The Left-Right Political Spectrum Explained
How to Understand the Political Spectrum
The left-right political spectrum is used to create a model that shows a spectrum of political positions. Traditionally there is a 2-axis spectrum of left and right, but there are also many widely adopted 4-axis model.
These models generally put political positions, ideologies, and parties like social equality, liberty, liberals, Democrats, etc on the left and social hierarchy, authority, conservatives, and Republicans on the right. This generally accepted starting point lines up with the origin of the terms left and right as you’ll see below.
Further, there are popular models that break positions into those of economy and those of force, creating a 4-axis model consisting of two different left-right paradigms. This “libertarian” model is very popular and will, like the traditional 2-axis model, be discussed below.
With that in mind, this article goes beyond history and current models and actually presents a unique take on how a more complete and accurate model can be created by examining additional left-right paradigms. The root of this is an argument that all of politics cannot be summed up by economy and force, and instead a true all-encompassing (pun intended) spectrum would be many pointed. Of course, including theory in the discussion means that this article goes a bit beyond political fact and into political philosophy.
With that covered, let’s move on to the political fact and philosophy behind existing left-right spectrums and spectrum creation.
The Essential Basics of Left-Right Politics and Left-Right Spectrums
In simple terms, both historically and in our opinion, favoring Liberty, Social Equality, and the Collective is left-wing, and favoring Authority, Social Hierarchy, and Individuals is right-wing. Meanwhile, the “mean between” is “center-wing“.
The 2-Point Political Spectrum
With the above in mind, a basic left-right paradigm (a political spectrum that shows left-wing and right-wing positions and a “degree” between them) looks like this:
|Favoring Liberty, Social Equality, and the Collective||The Mean Between||Favoring Authority, Social Hierarchy, and Individuals|
The concept here is:
- If one favors liberty, equality, and/or policies that affect the collective equally (like classical liberalism, social liberalism, or communism at the far-left), they are generally said to be taking a “left-wing” stance (they needn’t embrace all these things, just one or more). TIP: Other key left-right positions include a long list of positions common to liberalism or socialism in any form, for example tolerance and progressiveness.
- If one favors authority, hierarchy, and/or policies that favor some individuals more than others (like classical conservatism, social conservatism, or fascism at the far-right), they are generally said to be taking a “right-wing” stance (again, they needn’t embrace all these to be taking a right-wing stance). TIP: Other key left-right positions are those common to conservatism in any form, for example order and traditionalism.
- If one takes a balanced position on liberty-authority, liberty-order, social equality-hierarchy, in favoring individuals or collectives, or in favoring progress or tradition (like center-left liberals and center-right conservatives), etc they are generally said to be taking a “center-wing” stance. TIP: A mixed left-right ideology is different from a “centered” stance. Center-wing describes a mean position between the left-wing and right-wing on a given issue, not a mix of left and right stances. For example, Communism and Fascism are far-left and far-right ideologies with a mix of left and right planks, they are not centered (they are “far” from it actually). Meanwhile, true “small r” republicanism (the philosophical concept, not the party) can generally be considered center-wing due to it [ideally at least] using law and order to ensure justice and liberty in a free and democratic republic.
That basic political spectrum can then be applied to any political issue (pertaining to the use of state), economic issue (pertaining to taxes, spending, debt), or social issue (pertaining to the social and cultural) to determine one or more left-right stances (in absolute and/or comparative terms).
With just these factors considered we can expand on that logic to create many different (yet all equally accurate) models, For example, we could create:
- a simple 2-point model that considers only left and right (this can either imply a center and degrees between or not),
- a 4-point that separates the political left and right and social left and right (and can allow degrees between or not),
- a 6-point that considers the political, social, and economic left-right (with degrees or not),
- an 8-point that considers the political, social, classical economic, and social-economic left-right (with degrees or not),
- or, a many-point spectrum that tries to illustrate a range of left-right issues (each with or without a range of degrees considered).
There are many different ways to illustrate, explain, and justify the political spectrum, and many different models can be used to illustrate what the terms left-wing and right-wing mean in different contexts. The rest of the page will focus on exploring the complexities of the left-right spectrum.
Considering Some Complexities and Details
As eluded to above, for a proper left-right political theory that can illustrate actual left-right positions more clearly and accurately, we need to consider more than just a 2-point spectrum with a single “degree between.”
After all we have to grapple with complexities such as how far-left and far-right positions can end up looking a lot like each other in their authoritative and non-authoritative forms (for example, authoritative fascism can look a lot like authoritative communism, and left-wing anarchy can look a lot like right-wing anarchy). Likewise, we have to grapple with the fact that what we call liberal, conservative, left-wing, and right-wing in common language tends to be a placeholder for a complex mix of left-right ideology found in party platforms. Likewise, we have to grapple with the fact that social liberalism and social conservatism are complex left-right ideologies that mix classical and social planks from each side of the spectrum. The list goes on.
With that noted, before moving on to a more complex political theory that addresses the countless questions and gripes one might have (each of which is resolved with even this basic model if understood properly), here is a graphic that summarizes the above section:
TIP: See the Basics of Political Ideology to brush up on terms if needed. Having an understanding of the semantics we are using will help you to better understand our left-right political theory and its related models. Feel free to ask questions below.
The 4-Point Political Spectrum Which Considers the Classical and Social Positions
A slightly more complex version of the 2-point left-right paradigm (one that shows a larger “spectrum of degrees” and considers two left-right paradigms, one political and one social, at once) looks like this:
|Left-Right Paradigms / Main Thesis / Sphere of Action||Far Left Thesis / Antithesis||Left||The Left-Right Mean||Right||Far-Right Thesis / Antithesis|
|Liberty-Authority AKA “Degrees of Force AKA “Political” AKA “Classical” (Classical Political Left-Right; Like Classical Liberalism and Conservatism)||Extreme Liberty||Favoring Liberty||Balanced Liberty||Favoring Authority||Extreme Authority and Order|
|Equality-Hierarchy AKA “Social” (Social Political Left-Right; Like Social Liberalism and Conservatism)||Extreme Equality (Favoring all Individuals and Groups in the Collective Equally) and Progressiveness||Favoring Equality||Balanced Equality||Favoring Social Hierarchy||Extreme Social Hierarchy (Favoring Some Individuals or Groups More than Others) and Traditionalism|
Not only can we consider a left-right political spectrum like that (with more degrees and multiple paradigms), but we can also plot it on a traditional 4-point left-right spectrum (see the example below, it is one of many). This 4-point spectrum can also be drawn as a 4-point compass like the political compass at the top of the page.
IMPORTANT: The basic 4-point political spectrum (either presented as a table or as a chart) can work as a placeholder for considering any political, social, or economic left-right political issue. Unlike the first 2-point chart, this 4-point chart better distinguishes between the classical and social to be describe what we mean by the terms left-wing and right-wing. If I had to use one chart, the 4-point that considers political/liberty and social/equality would be it. This is because this 4-point can be applied to any issue, including the central left-right issue economics . The 2-point crams too many concepts in just two boxes, the 6-point treats economics as one thing (cramming too many concepts in one box), and the multi-paradigm is unnecessarily nuanced. That is my justification for the 4-point spectrum being the most useful. It is the one model that can say everything in one chart.
While the above political spectrum works as a good foundation for a left-right political theory, for a more nuanced theory we can and should also consider a number of other left-right paradigms based on other important social, economic, and political factors.
The 6-Point and 8-Point Political Spectrums Which Considers Political, Social, and Economic Factors
If we just want to look at general left-right economic, social, and political issues as a whole, we might illustrate all the above in a way that allows us to treat the very important “economic sphere” as a thing of left-right politics and to show its relation to the above paradigms.
In doing this we could treat economics as one thing to create a 6-point (political left-right, social left-right, economic left-right), but I am going to skip right over that because I find it to be misleading. Instead, let’s jump right into a 8-point which gives economics its own 4-way split, and instead of the term “political”, we will use the term “classical” for liberty-based economics.
|Left-Right Paradigms / Main Thesis / Sphere of Action||Left Thesis / Antithesis||The Left-Right Mean||Right Thesis / Antithesis|
|Liberty-Authority (Classical Political Left-Right)||Liberty in Terms of Issues of State (like classical liberalism)||Balanced Liberty-Authority||Authority and Order in Terms of Issues of State (like classical conservatism)|
|Equality-Hierarchy (Social Left-Right)||Equality and Progress in Terms of Social Issues (like social liberalism)||Balanced Equality-Hierarchy||Social Hierarchy and Tradition in Terms of Social Issues (like social conservatism)|
|Liberty-Authority (Classical Economic Left-Right)||Liberty in Terms of Economic Issues (like economic classical liberalism)||Balanced Economic Liberty-Authority||Authority and Order in Terms of Economic Issues (like economic classical conservatism)|
|Equality-Hierarchy (Social Economic Left-Right)||Equality and Progress in Terms of Economic Issues (like economic social liberalism)||Balanced Economic Equality-Hierarchy||Social Hierarchy and Tradition in Terms of Economic Issues (like economic social conservatism)|
TIP: Above the first paradigm is the classical (issues of politics), the second the social (social issues), and the last two economic (issues of economics in both the classical and social sense). Thus, this model covers classical and social liberalism and conservatism in the political, social, and economic forms. From there, we only need to consider sub-paradigms of those major left-right spectrums.
TIP: For my money, looking at multiple paradigms on a table like we do above is the best way to consider a left-right theory. That said, if we wanted to show the above paradigms on a chart we could make an object with more dimensions (which would be difficult) or we could simply put two of our 4-point spectrums side-by-side and call one “economic” and the other “sociopolitical.” In both cases they will line up with the basic political terms classical and social liberalism and conservatism. The latter, that is using two 4-point charts side-by-side would be my suggestion. Again here you’ll note I come back to the 4-point chart as a foundation, and that is what I mean above when I say it is to me the most important (even if more detailed charts are more useful for close examinations of left-right stances).
An Example of the “Multi-Paradigm” Political Spectrum Which Considers all Political, Social, and Economic Factors as Sub-Paradigms of the Other Spectrums
The paradigms above can help us to denote things like the basic left-right ideology behind classical, social, and economic liberalism and conservatism (as illustrated above), but since people and groups in-action have complex mixes of left-right views, and since some paradigms can speak to more than one left-right position at once, it’ll help to dig a little deeper and consider additional left-right paradigms.
For a few examples of other left-right paradigms, we could consider that the modern left-wing tends to favor progressive change, cooperation, and spending on social programs, and the modern right-wing tends to favor tradition, competition, and less social spending (austerity).
Then we can illustrate all those factors (progressive–traditional, cooperation–competition, social spending–austerity) and more on their own left-right paradigms (and/or place them in the above categories!)
Examples of other left-right paradigms that could fall under the above categories (and I, therefore, call them sub-paradigms) look like this:
|Paradigms / Main Thesis / Sphere of Action||Extreme Left Thesis / Antithesis||Left||The Left-Right Mean||Right||Extreme Right Thesis / Antithesis|
|How Fast Change Happens in terms of social equality.||Progressive||Favoring Progress||Balanced Progress||Favoring Tradition||Traditional|
|Social Programs in terms of social equality.||Robust Social Welfare||Some Social Welfare||Moderate Social Welfare||Limited Social Welfare||No Social Welfare|
|Trade in terms of collectivism.||Globalism (equality) and Free Trade (liberty)||Favors Free Trade||Mixed-Trade||Favors the Nation||Nativism (hierarchy) and Protectionism (authority/hierarchy)|
|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|
TIP: Imagine I listed every left-right issue possible above (something I should probably do and certainly do a bit more below), if that was the case, then we would go issue-by-issue, determine the leftness and rightness of a party or person’s position, and then aggregate the results in different ways to describe their position in absolute terms. That would be a formal version of what people generally do when they label things left-wing and right-wing. In real life people do an informal version that isn’t so easily explained.
TIP: In general, populism has a markedly classical left-wing quality to it, but in practice there is a populist left and populist right. The populist right is generally seen as socially conservative, this helps to show how the social forms are really a left-right mix.
Dealing With Ends, Means, Absolutes, Comparative terms, and Other Complexities
The paradigms can then be compared to each other for an “on average” left-right stance of an ideology as a whole, or in terms of classical politics, social politics, and economic stances, or applied per-issue and looked at that way, or used to denote comparative left-right stances, and more.
Then, from there we can denote the difference between “ends” and “means,” as a left-right stance can speak to ends, means, or a mix. For example, we could consider the ends of social spending to be left-wing, but the means of the authority and taxation needed to ensure that spending as right-wing (this being one of many examples).
For another example we can denote the “liberty for all” aspect of individualism, to be classically left-wing, but we can consider the resulting inequality and social hierarchy as having right wing qualities. Likewise, we can consider the “equality for all” aspect of collectivism, to be socially left-wing, but we can consider the illiberty that arises from this position to be classically right wing (TIP: See an essay on collectivism vs. individualism).
These sorts of complexities speak to why we have created a unique left-right political theory based on a range of paradigms rather than focusing on the Nolan chart model (like the PoliticalCompass.Org uses) which considers economics and liberty-authority only.
Lastly, we can note that we tend to use very loose semantics that differ per country in common political language, where for example in America we might call a mix of left-right issues that are socially liberal left on average “left or liberal” in common language (when really they would better be illustrated by a long list of left-right terms or more specific labels like for example American social liberalism).
We deal with other factors the above further down the page, and we present some different left-right spectrums to illustrate how this all fits together, for now let’s consider an above to a sufficient overview while we go over a few more details and then walk step-by-step back through everything we just covered and more.
TIP: Putting all the above together in one infographic looks like this:
Justifying the Left-Right Political Spectrums Above
The foundational terms used in the left-right political spectrums above can be confirmed in a number of ways.
The terms can be confirmed by considering the basics of political philosophy regarding basic political ideology and government types, especially in terms of the classical left/liberal/democracy and classical right/conservative/aristocracy, where Democracy (rule by “the many”) and liberalism are the ideologies of liberty and equality and are well represented by figures like Rousseau and Locke (left) and Monarchy/Aristocracy (rule by “the one” or “the few” respectively) and Conservatism are the ideologies of authority, order, tradition, and social hierarchy and are well represented by a figure like Hobbes (right).
Or, the terms can also be confirmed by considering the origin of the terms left and right at the start of the French Revolution where the political “left” and “right” were first used.
During the French Revolution of 1789 members of the National Assembly who supported the revolution and wanted “liberty, equality, and brotherhood” stood to the President’s left and supporters of the king who favored the Ancien Régime stood to the President’s right. Reporters subsequently referred to these groups as “the left” and “the right.”
In all cases, the classical terms and the events of the French Revolution (and other liberal revolutions against the conservative monarchs) speak to the classical left and right, they don’t speak directly to the social forms.
In other words, a careful examination of classical liberalism, left-wing, and democracy will show they all share basic ideology despite being unique terms, and likewise, a close examination of classical conservatism, right-wing, and monarchy/aristocracy will show they all share basic ideology despite being unique terms. That part is easy to confirm philosophically and historically.
Meanwhile, the modernly recognized social versions of these are more complex. A careful examination of social liberalism (and at an extreme communism) and social conservatism (and at an extreme fascism), show us that these mixed left-right ideologies we call left-wing and right-wing in modern terms are actually complex evolutions of the classical forms.
Today we might call an entire party right-wing or an entire party left-wing, or we might call one liberal and one conservative, but those general terms are only scratching the surface of the true left-right qualities of underlying a given party’s factions and platform positions. To accurately label ideological positions, it helps to understand how we can pair terms like classical, social, and populist left, right, liberal, and conservative to give a more accurate description of specific views. At the same time, it helps to realize that general descriptors like left-wing and right-wing actually have a range of meanings depending on context.
For more examples see: Plato’s Republic where he defines Democracy as the ideology of liberty and equality (and denotes the problems with pairing pure liberty with pure equality), Montesquieu’s Spirit of the Laws on the principles of Monarchy and Democracy, and an overview of social contract theory.
BOTTOMLINE: LEFT, LIBERAL, and DEMOCRACY is toward liberty, equality, and progressive change and RIGHT, CONSERVATIVE, and MONARCHY is toward order, tradition, social hierarchy, and authority. That two point spectrum is a really solid foundation that lines up with the original meaning of the terms left and right, and thus is a great starting point. From here it is just about working this basic concept into a complete theory of left-right politics full of paradigms and spectrums so we can properly address nuances and complexities.
Creating a Proper 4-Point Left-Right Political Spectrum
Above we gave an overview and justification for our left-right theory, from here forward the focus will be walking back through all the steps we took slowly with more justifications, illustrations, and explainers.
As you can see in the first table above (the one that illustrates the basic two-way split), defining the left-wing and right-wing like this gives us three positions (left, center, and right) that we can then consider in different ways, such as by considering extremes and degrees between positions (like we did a bit above and do more below).
This also brings up the general problem with the terms left and right (and the terms liberalism and conservatism by the way), that is:
1. We mean more than one thing when we say “left-wing” or “right-wing.”
Consider, in terms of semantics, when we say “left-wing” we either mean “socially left-wing” (like social liberalism) or “left in terms of liberty” (like classical liberalism), likewise when we say “right-wing” we either mean “socially right-wing” (like social conservatism) or “right in terms of authority” (like classical conservatism).
2. Even a single stance on a policy issue can require a mix of left-wing and right-wing positions (never-mind the many stances of a single political ideology).
Consider, in terms of logistics, a policy like single-payer healthcare is a social welfare program that seeks social equality (left), but requires in trade some amount of authority in terms of mandates and taxation (right).
Because of this complexity, it helps to consider at least two if not more left-right paradigms. Putting everything above together, we can represent the basics of a left-right political theory like this:
- “The liberty paradigm“ (the “classical” paradigm that deals with liberties) where “Liberal (favoring liberty) is left, and Conservative (favoring authority) is right” (see a discussion on classical liberalism vs. classical conservatism).
- “The equality paradigm“ (the “social” paradigm that deals with social equality) where Ideologies that favor the Collective (that favor social equality, collectives, and cooperation for example) are left, and ideologies favoring the Individual (that favor social hierarchy, individuals, and competition for example) are right (see individualism vs. collectivism or social liberalism vs. social conservatism).
On a Basic Left-Right Table that denotes the classical and social forms of liberalism and conservatism it looks like this:
|Paradigms / Main Thesis||LEFT: Not Conservative Enough / Too Liberal||The Left-Right Mean||RIGHT: Overly Conservative / Not Liberal Enough|
|Liberty vs. Authority (“the liberty paradigm“)||Favoring Liberty / Classically Liberal||Balanced Liberty/Authority||Favoring Authority / Classically Conservative|
|Equality vs. Hierarchy, Order, and Tradition (“the equality paradigm“)||Favoring Social Equality (Collective Focused) / Socially Liberal||Balanced Equality/Hierarchy||Favoring Social Hierarchy (Individual Focused) / Socially Conservative|
That gives us FOUR (not TWO) unique positions at once which line up with the classical and social liberal and conservative political identities (which allows us to better represent what people really mean when they say left-wing and right-wing): 1. liberty (of citizens) / Classical Liberalism (classical-left or liberty-left) vs. 2. authority (of the state) / Classical Conservatism (classical-right or liberty-right) and 3. collectivism (social equality) / Social Liberalism (social-left or equality-left) vs. 4. individualism (social hierarchy) / Social Conservatism (social-right or hierarchy-right).
Then these general ideological stances can be applied to any political issue.
Using the above logic we can then create a blank left-right spectrum that considers the liberty paradigm and equality paradigm on a 4 point XY chart (a chart on which anything pertaining to left-wing and right-wing can be accurately plotted).
And that is it, with that we have the basis of a left-right theory.
However, our groundwork so far only covers the foundation of what we need to know, it doesn’t touch on every detail (such as how to apply this to vastly different subjects like taxation or natural rights).
In other words, we need to apply more nuance and consider different “sub-paradigms” in different “spheres” of political life (to ensure our model lines up with semantics issue-by-issue and stance-by-stance).
Considering the Many Left-Right Paradigms
For a complete left-right theory we need to dig a little deeper and consider all the attributes behind the above terms.
This will allow us to see the wide range of factors that make a position “left or right”. It will also show that while liberty and equality are representative of the fundamental left-right or liberal-conservative positions, they are hardly the only factors we need to consider.
The table below shows some additional key left-right paradigms (I call “sub-paradigms,” as they are sub-paradigms of our main left-right paradigm) abstracted from the above terms to illustrate necessary nuances. This time we’ll add in more terms and more “degrees” of leftness and rightness to create “a broader left-right spectrum” for each term.
On how to chart these paradigms: In the chart below, we have denoted paradigms by names like “political ideology in terms of liberty” and “political ideology in terms of equality.” This allows us to compare these sub-paradigms to our main paradigms using a basic 4-point chart. When plotting a 4-point chart, any paradigm compared “in terms of liberty-authority” should be plotted on the vertical liberty-authority line (Y-axis), and any paradigm compared “in terms of collectivism-individualism or equality-hierarchy” should be plotted on the horizontal equality-hierarchy (X-axis). In this way, one can reuse the same chart over and over to consider any A…B left-right choices, including all the examples below.
|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|
Although the list above is not exhaustive (it is representative of an exhaustive list, it is not itself one), it is an example of one of the last keys needed to understand the basis of left-right politics (the other keys, like using comparative terms are discussed below).
Left-Right Politics and Ends, Means, and Mixes
Finally, in the above chart, we can see things like how a left-right position on a single social, economic, or political is very different from being classically or socially left-wing or right-wing in general, and we can see clearly (if we assume this model is correct) that most real-life political stances are mixed.
We can also see that left-right positions are at odds even with themselves when it comes to ends and means.
After-all how does one ensure individual liberty if not through authoritative collectivism, and will not individual liberty allow for individuals to become authoritative and ensure social hierarchy? Or likewise, is this same thing not generally true for equality? How does one ensure social equality or robust social welfare if not through the state? And in fact, we can see this is true for almost every aspect of every paradigm. Ensuring a thesis, often requires its antithesis (or in terms of left-right politics, ensuring a left-wing position often requires right-wing positions and ensuring right-wing positions can have left-wing effects or vice versa).
Said plainly, mixed positions aren’t just about ideology, they are about necessity, and single positions aren’t just about the position being taken, they are about the effects and the other positions needed to ensure them.
When a social left-wing liberal decries the free-market, they aren’t standing against liberty specifically, they are standing against individual authority and the unequal effects of it. When a social right-winger stands against progressive social welfare, they aren’t generally standing against equality, they are standing against the necessary taxes and authority. It is in these ways in which left-right politics is both necessarily complex and important to understand.
With all that covered, the point here isn’t to consider every implication of left-right politics, it is only to present a model to build on.
In terms of a left-right model, our simple two-way split can represent all the above paradigms (if we see them as metaphorical and applying to all issues of the social, economic, and political), our four-way split represents it much better by considering authority issues and social issues as their own thing, and then these “sub-paradigms” (which speak to other vital issues like stances on economics) tell the rest of the story (allowing us to speak in comparative and descriptive terms denoting comparative positions on an issue-by-issue basis).
That is a lot to consider at once, but don’t worry, we will go over everything we covered above below in detail.
Putting This all Together in a Left-Right Compass
Before we get into any more detail, for those who just want a solid left-right spectrum (and don’t want more on the theory of how to build left-right spectrums), a useful left-right compass that considers the the “liberty/authority paradigm and the “equality/hierarchy paradigm” AKA that considers liberty (left) vs. authority (right), collectivism (left) vs. individualism (right), and social equality (left) vs. social hierarchy (right), and which can be considered for any paradigm noted on this page, looks like this:
TIP: This spherical political compass works exactly like the square one, you can overlay any of the above paradigms and it’ll work (although to avoid confusion, I suggest keeping the Y-axis as an authority index and the X-axis as a social index, that is a matter of custom essentially upheld since the Nolan chart).
NOTE: The political compass /political spectrum above is, in my opinion, the most useful due to its spherical shape (which can be thought of as “a double horseshoe” where the top left and top right represents what we tend to call “far-right” and “far-left,” and the bottom left and right are the “libertarian” AKA “non-authoritative” left and right). This spherical shape, or double horseshoe, shows how similar extremely authoritarian positions can be and it shows how similar non-authoritative positions can be. Thus this model shows for example, why people confuse the WWII ideologies of Communism and National Socialist Fascism. Social left-right differences aside, there is only a thin line between extreme authoritarian ideologies and only a thin line between different left-right flavors of stateless governments… Still, the line is there, and these ideologies can be discussed issue-by-issue using the terms left and right.
BOTTOMLINE ON LEFT-RIGHT SUB-PARADIGMS: Again, to summarize: Favoring Liberty, Social Equality, Democracy, Liberalism, and the Collective equally (and all social, economic, and political terms that relate to this) is left-wing, favoring Authority, Social Hierarchy, Monarchy/Aristocracy, order, tradition, Conservatism, and Individuals unequally (and all social, economic, and political terms that relate to this) is right-wing, and ideologies that favor a balance between the two, like centered-republicanism and centrism, are “center-wing.”
Understanding the Above in Terms of the American Political Parties
To help illustrate the above concepts before moving on, let’s discuss left-right politics in relation to the American political parties in more detail.
This section will generally apply to any political party globally throughout history, but to keep it simple, let’s focus on a single country in the modern day (the country me the author knows best, the U.S.).
Each modern American ideology favors a mix of left-right views, this can be understood by understanding classical and social liberalism and conservatism, where generally speaking:
- Classical liberalism is “classically left-wing in terms of liberty” in that it favors liberty, the free-market, and democracy.
- Classical conservatism is “classically right-wing in terms of authority” in that it favors authority, planned economy, and aristocracy.
- Social liberalism is “socially left-wing” in that it favors social equality and social welfare, but “right-wing in terms of authority” needed to ensure social justice.
- Social conservatism is “socially right-wing” in terms of favoring social hierarchy, but “left-wing in terms of liberty” in its favoring of free markets and limited authority.
On a left-right chart (that uses our liberty and equality paradigms), those identities look like this.
With the above in mind, Modern Democrats tend to hold all views except social conservative ones (they don’t tend to be “right-wing in terms of social issues”), and modern Republicans tend to hold all views except social liberal ones (they don’t tend to be “left-wing in terms of social issues”).
Thus, in terms of left-right politics, Americans (much like the western left-and-right and even the global left-and-right) tend to hold a “mix” of left-right views that differs issue-by-issue (often holding conflicting views such as favoring both liberty and social welfare).
To express this we can say things like, “Republicans tend to be socially right-wing in terms of social hierarchy, but left-wing in terms of liberty (they tend to be socially conservative on some issues and classically liberal on others),” or conversely, “Democrats tend to be left-wing in terms of social equality, but right-wing in terms of authority (they tend to be socially liberal on some issues but classically conservative on others).”
Or, we could get very nuanced and go issue-by-issue, using comparative terms and denoting spheres of action, saying things like, “in terms of trade, I am to the left of a classically conservative Republican, in that I favor fair trade over protectionism, etc.”
These complexities are indicative of why we want to consider multiple paradigms when discussing left-right politics, and why we should use comparative terms and discuss left-right ideology issue-by-issue.
TIP: In America, we tend to call the Republican party, with all its many ideological factions with differing stances, right-wing and conservative. Likewise, we call the Democratic Party, with all its ideological factions with differing stances, left-wing and liberal. Despite this oversimplified naming structure, the parties are actually coalitions of political factions, each of who hold a unique mix of left-wing and right-wing views (with notable left-right differences often occurring within a given party and even within a given “wing” of a party). In America, the liberal-left tends to err on the side of collectivism and social equality (they tend to be socially liberal), and the conservative right on the side of individualism and social hierarchy (they tend to be socially conservative), but the reality is most people, parties, and factions within parties hold beliefs that span the political spectrum. To add confusion, the West was largely founded on classically liberal principles, and many western parties will find that almost all of a nation’s major political parties actually favor the same basic liberal principles (such as the basic liberties and rights found in the U.S. Bill of Rights).
TIP: When denoting a stance on an issue, terms like classical liberal-left, social liberal-left, classical conservative-right, and social conservative-right, and then add in terms of social issues, in terms of economic issues, or in terms of political issues of liberties and rights to provide clarity.
Other Considerations for Creating Left-Right Spectrums
From here we can then create a robust left-right spectrum of possibilities between extreme left-wing and extreme right-wing by charting and plotting the above paradigms (and other related ones featured below)… and subsequently, things can get a little complex.
To avoid getting sidetracked by complexity and semantics, it’ll help to understand a few things about left-wing and right-wing before moving on:
- The terms left and right come from the French Revolution where supporters of the King stood to the right of the President of the National Assembly, and supporters of “the Rights of Man and Citizen” stood to the left. The image below will offer a simple visual of this.
- The terms relate to the philosophies of great thinkers from Plato to Mill (who helped define the way in which we talk about and understand governments and related ideologies).
- The terms are synonyms with the government types Democracy and Monarchy/Aristocracy and the political ideologies Liberalism and Conservatism. The confusing part with left-right is the same as with liberalism/conservatism, that is the meaning of the government types Democracy and Monarchy/Aristocracy didn’t change, but the meaning of liberalism and conservatism did. Thus, we have to consider a classical left-right and a social left-right, and a classical liberalism and social liberalism, but relate both back to the static Democracy and Monarchy/Aristocracy. If we don’t do this, our semantics will be off.
- Left-wing and Right-wing are broad terms that relate to most political positions one can take on a given issue. In other words, left and right doesn’t speak to one thing, they speak to many related things. Thus, there are a number of different, but related, left-right paradigms to consider like progressive (left) vs. traditional (right) (how fast change happens), idealism (left) vs. realism (right) (whether we govern based on how things are or how they should be), cooperation (left) vs. competition (right) (whether we cooperate or compete). I.e. that multi-row left-right paradigm table above could have easily had many more rows.
- Despite each term relating to a number of different paradigms, there are two core paradigms that work well as a placeholder for any left-right split, they are “liberty and equality” (and their antitheses “authority and social hierarchy.”) We’ll use these terms as a foundation below letting liberty stand as a placeholder for all issues of governmental power and equality stand as a placeholder for all social issues. Remember, we are going into this knowing each paradigm tends to conflict and that this creates paradoxes!
- The terms left, right, and center are best used descriptively and comparatively per-issue instead of as absolutes (e.g. “left in terms of liberty in the social sphere as opposed to right in terms of social hierarchy”, or “right in terms of authority in the economic sphere as opposed to left in terms of liberty”). Since the terms mean so much, it helps to speak “in terms of.”
- Extremes are generally not desirable, and “correct” centers often don’t exist in the literal dead center. There are many ways in which, for example, extreme equality is actually right-wing and extreme inequality is actually left-wing. Again, we can combat this by saying “in terms of.” For example, anarchy is right-wing in terms of its lack of laws by which social equality can be enforced.
- Generally, all real-life ideologies are mixed, and people’s leftness or rightness differs issue by issue.
- The core of what left and right are doesn’t change, but some cultures and individuals might have different takes on the theory. After-all there is no physical object “left,” we are discussing theories and philosophy as it relates to political realism, but we aren’t discussing concrete and purely tangible things.
With all of that in mind, let’s start by discussing the origin and philosophy behind the terms a bit more (to ensure our foundation), then we’ll add some more logic before diving into left-right spectrums, comparative terms, and other details. Feel free to skip around the page or quest questions in the comments below.
TIP: If you take a Mises-like stance, considering Bill-of-rights individualism as left-wing, know that I don’t disagree. Much of this page covers the semantics of deceptively complex terms like individualism and collectivism (as does our section on individualism and collectivism; I can’t say everything at once, so try not to get sidetracked by specific terms and instead consider all the terms in each paradigm together for a full picture).
Moving Forward With Left-Right Paradigms and Complexity – More on Paradigms, Sub-Paradigms, Spheres, and Descriptive and Comparative Terms
Below we discuss some complexities that we have only noted above, but which are central to understanding left-right politics and political spectrums.
Our core terms liberty and equality generally relate back to what it means to be left (liberal) or right (conservative), both in their classical and social forms, be we talking about politics, economics, or other issues, and thus all other paradigms we create will all generally relate back to these two terms at the heart of the French Revolution, liberalism (and by extension conservatism), and democracy (and by extension Monarchy and the other classical forms of government).
From this perspective, we can consider all left-right paradigms as sub-paradigms of our “liberty paradigm” (the one that deals with governmental power) and “equality paradigms” (the one that deals with social equality and collectives).
These sub-paradigms include all of those listed above in the introduction, the following examples, other paradigms listed on the page, and paradigms in the section below.
For example, they include: free-market vs. central planning (a factor of economy and government), progressive vs. traditional (how fast change happens), idealism vs. realism (whether we govern based on how things are or how they should be), cooperation vs. competition (whether society is competition or cooperation based), collective responsibly vs. individual responsibility, flexibility vs. absolutism and rigidness, etc.
The vital concept here is that 1. there are more paradigms than I have noted and 2. all paradigms will always relate to the liberty and equality paradigms.
TIP: There is more to say then I can say quickly. One thing to note is that issues like economics and who has legislative power are realist factors and liberty and equality are idealist virtues. We root our system in idealism, but extend it into realism when we consider the multiple paradigms. We could do the opposite, and we present an alternative model that does below, where left and right become about factors like “who rules” and “who do the rules favor.” That said, like Plato, we root our system in idealism. Only unlike Plato, we also draw from Aristotle and root our system in realism too. In fact, as you can see above, we can treat the idealist v.s realist paradigm as a left-right paradigm itself.
Using Comparative Terms and Considering Paradigms in Spheres
Above I noted that we should use comparative and descriptive terms when discussing left-right politics, and if you think back to the mixed nature of policies and the conflicting terms inherent in social liberalism and social conservatism (or morality and economics), you’ll see that this makes sense.
By considering different left-right “paradigms“ (abstractions of single political concepts that are symbolic of what we mean when we say “left” and “right”) in different “spheres“ (in different areas of political life), for example by considering the “liberty paradigm” liberty (left) vs. authority (right) in the political sphere (what the Objective Standard calls “degrees of force”), or the “equality paradigm” collectivism (left) vs. individualism (right) in the economic sphere, or the “equality paradigm” social equality (left) vs. social hierarchy (right) in the sociopolitical sphere, or the “equality paradigm” globalism (left) vs. nationalism (right) in terms of trade policy and immigration, or even by considering all this at once in general left-right terms, we’ll be able to create simple and complex left-right spectrums that line up with philosophy, history, and modern semantics.
This will allow us to compare and contrast the political left-ness and right-ness of ideologies accurately, per-party, and per-issue in terms of stances on social issues, the state, and more to create complex left-right descriptors like: “left in terms of liberty“, “to the left of X ideology in terms of favoring a large collective equally via social policy“, “right in terms of authoritative nationalism exclusive to a small group of nationals“, “to the left of Y ideology in terms of economic policy that favors economic equality without the use of right-wing authoritarianism“, “right in terms of favoring social hierarchy and protectionist policy, compared to an ideology that favors free-trade and globalism“, or “left in terms of freedom from government via good old classical liberal liberty“, etc.
Extremes are Corrupting in General
The reality here is, as I’m sure you’ve realized already, pure left and pure right are almost too simple and absolutist to be actual forms of government or political ideologies in practice, and this fact is compounded by the truism that extremes [of liberty and equality] corrupt democracy.
Just consider these extremes, a collective with no authority is bound to dissolve into anarchy, a society of individuals with absolute authority is anarchy, an individual with complete authority is a despot, and a state with absolute authority is a despotic state.
The extreme forms of left and right and even “left-right” are all fertile ground for tyranny, and can be difficult to even tell apart (again, why people can’t agree on if Hitler or Stalin is left or right)!
Simply put, pure left, pure right, and even extremes of mixed-left-right are some of the worst ideologies in practice for large groups (although some pure forms work in sub-groups in very specific situations; such as in a rule-abiding and elite unit of Marines or a small communal democracy).
NOTES ON OUR LOGIC: There are a lot of factors to consider here: spheres (like left-right economics, or left-right politics), paradigms (like liberty vs. authority), virtues (like equality or liberty), comparative terms vs. absolutes, the mixed nature ideologies, etc, and that can be confusing. The idea here is to start simple by looking at liberty, equality, and the roots of left and right in the French Revolution. The goal of all this is to be able to consider and compare specific left-right paradigms with policy stances in the political sphere, in the economic sphere, in the social sphere, etc issue-by-issue to get a true sense of the leftness and rightness regarding a given policy or ideology.
Avoiding the Creation of Left-Right Spectrums that Don’t Align With Semantics
Using the above logic will help us to avoid the complications found in other left-right spectrums (like the one’s discussed in the article The Political Spectrum: Understanding the Grossly Misunderstood), such as:
1. The following 2-point left-right paradigm which tries to consider everything at once, but which we can say is considering the paradigm globalism (left) vs. nationalism (right):
LEFT: Communism -> Socialism -> Liberalism <- Centrism -> Conservatism -> Monarchy -> Fascism :RIGHT
Or, 2. this “liberty paradigm” that only considers liberty vs. authority, sometimes denoting it as “degrees of force” (but in doing so changes the definitions of left and right):
AUTHORITY “LEFT”: Communism -> Fascism -> Conservatism <- Centrism -> Liberalism -> Libertarianism -> Anarchy :LIBERTY “RIGHT”
Neither of those paradigms are fully wrong, but neither aligns fully with what we mean when we say left and right, and that is why a more complex theory is being used here.
On some issues, communism and fascism are polar left-right opposites, but on other issues (like their stance on liberty), they often find themselves holding the same authority-right position. In this respect, placing broad ideologies with many different stances on a simple 2-point chart that tries to consider everything at once is always going to miss the mark in some ways.
TIP: Another popular choice is to use economy as one paradigm and authority-libertarianism as another. The problem with this is discussed in a few places on this page, but the basic complaint I have is that economics is complex, and although it is foundational to governments, it is not a single A…B issue that speaks to the heart of what it means to be left or right (rather nearly every real life economic position is a complex mix of left and right positions). A left-winger doesn’t “just want to plan an economy,” their ideology of social equality or collective liberty for all is about much more than this. It is for this reason that we consider economy to be a very important sub-paradigm, perhaps even the third most important, but it is an awkward replacement for the general sentiment of equality… as the desire for equality is more fundamental to the human condition and is not purely economic). This is the main problem I personally have with the political compass and Nolan chart. Using the terms “libertarian-authoritarian” in place of “liberty-authority” is just a nominal difference (although I strongly prefer the term liberty which speaks to liberalism), but using economy in place of the social paradigm (rather than applying both paradigms to economy and treating economy as sub-paradigms) is where I think other compasses get off course. I explain this more in the next section.
Notes on Other Left-Right Spectrums; Why We Used Slightly Different Paradigms Than Other Left-Right Spectrums
PLEASE READ: Sorry if the page is currently wordy. It is a work in progress. From this point forward the information is still useful and insightful, but it is slightly disorganized for the moment while I re-work the page (an ongoing effort)… e.g. if you get bored, consider scrolling around at this point.
Speaking of models that don’t work that well, let’s talk about two that do: the political spectrum from politicalcompass.org (the better of the two), and the very useful the Nolan chart (the original spectrum from the 1960’s).
Our theory expands upon and (in my humble opinion) improves upon these models (it adds to, not replaces these excellent and useable models).
My only real complaint with the aforementioned models is that they don’t explicitly consider the many left-right paradigms of social issues, economy, governmental power, morality, ideology, etc that we do.
Consider, our model treats economy as a paradigm that can be laid over our basic model just as easily as a paradigm related to church and state or realism vs. idealism. Meanwhile, their models require us to always focus on the realist and empirical sphere of economics for every issue!
In my opinion, they got the “liberty/authority” paradigm right (treating it as a social paradigm that differs by focus on individual or community), but “miss the mark” (just slightly) on what we denote as the “equality/hierarchy” paradigm (treating it as an economy paradigm that differs by focus on individual or community).
Their models, which both use the same general paradigms, will essentially output the same results as ours in most cases, but where their model’s require guesswork and a focus on economics, while our model comes with a cheat sheet of very explicit paradigms that can be laid over our basic liberty and equality paradigms.
In focusing on economy, and focusing on it as one absolute thing (and not a thing that differs issue-by-issue in terms of trade, social programs, military spending, etc), their paradigms miss the bigger picture and thus invite in confusion when discussing complex mixed ideologies like social liberalism or fascism.
Again, to avoid these complications, when distilling this all down to a simple XY chart, we use the terms “liberty and equality” as placeholders for all our left-right terms related to politics in any way (moral, economics, theological, socioeconomic, political, etc).
Free speech, for another example, doesn’t have an economic measure. However, it does have an equality and a liberty measure.
Remember, we aren’t looking for a purely empirical theory (where the economy argument becomes stronger), we are looking at this in terms of semantics and ideals too (what we mean when we speak).
If we just consider economy and authority, then Stalin and Hitler both call for an authoritative planned economy for nationals only, and thus a left-right chart that only considers economy and authority would paint these two in a similar way. However, when we go issue by issue, we find real left-right differences in terms of social issues between despotic fascism and despotic communism (even if both are equally authoritative).
I can’t hold a moral in my hand, but when people say “left-wing” they are sometimes denoting nothing more but a moral stance, thus we must consider other “spheres” beyond the purely physical and economical here.
I.e. I get that people want to speak in terms of economy, as it is a very central issue regarding politics, but I am being left in terms of idealism here and pointing out that we have to consider the ethical and moral spheres; not just empirical senses (right), but idealist sensibility (left)…. that is if we want to output a model that lines up with semantics and philosophy.
Notes on political identities and left-right politics: An anarchist is for total liberty, but can be left or right on social issues. To be anarchist, or libertarian for that matter, or classically liberal, or non-authoritative social conservative means to be toward liberty (but it does not set all left-right issues in stone… even if it does inform them). Now, generally a social conservative will be toward the right of a social liberal on most social issues, but certainly not on every one. Further, the reality is, in comparative terms, some socially conservative groups are to the left and right of each other issue-by-issue. We can call fascists right-wing and an anarchists left-wing, but if we dig in issue by issue we can see that this is oversimplifying things. A given ideology will have members and groups that are comparable to the social, political, or economic left and right of each other with stances that change per issue. If we compare only Communism to Fascism, then generally communism is left and fascism is right, however if we go issue-by-issue and group-by-group, we can see clearly that positions change group-to-group, wing-to-wing, and issue-to-issue. Our multi-paradigm model above accounts for this, as do our simpler models, and it’s an important thing to keep in mind (when for example trying to plot an ideology as a whole on a chart). We could probably sum this up by saying ideologies tend to span a range of positions on a 4-point left-right chart in general and can span the whole chart in some cases if we go issue-by-issue.
Notes on the “Spheres of political life”: We can apply our left-right theory to many different specific ideological stances in many different “spheres of political life.” We can consider issues in (but not limited to) the broad spheres of economy, diplomacy, state, and society, or the more specific spheres of equality-hierarchy, markets-planning, nationalism-globalism, liberty-authority, tradition-progress, or the even more specific spheres of a single issue like reproductive rights, food assistance, military spending, etc. Any issue we can consider, nuanced or broad, can have a left-right stance applied to it in terms of at least liberty and equality. In all cases, our basic 2-point and 4-point spectrums can inform which position is which. The result should be a left-right label that lines up with our modern semantics and the cannons of philosophy. TIP: See the 8values political chart for an example of treating ideology as a complex left-right mix of different stances (which is what we do when we create left-right paradigms from different “Spheres of political life”).
Notes on economics, taxation, and left-right politics: Economics is complex when it comes to left-right politics, and in no one place is this more clear than on the subject of taxation. Semantically, and in terms of our model, favoring freedom from government is liberty-left, yet at the same time favoring taxation for the common good is equality-left. On the same token, favoring freedom from government also ensures social hierarchy-right (and its implied social inequality-right), yet at the same time favoring taxation for the common good is also authority-right. In this respect, the best way to denote stances on taxation would be classical liberal-left, social liberal-left, classical conservative-right, and social conservative-right. If we accept this as true, then we can confirm that our model which uses that two way (and then four-way) basic split is the correct model. When we consider economics, we want to consider that vital paradigm as at least one sub-paradigm, if not many (for example, the paradigm of trade, the paradigm of taxation in terms of liberty, the paradigm of taxation in terms of equality, the paradigm of spending, the paradigm of how much say people should have, etc).
Notes on the semantics of economics: Generally, when people say “economically left” in the modern-day, they mean the social liberal position (spend, tax, and regulate). Meanwhile, when they say “economically right,” they can mean a range of things. They can mean a flavor of fiscally conservative and elite austerity paired with protectionism (they mean don’t spend, do tax, and deregulate business), or they can mean socially conservative populist protectionism (they mean don’t tax, deregulate business, but regulate social issues). Meanwhile, when people say “economic liberalism” they are denoting a position of liberal spending paired with free-trade and deregulation (what a neoliberal might do; neocon is a more socially right-wing version of this). The terms we use are often simple, yet their connotations are often more complex than just being “left” or “right.” For all these reasons and more it makes sense to consider economics a sub-paradigm, not a foundational paradigm (which has often been the practice by other authors; which is one reason why we are harping on it here).
Notes on general semantics: Consider, using the above paradigms alone we can make nuanced statements like “in terms of economy I am left-wing in that I favor a free-market; I’m liberal in this sense” (here we are discussing liberty in the economic sphere). Or we can say, “Hitler wasn’t a left-wing liberal in most respects. While he was left-wing in terms of favoring social welfare for his nationals, he also favored social hierarchy, extreme authority, nationalism, a mostly planned economy, and protectionism. We call that socially conservative, but authoritative, collectivist ideology fascist.” In other words, treating left and right as multiple paradigms and using descriptive terms allows us to speak with accuracy and nuance (or to decode what people mean when they use terms like “far-right” and “far-left” to describe mixed social liberal or social conservative ideologies). Semantics like “in terms of X” and “in the X sphere” help us to better denote exactly what we are talking about! Broad statements like “I am left,” don’t tell our audience much about our position.
NOTE: “Hierarchy” is in some respects simply a nice way of saying “inequality” (the antithesis of equality in some ways). People don’t generally want “inequality” (they don’t want to “favor individuals unequally”), instead they have stances that require inequality as an effect (like “not wanting total equality by way of central planning”). Given this, we can denote the stances against “social equality” as “social hierarchy.” This gives us four positive stances… instead of three positive and one negative (which would not be fair to the paleocon “hierarchy-right” “social-right” social conservative right-wing; after-all, part of their stance actually speaks to classical liberal liberty-left values applied to the “social sphere.”).
NOTE: One might note that unlike other left-right theories, we do not treat economics as a fundamental left-right paradigm. Instead, we treat it as multiple paradigms (as social spending, as taxation, as trade, as monetary policy, as a position on central banking etc) to which the above paradigms can be applied to determine the leftness, rightness, or centrism of a position. We don’t do this because economics isn’t central to political ideology and the state, we do this because this reflects the complex left-right economic stances actual people and parties have in practice (more on a justification for this below).
NOTE: To be clear a given person or political faction can hold a mix of the above ideologies in general, or on major issues like “liberties and rights,” “immigration,” “taxation,” “spending,” or even “economy in general,” or on any single issue broad or narrow like “school choice in general” or “funding for a specific arts program in particular,” or on any aspect of the aforementioned. These views can connect or conflict, for example one could want total liberty, but not inequality, or one could want total equality, but favor liberty even if it means hierarchy as a result. Still, any given position can be described as right-wing or left-wing, as can ideologies in general.
NOTE: Any choice can be broken down into an A…B choice (a binary choice with degrees in between). Either one wants liberty on an aspect of an issue, they don’t, or they fall somewhere in the middle. Either there is equality in access to healthcare, there isn’t, or its somewhere in the middle. In this way a left-right stance can be denoted on any sociopolitical issue.
NOTE: Some of the factors in the paradigms above conflict almost paradoxically (and thus one might ask, “how can pure egalitarian social liberalism, anarchy, and pure liberalism all be left, they conflict with each other?!”). This isn’t a mistake any more than Plato made a mistake when he defined Democracy and explained how it could devolve into anarchy. The tension and conflict simply speaks to why left-right politics is tricky to get, should be considered issue-by-issue, and is hard to break down in a single two-point chart (as that would force one to consider liberty, social equality, economics, and favored government type at once for example).
Left-Right Politics as the Questions Behind Government: Who Do the Laws Favor and Who Exerts the Force
There are, with all the above in mind, other ways to frame the core concepts behind left-right politics.
In other words, we don’t have to just focus on “the virtues” of liberty and equality, we can also look at two factors behind the closely related questions “who rules” and “who makes the laws?”
“Who Rules?” The Realist Question at the Core of the Political Spectrum
Due to an economy of words it didn’t make sense to bring up this point before, but it is a key to understanding the overarching theory here and directly related to the foundation of governments, so let’s discuss it now.
The main question that creates the left and right, and the traditional forms of government is in many ways the same, it is: “who rules?” (classically meaning who makes the laws, not just who votes for officials) which can be understood by two more questions:
- “How much authority does the government have?” <- liberty-authority
- “Who says so?” (which almost always nets the same result as asking “who benefits?”). <- equality-inequality
We can then call the basic political affiliations that arise from this:
- Non-Authoritative Collectivism (“Left-Left” or “Liberty-Left and Social-Left”)
- Non-Authoritative Individualism (Left-Right or “the Liberty-Right and Social-Right” )
- Authoritative Collectivism (Right-Left or “the Authoritarian-Right and Social-Left”)
- Authoritative Individualism (Right-Right or “the Authoritarian-Right and Social-Right”)
We can also, look at the same thing another way, looking at:
1. the question “who do the laws favor” (equality paradigm) and 2. the question “who is exerting the force (or who is giving true consent to the force being exerted)” (a sort of equality paradigm)?
In these terms:
- When liberties are applied equally and/or benefit all, when there is a focus on collective equality rather than the individual, but when the ideology is not authoritative, it is “collective liberty“ (“the liberty left”, where “left” is the “social left”, toward collective equality).
- Likewise, when the focus is on the individual rather than the collective, when individual liberty is favored over collective equality, but there is otherwise limited state authority, it is “individual liberty“ (“the liberty right“, where “right” is the “social right”, favoring individualism over collective equality).
- Next, when authority is used to ensure collective equality or even personal liberties, when authority is used to ensure social equality, it is “collective authority“ (“the authoritarian left“).
- Lastly, when hierarchy and order are favored over collective equality, it is “individual authority“ (“the authoritarian right“). With that said, we can use the same terms when speaking of “who is exerting the force“.
Notice that no matter how we phrase this, as an idealist’s virtues of liberty and equality, or as a realist’s take on “who rules,” the results are the same. We get four flavors of left-right that differ by stances on authority and social equality.
Consider the following left-right spectrums in this respect:
A liberty vs. authority and equality vs. “inequality” (AKA individual-focused) paradigm plotted on a simple 4-point left-right spectrum chart.
A four-point chart again, but this time denoting terms to describe each quadrant (where pure right-wing is at the top right corner, and pure left-wing is at the bottom left corner, and moving toward either from a more centered position denotes moving toward the political left or right respectively):
TIP: If one were to balance Liberalism with Republicanism and Democracy with Aristocracy, perhaps by separating historically overpowered powers, one would be expected to approach the “left-right mean” AKA correctness AKA balance. What a novel idea, why didn’t anyone think of… oh, wait. The philosophical point of the United States and the U.K. and the west in general. It is all, very loosely speaking, about balancing excesses and deficiencies of “liberty” and “equality”. #ThanksFounders.
Complexities of Individualism and Collectivism
Speaking on the above, complexity arises due to the fact that the person exerting the force isn’t always acting in their own self-interest.
The Queen may say “we” and create a classically right authoritarian state, but may do this in a way that respects rights and liberties of all (in a way aligned with “the general will“), thus the Queen would be being far-right in terms of governing style but very left in terms of social policy.
Likewise, the Tyrant Stalin or Hitler may say they are acting upon the will of the collective, but may strip the people of their rights and liberties, thus they would be acting far-right in many respects despite their on paper ideology.
Real systems are very complex, and specifically individualism vs. collectivism is very complex (like economics, there is more than one sub-paradigm buried in those terms)! Our model is meant to help us to decode complex real systems.
Again, as noted above, the complexity isn’t a statement on the model not being right, it just speaks to the complexity of politics, why we should consider things comparatively and per-issue using different paradigms, and generally “to why the answer is balance“.
TIP: With the above in mind, we can also show the left-right spectrum like this (this time adding in explainers and focusing on the question “who does it favor?”).
Considering Different Left-Right Spheres of Political Life
Left-right paradigms can be applied within different left-right spheres. Understanding this helps us to understand why, for example, an ideology might be left in terms of social issues, right in terms authority, but left in terms of economics (i.e. why they may hold a “mixed” ideology not just per-issue, but per-“sphere”).
An non-exhaustive list includes:
Left-Right Politics (the paradigms of the left-right political sphere). Most political left-right paradigms fit generally in what we can call “the left-right political sphere). We can discuss this sphere in terms of left-right social issues, left-right economics, left-right governments, etc as noted below. This section is all about making distinctions so we can differentiate between left-right views in politics, economics, social issues, etc.
Left-Right Governments (the paradigms of the governmental sphere): Another way to look at it is that popular governments like Democracies are left and authoritative governments like Monarchies are right (although this is somewhat tautological as the government types relate directly to the above underlying factors in general; as both democracy and liberalism are the ideologies of liberty and equality and conservatism and monarchy the ideologies of authority and inequality AKA hierarchy). See types of governments and Plato’s five regimes.
Left-Right Economics (the paradigms of the economic sphere): When considering governments and political ideologies, it makes sense to consider economics (as it is very foundational to a society). Here a regulation on a business may be “left” because it favors the collective by favoring the environment and workers, but “right” because it restricts the liberty of an employer. Likewise cost assistance may be left, as it favors low-income, but right, as it means more government-mandated taxes. Issues of economics should be considered separately from social issues and issues of personal liberties, as they are different aspects of an ideology. Paradigms for economics could include, for example: “state-controlled economy (right, controlled by the few) vs. individual run economy (left, controlled by the many)” and “taxation (right, authoritative) vs. no taxation (left, liberty)”. Of course, any of these should be compared against social equality paradigms, as a nation that does not care for the social welfare of the collective is by its nature more right than one that does (the way in which big government and taxation can be socially left despite its right-wing aspects). We can see how economics can lead to complex left-right systems where a socialist and libertarian can’t fully square out who is left of who as an absolute! TIP: Consider also left-right globalization paradigms, where we can denote free trade vs. protectionism, isolationism vs. imperialism, nationalism vs. internationalism, nativism vs. globalism, etc. In all cases, the ideology that favors the large group is generally “to left in terms of collectivism”, although it may be “to the right” by other measures.
Left-Right Classism (the paradigms of the class sphere): Another way to describe the factors underlying the left-right spectrum is by a classist divide. This would include looking at the paradigm: populist (left) vs. elitist (right). A chart I can’t draw might plot this as a Z-axis, but we could also here remove the individual vs. collective axis and add this populist axis (creating a populist vs. elitist / liberty vs. authority chart; thus differentiating between authoritative populism and not, and left-wing populism vs. right-wing). Consider, the KKK and NAZIs are far-right in general, but they are also in some ways “left” in terms of being anti-establishment and favoring aspects of individual liberty. Generally, “populist” is a liberal collectivist ideology and “elitist” is a conservative individualist ideology… however, socialism is authoritative collectivism, and this is obviously a left-right ideology, and “Tea Party” populism is a liberal individualist philosophy in that it wants the liberty to be progressively conservative. So again, things get complex, but like with the governments left-right paradigm, it is all analogous to the equality and liberty paradigms (in that, generally speaking, a populist movement is a collective movement against the authority of another group or individual whether it is left or right-wing).
TIP: Don’t confuse the political left and right with Democrats (left) and Republicans (right), that is a good starting point, but a little overly simple due to the complex ideologies of the parties in practice. See our breakdown of the modern American left and right for a little more nuance or see the original meaning of the party names.
More Notes on The Mixed Nature of Left-Right Ideologies and Their Complexity
Given the above, we can say there is not one primary left-right factor to consider, but at least two that must be considered simultaneously!… and this means almost all ideologies are “left-right” in practice.
Consider, an authoritative collectivist, a liberal monarch, and a free-trading-republic with a strong central government. Each is left on one paradigm, but right in the other.
- The freedom to own a slave is left, but the act of inhibiting the freedom of another is far-right.
- A despot using the state to ensure morality and social justice in a puritanical way is left in terms of policy that favors the collective, but right in terms of the authority needed to ensure that policy.
- A collective that only accepts one type of person is to the right of a collective that accepts all types (why Communism is to the left of the NAZI’s National “Socialism”).
- Taxation is right-wing in and of itself, benefiting or inhibiting some individuals more than others at the demand of the state, but its ends of providing funding for the common good (like locals roads) benefits the whole collectively equally, and is thus that aspect is left.
- A libertarian society based on pure freedom (save some basic rules) is far-left in terms of liberty, but right in terms of individualism (as pure freedom means inherent inequality).
- A socialist utopian commune based on pure equality is left in terms of favoring the collective, but to enforce total equality of all things is to exert authority, and that is right!
- Meanwhile, a society that offered the same freedoms as the purely libertarian one, but somehow also provided a strong safety-net, would be “to the left” of the libertarian utopia and the socialist utopia due to it favoring the collective over individuals and liberty over authority.
In all cases, the left and right labels work, but as we can see, most ideologies are “mixed”. In practice, one must typically either sacrifice liberty for collective social welfare, or sacrifice protections for more individual liberties.
This speaks to the balance needed in governance and politics, and makes giving accurate left-right labels complex in absolute terms.
TIP: Keep in mind, as noted above, all collectives are comprised of individuals. Thus, an individualist ideology, like libertarianism, can favor a collective by extension of its focus on individual liberty, and a collectivist ideology like “socialism” can sometimes limit the liberty of the individual by its focus on the collective. In both cases, it is using two left-right paradigms at once that helps us understand that these are both “mixed” left-right ideologies. The liberty of libertarianism is left, but the focus on the individual is right. The authority of a collectivist ideology may be right, but its favoring of the collective is left. Again, to expand on an above example, a benevolent monarch is right in terms of individual authority, but may be left in terms of their treatment of the collective. The more nuanced we are, and the more we discuss left and right qualities issue by issue, the better we can understand an ideology on paper and in practice and compare it accurately to other ideologies.
More on the Origin of the Terms Left and Right
With the above basics noted, before expanding on the above theories, let’s return to the easiest and most accurate metaphor for what left and right, origin story of the terms left and right themselves. We covered this above, but musing on it a bit more in the next section will help the skeptical reader to re-confirm we are on the right track.
Confirming the Fundamentals of Left-Right Politics
As eluded to above, not only are these terms the core of La Révolution, they are also the core of what defines the government types, liberalism and conservatism, populism and elitism, and many of the terms we identify with politically (even “Democrat” and “Republican” to some extent; even those are “mixed” political parties consisting of different factions and different left-right policy stances, their namesakes, current forms, and different policy stances speak to aspects of the left-right split).
The fundamental underlying “virtues” of Democracy (as defined by Plato in his Republic), Liberalism, and the French, American, and English Revolutionaries are well stated as “liberty” and “equality” (“Liberté, égalité, fraternité” as they say; AKA the principles of liberalism meant to temper conservatism). These ideologies express the desire for an “excesses” of liberty and equality (as one can see in documents like the Rights of Man and Citizen).
Meanwhile, fundamental principles of traditional Monarchy / Aristocracy, conservatism, and the opposition to the revolutionaries of each country, like the Ancien Régime in France (those “old orders” whose principles are: hierarchy, order, and tradition AKA the principles of conservatism, that which tempers liberty and equality) sought what we can call a “deficiency” of liberty and equality (they wanted more authority and hierarchy and less liberty and equality).
Given the above justifications from the classics and the revolutions (specifically the French Revolution where our terms come from), we use underlying virtues “liberty” and “equality” as a foundation, relating that to the basic political ideologies, relating that back to the basic government types, and basing our left-right spectrums and working off of that.
Because we have grounded our left-right theory in these political constants derived from history’s real governments and philosophies, it will generally work as a model that aligns with modern semantics, politics in-action, and the classical usage of terms.
For more reading, see The Origin of the Political Terms Left and Right.
Where do the Political Terms Left and Right Come from?
As noted above, the terms left and right themselves come from France in and around the time of the French Revolution in the late 1700’s.
During the French Revolution of 1789, supporters of the king stood to the president’s right, and supporters of the revolution to his left.
This is to say, The citizens who wanted democracy, individual liberty, and social equality stood to the left <—— of the President ——> and, the supporters of the Aristocracy, Monarchy, and King (“the few”) who wanted order, tradition, social hierarchy, and authority stood to the right.
The above “left-right paradigm” doubles as a basic “classical” 2 point political spectrum. To simplify things: LEFT, LIBERAL, and DEMOCRACY is toward liberty and equality and RIGHT, CONSERVATIVE, and MONARCHY is toward order, tradition, social hierarchy, and authority (this is the basic original two-way split, in practice we want to consider liberty and equality separately rather than together).
Like the American Revolution around the same time, or England’s Glorious Revolution in the late 1600’s, the French Revolution was a liberal revolution over human rights vs. the absolute and divine right of kings (see history of human rights and birth of liberalism).
Specifically, the terms “left” and “right” first appeared during the events leading up to the French Revolution of 1789 when members of the National Assembly divided into supporters of the king to the president’s right and supporters of the revolution to his left.
In other words, at the National Assembly at the dawn of the French Revolution, the ideology that supported the traditional order, hierarchy, and government of “the one” King and “the few” aristocrats was called “right”, and the ideology that favored the collective rights and liberties of “the many” was “left”. And this of course fits with the models presented on this page.
The French Revolution: Crash Course World History #29. This will help put things in context.
TIP: See Left and Right: The Great Dichotomy Revisited for a more complete telling of the significance of the terms left and right. The opening chapter of the book describes the French origins of the terms in vital detail.
TIP: Even though the Queen says “we”, she is still right-wing toward social hierarchy. Even though individualism is right in absolute terms, its effects can be very left (liberal and equal) if all are free in their right to pursue their unique life, liberty, and happiness. These complexities speak to why this page is long and not short, not to the validity of the theory. We grapple with complexities below.
TIP: Leftism, like liberalism in general, can be seen as a pushback against the pyramid-shaped social order seen in the “estates” of France of the time of the French Revolution. The image below offers a visual of all this. Notice that the “barons” of the third estate (the oligarchs of the middle-upper-class) gained their liberty too, this complicates things and we should remember the Barons’ wars and the Magna Carta that did little for the workers or peasants (a Barons’ war is different than a Peasants’ War, is different from a Workers’ revolution, so to speak; this is true even though they all tend to rebel against the first two estates speaking in terms of the French Revolution). Learn more about Plato’s Republic and his class system, or see an explanation of the modern American class system (as it compares to the Estates of the Realm).
Left-Right and Governments, Using Plato’s Five Regimes as a Metaphor
With the above in mind, in terms of origins, we can also look to the philosophers of pre-Hellenistic Greece to confirm the basics of the theory.
In terms of Plato’s five regimes, each step away from Monarchy and toward Democracy can be said to be more “left” (Plato never used the term “left” or “right”, but he did coin the types of governments and offer theories of liberty and equality in his theory of justice from his Republic).
Thus, in Plato’s terms, each subsequent government from Monarchy to Democracy sacrifices order and inequality to gain more unrestrained liberty and equality:
RIGHT: Monarchy (pure lawful order and hierarchy) -> Aristocracy -> Timarchy -> Oligarchy -> Democracy (pure lawful liberty and equality) :LEFT
But don’t get too excited thinking i’m somehow favoring liberty and equality, nothing works well in extremes, even the core principles of liberalism… and certainly Plato postulated that it was none other than unrestrained liberty or equality that led to anarchy and tyranny.
In fact, while Plato didn’t exactly love monarchy, he greatly preferred the order of constitutional monarchy to the excessively liberal and equal democracy (hinting, as hopefully, you’ll pick up by reading this, that it is a tempered balance of the powers, rooted in a lawful Republic in which we find the balance that maximizes liberty and equality).
EXTREME RIGHT-LEFT: Tyranny (pure lawless order and hierarchy) <- -> Anarchy (pure lawless liberty and equality) :EXTREME LEFT-RIGHT
From this point, with the above political compass and the rest in mind, one only needs to deal with the points eluded to above about complexity, namely, that a Tyrant who favors the collective is to the left of the tyrant who doesn’t, and that pure lawless individualist focused anarchy is to the right of an egalitarian commune focused on social welfare with the same degree of liberty.
Plato: The Republic – Book 8 Summary and Analysis. To help frame the types of governments.
TIP: When considering origins and using classical terms, we also have to consider the government forms from Plato’s Republic and early Greek works on politics. We cover this below, but it can be expressed as: RIGHT: Monarchy (pure lawful order and hierarchy) -> Aristocracy -> Timarchy -> Oligarchy -> Democracy (pure lawful liberty and equality) :LEFT. As you can see this lines up with our theory perfectly (and it should, we built our theory around the origin stories and what we mean when we speak).
TIP: The importance of going issue by issue can’t be overstated. Utilitarianism is a great “left” “collectivist” theory that seeks to maximize liberty, equality, and happiness… when understood properly via a close reading of Mill. However, when taken to mean “the ends justify the means” – Period – it can result in some far-right means that really pervert Mill’s socially minded classically liberal theory. To apply left-right labels, one would look at each “mean” and the desired and potential “ends” and think on the left-right qualities of each. From this one could create a full picture on not only the correctness of the action, but its left-right properties. This could help one understand if the ends were a just balance of forces, or were skewed perhaps resulting in undesired outcomes.
TIP: There is no one way to understand left-right ideology, but our paradigms (especially the simple ones) are fairly accurate none-the-less. Our left-right spectrum models are similar to the popular “Nolan Chart” (which in my opinion, outside the chart on politicalcompass.org, is the only other correct model). I highly respect articles like “Political “Left” and “Right” Properly Defined” by the libertarian-minded theobjectivestandard.com, but their liberty-focused ideology has left them only considering one paradigm (and thus missing the bigger picture). The modern deregulatory right-wing likes to consider the social left-wing as being right-wing, but as we explain, this is only true in the liberty/authority paradigm, not the collective/individual paradigm. When we add in additional paradigms below, we will see things get even more complex. See us myth bust an “alt-right” claim that Hitler was a left-winger using this logic.
More on Basic Liberal Vs. Conservative Political Ideology Spectrum – What is the Difference Between the Left-Wing and the Right-Wing?
As noted above, historically speaking, the simplest way to understand left-right ideology is: liberal is left and conservative is right.
Also noted above this relates to the authority and collectivism vs. individualism paradigms.
With this information covered, let’s focus on the political core of all this, conservatism and liberalism.
Below we will better define those political terms so we can be clear on their meaning.
- Liberalism (AKA classic liberalism) typically being a fight for liberty, progress, and democracy and against authority. It supports the individual liberty and individual authority of the people, but at the expense of collective liberty and collective authority of the state. At its worst, it is lawless anarchy or a tyrannical mob.
- Conservatism (AKA traditional conservatism) being a push toward tradition, order, and authority and away from liberalism. It favors collective authority via the state, but at the expense of collective and individual liberty and individual authority. At its worst, it is a tyrannical dictatorship.
- A third concept, Socialism, is a populist movement rooted in late 19th century Marxism, that is typically to the left on most issues. Conservatism stands against this as well, as does classic liberalism. It favors collective authority via the state to ensure collective liberty, but at the expense of individual liberty and individual authority. At its worst it is also a tyrannical dictatorship.
These three types then break into four types as socialism informs liberalism and creates social liberalism and then social conservatism stands against that. We break this down in detail on our liberalism vs. conservatism page, but here is the gist:
- Liberalism is an ideology that grew out of the Age of Reason as classic liberalism (individual rights, anti-authority; a rejection of Kings, humans have natural rights), and evolved into social liberalism (collective rights, pro-authority; a rejection of social injustice, authority and law are needed) in the mid-1800s.
- Conservatism stands against both types of liberalism as classical conservatism (collective rights, pro-authority; Monarchy is the best system, revolution is wrong) and social conservatism (individual rights, anti-authority; anti-social justice and anti-big government).
Without getting into further details, here is how the types of liberalism and conservatism look on a left-right spectrum chart:
Understanding Left-Right and the Classical and Social Forms of Liberalism and Conservatism Illustrated Above
As you can see, like other aspects of the theory, these terms fit neatly on the chart. However, these terms are complex. Social conservatism uses classical liberal liberty and classical conservative authority, social liberalism uses classical liberal and classical conservative principles, classical conservatism all but classical liberal, and classical liberal all but classical conservative. In other words, each type is rooted in one quadrant but pulls from two other quadrants, really only opposing one quadrant. That complexity helps explain the key to finding balance in general (and applies to other charts), but also makes it too complex a spectrum to lead the page with.
Try comparing the above chart to the one below with important American figures on it. Here the left-right model shows that the ideologies of these past figures are best described as “mixed”:
TIP: Left and right are largely comparative terms, and are thus best applied specifically to an issue rather than broadly to a party, period, or nation. This is what creates “mixed systems”, you’ll note throughout this page that extremes are bad and lead to tyranny and most real world ideologies are “mixed.”
Who is Left and Right in American Politics? It is important not to get too caught up in modern politics when trying to understand the concepts of left and right, as the American political parties ALL have aspects of “left” and “right.” Generally, Democrats are “left” and Republicans are “right,” but this isn’t true on every issue. For instance, Republicans have a lot of classical liberal beliefs regarding individual liberty and deregulation, while taxes favored by the Democrats can be considered authoritatively right, despite funding programs that are socially left. See our page on the basic political parties if you feel unclear about what we are saying. You can also get a deeper understanding by looking at the difference between individualism and collectivism.
Complex 4 Point Political Left-Right Spectrum – Representing Actual Political Views
This next chart considers socialism and libertarianism, rather than just liberal and conservative. Thus this chart moves some things around, is more complex, and is more opinionated than the above charts (the more examples we give, the more likely there will be disagreement).
Our chart uses modern political terms, and we can draw similar conclusion to the “The Political Compass charts,” but we disagree with other spectrums like this. There are four basic quadrants of political leftist and rightist thinking based on individualism and liberty/anarchy, and collectivism and authority. These quadrants can be named using modern language and our model of basic political parties.
- Social Libertarianism (Chomsky) / Social-tribal-commune type Socialism (Marx as a philosopher) (Non-Authoritative left-left).
- Modern Social Pro-business Liberalism (Clinton, Keynes, and Mill) / Big Government Socialism, Communism at an Extreme (from FDR all the way to Lenin or even Stalin or Hitler) (Authoritative left-right).
- True Libertarianism (Robert Nozick and Ron Paul) / Classical Liberal (Locke, Jefferson, and Jackson) (Non-Authoritative right-left).
- Conservatism (Tories, Hamilton, Churchill, Thatcher, or King George III; It changes with the times) (Authoritative right-right).
TIP: The chart below uses different terminology than the other charts. These are “theories” AKA “models” for understanding the concept of left and right. No single chart is absolutely correct, they instead should be contrasted and compared.
The Left-Right Spectrum as Multiple Paradigms
As noted above when discussing sub-paradigms, we can add further complexity by considering other left-right paradigms and applying them per issue to a government type, political party, platform, piece of legislation, or ideology.
As noted above, real life governments, politicians, and people have mixed political views that don’t fit neatly into any one category.
This helps explain why, for instance, modern American liberals are often seen as authoritative, using executive power to push progressive legislation, or are seen as favoring the collective and small groups like unions or vulnerable minority groups.
The Left-Right Paradigm Table – Creating a Complex Left-Right Political Spectrum
The left-right political spectrum can be expressed as overlaying individual paradigms related to political ideology.
TIP: Each paradigm in the table below can be compared using an XY axis like our charts above. It is my opinion that these paradigms are the key to truly understanding left-right politics. My theory may not be perfect, but given the Nolan chart and my research, I am very sure we are on the right track here.
TIP: For those with a deep interest, check out Aristotle’s deficiency and excess as it relates to governments below (or see a discussion on how it relates to virtue here). Ideally each left-right paradigm should have a “mean”, a balance in which correctness is found and then two extremes. For a very rough example, the “mean” of cooperation and competition may be “healthy competition and cooperation”. This side-note likely merits its own page, so let’s put it aside for now.
TIP: This left-right paradigm table is like the one near the top of the page, but phrases things a little differently and uses some different paradigms not covered above.
Left- Right Paradigm
|How much authority do people have? (Who has authority)||
Anarchy (Liberty) / Authority
|Who says so?||
Collective / Individual
|For the benefit of who?||
Everyone / Someone
|Do we cooperate or compete?||
Cooperation / Competition
|Do we rule with compassion or reason?||
Empathy and Ethics / Logic and Reason
Empathy and Ethics (idealism)
Logic and Reason (realism)
|How fast does change happen?||
Progressive / Traditional
|How restrictive are the rules? (how authoritative are laws?)||
Liberal / Conservative
Liberal (not restrictive)
NOTE: It is tempting to confuse “Anarchy” and “Liberty”, but we placed them side-by-side to avoid this. Liberty is a key underlying principle of western democracy, but true Liberty can only be accessed through laws (pure freedom is anarchy, not what most people think of when they say liberty). Anarchistic communes and individual anarchy do not recognize laws and only work in small groups, not as government systems that want to promote liberal principles. This general complication was well stated in Plato’s Republic where he considered Democracy and Anarchy as one due to both favoring liberty.
TIP: The empathy vs. reason one is a little like the liberty paradigm (everyone has a mix). All we mean here is that where a mother may act with compassion, a father may take a more rational approach. Both are acting out of love, but one is taking a more realist stance. Consider Hume’s fork (I’ve always thought David Hume “right” with his empirical approach, but really that sensory data is a “realist” thing and Kant’s reason is “idealist”). There is an essay of complexity just in that one point and I’m very sure complex cases can be made. Still, here reason is best equated with empirical evidence, as Pure reason has a certain idealist quality.
NOTE: This chart is not exhaustive per-say, I’ve already noted other paradigms in the page (such as in the left-right economics section) where we looked a free trade vs. protectionism, isolationism vs. imperialism, nationalism vs. internationalism, nativism vs. globalism. We can also look at other aspects like rationalism (left) and empiricism (right). Feel free to contribute to the overarching theory by commenting below.
The moral roots of liberals and conservatives – Jonathan Haidt. This video looks at the moral differences between liberals and conservatives. It looks at five moral factors: purity, in-group, authority, fairness, and harm, any of which can be compared as a duality in a fashion similar to the above paradigms.
TIP: I don’t want to highlight this part of the theory, as people get touchy about the terms “male and female… With that said, all left-right paradigms can very generally and metaphorically described as “feminine” (left) and “masculine” (right) traits. For example, empathy, ethics, the seeking of fairness, compassion, nurturing, caring, and other (very loosely and metaphorically speaking) “feminine” traits are “left”, and cold logic, order, strength, fear, protectionism, militarism, and other (again loosely and metaphorically speaking) “masculine” traits are “right”. Here we can generally equate “the feminine” with the general concepts of mother, democracy, the collective, and liberty, and then generally equate “the masculine” with the concepts of father, monarchy, individual, and authority. Of course, just like in real life, the lines blur. If you want know more about how I relate left-and-right back to the male and female characteristics, see a page on the left and right as naturally occurring.
“How Many People Get a Say?” The Underlying Aspect of Government
We touched on governments above in the origin story of left and right, and we discussed them in terms of how they apply to our theory, but let’s return to them now as they are an important part of the overarching conversation.
The basic government types (of which all other governments are generally a sub-type), clearly illustrated by Plato (Republic) and Aristotle (Politics), focus on “how many people get a say?” and are based on their observations of real government types. The table below describes these types, and then the chart below plots them as “left” and “right”.
The Political Spectrum and Basic Types of Governments (see a Visual of this here)
How Many People
One – Right
Tyranny (or Mob Rule).
All acting as one tyrant, sometimes under a single tyrant.
Monarchy (or Dictatorship)
(Single leader, minimal democratization of power if any.)
Few – Left-Right
(class based on wealth, power, and social status; rule of money.)
(class based on birth, power, and social status; or election; rule of law.)
Many – Left
(everyone has representation or votes directly.)
TIP: There is more than one way to express the concepts in this chart. One could easily place mob rule under Democracy. This is a simplified chart to express left-right and basic types of government. Most governments are complex variations of these.
TIP: These are the basic government types, are based on the works of Plato and Aristotle. See Aristotle’s political theory, see Plato’s Republic.
Left-Right Political Spectrum Infographic (With Basic Governments)
The following image compares the basic government types discussed above into a more complex chart illustrated based on the authority vs. liberty and collective vs. individual paradigms.
Notice the authoritative democracy that Conservatives fear, and the lawless isolationism that Liberals fear? Notice how both are versions of authoritarianism?
This chart helps make sense of why Libertarians and Socialists share certain ideals, while “the establishment” on both sides share other ideas. A close inspection of this chart and America’s 2016 election is telling, to say the least.
TIP: Consider how government types work for different size groups. A bigger group needs more authority than a smaller one to function well. A careful inspection of the spectrum, from behind “a veil of ignorance“, and with complexity considered, makes spotting sticking points and addressing them oddly simple conceptually. In real life, we have to factor in bias.
TIP: Consider that most governments, especially large Democratic ones like America, use many different government styles and embrace ideas from across the political spectrum.
Understanding the Left-Right Governments Infographic Better
In the infographic, we see how each government type needs at least two left-right qualifiers to describe their left-ness or right-ness. For instance, a Dictatorship is right-right as a single individual has complete authority, and Mob rule is on the opposite side of the X axis, it is left-right because everyone has complete authority. Both types are tyrannical, one born from Democracy and one from the authority of a ruling class.
We can compare this chart to any of the other qualifiers mentioned in the table above. So we may consider a centered right-right Republic, and then ask “how progressive is this specific Republic?” If we find they are very progressive, then they are, on the aggregate, more left.
Notice how, no matter how we compare and contrast, the extremes are not a good thing. A quick glance at the graphic makes it apparent that most people are centered left-right.
America is a type of mixed Republic that employs elements of all the quadrants. If we then consider the branches of government and all the groups that form in America, we can see a single country can span just about every point on the chart, and that no one view is “always correct.”
How Big Should Government Be? Left vs. Right #1. This YouTube series by PragerU takes another look at the left-right paradigm. This is a right-leaning video and a good lesson on rhetoric. See how their theory contrast with or theory of left vs. right.
“Real liberty is neither found in despotism or the extremes of democracy, but in moderate governments.” – Alexander Hamilton
Hamilton knew as the Greeks did that freedom can only be found in a centered law, to find the center we must have balance and avoid extremes. The American Republic is meant to strike a balance between law and liberty (or Authority and Anarchy).
Noam Chomsky: On Power and Ideology | The New School. Here is some Chomsky to balance out the PragerU.
Looking at the Basic Political Spectrum in Another Way
To end, I want to stress the theme that when we look at the spectrum, we have to look at each issue and not get side-tracked by ideology and bias.
When Lincoln freed the Slaves, he was using an authoritative form of democracy and executive power for the benefit of the collective on behalf of his supporters (roughly half the country). Exerting that power was very “right-wing”, but it was done in a “left-wing” way that favored the liberty of the collective over the authority of individuals. This paints a complex picture that leads to debates over subjects like “did the American political parties or platforms switch?”
When we discuss a real-life ideology, we can call it left or right, but it is typically going to be “mixed.”
For instance, Social-liberalism favors collective authority (of the state) to ensure collective liberty (of all people as a group). It does this at the expense of individual liberty (of a given person as an individual) and individual authority (the freedom of individuals to be their own boss); Think socialist utopia and central planning as extremes.
Meanwhile, Classic-liberalism favors individual liberty and individual authority at the expense of collective liberty and collective authority; Think total free-market, unregulated capitalism, and the individual’s right to own indentured servants at an extreme.
Depending on context both the above ideologies could be described as left or right, because ultimately liberty always requires some amount of authority to ensure.
- “Left–right paradigm” Wikipedia.org
- “Left–right politics” Wikipedia.org
- “The Political Compass” PoliticalCompass.org
- Political spectrum Wikipedia.org
- Left-wing politics Wikipedia.org
- Right-wing politics Wikipedia.org
- centrism Wikipedia.org
- the 8values political chart
- “Divine right of kings” Wikipedia.org
- Gauchet, Marcel. “Right and Left.” In Pierre Nora, Lawrence D. Kritzman (Eds.), Realms of Memory: conflicts and divisions. New York: Columbia University Press, 1997 ISBN 0-231-10634-3
- Historiography of the French Revolution
- Left and Right: The Great Dichotomy Revisited Edited by João Cardoso Rosas and Ana Rita Ferreira (NOTE: See introduction).
- “The Political Compass charts” Politicalcompass.org
- “The Nolan Chart” Wikipedia.org
- “Political “Left” and “Right” Properly Defined” Theobjectivestandard.com
- “What is the difference between the left wing and the right wing? What is the difference on a basic level & on a hardcore politician level?” Quora.com
- Politics for Dummies: Left & Right, Conservative & Liberal, Democrat & Republican
- “Aristotle’s Political Theory” plato.Stanford.edu
- “Plato’s Republic” classics.MIT.edu
"The Left-Right Political Spectrum Explained" is tagged with: American Politics, Bias, Equality, Individualism and Collectivism, Left–right Politics, Liberalism and Conservatism, Liberty, United States of America
In politics, the sociological dividing line between Right and Left can be traced back to two obsessions:
– the first (the torment of the Right) is a phobia of elements perceived to be incompatible with commonly used models in society
– the second (the bane of the Left) is intolerance of models that appear to be imposed by society.
In order to capture the meaning of these lines, we need to step back in time and recall the turmoil we experienced early in life as we began the process of blending into society when, as kids, we entered Planet School – or more precisely, Planet Classroom.
Right there in the classroom we’ve all had to deal with a “ problem kid ”: “bad Johnny”- the student with the disrespectful, smug attitude and less than decent grades, the kid in the back that stole your lunch money, the chronic late – comer who seemed to own a single tattered and over – doodled notebook, the bully you best avoided if you didn’t want to find yourself running home bruised and with a ripped school uniform. The hopeless case that once had the nerve to show his privates to the girl in the second row and who always came back from the boys’ room reeking of cigarette smoke.
No doubt that “bad Johnny” has raised concerns – more for some than for others – within the classroom/society. However, we can’t forget that other classmate of ours who is at the root of perhaps even more devastating issues – “ Peter goody – two – shoes ”. He came from a good family, he always sat in the front row, paid attention in class, gave a helping hand to less fortunate people, had good manners, dressed smartly, respected the teachers, sported perfect hairstyles and neatly organized books. The one who carefully put his school supplies away at the end of class, who always did his homework, who had the best grades- the one who came to school early each morning and couldn’t seem to wait to get started.
He was a model to look up to, our term of comparison when we sensed we couldn’t be good enough in the world of social competition. In fact, Peter popped up – in more or less obvious ways – any time our parents scolded us or our teacher criticized us.
And it was “ Peter good – two – shoes ” who really bothered us – especially when we felt his weight bearing down on our heads – a behavioral model imposed upon us by society.
It is of the utmost importance to note that, for the purposes of this “treatise”, “ Peter goody – two –shoes ” should not be considered “good” in an absolute sense – but rather a model society sees in a positive light (not always rightfully so) and, more than that, tries to impose upon us. Similarly, “bad Johnny ” does not have to be the bad guy – rather just something society – often erroneously – considers negative.
You can see how Peter goody – two – shoes bothers people who are emotionally Left – wing, while an aversion to bad Johnny is the hallmark of Right – wingers.
Interesting metaphor. I’ll think on the implications and perhaps bring some of the logic into the article. Thanks.
One note, your theory speaks to a paradigm we present on the page, which can be summed as empathy vs. cold logic.
Both empathy and cold logic can move us toward “correct” directions, but which is correct under which circumstances changes. Generally it is “left” to be empathetic to all, but the means don’t always speak of the ends. And cold logic can have better ends even with less “good” means.
I would then, just apply left and right qualifiers to the means, the ends, and the ideology behind the means and ends. We can use comparative terms issue-by-issue, we don’t have to use absolute labels… and these two balancing forces, like the male and female, aren’t enemies, they are Yin and Yang, they need to be paired to seek balance (like Plato suggests in his Republic or like Jefferson suggests in his letters).
CONFIRMATION OF “Peter goody – two – shoes” THEORY
– The idea that humans are intrinsically good belongs to the Left. In this case, “bad Johnny” is not a great danger to society. Leftist ideology borrows Rousseau’s belief that people are good by nature, even if at times they are led astray by society. It is noteworthy that “Peter goody – two – shoes”, the Left’s obsession, represents society and the model it demands to impose.
– The idea that some people are naturally diabolical is Right-wing: this belief derives from the suspicion that anyone could be a potential evil “bad Johnny”. In the Right’s vision, inspired by Hobbes, humans are evil by nature. They are always out to swindle, subjugate or rob others: hence the “Homo homini lupus” (man is a wolf for men) idea. In this case, it becomes society’s job to correct “bad Johnny” at any cost, if necessary by “sufficiently persuasive” means.
The “Peter goody – two – shoes” theory is therefore a sociologically relevant construct which delineates the meaning of the dichotomous conundrum afflicting each and every one of us in our relationship with society as a whole:
– On one hand, the refusal of models society itself endeavours to impose;
– On the other, the perception of elements not in line with the dominant paradigms as alien to society.
in two articles by Murray Rothbard. (and many others that preceded and followed him) In The Transformation of the American Right First published in Continuum, in the summer 1964, pp. 220–231. Murray Rothbard correctly observed,
The modern American Right began, in the 1930’s and 1940’s, (Emphasis added) as a reaction against the New Deal and the Roosevelt Revolution, and specifically as an opposition to the critical increase of statism and state intervention… (Emphasis added)
According to Dr. Rothbard, the left/right political spectrum measures the increases in governmental power, especially the power to intervene into the daily lives of individuals and businesses.
A reinforcement of this concept is found in “Confessions of a Right-Wing Liberal” published in 1969, [The year that I was very active in the freedom movement.] Rothbard further observed: “…we adopted the standard view, (Emphasis added) let me repeat that “…we adopted the standard view, (Emphasis added) of the political spectrum: “left,” meant socialism, or total power of the state; the further ‘right’ one went the less government one favored. Hence, we called ourselves “extreme rightists.” Rothbard’s standard view of the left right political Spectrum would have looked like this, I have added some of the major occupants and their relative positions on the chart. (view full screen)
100% government ß————————————————————————————-L—I –B—E–R–T–A–R–I –A– Nà 0% government.
Left (Totalitarian Communist Socialism Fascist Nazi) ————————————————————————– Anarchy . Right
Note: Because different Libertarians believe in different amounts of government, we have spread Libertarianism over the right end of the chart.
Additional confirmation is found farther along in that same article where Rothbard said, “Originally, our historical heroes were such men as [Thomas] Jefferson, [Thomas] Paine, [John] Cobden and [Richard] Bright and [Herbert] Spencer. As our views became purer and more consistent, we eagerly embraced such near-anarchists as the voluntarist, Auberon Herbert, and the American individualist-anarchists, Lysander Spooner and Benjamin R. Tucker.”
In other words as they became “purer” and more “consistent” in their Libertarian thinking, their heroes were chosen from men that were closer to anarchy and 0% government on the right end of the Political Spectrum, that Dr. Rothbard called the standard view. And yes, gentle reader, the “extreme rightist” Murray Rothbard authored the first Political Platform for the Libertarian Party.
Thank you for taking the time to put this together. Hopefully people from all political persuasions will find this useful.
Thank you for the kind words!
I guess this ‘analysis’ was compiled by someone who leans (consciously or subconsciously) to the left. Commendable analysis, thank you for that, though I feel it proves the maxim that individual bias Is inevitable.
Indeed and Indeed. With that note I will strive to take out bias over time. Not the intention, but am for sure only human.
Thanks for the compliment and feedback!
Good analysis, I agree with many of your points here, but come on man.. Remove your left wing bias or go work for CNN! It’s as obvious as the first paragraph. A conservative wants Monarchy and values individuals unequally? Maybe in the 12th century, but you don’t necessarily paint a fair picture to begin with here for the people on the right end of the spectrum. Articles like these with an obvious bias from the beginning actually make me want to think the other way after the writers agenda becomes obvious.
To clarify, I would consider modern right wing American conservatism (as found in the Republican Party) to include a lot of classically liberal / classically left planks. Further, I would consider modern Republicans to be socially conservative (which is an ideology that mashes up classical liberal loving liberty with classical conservative traditionalism; often in America avoiding authority in many cases… although certainly this mix does result in “some individuals having less equal outcomes than others,” right?… maybe I framed this in an awkward way above, as you can see I’ve tried to update the page to avoid turning people off right away).
Consider this, that initial introduction is speaking to the roots of the classical liberal left vs classical conservative right ideology (where democracy is left and monarchy right) AND the socially liberal social left vs socially conservative right (where progressives like Bernie sanders are left and people like trump, the tea party, Murray rothbard, and bannon are more toward the right). So its trying to describe four unique things as a two way split
Then when i break it down i go into how social conservatism, in its rejecting of social progressive liberalism, tends toward individual liberty in its opposition to say the expansive welfare state (which is itself classically conservative in many ways.)
No doubt I have a left wing bias in general, and that might be coming off in how I’m describing things or the examples I’m using, but I think the core of what I’m putting down is correct.
So to be clear I consider the modern democrats and republicans to each be a left-right mixes, and I consider Republicans to be classical liberals in many ways (in many ways more than those we call liberals today).
This is really, for me, just the complexities of the different forms of liberalism and conservatism paired with the complexities of having a two party system in the U.S… paired with perhaps some of my own bias in explaining all this (which may well be resulting in me not painting the different forms of right-wing in the best light).
Consider what I mean by individual “unequally” is individualism, capitalism, and individual liberty in the way it creates an unequal system… I don’t mean it in a negative way anymore than total equality would come off as positive thing.
Perhaps the main point to make is that social conservatism draws from classical conservatism and classical liberalism and social liberalism draws from those as well, but they both create very different mixes which then oppose each other. Then in America we end up taking sides over these social forms and sort of butt heads over who is being classically liberal or conservative on a given issue.
Ill think of how to best convey these ideas early on and will check the article for bias… the point is not to turn readers off, its to come to an acceptable definition and model of the left and right.
Feel free to add counterpoints, will consider any good arguments for the article.
I updated the page to add more explanation in the introduction in an effort to qualify what I mean by social conservatism as right-wing in its “favoring of individualism unequally” and classical conservatism as right-wing in its favoring of authority (like a monarchy).
I also made sure to clarify how social liberalism can have classically conservative planks (such as necessary authority and “extreme degrees of force” at an extreme, such as with Communism) and how classical liberal liberty is something shared by most modern ideologies (with extreme identities like Fascism and Communism not fitting this bill).
In other words, I tried to address bias that may have been distracting by clarifying terms. Hopefully didn’t make it convoluted in the process. I’ll come back for another edit after more thought.
The circle graph that shows an oppressive Monarchy as being close to American Conservativism is SO WRONG I don’t even know where to begin. That’s the first graph on this page. The second graph, the “two point” graph, is also SO WRONG. Wo are you people? Do you not know anything at all? I was taught the same thing in college, not realizing how wrong it was. So, wake up and go TALK to people, not just your Leftist academics at colleges.
We tried to root the theory in history and philosophy. That is explained in the article.
I think the confusion is rightwing is not the same as American conservatism is not the same thing as “conservatism classical or social” (which we explain in the article).
I get what you are saying, American right wing conservatism is all about liberty and small government and individual responsibilities on paper, so you are saying “no way that is like monarchy”.
Simple short answer is you are talking about on paper American conservatism and I’m talking about the traditional academic spectrum which would explain to us how American conservatism is a mashup of different factions with a mix of left right views, many of which are classically liberal.
I’ll try to make this clear closer to the top of the page, it is in the full article… but I get it is long and not everyone is going to dig through.
That is the reasoning though, and you learned this in college because it is essentially correct historically and philosophically. That said a theory isn’t the same as a fact, happy to hear counter arguments.
I think your “2-Point Political Spectrum” is self-contradictory. You claim the left favors “Liberty, Social Equality, and the Collective”, and “Authority, Social Hierarchy, and Individuals” on the right. But you cannot have social equality or favoring the collective without using employing a severe authority. For example, how do you redistribute wealth to enforce equality without wielding the authority to take money from the “haves” and give it to the “have-nots”? The most egalitarian societies which favor the collective are communist societies, by definition of communism. But these are also the most totalitarian and authoritative regimes because you cannot achieve the goals of equality and collectivism without authority. What do you do with the people who choose not to participate? You have to have them arrested, or “re-educated”. Likewise, a state cannot claim to favor individualism and also be authoritarian. Authority inhibits the pursuits of individuals.
So, I understand that you are not attempting to represent the U.S. political spectrum (which is a good thing because Conservatives would beg to differ with you quit a bit!) but regardless of how you derive this axis, to me, it seems to lack rigor from the get go.
Very astute. The social and classical left are contradictory, as are the social and classical right. This tension is what creates much of the confusion over the terms left wing and right wing.
In a way, this is the point of the page.
I’ll comment more after thinking more on what you said.
But in short, this is why the 4-point is so vital to understand and why the social and classical are so important to denote (and further why we should denote stances per issue).
Alan, if you read Marx he describes communism as state-less and something much closer to anarchy. Your line of questioning here assumes a communist system enforced and confined by a statist system. This is illogical. In practice, the fallacy of a left-wing “communist state” has tended to devolve into a right-wing form of fascism and/or state capitalism.
You are also overlooking the differences between hierarchical authority with democratic authority, which is partially a fault of this article. The right tends to favor “individual authority”, where as the left tends to favor “democratic authority”. This bleeds into the right’s preference for social hierarchy and the left’s preference for social equality. Authority always exists, it just takes on different forms in different systems.
Likewise, individualism also comes in many different forms and degrees. Notably in extreme-right authoritarian states, individualism is pushed feverishly as the singular reasoning for ones own privilege or poverty. In fact, authority is often seen as a means by which individuals can acquire more individual power and freedom. In these systems, the ultimate form of individualism is the monarch/dictator that holds the ability to fully realize ones own “person freedom/anarchy” without fear of repercussion that would others be significant within any other system.
Interesting comments. Thanks for sharing. We try to differentiate between different forms of communism, for example statist Stalinist communism and the idea of utopian commune (a collective much closer to state-less anarchy). Both would be left, but the authoritative one ruled by “the one” or “the few” is obviously more toward the authoritative right, where collectives that are more democratic are more toward the left.
Hay man that was really informative . I think the diagrams are not working though . Would be awesome to see them
Thank you for the kind words and indeed. We are having server issues. We are working to fix everything (will be uploading backups if needed).
UPDATE: The major issues have been fixed, this page should be in working order now save a few images which I need to dig up by hand and add back in. Thanks for the note! What a nightmare of an issue. Our whole image server went blank with no explanation!
Thanks heaps for fixing the images so far . When they are all up I`m going to print a hard copy . Mate, these pages have really been the most valuable resource I have come across so far to help me understand the political landscape and defining my own positions . Cheers bud . You Da Man !
Thank you for the compliment. Spent a ton of time researching and thinking about politics. Glad I could be of help.
The images should be fixed by Monday. In the process of recovering everything now!
Dear People, there is something you all should know. There are not one, but two political scales. You are using a perverted blend of the two. Nazism is NOT “right wing” at all in America, and here is how.
First, there is the American scale, which is a measurement of government power, more left, less right.
The Second one was used by the French, during their sick revolution; but it’s measured by culture rather than by power. It places “original culture” (the monarchy) on the right, and the “deviant culture”, (the attempt at a republic), on the left. All of Europe uses this scale.
By the former (American) scale, ALL forms of socialism; Communism, (Russia), National Socialism, (Germany), and Fascism, (Italy and Spain), as well as any other oligarchy/monarchy that can possibly exist, is considered Left-wing. The Republic we were founded as, would be considered right-wing.
On the latter scale, the French one, Communism and Nazism are opposites because of what happens to the host-country’s culture; Communism tends to destroy the native culture, and Nazism aims to both preserve it and strengthen it.
Communism can’t work in America, because it’s policies are unconstitutional. Whereas Nazism simply can’t exist at all in America, because it’s a PARADOX.
Nazism, like Communism, places us under the power of an oligarchy, but unfortunately for it, America’s culture is based on the concept of FREEDOM, so how can Nazism fulfill it’s policy of preserving-and-strengthening America’s culture?
That is an interesting way to put it. If you do a careful review of our article you can see we are on the same page, but with different semantics.
We call the two scales liberty (the classical scale of the revolution) and equality (the social scale of the modern social liberal and social conservative identities)… essentially (the full argument is made in the article).
I do agree though, neither NAZIism or Communism is conducive to a free and liberal Republic… because neither ideology has room for the liberty necessary to maintain such a thing.
Left versus RIght has given us the last raw, angry Century – with its Bloodlands, its Wars, its Terrorism, its Tyrants, and its Weapons of Mass Destruction. In the name of Nonviolence, avoiding aggression, and Nonsinning, avoiding harm to others – it is not Left or Right or Center or Plain… it is the Void. America can be George Orwell’s 1984 – or she can have a Constitutional Republican Mortal State, a Liberal Democratic Mortal Society, a Welfare Capitalist Mortal Marketplace, and Personal Liberty. As it does not matter which hand a Tyrant Sieg Heils with – let us go beyond Either-Or or Both to All… as in Star Trek’s “Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations” and “Nome” (All). Buddha, Tao, Kami (Gods), and Megami (Goddesses) bless to the ideas of 1776 and 1787 from this humble little Japanese American Shamaness. Onward to a better Constitution and a Declaration of the Rights of the Person and the Citizen. Cheers!
Huzzah. Liberty, Justice, and Good vibes to all. I don’t disagree.
Hate to blow up all your work, but had you been more objective, you would have made more sense.
First, fascism has never been the far right. It’s true a doctor of political science published a book claiming it to be the far right in the 20s, but too many have accepted that without asking how can socialism be the far right and far left at the same time? Fascism, in practice, has always been used in communism and socialism, and is an aspect of the far left. Conservatives have been arguing that this is propaganda for years, but it would seem the left has a monopoly on who gets a PhD.
From a conservative view point, a better metric for left and right that corresponds to our current conception of ideologies (with the exception of fascism) is the size of government. Big government and increased regulation is the ideology of the left. Philosophically it comes from the belief that human nature is so corrupt we need more laws and more government agencies to save us from corruption. While the right believes in smaller government because if mankind is so corrupt, let’s not create a system where those seeking power for the sake of having power can climb to the top. In this spectrum free market capitalism makes up the far right. This view point lines up with socialism and communism, and even Democratic socialism still on the left, with their opposite, free market capitalism on the right. It’s basically what we learn in political science classes minus falsely putting fascism on the right.
Furthermore, the analysis of the spectrum in your diagram claims that the left favors equality. In practice, “left” ideologies only support equality of outcome and often oppose equality of opportunity. Equality of outcome and equality of opportunity are mutually exclusive–gains to one are losses from the other. Examples include affirmative action which promotes hiring less qualified individuals to promote diversity and to counteract systemic racism. Equality of opportunity means the most qualified person gets the job, while equality of outcomes means hiring less qualified people to meet diversity ratios–there is a big difference. Equality of opportunity results in discrimination solely on a person’s ability to perform the job, while equality of outcome means discriminating against a person because of the color of their skin, or them belonging to a protected identity group. Equality of outcome results in discrimination against the identity group that makes up the majority.
In an ideal world, the best applicant would get the job and there would still be diversity in the workplace, but due to the generational effects of slavery, racial discrimination, and other factors, that does not necessarily happen. It has been published that only 50% of Americans who graduated high school can read on an 8th grade level, and another study revealed that only 20% of African Americans who graduate high school can read on an 8th grade level. Ignorant people would make a racist conclusion from those stats, but deeper analysis seems to be suggesting the problem is more likely to be cultural than it is biological.
For the African American community there is a strong correlation between absent fathers and each of the following: high school drop out rate, violent crime, literacy, and drug addiction. The problem of absent fathers comes from a misguided welfare system–if a woman marries, she loses most, if not all of her benefits. We have a system that rewards/incentivizes/pays women to raise children and never get married. I recognize single minority women need benefits more than any one, but solving this problem is the only way to promote true equality in America. If history has taught us anything, it is that government’s are horrible at institutionalizing equality or fairness.
The simplest solution to the problem is church. Whether people believe or not, living like someone is always watching and judging, and following rules that have been proven to result in good lives always serves the best interest of those who live by faith. Church provides of a community to help educate the next generation, pool and borrow resources, and get help when one is in need.
But back to the point, when government’s try to force equality in a universe designed to have competition, the outcome has never been good. Even down to the atomic level, atoms compete through electronegativy to bond and react, plants competete for light and nutrients in the soil, animals for food, cells fight off attacking bacteria and foreign organisms, animals compete for mates; life itself revolves around some form of competition. And it is extreme arrogance to believe that mankind will be able to equalize life. The best we can hope for is equality of opportunity, which in this day and time is a purely Consertive idea.
I should have proof read that a little better, didn’t mean to sound like a total jerk in my first sentence. It’s late, and I get really frustrated seeing so many intelligent highly educated people try to explain how socialism is the extreme polar opposite of national socialism. The Soviet Union became fascist after WW2, at least by any definition of fascism I’ve found. I think the main reason that people see them as 2 distinct forms of government, is because of the media coverage of the times–Hitler was described as a fascist, and Stalin a communist. But both regimes were socialist, command economies, with large government, high regulation, and a class-like system where advocates of the party in power were on a higher social hierarchy than those who just fell in line.
Appreciate your well thought out answer.
However, I do ultimately disagree though and think that I have better explained things in the article above (even though it is just semantics to a degree).
Essentially one part of my argument comes from horseshoe theory, where the far right and left actually share many qualities (so the far totalitarian left and right share qualities, like Stalin and Hitler, and the far anarchist left and right share qualities, like the modern fa and anti fa showing up at a rally dressed in black with their masks).
The other part of my argument comes from breaking down the political spectrum into far more than two pieces. Above I lay out a long list of left right qualities and apply them one by one to an ideology. In doing that I think I can well illustrate that what we call far right and far left in most cases we could really more accurately describe as a mix of social and classical left / right and a mix of other left right qualities.
The thing I think is most striking is how similar these two groups are, how many qualities they share, honestly they both tend to favor social far-left policies on paper, but act as far-right militant tribal authoritarians with a strict social hierarchy in practice. They are, both far-right and far-left, both rather extreme socialist and fascist in my opinion.
So, I get why we can’t agree, but I think my model works a little better.
In my mind if the far-left went mad with power and tried to rule with an iron fist, they would create authoritarian communism, and if the far-right nationalist groups ever organized and went mad with power, ruling with an iron first, they would create a fascist state (taking care of their own, but warring with others).
So I can’t go into an article here, but I did write one above. Now that we both have our stances noted, People can read them together and make up their own minds!
Ps. One thing is for sure though, when we think of Bernie saying “healthcare for all, and yes that means more taxes and government… but let’s not intervene in foreign conflicts and let’s welcome immigrants” or when we think of Reagan saying “hey, not too many taxes, not too big of government… but let us impose our religious values, ramp up drug wars, and have foreign conflicts” we are thinking of something very different than a Communist or Fascist Military state. When we think of America we are thinking of a liberal capitalist state with both left-wingers and right-winger in it, and when we think of those wings we are thinking of giant tends filled with people on all ends of the spectrum. Each tent filled with people who have many different mixes of left-right qualities, but yet form a collation. Hope this all makes sense.
Crock of shit. Very first section of this “article”. Shows a graphic of leftist authoritarianism. This inherently contradicts the notion that leftism is for LIBERTY. Leftism has nothing to do with LIBERTY. Right-wing has nothing to do with AUTHORITY. Authoritarianism and Libertarianism are top and bottom, not left and right. Left-wing = COLLECTIVISM, which means they value the group over the individual. Right-wing = Individualism, which means they value the individual first, as individuals make up the collective.
Hitler’s National Socialism is no different than Stalin’s Communism. They are both identitarian leftists, collectivists, oppose individualism as the make-up of the collective, and sacrifice the individual for the greater good of the collective.
Just like the El Paso shooter, this is another attempt of the left to transplant racism onto the right, when racism is an inherently collectivist philosophy (leftism). The Confederate Party, after losing the civil war, has now, in an attempt to maintain power, excised the white identitarians and instead replaced them with identitarians of other minority groups, as a way to pander for votes to keep them in power. Make no mistake, White Identitarianism is LEFTIST, historically, and even now.
The white identitarians that have supported right-leaning candidates, did not do so because they value lower taxes and deregulation. They did so because of the identity of the candidate, and the left’s attempt to excise and shun the white male to pander to the minority voters. These are not right-wing individuals, they believe in social welfare, they believe in raised taxes, they believe in nonsense like The Green New Deal. The El Paso shooter was a climate alarmist. How “right wing” is that?
I mean if left isn’t liberty why is classical liberalism a thing?
If Nazis and Communists are the same, why do they find support from the right and left only respectively and why do they find conflict like they do?
Those are only two tid-bits of an arguments, but since I had an essay to make my point and you a few paragraphs, we can just leave it at that.
I stand by my points and model from a historical and philosophical context, but it is ultimately just a model.
I wholeheartedly agree. The left has never been as interested in liberty as Republicans. Never. The Dem ideology has morphed over time, yes. Today they emphasize equality over liberty, thinking there is some more direct route to equality via regulations that force behavior than through freedoms in laissez-faire policies.
If you know anything about marketing you know how political terminologies have been purposefully rebranded. Marketing is a deliberate effort. The major ideologies today are utterly confusing and wrong in analyses such as in this article. Such branding, sorry to say, by the Left. And sorry to say, acquiesced by the Right. This left-leaning rebranding has led redefining of not only ideologies, but culture. We know culture is upstream from politics. It’s been a great marriage arranged by slow and patient marketing.
For example, Republicans used to be considered the “liberals”, and “progressive”. Republicans under Reconstruction were considered radical and even too progressive because they pushed for civil rights, including suffrage, for blacks. Republicans remained vigilant toward women’s suffrage and put it up for vote 12 times before it was finally passed. It was the Dems who denied women and black freedoms, pushed for segregation, Jim Crowe, and Mary Sanger’s flavor of Planned Parenthood abortion clinics planted in black neighborhoods (the original major emphasis was eugenics aimed at the black community) decades before Rowe v. Wade.
Fast forward to post-WWII when the Post-Modern NeoMarxists Dem party fell out of favor because their views aligned with all the anti-capitalist, anti-constitutional (anti-liberty) movements migrating from Europe from the likes of the Frankfurt School and other lefitst European institutions. The left found themselves forced to re-brand and this is where we begin to see tricks such as the lie of “The Big Switch”, along with terminologies slowly shifting with the help of forces such as the growth of unions (that the Dems happily grabbed), as well as blacks shifting from Republican to Democrat in the 1930’s when FDR introduced welfare socialist programs that literally bought their vote during world crisis and economic turmoil created by the very same anti-freedom factions, including in the US gov’t to some extent, at the time.
I see current Moderate Democrats, which may yet be the majority, are still more liberty and constitution-minded, but looks to be changing exponentially.
Let me keep this simple:
Global Governance/Major Collective Governance (Marxism and National Socialism to Global Communism)
“Guilty until proven innocent”
“Courts, programmings and incarceration are inescapable”
“Law of the land”
“Let me liv where I’ve been told by others is suitable…”
“Let the cops deal with what is going on if I know my thoughts aren’t accepted, and if they are accepted I can enforce before they arrive”
“Property is THEFT”
“We do want many laws (which means there are many more crimes, each law means it’s easy to break that law with one or more crimes) and for that we’ll need many enforcers”
“let us socialize everything”
“systems are based on the global all, the largest majorities, the state to the ruling collective and this necessitates social institutions”
… the muddled middle…
CENTER to INNER LEFT:
Lesser People Governance (law unto the people before protecting them) and Majority Rule (Social Democracy to more the more moderate Basic Democracy)
These people tend to be more trusting and might accept capitalism to some small to moderate degree, but these people would rather be told how it is and how it will be than to think for themselves and find their own way. People raised in a society like this might not have a practical example to finding their own way.
They want to know the rules and play by them, but the other side sees this as a game they don’t always want to participate in.
Like anybody they are generally basically good, but the governmental ideals are idealistic and romanticized. These people tend to be taken by the extreme left because it cannot always differentiate between the similar terms and it forgets that sometimes that people exploit the system even when they promise the exact phrases that democrats like to hear.
These are the people who can be manipulated to end up in a rulership that is lead by elected dictators, but usually bigger investors manipulate the promises, those like plutocrats who appeal to the value set but they don’t actually empower the people and it becomes a despotic 2 class system.
Total Moderates and Nonpartisans
These tend to be the indecisive types and they are usually critical and fearful around promises, many of these people really tend to be far right by definition however they never trust any groups because of promises, still they must engage and see that all people have merit and dignity, so they act with positive intent and respect to those willing to take a stance but are the most critical to those who ally to a side when they don’t have a big enough scope of what that might very well result in.
CENTER to INNER RIGHT:
Better People Governance (laws meant to protect people before incriminating them) and Minority Inclusion before rule (Anarcho-Republicanism to the more moderate Democratic Republicanism)
These people are staunchly against despotism and are a more critical than their left counterparts.
Due process and amnesty are important to these people.
These people are more into a higher degree of personal freedom and want some small amount of systems and cops unlike their farther right counterparts, but still wouldn’t like to have a cop get between them and the messy homeless person trashing up the sidewalks when they’re telling them to skip town.
They like to find their own way and enterprise is all about capital for their own adventures, but the only problem that their Left leaning counterparts don’t like is the fact that success and the legacies of such put poorer people in the world of their advertisements and properties.
They might also be opposed by the farthest Right counterparts that desire a world to be more basic and not so buyable, they don’t like large claims, while most republicans think that large industry is fine.
In right wing politics, compared to cookie cutter far Left politics, there are more complications around ownership and just how much any one person/small collective can attain in a shared world, but spreading out should be an acceptable means for property issues.
Most simply the biggest manipulation is still in promise, when people get powerful they can make all the same promises that far Left dictators and plutocrats make and they are appealing to the Rightwing, say if there are more of them at a given time, because in a more capitalistic world monopolies are a threat, so to be clear even Center Right Republicans can be manipulated to think that an election is for the personal and even common good but turn out to be a coup détat to overtake their simple system.
An important note to mention is that rightwing doesn’t mean fascism at all, by definition fascism is very leftwing…
Very Small government/Self Governance (Black Flag Anarchism, Municipalism to Anarcho-Capitalism)
“Innocent until proven guilty”
“Courts are necessary, run if you want”
“Let me liv where I can see no one is using!”
“Let me deal with things humanely but in my own way, without having to resort to calling the cops”
“Taxation is THEFT”
“We don’t want many laws (which means many more crimes, each law means one or more crimes are enforced) and for that we’ll need little to no enforcers”
“don’t socialize us” “systems are based on individuals, families, municipalities to small states and this necessitates the egalitarian constitutions”
i.e. FAR RIGHT (a term intended to meter the extremes of a spectrum)
No doubt in my mind that this is what some people think. However, I think this two point model is underwhelming and does not line up with everything we mean in practice or note in philosophy or see in governments, hence presenting a 4-point model which does do these things. The 4-point model does conflict with the model above, but the page is all about trying to explain why “none-the-less, it is better.”
Totally bias. Ridiculous. If the left is for liberty and the right is for authoritarism how come all dictatorships from the last Century are from the left. Nazism is Nacional Socialism. Hitler took over private companies and used for his Government Program. Anarchy are Extremist Libertarians which is Right wing ideology. Dictatorship is the result of total control of the citizens by the State, which is what the Left Ideology. Ignorant Dumb website.
This is literally about a 4 point political spectrum, there is the equivalent of chapters on your answer below. In simple terms, Nazis are a left right mix over in horseshoe land. They are authoritative “right,” but socialist collectivist (in theory) left. They are left-right, this is why people actually argue over whether they are left or right.
So instead of dumb, the model has instead shed light on something we seem to all find confusing on an international level.
It is a model only, but it is a model built on other models and the meaning of words. I assert it is more right than most models, and not at all dumb.
I did not read all forty or so pages. But one does not have to eat the whole apple to know it is rotten.
Let me start by saying there is much confusion. And the confusion favors the liberal/progressive movements, and they may be fostering the confusion on purpose. I remember one line in your article it was something like left is liberal and right is conservative. Liberal and conservative are subjective values. The correct single plane left/right spectrum cannot measure values. Totalitarian and anarchy are the polar opposites TOTALitarian =100% government, where the government makes all the major decisions for individuals and businesses, anarchy (Greek for no rule or no government.) = 0% government, where individuals and businesses are free to make their own decisions. Some liberal programs call for less government. (Censorship, drug use, prostitution and the military draft.) Ans some conservative goals call for more government. ( Criminalization of abortion, homosexuality, stem cell research and a border wall to stop immigration.)
Oh,what it is ? Only true division between Left and Right is how much things are changed
Right-favours small speed of changes,no changes or return to what was before
Centre-Tend to favour moderate speed of changes
Left-tend to support fast changes in society but usually no return to what is before
Any other discintions are lies,and politicans from wings propaganda!
Well I actually think the speed of change is a good paradigm that really does speak to what we mean when we say left and right.
You cant have state sanctioned equality and liberty.
You cant have collectivism and liberty.
You cant have individualism and collectivism.
You cant have individualism and state sanctioned equality.
This entire article shows a serious lack of understanding the operational principles by which these ideals are founded and a misunderstanding of terms.
This looks like propaganda tbh.
I just fully disagree. You can have left and right, you get a left-right mix. We have collectivism and liberty for example in every facet of American society for example. Like my whole life is made up of individual freedoms and group responsibilities and protections and such. So fundamentally disagree, and sure the models I presented also disagree (hence the spectrum).
Until the facile labels ‘left and ‘right’ in reference to political, economic, and social ideologies are abandoned the general political illiteracy will continue unabated in a deluge of endless ambiguity, misdirection, and nonsense.
Also while we may appreciate DeMichele’s effort in putting this article together, it is ultimately an exercise in futility.
Okay,in what part of your spectrum would you put this ideologies:National-Bolshevism,Strasserism,Paternalistic Conservatism,Jucheism,Anarcho-Capitalism,
National-Anarquism,Neocameralism and Third Way
I guess my hope would be that these would be placed in similar places by anyone who understands the models. But basically, the method is 1. pick which model you want to use, 2. assuming you pick a more complex one, figure out which social left, social right, classic left, classic right planks each ideology has and tally them up, 3. place them based on the weighting just established.
Most of the mixed ideologies you are asking about are going to be toward the center on one or more axis, the specific weighting is going to tell you which quadrant they best fit in.
For example, my instinct tells me top-middle of a 4-point left-right chart for National-Bolshevism and more toward the center for Paternalistic Conservatism. Both are left-right mixes, but National-Bolshevism is much more authoritative, which makes it ultimately more classically “right-wing” than left despite the left-wing aspects mixed in.
That is the simple version, better to go plank-by-plank for a true answer 🙂
My prescription isn’t civility or dialogue, which though admirable are boring and in this case evidently impossible. Rather, my approach is “philosophical”: to try to confront both sides with the fact that their positions are incoherent. The left-right divide might be a division between social identities based on class or region or race or gender, but it is certainly not a clash between different political ideas.
So many things wrong with this article that I cannot even start to list them. So many contradictions, so many false applications of data points on spectrums, and then the compilations of the charts don’t even follow the ideas presented above.
Left right is not all that hard to get. Control and power invested in government is to the left… retaining individual liberties and freedom is to the right.
This is very well covered in the article. Control and power invested in government is to the CLASSIC RIGHT… retaining individual liberties and freedom is to the CLASSIC LEFT.
However in our modern-day, in the US especially, we tend to focus the conversation on personal liberty favored by the social right versus collective liberty (by way of classic right big government) of the progressive social left. The left uses the state (right-wing) to force collective (left) liberty (left). The right demands individual (right) liberty (left) for those in the in-group, but not for all necessarily (hierarchical, right). Depending on your viewpoint, you can for sure see the left and/or right aspects in both, and I can see how the focus on liberty from government and individual freedom (even without protections) comes off as the most classically left.
I don’t argue that, I present a model that explains it.
So I don’t think the model is wrong, I think the instinct to say the model is wrong is wrong. The key is in considering the classical and modern meanings of left and right and seeing how they apply to systems in theory and in practice. Hopefully, a deeper read of what I say in the article will help you to see my point more. Cheers.
I THINK this entire article is BS!!! Not a representation at all of today’s Politics!!!! I think it’s simple,
LEFT VALUES/IDEOLOGIES – Open Borders, Social Spending into OBLIVION, No Voter Id, stealing elections, Corrupted FBI/DOJ, Control Fake News, Tech Valley, Follywood actors, weak on Foreign Affairs, favor LBGTQ, can’t identify with male or female gender, Hate Patriotism, Hate the Flag, are ATHEISTS, believe in KILLING innocent babies, Hate Religion, Hate Police and Military!!! Just the opposite for Republicans!!! KISS, KEEP IT SIMPLE STUPIDS!!! YOUR ENTIRE ARTICLE SHOULD BE EXPLAINED ON X-AXIS ONLY!! From Fascists to Socialist!!!
Although I don’t agree with the way you frame the left-wing ideology of today, I actually think the spectrum in the article accounts for it when you think about how a mix of liberal and social liberal ideologies in practice with some conservative ideologies of the modern left lead to many of the things you say. Won’t get into the whole argument here, but in short, I think a 2 point spectrum wouldn’t actually explain the details we need to discuss as much, while a multi-point does.