The question of what exactly constitutes right-wing politics is a difficult one. Upon initial reflection, one might think of the Republican party, the Tea-Party, the word “conservatism,” Libertarianism, Fascism, or Nazism all when first hearing the word “Right-Wing,” which immediately presents the problem of how exactly such disparate and mutually antithetical ideologies and movements can be consolidated under this singular label. I will propose in this article that the right-wing consists of a series of three distinct major traditions, all drawing from independent metaphysical streams, or “rivers,” and that they are all merely united insofar as they oppose the Left-Wing, a singular metaphysical stream, through time.
I shall start first by defining the metaphysical stream of the Left-Wing against which the Right-Wing is united in opposition. The “river” of the modern Left-Wing is characterized by a commitment to egalitarianism (that equitable outcomes between disparate classes and demographics ought to be pursued as a social good) and liberation from all institutions and constructs deemed to be oppressive to the attainment of the total self-realization of the autonomous individual in an effort to eradicate pain and ultimately nature itself. My major contention here is that there is basically a shared view of, though by no means total agreement on, anthropology, history, religion, and economics between the numerous iterations of Leftism, as if a divine revelation came in Marx and the Anarcho-Syndicalists, Marxist-Leninists, Democratic Socialists, and others are contending over the definitive interpretation of the oracle. This is in contrast to the right, which seems to consist of three entirely different independent traditions or rivers.
The first of these is the Liberal River. This is the river in which you can throw most classical and modern conservative American politics. This is the tradition of John Locke, Thomas Paine, the Whigs, and the Founding Fathers. The currents of this river consist of Libertarianism, the numerous iterations of American Conservatism, and Classical Liberalism. This is the river that seeks to conserve the values of the Enlightenment, the American constitution, Democracy, Republicanism, and the principles of negative human rights (rights innate in every individual that cannot be restricted through governmental intervention, so freedom from coercion; an example would be the right to free-speech. This contrasts with “positive” human rights, those rights dealing with a kind of human flourishing contingent upon forces outside the individual, e.g. the right to free healthcare.) There is also present in this tradition a tendency toward the so-called “Whig view of history,” the notion that human beings are progressing toward increased moral, technological, and essential perfection through time. The end of this tradition is to attain the individual free from all unnecessary coercion so that he may freely pursue the good as he sees it so long as he harms no one else.
The second river to be discussed I shall call the Futurist River. This would include many post-liberal, future-looking, generally totalitarian ideologies such as Nationalism, Fascism, and National Socialism. Within this tradition, there is a tendency toward the deification of the state in a manner reminiscent of the Roman Empire, speaking to an overall pull toward the neo-pagan that characterizes these ideas. The state becomes the end in itself above all other ends, as the state, at least for the Fascist, precedes the individual. The individual is exclusively defined by his relationship to the state, as it is the state that grants him his identity, and no other transcendental principle or community. Various forms of Futurism tend to manipulate the natural religious desires of men for self-sacrifice and order toward the ends of the temporal state as if it were the Deity. These ideologies are decidedly modern, unlike the last of the rivers to be discussed, desiring the increased centralization of power and the preeminence of the interests of the nation-state over and against those of the locality.
The last river I shall mention is that of Traditionalism. This tradition would be defined less by form of government as by a general disposition that seeks to directly preserve the values, institutions, customs, and religion of one’s ancestors so as to ensure the well-being of men now and the generations to come. This kind of human flourishing can be discerned through the contemplation of the end of man, particularly as conceived of in the natural law tradition. There is an emphasis placed on localism and subsidiarity in this tradition, which contrasts with the centralizing impulses of certain flavors of Liberalism, Futurism, and Leftism. The man for the Traditionalist is defined by his relationships. His relationship to God, his family, friends, the community, place, and, as Burke argues, even the dead. These relationships are what identify him, not himself, the collective will, or the state. Traditionalism embraces the hierarchical nature of the world and men, conveying the image not of men as being an amorphous blob without distinction or definition as the Leftists or Futurists would have it, nor as being these atomized, disconnected points on a map as is the case in the Hobbesian anthropology of Liberalism, but rather as each individual having his role within his community as a member of a garden, with all the flowers, vines, and fruits having their own unique place which is ordered toward the overall beauty of the whole.
Incidentally, the thesis of this article at first seems to present historical problems, as I would also contend that yesterday’s Left-Wing becomes today’s Right-Wing. I think specifically of the struggle between the interests of Monarchist Absolutists vs Republican Liberals in 19th century France, and how the newly triumphant Republican Liberal Moderates proceeded to turn on their Socialist compatriots when they took power after the Revolution of 1848. There seems to be a general historical progression leftwards politically speaking such that, in a qualified sense, to us Americans, there are only left-wing politics available to us. By this I mean that Liberal Democracy is simply a given that is ingrained in our constitution and founding, and our two major political parties represent two manifestations of the Liberal Tradition of which we are heirs. In short, the Liberals could be said to be the left-wingers of the 18th and 19th centuries in contrast to their Monarchist counterparts who could be said to be the Right-Wingers of their day. For these reasons, it would appear that what constitutes Left and Right changes over time, hence my focus on the modern usages of “left” and “right.”
Much talk today within modern conservative political discourse concerns matters of free-speech, constitutional liberties, economic policy, and the like, but I would propose that none of this really matters if we have no positive vision of human life. The closest the liberal stream gets to having a positive vision is the pursuit of the individual as free from coercion as reasonably possible, while the futurist and the leftist have a much more definite vision of human flourishing in the glory of the state or total liberty and equality for the collective, but I contend that neither the negative nor these positive views are sufficient and will not conserve anything of ultimate value. This is not to say that such things as free-speech or the second amendment do not matter, but that it does us little to no good to fixate on such things apart from a clearly defined vision of what it means to live the good life. Virtue, beauty, and culture are more critical than matters of policy because they strike at the heart of what it means to be human, and if conservatives are fixated exclusively on the preservation of civil liberty through policy, tax breaks, or merely resisting or negating the Left, then they will fail and will have deserved it for their lack of vision. What is a positive vision of the world worth living and dying for, and what are the things in this life that are most worthy of our love and protection; what modes of being best map onto reality? These are the questions those on the Right must ask, for all the traditions discussed in this article propose various positive visions, but the contemporary Right must select the one that it shall stand for in the years to come.
As is probably clear by now given my treatment of the three rivers, I believe that the Traditionalist river is the best of these, as it most fully accounts for the totality of human nature and experience. For, within Traditionalism, there is a clear connection made between us, our ancestors, and the transcendental order, and we all live as though this is the case, as if there is some value in that which has been passed down, with greater or lesser degrees of honesty. The competing rivers, however, obscure this simple observation. Moreover, the interminable discourse of the modern Liberalism defended directly by modern American conservatism must be resolved through a principled commitment to the moral order, natural law, and a renewed acknowledgment of man’s highest end and purpose, for the defense of the individual in himself divorced from family and society has led to increased atomization and nihilism. This must be combatted through a vision of human life that is ordered in beauty and meaning, grounded in the objective and unchanging truths which have been passed down since time immemorial, as the endless debate, discussion, and compromise within our current culture betray a disordered view of the world, that there is no ultimate value, but only convention, and I myself cannot think of anything more abhorrent.