Democratic societies with universal suffrage and competing political parties experience a cyclical alternation of periods dominated by protest from the Left and retrenchment by the Right. The notion that politics conform to such cyclical periodicity is scarcely a new one: it is implicit in the most commonplace language of political journalism, which regularly uses such metaphors as “swing of the pendulum,” “rising and ebbing tides,” or “waxing and waning” forces, to describe events.
The conception of a Left/Right continuum along which parties, movements, regimes, and ideologies can be located has often been justly criticized,’ yet some such conception seems indispensable and invariably creeps back in hidden guise when the conventional categories are repudiated. I shall use “Left” to refer to programmatic demands for planned or enacted social change toward a more equal distribution of economic benefits, social status, and power, or, in unpropitious times, to the defense of an existing, achieved degree of equality against advocates of increased inequality....
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