“The whole management and organization of the farm depend on us [the 'Leaders']. Day and night we are watching for your welfare. It is for your sake that we drink that milk and eat those apples.”
Animal Farm, 1945
Some people struggle with the idea of Capitalism because they have been taught, and fear, that Capitalists are “right wing” people.
Now, this is of course bad because Hitler was “right wing”, as have been a variety of “death squad” gangs in mid and South America, and neo-fascist skin-heads in Europe, and the Ku Klux Klan in the southern United States. Therefore, (so goes the argument) “Capitalism is bad”.
This is false “street knowledge”, and mostly the media are guilty of perpetuating this balderdash. First of all, the whole idea of 'right' wing and 'left' wing came from the very beginnings of the French Revolution, in 1788. In very simple terms, France was under immense economic distress, so much so that her King was forced to assemble the “Estates General”, or French Parliament, a thing which had not happened for 175 years [now that’s proroguing!]. This was a very historic event, obviously, but as times had changed since the previous Parliament, there were some details to sort out, such as who sat where in what chairs. As it happened, the nobles and Church sat upon the King’s right-hand side, while the Commoners, the businessmen if you will, sat on the King’s left-hand side. So, “right wing” originally represented the traditional, conservative forces of the country, while “left wing” represented the new-comers, the voices for change.
Those original terms are no longer relevant. We would never refer to businessmen today as “left wing”, and we don’t have aristocrats, nor is the Church involved in government, so the King’s “right wing” has completely disappeared. Everything has changed. But the words are still kicking around.
So let’s think for a second about how we use these terms today: who is “left wing”? Well, communists like Stalin and International Socialism, China and bits of India under communist control, and the NDP and some regimes in Africa and Latin America; that’s what you have been told anyway. Sometimes, we hear, even the Liberals “lean to the left”, right? Who is “right wing”? Well, the Nazi’s were right wing, and General Pinochet in Chile, and Noriega in Panama, and other African and South American dictatorships, and Harper’s Conservatives with his so-called “secret agenda”: so we are told, anyhow.
If you think about this a bit, you might see the problem. You see, most measuring sticks measure some difference: rulers measure inches, thermometers measure degrees, scales measure pounds… they are designed to assign a value to things so different things can be compared to one another.
But the standard goofy “right wing/left wing” thing has a problem. At the left end, you get Stalin, a ruthless killer of millions; at the right end, you get Hitler, another ruthless killer of millions. The political spectrum measures nothing meaningful since death squads are at either end. You are surrounded by monsters no matter what your political views!
With such garbage at either end, of course everyone wants to be in the middle! That’s where the King of France sat, after all – even though he was also a dictator. And it doesn’t matter what the middle stands for, howsoever big a government, howsoever much it taxes people, as long as it isn’t “right wing” or “left wing”, because those are really bad places on the spectrum. You have no choice but to support any Government of the middle, and they want to make sure you believe it is the only correct place to be. It doesn’t matter what they do to you, year after year, election after election, scandal after scandal, bribe after bribe, Liberal or Conservative, Conservative or Liberal, because as long as they are “the middle”, they are the only possible, sensible choice for decent people who want to avoid the “left” and the “right” - right? You poor voter, you are sooooo manipulated by them! No wonder most people don’t bother voting anymore.
So let’s consider a different kind of measurement of government, one that actually measures different values, as would a yardstick or a thermometer. How about this instead:
Let’s measure the size of government: to avoid the overly-abused horizontal scale, let's think of an 'up and down' scale, like a thermometer. At one end of the scale, (say the bottom) we have 'complete' government. It runs everything in life. It’s a police state, the government owns all things including your life, it decides who gets what, who gets what job, who marries who, what we eat, and so on. Like in George Orwells’ book 1984; or pretty similar to Mao’s China, Stalin’s Russia, the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, or Hitler’s Germany. These kinds of governments are all fundamentally the same; no freedom, no individuality, no property rights, no liberty, no courts to protect you from midnight arrests, no one to stand up to the death squads or torture teams of the Gestapo or Soviet NKVD.
“We have buried the putrid corpse of liberty”
Fascist Dictator Benito Mussolini, 1934
Now, at the other end of our new scale, the top end, let’s have as little government as possible, sort of like what Christopher Columbus probably found when he crossed the ocean to the Caribbean. Friends, and small tribes, don’t need much “government” and they get along fine.
“What’s the Constitution between friends?”
Timothy Campbell, 1885
Capitalism would be pretty close to that level of government involvement in your life … not right at the top of the scale, because that would be anarchy, the realm of no government whatsoever. [Note that although Columbus found something like “anarchy” on that first Caribbean island, and you have been taught by those same guys “in the middle” that anarchy is bad -and maybe it is sometimes-, it was in fact not a nightmare at all, but probably quite delightful until Columbus, on behalf of the Spanish King, showed up and ruined things. I will also add that “anarchy” defines the realm of friendship, politically speaking: when you meet up with your friends on a Friday night, do you bother to elect a leader? No. So does that make your anarchic relationship bad?]
Capitalism would be near the top of the scale: it is indeed a type of government (it is not anarchy), and a type in which the tools of force are indeed used; however, it is a type of government the mandate of which is to simply maintain the peace, with as little as possible more control of your life than that.
Whether you like Capitalism or not isn’t my point: my point is, at least you are now measuring something with a difference. “Big government” versus “little government”, rather than one Dictator’s death squad versus another Dictator’s death squad. If you still have doubts about this political model, ask yourself where anarchy appears on their stupid spectrum.
“The history of civilized man is the history of the incessant conflict between liberty and authority”
Charles Spading, 1913
So please refrain from accusing Capitalists of being “right wing”; that is just wrong for so many reasons, and it just demonstrates that very little effort and thought have been put into learning some very important old lessons.
To put it another way, you can’t claim that our soldiers in World War II fought for Liberty … and also against the Nazi’s if both these things are “right wing”! They must be different.
Feel free to insult the media for being twits about this.
“(In 1935 Germany and Italy) Fascist governments were at best ambivalent about (Monopoly’s) unapologetically capitalist character.”
“The Ascent of Money; a Financial History of the World”, Niall Ferguson, 233