Friday, September 05, 2003

I just received a fairly angry email from Michael Totten over an earlier piece of mine calling him a "rightist". He said that he defines himself several times as "center-left" and therefore, by definition, can't be right-wing.

Indeed, Michael, center-left is not "by definition" rightist. The question is who does the defining, and what that definition consists of.

While self-definition is an important part of placing someone's political views, it is by no means definitive. Many conservatives define themselves as "libertarians" by endlessly twisting the definition of that term, and there are many columnists and commentators who, like Mickey Kaus, call themselves "liberals"; yet they adopt positions that draw far more from libertarianism and soft conservatism than anything even remotely resembling liberalism as Locke, Rawls, or Mill would have understood the term.

Often enough, this is part of a tactic of "strategic redefinition". They usually serve Republican/conservative ends by doing so, as they can attack "the left" from "the center". By doing so, they move both- they move the definition of the "acceptable left" to the right, and move the definition of "centrist" to the right. This also ends up redefining what had been been defined as "fringe opinions" on the right much closer to supposed "centrism" and respectability.

Do this enough, and you can change the political discourse to a shocking degree. Supply side economics is one of these ideas moved to respectability, another is pre-emptive warfare... but there are multitudes of others, more than can be easily counted.

Using Michael's own words, "by definition" it is an act that serves conservative ends, and only the most naive of liberals would either misunderstand or truthfully deny this. Those that are not naive know they are serving conservative ends and are, therefore, supporters of conservatism, insofar as they are deliberately turning moderate conservatism into centrism, and extreme conservatism (if not right-wing buffoonery) into moderation.

(Yes, there is a way out of this- by rejecting the "right-center-left" spectrum entirely. You can't do that and retain the terminology, however, and Michael both retains the terminology and uses it to attack the left.)

Michael, you came into prominence attacking the "left" and no small number of your posts have been targeted at the faults of "the left". It has been used by prominent conservatives, such as Instapundit, in order to support the actions and the rhetoric of American conservatism and individual conservatives, including president Bush. So I'm only left, "by definition", with one question:

Are you naive, Michael?

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