Is it possible to consider the origins of our political divide in a dispassionate and intellectual way in the year 2020? Here, is my best attempt.
When I was a child, I had an uncle who was the leader of the local Republican party. His slightly older brother was the head of the Democrats. A third uncle, the youngest boy in a family of ten siblings, took delight in baiting his brothers to fight with each other.
From time to time I wondered how two boys raised in the same family just a few years apart could inhabit opposite ends of the political spectrum.
The political terms “right” and “left” date back at least to revolutionary France when in 1789 the members of the National Assembly were separated based on whether they supported the monarchy, seated on the right, or the revolution, seated on the left.
Since then, much like the identities of named political parties, the meaning of right and left has evolved and changed. In general, left leanings refer to those who endorse diversity, question authority, work for change, would redistribute wealth from the rich to the needy, and value secular approaches to governance.
The political right values authority, often religious authority, sees unmanaged capitalism as the correct economic approach, and works to preserve the status quo.
Each side sees the other as dangerous “elites” and from time to time “populism” upsets any semblance of balance of power by surging to “throw the scoundrels out” regardless of political identity.
Much has been written about the psychological make-up of those who end up one side or the other, but some of the most interesting work has been done by considering the similarities of the extremist members of each side. Eric Hoffer (The True Believer: 1951) describes how low self-esteem and a sense of personal helplessness leads to a rigid and dogmatic endorsement of extremes, regardless of the side.
For the reader who would like to explore right and left in literary works, Atlas Shrugged: 1957, by Ayn Rand is the story of those who champion individualism and unfettered capitalism as a remedy for the failures of governments. On the left, Edward Bellamy’s Looking Backwards:1888, is the rendering of a socialistic utopia.
I read. I write. I learn. I’m in a writing group and I have four published books. I’m still pretty sure I’m not Steinbeck, but my heart and soul have found their way back to where they should be.