Egalitarianism Versus Inegalitarianism
Posted on September 21, 2016
I think you can understand a great deal about politics and government if you define the left-right spectrum in terms of degree of support for egalitarianism versus inegalitarianism. There are other definitions such as attitudes toward change, or possession of income and social status, or attitudes toward democracy versus authoritarianism, but all them can be shown to be both theoretically and empirically correlated with the equality spectrum. (For example, those who have the most income also have the most to lose from egalitarian reforms and express the strongest opposition to social change; while pro-democracy is best understood as an egalitarianism of power.) This model can break down in societies preoccupied with tribalism or religious conflict between roughly equally powerful groups, but in such cases the left-right spectrum as such makes no sense. To the extent that we can identify certain social or ethnic groups as oppressed, then egalitarianism naturally supports their liberation and that tends to become part of the left-wing program.
Progressives therefore naturally support egalitarian reforms, democratization, and liberation, while conservatives naturally don’t.
Now if we assume the primary issue in society is the degree of equality, then it follows that the natural political split is between the haves and the have-nots. And since the have-nots outnumber he haves, it is nearly inevitable that the haves seek to form splitting coalitions. That is, they pump up issues that can divide the have-nots. And since they are the haves, they have ample communication resources to make this happen, In the U.S. the pre-eminent splitting issue is race. More recently, gender has emerged as a useful second splitting issue. (Feminists will recognize that this theory contradicts some parts of standard versions of patriarchy theory, but that is a different discussion. However the approach is roughly consistent with median voter theory in political economy, with Marxian theory, and with Social Dominance Theory in sociology.)
It also follows from this analysis that demagoguery is more natural as a right-wing form of radicalism than as a left-wing form. Demagoguery consists in an effort to demonize a certain social group that has little political power. This quite naturally splits the coalition of the have-nots into those who defend the victims and those who join in the attack.
All of which greatly helps us understand Donald Trump. His primary attraction to voters is as a demagogue, and he is effective in splitting the progressive coalition over issues of race and ethnicity and gender. However there are other aspects of his demagoguery that put him in apparent opposition to the most powerful of the haves, i.e. the billionaires and their business allies, and this requires an extended analysis I’ll return to in another post. There is also much more to be said about the role of the educated elite, and about what distinguishes radicals from moderates, but those are food for some other posts. And in particular, while the left-right spectrum is unidimensional, ideologies are multi-dimensional, a necessary fact that allows for splitting coalitions.