In my view, the left doesnt support equality. It is a coalition of interest groups, which vaguely relate to each other.

The meaningful definition i have seen is that the left represents progress, or change, and the right represents conservatism, or no change. Is this a more meaningful definition than basing it on economic equality, since that is such a vague term?

And "universality" seems an odd explanation. For example, progressives introduced doctor licensing, to limit who can be a doctor and increase the perceived legitimacy of doctors. It doesnt seem related to equality, rather, it is simply progressivism.

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    The "left" is no different from the "right" as far as being a loose coalition, and what is in it depends on local context and is relative to the "center". If the country is already leaning "left" then "conservatism" would align with that instead, as in China. "Progress" or "liberty" are as vague as "equality", so if vagueness makes terms meaningless all of politics is equally meaningless. These questions are more suitable for Politics SE. – Conifold Sep 26 at 12:09
  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Joseph Weissman Sep 26 at 19:35

We can frame the problem in terms of retributive authority. Regimes can vary along a range of punishable offenses and intensity of sentencing. No crime or punishment at all is anarchy; isonomy and libertarianism are tagged not with "zero" but "minimum," here.

Now, I would prefer to avoid oversimplification but let's say that we have the following:

Minimum range, moderate degree Moderate range, minimum degree Moderate range and degree Maximum range, minimum degree Minimum range, maximum degree Moderate range, maximum degree Maximum range, moderate degree Maximum range and degree

Infinite range/degree (hypothetical theocracy)

Technically, conservatism is not contrary to progressivism. We'll use liberalism as the foil, then, and say conservatism corresponds to the minimum range/moderate degree class. So, "small government" in the sense of fewer regulations, with harsher sentencing than liberalism favors, the liberal trade-off being more regulations instead.

In this event, the right is akin to conservatism in having the sentencing factor higher, and the left is akin to liberalism in having the regulation factor higher. However, there is also a sense in which right and left are "in the center," so rightists and leftists don't accept the sense of a "neutral" moderate stance. Or rather, it is hard for them to think of themselves as extremists---indeed all things considered they're not extremists.

Socialism seems to fit to maximum range/moderate degree systems; nationalism is its foil. Surprise surprise, a nationalist socialism would max out both factors and be totalitarian. Now has there ever been a regime that called itself national socialist and was totalitarian?

Going back, if we say socialism is similar to the left, then if socialism is about societies, then the left will be correlated with urban demographics and the right with subnational suburban/rural demographics (which is true). Then conservatism will correlate with family values and liberalism with peer values.

Now it has often been proposed that government forms are linked in a cycle, where aristocracy devolves into oligarchy, which becomes democratic mob rule, which adverts to tyranny. Hannah Arendt spoke favorably of isonomy but pointed out that totalitarianism shadows isonomy in a peculiar manner. So our left/right model is able to capture the format-cycle picture, here.

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From a Socialist perspective, the answer to your question would be, yes. The civil "rights" embedded in classical-liberal governments since the bourgeois revolutions are fundamentally property rights and fall under the social relations we would now call "economic," formerly "political-economy," as set forth by Adam Smith and others.

As Conifold points out, however, "left" and "right" are relative terms originating in the seating of the French National Assembly, where they fluctuated in political outlook. Originally, the "right" favored the monarchy and the "left" favored the liberal bourgeoise. Even then, the "economic" property relations under law were central, manifest in royal extremes of inequality and inherited wealth that, as Thomas Piketty has demonstrated, we are once again approaching.

Joseph Weismann is right to state that "left" broadly favors progress towards greater equality, originating in the "universalist" Stoic and Christian traditions, and which taken in a modern secular sense must include progress towards "economic" equality rather than greater inequality. The "right," broadly, favors greater inequality and "natural" hierarchies.

The right will usually define this as "meritocracy," while shifting the meaning of "merit," from sheer violent power, to divine right, to birthright, to capital accumulation, etc. But there is always a "rightful" minority legally enabled to dominate the majority with the aid of force, fear, law, money, rhetoric, and mythos. Such domination will inevitably include a much greater share of property and other wealth.

But "conservative" is a misnomer. Since the various bourgeois revolutions, both capitalism and "right-wing" political movements have been largely revolutionary, uprooting traditions, cultural ties, common property, accepted beliefs, so that "all that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned," as Marx put it. The value of actual "conservation" of nature, species, or indigenous communities, for example, is more associated today with the "left."

Of course, all of this is greatly confused by the practical realities of history. The political-economic liberals of the 18th century were the anti-monarchical "left" side of the French National Assembly, while their offspring, today's neoliberals, will help overturn democracies to install bloody "right-wing" regimes like Suharto or Pinochet, in the name of "freedom" (complete with "economic" assistance from Milton Friedman and his students)! Meanwhile, "left" wing parties seeking "equality" for workers will reproduce violently dominant parties.

The present case of "identity groups" under the umbrella of a basically neoliberal Democratic Party does perhaps fall under the "left" ideal of progress towards equality for historically oppressed groups, yet can be sadly lacking in economic content and disintegrate into symbolic food fights. Meanwhile, union members wedded to nationalist myths are quick to vote for the very "right-wing" parties who ultimately seek to eliminate unions and shift taxation and national debt from "shareholders" to workers. Topsy turvy!

To return to your question, the "left" progresses towards an ideal (if variously defined) "equality" based on a Christian-Kantian "universality" of human recognition, communication, and moral worth. Humans as ends, not means only. It is hard to see how this could not have an economic dimension. Hence, modern "leftists" hope to progress beyond the purely negative "rights" of neoliberalism, where the Market, like God before it, determines the "rightful" hierarchies and millions can enjoy the "freedom" to sleep on the streets.

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Yes, indeed. In theory, capitalism, as an economic system, produces political parties that represent their own class interests. Those who sell their labour in order to live, the vast majority of us, have vastly different interests than those who buy labour and live off it, the ruling class. This relationship is reflected in the political parties. The left of the political spectrum fights for social and economic justice, while the right suppresses it and sometimes turns back the clock on it.

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In response to this post, @Joseph Weissman earlier commented that “The left is for universality: that is, for less hierarchy between socio-economic classes; this demand is typically grounded upon the notional equality of all human beings, and this is generally central to most leftist political theory; whereas the right is for the structure of domination, in favor of privileges for particular ethnic communities or economically-favored classes (rightism is, in effect, sneering contempt for “outsiders” and the poor).”

To which I responded that while the cosmic justice which he characterizes as “universality,” may in fact have been the goal of the "left" for a few hundred years during an epoch wherein modern “enlightenment” driven notions and values held sway, what the OP highlights is that there is strong evidence that this may increasingly no longer be the case – in part because post positivism renders “naïve” realism’s notion of "natural rights" chimerical, and post structuralism/modernism provide that knowledge [even of “natural rights”] is both a function of power, and wholly produced/created/constructed, rather than discovered.

With this conceptual framework in place, it makes perfect sense to characterize the resulting state of affairs [particularly on the post-new-left] not as a quest for [equally chimerical by their lights] universality but as a cacophony of competing “interest groups,”— each with their own situated knowledge and identitarian epistemologies, inhabiting mutually impenetrable and often incommensurable realms/narratives [ala Kuhnian paradigms], marked by one’s “identity,” vying for power and wealth by unrepentantly constructing “knowledge” that serves one or another group’s interest.

While on the traditional [non-post-modern] right there continues to exist a [the post-new-left would say naïve] demand for what might be called first generation human rights. That is, claims for individual liberties based upon notions of Kantian human agency and natural law. What distinguishes these “negative” rights is that they require a lesser degree of encroachment/positive actions by the state. It is the competition between this historical ideal of the right and Waissman’s historical ideal of the left that gives rise to the proverbial conflict between liberty and equality.

A conflict at which we had been chipping away at for centuries, with varying degrees of success, but also with undeniable progress. At least until the conceptual framework I describe in paragraphs three and four above took hold of in popular culture sometime in the last decade. Resulting in the impasse of an expanding and increasingly insurmountable political and cultural polarity driven in part by a growing, almost religious (or maybe a priori) beliefs in the existence of Waissman’s “structures of domination, in favor of [systemic] privileges for particular ethnic communities or economically-favored classes.”

Which brings us to the OP’s point re competing interest groups, and economic equality as the distinguishing characteristic between the contemporary left and right. Given the current identitarian lens/narrative through which the world must now, on pain of ostracism, be viewed, the chance of replacing this toxic paradigm with another more pragmatic ethos grows dimmer every day.

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