"I don’t object that the Left’s extremes are not as stigmatised as the Right’s. Nazism was far worse than communism."

There have always been a few grumpy self-identified rightists, especially among Americans libertarians, who will tell you that "the Nazis were on the left, actually." The argument is usually either that "they called themselves socialists" (to which my answer has always been "North Korea calls itself democratic"), or "statism is left-wing by definition" (which just begs more questions). The idea that Communists and Nazis are in the same ideological corner seems very odd indeed.

However, I also find it odd that the term "far right" places a tyrant like Hitler in the same ideological corner as Franco and Salazar. Hitler aimed to change the world; Franco and Salazar stood athwart history yelling stop. Nazi Germany marginalised the church; the Iberian tyrannies gave the Catholic Church "a hegemony and monopoly beyond its wildest dreams" (Julian Castronovo's phrase). The Social Darwinism of the Nazis horrified Salazar, who dismissed the fascism of Hitler and Mussolini as "pagan Caesarism".

A friend asked me not long ago where I would place the Nazis on the political spectrum. Mischievously, I said that the Communists (extreme left) aspired to a near-total reconstruction of society and the Francoists (extreme right) sought a near-complete return to the pre-modern past; therefore the Nazis, whose policies lay between these positions, must represent the extreme centre. That's as much as to say, what we should condemn is the extremism, not where that extremism sits on an imaginary line.

I think the point could be generalised. Left and right are metaphors. And I don't think they're especially helpful metaphors. Even when we move away from the extremes, they encourage us to think in binary terms. Thus we find ourselves in the unhelpful situation where social democrats are weirdly indulgent towards Communists (fellow "leftists"), or where actually quite mild socially conservative positions can be stigmatised and marginalised by the accusation that they are "far right". I think it would be genuinely helpful to our political discourse to drop this metaphor entirely, and to substitute terms which referred to specific preferences and policies.

Expand full comment

Here's another good take on Lenin: https://newcriterion.com/issues/2019/10/leninthink

An excerpt:

“The citizen belongs to the state and must have no other loyalty, not even to the state ideology,” Kołakowski observes. That might seem strange to Westerners, but, “it is not surprising to anyone who knows a system of this type from within.” All deviations from the Party line, all challenges to the leadership, appealed to official ideology, and so anyone who truly believed the ideology was suspect. “The [great] purge, therefore, was designed to destroy such ideological links as still existed within the party, to convince its members that they had no ideology or loyalty except to the latest orders from on high . . . . Loyalty to Marxist ideology as such is still—[in 1978]—a crime and a source of deviations of all kinds.” The true Leninist did not even believe in Leninism.

Expand full comment

Good article. I'm a big fan of Henry IV, myself.

Expand full comment