Saturday, April 25, 2009

Right Wing

Like many other Catholic bloggers, I have been accused of being right wing. Now, I think that needs a close look. Am I right wing? Does it matter if I am?

I suppose it depends what you mean. Going to the usual sources for a definition

The political term right-wing originates from the French Revolution when liberal deputies from the Third Estate generally sat to the left of the president's chair, a habit which began in the Estates General of 1789. The nobility, members of the Second Estate, generally sat to the right. In the successive legislative assemblies, monarchists who supported the Ancien Régime were commonly referred to as rightists because they sat on the right side.

So not immediately relevant to the current political situation. Indeed if one thinks of the current regime, supporting the status quo and the institutions of society means being in favour of gay civil partnerships, agnosticism or atheism, legalised abortion, dishing out condoms courtesy of the public purse and multiculturism. To be a faithful Catholic would therefore seem to be against that and in a sense radical or left wing, no?

I grew up in a fairly traditional North of England, Catholic, Labour-supporting family. Our MP was a Catholic (loyal to the Church, pro-life) and I went to school with his children (selective Catholic grammar, since abolished). The MP for the constituency over the road was Denis Healey. His agent lived in the house opposite ours. When I first came to any sort of political consciousness, in about 1976, I understood this Labour-supporting business to be about left-wing politics. It was the height of union unrest, the time when people like Tony Benn and his ilk were eviscerating the Labour Party of its Christian roots (Methodism and the like) and supplanting it with Marxism.

I spent some my youth thinking myself a Marxist atheist in the way perhaps that only a pubescent grammar-school boy can. The residuum of this was some lefty views that persisted into my thirties and made me receptive to some pretty destructive feminist and pro-gay ideas. My discovery of the thrill of orthodoxy was liberating. I am probably a bit of an embarrassment to some members of my family now.

So where am I now? I have no idea, to be honest. In the past ten years I have gone from reading The Guardian to reading The Spectator and The Telegraph (though I can't quite swallow Simon Heffer - who could?). I read Theodore Dalrymple and find myself agreeing with much of what he says about society, medicine and Islam. I read Roger Scruton in much the same way. I have gone from being a tribal anti-unionist (all those pissed-up sentimental uncles singing Kevin Barry) to being a committed unionist (and lover of my now native Scotland, but with a fond regard for the England of my birth). I hate racism but can see no sensible way of organising a society other than civil nationalism and loyalty to the 'tribe'. This finds it's manifestation in a respect for the monarchy as a continuing institution ('though I don't like personality cults. Her Majesty seems like a very nice woman. I've met her daughter a couple of times. She's nice too). That's probably laziness, though. I just can't think of any reason to change the status quo. I'm not interested in repealing the Act of Settlement, either.

I work in the one of the poorest areas of Europe with people of little aspiration, with poor expectations of their often short, brutal lives. I see the hopelessness of their welfare-dependent, client-state existence. I see the crappy call-centre jobs they are offered and see that globalised capitalism has little to offer them either.

I look at the Left such as it is these days and don't see much to like. A bunch of grievance merchants and self-hating whiteys hitched up to a range of (often contradictory) causes - Gay 'Rights', Islamism, 'anti-racism' (i.e. bashing whitey), wimmins rights (Harmanesque man-hatred) and crazed, neo-pagan, anti-rational environmentalism, the Daddy of them all at the moment.

Am I right wing? Does it matter? Or is that just Tabletista dog-whistle politics?


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OpenID pontesisto said...

An excellent and thoughtful post!

11:41 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is a long post. It needs a long think.Even then is there any sense to be made of this crazy political mess we are all in? When we caste our votes in elections we vote for a named individual. Prehaps a good long think befor we put that mark on the ballot paper would not go amiss.

John Oliver

5:05 PM  
Blogger Martin said...

Very thought-rovoking post, Paulinus. Thanks.

7:17 AM  
Blogger Patricius said...

Thank you. You touch upon a problem that has long concerned me. The party of social justice appears to have been trashed by self-serving nutters.

11:02 AM  
Blogger Martin Meenagh said...

I was a member of the Labour party and found it hard to leave, but being in it was, as attempting to hold gainful employment or to be in any professional environment these days, an exercise in lying and self-delusion. The remaining members of the tribe saw me before I saw myself; they twigged that I didn't believe in their idols, or accept their ideology, and that I was in some way in the wrong with them. The abuse and confusion were comical.

Now, I am routinely characterised as 'right wing' when what I am is a catholic who also happens to see the benefit of reason without worshipping it. I really want not to be defined by negatives, but the amount of hatred and lies on cue these days 'on the left' shocks me. I believe in a mixed and common sense economy, but I can never seem to get on with materialists of either side, and I tend to fall in the centre.

You have a couple of years on me, Paulinus. I don't mean to go on so much about myself, so much as to speak about the dislocation that I think both of us feel when we look at politics these days.

You may have had more time to apprehend the truth than I; the living reality of God, the Church, and the Nicene creed and all that flows from them. But once seen, how could anyone leave these things and lie to themselves again?

Thank you for the post, and I hope that you do not mind the length of my comment.

11:04 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You might be interested in this on-line book about the relationship between Catholics and post-revolutionary politics:

12:33 AM  
Blogger Martin Meenagh said...

Thank you anonymous--I don't know about Paulinus, but I am interested in that, since my own doctorate was on John Hughes and the way his interpretation of Catholicism fed into debates there in the mid-nineteenth century. I see that the author you recommend comes from St John's University. The one thing I'd note is that it isn't a book about post-revolutionary politics, it's about counter-revolutionary politics. Are you not a fan of the ralliement either?

7:48 AM  
Blogger Martin Meenagh said...

By there--I wrote too quickly--I meant New York. Sorry for any confusion.

7:49 AM  
Blogger Paulinus said...


Your journey echoes mine. Pax vobiscum, brother, and to all here.

11:54 PM  
Anonymous English Catholic said...


It seems to me that in your rejection of the Left and discomfort with capitalism... you are... Catholic!

As you said in your post the terms 'left' and 'right' originated with the French Revolution. 'Liberalism','socialism','neo-conservatism' etc etc are just different ways of pursuing the erroneous post-Enlightenment understanding of 'freedom'. Ignoring the existence of God and the true end of human life (eternal happiness with Him) they see freedom as meaning the independence of man from that all that inhibits or restricts him.

Thus man is no longer bound by the moral law which seems to deny him 'pleasure', he is no longer bound to obey the commandments of the Church and is reluctant to accept human authorities unless they are made compatible with his own false idelogy, he need not regulate his own pursuit of wealth in order to advance the commom good and he need not place the common good before his own gratification. That the common good of society means its orientation towards the supernatural end of man as well as his natural end is utterly alien to him.

Obviously the varyious post-revolutionary ideologies have differing emphases but what they all reject (or in the case of some forms of conservatism downplay or reduce the pratical conclusion of) is the authority of God, the authority of His Church, the reality of sin, and the reality of eternal life and eternal punishment.

Unfortunately most Catholics have fallen to these errors in varying degrees, not due to malice but lack of instruction and the unrelenting pressure that modern society places on him to conform to 'enlightened ideology.'

The following Encyclicals of Pope Leo XIII should be essential reading for all educated Catholics:

Libertas, 'On the Nature of Human Liberty'

Immortale Dei, 'On the Christian Constitution of States'

Rerum Novarum, 'On Capital and Labour':

7:28 PM  
Blogger Paulinus said...

That's a very thoughtful response, EC.

You are quite right. As my consciousness of the Faith has become clearer my dissatisfaction with the artificial categories of political discourse has become clearer.

There are obviously some faithfl Catholic politicians and I admire them, but how they keep all the plates in the air I do not know...

9:19 PM  
Blogger berenike said...

And you should all read this book.

"Brilliant" (Martin Meenagh)

9:27 AM  
Anonymous English Catholic said...

Thank you Paulinus for your kind comment.

Reading over your remarks about racism and nationalism reminded me of these wonderful words:

"To be 'Catholic' means to love your country and to be second to no one in that love. And at the same time, to hold as your own the noble aspirations of other lands. —So many glories of France are glories of mine! And in the same way, much that makes Germans proud, and the peoples of Italy and of England..., and Americans and Asians and Africans, is a source of pride to me also.

Catholic: big heart, broad mind."

- St. Josemaria Escriva, The Way

2:14 PM  
OpenID agellius said...

I read once that conservatism as we use the term today, at least in the U.S., means conserving the principles of the American Revolution, i.e. individual rights and limited government. In other words what might have been called liberalism back in those days. Whereas liberalism nowadays basically means believing that individual rights and limited government don't work, because they allow the strong to prey on the weak. Therefore what we need is for the government to take over our society and make everything better.

Under this understanding I would say that I am neither liberal nor conservative. I'm Catholic. I favor whatever kind of government is going to respect the Faith and create conditions favorable to its promulgation, and not create conditions that place souls in jeopardy.

11:13 PM  
OpenID agellius said...

Having had the chance to read some of the other comments, I agree with English Catholic, and highly recommend the lectures of Dr. John Rao, available in mp3 format at He helped me to develop a much broader perspective -- a more Catholic perspective, I believe -- on history and politics than I had ever conceived of.

By the way this was a very good post.

12:01 AM  

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