Beyond Left and Right: Compassionate Pragmatism

Beyond Left and Right: Compassionate Pragmatism

Edited 7/15/19

Beyond Left and Right: Compassionate Pragmatism
By Wade Lee Hudson

There’s no widely agreed-on definition of “liberalism” and “conservatism.” More specific terms like “egalitarian economics” vs.“free-market fundamentalism, and ”liberal democracy” vs. “authoritarianism. make sense. So do more general terms like “moderates” vs “revolutionaries,” or “pragmatists” vs “purists.” But supporters of one of those terms may agree with the other side on many sprecific issues. They can’t logically be lumped together on one “left-right” spectrum, which is incoherent and serves to divide and conquer. The three pre-Trump legs of the “conservative” Republican Party — fiscal conservatism, cultural conservatism, and militarism — could not logically be placed under the umbrella of “conservatism” on the so-called political spectrum. The “liberal” Democratic Party has had its own internal contradictions. There’s not one spectrum; there’s many.

Traditionally, the “right” has been said to affirm authority, order, hierarchy, duty, tradition, and nationalism. And the “left” has been associated with liberty, equality, solidarity, human rights, progress, and internationalism. But most people believe in all or most of those principles — because each holds value. 

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The Left-Right Spectrum: Email to Ezra Klein

I just sent the following email to Ezra Klein, founder of and host of The Ezra Klein Show podcast.



SUBJECT: Critique the “Political Spectrum”

Ezra, I love the show, the format, and how you conduct it. I especially like the concluding three-book question.

I suggest you engage with a guest who challenges the left-right spectrum. I have not heard you adequately explain that frame. Please explore:

  • What is “liberalism” and “conservatism”?

  • Why do you want to defeat conservatism?

  • Does “conservatism” affirm some, or many, valuable principles?

  • Do we need another worldview that integrates legitimate elements from each ideology?

I suspect you could consider these issues in a way that would help me and other listeners clarify our thinking on this important issue.

Harry Boyte [“Populism and John Dewey: Convergences and Contradictions”) is one possible guest. Ken Wilber, Trump and a Post-Truth World, (good summary here) might be another.

With great respect,

Wade Hudson
Wade's Wire (daily)
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