For at least two centuries, the political battle in most democracies has been between conservatives and progressives. In particular, between those who want to maintain the status quo and those who want to question it; those who favour stability and those who want to shake up the status quo established by previous generations. Naturally, these distinctions are full of nuances in different countries, considering the different history, mentality, geopolitical situation and social divisions of each country.
Today, this divide has become even more complex: should we make a distinction, among the conservatives, the people who want to protect nature? Should the people who want to encourage and accept all types of technological and industrial innovations be considered as supporters of change? It could lead to classifying ecological parties on the right-wing and the supporters of the liberal economy on the left-wing.
Should those who support defending rural territories really be classified on the right-wing? And the defenders of big cities on the left-wing? Should the people who defend the national identity cause necessarily be classified on the right-wing and those who want a more open world on the left-wing? Is secularism, which is at the heart of French identity, not left-wing quest? And is not openness to the world an idea of the proponents of the market economy, which should rather be classified on the right-wing? Finally, is an authoritarian government necessarily more right-wing than left-wing?
It is clear that these concepts are evolving, the analytical grids are converging, new struggles are emerging, which do not overlap with the old ones. And it is increasingly difficult to reduce the political debate to two simple camps: there are conservatives and modernists on both the right-wing and the left-wing.
The policy evolutions have allowed some people to say that the left-right political spectrum divide is dead. Does that mean we have to give up on it? And to think that today’s struggle is in fact between progressives and conservatives, between those who defend the homeland and those who favour mobility.
The distinction between “open” and “closed” is certainly becoming more and more important.
Those who advocate for closure are those who defend an identity, a territory, and a cultural and natural heritage. If we were to follow this criterion, it should lead us to see the emerging coalition between the far right and the ecologists, which does not actually exist almost anywhere. It is therefore not a relevant divide. Because in reality, we cannot defend the environment by closing ourselves off: the climate has no borders; and it is not, for example, because we improve the situation of forests in one country that the situation of the world’s forests will not worsen.
Those who advocate for openness are those who defend receiving goods and people from elsewhere, in exchange for the individual right to mobility. If we were to follow this criterion, we should see an alliance between those who defend the right to receive migrants and those who favour free trade. But this is not an actual thing.
Thus, I do not think the distinction between conservatives and progressives, or between closed and open is still relevant. Or that the left-right divide wing is a thing of the past. It has taken new forms.
Never have inequalities in income, wealth, hope and social mobility been so high. Never has the fight for more social justice been more justified. Justice related to individuals, generations, social groups, and territories. And it is this struggle that brings together those who want to defend the weakest wherever they are, in factories, territories, abroad, or in future generations.
To bring these various concepts together and to find out where the new divide is leading us, it seems to me that we need to make a new distinction between those who think that we should only take care of ourselves and those who believe the best way to take care of ourselves is to take care of others. Between selfishness and altruism. Both perfectly respectable. Both favouring different values. Yet both can turn into unbearable caricatures.
Of course, there may be times when necessary reforms that are neither left or right on the policy spectrum, but are objectively useful to everyone, are delayed for too long by pusillanimous leaders, and lead to putting aside for a time the distinction between left-wing and right-wing. But this can only last for a period of time.
Altruism will prevail if it can convince us that it is also the most intelligent and effective form of selfishness; and that, for example, it is by helping rural areas that we will best defend urban areas; that it is by helping African development that we will best protect the interests of Europeans, and that it is by defending future generations that we will best prepare our own future.