The Bare Bodkin

On Being “Right Wing”

As I write these words, just after the November 7 elections, liberal Democrats are enjoying a well-earned gloat on their victory over the right wing.  Just one question: What does right wing mean?

I’ve puzzled over this question for years.  I’ve also posed it to liberals, who can’t really answer it.  They apply this term, always censorious, to anarchists, who want no government at all, and to fascists, who want government without limits.  Also to conservatives, who want government defined and limited.

Monarchism, it seems, is right wing; so is libertarianism.  So are theocracy, Ayn Rand’s atheistic objectivism, states’-rights constitutionalism, federalism, plutocracy, oligarchy, militarism, “isolationism,” neoconservatism, feudalism, laissez-faire capitalism, classical liberalism, racialism, antisemitism (but also Zionism), “McCarthyism,” some forms of populism, most forms of nationalism, all forms of anticommunism—just about everything, it seems, but socialism and, perhaps, nudism.  Such causes as Prohibitionism, Clinton-hating, and opposition to abortion are also right wing.  The term is worse than indefinable; it is simply incoherent.

The left-wing paradigm is pretty simple: communism.  True, there are sectarian splits on the left—Bolsheviks versus Mensheviks, Stalinists versus...

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