Understanding the Basics of Political Ideology
Most political positions can be described using a limited set of political terms related to classical and social liberalism and conservatism.
Beyond this, terms that describe economic positions, like socialist and capitalist or free-trade and protectionist, terms that describe stances on the peoples’ relation to government, like “small d and r” democrat and republican, terms that describe social positions, like humanist and individualist, are useful descriptors in terms of political ideology as well.
In other words, we can use a few key terms that describe general ideology, paired with a few key terms that describe ideology pertaining to major aspects of politics like issues of state, social issues, and economic issues, to describe basic ideology. Then we can pair that all with single-voter issue stances, and thus paint a complex and accurate picture of a position.
While there are many different ideological positions that relate back to the aforementioned terms which help describe a give political ideology (for example internationalist vs. nationalist, globalist vs. nativist, individualist vs. collectivist, etc), the general idea of this page will be to focus on the most general and broad of categories (like left and right, and liberal and conservative).
Bottomline: To describe a given political ideology, we must consider general political positions and specific stances on key social issues, economic issues, and issues of state. We can then from there denote single-voter issue stances. Then pair this all to paint a complete and accurate per-issue picture (which can then, as a whole, be described by terms like left-wing and right-wing or liberal and conservative). We cover all of that below in as simple terms as possible.
Key Aspects of Political Ideology
Here are some key points that will help you better understand political ideology:
- People tend to have for or against stances on single issues. For example, a person is generally for an income tax, or against one.
- A person thus will tend to have a range of different stances on a range of single issues.
- A person’s stances will be affected by their political affiliation and identity. In other words, their party and others who share their politics will help shape their view.
- A person’s total view is their political ideology.
- How we describe a person’s political ideology depends on what stances they take.
- If a person favors the people, they can be described as populist, if they favor the elite, they can be described as elitist.
- If a person favors liberty, they can be described as liberal, if a person favors authority and order in the state, they can be described as conservative. Or more specifically, classically liberal or classically conservative respectively. These forms are called “classical” because they were the first notable versions that describe the classical political views from the mid-1600s to mid-1800s.
- If a person favors social equality and justice, they can be described as liberal, if a person favors traditional values and opposes equality-minded social reforms (and typically the associated regulation and spending), they can be described as conservative. Or more specifically, socially liberal or socially conservative respectively.
- If a person is populist, classically liberal, or socially liberal, even if they are otherwise right-wing or conservative, they can be described as left-wing (or having left-wing qualities in the case where they are otherwise conservative). If a person is elitist, classically conservative, or socially conservative, even if they are otherwise left-wing or liberal, they can be described as right-wing (or having right-wing qualities in the case where they are otherwise liberal).
- With that in mind, a “centered” stance is any stance in-between left or right, or liberal or conservative. This is different from ideologies with “mixed” stances. For example, communism and fascism mix left-right stances in extreme ways, and are not well described as “centrist.” Centered is more like classical “small r” republicanism.
- Thus, people’s political ideologies are informed by their own stances on single-issues and party stances, and these ideologies can be described by the terms classical or social liberal or conservative, left-wing or right-wing, authoritarian or non-authoritarian, and populist or elitist.
- Meanwhile, there are many different issues that have left-right, liberal-conservative, populist-elitist, authoritarian-non-authoritarian aspects that are important to a political view. These include the very important issue economics.
- In general all stances on specific issues relate back to the primary terms we have already used. For example, if a person believes in free-markets, they believe in liberty in markets… classical liberalism. Going issue by issue would take our simple page and make it complex. So instead of doing that, consider the following left-right chart to see where different positions fall.
TIP: Generally, one can consider liberal and left as one on the chart below, likewise they can consider conservative and right as one. Meanwhile, any left-wing or right-wing position can be authoritative or not, but generally if it is authoritative or elite it is toward the right in some ways, and if it is non-authoritative and populist it is toward the left in some ways.
|Paradigms / Main Thesis / Sphere of Action||Extreme Left Thesis / Antithesis||Left||The Left-Right Mean||Right||Extreme Right Thesis / Antithesis|
|Liberty||Extreme Liberty||Favoring Liberty||Balanced Liberty||Favoring Authority||Extreme Authority|
|Equality||Extreme Equality||Favoring Equality||Balanced Equality||Favoring Social Hierarchy||Extreme Social Hierarchy|
|Classical Government Type||Anarchy (Total Liberty and Equality)||Democracy||Mixed-Republic||Aristocracy||Tyranny (Total Authority and Social Hierarchy)|
|Political Ideology in terms of liberty.||Radical Classical Liberalism||Moderate Classical Liberalism||Centrism||Moderate Classical Conservatism||Absolutist Classical Conservatism|
|Political Ideology in terms of equality.||Pure Social Liberalism||Moderate Social Liberalism||Centrism||Moderate Social Hierarchy||Absolutist Social Hierarchy|
|Economy in terms of liberty.||Free Market||Lightly Regulated Market||Mixed-Economy||Tightly Controlled Economy||Economy Controlled by the One or Very Few (Centrally Planned or Oligarchy)|
|Social Programs in terms of equality.||Robust Social Welfare||Some Social Welfare||Moderate Social Welfare||Limited Social Welfare||No Social Welfare|
|Trade in terms of collectivism.||Globalism and Free Trade||Favors Free Trade||Mixed-Trade||Favors the Nation||Nativism and Protectionism|
|Natural Rights in terms of equality.||Social Collectivism||Favors the Collective||Mixed-Social Equality||Favors Individual Authority||Authoritative Individualism|
|Natural Rights in terms of liberty.||Individual Liberty||Favors Individual Liberty||Mixed- Individual Liberty||Favors Collective Authority||Authoritative Collectivism|