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Horseshoe theory

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All bigots and frauds are brothers under the skin.
Christopher Hitchens[1]

The horseshoe theory in political science stipulates that the far-left and far-right are more similar to each other in essentials than either is to the political center.

It was formulated by the French post-postmodernist philosopher Jean-Pierre Faye, who believed that the extremes of the political spectrum both represented totalitarianism of different kinds; this meant that the political spectrum should not be described as a linear bar with the two ends representing the far-left and right being ideologically the furthest apart from each other, but as a horseshoe in which the two ends are closer to each other than to the center.

The same phenomenon applies in the various competing monotheisms as well, where professed arch-enemies like Christian dominionists and the Muslim Taliban actually share views on most topics, including on consumer culture, abortion, feminism, drug use, homosexuality and so on.

Nationalists from different nations and race supremacists from different ethnic groups (white supremacy, black supremacy) also share the majority of their political outlook with their rival cranks, not with the majority.

Examples[edit]

The real division is not between conservatives and revolutionaries but between authoritarians and libertarians.
George Orwell[2]

On the left side of the horseshoe are placed communist countries such as the Soviet Union, Maoist China, Cuba under Fidel Castro, North Korea under the Kim Il Sung, and, well, every other communist country, with "happiest-barrack" countries like Hungary under "goulash communism" and Yugoslavia furthest from the end.

On the right side goes (in order from the end) Nazi Germany, militarist Japan, Pinochet's Chile, Mussolini's Italy, Franquist Spain, and various clerical-fascist regimes, military dictatorships, and monarchies.

In the center is the center-left to center-right continuum occupied by mainstream political parties in the countries that have adopted democracy, social democracy and liberal capitalism.

One rather explicit example of the horseshoe theory in action is third positionism, which intentionally blends far-left and far-right politics. Fringe political movements such as the one initiated by Lyndon LaRouche also take ideas from both fringes of the spectrum. Certain other ideologies, such as North Korea's Juche, have also been known to mix far-left and far-right politics.

Authoritarian parties[edit]

Authoritarian type parties on the hard-left and hard-right may not represent the furthest ends of the political spectrum but still mirror each other in significant ways.

Take the anti-pragmatic side of the United States Republican Party (especially the Religious Right) and compare it to the modern Communist Party of the Russian Federation and you can find quite a few similarities (besides the obvious one that both are ideologues focused on the "purity" of their movement), especially on social policies. In fact, if each party's leaders avoided talking to each other about economics they would find more common ground than they may expect, especially considering their vehement hatred for each other. For instance:

(At least on the Republican side, none of this is new: at the height of the New Left movement and the hippie tendency, Americans were regularly regaled with encomia favourably comparing Soviet youth to our own, the Soviets' supposedly being sober, patriotic, sexually puritanical, (if male) short-haired (and never draft-dodging), never foul-mouthed, and eagerly doing as they were told. This was usually presented as a "this is why we're in danger from them, our decadence will doom us" argument, but the admiration was patently unmistakable. If only Soviet youth had been permitted to hear these: they could have used a good laugh.)

Bob Altemeyer's research backs the theory that authoritarian types tend to mirror each other, even if they aren't as extreme to the right or left as they could be.

A 1985 study of political extremist groups in the US at the time came to similar conclusions:[17]

…while the two camps embrace different programmatic beliefs, both are deeply estranged from certain features of American society and highly critical of what they perceive as the spiritual and moral degeneration of American institutions. Both view American society as dominated by conspiratorial forces that are working to defeat their respective ideological aims.

The degree of their alienation is intensified by the zealous and unyielding manner in which they hold their beliefs. Both camps possess an inflexible psychological and political style characterized by the tendency to view social and political affairs in crude, unambiguous and stereotypical terms. They see political life as a conflict between 'us' and 'them', a struggle between good and evil played out on a battleground where compromise amounts to capitulation and the goal is total victory.

The far left and the far right also resemble each other in the way they pursue their political goals. Both are disposed to censor their opponents, to deal harshly with enemies, to sacrifice the well-being even of the innocent in order to serve a 'higher purpose', and to use cruel tactics if necessary to 'persuade' society of the wisdom of their objectives. Both tend to support (or oppose) civil liberties in a highly partisan and self-serving fashion, supporting freedom for themselves and for the groups and causes they favour while seeking to withhold it from enemies and advocates of causes they dislike.

In sum, when the views of the far left and far right are evaluated against the standard left–right ideological dimension, they can appropriately be classified at opposite ends of the political spectrum. But when the two camps are evaluated on questions of political and psychological style, the treatment of political opponents, and the tactics that they are willing to employ to achieve their ends, the display many parallels that can rightly be labelled authoritarian.

Objectivism and Marxism[edit]

John Galt
Che Guevara

Ayn Rand's philosophy of Objectivism has frequently been described as the "Marxism of the Right" by everyone not blinded by love of Rand its many critics.[note 4] For example, Whittaker Chambers, in his review[19] of Atlas Shrugged for the National Review in 1957, suggested that Rand's materialism, despite all protests to the contrary, was functionally almost identical to the Marxism that she so despised. Similarly, Vladimir Shlapentokh, who grew up and lived in the Soviet Union, points out that Rand was more marked by the Soviet system than she was aware.[20]

The similar personality cults that have been developed around each of them has also caused parallels to be made between Karl Marx and Ayn Rand — both are small political groups that base themselves around a largely discredited economic philosopher (or a shitty novelist, in Rand's case) who is seen as a divine authority (or would be, if they weren't both staunch atheists) on how life works and what the ideal moral system would be like. Both are obsessed with ideological purity within the group and especially on who (if anyone) can take up the writer's mantle now that they are no longer alive, and both have significant infighting because certain members couldn't be bothered to put their small differences aside and try to advance the movement's credibility in the academic and social spheres. Finally, both Rand's ideology and Stalin's (which was Marxism as she knew it first-hand) dedicatedly divided people into groups of 'productive individuals' and 'parasites', and art and literature into acceptable (ideologically valid) and 'degenerate' types. In the first instance, they strongly disagreed as to who were in these groups (Marxists saw the working class as productive and the upper class as parasites, while Objectivists held the opposite view), but they generally agreed about what art was acceptable versus 'degenerate'.

Subculture of libertarians and authoritarianism[edit]

Libertarianism contains many strains, and some are more consistent on civil libertarianism than others.[note 5] On one hand, libertarians like Radley Balko support movements like Black Lives Matter[22], and Julian Sanchez is well-known for his excellent work on surveillance and privacy issues.[23] However, it is necessary to separate the wheat from the authoritarian chaff within the libertarian movement.

The subculture of younger, male libertarians online can be among the more authoritarian strains, as can be older men (they usually are) who, in the US, are often too comfortable with the religious right and other intolerant aspects of the Republican Party. This brand of libertarians loves to single out the crazies on the left, but some (not remotely all) are extremely big tent when it comes to right-wing lunatics on the fringe, including "race realists" and theocratic bigots like Ted Cruz or the Bush-Cheney horror.[note 6] Others, like Gary North, have adopted libertarian rhetoric in the name of advancing a reactionary Christian agenda, seeing the government as restricting the 'freedom' of Christians to form their own private theocracies and lock sexual and ethnic minorities out of society; this brand of the movement is known as paleolibertarianism.

More recently, the neoreactionary movement and Gamergate types have been making inroads into the younger libertarian base and venting their anger and resentment in unexpected directions unrelated to government intrusion on liberties, particularly in terms of race relations and gender theory. This may cause more traditional civil libertarians to modify their own philosophies to win that market of morons, or risk becoming irrelevant.[25] You can no longer rely on just hating the government — you also have to hate culture, intellectualism, feminism, sexuality, ethnic minorities, your mommy,[26] and modernity in general[27] as enemies of freedom (specifically, freedom for straight white males).

Marxism and fascism/ultra-nationalism[edit]

I think the Soviet Union protected Russians from an even worse ideology, that is the liberalism of the United States and Western Europe…
—Neo-Nazi Richard Spencer[28]

Fascists and ultra-nationalists on the far right and revolutionary communists on the far left, upon experiencing a change in their political ideology, have been known to swing towards the other extreme of the political spectrum more often than they do towards moderation.

Japan[edit]

See the main article on this topic: Japan

During the 1930s, many Japanese Marxists were arrested by the Japanese military government and volunteered or were forced to disavow the Japanese Communist Party. Rather than simply disowning the party, many — but not all — Marxists converted to fascistic ultra-nationalism.[29]

Among the reasons were their formalistic radicalism and blind adherence to Comintern and party dictates and, despite their advocacy of "democracy," a lack of real experience or understanding of human rights. Although prewar Marxism was a sharp thrust to the left and away from tradition, its psychological structure had much in common with the ideology of the emperor system, a rote submission to authority. In one sense, Marxism was simply the reverse coin of a banzai-shouting, emperor worshipping statism.
—Saburo Ienaga[29]

North Korea[edit]

See the main article on this topic: North Korea

The totalitarian regime of North Korea, despite having originated as a Soviet- and Chinese-backed communist state, has been called, in practice, the last display of "pure" fascism currently in existence. It speaks of the Korean people as "the cleanest race", proclaiming that, because of their purity and childlike virtue, they need strong, parental leadership (i.e. the Kim dynasty) in order to be safe from an outside world that wants to destroy them. This is an ethnic supremacist ideology more analogous to that espoused by far-right white nationalists in the West, or by Imperial Japan in the 1930s and by Japanese ultra-nationalists today, than it is to the "Workers and peasants of the world, unite!" rhetoric that emanated from Moscow and Beijing.[30] Speaking of Imperial Japan, the worship of the Kim dynasty also has more in common with the emperor-worship of Korea's former colonizer than with the personality cults of Stalin and Mao, and many of the early leaders that the Soviets installed in North Korea had in fact previously collaborated with the Japanese during their colonization of Korea.[31]

Even with the North Korean regime's fascist roots, however, it had little problem cozying up with the Soviet Union and the People's Republic of China and adopting an officially communist ideology in its quest to get revenge on the US and their "colony" of South Korea. Notably, once communism fell in Russia and their main benefactor evaporated, the North Koreans started dropping all pretense of communism with fairly little effort. On the surface, it had swung from the far-left to the far-right, but on a practical level, virtually nothing had changed. Today, some on the alt-right in the West have expressed solidarity with North Korea, viewing it as a bastion of resistance to 'globalism' that has been unjustly smeared by Western governments; in this, they stand aligned with many of North Korea's traditionally far-left apologists.[32]

Birchers and Communists[edit]

Historian Richard Hofstadter noted the similarities between the recruiting methods used by both radical left and radical right groups when he wrote "The John Birch Society emulates Communist cells and quasi-secret operation through 'front' groups, and preaches a ruthless prosecution of the ideological war along lines very similar to those it finds in the Communist enemy." Hofstadter also quoted New Right leader Barry Goldwater, who said "I would suggest that we analyze and copy the strategy of the enemy; theirs has worked and ours has not."[33] Cue the historical origins of neoconservatism. Important figures in the parallel development of Thatcherism, such as Keith JosephWikipedia's W.svg and Alfred Sherman,Wikipedia's W.svg similarly modelled their tactics on the Leftist idea of the "long march through the institutions". Another rather explicit example of this is some Tea Party members reading the writings of leftist Saul Alinsky because of his suggestions on how to have a successful "radical" movement.

Hofstadter also points out the other examples of the radical right and ultraconservative emulating the "enemy". For example, while the "paranoid" may be an anti-intellectual, "the paranoid will outdo him in the apparatus of scholarship, even of pedantry." Glenn Beck has been cited as a modern example of this.[34]

In fact despite the dislike and paranoia many hard-right figures have for academia, they often end up mimicking academia in many ways because as Hofstadter notes, their style of writing "is nothing if not scholarly in technique. McCarthy’s 96-page pamphlet, McCarthyism, contains no less than 313 footnote references, and Mr. Welch's incredible assault on Eisenhower, The Politician, has one hundred pages of bibliography and notes. The entire right-wing movement of our time is a parade of experts, study groups, monographs, footnotes, and bibliographies." The modern right-wing pundits' habit of overstuffing their book with unnecessary footnotes has become so cliché that even Stephen Colbert mocked it in his book America Again: Re-becoming the Greatness We Never Weren't.[35]

Islamists and the Western far-right[edit]

Islamists and Islamophobes (as in actual Islamophobes on the order of Britain First, Geert Wilders, etc., rather than people who've been labeled as such by people nervous of racism) seem to have more in common with each other than either mainstream Western or Islamic society, to the point that each could be described as an identical phenomena occurring in different cultures.

Both share extreme social and often religious conservative views, have a clear sense of their own culture's superiority, a tendency to see other cultures as morally deficient and a threat to one's own culture, a powerful sense of group belonging, a tendency to view the opposing side as one homogeneous horde of evil (and thus if one member of the other side does something awful it reflects badly on all of them), a tendency to dehumanise the other side, a desire to "cleanse" their perceived homelands of all foreign influence, and a keenness on violence as a solution.

Furthermore, they have a complete blindness to the failures of their own culture and will, without any apparent sense of irony, rip into the other side's culture for things their own is guilty of. For instance, Islamophobes have a nasty tendency to morph into feminists as soon as the subject is Islam, yet will revert to their natural sexist form when discussing their own culture and will gladly call feminists all the names under the sun. Conversely, Islamists see Islam as the only culture in which women are respected, unlike in the West where women are forced to behave like "whores" (that are allowed to drive, leave the country of their own free will, choose who they marry, testify in court, et cetera). Some, to their credit (for a certain value of 'credit'), don't even try to hide the shared misogyny. Vox Day, for one, has been known to defend the Taliban's vicious repression of women's rights as a measure to preserve their birth rate.[36]

Both sides like to quote mine the Qur'an, in particular Qur'an 9:5:

Then, when the sacred months have passed, slay the idolaters wherever ye find them, and take them (captive), and besiege them, and prepare for them each ambush.

Islamophobes quote this because it "proves" that Islam can never make peace with infidels, and Islamists quote this because it "proves" that Islam can never make peace with infidels. Normal Muslims and scholars of Islam don't start in the middle of a paragraph, and instead read the whole thing with preceding verses, in which it becomes a bit more clear that the Qur'an is only referring to "idolaters" that have been working against you. Unless, like most people, they just treat their holy books like a EULA;Wikipedia's W.svg pretend to have read it, scroll to bottom, press agree. Anyway, if the "idolaters" aren't fighting you or they are keeping peace treaties with you, no, don't attack them.[note 7]

On a similar note, some neo-Nazis have also taken to expressing sympathy for DAESH, with a number of cases of neo-Nazis converting to fundamentalist Islam but maintaining continuity with their fascist views. Despite the often-virulent Islamophobia within the white nationalist and neo-Nazi movements, the common denominators of anti-Semitism and disgust with the 'decadence' of Western society serve as ideological links.[37]

TERFs and the Religious Right/MRAs[edit]

One of the more extreme wings of the feminist movement, trans-exclusionary radical feminism (or "TERF"), has, in the past, worked closely with religious conservatives on some sexual matters, despite their otherwise fervent hatred of each other.[38] The two seem to get along on matters that have to do with being hostile to the transgender community (hence the name), wanting pornography and prostitution to be banned, and a dislike of certain other sexual minorities (bisexuals, the BDSM community, et cetera). Margaret Atwood's feminist dystopian novel The Handmaid's Tale even presented TERFs as having colluded in the formation of the theocratic Republic of Gilead over such issues.

Similarly, TERFs have been repeatedly compared to men's rights activists[39] due to both having the tendency to direct overly aggressive rhetoric at the opposite sex, which is almost always based around hasty generalizations. Both may also overestimate the power of their enemy, believing that there is an organized effort by the media/society to destroy/oppress their gender. Some MRAs have even emulated fringe radical feminists, such as through the Men Going Their Own Way movement which encourages straight men to avoid women, much like what fringe radical feminists do with political lesbianism, which encourages women to stay away from men. Also, both groups are (obviously) typically transphobic, often repeating the same claims about how letting trans people use the right bathroom will be the doom of society, and have both attracted certain homophobes.[40] MRAs also have a tendency to look for bias against them in the media even where none may exist; for example, if a women bests a man in combat on television or in a movie, there is a tendency to immediately assume this is for "PC empowerment" as opposed to more likely reasons such as plot convenience (apparently, the idea this is very possible is too crazy to be taken seriously).[note 8] This is especially ironic considering that this is basically what they decry radical feminists for doing (i.e., eagerly looking for bias against women where none may exist).

TERFs also tend to share their right-wing counterparts' hostility for third-wave feminism.[41] While religious conservatives and MRAs oppose it because they don't like feminism in general, TERFs often come out against it because they see third-wavers as allowing transgender "infiltrators" into the women's movement[42], as well as their more permissive views on sexual matters and resultant opposition to the TERFs' hardline stances against pornography and sex work.[note 9] In fact, some otherwise dyed-in-the-wool anti-feminists have taken to developing an appreciation for TERFs, seeing them as "real feminists" versus the "modern feminists" with their embrace of transgender rights, intersectionality, and that hippity-hoppity jungle music the kids these days are into.[43]

Vladimir Putin's fan club[edit]

See the main article on this topic: Vladimir Putin

Extremists sometimes champion surprising causes célèbres, which can lead far right and far left to back the same horse. Their responses to Vladimir Putin illustrate this. When U.S.-Russian relations chilled in 2013 amidst controversy over a proposed U.S. intervention against Assad in Syria, a vocal minority of Western leftists went beyond opposing the intervention and actually praised Putin. This tendency, most visible on tankie websites like Globalresearch.ca and Counterpunch, continued throughout the crisis in Ukraine, in which the Euromaidan that ousted President Viktor Yanukovich was portrayed as a mob of neo-fascists. Around this time, American conservatives also began warming up to Putin, seeing him as a stalwart defender of Christendom against homosexuals, Muslims, and riot grrrl punk bands who made their favorite boogeyman, Barack Obama, look "weak" in the bargain. It's no secret that sections of the American "libertarian" movement have deep strains of authoritarianism and power-worship, and Putin has crafted an image that appeals to such people.[44] The logical conclusion of this came in 2015, when Donald Trump accepted Putin's de facto endorsement for the presidency. Putin's moonbat supporters (probably) don't share many of his wingnut supporters' motives, apart from reflexive loathing of the Western "establishment", but their behavior has still dovetailed.

White and black nationalists[edit]

White nationalist and black nationalist groups have been known to get along and even collaborate in the past. The founder of the American Nazi Party, George Lincoln Rockwell, was invited by Elijah Muhammad to speak at a Nation of Islam rally; in turn, Rockwell "praised" Muhammad as the "Black People's Hitler."[45] White supremacist Tom Metzger has also praised the Nation of Islam for their anti-Semitic views. Future British National Party leader Nick Griffin worked with Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan,[46] and allegedly distributed Nation of Islam publications in the United Kingdom in the early 1990s.

From a purely ideological perspective, it makes sense. Both white and black nationalists believe that their respective races ought to be kept separate so as to "protect" their ethnic/cultural identities from being diluted through contact with the other, and would thus see a movement trying to enforce such separation from the other side as a natural ally. As a result, both sides have little love for the pro-integration wing (MLK, the NAACP, etc.) of the civil rights movement. A similar tendency can be seen in the more extreme condemnations of white people who take from black American or Jamaican musical influences, with leftists attacking them for cultural appropriation (or simply "theft") and rightists attacking them for being "race traitors" (sometimes glossed up, especially in Britain, by calling them "class traitors"). There also exists shared belief in racialism, albeit in somewhat different forms. While white nationalists tend to follow the discredited ideas of turn-of-the-20th-century scientific racism, black nationalists likewise have melanin theory, with both having questionable views on historical revisionism. Lastly, a lot of the same anti-LGBT rhetoric and anti-Semitic conspiracy theories circulate in both white and black nationalist circles, with the latter in particular claiming that the Jews were responsible for slavery.

Arab nationalism / Arab socialism / Islamism[edit]

See the main articles on this topic: Arab nationalism and Islamism

These ideologies, while often virulently opposing one another on paper, are very similar in many ways. For starters, they all have a near pathological hated of the West and Israel and blame almost all evils in the world on them.

The Unabomber[edit]

See the main article on this topic: Unabomber

The American domestic terrorist Ted Kaczynski, better known as the Unabomber, has been embraced as a hero by people and groups on both the far left and the far right. On the left, a number of hard greens have embraced his anti-industrial, neo-Luddite ideology on environmental grounds. The anarchist collective CrimethInc., for example, has an extended hagiography declaring Kaczynski "a hero for our time", claiming that the actions of his targets against people and the environment made his bombing campaign justified.[47] On the right, he's also won the affection of radical traditionalists and other reactionaries due to his view that modern technology was responsible for the decadence, crumbling moral values, and tyranny of the modern world. Right-wing pundit Keith Ablow, for one, has defended Kaczynski's ideology; while he took great pains to state that he thought Kaczynski's actions were wrong, he went on to state that his ideas "are increasingly important" and "cannot be dismissed", saying that his manifesto, Industrial Society and Its Future, deserved a place alongside Nineteen Eighty-Four and Brave New World.[48][49] According to Ablow's logic, since the NSA is spying on us and Barack Obama heavily employed the internet as a key campaign and outreach tool, that means that the internet is totally rotten to the core and that Kaczynski was right about technology.

Art and propaganda[edit]

Within the art world, the state-sponsored artistic styles of Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union have been described as having more in common with each other than either side might have been willing to admit, with art historians sometimes using the term "heroic realism" to describe both socialist realism and Nazi art.[50] Both were characterized by a firm rejection of modernism in the arts as 'bourgeois' or 'degenerate', instead seeking to depict idealized figures representing the common man with the intent of use for propaganda purposes, and their state sponsors cracked down on alternative, modernist styles. During the Cold War, the CIA, as a reaction to socialist realism, sponsored modern artists to serve as a counterweight to the Soviet state style, even though, in the US, their main critics traditionally came from the right rather than the left.[51]

In fiction[edit]

One of the most famous demonstrations of the horseshoe theory was in George Orwell's Animal Farm, a satirical critique of Soviet communism and how it had betrayed its working class revolutionary roots. The animals' revolution, after overthrowing the farm's cruel human owners, quickly turns into exactly the same sort of tyranny that the humans had once imposed upon them — all in the name of stopping counter-revolutionaries, of course. To represent this evolution, the pigs, the leaders of the revolution, start taking on an increasing number of human-like qualities, until at the end they cannot be distinguished from them.

The BioShock video game series also likes to feature this with its villains. The hyper-capitalist Andrew Ryan in the first game is mirrored by the hyper-collectivist Sofia Lamb in the second, with both their ideologies turning out to be rather hollow and easily discarded out of self-interest. BioShock Infinite, meanwhile, has Zachary Hale Comstock and Daisy Fitzroy, the former being the theocratic, racist tyrant running the city of Columbia with an iron fist, and the latter a working-class black woman who rises to become the leader of a communist-flavored resistance against Comstock — and, upon attaining power, turns into a tyrant in her own right by launching purges against Columbia's upper class.

In religion[edit]

The horseshoe theory can be seen in other ways besides far-right/far-left politics. Anti-Catholicism and Traditionalist Catholicism, seemingly opposites, share the same predilection to anti-Semitic, anti-Masonic, and New World Order conspiracy theories, and to conspiracy theories about the current Catholic Church leadership. One can see similar parallels between the conspiracist views of Mormon writer W. Cleon Skousen and anti-Mormon writer Ed Decker, and between New Ager David Icke, and fundamentalist Christian, anti-New Age writer Texe Marrs.

Even when it comes to religious prejudice, Richard Hofstadter can note examples of extremists emulating the "enemy". For example, he references the fact that despite the Ku Klux Klan's extreme Protestant views and anti-Catholicism they ended up imitating Catholicism "to to the point of donning priestly vestments, developing an elaborate ritual and an equally elaborate hierarchy."

Similarities[edit]

There are several common features of far-left and far-right politics and political movements.

Use of othering in rhetoric[edit]

Both far-right and far-left movements portray their enemies in a dehumanizing manner as a faceless mass. Often the enemy group is portrayed as having much more power than they actually have, approaching the near-omnipotence of Satan.

Enemy groups used by the far-right can be defined by ethnicity or class; common targets are local ethnic minorities, as well as international bankers and foreigners in general. The far-left largely uses class to define its enemies, such as bankers (these guys just can't catch a break!), industrialists, and other Bourgeois Capitalist Oppressors; however, some anti-colonial and similar movements associated with the left-wing, such as Louis Farrakhan's Nation of Islam, use race or ethnicity as the defining factor.

The "othered" group is portrayed as having to be swept aside in some way in order to make things better; this has led to the groups in question being marginalized, or further marginalized, or subjected to mass slaughter as in Nazi Germany, the Holodomor, communist Cambodia, the slave trade etc.

Insistence on orthodoxy[edit]

Far-left and far-right movements often require adherents (or all people in their jurisdiction, if they get into power) to adhere to a very rigid set of beliefs, expelling or punishing heretics and dissenters. These beliefs are often accompanied by an ad hominem to be used against any dissenter; for example, that a non-communist has false consciousness, or that a non-Nazi is of Jewish descent, or that an opponent of apartheid in South Africa is a communist, or the simple "sheeple."

In a cult-like manner, people who defect from the "true faith," or else are insufficiently doctrinaire, are not merely said to have changed their minds or voiced dissent: they are viewed as traitors and apostates, who have have sold their souls completely to the hated enemy for the most venal of motives. This is the logic that motivates Tea Party supporters to accuse pro-bailout Republican presidents of being secret socialists (a sure sign that the accuser has read neither Marx nor any mainstream economic textbook). It also explains the mutual loathing between the various strains of communism (e.g. between Stalinists, Trotskyists, and Maoists[52]).

Often, this can take form in accusations that anyone who disagrees with them must be an extremist working for the other side. An example of this would be American radical right pundits constantly trying to "prove" that fairly moderate presidents such as Dwight Eisenhower or Barack Obama were/are political radicals/socialists (or in Ike's case a communist agent) in order to portray them as dangerous. It can also be seen in the infighting between libertarians, paleoconservatives, and neoconservatives, with the first group accusing the other two of supporting "intrusion by big government", the second one accusing their rivals of supporting policies that "degrade" the nation's morals, economy, and identity, and the last one accusing the others of being of like mind with dovish liberals on foreign policy. Likewise, Stalinist groups label(ed) anyone who broke from the Soviet Union's idea of communism, including Trotskyists and social democrats, as secretly being fascists or agents of capitalism. The Communist International even coined the term "social fascism"Wikipedia's W.svg in the 1930s as a disparaging synonym for social democracy. The Trotskyists themselves, of course, turned around and labeled the Soviet Union itself as a betrayal of "true" communism. Of course, this makes a kind of sense: if you're very far from the political centre, then anyone even slightly closer to it, on any issue, would appear (to you) to be far to your "right" or "left".

The most obvious manifestation of this is the hundreds and hundreds of splinter-sects that have grown out of right and left-wing movements through disagreements on fairly minor points, with more infighting than cooperation going on between them. This was satirized in the film Life of Brian as a dust-up between the Judean People's Front and the People's Front of Judea.

Conspiratorial thinking[edit]

Anti-Semitism is the socialism of fools.
—Ferdinand Kronawetter[note 10]

Fringe ideologies often appeal to neurotic and paranoid types, and actual political positions often take a back seat to their mental states. Thus, conspiratorial thinking beyond the bounds of reason tends to characterize political extremes, so much so that the libertarian right and the anarcho-(your movement here) left seem interchangeable. Take the 9/11 truther movement, which thrives on both political fringes because conspiratorial ideation and extreme values are correlated. This is not, of course, to say that all belief in the existence of conspiracies is irrational. But when someone views conspiracy as the prime mover behind history, or sees a unified conspiracy theory behind the fall of every leaf, they've gone off the edge of the map.

Historical revisionism is common on the political fringes. A wide selection of isolationist weirdos and unreformed anti-Semites on the Old Right have famously sought to rationalize, downplay, or flat-out deny the Holocaust. So too have a vocal minority of crazy assholes within the anti-Zionist movement.

Likewise, a few hard-core leftists have denied that the conduct of the Bosnian War constituted a genocide. Some of the absolute worst revisionists, like Edward S. Herman,[54] even claim that the Bosnian Serb militias' massacre of at least 8,373[55] unarmed Muslim civilians at and around Srebrenica was a legitimate act of self-defense, a shadowy Muslim mass-suicide, or an elaborate hoax. Presumably, these deniers fear it would be "imperialist" to say that big bad NATO, which eventually intervened in Bosnia and Kosovo, once did a good thing. Even Noam Chomsky has occasionally indulged in this intellectual dishonesty: He once claimed that the Trnopolje campWikipedia's W.svg was not a concentration camp, because "people could leave if they wanted"[56] (although he has since backed off on this). In this particular debate, moonbats align with Orthodox Christian fundamentalists (defending the Serbs as they're predominantly Orthodox too), pan-Slavicists in Russia, neo-fascists like Golden Dawn, paleoconservatives like Pat Buchanan, and Islamophobic "thinkers" like Pamela Geller and Michael Savage; strange bedfellows indeed.

Conspiracism and its subset, revisionism, is endemic in all these groups because their members hold all their beliefs to be both true and self-evident to anyone of good will who knows the facts, leaving open (though not begging)[note 11] for them the glaring question of why these beliefs are so unpopular in the general populace. The usual answers are some sort of anti-democratic thought (most people are 'sheeple') and a belief that one or more conspiracies must be keeping them from knowing the facts and possessing the mental equipment necessary to arrive at the correct conclusions.

Pseudoscience promotion[edit]

Quite a large number of extremists have but little regard for science, and are often openly dismissive of it, seeing it as part of the bourgeois/liberal/Jewish/Marxist/what-have-you establishment. As a result, they are very prone to promoting various pseudoscientific ideas. Well-known examples include:

Criticism[edit]

The horseshoe theory has come under some criticism. The simplest critiques tend to come from the extremists themselves, naturally, who either see themselves as being complete, utter, Manichaean opposites of the people on the other side of the spectrum, or acknowledge the similarities between the two extremes yet maintain that they are fighting for the "right people" while their enemies are not. Other, more complex critiques have come from people who feel the analysis is incomplete or flawed, arguing that the horseshoe theory doesn't take into account the complexity of political beliefs themselves, there being many different ways to disagree and issues on which to disagree.

From extremists[edit]

On the right-wing side, the criticisms are often couched in terms of religion, with right-wingers claiming that they are completely different from left-wingers because they believe in different "gods," or different takes on the same God. One example is the contrast drawn during the U.S.'s Second Red Scare between Christianity and "Godless Communism."

A common gambit on the left-wing side is to claim that few, or none, of the historical communist states are representatives of 'True' (Classical Marxist) Communism, which has nothing in common with the evil right-wing fascist extremism.[note 12] One would be mistaken to think that this is an example of the No True Scotsman argument, if it weren't for the fact that Vladimir Lenin, founder of the Soviet Union, described it as 'State Capitalist' (as opposed to Socialist) himself, explaining that State Capitalism was a path to Socialism as proposed in his 1921 New Economic Policy. Leon Trotsky held a similar, more bitter take on the same idea, viewing the Soviet Union under Josef Stalin as a betrayal of 'true' communism and the ideals of the October Revolution.[59] A mirror version of this argument can also be found on the right wing among hardcore libertarians and anarcho-capitalists, who may claim that all historic examples of deregulated capitalism in action (e.g., Somalia and Galt's Gulch Chile) weren't true laissez-faire societies because there was still some degree of state intervention (or merely the existence of a state) that they didn't like.

Another variant of the same argument is that the term "left-wing" refers to philosophies that promote broader democracy, political participation, and social equality, and that any form of government straying from this ideal is automatically right-wing instead. In considering this criticism it is instructive to look at the origins of the term "left-wing," which originally referred to the people who sat on the left side of the National Assembly during the French Revolution. Among these original left-wingers was Maximilien Robespierre, on whose watch the revolutionary government, still seated on the left wing, staged a series of political purges, executing about 40,000 people in the space of ten months. To which is replied that this proves nothing at all, as just because they said, or even believed, that they were left-wing, doesn't mean they were, if their actions contradict this.

From non-extremists[edit]

From the other direction, abuse of the horseshoe theory can lead to the balance fallacy and appeals to moderation. This is a problem common among Very Serious People and radical centrists, who, in their desire to avoid slipping into one partisan extreme or another, often have the opposite problem and go out of their way to characterize both sides as being fundamentally crazy, even if one side or the other may very well be clearly in the right in this instance. More cynically, it can be abused by those in power to frame all opposition to their rule as extremist by connecting their more grounded, legitimate critics with the crazies. Also it should be noted that at one point or another throughout history, people who advocated for a lot of the things we take for granted in the modern West (democracy, abolition of slavery, rights for women and LGBT people, religious freedom, etc.) were often derided as extremists.

Also, as the horseshoe theory relies on the mainstream left-right political spectrum, it runs the risk of over-simplifying political ideologies. One leading argument against a linear political spectrum is that it appears to have no place for ideologies which are less authoritarian than the political center, and as such, there exist alternative systems to delineate political ideologies, such as the Political Compass, the Nolan chart, and assorted surveys and quizzes with even more detailed analyses. For European parties, there exists a three-way system of free-loving vs. authoritarian, left economic vs. right economic, and pro-EU v anti-EU, which allows for eight quadrants — and there are parties at all quadrants. Furthermore, our conceptions of left-wing and right-wing, with "liberal capitalism" being the political center, are largely derived from a modern, Western take of politics. In countries such as China, for instance, the political center is dominated by reformist Communists, while in Russia the center is defined by Vladimir Putin's brand of nationalist politics. Likewise, extremists themselves tend to have their own warped versions of the horseshoe theory, seeing extremists on the other side as having more in common with (if not mere tools of) the political mainstream than with them, and condemning them both. The definition between "mainstream" and "extremist" depends on perspective and background. During the Cold War, centrist liberal politicians in the United States and Europe also had histories of propping up and colluding with far right governments in order to stop the rise of socialist ones.[60]

Likewise, just because there are similarities between groups doesn't mean they are exactly the same. One example of this is that, while both fascists and communists claimed to adhere to revolutionary economic agendas and used authoritarianism to carry them out, fascist states largely protected the existing elites and gave them some leniency in what they were allowed to build and sell (so long as it didn't stand in the way of growing the military), while communist states overthrew the existing elites altogether (setting up new ones instead) and attempted to exert more direct control over the economy.

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. Such as Texas "revising" textbooks to fit an American exceptionalist point of view[8]
  2. Or wingnuts such as Glenn Beck who claim MLK was a conservative.
  3. This can be said for many other political parties, but authoritarian parties are especially abusive.
  4. For example, George Monbiot[18]
  5. For example, neoconservative pundit Jennifer Rubin laments that: "Some libertarians, including Richard Epstein, argue that an isolationist foreign policy reflects a misunderstanding of true libertarian principles, but in practice the overwhelming number of libertarians vehemently oppose U.S. interventionism and want to eliminate foreign aid and slash defense spending… Libertarians have gotten the notion that the Bill of Rights supplants the laws of war and protects, for example, American jihadists from being droned and data gathering to detect terrorism plots. In that they often seem to be mimicking the Obama administration's fetish with applying criminal justice concepts to anti-terrorism policy. Most Republicans resist that leap of logic and constitutional misinterpretation.[21]
  6. For instance, self-identified libertarian Glenn Reynolds ceased being anything but an authoritarian during the Bush era.[24]
  7. Of course, in the mind of a fanatic, any action that isn't doing exactly what the fanatic wants is "betrayal".
  8. This is also an odd complaint, considering that weaker men regularly defeat stronger men on television, so long as they're the hero.
  9. Tumblr, famously viewed as an online stronghold for the social justice left and third-wave feminism, is also well-known for its very laissez-faire attitude towards porn, drawing the line only at actually hosting it. About a fifth of all Tumblr traffic is porn-related, and the porn and feminist sides of the site cross over more than you might think. Draw your own conclusions.
  10. The saying is frequently attributed to Bebel,Wikipedia's W.svg but probably originated with the Austrian democrat Kronawetter;Wikipedia's W.svg it was in general use among German Social Democrats by the 1890s.[53]
  11. Begging the question is a logical fallacy where someone assumes what they're trying to prove — it doesn't mean "raising the question"
  12. See, for example, Noam Chomsky discussing how non-socialistic the Soviet Union was.[57][58]

References[edit]

  1. Faith-Based Fraud: Jerry Falwell's foul rantings prove you can get away with anything if you have "Reverend" in front of your name by Christopher Hitchens (May 16 2007 12:46 PM) Slate.
  2. From a 1948 letter from Orwell to Muggeridge, quoted in Malcolm Muggeridge: A Life by Ian Hunter (1980) Thomas Nelson. ISBN 0840740840.
  3. Communist leader proposes reinstatement of death penalty for terrorists: Communist leader Gennady Zyuganov proposed on Monday the death penalty be reinstated as a part of the Russian penitentiary system (17:54 29.03.2010) Sputnik International.
  4. Russian communists attack liberalism and abortion (April 10, 2012 at 1:27 pm) Global Communist.
  5. Gennady Zyuganov "…Zyuganov declared that national culture and morals are being deliberately destroyed in Russia."] (Webpage of Dmitri A. Gusev)
  6. The New Right & The Secular Humanism Conspiracy Theory (Political Research Associates). A popular talking point for Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, and others]
  7. Communist Party of the Russian Federation: Party Platform See: "The peaceful development of the USSR was interrupted by the perfidious attack by Nazi Germany and its satellites."
  8. Texas Conservatives Win Curriculum Change by James C. McKinley Jr. (March 12, 2010) New York Times.
  9. Communists lay carnations for Stalin (December 22, 20105:15am). news.com.au. They openly call for the "Re-Stalinization of Russia. Seriously.
  10. Can the GOP be saved from its obsession with the 1950s? by John Aravosis (2/18/13 1:07pm) Americablog
  11. Obama's good for GOP, Boehner says by Mike Wereschagin and Salena Zito (Tuesday, June 29, 2010). Tribune-Review Live. "They're snuffing out the America that I grew up in"
  12. Zyuganov and Mironov: Back to the future: Communist party's Zyuganov and A Just Russia's Mironov call for a return to the socialist model Al Jazeera. Who'd have thought the commies don't like taxes either?
  13. Zyuganov and Religion: On the Current State of the Russian Communist Party by Roland Boer (31.12.12) Monthly Review.
  14. Amendment on Flag Burning Fails by One Vote in Senate by Carl Hulse & John Holusha (June 27, 2006) New York Times. Wanting to outlaw flag burning is common for wingnuts and commies
  15. Tennessee Tea Party ‘Demands’ That References To Slavery Be Removed From History Textbooks by Marie Diamond (Jan 23, 2012) Think Progress. Stop the lies about the Founding Fathers and slavery!
  16. Communist Party of the Russian Federation: October Is Forever. Stop the lies about Stalin and Lenin!
  17. Similarities and Differences Between Left-Wing and Right-Wing Radicals by Herbert McClosky and Dennis Chong. British Journal of Political Science. Volume 15, Issue 3. July 1985, pp. 329-363. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/S0007123400004221
  18. How Ayn Rand became the new right's version of Marx: Her psychopathic ideas made billionaires feel like victims and turned millions of followers into their doormats by George Monbiot (Monday 5 March 2012 15.30 EST) The Guardian.
  19. Big Sister Is Watching You by Whittaker Chambers (28 December 1957) National Review.
  20. The Marxist and Bolshevik Roots of Ayn Rand’s Philosophy by Vladimir Shlapentokh (August 10, 2010).
  21. Why conservatives and libertarians are at odds by Jennifer Rubin (September 11, 2014) Washington Post.
  22. A partial list of pundits, politicians and media outlets who used Joseph Gliniewicz's death to push the 'war on cops' narrative by Radley Balko (November 5, 2015) The Washington Post.
  23. Privacy and Government Surveillance by Julian Sanchez (January 26, 2017) C-SPAN.
  24. Libertarians and the Republican Party — Irreconcilable Differences by Glenn Greenwald (Friday, July 07, 2006).
  25. Guided By The Way of Their Weapons: An Analysis of Theodore Beale and His Supporters by Phil Sandifer
  26. Black women hate men and "do an [expletive deleted] job with their sons," white MRA lady JudgyBitch explains (July 25, 2015) We Hunted the Mammoth.
  27. Ted Kaczynski’s Manifesto Predicted The Catastrophe From Technology And Liberalism by Roosh Valizadeh (October 14, 2015) Return of the Kings (archived copy from 17 Oct 2015 04:48:36 UTC).
  28. The 'alt-right' don't belong in the American conservative tradition by Jamie Weinstein (Tuesday 22 November 2016 13.21 EST) The Guardian.
  29. 29.0 29.1 The Pacific War: 1931-1945 by Saburo Ienaga, 1978. Pantheon Asia Library, pp. 121-122. ISBN 0394734963.
  30. The Cleanest Race: How North Koreans See Themselves and Why It Matters by B. R. Myers (2010). Melville House. ISBN 1933633913.
  31. The single most important fact for understanding North Korea by Max Fisher (Jan 6, 2016, 2:20pm EST ) Vox.
  32. Enemy's enemy? The Trump-supporting 'alt-right' and North Korea by Oliver Hotham (Jan 19, 2017) North Korea News.
  33. The Paranoid Style in American Politics by Richard Hofstadter (1964). Harvard University Press, p. 33. ISBN 0674654617.
  34. The paranoid style in American punditry: Richard Hofstadter's seminal take on right-wing crackpots sheds light on the current anti-Muslim panic by Laura Miller (Wednesday, Sep 15, 2010 12:30 PM UTC) Salon.
  35. America Again: Re-becoming the Greatness We Never Weren't by Stephen Colbert (2012) Grand Central Publishing. ISBN 0446583979.
  36. "Vox Day: The Taliban's shooting of Malala Yousafzai may have been 'perfectly rational and scientifically justifiable.'" We Hunted The Mammoth, 23 October 2013 (recovered 29 May 2017).
  37. Mathias, Christopher. "The Enemy Of My Enemy Is My Friend: What Neo-Nazis Like About ISIS." The Huffington Post, 26 May 2017 (recovered 29 May 2017).
  38. Sheila Jeffreys speaks on beauty practices and misogyny (April 7, 2006) Andrea Dworkin Commemorative Conference. Sheila Jeffreys supports the radical right
  39. "Quick, while I have the TERFs and MRAs distracted, go solve all the problems!" by Jason Thibeault (March 3, 2014). The Orbit. Skeptics seem to agree on this actually.
  40. TERFs, MRAs and lies about trans people by Natacha (Tuesday, 23 April 2013) UnCommon Sense.
  41. SJWiki: "Trans-exclusionary radical feminism: Against the third wave." Recovered May 5, 2017.
  42. "The third-wave fight: TERFs vs. trans women." by moultingphoenix (October 1, 2014).
  43. "Hmm... these radfems aren't entirely wrong..." MRAs on Voat discover TERFs.
  44. Why Does Ron Paul Keep Defending Putin? by Mark Splinter (29 July 2014) The Skeptical Libertarian.
  45. "Hate Bus," 1961 by Howard Zinn (October 3, 2012) History by Zinn.
  46. The Rise and Fall of Britain's Most Famous Racist Politician by Gavin Haynes (Oct 3 2014, 10:05am) Vice.
  47. The Unabomber: A Hero For Our Time CrimethInc.
  48. Fox News' Keith Ablow: Unabomber Was Right That Liberals Are "Psychologically Disordered" by Thomas Bishop (June 26, 2013 5:29 PM EDT) Media Matters for America].
  49. Dr. Keith Ablow's Political Hero, the Unabomber (28 June 2013) Respect the Blankie.
  50. "Fine Art: Heroic realism."
  51. Saunders, Frances Stonor. "Modern art was CIA 'weapon'." The Independent, 21 October 1995 (recovered 8 July 2017).
  52. It was pretty much de rigueur for every proper communist dictator to get his own -ism. Hence Albanian Hoxhaism, North Korean Kim Il Sungism (Juche), Yugoslav Titoism, and so on and so forth.
  53. The Coming of the Third Reich by Richard J. Evans (2005) Penguin Group. ISBN 0143034693. p. 496. See the Wikipedia article on August Bebel.
  54. Edward S. Herman: Genocide denier caught
  55. Victims of the Srebrenica Massacre The Polynational War Memorial.
  56. Noam Chomsky's Denials of Serbian War Crimes (June 27, 2016) Balkan Witness.
  57. Chomsky comparing US and Soviet Union (Uploaded on Oct 9, 2011) YouTube.
  58. Chomsky on Socialism (Uploaded on Aug 2, 2009) youTube.
  59. Leon Trotsky: The Revolution Betrayed
  60. [1]