| How the sausage is made|
The political spectrum is a concept for representing different political stances in relation to one another.
- 1 Left-right axis
- 2 Leftism
- 3 Centrism
- 4 Rightism
- 5 Progressivism
- 6 Socialism
- 7 Liberalism
- 8 Conservatism
- 9 Extremism
- 10 See also
- 11 Notes
- 12 References
At its most basic, the political spectrum consists of a line or continuum from left to right, with varying shades of opinion in between. Some people, particularly those on the far sides of the spectrum, will simplify it into just two positions; left or right, with no room for compromise. More realistic ways of assembling a political spectrum tend to be far more complex. However, the single dimensional spectrum from "left" to "right" is the most commonly used and popular.
The terms "left-wing" and "right-wing" originated in the years following the French Revolution of 1789. The nobility was seated on the right side of the parliament meeting, and representatives of the liberal bourgeoisie sat on the left. Thus, the term "right-wing" became associated with maintaining the status quo and protecting the interests of the established elites, like the nobility, clergy, and the wealthy. The "left-wing" demands progress and equality. However, the extent can vary from liberals and social democrats who seek change through economic reform (while retaining a market-based system) to communists who advocate the destruction of capitalism and collective ownership of the means of production.
Although the meanings of left and right vary between different countries, there is more than sufficient shared meaning to enable leftists in one country to affiliate with leftists in other countries and for rightists in one country to affiliate with rightists in other countries, unless, of course, their countries are at war. The shared meanings that form the bases for their affiliation involve beliefs about human nature. Otherwise, they would be unable to form organizations like the Socialist International or the International Democrat Union.
The following is the classic left-to-right political spectrum that still makes a good deal of sense to many people in the United States of America and resonates strongly throughout Western civilizations.
The term "radical" has broadened in popular usage to mean extremists of either the left or the right, though (ironically) it's more often used now to describe rightist extremists. The following linear political spectrum shows examples of western ideologies and where they would fit:
Anarchists and communists are typically grouped together as the far left. Social democrats, such as Jeremy Corbyn, might be described as hard-left, and liberals as center-left, centrists, or center-right, while conservatives might be described as either center-right or hard-right, depending on how strongly conservative they were. Fascists and neo-Nazis are almost universally described as far-right - or the more modern term alt-right - despite what Jonah Goldberg would have you believe.
Problems with a 1-dimensional spectrum
There are several problems with the left-to-right spectrum. One is that the uses and definitions of the terms vary considerably between different cultures and contexts since they are dependent on the political and economic status quo. For example, in authoritarian countries such as the USSR or China and even in democratic countries like Hungary, hard-liners have sometimes been described as "conservatives". At the same time, proponents of the free market were regarded as progressive reformers, essentially the opposite of how the left and right wings of a spectrum would be labeled in
democratic countries the United States. "Centrism" is not so much a clearly distinguishable position in its own right as it is always defined in the context of other positions - what counts as a "centrist" position in one country may well be considered extreme in another. The terms "left" and "right" are also meaningless for people in many non-Western cultures simply because they lack a tradition of categorizing politicians and parties in this manner. Another problem with the left-right distinction is that it suggests a one-dimensional spectrum often reduced to disagreements over economic policy, ignoring the importance of social issues and freedoms.
Another common observation is that some movements found at both the far-left and far-right positions may have more in common with each other than they do with more moderate liberals or conservatives since both extremes have tendencies towards radicalism and totalitarianism. The horseshoe theory contends that the left-right axis should be viewed as a horseshoe curve, with the ends of the axis curving towards each other rather than a straight line from one extreme to the other. Horseshoe theory ignores ideologies that don't fit into this narrative, notably anarchism.
Then there is also the issue of green politics, which have been espoused by literally everyone on the left-right political axis, from the far-left saying that capitalism doesn't work because we are polluting our planet to the far-right arguing that some races pollute more than others, passing through moderates who use environmentalism as an argument for economic planning. The large scale of people using environmentalism to justify their means makes it practically impossible for these politics to be classified under this spectrum.
Another problem with the left-to-right spectrum is that some political positions do not fit. For example, right-libertarianism upholds personal liberties (traditionally left-wing) and unrestrained economic freedom (traditionally right-wing). This hasn't stopped some right-libertarians from claiming that they are centrists.
Likewise, what is traditionally viewed as the far-right, fascism and etc., was not always right-wing on the economic spectrum. Nazi Germany, on the one hand, was founded on white supremacy, antisemitism, and traditionalism (all right-wing ideas) but had an economic system that was similar to and in some ways to the left of "New Deal" America (seen as distinctly left-wing in its own country), although by no means communist or even really socialist. (See Hitler and socialism for a more in-depth explanation.)
Some contend that a full variety of opinions can be better represented by two-dimensional diagrams where the (economic) left-to-right spectrum is balanced with another (social) axis representing a varying level of restriction on civil and social freedoms, both of which can be either left and right-wing. Two examples of such a representation are the Nolan Chart and the Political Compass, where political opinions can be plotted anywhere in a square grid based on the two axes.
However, the theoretical merit of a two-dimensional political compass is a separate issue from its actual implementation in practice - given that the actual Political Compass website classifies Bernie Sanders as a centrist, its accuracy is questionable.
The Vosem chart reworks the Nolan chart into three axes: Cultural, fiscal, and corporate. The two ends of each axis are sometimes labeled "hierarchical" vs. "egalitarian."
It is worth noting that "economic freedom" could be considered politically weighted. Leftists might refer to it as "corporate authority" instead.
Leftism is widely used in US politics to refer to socialism and anti-capitalist ideologies. However, it is also often mistakenly applied to liberals, which can cause confusion and resentment since there is a vast difference between the two groups. For anyone who studies politics with rigor, the conflation of "leftist" and "liberal" is truly infuriating; the American right-wing talking point machine refers to anyone "left of center-right" (e.g., Hillary Clinton, Al Franken) as a "far-left" politician or pundit, further confusing political discourse. Indeed, the terminology of US politics is so skewed as to be practically unrecognizable to anyone from outside the US.
The term far left is a label used for political movements, parties, and organizations that champion the abolition of private property and "equality of conditions", i.e., recognize the differences in ability and need of individuals but do not allow these differences to be turned into power. Most of these movements fall under the label of either communist (for which there are an absurd number of "subdivisions"), left-wing anarchist, or sometimes (though somewhat rarely today) socialist. Hard greens may be labeled far-left. If you hear it in American politics, bear in mind that it could be just being used as a snarl word to describe any liberal or at least any liberal who doesn't kowtow to mainstream consensus politics in Washington.
Some leftists wish to overthrow capitalism through revolution because they believe bourgeois democracy is a sham, designed only to keep the rich in their places of privilege. In contrast, others believe in achieving a socialist society through democratic means. There are many different forms of leftism, as reflected in such terms as Marxist, Marxist-Leninist, Stalinist, Trotskyite, neo-Trotskyite, Maoist, democratic socialist, libertarian socialist, market socialism anarchist, anarcho-syndicalism, De Leonist, council communist, guild socialist, communalism, etc., not to mention various modern and postmodern theoretical schools that seem to exist mainly in academic circles, such as deconstructionism, left- or post-feminism, Critical Theory, and the Frankfurt School (sometimes so-called “Academical Left”). Many of these groups have a fierce rivalry, such as the Leninists with libertarian socialists and the Stalinists and Maoists with just about everybody else.
- The abolition of private property (property used to earn capital), but not personal property (property not used to earn capital).
- The abolition of class society, meaning no social classes that have power over others.
- The abolition of the state. Marxists contend a temporary, transitional state is necessary to protect the revolution, while anarchists believe all states will eventually become corrupt and never willingly give up power.
- Specifically for anarchists, the abolition of all forms of hierarchy, except those that can be justified (e.g., temporary and democratic/by consensus).
- For all non-market socialists, the abolition of markets (ideally, goods would be instead distributed based on need).
- For market socialists, the democratization of markets to act like decentral planning.
- Opposition to traditional religions, ideologies, and all other philosophies that promote inequality (but there are some religious leftists).
- Internationalism; however, the Stalinist idea of "Socialism in one country" caused some far-left movements to become highly nationalistic.
- The best way to obtain these goals is often seen as a revolution; however, some leftists believe in gradual reform.
- Automation under capitalism will cause increasing inequality as everyone loses their job. However, it is hoped that automation under anarchism or communism will nearly abolish the need for labor, allowing people the free time to explore their own interests.
Not far left
- Social Democracy - As social democrats accept the presence of a widespread market system, private property, and some degree of class inequality, they are not far-left. This label is even more absurd when applied to "Third Way" social democrats who are essentially centrists.
- Social Liberalism - As social liberals are even more toned down than old-styled social democrats (as they do not advocate for nationalization of any business), it's tough to see how they are "far-left" in any meaningful sense of the word.
- Juche - This one's actually debatable. Today, many scholars today believe North Korea's ideology is much closer to ethnic fascism than communism. However, North Korea has kept its Stalinist-era command economy mostly the same, with only limited market reforms and slightly reduced state ownership of property. Therefore it could be seen as either a form of state socialism that's heavily nationalistic or as a form of radical ethnonationalism (fascism) that's also socialistic (see Third Position).
- Nazism - Nazism is a form of fascism that is inherently far-right. While the Nazis did enact some policies that could be seen as "left" by the US political sphere, their stance on ultra-nationalism, racial superiority, their promotion of social inequality, etc., made them far-right. One must also remember that while the name NSDAP means "National Socialist German Workers' Party", and "socialist" and "workers" are words usually associated with the far-left, wingnuts like to ignore that "national" is a far-right "patriotic" term in Germany; further muddying the issue is that German right-wingers in the aftermath of World War I attempted to redefine "socialism" as a right-wing ideology heavily influenced by the writings of theorist Oswald Spengler. It is telling when the only party with "national" in its name is the neo-Nazi NPD. Even the DVU, REP, pro-civil movement, Die Rechte (The Right), and AfD avoid describing themselves as "national", preferring softer terms such as "German", "republican", and "liberal" instead. Economists also rate Nazi Germany as centrist in its economic stance as its main policy was protectionism, made with a return to mercantilism in mind. They hated both communists and capitalists (well, the Jewish ones at least- they generally didn't mind German ones). One should, however, take note that this isn't all that different from the economic desires of the current European far right; political parties such as the Party For Freedom and Front National promote similar economic policies.
Centrism is a set of political positions between the "left" and "right" wings of the political spectrum. The term is usually applied to a global spectrum of political philosophies and ideologies, not to those of single nations, as their political centers tend to differ firmly based on history, culture, and the state of development.
In established democracies, it is usually highly beneficial (and intellectually reasonable) for a party to occupy most of the territory in the middle of the spectrum, especially in majoritarian electoral systems. This is where the coveted swing votes are to be found. Hence, parties often strive to occupy a center-left or center-right position or try to brand themselves as such. While pure "centrist" parties have a mixed record of electoral success, advancing centrist policies to some extent is a popular strategy among parties in modern developed nations. For example, both dominant parties in Germany are so moderate as to be nearly identical. Chancellor Angela Merkel has taken advantage of the centrist discourse and manipulated the political structure to benefit her; the discussion is less about who replaces Merkel and more about who becomes her top lieutenant or successor. During polarizing periods, centrists tend to be attacked by both sides.
When politics was split between collectivist, statist socialism and paternalistic "family values" conservatism, centrism often manifested as individualistic liberalism, which combined belief in capitalism ("economic freedom") with support for human rights and greater personal freedom: the Liberal Party in the UK (predecessor of the Lib Dems) often took this route, e.g., playing a central role in the legalization of abortion. The Free Democrats in Germany are a centrist or center-right party of a similar bent. Some centrist parties and politicians might endorse the Third Way, trying to harmoniously combine socialism and capitalism. This often manifests as technocracy or "evidence-based policymaking" and can take the form of a centralized, targets-fixated, and slightly authoritarian (but hopefully benevolent) managerial state, as under Tony Blair. Hence centrism can range from liberal to authoritarian tendencies.
Almost all Pirate Parties are centrist parties interested in civil rights and copyright reform. However, there are many exceptions, as the Austrian, Australian, and Italian Pirate Parties tend to be on a firmly leftist economic stance. In contrast, some Pirate Parties of northern Europe have shown some libertarian leanings. The German Pirate Party has made progressive and environmentalist statements, and its European MEP, Julia Reda, is vice president of the Greens–European Free Alliance.
Most European Green parties are leftist, but some centrists, such as the British Liberal Democrats, take a firmly pro-environmental stance. This may connect with their desire to be seen as the "nice party". "Green conservatism" is a center-right conservatism concerned about the environment, e.g., the French centrist Independent Ecological Movement split from Les Verts (French Green Party) because they were too left-wing.
"Moderate": mixed views and career pols
Also known as "fascists", "libtards", "snowflakes", and "shills", depending on who you ask, those who see themselves as being in the center of the political spectrum are, for the most part, criticized by both harder ends of the spectrum. While they do exist, in recent years, the term "political moderate" (a.k.a. centrism) has become a buzzword in the United States. The term often comes with a negative connotation due to the United States' ethos of bipartisanship which has been growing far wider since the turn of the twentieth century.
A prominent moderate movement that grew in the United States was that of the New Democrats in the early 1990's, after Bill Clinton, who had some views akin to traditional Rockefeller Republicanism, attracted many of Ronald Reagan's more moderate voters, which encompassed quite a bit of the slowly radicalizing GOP establishment throughout the 1980s, a process contributed to by various factors from decades earlier, such as the Civil Rights Movement, the Watergate Scandal, and the Vietnam War. Many of these centrists became swing voters in various elections, such as the 2008 presidential election, which sealed the fate of the Republican Party. Now, most actual moderates, some even relatively conservative, align with the Democratic Party, and fewer with the Republicans, in some cases. Those centrists who do not are pretty much on their own.
The term "moderate" is generally used by both the left and the right to refer to those individuals who express a certain amount of skepticism towards the views of both wings, preferring instead to think analytically, making centrists the most marginalized political affiliation in the modern climate. As an insult, it instead usually refers to those who have some conservative views and some liberal views — e.g., "I'm a fiscal conservative and a social liberal." Some are just wishy-washy. Others are actually closet extremists pretending to be moderate to get elected.[note 1] And some are just calculating, self-aggrandizing schemers. One could argue that, in fact, there is no such thing as a moderate, those being considered such really just being individuals who pick and choose individual policies on an ideological level rather than subscribe to any one particular side.
Moderate politicians aren't often trusted because you never know which side of an issue they actually favor until the last moment. A good example is Joe Lieberman, who favored extending Medicare to people aged 55-64 until it seemed that it would actually pass. Political centrism seems to be rather rare these days, despite moderate wings existing in both parties.
A few criticisms of centrism, usually from social democrats or moderate conservatives/libertarians, are directed at those who strive to be "pure centrists". One of the most common criticisms isn't necessarily at centrism but instead towards those that centrism sometimes attracts, mainly opportunist politicians with no core values who see centrism as giving them the best chance of getting elected. (Such people tend to do whatever furthers their own political career instead of what actually helps their country/organization.) Furthermore, they also tend to rarely actually fight for anything once elected. They will more or less give in to the most demanding party/faction with power so that they can claim to be reasonable "compromisers," even if said compromise does more bad than good. One example of this was the Simpson-Bowles plan. This budget plan that was championed by centrists simply because it was seen as a "compromise" between the two parties, even though some of the measures in the plan could have arguably worsened the 2008 downturn.
Political radicals and extremists tend to criticize centrists for being "sell-outs" to the enemy group that secretly controls everything or claim that centrists are tricksters bent on oppressing the public. Rarely will these radicals actually recognize centrists, instead preferring to characterize them as the "real radicals." This becomes most obvious when political extremists fail to actually name a centrist and, if pressed, will try to pass either themselves or a more "moderate" hard-right/left/libertarian activist as a centrist.
A modern centrist economic consensus has governed large parts of the world since the early 90s, such as the US under Democrat rule, the UK especially under New Labour, and the Eurozone. This assumes that a capitalist economy can trundle along, spreading prosperity, and authorities such as an independent central bank should largely limit their actions to giving it a nudge when it's approaching crisis. Theoretically, this is a fusion of classical economics on a microeconomic scale (the invisible hand of the market benefits all, free of intervention) and Keynesian economics on a macroeconomic level (the government can intervene by increasing spending and lowering taxes to boost investment); this is theoretically incoherent even if it sort of works most of the time. There are also practical problems: the independent central bank cannot do enough to matter in a colossal crisis such as the 2008 crash or Great Depression. A transition to more of a command economy is probably necessary. But more fundamentally, as argued by Hyman Minsky, what looks like centrist economic stability is ultimately unstable because while the economy seems to be stable, risktaking increases by lenders and investors (who see falling incomes from safe investments and turn increasingly to unsafe investments thinking nothing wrong can happen), until it all collapses as in 2008 or 1929.
Fallacies: balance, solemnify and disregard
Another common critique of centrism is that centrists will commonly invoke the balance fallacy, typically acting as if "both sides are just as bad" to hold onto their centrist credentials. This can lead to the more corrupt or extreme of two parties being elected/empowered by opportunists fueled by self-interest. This is especially common with Very Serious People, who have an unfortunate tendency to dismiss both left and right as being idiotic cranks while ignoring that one side may actually be correct in some sense (e.g., the left being against racism, in general, is clearly more correct from virtually any standpoint than the right seeking to, at best, tolerate it.)
Alternately, many centrists become Very Serious People, who talk about serious issues very seriously, yet fail to offer real solutions other than the status quo.
Finally, many centrists disregard ideologies such as socialism and libertarianism completely, ignoring the truth value of individual claims in such philosophies.
The relationship with "Liberalism"
Liberalism, spoken all over the world, is a concept that embraces not only social liberalism but also classical liberalism, liberal conservatism, and conservative liberalism, so it is different from what Americans think of liberalism. In particular, liberals in some areas, including South Korea, have a significant right-wing social conservative tendency in U.S. political standards. In many places other than the United States, "liberalism" is considered a "centrist" ideology encompassing the center-left and center-right. In the United States, groups called Rockefeller Republicans, fiscal conservatism, and 'moderate' conservatism would border on conservative liberalism. (Some scholars believe that neoconservatism is similar to conservative liberalism.)
As a result, the meaning of "liberal" commonly recognized by Americans and "liberal" recognized by people worldwide will be quite different. In particular, intermediate politics in the United States mainly refers to fiscal conservatism + social liberal tendencies. Fiscal conservatism actually means classical liberalism. This is why "liberalism" is considered "centrist" in other countries. This is because "liberalism" is not limited to social liberalism in many countries other than the United States.
In France, for example, "liberal" is largely centrist or center-right, so politicians like Emmanuel Macron tend to be negative about American-style left-wing identity politics and express a different perspective from "liberals" in the United States on Islamic or ethnic minority issues.
Also, in Australia, "liberal" is considered a center-right. Liberalism in Australia means classical liberalism or liberal conservatism. But Australia's Liberals are closer to the center-right than the centrist, just as the US Democrats are closer to the center-left than the centrist.
However, not all centrism is classified as liberalism. Some of Europe's centrist ideologies include Christian democracy, and some of them show both moderate social democracy and moderate social conservatism tendencies.
“”Sir, it is a well-known fact that young people are generally leftwing. It is also well-known that as people get older, they become more rightwing. It is also a fact that, as people get older, their brain cells die at a faster and faster rate. I would therefore like to propose that conservatism be classified as a degenerative disease.
|—letter to the Guardian, 1970.|
Rightism is rarely used but refers to extreme conservatism that entirely seeks to do away with democratic politics. In the past, most "rightist" groups either sought a restoration of a previous monarchy or the creation of a fascist or authoritarian regime to "undo the chaos of democracy." Because the United States has never had a monarch or a totalitarian movement, "true" rightist groups in that country have been relatively few. However, the US government has helped fascists such as Pinochet come into power. However, another common component of rightism has not waned: extreme nationalism. Most rightist groups try to force out all immigrants and minorities. It is possible that in modern rightism, this form of nationalism is the only defining characteristic.
“”Trump has changed the way the Republican Party sees the world. Republicans used to have a basic faith in the dynamism and openness of the free market. Now the party fears openness and competition...It’s not that the deals had changed, or reality. It was that Donald Trump became the Republican nominee and his dark fearfulness became the party's dark fearfulness. In this case fear is not a reaction to the world. It is a way of seeing the world. It propels your reactions to the world.
The far-right or extreme right is a political label used to identify parties and movements based on fascist, racist, and/or extremely reactionary ideologies. Officially those on the far right embrace the concept of the "inequality of outcome", meaning that one group is naturally better than another. This can apply to everything from absolute monarchies to Nazism, meaning that many far-rightists oppose others on the far right who have a different idea of what the ruling class should be.
Much like the term "far-left", if you hear the term "far-right", it's almost certain to be a slur directed at a conservative.
The label of "far-right" came about in the context of the French Revolution: those who sat on the right-wing of the National Assembly in June and July 1789 favored an essentially unrestrained aristocracy in terms of the power allocated to them, essentially wanting to either maintain or (later) restore the old order. They also tended to oppose the Enlightenment and secularism in favor of more conservative religious influence in government.
From the start of the 20th century onwards, more "populist" reactionary political philosophies such as ultranationalism/fascism, racial supremacy (often to a degree that was considered extreme even by the standards of the time), and politically-oriented religious fundamentalism started to overtake the increasingly unpopular extreme pro-Aristocrat agenda that made up what could be considered the former far-right. To what degree there is much of a difference between them in practice is up for debate and usually changes from country to country. In the 21st century, the far right in the Western world has increasingly drifted towards broadly authoritarian nativist thought, often influenced by former fascist movements.
- Inequality, both economic and social, between the different people is not only accepted but actively promoted
- Anti-immigration, often combined with Islamophobia (Although Islamist groups like ISIS are by nature far-right, just not by Western standards) or other prejudice against the predominating ethnicity and/or religion of immigrants; in many cases, outright racism, such as white supremacy and/or ethnic-related conspiracy theories such as Holocaust denial, Eurabia and ideas about "white extinction". Historical far-right movements have included everything from anti-Chinese sentiment to anti-Catholicism and even prejudice against Nordic people.
- Anti-rationalism, defending its pet beliefs even from reason
- Anti-socialism and extreme anti-communism (as in endorsing conspiracy theories surrounding the subject or committing massacres against them), though in some cases supporting a limited welfare state and occasionally even "state capitalism"—except in the United States, where any sort of welfare (except corporate welfare, of course) is seen as communism. On the other hand, in the States, some paleoconservatives and laissez-faire types are more hostile to a welfare state and may desire to see the social safety net gutted entirely.
- Nationalism, possibly including historical revisionism. More imperialist versions may, however, favor a world without borders instead, in that the nation encompasses all land on the planet. If the group in question is religious, nationalism may be outright rejected in favor of a global theocracy (as in Pan-Islamism or some forms of Dominionism).
- Pro-life and promoting childbirth (see also white extinction scenario)
- Supporting family values and traditional gender roles, and is virtually always homophobic. However, this might also be inverted. Some may want to abolish traditional gender roles and promote feminism and LGBT rights by demanding to expel any minority they claim are actively upholding reactionary values that prevent these rights from being established (e.g., Party For Freedom). Quite often, however, these people aren't nearly as progressive on such issues as the left-wing or far left.
- Tough stance on crime, to the extent of support for capital punishment
- Environmentalism might be prevalent, especially in a "protection of home and soil" way, though other far-right groups champion anti-environmental sentiment (climate change denial, etc.). A more Christian Democratic approach to the environment ("protecting God's creation") can also be present in clerical fascism.
- Questioning (or even outright rejecting) universal civil rights and human rights.
- Reactionary beliefs that things were better some time ago (often before some major legislative change, such as civil rights laws). The "evil era" tends to be the 1960s, a period of great change in much of the Western World, whereas the "good old times" can be anything from the 1950s to pre-industrial times.[note 2]
- A far-right group without even trace amounts of antisemitism is rare - even in places where Judaism is rare, and there isn't even Jewish immigration. Though more modern islamophobic and religious groups usually do the opposite and promote relatively aggressive forms of Zionism.
- Racism - same as antisemitism above, almost always found, even in trace amounts.
- Religious fundamentalism - Religion is often intertwined with far-right beliefs, even if said far-right beliefs conflict with their religious beliefs. However, some groups may also be radical anticlerics and perceive religious influence as endangering the secular state (e.g., Committee of Union and Progress).
- Conspiracy theories - The far-right and conspiracy theories go together better than bread and butter.
- Economically, far-right groups tend to promote markets with strong protectionist policies, leading them to oppose free-trade agreements. Distributism may be prevalent amongst more religious forms.
Progressivism is often used in many areas similar to democratic socialism, social democracy, and social liberalism. In some regions, such as Western Europe, Eurocommunism is also seen as part of progressive ideas.
In the United States, people who are usually called "liberals" tend to be called "liberals" even close to social democrats and some democratic socialists, such as Elizabeth Warren, George McGovern, Huey Long, Bernie Sanders, and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, because the term is so used as American exceptional rhetoric. In other words, many of the subjects referred to as "liberals" in the United States are likely to be simply referred to as "progressives" outside the United States. Because outside the United States, "liberal" means centrism rather than social liberalism and social democracy.
Socialism, liberalism, and conservatism are regarded as the three major ideologies. In the United States, left-wing democratic socialism is non-mainstream, but some center-left social democrats are considered "liberal".
Socialism is used as the left-wing, conservatism as the right-wing, and liberalism as the centrist ground in Europe.
Occupying the mainstream of socialism in the modern first world is close to social democracy. Social democracy is academically considered a type of socialism. Still, moderate social democrats who support the third way outside the U.S. often take a similar line to the U.S. 'moderate' liberals.[note 3]
“”If you're not a liberal when you're 25, you have no heart. If you're not a conservative by the time you're 35, you have no brain.
|—falsely attributed to Winston Churchill|
“”In every American community, you have varying shades of political opinion. One of the shadiest of these is the liberals. An outspoken group on many subjects. 10 degrees to the left of center in good times, 10 degrees to the right of center if it affects them personally. Here, then, is a lesson in safe logic.
|—Phil Ochs, "Love Me, I'm a Liberal"|
A liberal tends to champion liberty, individual rights, and equality, although it depends on what measures are being taken to realize those rights. Liberalism is generally divided into three branches. They are 'social liberalism', 'conservative liberalism', and 'classical liberalism'. Liberalism in the United States is often limited to 'social liberalism', but liberalism in Europe has all three meanings. Social liberalism is generally considered left-wing liberalism, classical liberalism and conservative liberalism are considered right-wing liberalism. If there is a group similar to conservative liberalism or classical liberalism in the United States, there will be Rockefeller Republicans, Blue Dog Democrats, and moderate forms of fiscal conservatism.
Many liberals believe conservatives are trying to curtail women's reproductive rights, impose religion on society, and preserve and promote corporate power and power for the historically privileged. Some liberals attack conservatives as general-purpose scapegoats for society's ills, as seen from their liberal perspective. (A lot of conservatives do make for an easy target. See Ann Coulter for just one of many examples.)
"Liberal" is a term that has been subject to vast misuse by the American public. The right often accuses anyone to the left of Sarah Palin as being a "liberal", which they use like a snarl word. They treat it as an insult, often comparing liberalism to fascism. However, this is fundamentally contradictory, as "liberal" derives from "liber", which is Latin for "freedom". On the other hand, progressives also misuse the term often, referring to themselves as liberals. While both liberals and progressives may share socially liberal views on most of the same issues, liberalism as an ideology favors market solutions and a strong private sector. In contrast, progressivism is more regulatory and incorporates some moderate socialist policies.
Modern American Libertarianism would be considered a more radical form of liberal politics, often leaning more towards Laissez-faire than traditional neoliberalism. Modern American Libertarianism is similar to European classical liberalism.
Outside the United States
Europeans typically use the term "liberal" to describe politics that draw on neoliberalism's basic touchstone of the individual operating in a free market economy, a notion similar to American libertarianism. These liberals oppose government regulation of the free market to promote the flow of goods in the market. While some might invoke "classical liberalism" rather than neoliberalism, it is important to note that some classical liberal thinkers like John Stuart Mill consider themselves socialists, with Mill writing an entire piece on socialism. Smith's classical economics and the labor theory of value inspired various socialists such as Marx, making the libertarian wingnut Murray Rothbard consider him "proto-Marxian".
However, the left-wing in Europe today is closer to the American interpretation of "liberal". Most developed countries in the West are more left-wing than the U.S., with the government playing a bigger role in general, handling universal health care, work vacations, and comprehensive sex education. The common accusations of socialism in the U.S. would've fallen face-flat in European ears, as several socialist leaders stand a significant chance or have won elections. Not only this but Europeans are frequently puzzled as to why detractors of Barack Obama commonly call him a "socialist". (See also ad hominem.)
The politics of the United Kingdom offer a prominent example of non-American political labeling. The UK Conservative Party would be called out as "liberals" by Republicans (or as "socialists" depending on their mood) in the U.S. UK Conservatives support continuing the National Health Service (NHS) and allowing abortions and same-sex marriage. Meanwhile, during an economic recession, the party proposes spending cuts, something more in line with conservative thought in the United States. Compare the UK political party called "Liberal Democrats", a centrist group.
In the United States
“”Liberalism, above all, means emancipation - emancipation from one's fears, his inadequacies, from prejudice, from discrimination, from poverty.
|—Hubert Humphrey, American politician|
In the United States, liberalism is typically used to describe politics on the center-left side of the political spectrum. Liberals tend to favor equal rights gained by the government. For instance, liberals often favor the public option, gay marriage, banning the death penalty, environmentalism, increased government regulation on corporations, and trade union presence. On other issues, to promote individual freedom, they tend to favor reproductive rights and the separation of church and state, so they may advocate secularism, removing religious symbols on public grounds, and disallowing creationism to be taught in public schools. As a result, most liberals vote Democratic, although the party is not solidly on the left. It's probably a lesser of evils option.
The term "liberal" is used rather liberally in the US. Still, most American liberals are advocates of social liberalism, which veers center-left. However, it may also refer to advocates of the Third Way (if slightly to the right of social liberals) or social democracy (if slightly to their left) on economics.
Over the past few decades, the GOP has near-successfully framed it as a synonym for "socialist". This is partially due to their use of bullshit scare tactics and partially a legacy from the Second Red Scare, when some people with communist sympathies, not wanting to state their affiliation openly, called themselves "liberals" or "progressives" instead. Liberalism is seen as pure evil by the Religious Right and its counterparts overseas; these groups work tirelessly to depict supporters as Satanic monsters and make the very word an insult. (As a possible result of this, fewer people identify themselves as liberal than the numbers of self-identified conservatives and moderates, instead identifying themselves with the name of their party.)
“”...there was, in effect, a global threat to the power of the corporate capitalist class and therefore the question was, “What to do?”. The ruling class wasn’t omniscient but they recognized that there were a number of fronts on which they had to struggle: the ideological front, the political front, and above all they had to struggle to curb the power of labor by whatever means possible. Out of this there emerged a political project which I would call neoliberalism.
|—David Harvey, author, A Brief History of Neoliberalism|
Following the rise of Barry Goldwater in the 1960s, the United States began to pull toward the right. Though the socially conservative "Religious Right" would eventually swoop in and hijack the GOP from a new constitutional-libertarian establishment, the shift from the 60s onward occurred based on fiscal policy, free trade, internationalism, and economic freedom, made especially popular under President Richard Nixon during the liberalization of China. Key trade policies were enacted during the various administrations, accompanied by individual and corporate tax cuts (although Regan did raise it on the rich eleven times).
Deregulation of markets is a fundamental practice in all forms of neoliberalism. Certain sectors of the economy saw acute levels of deregulation under Reagan, Bush, and Clinton. The deregulation of the tech sector that occurred during Reagan's first term, for instance, led to unprecedented levels of economic growth and the rise of innovative new technologies, such as personal computers, video-game consoles, various appliances, the World Wide Web. However, besides deregulation of the tech industry, the 1980s and 1990s also saw the deregulation of big banks. It is believed that this was partly to blame for the gradual disappearance of the middle class. Especially by his second term, Reagan grew popular amongst many on the center-left. The influence of Republican neoliberals ultimately pulled those Democrats towards the center, such as Bill Clinton. The latter implemented liberal economic policies not too different from Reagan's second term. In doing so, Clinton presided over the largest economic boom in American history. This all came crashing down with the onset of the Great Recession in 2008. With the resurgence of the American left in the early 2010s, the subsequent Occupy movement, and the Bernie Sanders candidacy in 2016, this growing leftward movement began to strongly criticize establishment liberals as "neoliberals."
According to its leftwing critics, the neoliberals are strongly pro-capitalist, tend to fetishize the magical powers of "free markets" to solve all social or economic ills, and are allergic to class-based analysis or rhetoric. The liberal targets of these left critics often feel the term "neoliberal" is something that doesn't really exist except as a snarl word against them. Liberal pundit Jonathan Chait has made that argument. However, this is technically not true, as the traditional "free marketers" (Reagan-era libertarians) were actually opposed to much of what the left accused "neoliberals" of doing - bailouts, corporate welfare, subsidies, protectionism, central banking, etc. To them, what the center-left called "neoliberalism" was, in fact, "Crony Capitalism".[note 4] As a result, the Occupy movement accumulated a sizeable libertarian presence, many of whom were former Ron Paul supporters in the 2008 presidential election.
Some pragmatic free-market capitalists adopt the neoliberal label and argue that "free market globalists" are the cure for what ails the world. Leftists such as Sam Kriss are unimpressed and disdainfully dismiss such neoliberal claims as being nothing more than devotion to "untrammeled ruling-class power, an end to the class-collaborationism of the post-war years and a vicious assault of the rich against the poor...fiscal austerity and the penetration of capitalist relations into every possible facet of human life."
A conservative on the political spectrum tends to be for the status quo, consistency, and traditional forms while being against change because it might be for the worse. In the gulag, the term has been conflated by many with very narrow social and religious prescriptions and co-opted by neoconservatism. During the 2008 election campaign, an article in Atlantic Monthly contrasted the old-fashioned conservatism of Edmund Burke with the right-wing radicalism of Newt Gingrich and company.
Note that left/right and liberal/conservative are only regarded as synonymous in the United States (and Canada to a certain extent). Following a hung parliament in 2010, the Liberal Democrats entered a coalition government with the Conservative Party. In Australia, the Liberal Party are the direct analogs of the US Republicans or the UK Conservatives — they're economically liberal and socially very conservative. Explaining this to American conservatives tends to make their heads explode.
“”Conservatives are not necessarily stupid, but most stupid people are conservatives.
|—John Stuart Mill|
Social and economic conservatism
|“||I cannot call myself a cultural conservative, because that term, hijacked by the media, is customarily used to describe a person preoccupied with such matters as the preservation of the phrase "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance; the defense of marriage as an institution for heterosexuals only; the promotion of premarital chastity; and the protection of cancer patients from marijuana addiction.||”|
Conservative is a loose term, meaning only "in favor of conserving." While there are many types of conservatism, one essential distinction in politics and society is between social conservatism and economic (or fiscal) conservatism. Although the two often go hand-in-hand, especially in American politics, they are not inherently connected. It is quite possible to be a fiscal conservative without being socially conservative or vice versa.
Social conservatism emphasizes convention, morality (or old-fashioned notions of morality), and established roles within society and the family. Social conservatives are often, though not always, strongly religious. They support traditional gender roles, marriage, and "family values" (a term with many meanings). Social conservatism is often accused of being homophobic due to its distaste for same-sex marriage and sometimes racist and sexist to some degree because of the associations with traditional hierarchical societies in which everybody knew their place; and in the West, at least, the White, Anglo/European diaspora being regarded as the ultimate origin and standard of civilized culture. Demands for "equality" or "justice" tend to be seen at a minimum as lofty, abstract proposals that are likely to change with the seasons of intellectual fashion. Disrupting settled folkways in the name of these abstract beliefs will always run afoul of the iron law of unintended consequences, while the traditions that would be changed may be sacred and certainly are our own. They often express outrage at political correctness they disagree with and perceived moral decline (e.g., "Hollywood values"). Social conservatism can be highly influential in politics; the "pro-life" movement to outlaw abortion is an example of social conservatism.
The problem with social conservatism is that it's directly contrary to the tenets of small, limited government and personal freedom and responsibility. It relies on dated views in the face of changing society. Wanting the government, especially the Federal government, to enact and enforce laws based on your morality directly contradicts this. There's a reason social conservatives used to overwhelmingly support the Democrats: they believed in a strong welfare state to support the public good, for example, based on ideas of Christian charity. These same voters shifted to the GOP only after the American Civil Rights movement circa 1965, creating the current contradictory cocktail of conservatives and social regressives/reactionaries calling themselves conservatives.
Economic or fiscal conservatism is also very significant politically. Fiscal conservatives support low taxation (trickle-down in particular) and free-market capitalism with minimal regulation. This benefits the economic interests of big industries, entrepreneurs, or the ruling class in some countries, at the expense of everyone else. In Europe, many economic conservatives are not necessarily socially conservative, often being non-religious and unconcerned by issues such as same-sex marriage. In America, however, the two forms of conservatism are heavily intertwined, especially within the Republican Party and its supporters. This bundling of the two major types of conservatism with each other is extreme to the extent that many conservatives cannot recognize the distinction - and see both concepts as central to "conservative values," leading to the idea that you can be all in favor of abolishing taxation, deregulating the market and abolishing trade unions all you like, but if you make a single pro-choice statement, you're labeled as a
“”This fear of trusting uncontrolled social forces is closely related to the other two characteristics of conservatism; its fondness for authority and its lack of understanding of economic forces.
|—Friedrich Hayek, Why I Am Not a Conservative (1960)|
“”Teaching supply-side economics in econ is like teaching creationism in biology.
|—Phil Gilbert, economics professor at MiraCosta College, ca 1987 (not an exact quote)|
You can't have a discussion about modern-day conservatism, especially economic conservatism, without talking about supply-side economics. Supply-side economics is defined as an economic theory that articulates that the economy could be best served by reducing barriers to supply/production as opposed to trying to raise demand. The epitome of supply-side economics is the Laffer Curve, which is the precept that government revenue is equal at zero and 100% taxation. Supply-side economics is widely criticized by neo-Keynesian economists, who are voraciously criticized by libertarians.
In just eight years, the Bush Administration grew the government faster and larger than any other President with borrowed money. It demanded $700 billion more to buy up all of Wall Street's bad mortgage paper and preserve the status quo. However, when asked to boost the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) by $250 million to help low-income families pay their heating bills over the winter of 2007-2008 with record oil and gas prices, Bush vetoed it as pure socialism.
“”There is something inherently paradoxical about being an intellectual Conservative: a good measure of the party's raison d'etre resides in the counter-intuitive belief that ideas should be inherited and ignored, not acquired and defended. And they never take the form of convictions.
|—Conservative philosopher Roger Scruton|
Four researchers surveyed research literature about the psychology of conservatism. They discovered that political conservatism's core is the resistance to change and other perspectives and a tolerance for inequality. No shit. The chief psychological factors of conservatism:
- Fear and aggression — an easy way to support a conservative position is to scapegoat some convenient "other" and demonize it as a threat to "civilized" values. Islamophobia and xenophobia are simply the current manifestations of this conservative train of thought. Students of history may find other examples.
- Dogmatism and intolerance of ambiguity
- Uncertainty avoidance — this may lead to the drawing of premature conclusions or resorting to stereotypes.
- Need for cognitive closure — As Dubya once said, "My job isn't to nuance."
- Terror management — such as declaring amber alerts at opportune moments, calling opponents "supporters of terrorists", etc.
It is debatable whether these factors are associated chiefly with conservatism. One admitted shortfall in this study was that "little or no empirical data are available from the major communist or formerly communist countries" on this subject, making a study of communist psychology very difficult. However, the researchers acknowledge that these factors were also exhibited by many communist dictators, such as Joseph Stalin and Fidel Castro. They respond by claiming that these men, because they resisted change while in power, "may be considered politically conservative, at least in the context of the systems they defended."
In fairness to conservatives, some studies of political extremist groups have suggested that the far-left has very similar traits to the far-right in terms of their tactics and preference for authoritarianism.
What is conservatism, and what is wrong with it?
The main conservative ideology
It refers to a representative example of conservative ideologies used in international contexts, not American exceptionalism. The most representative are 'liberal conservatism', 'social conservatism', and 'national conservatism'.
- Liberal conservatism: This center-right ideology combines classical liberalism and conservatism. It pursues a moderate form of liberalism based on conservative philosophy. Sometimes liberal conservatism is used in a similar sense to conservative liberalism. (In this context, liberalism is not related to American liberalism.)
- Social conservatism: This kind of conservatism preserves and supports existing social traditions. Social conservative ideology is classified as a right-wing like the GOP in the United States, but social conservative forms combined with social democracy are classified as centrist. Social conservatism is notable because it is the only form of conservatism that actively hurts people, notably LGBTQ+ persons and women who do not abide by the patriarchy. Anyone who doesn't follow conventions or adhere to traditional societal roles is adversely affected.
- National conservatism: This is a combination of nationalism and conservatism. Modern national conservatism is generally regarded as right-wing to far-right. In the U.S., Trumpism, Tea Party Movement, and the Alt-right show this tendency. There is also center-right national conservatism in rare cases, such as Taiwan's KMT.
Extremism is a catch-all term for those whose political or religious views are far from the center of a given political spectrum, with connotations of being dangerously so. It is often synonymous with wingnut. It also refers to both wingnuts and moonbats simultaneously, given that "wingnut" is sometimes specific to the far right and "moonbat" specific to the far left.
More specifically, it has been used to refer to those wingnuts and moonbats who have an "end justifies the means" mentality and are willing to use violence or other extralegal means to achieve their goals. However, it is sometimes also used to imply that said wingnuts and moonbats are criminal elements willing to use violence even when, in some cases, they are not.
Wingnuts and moonbats usually don't like being called extremists, although they'll happily call each other extremists. Then again, they usually don't like being called wingnuts and moonbats either.
One of the subject's early and still insightful treatments is Eric Hoffer's 1951 book "The True Believer." Check it out (as in at your local library).
- Such as the Centre Party (Netherlands) which was far-right, but called itself centrist because it was both anti-immigration and environmentalist.
- Historically these reactionary beliefs had always been there. The French far-right from 1815 to 1830 was well-known for its belief that the ancien regime was fantastic and that the radicals of the French Revolution ruined everything.
- Typical examples include Tony Blair of the UK, Gerhard Schröder of Germany, and François Hollande of France.
- The further-left critique of this logic is that such "cronyism" is in the very nature of capitalism due to the codependence between the state and businesses.
- US Election 2020
- Politics in a Third Dimension: "Remodeling the political spectrum". July 9, 2005.
- See the Wikipedia article on Abortion Act 1967.
- See the Wikipedia article on Liberal Party (UK).
- See the Wikipedia article on Free Democratic Party (Germany).
- Have targets improved NHS performance?, The Kings Fund, 2010
- Chancen Pirate Party of Austria
- Platform - Economic reform Pirate Party Australia
-  "The party was a member of the left wing united list at the 2014 European elections"
- Positionspapiere - Inklusion Pirate Party Germany
- Positionspapiere - Sicherheit kerntechnischer Anlagen German Pirate Party
- "people are decent to each other, with ... a clean environment", About Us, Liberal Democratic party, accessed 29 April 2019
- See the Wikipedia article on Independent Ecological Movement.
- See the Wikipedia article on Green conservatism.
- The Instability of Moderation, Paul Krugman, New York Times blog, November 26, 2010
- Did Hyman Minsky find the secret behind financial crashes?, BBC, Mar 24, 2014
- Peter Lawler, Liberal Conservatism, Not Conservative Liberalism, The Intercollegiate Review, Fall 2003/Spring 2004
- Not all lefties turn right with age. Far from it. Letters to The Guardian, Thursday 10 September 2015 19.11 BST
- Brooks, "The Politics of Cowardice", NYT 1.27.17.
- See the Wikipedia article on National Assembly (French Revolution).
- Eatwell, Roger; Wright, Anthony (1999). Contemporary Political Ideologies (2nd ed.). London: Continuum.
- Phil Mershon, Phil Ochs remembered. furious.com, September 2001.
- Liberal Parties in Europe: The liberal party family ideology
- The Adam Smith Myth
- Global Investment and Business Center, Inc. Staff (1999). Russian Political Parties and Organizations Directory. Russian Government Encyclopedic Directory Series. 5. International Business Publications. p. 65. ISBN 9780739707548. Retrieved 2017-06-23. "The LDPR describes itself as a centrist, pro-reform democratic party. The programme of the party calls for democracy and social liberalism. Despite the name, a widespread opinion outside of Russia is that the party's ideology is not liberal and it is often regarded, especially in external media, as an ultranationalist party."
- Compare: McMaken, Ryan W. (2013). "Conservatism". In Claeys, Gregory. Encyclopedia of Modern Political Thought. Thousand Oaks, California: CQ Press. p. 184. ISBN 9781506308364. Retrieved 2017-06-23. "[...] the Republican Party in the United States, and the Liberal Party of Australia, are also often notable by their use of prudential conservatism as a style of politics."
- Mr. Conservative, The Atlantic
- Jacoby, Susan The Age of American Unreason p. 13. 2008. Pantheon Books. ISBN: 1-59722-793-5
- Bush veto hits heating bill aid program for poor
- Researchers help define what makes a political conservative
- The original paper
- What Is Conservatism and What Is Wrong with It?