Sunday, May 10, 2009

Look Ma, I’m a Leftist

In addition to Mother’s Day, today (May 10) is Confederate Memorial Day in North Carolina. For those who care, it is a day to commemorate a “lost cause” – one that most Americans associate with the worst kind of proto-fascist racism. The truth of the matter is not so easily defined. The white Anglo-Scots Southerners that comprised the majority of the Confederate army (beyond the Native Americans, Germans, Jews, Hispanics, Asians, and not a few African Americans scattered among the ranks) were of the non-slaveholding middling and lower classes. The misnamed “Civil War” was less to them about slavery than simply being left alone.

At least for a short time those Southerners fought for what Joseph Stromberg saw as the makings of a radical, libertarian movement. Now, on the heels of Jeff Riggenbach’s new book on revisionist American history, we may say the rank-and-file Southern soldier was a downright leftist, a true son of the Whiskey Rebellion, whose motivation for the cause became muddled once he wised up to the true nature of the conservative planter hegemony and dictatorial Confederate central government in Richmond. One need only to read Sam R. Watkins’ first-hand account of the war to understand why the spirit of the Southern soldier dissipated with the realities of Confederate politics. The Johnny Rebs who deserted and walked home did so because the power structure of their leadership was largely inimical to their interests.

But the pivotal fifth chapter of Riggenbach’s book has a wider scope than the War for Total Government Control (1861-65). Beginning with Jefferson and Hamilton, Riggenbach traces through the pens of revisionist historians the distinction between the liberal republicanism of the Jeffersonians and the state-capitalist conservatism of Hamilton & co. From Lincoln’s day on the Federalist-Whig-Republican branch won out, and the Big Government-Big Business-Big Banking axis has sold a collectivist corporate state to Americans ever since.

Citing Murray Boochkin, Riggenbach shows how the conventional political appellations of “left” and “right” are turned on their heads:


[A] brief look at the history of the relevant political terms – Left and Right, liberal and conservative – will persuade us that libertarianism has absolutely nothing in common with anything on the Right. For it is as the anarchist Murray Bookchin said back in 1978: “People who resist authority, who defend the rights of the individual, who try in a period of increasing totalitarianism and centralization to reclaim these rights – this is the true left in the United States. Whether they are anarcho-communists, anarcho-syndicalists, or libertarians who believe in free enterprise, I regard theirs as the real legacy of the left […].” And what about the socialists, the Maoists and Trotskyites, and the liberals of the Democratic party? Bookchin was asked. What about the people most Americans regarded as “the Left”? Those people, Bookchin replied, were “going toward authoritarianism, toward totalitarianism.” They were “becoming the real right in the United States.”

In other words, one who believes in unhindered free markets and individual rights is really on the left side of the political spectrum. Those who favor government intervention in social and economic matters (thus considering themselves flaming liberals) turn out to be supporters of conservatism – unwittingly preserving the statist status quo that under different guises has dominated public affairs in this country for decades.

So, all the years I considered myself “paleoconservative” I had it backwards.

The GOP is the conservative party in American politics, the party that since Lincoln (and Henry Clay and Alexander Hamilton before him) has stood for mercantilism, welfare statism, and war. Libertarians are not conservatives; they are not on the Right. They are on the Left, the last remnant of the original liberals.

And lest we forget that Barack Obama’s #1 campaign contributor was Goldman Sachs,

Though some true liberals remain in the Democratic Party of today, almost all of them have made the error of pursuing liberal goals by conservative means. And the majority in the party has been New Deal liberal – false liberal, conservative in liberal’s clothing – since the 1930s. In effect, the United States is now governed by one or the other of two conservative parties.

Better sit down, Ma. Your boy is a liberal and a leftist.

4 comments:

The Underground Pewster said...

You are therefore a Neoliberal (the opposite of paleoconservative).

jackscrow said...

I have often said to people who question what my libertarian beliefs, that I am not "just" conservative, but I'm so far to the right that I'm coming up on your left.

Maybe I was wrong. Maybe I'm so far to the left that I'm coming up on your right.

Chuck said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Chuck said...

I wrote:

From Lincoln’s day on the Federalist-Whig-Republican branch won out, and the Big Government-Big Business-Big Banking axis has sold a collectivist corporate state to Americans ever since.I should have mentioned that the non-consecutive terms of Grover Cleveland, the last Jeffersonian president, were a pair of speed-bumps in the otherwise unobstructed track of the imperial rocket-sled.