These terms are tossed about without any clear definition; hence, we want to analyze these categories in terms of Tradition to see if a brighter light can clarify them. I will be using the analysis provided by Vladimir Solovyov in The Philosophical Principles of Integral Knowledge. Left and Right, as political categories, emerged in the aftermath of the French Revolution: the Left supported the aims of Revolution and the Right the status quo ante, that is, “Old Europe”. Solovyov describes it this way:
In old Europe human life received its ideal content from the Catholic faith, on the one hand, and from knightly feudalism on the other. This ideal content gave old Europe its relative unity and lofty heroic strength.
This is the content, then, of the Old Right: Throne and Altar, as it is often put, were the unifying factors in social life. The Revolution rejected that basis, but, as a purely negative movement, it had nothing to replace the old ideals. Solovyov explains:
The Revolution ultimately rejected the old ideals … but because of its negative character it could not provide new ones; it liberated individual elements, gave them an absolute significance, but deprived their activity of its essential foundation and nourishment. For this reason we see that the excessive development of individualism in the contemporary West leads directly to its opposite — a universal depersonalization and vulgarization.
Of course, from the Traditional perspective, it is impossible for the Revolution to provide the ideal for society. Without the transcendent ideals of the Spiritual Authority and the formal ideals of a hierarchic Temporal Power, there can be nothing but degeneration and vulgarization. Another consequence of the rejection of the hierarchies of Throne and Altar is egalitarianism. Solovyov backs this up:
The extreme preoccupation with self-identity, in not finding an appropriate subject for itself, is transformed into an empty and petty egotism that reduces everyone to the same level.
The result, then, was the replacement of the priestly and aristocratic classes by the bourgeois and proletarian classes. Since then, the Old Right has been ineffective and Joseph de Maistre‘s call for the “Opposite of a Revolution” never occurred. In the USA, the equivalent to the French Revolution was the War Between the States, which pitted the economic, manufacturing powers of the North against the landed quasi-aristocracy of the South. Old Europe, including the Vatican, tilted to the South, but its defeat led to the marginalization of the Old Right, not just in the USA, but also in Europe.
The Old Right persisted in some form, probably up until the time of its final spokesman, Russell Kirk. However, it never came close to gaining sufficient power to oppose the Revolution, managing merely to impede it from time to time. In the USA, it is also burdened by its association with the peculiar institution of African slavery, a factor which challenges its claim to the moral high road.
The Revolution, both in Europe and USA, has never fully resolved the relations between its Bourgeois and Proletarian components. While Fraternity, without a common spiritual heritage, is elusive, the Revolution did manage to effect a certain level of Freedom. However, the goal of Equality has never been met. In Old Europe, inequality was due to higher spiritual attainment or heroic valor. In the aftermath of the Revolution, which does not even recognize or admit to such ideals, inequality persists due to differences in wealth. Solovyov elaborates on this.
The only substantive distinction and inequality that still exists among people in the West is that between the wealthy and the proletariat; the only greatness, the only supreme body that retains actual power there is the mighty force and power of capital. The Revolution, which affirmed the principle of democracy, in reality to date has produced only a plutocracy. The people govern themselves de jure; but they are de facto governed by a very small minority—the wealthy bourgeoisie, the capitalists.
These then are the new Left and Right: the Left is the politcal movement of the Proletariat class along with its intellectual spokesmen, and the neo-conservative (neocon)Right sides with the Bourgeoisie. This neocon right pretends to be the rightful heir of the Old Right, although their ideal is Abraham Lincoln, rather than the Confederacy. To buttress this pretension, they also incorporate elements from the disjointed intellectual remnants of the old priestly class. These are called the “social issues”, although the interests of the Bourgeoisie always take precedence. Since the “social issues” have no independent class interest to represent them, they are mere window dressing and seldom find
anything more substantive than verbal support among the political power holders.
Hence, the Left and neocon Right each represents a different faction of the Revolution, so the Old Right is scorned by both. The interesting question that baffles the Left is why do the unwealthy neocon Right support the party of the Bourgeoisie? Apart from those dedicated solely to the social issues, there is the question of upward mobility, whether real or imagined. Unlike the closed aristocracy, the plutocracy potentially allows for movement, through “free enterprise” and “competition”, which is always “good”. Solovyov writes:
Since a plutocracy by its very nature is accessible to everyone alike, it remains a kingdom of free enterprise, or competition. But this freedom and equality of rights are far from being the direct result of the unconditional existence of inherited property, and its concentration in the hands of a small minority creates in the bourgeoisie a separate, privileged class; the overwhelming majority of members of the working class, deprived of all property despite its abstract freedom and equality of rights, in reality becomes an enslaved class of proletarians. However, the existence of the perpetual proletarian class, which constitutes the dominant trait of today’s West, is precisely in this regard denied any kind of justification. This is because, if the old order depended on well-known, absolute principles, the contemporary plutocracy may in its own interest rely on the strength of the fact, on historical conditions.
Hence, we see that the Revolution abolishes absolute or transcendent principles; in their stead, there is only the perpetual conflict of contingent historical events. The Proletarian classes use political power to try to extract wealth from the Bourgeoisie, while the latter seeks to consolidate and protect is wealth. Its supporters hope to become bourgeois through free enterprise; this happens often enough to make it seem plausible.
Since the Old Right is defunct without hope of restoring Old Europe, and the neocon right is a pretense, an alternative to both has arisen. This typically is called the New Right, or something similar. As yet, it appears to be an amalgam of various rightist movements without any unifying principle. It includes Tradition as just one among those many movements, so it cannot rely on Tradition for its absolute principles. It has a major task to define its vision, which necessarily must include roles for regenerated spiritual and political classes. Since there still is no consensus on a spiritual centre, it is more likely to devolve into another Revolution rather than its opposite.