I started college in autumn 2001, so I was first really learning about right wing politics while George W. Bush was invading Afghanistan and Iraq.
This was a bad time to learn about right-wing politics. There was an almost absolute anti-Iraq War consensus among people I knew, along with a casual assumption that the war was a ‘right wing’ venture. ‘Right wing’ was an insult, and used to imply:
- A strong central government, supposedly working for the benefit of massive corporations at the expense of the little people.
- Prudish government intervention in sexual morality and prohibition on recreational drugs.
- War. Right-wingers were meant to be the inheritors of the old imperialism and hypernationalism of European colonial powers.
- Capital punishment.
- Liberal gun laws: they like killing people so much that they want to be free to have guns to kill anytime they want!
I’m exaggerating for effect a little here, but this is my memory of the dominant rhetoric around college. In one sense it didn’t matter - since most students were politically inactive - but it was, perhaps, a poor setting for learning about different kinds of right-wing movement.
It was only after I graduated that I gradually became introduced to right-wing alternatives. Here are a few.
Claiming to have inherited the role of classic liberalism of 18th century USA (‘That government is best which governs least’), the libertarians generally want less government intervention in everything.
- Legalise recreational drugs.
- End social welfare.
- End corporate welfare: no bailouts, no NAMA, no protectionism.
- Less war. There are differences in opinion here of course but many American libertarians want to see US military bases around the world closed, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan ended and the military greatly reduced.
- No Nanny State: if people want to smoke, carry AK-47s, not wear seatbelts or shag disease-ridden prostitutes then the state has no place in preventing them.
To sum it up, the libertarians want to be left alone, to stand or starve as individuals. Some support giving private charity, but oppose state social welfare or foreign aid: they say there is nothing generous about taxing other people’s money and giving it away.
However most libertarians support the maintenance of a basic police force and army. The role of government is to protect individual citizens from oppression, hence an army is needed to keep foreign invaders out and police to stop criminals.
The logical next step to libertarianism, some say, is anarcho-capitalism: total destruction of the state apparatus in favour of privatised everything.
- No central bank.
- No government currency; private organisations can print their own currency and people may choose which ones to use.
- No police, though they expect people to hire private security firms. I’m a bit confused by how they expect these rival firms to co-operate on protecting their clients – interestingly some have used pre-Norman Ireland’s Brehon Laws as an example of a stateless legal system!
- No tax, whatsoever. This is at the heart of much right-wing argument, but it is clearest with the anarchists. They say: TAX IS THEFT. Coercing someone to surrender a percentage of their income is theft, they argue, and that the decision comes from a democratically elected government makes this theft no more legitimate.
- Some anarcho-capitalists argue that without a state coercing people into conscripting and paying tax, large-scale war would be impossible, so the anarchist world would be at peace.
- Open borders: without any social welfare they believe migrants will only move to another area if there is economic demand for them. Thus no need for immigration control.
- Some oppose any kind of patent protection or intellectual property.
When challenged to give examples of successful anarchist societies, anarcho-capitalists sometimes suggest Pennsylvania’s Quaker anarchy of 1681-1690, pre-Norman Ireland and even modern Somalia where the civil war destroyed the state and, anarcho-capitalists insist, the country promptly began developing faster than its corrupt statist African neighbours. Hmm.
One Polish monarchist told me that a monarchy automatically produces a better society than a democracy because the monarchs are planning for the long-term. They want to build an excellent society since their own children will be inheriting it. Democratic leaders, on the other hand, will rack up debts that some strangers will have to pay years later. Or so the thinking goes.
A lot of the libertarians and anarcho-capitalists I have come across quite anti-religion. The American paleoconservative movement is very different in this regard.
- Isolationist or non-interventionist foreign policy. Like the others, they want to reduce American military interventionism. Many compare the US with Ancient Rome – arguing that the US is now an over-stretched empire on the brink of collapse.
- Opposed to American support for Israel.
- No social welfare.
- In favour of some economic protectionism.
- Extremely strict immigration control. Many paleoconservatives doubt the ability of people of Asian and African descent to ever adopt ‘Western’ values. They want to seal the US border to Hispanics and Asians. Some have been criticised as racist.
- Religiously conservative. Against ecumenical interpretations of Christianity: our version is right, everyone else is wrong.
- Actually conservative, in that they want things to go back to the past. Many despise the materialistic capitalism of the libertarians, dreaming instead of a simpler Christian age.
- Anti-Lincoln. Seriously! Some paleoconservatives argue that Abraham Lincoln should not have gone to war over the secession of the Confederacy (that he brought a tyrannical extension of federal control over the states), and that the US has been going downhill ever since.
Ooh, everyone’s favourite bad guy! In college ‘neo-con’ was usually followed within two or three sentences by the word ‘fascist’!
The neoconservative movement emerged, oddly, from left wing thinkers who became disillusioned with the leftist developments in the mid-20th century. Some policies:
- Support for American military interventionism around the world, particularly against ideologies like Communism, Islamism and Nazism (which I’ve seen referred to repeatedly as a left wing ideology, more on that another day). The US should ‘export democracy’, as they had done successfully in post-war Germany, Japan, South Korea and so on.
- Belief in universal human rights; thus implying support for protecting them in foreign countries with military force.
- Strong support for allies like Israel.
- Anti-communist and broadly opposed to the welfare state, nonetheless they tolerate higher levels of social welfare than other right-wing groups. Bush’s No Child Left Behind policy in education saw state spending on education soar. (Libertarians have lambasted Bush for being ‘socialist’.)
- Strong internal police and intelligence network: willingness to remove some privacy rights of citizens to protect the state.
- Mixed attitude to immigration, but generally willing to welcome Asians, Hispanics, etc. on condition that they embrace American values.
Of all the forms of right-wing thought, this is the one I find hardest to describe, partly because it seems to encompass a huge variety of opinion. In any case, it may be out of date. Some neoconservative thinkers like Francis Fukuyama (interesting man) have already distanced themselves from the militaristic policies of Bush; Fukuyama supported Obama for the 2008 elections.
This is just the beginning, of course, there are many other views loosely considered ‘right’. It is, I think, useful to know about this stuff, to break down the shallow dismissal of all right-wing thought that was popular when I was in my university days. Right wing views include pacifism and imperialism, charity and state aid, anti-Semitism and Zionism, drug prohibitionism and legalisationism, Christian fundamentalism and secularism... every ism you fancy :)
If anyone disagrees with my descriptions or has anything to add, feel free to comment below.