Are ‘left’ and ‘right’ useful political labels?

As long-time readers would know, I think the labels left and right are not very useful nor descriptive as each covers such a huge range of ideas that it’s hardly useful.

That’s blogger Sacha Blumen in his comment on my post on left and right attitudes to status.

Sacha’s quite correct that the political labels ‘left’ and ‘right’ can cover a lot of territory.

According to Wikipedia, ‘left’ can cover:

social (as opposed to classical) liberalism, populism, social democracy, socialism, communism, syndicalism, communalism, communitarianism, some forms of green politics, some forms of progressivism, and some forms of anarchism.

While ‘right’ can cover:

conservatism, monarchism, fascism, libertarianism, anarcho-capitalism, reactionism, some forms of populism, the religious right, nationalism, militarism, producerism, Nativism, realism or simply the opposite of left-wing politics.

Adding further to the complexity, political parties thought to be of the ‘left’ or ‘right’ don’t always act according to stereotypes. As Paul Keating has been reminding us this week, Labor led the way with market reforms of the Australian economy, while the ‘right-wing’ Howard government has increased spending on welfare more quickly than Keating did.

Though more precise ideological descriptions are often useful, that doesn’t mean that the terms ‘left’ and ‘right’ have no value. Continue reading “Are ‘left’ and ‘right’ useful political labels?”