The Left Versus the Right Explained

How to Understand the Left-Right Political Spectrum

We explain “the left-right political spectrum” by applying the terms “left” and “right” to a number of “left-right paradigms”.[1][2]

Understanding the Political Left-wing and Right-wing

Despite the ambiguity and complexity involved in creating a political spectrum, the political left-wing and right-wing are properly defined (from a historical perspective that considers the basic government types, the basic political partiessocial contract theory, and the origin of left-right) by the following two paradigms (which should both be considered at once):

  1. Most importantly, “Liberal (favoring liberty) is left, and Conservative (favoring authority) is right” (see a discussion on liberalism vs. conservatism). We can call this “the liberty paradigm“.
  2. And, almost equally as important, ideologies that favor the Collective are left, and ideologies favoring the Individual are right. See individualism vs. collectivism. We can call this “the equality paradigm“.

Thus in summary: the left-right spectrum can be defined by the “authority (right) vs. liberty (left) liberty paradigm” compared to the “individualism (right) vs. collectivism (left) equality paradigm”.

Placing the “left-right virtues” in a table looks like this (there are different ways to express this; see another example here):

SPHERE OF ACTION VICE OF DEFICIENCY (FAR-RIGHT) THE LEFT-RIGHT MEAN VICE OF EXCESS (FAR-LEFT)
Liberty Overly Authoritative Liberal Overly Liberal
Equality Extreme Inequality (Individaul Focused) Equal Extreme Equality (Collective Focused)

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. #ThanksFounders.

Placing the paradigms on a four point chart looks like this:

A basic version of a left-right spectrum chart.

TIP: The term collective liberty can be confusing, as all groups are made of individuals. There is lots of complex conversations to be had here, but for the purposes of our model: When liberties are applied equally and/or benefit all, it is “collective liberty“. When liberties benefit some more than others, or when they benefit smaller groups more than bigger groups, it is “individual liberty“. Likewise, when the whole group exerts its authority, it is “collective authority“, and when “the one” or the “few do” it is “individual authority“. I can make collectivist arguments for individual liberty all day, and tell you how the Queen uses the term “we” instead of “I”, but for modeling a basic left-right spectrum, those arguments add in unneeded complexity (after-all, one can make individualist arguments for collective liberties as well… this speaks “to why the answer is balance“, not “to the validity of the theory”).

Left-Right Governments: 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).

Left-Right Economics: 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.

Left-Right Classism: Another way to describe the factors underlying the left-right spectrum is by a classist divide: populist (left) vs. elitist (right). 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 it is all analogous to the equality and liberty paradigms.

TIP: Don’t confuse the 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.

Adding Complexity, The Mixed Nature of Left-Right Ideologies

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.

Consider also:

  • 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.

Luckily, the terms still hold up as comparative terms when used on an issue-by-issue basis, and that is what allows us to construct accurate left-right political spectrum models like this 4 point left-right political compass which uses well known historic figures to illustrate the above theory again in a different way.

One way to look at the left-right political spectrum. In this model the left and right intersect at two points.

NOTE: The 4 point political compass left-right chart above is, in my opinion, the most useful due to its spherical shape. It shows clearly why people confuse the WWII ideologies of Communism and National Socialist Fascism. There is only a thin line between extreme authoritarian ideologies, so to speak… Still, the line is there, and these ideologies can be discussed issue-by-issue using the terms left and right.

TIP: Beyond the two core liberty and equality paradigms, there are many secondary paradigms that apply. We list them below as we add complexity to the theory, so make sure to check them out.

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.

The Origin of the Terms Left and Right

With the above basics noted, before expanding on the above theories, perhaps the easiest and most accurate metaphor for what left and right are is found in the origin story of the terms left and right themselves.

This next section will help the skeptical reader confirm we are on the right general track.

Where do the Political Terms Left and Right Come from?

The terms left and right themselves come from France in and around the time of the French Revolution in the late 1700’s.

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).[3]

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.[4][5][6]

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.

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.

More Details to Consider for Understanding the Left-wing and Right-wing

Now that we have a basic understanding and an origin story, lets add some more details and discuss other aspects of the left and right.

Left-wing and Right-wing As Comparative Terms

Given the complexity noted above, we can conclude that the terms left-wing and right-wing work best as comparative or descriptive terms, as we are typically using them to describe centered left-right ideologies that are “more left” or “more right” than another ideology on a given issue.

Is states’ rights liberal? Really, it depends on the issue and if we are comparing it to the authority of the Federal government or an individual.

Questions like this and more mean that using the terms left and right will often requires critical thinking and other considerations.

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 elite unit of Marines).

 

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 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.

“Who Rules?” The 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.

The main question that creates the left and right, and the traditional forms of government is the same, it is simply: “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?”
  • “Who says so?” (which almost always nets the same result as asking “who benefits?”).

We can then call the basic political affiliations that arise from this:

  1. Non-Authoritative Collectivism (“Left-Left”)
  2. Non-Authoritative Individualism (Left-Right)
  3. Authoritative Collectivism (Right-Left)
  4. Authoritative Individualism (Right-Right)

Thus, the above the basic logic not only makes sense from a historic perspective in terms of the French revolution or liberalism, it actually all fits together, as noted, with the basic government types! Sweet. I postulate this is because it is a naturally occurring social system, thus, of course we can see similar shadows of it dancing on any cave wall at any point in history.

Where do the Political Terms Liberal, Conservative, and Socialist come From? The terms liberal and conservative arise from the battle over conservatism and liberalism in Europe during the Age of Enlightenment starting in the 1600’s (when democratic ideals flourished along with free-trade, but religion was losing power). Later in the mid-1800’s Marx introduced the world to Marxism as classic liberalism was (according to legend) failing to ensure social justice for the people. Thus the dominant political model in the West, social liberalism, is a mix of socialism and liberalism.

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, lets 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-1800’s.
  • 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:

Left-Right Chart Liberal Vs. Conservative

This chart shows the different types of liberalism and conservatism as the political “left” and “right”.

As you can see, like other aspects of the theory, they fit neatly on the chart.

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”:

Ideology Spectrum of American Leaders

This left-right spectrum is showing our basic spectrum model, using popular political figures as examples (see our comparison of presidents).

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.[7][8][9][10]

  1. Social Libertarianism (Chomsky) / Social-tribal-commune type Socialism (Marx as a philosopher) (Non-Authoritative left-left).
  2. 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).
  3. True Libertarianism (Robert Nozick and Ron Paul) / Classical Liberal (Locke, Jefferson, and Jackson) (Non-Authoritative right-left).
  4. 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.

basic-left-right-political-spectrum-2.0

An updated basic left-right political spectrum which shows the type of liberalism and conservatism. Note that we removed the opposition philosophy social conservatism (as its largely just conservatism and classical liberalism in practice) and used social libertarianism for the far-left ideology… because people can’t handle the word socialism in the U.S. (thanks Hoover).

The Left-Right Spectrum as Multiple Paradigms

Now that we have the details covered for a basic two paradigm chart, we can add further complexity by considering some other paradigms and applying them per issue to a government type, political party, platform, piece of legislation, or ideology.

We can then add another layer, comparing them to each other to get an aggregate perspective of left-ness and right-ness. Each layer we compare makes the theory more complicated and less transferable, but also more correct.

For instance, we might consider a party’s outlook on economics, social issues, or foreign policy, and compare that to their other platforms and ideologies, to get a complete picture of the party’s “mixed” views.

We can see where views go wrong when they leave the center and move more toward extremes. We can even spot problems in society by seeing, “what extremes are arising from what areas”, and “in response to what?”

As noted above, in 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 lets put it aside for now.

Question

Left- Right Paradigm

Left

 Right

How much authority do people have? (Who has authority)

Anarchy (Liberty) / Authority

Anarchy (Liberty)

 Authority

Who says so?

Collective / Individual

Collective

Individual

For the benefit of who?

Everyone / Someone

Everyone

Someone

Do we cooperate or compete?

Cooperation / Competition

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

Progressive

 Traditional

How restrictive are the rules? (how authoritative are laws?)

 Liberal / Conservative

Liberal (not restrictive)

 Conservative (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.

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, other topics to consider include nationalism and imperialism (where both a right and the lack of is left) as well as 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.

“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 lets return to them now as they are 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”.[11][12]

The Political Spectrum and Basic Types of Governments (see a Visual of this here)

How Many People

Deviant

Correct

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

Oligarchy/Plutocracy

(class based on wealth, power, and social status; rule of money.)

Aristocracy/Republic

(class based on birth, power, and social status; or election; rule of law.)

Many – Left

Anarchy

(No Rules.)

Democracy

(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.

A left-right paradigm using a four point graph to show how common government types relate to left and right in terms of who has authority and who says so.

A left-right political spectrum using a four point graph to show how common government types relate to left and right in terms of “who has the authority” and “who says so.”

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 arrogate, 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 expenses 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.

Citations

  1. Left–right paradigm” Wikipedia.org
  2. Left–right politics” Wikipedia.org
  3. Divine right of kings” Wikipedia.org
  4. 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
  5. Historiography of the French Revolution
  6. Left and Right: The Great Dichotomy Revisited Edited by João Cardoso Rosas and Ana Rita Ferreira (NOTE: See introduction).
  7. The Political Compass charts” Politicalcompass.org
  8. The Nolan Chart” Wikipedia.org
  9. Political “Left” and “Right” Properly Defined” Theobjectivestandard.com
  10. 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
  11. Aristotle’s Political Theory” plato.Stanford.edu
  12. Plato’s Republic” classics.MIT.edu


"The Left-Right Political Spectrum Explained" is tagged with: American Politics, Bias, Left–right Politics, Liberty, United States of America

What do you think?

gianfranco ardisson on

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.
BIASIMO INVERSO

Thomas DeMichele
Thomas DeMichele on

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).