What is meant when one claims to be on the Left or Right in their political views? We often associate the Left with Democrats and the Right with Republicans, in fact, many times these respective terms are used interchangeably. But there are some inconsistencies observed between where we peg certain political systems on the spectrum of Left-Right that have had me confused for some time. This is my investigation into a largely misunderstood spectrum.
My initial assumptions were looking at the comparison between the Democrat vs. Republican platforms. When we compare these two parties, we often associate Republicans as the party in favor of small, limited government, with a more external focus on the defense of the United States while largely staying out of the lives of its citizens. In contrast, we associate Democrats as the party in favor of larger, more involved government, with a more internal focus on providing programs designed to better the lives of its citizens. This is obviously an oversimplification of the parties, but in general this provides a basis for assuming Democrats, and thus the Left, are in favor of more government, while Republicans, and thus the Right, are in favor of less government.
And herein lies the issues with this initial assessment. If the Right is in favor of less government, then why is a dictatorial political system such as Fascism considered Far-Right? Furthermore, if the Left is in favor of more government, then why is anarchy (no government) considered Far-Left?
In order to truly understand the Left-Right Political Spectrum, some history is in order. The “left” and “right” terminology came into being around the time of the French Revolution, where it was meant to literally identify one’s political posturing. There were supporters of the king, that stood to the right of the president, while supporters of the revolution stood to the left. The press at the time used the term “left” or “right” to refer to these supporting viewpoints. These terms weren’t necessarily identifying specific political ideologies, rather, they were used to explain physical seating arrangements among the legislative body. As time went on, France and other countries began to adopt political ideologies in which the Left stood for progress, equality and reformation, while the Right stood for tradition, order and nationalism.
Under these more proper definitions of left and right, we start to see a Political Spectrum that identifies more accordingly to our Western political systems, with anarchy, communism, socialism and liberal ideologies associated with the Left, and fascism, nationalism, traditionalism and conservatism associated with the Right.
The problem with this form of modeling political ideologies is that it lumps many similarities between ideologies that can be found on opposite ends of the spectrum. For example, many of the community-centric policies of communism or socialism, Leftist ideologies, hold similar to that of right-wing fascist or nationalist policies. The Nazi party of Germany furthers this confusion in applying Right-wing nationalist social views, while practicing Left-wing socialist economics.
Perhaps a better spectrum would be to identify those political systems that have 100% government control on the left, versus political systems that have 0% government on the right. When applying political ideologies on this spectrum, we start to see a grouping of anarchy, republics, and democracies closer to the right, and monarchies, fascism, communism and socialism closer to the left. This spectrum attempts to better group the inconsistencies of fascism and anarchy, but still appears too simplistic a model when comparing individual social and economic issues within a political ideology. This spectrum does, however, tend to show a more consistent flow from despotism to liberty among the political ideologies, grouping together many of the political systems that have resulted in horrific human atrocities, while also grouping the political systems that have shown the greatest individual freedom.
There are many other lesser known political spectrums that attempt to group the differences more accordingly, often between the social and economic differences between political ideologies. However, these spectrums tend to fall by the wayside as they apply multiple axes in their separation and explanation, thus forming a much more complex structure.
In conclusion, much of what I have described here is just a scratching of the surface as to the complexities in defining political systems. To gain a truly accurate understanding, one must group these ideologies on a higher dimension of comparison. But for the sake of simplicity in formulating arguments over what is left versus right, one must look at the argument to determine which political spectrum best correlates. For example, if your argument is over reform versus tradition, the traditional Left-Right Political Spectrum may best define the issues of the discussion. However, if you’re arguing over the morality of political systems, you may find a closer correlation in assessing political systems using a 100%-0% Government Political Spectrum.