There's a very meaningful difference between the right and the far-right. Journalists who use these words interchangeably make everyone stupider.
First off, I believe you fall into the trap Jonah Goldberg described within his book, Liberal Fascism, in describing Hitler and Mussolini as "far-right." The Nazi party, after all, was the National Socialist Party. Mussolini was a socialist his whole life. This explains your misjudgment of the communists within the soon to be former Soviet Union as the conservatives. I'll give you credit for noting how there exist any number of far-right pols described by journalists as compared to almost no far-left pols, even though the far-left position clearly outnumbers the far-right within the USA.
Second, using the terms left and right is today no longer descriptive of the state of affairs within the US, at least so far as the right goes. I'll avoid a prolonged discussion of how right moves left, and left moves right, only to say that the left has remained far more leftist while the right has moved, if not to the left, into an area of incoherence. Trump fits almost none of right wing descriptions save for the fact he was run by the GOP. (Because communism dominated the USSR for nearly 75 years does not make adherents to it conservative, rather that there existed then and now damn few ideological conservatives within either the USSR or Russia.) That Trump has changed the GOP remains indisputable, but the question remains, by how much? I would submit that almost no one has been changed by Trump, other than the most mindless of voters. Ask them what Trump stands for and you'll usually get the standard litany of conservative positions which they've long held prior to Trump. Trumpism is merely anti-leftism, even if that is not actually who Trump is. Biden, on the other hand, is merely a grifter made more respectable than Trump, if only by virtue of longevity upon the political scene. Both are clearly dingbats. Neither have what could be described as a vision for the presidency, which we've not seen since at least Reagan, though GW Bush could be given credit for entering office with it and then overcome by events. I'll give you Obama in that regard as well, though he was so strongly rebuked by the electorate it only really shows itself within his disastrous foreign affairs policy. The rest merely wanted to be president as a capstone to a career.
Journalists are in the business of selling newspapers and the profession has markedly declined even by that standard. Given their generally leftward leanings it remains unremarkable that "far-right" has become a ubiquitous, if meaningless, epithet. We'll deal with whence journalism at some future date.
I try to remind myself the Founders anticipated electing a dingbat to high political office, and by all standards the US has done just fine in doing so. Absolutely we could have done far better, which ought remind us only to thank God we live within a republic and not a democracy. As I go about my normal daily activities I'm struck by how little the presidency has affected me, with the sole exception that the spending keeps on climbing, and that the American people do not want to hear about it. I'm sort of over the pre-2016 election, when it seemed the GOP coalescing around finally addressing the entitlement programs which have beyond bankrupted us. The only thing which can now be said is that, with the election of 2020, we'll somehow get what we deserve. It's apparently necessary to descend as far as possible before correcting our course. It'd be nice to have journalists describing accurately the moment, but there exist so damn few left I'm not sure that possible. And that's far more a problem among the small time media pubs than within the big coastal media, if only because small media, much like representative democracy, is the working end of the equation, where ideas and thoughts are born.
I'm in the purple quadrant, as I expected. 4.38 Left/right, and -1.64 social libertarian/authoritarian. So, somewhat to the right of Claire economically, but not far off socially. But I could have told you that already!
It makes me crazy when the press almost never refers to the American government as the republic that it is. Trump and Biden are close to each other on the Authoritarian scale. Where the test got it wrong is Biden should be way over on the Left side of the right-left scale.
I think the Authoritarian - Libertarian axis is wrong and blocks out a 3rd axis. I would suggest Left-Right, Authoritarian-Decentralizer (can't think of a better word, but there must be one) and Traditional-Libertine. Separate measurements for preferred style of government and preferred social structure.
I scored one box below you on the test. I would not have guessed that.
You could add "MAGA" in all its various forms to the list at the top of the article.
Another irritating thing pundits do is saying something is "destroyed" or "will be destroyed" when what is being talked about is "damage". Over and over they say that the school closures during the pandemic destroyed children's lives when what actually happened is that children's lives were damaged.
Claire, you speak to my heart. Imprecision and the tossing about of labels is rendering these terms meaningless.
I am engaged in a lifelong debate with my German spouse about the meanings of “right” and “left.” He uses them in a very pre-1989 West German way; the political spectrum (in any country) is no longer so, and I doubt that it ever was, to be honest.
Perhaps I’ll have to get my armchair socialist to click through the political compass.
(I was shocked by my score, which put me farther into the green quadrant than I would ever have believed.)
Thanks - interesting and on point again.
Suggestion: there is no single third explantory axis, and hoping that there is may be part of the problem. As Max Weber should have said, "All liberal democrats are alike; each illiberal democrat is authoritatrian in their own way?"
More substantially, if you think that we're at a point of inflection or breakdown of a previously stable equilibrium, wouldn't you expect a degree of chaotic experimentation as political innovators look for new avenues? A single common differentiator seems unlikely on the face of it. (Just don't say "paradigm shift", that's even poorer form than "to impact", which apparently emerged in English literature in the 16th century as a verb long before it was nouned)
(I landed about where I expected, central south-west around (-3,-3) )
This exegesis on liberal democracy, best expressed in the US Constitution, is brilliant. It should be required reading in Western news rooms, not that any journalists will pay attention: the argument challenges "the narrative." I was just reading a piece by George Will, "The Consciousness Project," which was published in National Review (alas, hidden behind the paywall) - I'm sure you've read it, and your arguments are very much in alignment. (He grounds his case in natural rights; you don't use the term, but the root and branch of your positions overlap nonetheless.) Your definition of "liberal democracy" defines classical liberalism quite nicely, and I believe most Americans accept its premises, even if we couldn't articulate it very well. Unfortunately, those responsible for keeping the public informed and aware of the implications of same are failing miserably at their job, as you note. That, along with its downstream ramifications, is the true threat to the nation, along with the probable nominations of a narcissistic megalomaniac and a cognitively impaired geriatric with little will, wisdom, or instinct to protect and defend liberal values. (Thank God neither were President on December 7, 1941. Most of us would be speaking German, if they were, and you and I wouldn't have been born.) FWIW: my Political Compass score placed me in the middle of the Right-Libertarian box. I know: you're shocked, shocked.
I disliked the Political Compass questions. They were slanted to discourage people from supporting liberty in general and economic liberty in particular.
We need a pithy term for what you call liberal democracy. The original meaning of the word democracy was direct rule by the citizens assembled. Examples include the Athenian Assembly and New England town meetings. The original meaning of the term has _not_ gone away. You hear it when people such as David Axelrod describe minority obstruction as tyranny of the minority. The new term should strongly imply playing by the rules, and the fact that victory and loss are only temporary.
The Framers distrusted democracy. They feared a tyranny of the majority. I think that unfettered majoritarianism is a prime feature of any flavor of populism. We originally described our federal government as a constitutional republic, with an elected legislature and executive. Calling it a democracy was semantic judo by the Evil Party. The Stupid Party fell for it.
The chief difference between Joe Biden and DJT is that the former is a conventional nose-to-the-trough career Democrat promoted far too high, and DJT is in it for the ego boo. Neither cares much for the rules. Biden is less risky, because he at least pretends to follow them.
Firing an arbitrary half of the federal government is indeed a radical proposal. Anything more judicious would require a bureaucracy of its own, probably recruited from the federal government.
We have grown the federal government, particularly in domestic policy, far more than is good for us. The efficiency and effectiveness of any organization are inversely related to the length of the management chain and the complexity of its mission.
Clear, simple domestic policies cannot fit everybody in the USA. Attempts to tailor policy to fix that pose their own problems. James Madison wrote in the Federalist Papers #62:
"It will be of little avail to the people that the laws are made by men of their own choice, if the laws be so voluminous that they cannot be read, or so incoherent that they cannot be understood; if they be repealed or revised before they are promulgated, or undergo such incessant changes that no man who knows what the law is today can guess what it will be to-morrow."
Decent spot to be I think. Though I have to catch myself sometimes, I do have a tendency to entertain authoritarian solutions to problems.
Thank you Claire for taking an interest in political word definition. I have had the same complaint for several years. I have a similar complaint about Gender activism. It steals existing words and changes definitions. I am willing to sit down with a linguist and Gender activists to work on creating new words for their ideology. This would resolve much societal conflict about Gender.
I think Jonathon Haidt of NYU is creater of political compass test. I scored almost bulls-eye center but slightly south and slightly west, near 2022 French candidate Hidalgo. I think I know problem with test accuracy per Trump/Biden grid locations. (1): If someone else took test as surrogate for Biden and surrogate for Trump, then outcome is “John Doe’s opinion of Biden/Trump.”
(2): I had difficulty with some questions, which I resolved by predicating question on condition X. But, next test subject may predicate same question on condition Y.
Fantastic article. I see a similar conflation of terms describing the left: progressive, liberal, woke, socialist, communist, radical, far-left, left etc.
Almost dead center. Just off the bullseye or intersection of the axes into Authoritarian Left.
I scored 2.5 on the economic right/left (so a bit to the right), and -0.36 on the libertarian/authoritarian scale (so just a bit libertarian).
That feels about correct actually.
"These individual rights take precedence over the well-being of the collective."
I don't know Claire, sounds like the far-right might have gotten to you 😉
"A normal right-wing politician respects the rules and norms of liberal democracy, and prioritizes these rules over policy outcomes, whereas a far-right politician does not. (This distinction also applies to the left and far-left)."
By this definition would you agree that the Biden Administration is far-left? There's extremely good evidence of past and present violations and intent to violate the 1st ammendment (see Michael Shellenberger among others). They apparently have very little respect for the free speech that characterizes liberal democracy. Nor for that matter do most western governments these days. Most explicitly Ireland.
“I wondered the other day if democracies can survive when the electorate falls below a certain level of competence...”
Claire’s question is precisely the wrong question. What she should be wondering is whether democracies can survive when the competence of our elite ruling classes fall below a “certain level of competence.”
In fact, there may not be a time in the past hundred years that Western nations have been governed by more incompetent leaders. Dubya, Obama and Biden are all responsible for the current abysmal state of the world. Despite an interlude of competence during the Trump Administration, it wasn’t enough to fix what those other “leaders” broke.
What score do we give the last several British Prime Ministers? Could a French President be weaker or less consequential than Macron?Does he have even one accomplishment to his name other than being the most despised French politician of his generation?
Scholz is literally a nobody. Germany has collapsed on his watch. His predecessor did more to destroy Europe than any German leader since the 1930s.
Stated simply, it’s not the competence of the electorate, it’s the competence of the political class that Claire should be questioning.
It’s true that they were all elected in free and fair elections (except maybe Dubya) but the fact that these were the political leaders that the system delivered up as alternatives says a lot about how broken that system is.
Claire also bemoans the threat to democracy posed by Trump but, as usual she gets it exactly backwards. It’s Biden who’s the threat to democracy, Trump unlike Biden would be democracy’s savior.
It’s Biden who’s violated the First Amendment (the single most important cornerstone of American democracy) by having the FBI and other governmental agencies badger and intimidate social media sites into censoring free speech. It didn’t matter whether the speech was true like the Hunter Biden lap top story was; Biden used the Government agents to insist that the story be killed. There are so many other examples; too many to mention.
It was Biden who turned the judiciary into a weapon to use against his political opponent. He’s destroyed the credibility of the judiciary in the process. It’s not just Trump. Most recently, after the Democratic Mayor of New York City criticized Biden’s immigration policies, the Biden Justice Department started a criminal investigation into whether the Mayor took an illegal campaign contribution from Turkey. It’s hard to imagine anything more trivial especially given the timing.
Then there’s the fact that the Biden Justice department is prosecuting Trump for his behavior with classified material when it is clear to anyone who’s sentient that Biden did exactly the same thing. That’s hardly equal Justice under the law.
Biden is making a mockery of the judicial process. It’s hard to imagine a bigger threat to democracy than that.
Millions of illegal immigrants are flouting the law and pouring over our southern border. Biden is issuing them work permits and certain Democratic cities including New York and Oakland are contemplating allowing these illegal residents to vote in local elections. Are we supposed to believe that these policies promote American democracy?
Trump is likely to save American democracy. Who knows if American democracy can survive four more years of Biden?
Of course it’s doubtful that Biden himself can survive four more years. How dumb do you have to be to believe that Trump is a bigger threat to American democracy than the dimwitted Kamala Harris?
But we are all one in one sense: we are all anticommunists.