Left and Right Today

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In
the 1960s, the great Murray Rothbard expended a considerable amount
of his intellectual energy on a publication he started entitled
Left and Right.
It was based on the idea that Old Right thinkers of the late 1960s
– or what was left of them – had much in common with the
emerging New Left thinkers who opposed the war in Vietnam as well
as federal encroachments into consensual private activities. Always
the optimist, Murray thought that Left and Right could provide
the basis for a melding of these two groups into and intellectual
vanguard that would oppose the alarming spread of the welfare and
warfare states that had accelerated during the decades following
the New Deal.

There
was a strong basis for agreement among the two groups, and there
still is today, although while the Old Right is still surging, thanks
largely to the foundation laid by Rothbard, the New Left has never
regained the cultural and intellectual status it enjoyed during
the glory days of 30 years ago.

I
was reminded recently, however, that just as the New Left and Old
Right could find common ground when a unique set of circumstances
came together, so can the neoconservatives and neoliberals of today.
Consider, for instance, the comments made by Peggy Noonan on the
Wall Street Journal's opinion web site and Jim Wallis, a
writer for modernist Catholicism's Sojourners
magazine
, regarding the Janet Jackson episode at the Smarmy
Bowl. Writes
Noonan
,

Our
culture has been on a boil for years. Then it cooled a bit.
The other night at the Super Bowl they put the flame higher
and the water began to boil. The frog – that would be us – is still
alive. And may, in his shock, jump out of the water. But the
question is: How? How to turn it around. I wonder if all the
sane adult liberals and conservatives couldn't make progress
here.

Noonan's
comments sound an awful lot like Wallis':

Some
people think that only right-wing conservatives care about such
moral pollution. Wrong. Most parents I know, liberal or conservative,
care a great deal about it, as do most self-respecting women
and men. It defies stereotypes to suggest that a healthy moral
consistency applies to personal and sexual ethics as well as
to social and political values. It's time to break out of those
old ideological shibboleths and forge a unified front against
the amoral corporate greed that violates all our ethics – personal
and social – creating a system that sells beer and breasts in
the same advertising plans just to make a buck.

Both
neocon Noonan and neoliberal Wallis believe that morality can be
legislated – Noonan with her support of Bush's moralist legislation
and Wallis with his support for State intervention in corporate
affairs (a long-running theme at Sojourners, based on the magazine's
definition of something called "social justice"). Maybe
they have never been as ideologically opposite as one may think?
One could easily imagine both supporting increased funding for the
Federal Communications Commission with the false expectation that
a War on Breasts will be as successful as the War on Drugs.

One
seriously doubts that either Noonan or Wallis would consider abolishing
the FCC for its many and obvious failures, end anachronistic regulation
of the public airways (how 20th century!), and support the formation
of private regulatory institutions to set standards that more closely
reflect those of the body politic (an Underwriters' Labs for broadcasting).
One wonders if it has ever dawned on them that liberal or conservative
attempts to curb future Janet Jacksons with State power will simply
result in more of them?

For
me, this incident reminded me of why my family homeschools. There
is no doubt that I would have had to explain Janet Jackson to my
second grade son if he were stranded in the local public school
for six-plus hours a day. (It was hard enough, but more morally
fruitful, explaining Homer's Odyssey.)
The same would apply to the local Catholic school, thanks to the
American Church's wrecking of Catholic education by embracing tacky
ideology that has become a staple in publications like Sojourners.

We
should pity the kids who cannot be left behind from the kind of
socialization that robs them of their innocence – which, by
the way, occurs during practically every commercial break of every
NFL game of the year, with nary a word from the likes of Michael
Powell, Peggy Noonan, or Jim Wallis. The griping of those three
(and many others) over the last few days reminded me of one of the
truly original characters of American literature, Ignatius J. Reilly
in A
Confederacy of Dunces
, who yells at his TV in protest of
gyrating bodies on American Bandstand, while at the same time incapable
of turning the TV off.

Murray
Rothbard was right that there can be common ground between left
and right. When it serves to expand liberty, it can be a good thing.
We should beware when neocons and neoliberals find common ground.
The results can be more perverting than a Janet Jackson dance.

February
6, 2004

Chris
Westley
[send him mail] teaches
economics at Jacksonville State University, Alabama.

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