The Logic Behind Creating Left-Right Spectrums

How to Create Left-Right Spectrums

The Virtues of Left-Right Politics, Abstractions, Golden Means, Liberty and Equality as a Foundation For Left-Right Politics, Using Multiple Left-Right Paradigms, and Other Considerations

We explain the logic (and reasoning) behind creating left-right spectrums. This page compliments our page on left-right politics and political spectrums.

Introduction into Left-Right Politics and Spectrums; Using Classical Terms to Form the Foundation of a Left-Right Spectrum

Despite the ambiguity and complexity involved in creating a political spectrum, the political left-wing and right-wing can be 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 logic.

Defining the Axises of our Political Spectrum Using the Government Types of Political Ideologies

Essentially people use the terms left and right as synonyms for liberalism and conservatism, two complex ideologies that come in classical and social forms that relate back to the basic types of governments.

With that in mind, the terms left-and-right are generally analogous with the classical governments types Democracy (left) and Monarchy/Aristocracy (right), the basic political ideologies Liberalism (left) and Conservatism (right) (in their classical liberty-minded and “social” equality-minded forms), and are closely related to the concepts of collectivism and individualism.

There is more than one way to phrase this, but classically speaking: Democracy and Classical liberalism are the ideologies of liberty and equality (left) and Monarchy/Aristocracy and Conservatism are the ideologies of authority and social hierarchy (right).

In other words, in very general and classical political terms, either a person is for “the liberty and equality of the many” or “the authority of the few, which creates a social hierarchy.”

And indeed, this distinction generally lines up with semantics where: a person is called left-wing if they favor liberty or social equality (like welfare or social justice), and a person is called right-wing if they favor state based authority or social hierarchy.

That two way split can be said to represent a basic left-right spectrum.

Left-Wing Center-Wing Right-Wing
Favoring Liberty, Social Equality, and the Collective (equally), like Democracy and Liberalism The Mean Between Favoring Authority, Social Hierarchy, and Individuals (unequally), like Aristocracy and Conservatism

The Problems With the Above Chart

The problem with the above spectrum is that it tries to group together liberty and equality (and their related identities), two issues people have very different stances on.

This isn’t a problem for semantics in general, but is a problem for creating an accurate spectrum that can illustrate real life stances which tend to contain a mix of left and right views.

To get around this complication, and better express what we mean by left and right per-issue, we can consider these terms separately as liberty, equality, authority, and hierarchy.

We can then use this to create two different paradigms, one that considers liberty in general and one that considers social equality in general.

  1. The “liberty/authority paradigm”liberty (left) vs. authority (right), and
  2. The “equality/hierarchy paradigm”social equality (left) vs. social hierarchy (right) [the “equality paradigm” can also be expressed by a few other paradigms such as collectivism (left) vs. individualism (right)].

Which looks like this on a paradigm table:

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 Inequality (Individual Focused) / Socially Conservative

OPINIONS: The “purple terms” are denoting a balanced mean (see Aristotle’s theory of means), a range of true virtues, while left and right represent a more “unbalanced” stance. This doesn’t imply centrism is the only right answer, but it hints that rigid ideologies that demand extremes are not generally ideal (see Communism and Fascism). One can think of correctness as a range of options that spans the moderate left, right, and center, and incorrectness as that which is unbalanced and extreme (our left-right paradigms, tables, and spectrums help offer a visual of this).

And looks like this on a 4-point Left-Right Spectrum:

Left-Right Chart Liberal Vs. ConservativeThis chart shows the different types of liberalism and conservatism as the political “left” and “right”.

A Justification for Using Liberty and Equality as the Basis of the Paradigm

At this point you may be asking yourself, “why is this guy going on about liberty and equality, why are those the two core terms here?” It makes sense to ask that, so let me address it.

For me the most important aspect of creating a left-right spectrum, which we do here, is the foundational properties (or qualities, or virtues) that each political view related to left-right politics shares.

Those foundational properties, as justified philosophically and politically above, can be expressed by the general placeholder terms (the principles of democracy and the principles of liberalism): “liberty and equality.”

This may seem odd and idealistic at first, and should invoke the question,”why not use realist measures like economy and force of law?”

The answer for that is, in this case, since we are trying to construct a model that can work for any left-right attribute, metaphysics is a good choice.

Metaphysics, having the ethereal and probabilistic qualities it does, speaks to a non-specific stance that anyone can understand.

It is, so to speak, easier to consider liberty and equality in terms of economics to discuss its left-wing and right-wing properties than it is to consider stances on gun rights in terms of economics to discuss all its left-wing and right-wing properties.

A “virtue” like equality takes on different meanings depending on the subject, realist concepts like taxation and strictness of a law are less flexible (as they are much more empirical things).

Thus, for me the most important aspect of creating the foundation for a proper left-right spectrum, is not only defining realist qualities (like economy, force of law, how many rule), but defining the foundational properties that can generally relate back to everything else. political view related to left-right relates back to.

We picked the standard since 380 BC and (likely beyond) “liberty and equality.”There are different ways to phrase this, but we settled on that one as it lines up with semantics and the classical definitions of the political ideologies and government types.

This left-right chart shows the core theory of considering a liberty paradigm and equality paradigm.

Other ways to Express the Terms

If you don’t like the liberty and equality paradigms, other terms to express this include a schism based on the realist questions “How much authority does the government have?” and “Who says so?” (which almost always nets the same result as asking “who benefits?”).

That produces:

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

We can also, look at the same thing another way, looking at the questions “who do the laws favor” and “who is exerting the force (or who is giving true consent to the force being exerted)”?

A basic version of a left-right spectrum chart.

In these terms:

  1. 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).
  2. 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).
  3. 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“).
  4. 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“.

This left-right model with explainers is one way to look at the basic 4 point left-right spectrum.

TIP: Both styles produce the same answers, I prefer the idealist “virtue-based” version, because we are presenting a system that needs to contain concepts related to ethics and morals, but to each their own. The basics are the same either way, and we’ll need to overlay other paradigms (noted below) anyway.

Combating Complexity With Left-Right Paradigms, Different Spheres, and Details

Above we covered the core, but there is more happening than just that.

The reality is people tend to have very different stances on liberty and equality, equality itself has some complexities regarding the semantics of collectivism and individualism, stances change per issue, and things are generally complicated.

To combat this complexity we can consider multiple “left-right paradigms” at once (the next step), in different “left-right spheres” of political life (such as “in economics,” or “in terms of morals and ethics”), to discuss specific per-issue left-right stances in detailed and comparative terms.

This foundation then allows us to lay countless other paradigms on-top of it (and to expand the “degrees” of the spectrum) like this:

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 Inequality (Social Hierarchy) Extreme Inequality
Classical Government Type Anarchy (Total Liberty and Equality) Democracy Mixed-Republic Aristocracy Tyranny (Total Authority and Social Hierarchy)
Political Ideology Radical Classical Liberalism Moderate Classical Liberalism Centrism Moderate Classical Conservatism Absolutist Classical Conservatism
Economy Free Market Lightly Regulated Market Mixed-Economy Tightly Controlled Economy Economy Controlled by the Few (Centrally Planned or Oligarchy)
Social Programs Robust Social Welfare Some Social Welfare Moderate Social Welfare Limited Social Welfare No Social Welfare
Trade Globalism and Free Trade Favors Free Trade Mixed-Trade Favors the Nation Nativism and Protectionism

Using the above we can then speak in terms of paradigms/spheres of action, for example we can say, “in terms of trade I am socially left-wing, in that I favor free trade, and I am also left in terms of liberty, in that I favor free trade.”

The above also allows us to lay those paradigms over our liberty or equality paradigm and get a sense of where an ideology stands issue-by-issue.

It is by doing all this together that we get a model that lines up with semantics and the political identities!

Thanks Greeks, that was a very useful foundational theory. Glad you pointed out the usefulness of abstraction, golden means, categorization, the core virtues of Democracy, and… well, pretty much everything we used to make this model.

We can sum this up by saying: 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.”

Why We Reinvented the Wheel Only To Make a Very Similar Wheel?

Other systems, like and the Nolan chart focus on economics and liberty, while other models focus on liberty (sometimes called degrees of force) only.

There is no perfect way to construct a left-right model, but the benefit of using more general terms is that we can fit factors like economy and liberty into our model, while still leaving room to deal with social issues that don’t directly relate to economics (such as a stance on church and state).

The Logic Behind Creating Left-Right Spectrums: Looking at the Pure Logic Behind our Paradigms

Any concept (thesis) by its nature can be said to have an antithesis.

The concept of “liberty” has the antithesis “authority”, and this schism creates the foundation for what we can call a left-right paradigm.

For example, the “liberty paradigm” liberty (left) vs. authority (right) can be abstracted from the singular concept of liberty (a political term at the heart of politics and the origin story of the terms left and right).

Now moving on to the next step, when one takes a thesis like liberty or social equality, then defines the antithesis, for example social inequality (or social hierarchy), they then get a “spectrum of middles” (a spectrum of degrees between equality and inequality).

When we define one attribute as left and one as right (using our history and philosophy and a little logic and reason), we get a “left-right political spectrum” based on our left-right paradigm.

When we then add other factors, like liberty (left) and authority (right), we get two basic spectrums we can consider together.

This sort of logic results in the left-right spectrums we feature above and below (where we plot one paradigm on the X axis and on the Y to create a complex spectrum).

From there we can consider additional left-right paradigms, like globalism and nationalism, or realism and idealism, and create an array of different complex spectrums.

So, the process works like this:

  1. Define terms: Liberty and Equality. TIP: This can be one or more terms, we are using the core two as an example.
  2. Abstract each term to find its thesis antithesis: Liberty and Authority, Equality (ex. social equality) and Inequality (ex. social hierarchy). TIP: Be careful, some terms don’t have an antithesis, some have more than one.
  3. Define middles and extremes: Extreme Liberty/Authority, Moderate Liberty/Authority, Extreme Equality/Inequality, Moderate Equality/Inequality. TIP: Not all terms have extreme and moderate positions, but when they do they almost always work to define the bounds.
  4. Consider the spectrum of possibilities between: Extreme liberty <-> liberty <-> moderate liberty/authority <-> authority <-> extreme authorityExtreme equality <-> equality <-> moderate equality/inequality <-> inequality <-> extreme inequality. TIP: One can define as many middles and variations of extremes as makes sense for the topic. Some concepts exist in binary, others have countless degrees of possibilities.

This mode of thinking can then output spectrums like this, which we can then plot on an XY Chart:

SPHERE OF ACTION Extreme Left >Left The Left-Right Mean Right Extreme Right
Liberty Extreme Liberty Favoring Liberty Balanced Liberty Favoring Authority Extreme Authority
Equality Extreme Equality Favoring Equality Balanced Equality Favoring Inequality Extreme Inequality

This is the type of logic we will use below to expand on the basic foundation we have introduced above.

Obviously we will be taking this method and applying it to more complex things, but having the foundation helps.

Speaking of more complex things, before moving on, consider the following image pertaining to the spectrum of Federalism (see that link if you need a refresher on federalism; it is important in general, so consider taking the moment):

An abstraction of the concept of Federalism, showing the degrees between extreme separatism and unionism.

On the above chart in the image, if we consider separatism (increasing separation within a federalist system) in left-right terms, we can say it is “left in terms of liberty”, but “right in terms of collectivism” (the entities are not in a tight union, so this is “to the right” (at least by enough measures to use it for an example).

Now, consider Unionism, the other extreme (the antithesis to separatism). Unionism is “right in terms of liberty” (as it demands all entities follow the same rule-set), but it is “left in terms of collectivism” (because it is one cohesive whole).

So what is the point? The point is that using the “art of abstraction” (where we draw antitheses, then means, then spectrums from a single thesis using the method above), we can both create the federalism spectrum and define its left-right properties.

When this then becomes an ideology, like oh I don’t know, Federalists and Anti-Federalists, we can then put down the party platform and instead think critically using our formal/informal system to better understand the qualities (or virtues) of the ideology and the different ranges of positions related to them.

Considering the paradigms that arise from this process of abstraction can help us to better understand the fundamental dualities at the heart of the political left and right (like liberty and equality). We’ll revisit this sort of logic below after covering more details.

Author: Thomas DeMichele

Thomas DeMichele is the content creator behind,,, and other and Massive Dog properties. He also contributes to MakerDAO and other cryptocurrency-based projects. Tom's focus in all...

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