Left and Right: The Significance of a Political Distinction
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Bobbio argues that left and right are not absolute terms, but represent a shifting map of the political spectrum, relative to the particular cultural and historical contexts of a given time. The distinction continues to endure because it reflects the essentially antithetical nature and dynamics of democratic politics. In his accessible yet provocative style, Bobbio constructs a historically informed, analytic division of the political universe along two foundational axes, from equality to inequality, from liberty to authoritarianism. He then charts the past and present tendencies of the left and the right, in both their more moderate and more virulently extreme forms. Ultimately, for Bobbio, the measure of post-modern democracy will indeed lie in where and how we situate ourselves relative to these critical left/right parameters, in whether we cast ourselves, our votes, and our era in terms of political expediency, social viability, or moral responsibility.
A bestseller in Italy, where it sold over three hundred thousand copies, Left and Right is an important contribution to our understanding of global political developments in the 1990s and beyond.
completely different from any decisions taken in the past, it appe ars that, whatever their true nature , they will not fall into the tradi tional categories of left and right , which arose when these problem s were unknown to political movements . As these 12 A C HALLENGE TO THE DIS TINCTION problems are eminently moral , responses to them have reflected either laxity or severity , a distinction which gener ally divides the moral worl d . However, this dis tinction does not fit well with
of the left and the most extensive historical implementation of the ideas and cam paigns of the left) . The left is on the way down , and the right is on the way up . Now the argument that the old distinc tion should be put in the attic is mainly being put b y groups and movements which claimed to be left-wing when the wind of history appeared to be blowing in their direction , and which were considered , j udge d , condemned and slandered as such by their adversaries . Until not so long ago ,
eliminate the distinction , they have made it even sharper. This is , I repeat , very strange . The only explanation , in my opinion, is that the criterion whereby one distinguishes EXTREM I S TS AND MODERATES 27 between left and right does not coincide with the one where by one distinguishes between left and ri ght within the two camps themselves - that is to say, between the extremist and moderate wings . The fact is that Fascism and communism are mutually exclusive , in spite of their
, a s Glaucon s aid to Socrate s . However , when the egalitarian utopia entered history for the firs t time, leaving the realm of debate for the realm of real things , it turned into its opposite . But I also added that the great problem of inequality between people and between the peoples of this world is s till a serious and intolerable one . I see no reason why I should not also state that it is a dangerous threat to thos e who are s atis fied with the situation . Indeed, as we become
exhaustive within that eminently conflict-riven universe . They are exclusive in the sense that no doct�ine or movement can be both left-wing and right-wing at the same time . They are exhaustive in the sense that a d octrine or movement can only be either left-wing or right-win g , at least as far as the more rigid application of the twin definition is concerne d , as we shall see later . The antithetical pair, left and right , can be put to descrip tive, axiological or historical use , as I