The time (when) and the place (where) determine which are the right and which are the left

Carlos Sánchez Berzaín

In politics, there isn’t a clear concept to define what constitutes the “right” and what constitutes the “left” because they are “positional analyzers” whose results depend on the time and place they are applied. Ever since the origins of its use at the Constituent National Assembly of the 1879 French Revolution, each one of these qualifying adjectives has meant positions, concepts, and ideologies as varied as well as different. The time and the place are the two factors that determine if these are the right or the left.

The forum of the Interamerican Institute for Democracy and the Adam Smith Center of the Florida International University has gathered a distinguished group of academicians, journalists, politicians, and statesmen to analyze if, in this 21st century, there are “rights” or “lefts” in politics and what they mean, and if the concepts are universally valid”.

The objective reality of this 21st century reveals to us a capitalist, globalized world undergoing a technological revolution. I maintain that now-a-days we no longer argue about “the what” of the world but “the how” that capitalist, globalized and technological world will be managed, administered, and governed. This struggle of “the how”, raises an axis of confrontation between the system founded on freedom, human rights, and the responsibility of those who govern, that is to say democracy and the system that -at the expense of freedom and human rights- concentrates all power with impunity in a few hands, that is to say dictatorships.

In politics, what is understood for “right” and for “left” changes over time. In the terminology’s origin at the French revolution “left” meant republicanism, democracy, and then it was used by Marxism in its different expressions and operations, the Social-Democracy, laborism, socialism, communism, anarchism, pacifist movements, guerrillas, and more. The “right” with the same origins at the French revolution where it appeared to be defending the powers of the monarch, has passed from the defense of the bourgeoisie to the stigmatization of the opposition to change, has gone from rationalist postures, economic liberalism, the confessional right -sustained by religious claims-, nationalism, sovereignism, patriotism, conservatism and more.

By the end of the past century the discussion between lefts and rights was carried out ideologically, around statism, to “more or less State” regarding the economy and individual freedoms, the scope of privatization, the intervention of the State, the market, State-sponsored or private education, control of its management, bureaucracy. . . the left placed itself advocating for more statism, the right for less of it.

At any given one same time in history, the right and the left vary according to the region and even the country. There isn’t a unique content for the terms “left” and “right” and least of all for their use as political or ideological postures. Both terms have encapsulated very heterogeneous, different, and changing positions and both have their populist, dictatorial, economist, and humanist versions. They are used as banners and as affronts and detriments.

The diversity of attempts, focus’ approaches, and academic analysis on what is the right and the left in politics is a consequence of the multiplicity of uses and accommodations that politicians make with these terms, something that is reflected in the news media that transports the scenario to the citizenry. Dr. Angel Rodriguez Kauth, renowned professor of “Political Psychology” that is the discipline that “conducts circumstantial analyses that contribute to the knowledge and critique of reality, intertwining psychology and politics” states that “the concepts of left and right, as analyzers of political positioning, after two centuries, has fallen into a true confusion of its benchmarks”.

As a current example, the European left is, in general, revindicated as democratic due to its behavior within the framework of institutionalism in that region; the left of the United States claims itself to be “progressive”, the left in Latin America is the 21st Century Socialism or Castrochavism, that is involved in Transnational Organized Crime with Cuba as the chief dictatorship that replicates its model in Venezuela, Bolivia, and Nicaragua with political prisoners, tortured, and exiled and the establishment of narco-States that subordinate the governments of Fernandez/Kirchner in Argentina and Lopez Obrador in Mexico.

The left and the right do exist in this 21st century, but we have to understand these are nominal characterizations and terms whose contents change according to the observer, to the time and place. These are neither invariable, nor defined terms. Its meaning depends on the when and where these are happening.

*Attorney & Political Scientist. Director of the Interamerican Institute for Democracy.

Translated from Spanish by Edgar L. Terrazas

Published in Spanish by Sunday May 1, 2022.

“The opinions published herein are the sole responsibility of its author”.