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A Personal Reflection by Squashed Philosophers editor Glyn Hughes

2966 words, reading time 20 minutes

The names of political groupings seem to be largely used as general-purpose insults, as in 'Curse those Libertarian Fascists', etc, with only a vague passing understanding of what the names might actually mean.

So here's my Squashed Political Definitions. Which you can still use as insults if you want.


"One cannot walk with just the left foot or just the right foot, one needs both.” - Abhijit Naskar
"A left-wing idiot is as dangerous as a right-wing idiot." Milos Zeman

The idea of ‘Left’ and ‘Right’ in politics is said to originate with seating arrangements in the 1798 French National Assembly. The terms are poorly defined, but roughly equate to ..

the Left says “At the end of the day, we’re all in this together”
..while the Right says: “At the end of the day, it’s everyone for themselves”.

These two positions look as if they're opposites, which is what causes problems. It is irritatingly difficult to explain to those on the LEFT that you can best get everyone working together if each one sees some advantage in it for themselves, and it is equally tricky to get through to the RIGHT that the best way to get the most for each individual is if they do things jointly.

Left and Right are commonly represented by the colours Red and Blue. But opinions differ as to which is which.

By concentrating on the individual the Right tends to raise tiny individual odd-ball concerns to importance and, famously (frighteningly), often ends up lauding just one individual, irrespective of their worth. The Left, by concentrating on the good of the whole, often fails by focussing on averages and totals, and forgetting the individual people behind them.


"The sole end for which mankind are warranted in interfering with the liberty of action of any of their number is to prevent harm to others. His own good, either physical or moral, is not sufficient warrant." - JS Mill

Liberalism is the idea that everyone should be free to live their life absolutely as they want, as long as it doesn't damage others. This seems to be established as about the best principle you can adopt to more-or-less keep more-or-less-everyone more-or-less-happy and so Liberalism has become the general guiding principle of most modern governments.
HOW TO SPOT A LIBERAL: They're happy talking, and listening, to anyone. Anyone.
BUT... Problem is, if you're letting anyone do what they want, you can end up allowing deeply ill-intentioned people to get the upper hand. This is the 'Paradox of tolerance' where if you tolerate intolerant people, then... well, famously Carl Popper in 'The Open Society and its Enemies' has some sort of answer (https://archive.org/details/in.ernet.dli.2015.59272/page/n3 )
KEY TEXT: John Stuart Mill 'On Liberty' http://sqapo.com/mill.htm


"The theory of Communism may be summed up in one sentence: Abolish all private property"

Communism is a proposed system of social organisation which replaces bourgeois society and class antagonisms with one where all things are done communally. This requires the abolition of private ownership, the organization of labour for the common benefit and the central control of all banking, communication, transport and means of production.
HOW TO SPOT A COMMUNIST: Those working towards Communism will have Communist flags and symbols.
BUT... People aren't really too keen on sharing everything. So, as as far as I can find, no Communist community has ever succeeded, not even tiny communes, while all large-scale attempts (Russia, Vietnam, Cuba etc) have quickly descended into a sort-of FASCISM while claiming to be 'working towards Communism'. However, in some religious communities complete sharing does seem to work, and there is good evidence (Acts 2,4 &c) that early Christians were Communist. This despite Pope Pius XII's (non-infallible) 1949 decree against all forms of equal-distribution.
KEY TEXT: The Communist Manifesto; http://sqapo.com/communist.htm


"I should tie myself to no particular system of society other than of socialism." Nelson Mandela
"To me, democratic socialism means.. creating a government that represents all of us, not just the wealthiest." Bernie Sanders

'Socialist' just means doing things socially, cooperatively, 'together', rather than individually. Government is, by its nature, a cooperative social project and therefore all governments are socialist to some extent. At one end you can have complete Socialism in everything, which people don't much like, so ends up having to be forced on you as just another form of FASCISM. At the other end, you can decide by DEMOCRACY if you want to do just street lighting, police, mail delivery and roads by SOCIALISM, or if that is going to extend to, say, schools or shipbuilding.
HOW TO SPOT A SOCIALIST: We're all Socialists to some extent.
BUT... Like all political systems, it sounds great - until you dare assume it is the answer to everything, when you will discover that it is not.
KEY TEXT: In practice 'doing things together' can mean as many different things as there are people, so there is no defining text of 'Socialism'. You could try Oscar Wilde's The Soul of Man under Socialism or Thomas More's Utopia from 1515.


"The Only Trouble with Capitalism Is Capitalists." Herbert Hoover

'Capitalism' is sometimes used as a synonym for 'buying and selling' or 'seeking profit'. But those things have been around since the dawn of humanity, whereas 'Capitalism' is agreed to be something relatively new. Capitalism was invented in the Netherlands around about 1600 as a system where 'Capital Interests' - the resources used to start a business - are bought, sold and transferred as if they were goods, the new owners then taking their share of the profits. Capitalism has been fabulously successful at diverting resources to where they are most efficiently used.
HOW TO SPOT A CAPITALIST: They own shares in other people's companies. Yes they do. That is what Capitalism is.
BUT... By trading only Capital Interests rather than real goods, the Capitalist may not even know (or care) about the - possibly evil - consequences of their trades for the workers, consumers, slaves and wider society who actually create their value.
KEY TEXT: Adam Smith; 'The Wealth of Nations' http://thehundredbooks.com/Wealth_of_Nations.htm


"The State and the People melded into one single thing of power"

Fascism takes its name from the old Roman idea of the State and people represented by a bundle of rods - 'fascii' - made stronger by being bound together. Fascism claims absolute control of everything - so that it can directly implement the will of the people, without the influence of politicians, votes or that sort of stuff. Fascism is really good at acting fast and getting things done, like, famously, building motorways (Germany, true) or getting the trains to run on time (Italy, not true)
HOW TO SPOT A FASCIST: The Fascist knows with absolute certainty what The People really want and need. In which regard a lot of (probably most) politicians are, to some extent, fascists.
BUT... The Fascist doesn't really know what the people want, of course. In any case, the people keep changing their mind. And, having done away with voting, the Fascist can neither find out what the people want now, or conveniently blame them when things go wrong. So the Fascist soon falls out of favour with The People, and has to resort to ENMITY to cling on to power. The results are not good.
KEY TEXT: "The Doctrine of Fascism" (La dottrina del fascismo) by Benito Mussolini & Giovanni Gentile http://www.worldfuturefund.org/wffmaster/Reading/Germany/mussolini.htm


"Anarchy doesn’t mean out of control; it means out of their control."

Strictly speaking 'anarchy' just means a society 'without an Arkon, or leader' and is usual taken to mean the confusion and chaos which that leads to. However, there is a political theory that a government-free society could flourish if the citizens took it upon themselves to run various voluntary associations. There have been attempts to do this, usually in locations either remote, as in 19thC USA or Ukraine in 1918, or in separated-off communities like Slab City USA, Christiania in Denmark or Kowloon Walled City.
HOW TO SPOT AN ANARCHIST: We're all a little bit Anarchist.
BUT... Actually, people are quite good at creating little associations to govern themselves if the main government breaks down - as is seen after huge disasters such as civil wars. But, without central organisation, such communities are very vulnerable to takeover by criminal gangs and destruction by outside forces. Anarchist communities don't last very long.
KEY TEXT: Pierre-Joseph Proudhon's 1840 treatise 'What Is Property?' https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Property_is_theft!


Karl Marx himself said "What is certain is that I am not a Marxist" (Engels)

Karl Marx (1818-83) theory was that (1) The only thing which costs money is labour (2) All human relationships are based on money. (3) Eventually, inevitably, those who are losing out in the money-relationship will revolt and establish some sort of COMMUNISM.
HOW TO SPOT A MARXIST: They'll tell you.
BUT... Marx's theories are vastly complicated, so, by picking the bits you want 'Marxism' gets used to justify all sorts of things from ardent Socialism to unrestrained Capitalism, to both Christianity and Atheism, hence the quote at the top, and that's why 'Marxists' are famous for falling out with each other and why Marx’ own books had to be censored in the 'Marxist' USSR.
KEY TEXT: 'Capital' http://thehundredbooks.com/Capital.htm


“Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others.” Winston S. Churchill

People have probably been voting on things forever, but organised democracy (the word means something like "community strength") is associated with the city-State of Athens about three thousand years ago, where posh men voted on individual laws. But that direct democracy only works in very small States (it still sort-of exists in the Isle of Man), nowadays in representative democracy we don't vote for laws, but vote for the people who'll vote on the laws. This system gives the common people an assurance that they have some control of those laws, so almost all countries claim to follow it, though only about half really do.
HOW TO SPOT A DEMOCRAT: They'll happily acquiesce to laws they don't like, as long as they believe they were fairly voted for.
BUT... (1) Democracy today isn't rule by the people, but rule by voting. But who can vote, when they can vote, what they can vote for and (as Stalin said) who counts the votes, are still matters decided by those in power alone. (2) Absolute democracy would mean that every minority would always lose, and we're all minorities of one sort or another, like "two wolves and a sheep voting on what to have for dinner." (3) Democracy is fairly easily subverted by POPULISM or ENMITY
KEY TEXT: Locke, John. Two Treatises on Government: http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/7370


"The thing about populism is that its popular until it is carried out. Then its seen for what it is. An undeliverable empty promise" John Major

Populism is telling the population things which are popular. Which is fine, but where it gets called out is when it's done with no concern for whether promises can be delivered or not. Tell them: "Friends! It is time for the long-suffering ordinary people who built this wonderful country to finally be given the chance they deserve, for true democracy and fair shares, to take back control from the corrupt city elites and unelected bureaucrats who are stifling our creativity and freedom". If that goes down well, you can add; "..and I promise you there'll be less tax but more money spent, less government interference but stricter laws." Populism like that will get you elected.
HOW TO SPOT A POPULIST: You agree with everything they tell you.
BUT... Populism can't deliver, because it doesn't have anything to deliver. It is just words.
KEY TEXT: If you buy 'Populism: A Very Short Introduction ' by Messrs Mudde and Kaltwasser it will answer all your questions and solve all of your problems forever, it will also make you richer and more beautiful. True. https://global.oup.com/academic/product/populism..


"The world is not there to be possessed by the faint-hearted races." - Adolf Hitler, 'Mein Kampf'

Nazism was a very unusual form of FASCISM which arose only in Germany in the 1920s. It is centred around the creation of a master-race of superior humans who will, by right, rule the world. To do this it was thought necessary to obtain power by any means, so they used an extreme form of one-leader FASCISM with a powerful and inspiring admixture of ENMITY and POPULISM and a ruthless system of propaganda, using all the possibilities of new media. The Nazis went as far as using their own title of 'National-Socialists' to confuse the SOCIALISTS and their own red colour and 'comrade' to confuse COMMUNISTS while at the same time being hugely supportive of CAPITALISTS and OLIGARCHS with added KLEPTOCRACY.
HOW TO SPOT A NAZI: The folks (they like that term) who claim to be Nazis nowadays are very clearly no master-race. They seem to like the symbolism. Especially the uniforms.
BUT... Like the FASCISM and EMNITY on which it is based, Nazism fails when it tries to actually carry through on policies which either don't exist or are unworkable.
KEY TEXT: Adolf Hitler's 'Mein Kampf' openly explains how to trick and deceive the common people into following you http://sqapo.com/hitler.htm


“the weight of an oligarchy is rarely felt when the rights of the masses are codified”

Oligarchy (from Greek for 'few') is when political power rests with just a small number of people who have amassed the wealth of the State to themselves. The USA, Russia, Iran, The United Kingdom, Ukraine have all been described as Oligarchies. Oligarchy isn’t necessarily bad government. But it almost always is bad government.
HOW TO SPOT AN OLIGARCH: You can spot them fairly easily, but you can’t get near to them.
BUT... It isn’t just that the Oligarchs don’t really care about common people, it is that they don’t care for each other either, though you can usually keep them at bay by insisting they agree to protect and follow a written-down set of rights for ordinary folk.
KEY TEXT: In his 1911 book, ‘Political Parties’ Robert Michels explains his ‘iron law of oligarchy’ that all organisations always tend to become oligarchies.


“To be conservative, then, is to prefer the familiar to the unknown, to prefer the tried to the untried, fact to mystery, the actual to the possible, the limited to the unbounded, the near to the distant, the sufficient to the superabundant, the convenient to the perfect, present laughter to utopian bliss.”
? Michael Joseph Oakeshott,

..is conserving - protecting and nurturing - that which we already have. Conservatives look to traditional values, historic norms and the customs of their country. So a 'Conservative' in Saudi Arabia is quite a different creature to a 'Conservative' in Norway. Conservatism leaves you stuck where you are. Which is not, by any means, necessarily any bad thing at all.
HOW TO SPOT A CONSERVATIVE: You know who they are.
BUT... Conservatism is liked by those who are doing well out of society as it is structured now, and would prefer it not to change. Unfortunately the 'doing well' often includes gangsters and would-be oligarchs.
KEY TEXT: 'Reflections on the Revolution in France' by Edmund Burke

..and then there's;
ANOCRACY is a government which has some democracy within a dictatorship
ARISTOCRACY is 'rule by the best people', who, obviously, are a small, privileged ruling class of aristocrats.
GERONTOCRACY rule by the old.
KLEPTOCRACY is a government by thieves. It is not uncommon, in fact most governments have a touch of the Klept.
KRITARCHY was the system of rule by judges, as in the Torah, or possibly the Druidic Celts.
LIBERTARIANISM means freedom of the individual. Though everybody claims to be in favour of that.
MONARCHY is rule by the head of an aristocratic family. Still a few of those about.
NOOCRACY governance by philosophers, who are so very wise. As defined by Plato, who was a philosopher.
OCHLOCRACY is mob rule
PLUTOCRACY rule by the rich
STRATOCRACY rule by military chiefs
TECHNOCRACY rule by experts
TIMOCRACY is a state where only property owners may participate in government.
TYRANNY is rule by an absolute ruler unrestrained by law, usually one who has usurped legitimate sovereignty.

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COPYRIGHT and ALL RIGHTS RESERVED: © Glyn Hughes, Monday 25 April 2022