I threatened to tell this story the other day. So here it is:
Back in the early 1890s, when I was in high school, my teacher in a class in either American government or American history — I can’t recall which it was, nor his name, though I think it was more likely American government — was a specimen of that rara avis, a card-carrying member of some socialist political party or other. Literally. He showed me his card
His party membership may or may not be relevant to the little episode I’m about to relate, but I found it interesting. I’d never met a real socialist at that point. And I’ve met only a few of them, in America at least, since then.
Anyway, he set out one day to explain to his students the difference between political left and political right.
Now, I was already familiar with the terminology. And, as it’s often used, it made no sense to me. It still doesn’t.
Adolf Hitler and the Nazis, he told us, had been on the extreme right. Thomas Jefferson, were he alive today, would be on the more respectable right.
I immediately raised my hand. I asked the teacher whether he was saying that Jefferson was a moderate Nazi, or that Hitler was an extreme Jeffersonian democrat.
“That makes no sense!” he responded.
“Exactly!” I replied.
We went back and forth a few times, and then he indicated that my wisest course of action would be to shut up. Which, for once, I did.
But comments that put conservatives and/or the Republican Party somewhat to the right of political center and fascism on the far right — I’ve seen several such in the past few days –prompt me to post this little anecdote, with a comment.
To me, the most sensible left/right spectrum runs from total government control or totalitarianism on the far left to zero government control or anarchy on the far right. In this scheme, fascism and Nazism (a term that, after all, is short for Nationalsozialismus or National Socialism) occupy the extreme left along with Communism. Mr. Jefferson (who believed that “that government is best which governs least”) shares very little common ground with Lenin, Stalin, Hitler, Mussolini, and Mao in that regard. He has much more in common with libertarianism, which I would describe as being on the right.
My proposed spectrum has the substantial benefit of actually making sense.
It also has this virtue: It puts me pretty securely in the center. Anybody to my left, who wants more government control than I do, is wrong, as is anybody to my right, who wants less government control than I believe to be warranted.
It’s always a comfort to have my views vindicated!
Of course, if we’re going for a less solipsistic application of my scale, there is a large area between totalitarianism on the left and anarchism on the right. I’m on the rightward side of the mainstream, and many are on the leftward side of it, but there’s quite a bit of room in that mainstream.