posted by Brit, in Bryan's continued absence
Bryan has insightfully pointed out that the old terms 'left-wing' and 'right-wing' are now virtually meaningless, as politics enters an era of Quantum Flux. This is not the same as the End of History, a fantasy which Bryan has also successfully skewered on the grounds that "dominant orthodoxies always think they are the last word and they are always wrong and because history is not a linear narrative but a succession of tragic contingencies."
But enough of Bryan. My personal opinion is that it has been pretty ridiculous to claim to be in a right-wing or left-wing category for a while now, and that by doing so you expose a lack of thought.
Consider, for example, these five political see-saws* within a western liberal democracy: (a) wealth redistribution; (b) public/private ownership of services; (c) financial market regulation; (d) attitude to entrepreneurship; (e) individual liberty versus national security. One may balance to any degree on the left or right sides of each see-saw independently, without ideological inconsistency. If you are wholly on the right or left of all five then that's fine (if unlikely), but it should be because you've thought about each, not because you support Left or Right as you would a football team and you wear a Left or Right badge.
On last week's Start the Week, the philosopher Raymond Geuss made a wise point. He said that when it comes to formulating political beliefs, the wrong approach is to start with your favourite quality (freedom, equality, justice etc), and then try to imagine what a society would look like if it were arranged to maximise that quality. Instead, you should examine the political and cultural institutions you have already have and work from there.
The failure to do this leads to incoherence and fantasy, which is why pure libertarians are as absurd as hardline Marxists. Say what you like about them, but Blair and Mandelson and Cameron (and probably both Obama and McCain) are all politicians of the Quantum Flux - they understand it, whereas, say, Tony Benn does not and is now a quaint anachronism. The credit crunch fallout, with banks being bought up all over the shop, has only confirmed it. China, with its bizarre mix of communist repression and rampant free-marketeering, is the starkest global expression. We are heading deeper into the Flux, and the only thing we can know for sure is that it won't last forever, because nothing ever does.
*(US translation: teeter-totters, but only for left wing loonies - thanks David)