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Canadian Politics

 
 

The meaning of left and right

An introduction by Henry Milner

 In this section we publish two articles that are on the same theme, yet could not be more different. The subject is the relevance of the left-right distinction for understanding and positioning oneself in the political world.

Patrick Webber argues that the traditional centre-left versus centre-right distinction is no longer the main cleavage in democratic countries. He notes that social democrats and conservatives share a liberal understanding of the political world, one challenged on each side in not dissimilar ways by the “alt-right” and “regressive left.” To meet the challenge from their respective extremes, the moderate left and right must first face up to this reality and combine efforts. In essence, Webber is endorsing the German approach, which calls on grand coalitions to ensure that it never again relives the experience of the thirties, when the democratic left and right fought each other, rather than taking on the Nazis, until it was too late. He could also point to Sweden, currently being ruled by a de facto grand coalition to ensure that the illiberal Sweden Democrats do not enter government (see the article by Patrik Öhberg and Elin Naurin in this issue).

In his contribution, Gad Horowitz, from a wide historical perspective, argues that there is something fundamental that continues to separate Canadian social democracy from the mainstream: the vision of a cooperative commonwealth. While he admits that this current is not as important as he found it to be in the 1960s, when he wrote his classic essay “Conservatism, Liberalism and Socialism in Canada: An Interpretation,” Horowitz refuses to accept that it has been extinguished in pragmatic NDP policy pronouncements – or that it should be.

While he does not spell it out in terms applicable to contemporary political debates, Horowitz clearly has something in mind that transcends the illiberal political correctness on the left that Webber objects to. In a sense, these thoughtful, clearly written articles, whose authors have little to say to each other, reflect the state of political debate on the centre-left. The latest version of the two solitudes?



About the Author

Henry Milner
Henry Milner is co-publisher of Inroads and a political scientist at the Université de Montréal.




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