, in fact, community matters to the right, and not to the left.
You almost seem to suggest that the right is somehow in support of lone gunmen. That is, of course, outrageous. To begin with, lone shooters are themselves no more likely to be from the political right than from the political left. Indeed, I think historically, the left would predominate on that score. Sacco and Vanzetti were not Republicans. I guess you admit that in saying their politics do not matter. Second, it is the right, generally, that calls for more police and stricter law enforcement, presumably to prevent just such things. The left seems generally down on law enforcement agencies of all kinds. There are now calls on the left, for example, to abolish ICE. The right also tends to support tougher penalties for such crimes.
I suspect you are basing your claim here solely on the US issue of gun rights. This is not correct: the right's argument here is that more guns in private possession will prevent such incidents, or end them more quickly; it is not meant to promote them.
Again, the emphasis on 'law and order,' traditionally heard from the right, is the political position diametrically opposite to 'vigilante action.' Which, therefore, is probably more properly assigned to the left. Isn't it the left who are always talking about 'taking it to the streets'? And surely we are seeing just such “vigilante action” currently down south, with groups like Antifa resorting to violence in support of their preferred politics. No doubt factions on the right are capable of such misbehaviour at times as well; but that is not what we are seeing most often currently.
Perhaps there is a valid distinction to be made, and perhaps you are making it, in saying that the left organizes around single issues; perhaps indeed there is a contrast here. The left organizes around single political issues; that does seem to be right. The right, by contrast, organizes not primarily for politics, but for community. Churches, bowling leagues, bridge clubs, and service associations do not exist for political purposes. The left is by this standard again more individualistic: they live as individuals and apart except in the case of some common political interest. Not sure whether this holds up, but it looks right.
At the same time, it is important to point out that “community” is not without its own problems. Whenever you define any group as a community, you are also, automatically, defining everyone else as “other.” Nazi Germany was profoundly communitarian, as was Pol Pot's Kampuchea or Mao's China or Karadzik's Serbian Bosnia. So was the KKK.
This is one vital reason why voluntary associations, like corporations, are better than enforced associations, like governments. The former is about love; the latter is about power. Keeping membership voluntary—on both sides—tends to prevent such problems. Because the “other” can become “one of us.” Note too that by this definition, the KKK, although non-governmental, or the Nazi party, were not voluntary associations: blacks or Jews or Catholics or immigrants could not join."