Left, Right and Woke
Simon O’Connor, National MP
18 December 2022, 27.1k views
Does it seem to you that the left and right of politics has changed? Does it seem that, particularly on what we think of as the left-wing of politics, the topics being discussed are now very different than the past?
Where we once talked of worker’s rights, we now hear arguments about race and gender; where once it was about a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work, it is now more about paying someone because of who they are rather than what they do.
It might surprise you, but I don’t think the traditional left or right have changed at all. Instead, we seem to have a new group that has gone even further to the left or off the piste completely. Elon Musk tweeted a really useful image, where he shows a new group of political actors who have run off to the very far left – leaving the traditional left, and those to their right, way way behind them.
These people are often described as Progressives or Woke. They are the ones obsessed with concepts like identity politics, where who you are as an individual means nothing, and all that matters is what group or tribe you belong to.
The woke – now so far to the left – are more concerned with pronouns than worker’s rights; obsessed with what happens in bedrooms rather than whether you can afford to buy a house with a bedroom; and see education as a means to indoctrinate the young, not empower them to think freely.
I think it is important to understand that these woke progressives are ultimately disconnected from the traditional left-right continuum, despite Elon drawing them as still connected, albeit running fast and as far left as they can go.
Once upon a time, I would have drawn the political spectrum like a horseshoe – that is, as you went further to the left or further to the right, you were becoming the same thing. Extreme right and extreme left shared many of the same hallmarks – overbearing, if not outright autocratic, government; limited media; and reduced freedoms.
So what have the woke left behind? What are the more moderate ways of being left and right-wing in politics?
If you were to use general stereotypes – the traditional and moderate left still believe in the importance of government; that through government rules and regulations, society can be improved. The rights of workers, the place of unions, better pay, and social services for all.
Those on the right would often talk more about limited government; fewer rules and regulations; the importance of business; and allowing people to make choices for themselves and family.
Of course, these are only stereotypes and those on both the traditional left and right would agree on many points and not exclude any aspects just mentioned. Often for those on the left and right, it is just a matter of priority and emphasis on all these matters and more – including the environment, defence, and trade.
As we know, those who are woke are quick to call those they disagree with ‘extremist’. And of course they would say this, for having gone so far to the left that anyone not with them is by definition now either not left-wing enough, or far right.
That the views of the traditional left and right are now labelled ‘extreme’ is more a reflection on just how far the progressive left and woke have gone – as Elon’s tweet showed, it is the woke who have gone rushing off in a dangerous direction.
And why do I say dangerous? Well, simply, those who are woke embrace classic Marxism which has no tolerance for any views other than its own. Marx originally divided society according to land owner and tenant; or business owner and worker. The Progressive left have now taken this divisive mindset and applied it culturally – so now they divide society by such things as old vs young; gay vs straight; Māori vs. Pākehā; and of course, male vs. female.
Division and dissension are the hallmarks of woke politics, and so it follows that one of the sad ironies of all of this, is that they speak of tolerance but show none of this to those who have alternative views to their own.
As we look around society today, and we see the signs of this woke movement in our political discourse. Truth is replaced with belief; science is equal to myths; reason is replaced by emotion; and logical argument by feelings.
And we also see the rise of cancel culture – the deliberate attempt by progressives to stop people sharing ideas that might conflict with theirs. Once the progressives have gone so far left, they see everyone to the right of them as needing de-platforming because they are all wrong – the traditional left, the moderate left, centrists, and of course the ‘right wing’.
There is a place for left and right thinking in politics. It is what makes our democracy strong.
I’m Simon O’Connor, for The Common Room.