Forward Party seems designed to bore and repel

Greg Nash

Earlier this summer, former Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang and former Republican Governor Christine Todd Whitman (N.J.) announced the creation of a new political party. Vaguely defined by design and explicitly “centrist,” the new Forward Party seems designed to bore and repel Americans. A bland rewarming of last century’s elite consensus is exactly what our political conversation does not need.

But the party’s tagline – “Not left. Not right. FORWARD.” – is interesting insofar as it seems to present a challenge to both the left and the right. The conceptual validity of the left-right political spectrum is today virtually never questioned by anyone on any side of any debate. Whatever we think when we’re debating politics, almost all of us accept the categories and definitions provided by the left-right paradigm, despite that those categories and definitions are never discussed or subjected to serious scrutiny. This intellectual laziness produces a host of strange, confusing and counterintuitive results.

The left-right framework in use today famously (perhaps infamously) finds its origins in the National Assembly of France, the short-lived representative body of the French Revolution, in which defenders of the crown occupied the right side, with generally anti-royalist and liberal (in the classical sense) groups sitting on the left side. Though we continue to use this left versus right shorthand today, it has become confused beyond redemption and totally incapable of telling us anything important about our current politics.

No one has explained this better than philosopher Crispin Sartwell, whose prescription is “to try to confront both sides with the fact that their positions are incoherent,” showing that, whatever their cultural or identitarian differences, the left-right divide certainly doesn’t represent “a clash between different political ideas.”

This may be difficult for Americans to confront given the importance we place on these cultural identities and tribes. Several insights from empirical evidence and political theory demonstrate the left-right spectrum’s inadequacy, incoherence and lack of predictive or explanatory power — its inability to tell us anything important about what’s actually going on in our social, political and economic worlds.

One of the most important, though under-appreciated, social facts of modernity and its institutions is the positive correlation between the size and power of government and the size and power of business corporations. While partisans of both the left and right carry on the quasi-religious pretense that corporate power and state power are at odds with one another, in the real world, they hold each other up, working together to create a coercive system of monolithic institutions in which the individual is powerless and alienated.

If we apply the tools and techniques of critical theory to the history of the modern corporation, we find that the first corporations were created by governments specifically and explicitly as vehicles of anti-competitive, inegalitarian privilege. This practice never went away. Indeed, as a number of leftwing revisionist historians have demonstrated, even when governments seemed to be reining in the power of large corporations, they were often serving that power, intentionally or otherwise, by laying the groundwork for industry consolidation and monopolization.

Such observations square with the empirical picture of the corporate economy, as we find that the most highly consolidated industries are some of the most highly regulated and controlled by government bodies. The left-right framework doesn’t even attempt to explain this — and it can’t, because its categories are inconsistent with observable reality.

The right needs to believe that corporate power is the result of a market process, that big business has simply out-competed and out-performed the rest of the field. The left needs to believe that government is just the expression of our shared faith in the common good, promoting abstract values like justice and equality. Neither of these narratives has much of anything to do with the history of the modern world, a history in which government and corporate elites have often been the very same people, moving through shared halls of power to create (not conspiratorially, but just as a matter of course) a system and land and resource theft and monopoly for their own benefit. If this sounds cynical to you, you may be a victim of ideology — either left or right.

Americans don’t need intentionally bland centrists to create a new political party, making minor tweaks to the existing moderate consensus. Instead, we need deep, structural changes and a new way of thinking about the social and political paradigm of state monopoly capitalism.

Whether we call this left or right is beside the point. The question itself is an outmoded distraction from the substantive questions we need to be asking and thus an impediment to real progress and change.

David S. D’Amato is an attorney, businessman and independent researcher. He is a policy adviser to both the Heartland Institute and the Future of Freedom Foundation.

Tags Andrew Yang Andrew Yang Christine Todd Whitman Christine Todd Whitman Corporate governance Corporatism forward party

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