It is sometimes said that the distinction between left and right in political terms is no longer there. Utter nonsense of course. The claim is usually based on the fact that some politicians or political parties that would traditionally be labeled as left on the politcal spectrum might indeed, once they are in a position to make policy, talk or act in a way that is in reality more right (and vice versa of course). But that is really due to the dynamics of politics, not to the underlying values of the person or the political party: those who have risen to power will often go to great lengths to maintain their position, even if this means making deals that are conflicting with what could be considered as their ‘natural’ position on the left/right axis.
But the difference between the two is still as valid as it ever has been – and indeed ever will be – because it is connected to a basic distinction in human nature. That fact was also what Bill Gates was referring to on the 2008 edition of the World Economic Forum in Davos when he said “there are two great forces of human nature: self-interest, and caring for others”. In basic politcal terms this comes down to right-wing being a quest for ‘a better me’ and left-wing for ‘a better you’.
In most people there is an internal mixture of the two forces, which is good, as there is only very rarely extreme value in extreme points of view. If you take a closer look, however, it becomes obvious that this left-wing quest for ‘a better you’ partly neccesitates efforts for a better me (as you cannot help others if you’re not in a good condition yourself). But that is not valid the other way around: people who are only interested in ‘a better me’ have no compelling reason to improve the situation of others to reach the goal that corresponds with their values in life. Which is why I could never consider myself as belonging to the right half of the political spectrum, or vote for a party that is clearly on the right wing. Especially because some of the parties on the right are exploiting the ‘us vs. the others’ mentality in a populist way that strongly appeals to the self-interest of people.
Yes, these are all very generalizing views. And I certainly don’t want to claim that everyone and every view situated on the left side of the political arena is by default better and less self-centered than everyone and every view of the right side, nor that there is no such thing as left wing populism. My aim is to point out in fairly easy terms what the basic difference is between political left and right. My kids asked this when they turned 18 and could vote for the first time. Unfortunately that’s already some years ago – I took my time to come up with this, but I was simply a much less philosophical person at the time. Hopefully it can still help them – and others – for future use.