For the Sake of Argument
We often label policies, persons and actions because in so doing we find a fairly accurate description that conveys truthful information. To call Dick Cheney’s views on water-boarding ‘right’ and Nancy Pelosi’s ‘left’ accurately describe Cheney’s support of, and Pelosi’s rejection of water-boarding, given how the terms ‘left’ and ‘right’ have come to be understood regarding the topic.
Such labeling, however, is sometimes not as simple as such cases like this. And if these opposing cases are looked into, the labeling process can be seen to cause myriad more problems than it tries to solve. One of the best examples recently is the Second Gulf War. Christopher Hitchens, one of the world’s leading people of letters and heroes of ‘the left’, has been one of the most outspoken supporters of the invasion of Iraq in 2003. Consequently he has been labeled ‘right’ on this issue.
He has also been called a ‘neo-conservative’ and heckled by some on ‘the left’ to the point of vilification. And yet his fundamental reasons for supporting the removal of Saddam Hussein by force are fundamental reasons ‘the left’ opposes the action: principles of liberty; greater safety in the region and around the world; and a belief that the people of Iraq should decide their own fate. The debate in 2005 between Hitchens and George Galloway is the classic example of this paradox in action.
Supporting the removal of Saddam Hussein by force can in fact be argued from either ‘left’ or ‘right’ causes. This is because both sides support the principles of modernity we have inherited from political, social and historic progression. Liberty, safety, and the best interests of the people are the principles most of the political world tries to uphold. But opinions differ on how best to uphold and further these principles. Hitchens and I would argue that only now can the people of Iraq have greater liberty from that which they had under a brutalized dictator and the world is safer now than it was; whereas our opponents would argue that foreign intervention belittles the Iraqi people’s liberty to their own fate and the world is more dangerous than it was. Over time, it has happened that certain positions on these central questions of liberty and the like have become attributed to ‘the left’ and some to ‘the right’. But because both sides believe in the same basic modernist principles, this labeling leads to confusions, because a ‘leftist’ could support something generally considered ‘right’, and vice-versa. So a term like ‘leftist’ can become largely jejune in most applications.Continued on the next page