It’s not unusual for Bill Maher to accuse his ideological opponents of being flat-earthers. But he took the concept to a new extreme over the weekend in his analysis of history and the political spectrum. According to Maher, when you go too far to the Left, you end up on the Right.
“Both [the Russian and French] revolutions got hijacked by the right-wing – and the Iranian Revolution,” Maher added.
However, Maher explained that you could argue the Russian Revolution was “hijacked by the left-wing,” but due to the nature of it being that far left, it was really right.
“I suppose people would say the Russian Revolution was hijacked by the left-wing,” Maher said. “I think when you go that far left – you’re really the right-wing. I consider Lenin and Stalin right-wingers. Don’t tell Rush Limbaugh.”
It would be intriguing to press Maher further on this point to see exactly what he means, and what informs his perception. No doubt we would find that Maher is working with definitions of Left and Right which are somewhat arbitrary. How else could anyone call Lenin and Stalin right-wingers?
Of course, it’s tough to fault Maher for arbitrarily constructing his own political spectrum. It’s not as though God created Left and Right. These terms have always been social constructs which have changed in meaning from time to time.
However, there is a contemporary standard which anyone operating on a stage like Maher’s ought to adhere to if he cares to be understood. There is no conceivable stretch of that standard which results in Lenin and Stalin as right-wingers.
We could throw Hitler in the mix as well. What Lenin, Stalin, and Hitler all had in common was authoritarianism. Authoritarianism is neither Left nor Right in the common sense of the terms. It is merely contempt for liberty. Whether such contempt is motivated by a so-called “liberal” regard for the environment or a socially conservative regard for a particular religious edict is a minor detail. What you insist I do is not as critical as whether you have the right to insist upon anything.
As long as we’re creating our own political spectrums, I would encourage Maher to consider a version with tyranny at one end and liberty at the other. This is far more useful toward our consideration of political philosophy than the cartoonish idea that Lenin and Stalin were so far to the Left that they circled around to the Right.
There is something nonsensical about a political spectrum that spans the range between tyranny and … tyranny. If one end of the spectrum is the home of tyranny, then shouldn’t the opposite end of the spectrum be the home of liberty, tyranny’s opposite?
On such a spectrum, the classical liberalism which is today’s libertarianism or conservatism is on the Right, while all forms of totalitarianism – including Communism and Fascism – are on the Left. Anarchy is on the Left of this spectrum as well, because anarchy enables totalitarianism. If there is no government to protect me from a strongman, the strongman becomes my government.
Indeed, that is why revolutions are such dangerous things. Revolutions breed anarchy, by removing standing governments, which paves the way for the rise of strongmen. The American Revolution stands in contrast to the trend of history. Thus some, like historian Daniel Boorstin, object to the characterization of the American War of Independence as a revolution.
None of this nuance is of any use to Maher, however. It would seem, in his view, Left is merely a synonym for Good, and Right for Wrong.