The Liberal Institute

The Ideological Origins of Right and Left

This analysis concerns an early version of Rightist and Leftist ideology more than two millenia before the French Revolution. It deals with the earliest opposition to rational philosophy and derivative liberal culture. It seeks to explain that the two natural and inevitable enemies of reason and Western Civilization are conservatism and progressivism, or Right and Left.

The permanent fight between existence and non-existence, life and death, pleasure and pain, flourishing and suffering, prosperity and poverty, civilization and barbarism, happiness and misery, good and evil, truth and falsity, etc. takes many forms. But for the past 2600 years — ever since rationality was discovered and invented — the world has principally been engaged in an unending battle of reason vs. the irrational, superstitious, and supernatural. Or else reasonism vs. right-wing dogmatism and left-wing subjectivism. These last two unite in the concept of philosophical Skepticism.

What might be described as fundamental Skepticism is the true and ultimate destroyer of human life and happiness. The opposite of this ur-evil, and a natural product of consistently rational thought, could be called "confidentism" or certaintyism." It's the belief that reason is valid and that the human brain is competent at apprehending reality.

It's the idea that truth is available and possible to man. It isn't the claim that any given person, group, doctrine, philosophy, or category of thought is necessarily flawless or inherently absolutely true. "Certaintyism" argues that knowledge is obtainable and that some things are known -- not that everything is known without the possibility of doubt or challenge.

Early Greek illiberals smeared this belief as "dogmatism." But that was wildly unfair and inaccurate. Proper "confidentism" seeks the truth fearlessly, and finds some of it -- subject to free and open discussion, debate, close scrutiny, and rigorous, merciless, critical examination. It seeking and finding some, and perhaps many, facts about reality, it avoids the Rightist error of faith and dogmatism, as well as the Leftist error of relativism and subjectivism.

The sophisticated Greek thought-system of reasonism and their derivative advanced culture of Western liberalism began with the first truly rational man. It began with the creators of philosophy and science, namely Thales, Anaximander, and Anaximenes. Logical thought and Western Civilization had an early climax with Aristotle, Epicurus, and Zeno the Stoic.

The primitive belief-system and retrograde culture of rejectionist and nihilist Skepticism -- both the right-wing conservative and left-wing progressive variety -- began with the first truly irrational man. It began with the largely senseless and contradictory thinkers Pythagoras, Heraclitus, Parmenides, Gorgias, and Zeno the Paradoxist. Irrational, illiberal intellectualism had an early climax with Plato, Arcesilaus, and Carneades.

All three of the above can be seen as the early fathers of both Right and Left. Observe that Plato could fairly accurately be described as both the primogeniture of mysticism -- the error of the Right -- and of communalism -- the error of the Left. And Plato favored what could be called the religio-socialist ethic (cf. Judeo-Christian ethic), which supports both. He was considerably irrational and illiberal in wanting the wise and enlightened to self-sacrifice themselves for the benefit for the ignorant and benighted in his Allegory of the Caves.

The fundamental culture, life-style, and philosophy of reasonism eventually led to the thriving, dynamic, awe-inspiring nations of Athens, the Roman Republic, Western Europe, and America. The fundamental culture, life-style, and pseudo-philosophy of relativist, subjectivist Skepticism eventually led to the Leftist, communist, belligerent, military dictatorships of Sparta, the late Roman Empire, the Soviet Union, and red China. The fundamental culture, life-style, and pseudo-philosophy of faithful, dogmatic Skepticism eventually led to the Rightist, fascist, belligerent, theistic dictatorships of the Dark Ages, the monarchical absolutists, the Nazis, and the jihadis.

Reasonist arguments, speculations, and claims were almost always presented calmly, dispassionately, systematically, and rigorously. But dogmatism and subjectivism reflected and engendered a kind of mental and psychological tyranny which made the Rightist dogmatists and Leftist subjectivists rather hate abstract truth and science, as well as any neutral, objective, fair-minded presentation of evidence, facts, and proof. So the presentation of their fundamentally Skepticist arguments, speculations, and claims generally involved a fair amount of hysterical passion and out-of-control fanaticism.

To this day both irrational belief-systems and illiberal cultures wantonly and rather maniacally attack the reason-based thought-systems of Western Civilization and philosophical liberalism. A left-wing, progressive-style illiberalism ineluctably leads to a post-modernist, socialist slavery — which includes mental and psychological tyranny. A right-wing, conservative-style illiberalism ineluctably leads to a pre-modernist, theocratic slavery — which includes mental and psychological tyranny.

Leftism today is exemplified by Stalin and Mao. Rightism is exemplified by Hitler and Khomeini. “Upwingism,” or reasonism, or Western liberalism, in contrast, is exemplified by Locke and Smith, as well as Voltaire and Jefferson.

A personal, social, political, philosophical, and cultural paradise would be derived from a fully-realized, completely civilized world of pure reasonism which oozes confidence in, and certainty about, thinking, logic, rationality, science — and sensible, solid, sound philosophy. It would be devoid of Left and Right, including collectivism and god. This utopia would be based upon the entirely reasonist and idealistic world of pure liberalism.

KYREL ZANTONAVITCH is the director of
The Liberal Institute