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Left and Right The Significance of a Political Distinction

ISBN 0226062465 / 9780226062464 / 0-226-06246-5

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Book summary

Politicians and pundits have long disparaged their opponents with polemicist cries of "leftist!" or "rightist!" But with the fall of communism and the recent conservative ascendancy in the United States and Europe, many commentators have flatly declared that the traditional left/right distinction has lost its relevance. Now, even as political players scramble to redefine themselves with freshly "spun" labels, Norberto Bobbio asserts that the demise of the left/right distinction has been greatly exaggerated.

Bobbio argues that left and right are not absolute terms, but represent a shifting map of the political spectrum, relative to the particular cultural and historical contexts of a given time. The distinction continues to endure because it reflects the essentially antithetical nature and dynamics of democratic politics. In his accessible yet provocative style, Bobbio constructs a historically informed, analytic division of the political universe along two foundational axes, from equality to inequality, from liberty to authoritarianism. He then charts the past and present tendencies of the left and the right, in both their more moderate and more virulently extreme forms. Ultimately, for Bobbio, the measure of post-modern democracy will indeed lie in where and how we situate ourselves relative to these critical left/right parameters, in whether we cast ourselves, our votes, and our era in terms of political expediency, social viability, or moral responsibility.

A bestseller in Italy, where it sold over three hundred thousand copies, Left and Right is an important contribution to our understanding of global political developments in the 1990s and beyond.


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