User Tools

Site Tools


The idea of a political spectrum stems from deliberative bodies in which groups of like-minded men would sit on opposite sides of a chamber, which gave rise to terms like “left” and “right” being attached to the views of the men on those sides.

The earliest known left-right classification was that of the National Assembly in France just before the French Revolution. Members who supported the monarchy, would sit towards the right. Those who had been offended by their own party would frequently stand up and walk over to the other side of the hall in order to make a political statement. __TOC__

Historian Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr. has said the spectrum theory was “adequate to the political simplicities of the nineteenth century, when the Right meant those who wished to preserve the existing order and the Left meant those who wished to change it. But the twentieth century, here as elsewhere, introduced new ambiguities.” <ref>Not Right, Not Left, But a Vital Center, Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., New York Times Magazine, April 4, 1948.</ref> In modern times, the left emphasizes collective wisdom as a guiding force (see planned economy), while the right emphasizes individual rights (see ideological spectrum).

This is in stark contrast to the erroneous liberal (and Communist) view which associates the “right” with Fascism and the “left” with Communism:

  • The rise of fascism and communism illustrated vividly the fallacies of the linear conception of Right and Left. In certain basic respects - a totalitarian state structure, a single party, a leader, a secret police, a hatred of political, cultural and intellectual freedom - fascism and communism are clearly more like each other than they are like anything in between. ://


The original definition referred to Church and state issues from the late 18th century Enlightenment period. At its root was faith vs. rationalism, or the Church vs. secularism. The so-called “right”, defined as “traditional interests” referred to the Church & monarchy who ruled by the divine right of kings, and the so-called “left” constituted secular elements challenging the Church's long-held influence over civil government. These definitions have always been problematic when attempting to assign western notions of “left and right” to societies which traditionally have no conception of separation of church and states, such as in Islam <ref>The Political Career of Muhammad, Arnold Toynbee, A Study of History Annex II TO III. C. (ii) (b) p. 466.</ref> or Czarist Russia.

The monarchy and titled nobility became known as the “right”; this idea however has been disabused in the United States where a landlord class of titled nobles never existed, and in fact is specifically prohibited by the U.S. Constitution. Hence Europeans today, based upon their own cultural idioms and history, have an extremely discolored view of what the “American right” is.

Another common misperception is, while the “right” has become identified with defending and advocating Judeo-Christian values, secular atheist mass movements such as National Socialism are often either mistakenly or deliberately labeled as right-wing. This fallacy has been particularly well illustrated in our own time by examining the modern fascist Ba'athist regimes of Iraq and Syria. Both have their roots in the anti-clerical influences of Western socialism against fundamentalist Islam, and inherently promote “change” against oppressive religious theocracy.<ref>What is conservatism? Mark Richardson</ref>

The “left” is often described as advocating “change” of traditional systems and institutions of a society, however the leftist regimes of Cuba and North Korea stoutly resist changes other leftist regimes abandoned 20 years ago after seven decades of stagnation and exploitation of the oppressed common people by a privileged leftist ruling elite.

While the left may challenge the authority, legitimacy and even existence of a supreme power, the right is beholden to traditional faith-based cultural attitudes.


At the time of the French Revolution, when the existing order, or Ancien Regime had been overthrown, the idea of nationalism did not exist throughout most of Europe. During the violent years of 1793 and 1794 in France, a love of the Patrie, or the nation, was cultivated to replace the foundations upon which society had been built under the old order. Under the stimulus of this movement for national unification, Catholicism was faced with the competition of a worship of national patriotism. Nationalism grew out of this new will to construct and shape the political community.<ref>John Hall Stewart, A Documentary Survey of the French Revolution (Macmillan, New York, 1963).</ref><ref>David A. Bell, The Cult of the Nation in France: Inventing Nationalism, 1680-1800, (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2001). ://</ref>

This transmutation of a love of God to a love of “the people” as being the basis for a social and political order spread across Europe and other parts of the world during the nineteenth century. In Germany it became a recognition and consciousness of “das volk”, later in Russia it was a dedication to the “narodny”. By the mid-nineteenth century, Socialism as a doctrine sought to overthrow the existing order of society, the Church and aristocracy, by promoting atheism and nationalism. The basic tenet was to replace the individual's commitment to love and serve God with the individual's commitment to love and serve the collective society.

Socialism has always been authoritarian from its beginnings. It began as a reaction against the classical liberalism of the French Revolution. The French writers who laid its foundation had no doubt that their ideas could be put into practice only by a strong dictatorial government. The first of modern planners, Henri de Saint-Simon, predicted those who did not obey his proposed economic planning boards would be ‘treated as cattle.’ <ref>''Road to Serfdom'', Friedrich A. Hayek, Reader's Digest Condensed Version, April 1945, pg. 39.</ref>

Nationalism can be defined as pride in one's native language and culture. Socialist theoreticians, wanting to overthrow the exisitng order, stirred up nationalist resentment among the minorities within the larger German, Russian, and Austro-Hungarian Empires. The reaction among Austrian Socialists was quite different. A solution to the problem of nationalities became policy in Austria-Hungary on two levels: territorial autonomy for territorial minorities, and “personal autonomy” for members of minorities dispersed among peoples of different languages and cultures. Minorities were to be granted the right to have their own schools and their own institutions. Many minorities realized it was better to remain subjects of the supra-national Hapsburg state than to be subordinate to repressive policies and actions of other national groups. Austrian Socialists rejected the idea of national liberation movements and the dissolution of the Hapsburg Monarchy into independent national units.<ref name=“talmon”>J. L. Talmon, The Unique and the Universal, Secker & Warburg, London 1965.</ref>

By the twentieth century, V.I. Lenin insisted on the right of subjugated peoples to break away from the great empires. Once the Bolsheviks were in power in Russia however, any attempt on the part of the subjugated peoples to break away from the Socialist Union of nations was considered counter-revolutionary activity.<ref name=“talmon” />

Friedrich Hayek of the London School of Economics and Political Science writing in the Spring of 1933 <ref>Friedrich A. Hayek, Memorandum on Nazi-Socialism spring of 1933</ref> remarked,


The left/right scale is a misleading way of comparing political systems. People use the left/right approach out of habit, but it leads to confusion. For example, fascism is often placed on the right and socialism on the left even though fascism and socialism have more similarities with each other than anything that falls between them. Indeed, the left/right scale is just an obsolete reference to the seating arrangement of the French Assembly in the 1790s.<ref>Beyond Left/Right by Marshall Fritz, 1987. Retrieved from 05/25/07.</ref> In 1970, Denver advertising executive David Nolan invented the Nolan Chart to overcome the inherently illogical weakness of the outdated left/right political spectrum.<ref>Why did the Advocates create the World's Smallest Political Quiz? Retrieved from 06/01/07.</ref>


The “economic” category includes what you do as a producer and consumer. These are your actions that can be described in money. Examples are earning a wage, buying a car, renting a motorhome.

The “civil” (or personal) category includes what you do in relationships and expressing yourself. These actions are not measured in money. Examples are the way you worship God, or don't; what books or magazines give you pleasure; your personal tradeoffs between today's fun and tomorrow's health. The Bill of Rights is aimed at your freedoms in this category.

Nolan saw how political families can be understood by the degree of individual choice they offer in these categories. You can use this improved way of mapping political thought to better understand your local, national and international political environment.

Left/liberals like personal choice in civil matters and central decision-making in economics. They want government to serve the disadvantaged and promote equality. Left/liberals place high value on good intentions. They accept diversity in social behavior but seek more equality in economics. They work with libertarians in defending civil liberties and with socialists in advancing economic central planning.

Right/conservatives like personal choice in economics and central decision-making in civil matters. They want government to defend the community from threats to its moral fiber. Right/conservatives place high value on laws and legislation. They accept diversity in economics but seek similarity in social behavior. They work with libertarians in defending economic freedoms and with populists in enforcing community standards in social matters.

Socialists and populists favor central decision-making in both civil and economic matters. They believe the needs of the individual are subordinate to the needs of society. They want government to “correct wrongs.” While they strongly differ on particular programs, both prefer equality in economic and personal matters.

Classical liberals/libertarians like personal choice in both civil and economic matters. They believe government's only purpose is to safeguard people from coercion and violence. They value individual responsibility and tolerance. Libertarians accept diversity in both social behavior and in economic situation.

Centrists favor selective governmental intervention and temporary affiliations with others. They take a strong stance on few issues, preferring the middle position in most matters. Centrists emphasize practical solutions to current public issues.

Furthermore, the old fashioned left-right model is fatally flawed. The model implies that if you “go too far” (i.e., are consistent) with any political idea, you end up, in some inexplicable way, at totalitarianism or anarchism, or maybe both. Pursue conservative thought to its logical extreme, according to this model, and you somehow end up at fascism, which is national socialism, or white supremacy or some other authoritarian position. If you pursue liberal thought too far, you supposedly end up at socialism or communism. This is inconsistent, and it ignores large philosophical differences between, liberalism and communism, and conservatism and fascism.


In politics, right-wing historically referred to a society run by natural law or tradition. It currently can refer to a belief set made up of economic and social conservatism, and support for a strong military and an active foreign policy. The term, as well as left-wing come from the French Revolution, a reference to where people sat in parliament, although there was also a theory where the terms originated from the Book of Revelations relating to Jesus transfiguring those on his left side and right side into goats and sheep, respectively.

The term Rightist refers to someone on the 'right' side of the political spectrum. Politics on the 'right' usually imply taking positions in favor of the traditional system of a society, including its traditional values and its traditional ruling institutions. Compare: leftist. Following the left-right political spectrum, a “Right-Winger” could be referred to as anyone who favors having marginally more economic than personal liberties.

It is widely accepted, however, that there is not just one dimension of political thought, so that people can unambiguously be classified as 'right' or 'left'. Nonetheless, the political spectrum theory still has wide currency.

Pejorative usage

Usage of terms like “right wing” and “far right” by liberals about conservatives is usually intended to conjure up images of Nazi genocide (though an objective interpretation of the left-right political spectrum would reveal that the fascist regimes of WWII Europe were more statist than right-wing). Indeed, some critics openly liken Israel and its leaders to “Nazis”, even though Israel is the most democratic country in the entire Middle East.<ref>Arabs have full citizenship rights in Israel, even serving as judges and legislators.</ref>

In modern politics, the term right wing is used by liberals in their attempt to make conservatives look extreme and unreasonable.

Example usage is, “He's a right-winger!” rather than simply, “He's conservative.”

The term is used less frequently by liberals now because it has lost much of its pejorative effect.

Extreme Polarization

Dacher Keltner, assistant professor of psychology at the University of California at Berkeley, has found that people have a powerful tendency to exaggerate the views of their ideological opponents, seeing, on average, twice as much difference as actually exists. Moreover, he has turned up this “imagined extremism” in a variety of settings, including conflicts over abortion rights, the interpretation of a racial incident, the attitudes of homosexuals and Christian fundamentalists and the choices of English professors toward use of the “Western Canon” in university classes.

Partisans and nonpartisans in political disputes, Keltner's study finds, seriously overestimate the polarization between the two sides. Although a tendency to demonize one’s opponents is not a new understanding, Keltner’s work breaks new ground in being able to measure the extent of the effect by gathering hard data on actual versus perceived differences among the parties to a dispute as well as among neutral observers.<ref>Patricia McBroom, UC, Berkeley, News Release, 1/4/97, Political attitudes in the U.S. are exaggerated,<br /> according to UC Berkeley psychologist in studies of “Imagined Extremism.”; Library</ref>



See also

  • a 2-d view with left-right based on US politics and a novel vertical axis
political_spectrum.txt · Last modified: 2020/03/12 18:37 (external edit)