Right vs. Left

My roundup of what I thought is right wing extremism in Europe brought several reactions from my readers saying that I've got it completely wrong. Neo-Nazism is actually an expression of Left wing radicalism and has nothing to do with the conservative Right.

I am interested in what my readers think about this issue and have therefore put up a poll. The poll appears at the top of the right hand sidebar.

The issue of Left vs. Right, reality vs. what seems right, is not new. The Hebrew Bible discusses how the leaders of the community should judge and lead the people: " And thou shall come unto the priests the Levites, and unto the judge that shall be in those days; and thou shalt inquire; and they shall declare unto thee the sentence of judgment .. and according to the judgment which they shall tell thee, thou shalt do; thou shalt not turn aside from the sentence which they shall declare unto thee, to the right hand, nor to the left." [Deuteronomy 17, 9-11, Mechon Mamre ]

The 11th century French biblical scholar Rabbi Solomon ben Isaac (Rashi) explained these verses according to the Sifrei, a classical exegesis work: "Even if he tells you about the right that its left and about the left that its right." But even if apparently had trouble with this and so added: "and all the more so if he tells you about the right that its right and about the left that its left."

Rashi's words were used against Jews in the medieval era, to show that Judaism was completely wrong. But Rashi's words are also rejected by the Jerusalem Talmud: "Could it be that if they will tell you about the right that its left and about the left that its right that you'll listen to them? it says 'to the right hand, nor to the left', that they will tell you about the right that its right and about the left that its left." [Jerusalem Talmud, Horayot, 1, 1].

I tend to think that, as Douglas Adams wrote, you can prove anything if you play with logic long enough, but playing around with reality is very dangerous: "Oh that was easy" says Man, and for an encore goes on to prove that black is white and gets himself killed on the next zebra crossing. [The Hitch-Hikers Guide To The Galaxy]


FreeSpeech said...

The question remains open on what you call extremism.

KGS said...

You might find this interesting:


"In his autobiography, and in recorded conversations with intimates among his own followers, Hitler said such things as, “I have learned a great deal from Marxism, as I do not hesitate to admit,” that “the whole of National Socialism is based on Marx,” and that without racist commitments his own political movement “would really do nothing more than compete with Marxism on its own ground.”

Hitler was not in these statements saying that he either was or ever had been a Marxist. From his first political activity, he had always been opposed to communism, but that was not because it was socialist, but because it was internationalist. Hitler, although born and raised in Austria, had always been a dedicated German nationalist.

Even those who are aware that Hitler’s party was the National Socialist German Workers’ Party have doubted the sincerity of its socialist professions. This is in part because Hitler, upon coming to power, refrained for tactical reasons from launching an immediate and extensive program of state takeovers of private industries, and in part because these skeptics have not enjoyed the benefits of Watson’s re-readings of the lost literature of socialism."

KGS said...

Put into simplier terms, Hitler was a dissident Marxist.

AMDG said...

Well, this is not a matter of Right or Left, it is a matter of Right or Wrong. As far as the Spanish cases are concerned, you are worng, completelly worng.

Snorri Godhi said...

It was a good idea to ask about nazism, instead of the ill-defined "fascism". Unfortunately, "Left" and "Right" are not well defined, either. As far as I can see, Hitler could be described as right-wing (or "both") only if nationalism is defined as right-wing, which would make libertarians and conservatives left-wing.

This suggests a couple of more informative poll questions:
* is nationalism left-wing or right-wing? (I'd vote left-wing)
* is nazism true socialism? (I'd vote yes)

So, to make myself clear, I think that nazism was left-wing twice over: as nationalism, and as socialism.

But really, I would be more interested in knowing why people think that nazism is right-wing, than to know how many people think so.

truepeers said...

Why do you never hear: he's somewhere to the left of Genghis Khan"? I hope that discussion from our blog helps.

Esther said...

Snorri Godhi,

I don't understand.. you think Vlaams Belang is a left wing party?

Esther said...


You're looking for ridiculous? How can a short, black haired Austrian lead a German pure-race party? How can somebody who claims that the Semites are not human and that the Slavs should be slaves, sign treaties with representatives of both races? I think Hitler was riding on emotions, not on logic.

truepeers said...


I'm looking for ridiculous? I don't understand...

Chalons said...

To me, the question boils down to one of individual liberty.

Is the state supreme? To Nazis, Communists, and leftists, classical liberal values are trampled for 'the greater good' (as determined by someone who is more equal than anyone else).

Nazis are of the left, they just use a different idea as a justification to strip a person of their rights and liberties.

Snouck said...


National Socialism belongs to the right. The way it looks at the state is similar to socialism and the Leftist way of looking at the state.

But the emphasis of "Volk" and "Race" belongs not to the Left, but fits more in a Rightwing way of looking at things.

For the Left the state is the sole foundation of political, social, military and ideological organisation. The Left believes in progress towards a situation where the state creates improved or even utopian conditions for the members of the state. The Left believes that the state defines the citizens.

The original Left - Right division is from France after the revolution where the revolutionaries sat on the Left side of the Parliament and the representatives of pre-revolutionary France (Church, Army, Nobility) on the Right.

Now the National-Socialist idea of catagories that precede the modern state such as "Volk" and "Race" as pillars of a society did not exist at the time, but the idea that there are ways of organising society on catagories that precede the state is typically right-wing and definately not rightwing.

In brief: the National-Socialist way of looking at the society was mostly Right wing, but the organisation of the state was copied from Marxist - Leninism.

So the idea that there are strong similarities between National-Socialism and Communism is correct, but one has to ignore their right-wing ideas to come to the conclusion that it was actually a Lef-wing movement.

It is a nice idea though. I would really love to think that the Nazis were Leftwing :-)


Snouck said...

"Now the National-Socialist idea of catagories that precede the modern state such as "Volk" and "Race" as pillars of a society did not exist at the time, but the idea that there are ways of organising society on catagories that precede the state is typically right-wing and definitely not rightwing."


The last word in the above paragraph must be "leftwing"

Snorri Godhi said...

Esther: the short answer is no.
The long answer is that no party fits _perfectly_ on the left-right axis. I prefer to think in terms of ideologies: conservatism, classical liberalism, socialism, and nationalism. (Christian conservatism could be a distinct fifth ideology.) To these 4 or 5, we might add a strange new beast called "multiculturalism", which is actually a lot like nationalism, if you look carefully: the main difference is that Western multiculturalists support nations different from their own -- but non-Western multiculturalists are just plain nationalists.

Nationalism has always been about the struggle against real or perceived foreign oppression, just like Marxism has always been about the struggle against real or perceived class oppression; as such, they are natural allies. The Germans perceived themselves as oppressed by the West in the 1920s and 1930s. Some French socialists agreed with them, supported the National Socialist German Workers' Party, opposed the war, and collaborated with the occupation: an early form of multiculturalism, if you wish.

Going back to left and right:
If we start by putting conservatism on the right, then it's difficult to place the Vlaams Belang: they are Christian conservatives, but they are also anti-establishment and anti-monarchy.
If we start by putting socialism on the left, then most of the time nationalists will be on the left as well, but the VB will be on the right.
If we start by putting nationalism on the right, then we have a problem: socialist governments will always be on the right, because real-world socialism is always nationalistic to some extent.

Look at Sweden: the tax take is 50%, a bit of which goes to essential functions like justice and defense. If the Swedish Social Democrats were really concerned about redistribution, they would send all the rest of the money to Africa. Instead, they spend almost all of it at home. What is that, if not nationalism?

Snorri Godhi said...

Snouck claims that nazism is right-wing because "For the Left the state is the sole foundation of political, social, military and ideological organisation."

Here is a question: who said: "Everything in the State, nothing outside the State, nothing against the State"?

Snouck said...

In reply to Snorri's question:
I don't know. I guess it was a National Socialist.

But it could just as easy have been a Marxist Leninist or a Multiculturalist.

I have the feeling you are going to tell me who said it. Am I right?



Chalons said...

The idea that a utopian top-down model can be legitimately imposed on a society is very much a left-wing notion. This is in stark opposition to the freedom of choice laissez-faire worldview of classical liberalism.

The keyword there is 'impose'.

Jacobins, Nazis, Communists, Islamists, Marxists, and even multiculturalists all share the same elitist mindset in that they think they know better than everyone else and are therefore fully justified in imposing their will upon others.

Totalitarianism is of the left. That's where the centralized planning control freaks, enemies of free speech, enemies of religion, and enemies of free choice are found today.

Snorri Godhi said...

Dag Snouck: it was a nationalist who used to be a great hope for European Marxism, and later became the role model for FDR's New Deal: Benito Mussolini.

is a great article on the origin of Italian fascism, a bit long, but I could not stop reading after I started it.

The link given by KGS in his comment above is also very worth reading, and much shorter.

Beste Wensen,