Left-Right politics
The left–right political spectrum is a common way of classifying political positions, political ideologies
An ideology is a set of ideas that constitutes one's goals, expectations, and actions. An ideology can be thought of as a comprehensive vision, as a way of looking at things , as in common sense and several philosophical tendencies , or a set of ideas proposed by the dominant class of a society to...

, or political parties
Political party
A political party is a political organization that typically seeks to influence government policy, usually by nominating their own candidates and trying to seat them in political office. Parties participate in electoral campaigns, educational outreach or protest actions...

 along a one-dimensional political spectrum
Political spectrum
A political spectrum is a way of modeling different political positions by placing them upon one or more geometric axes symbolizing independent political dimensions....

. The perspective of Left vs. Right is a binary interpretation of complex questions. Left-wing politics
Left-wing politics
In politics, Left, left-wing and leftist generally refer to support for social change to create a more egalitarian society...

 and right-wing politics
Right-wing politics
In politics, Right, right-wing and rightist generally refer to support for a hierarchical society justified on the basis of an appeal to natural law or tradition. To varying degrees, the Right rejects the egalitarian objectives of left-wing politics, claiming that the imposition of equality is...

 are often presented as polar opposites, and although a particular individual or party may take a left-wing stance on one matter and a right-wing stance on another, the terms left and right are commonly used as if they described two globally opposed political families. In France, where the terms originated, the Left is called "the party of movement" and the Right "the party of order".

Traditionally, the Left includes progressives
Progressivism is an umbrella term for a political ideology advocating or favoring social, political, and economic reform or changes. Progressivism is often viewed by some conservatives, constitutionalists, and libertarians to be in opposition to conservative or reactionary ideologies.The...

, social liberals
Social liberalism
Social liberalism is the belief that liberalism should include social justice. It differs from classical liberalism in that it believes the legitimate role of the state includes addressing economic and social issues such as unemployment, health care, and education while simultaneously expanding...

, social democrats
Social democracy
Social democracy is a political ideology of the center-left on the political spectrum. Social democracy is officially a form of evolutionary reformist socialism. It supports class collaboration as the course to achieve socialism...

, socialists
Socialism is an economic system characterized by social ownership of the means of production and cooperative management of the economy; or a political philosophy advocating such a system. "Social ownership" may refer to any one of, or a combination of, the following: cooperative enterprises,...

, communists
Communism is a social, political and economic ideology that aims at the establishment of a classless, moneyless, revolutionary and stateless socialist society structured upon common ownership of the means of production...

 and some anarchists
Anarchism is generally defined as the political philosophy which holds the state to be undesirable, unnecessary, and harmful, or alternatively as opposing authority in the conduct of human relations...

. The Right includes conservatives
Conservatism is a political and social philosophy that promotes the maintenance of traditional institutions and supports, at the most, minimal and gradual change in society. Some conservatives seek to preserve things as they are, emphasizing stability and continuity, while others oppose modernism...

, plutocrats
Plutocracy is rule by the wealthy, or power provided by wealth. The combination of both plutocracy and oligarchy is called plutarchy. The word plutocracy is derived from the Ancient Greek root ploutos, meaning wealth and kratos, meaning to rule or to govern.-Usage:The term plutocracy is generally...

, reactionaries
The term reactionary refers to viewpoints that seek to return to a previous state in a society. The term is meant to describe one end of a political spectrum whose opposite pole is "radical". While it has not been generally considered a term of praise it has been adopted as a self-description by...

, capitalists
Capitalism is an economic system that became dominant in the Western world following the demise of feudalism. There is no consensus on the precise definition nor on how the term should be used as a historical category...

, monarchists
Monarchism is the advocacy of the establishment, preservation, or restoration of a monarchy as a form of government in a nation. A monarchist is an individual who supports this form of government out of principle, independent from the person, the Monarch.In this system, the Monarch may be the...

, nationalists
Nationalism is a political ideology that involves a strong identification of a group of individuals with a political entity defined in national terms, i.e. a nation. In the 'modernist' image of the nation, it is nationalism that creates national identity. There are various definitions for what...

 and fascists
Fascism is a radical authoritarian nationalist political ideology. Fascists seek to rejuvenate their nation based on commitment to the national community as an organic entity, in which individuals are bound together in national identity by suprapersonal connections of ancestry, culture, and blood...


The terms left and right are often used to spin a particular point of view rather than as simple descriptors. In modern political rhetoric, those on the Left typically emphasize their support for working people and accuse the Right of supporting the interests of the upper class, whereas those on the Right usually emphasize their support for individualism and accuse the Left of supporting collectivism
Collectivism is any philosophic, political, economic, mystical or social outlook that emphasizes the interdependence of every human in some collective group and the priority of group goals over individual goals. Collectivists usually focus on community, society, or nation...

. As a result, arguments about the way the words should be used often displace arguments about policy by raising emotional prejudice against a preconceived notion of what the terms mean.

Differences between left and right

The main factor dividing left and right in Western Europe is class. Those on the Left seek social justice
Social justice
Social justice generally refers to the idea of creating a society or institution that is based on the principles of equality and solidarity, that understands and values human rights, and that recognizes the dignity of every human being. The term and modern concept of "social justice" was coined by...

 through redistributive social and economic intervention by the state. Those on the Right defend private property and capitalism. But the nature of the conflict depends on existing social and political cleavages and on the level of economic development. Left-wing values include the belief in the power of human reason to achieve progress for the benefit of the human race, secularism, sovereignty exercised through the legislature, social justice, and mistrust of strong personal political leadership. To the Right, this is regularly seen as anti-clericalism, unrealistic social reform, doctrinaire socialism and class hatred. The Right are skeptical about the capacity of radical reforms to achieve human well-being while maintaining workplace competition. They believe in the established church both in itself and as an instrument of social cohesion, and believe in the need for strong political leadership to minimize social and political divisions. To the Left, this is seen as a selfish and reactionary opposition to social justice, a wish to impose doctrinaire religion on the population, and a tendency to authoritarianism and repression.

The differences between left and right have altered over time. The initial cleavage at the time of the French Revolution was between supporters of absolute monarchy (the Right) and those who wished to limit the king's authority (the Left). During the 19th century the cleavage was between monarchists and republicans. Following the establishment of the Third Republic in 1871, the cleavage was between supporters of a strong executive on the Right and supporters of the primacy of the legislature on the Left.

History of the terms

The terms "left" and "right" appeared during the French Revolution
French Revolution
The French Revolution , sometimes distinguished as the 'Great French Revolution' , was a period of radical social and political upheaval in France and Europe. The absolute monarchy that had ruled France for centuries collapsed in three years...

 of 1789 when members of the National Assembly
National Assembly (French Revolution)
During the French Revolution, the National Assembly , which existed from June 17 to July 9, 1789, was a transitional body between the Estates-General and the National Constituent Assembly.-Background:...

 divided into supporters of the king to the president's right and supporters of the revolution to his left. One deputy, the Baron de Gauville explained, "We began to recognize each other: those who were loyal to religion and the king took up positions to the right of the chair so as to avoid the shouts, oaths, and indecencies that enjoyed free rein in the opposing camp". However the Right opposed the seating arrangement because they believed that deputies should support private or general interests but should not form factions or political parties. The contemporary press occasionally used the terms "left" and "right" to refer to the opposing sides.

When the National Assembly was replaced in 1791 by a Legislative Assembly
Legislative Assembly (France)
During the French Revolution, the Legislative Assembly was the legislature of France from 1 October 1791 to September 1792. It provided the focus of political debate and revolutionary law-making between the periods of the National Constituent Assembly and of the National Convention.The Legislative...

 composed of entirely new members the divisions continued. "Innovators" sat on the left, "moderates" gathered in the center, while the "conscientious defenders of the constitution" found themselves sitting on the right, where the defenders of the ancien regime had previously gathered. When the succeeding National Convention
National Convention
During the French Revolution, the National Convention or Convention, in France, comprised the constitutional and legislative assembly which sat from 20 September 1792 to 26 October 1795 . It held executive power in France during the first years of the French First Republic...

 met in 1792, the seating arrangement continued, but following the coup d'état of June 2, 1793, and the arrest of the Girondins, the right side of the assembly was deserted, and any remaining members who had sat there moved to the center. However following the Thermidorian Reaction
Thermidorian Reaction
The Thermidorian Reaction was a revolt in the French Revolution against the excesses of the Reign of Terror. It was triggered by a vote of the Committee of Public Safety to execute Maximilien Robespierre, Antoine Louis Léon de Saint-Just de Richebourg and several other leading members of the Terror...

 of 1794 the members of the far left were excluded and the method of seating was abolished. The new constitution included rules for the assembly that would "break up the party groups".

However following the Restoration
Bourbon Restoration
The Bourbon Restoration is the name given to the period following the successive events of the French Revolution , the end of the First Republic , and then the forcible end of the First French Empire under Napoleon  – when a coalition of European powers restored by arms the monarchy to the...

 in 1814-1815 political clubs were again formed. The majority ultraroyalists
Ultra-Royalists or simply Ultras were a reactionary faction which sat in the French parliament from 1815 to 1830 under the Bourbon Restoration...

 chose to sit on the right. The "constitutionals" sat in the center while independents sat on the left. The terms extreme right and extreme left, center-right and center left came to be used to describe the nuances of ideology of different sections of the assembly.

The terms left and right were not used to refer to political ideology but only to seating in the legislature. After 1848, the main opposing camps were the "democratic-socialists" and the "reactionaries" who used red and white flags to identify their party affiliation.

With the establishment of the Third Republic
French Third Republic
The French Third Republic was the republican government of France from 1870, when the Second French Empire collapsed due to the French defeat in the Franco-Prussian War, to 1940, when France was overrun by Nazi Germany during World War II, resulting in the German and Italian occupations of France...

 in 1871, the terms were adopted by political parties: the Republican Left, the Center Right, and the Center Left (1871) and the Extreme Left (1876) and Radical Left (1881). Beginning in the early twentieth century the terms left and right came to be associated with specific political ideologies and were used to describe citizens' political beliefs, gradually replacing the terms "reds" and "the reaction" or "republicans" and "conservatives". By 1914 the left half of the legislature was composed of Unified Socialists, Republican Socialists and Socialist Radicals, while the parties that were called "left" now sat on the right side.

There was asymmetry in the use of the terms left and right by the opposing sides. The right mostly denied that the left–right spectrum was meaningful because they saw it as artificial and damaging to unity. The left, however, seeking to change society, promoted the distinction. As Alain
Émile Chartier
Émile-Auguste Chartier, commonly known as Alain was a French philosopher, journalist, and pacifist.Alain entered lycée d'Alençon in 1881 and studied there for five years...

 observed in 1931, "When people ask me if the division between parties of the right and parties of the left, men of the right and men of the left, still makes sense, the first thing that comes to mind is that the person asking the question is certainly not a man of the left"

The terms left and right came to be applied to British politics during the 1906 general election
United Kingdom general election, 1906
-Seats summary:-See also:*MPs elected in the United Kingdom general election, 1906*The Parliamentary Franchise in the United Kingdom 1885-1918-External links:***-References:*F. W. S. Craig, British Electoral Facts: 1832-1987**...

, which saw the Labour Party emerge as a third force.

The sociologist Robert M. MacIver noted in The Web of Government (1947):
The right is always the party sector associated with the interests of the upper or dominant classes, the left the sector expressive of the lower economic or social classes, and the center that of the middle classes. Historically this criterion seems acceptable. The conservative right has defended entrenched prerogatives, privileges and powers; the left has attacked them. The right has been more favorable to the aristocratic position, to the hierarchy of birth or of wealth; the left has fought for the equalization of advantage or of opportunity, for the claims of the less advantaged. Defense and attack have met, under democratic conditions, not in the name of class but in the name of principle; but the opposing principles have broadly corresponded to the interests of the different classes.

Political parties in the political spectrum

Political scientists have observed that the ideologies of political parties can be mapped along a single left–right axis. Klaus von Beyme
Klaus von Beyme
Klaus von Beyme is Professor of Political Science Emeritus at the Faculty of Economic and Social Sciences of the University of Heidelberg.- Education :...

 categorized European parties into nine families, which described most parties. He was able to arrange seven of them from left to right: communist, socialist, green, liberal
Liberalism is the belief in the importance of liberty and equal rights. Liberals espouse a wide array of views depending on their understanding of these principles, but generally, liberals support ideas such as constitutionalism, liberal democracy, free and fair elections, human rights,...

, Christian democratic, conservative and right-wing extremist
Far right
Far-right, extreme right, hard right, radical right, and ultra-right are terms used to discuss the qualitative or quantitative position a group or person occupies within right-wing politics. Far-right politics may involve anti-immigration and anti-integration stances towards groups that are...

. The position of agrarian and regional/ethnic parties varied. A study conducted in the late 1980s on two bases, positions on ownership of the means of production and positions on social issues, confirmed this arrangement.

There has been a tendency for party ideologies to persist, and values and views that were present at a party's founding have survived. However they have also adapted for pragmatic reasons, making them appear more similar. Lipset
Seymour Martin Lipset
Seymour Martin Lipset was an American political sociologist, senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, and the Hazel Professor of Public Policy at George Mason University. His major work was in the fields of political sociology, trade union organization, social stratification, public opinion, and...

 and Rokkan
Stein Rokkan
Stein Rokkan was a Norwegian political scientist and sociologist. He was a professor in comparative politics at the University of Bergen.-Career and influence:...

 observed that modern party systems are the product of social conflicts played out in the last few centuries. They argued that lines of cleavage had become 'frozen'.

The first modern political parties were liberals, organized by the middle class in the 19th century to protect them against the aristocracy. They were major political parties in that century but declined in the twentieth century as first the working class came to support socialist parties and economic and social change eroded their middle class base. Conservative parties arose in opposition to liberals in order to defend aristocratic privilege. But in order to attract voters they became less doctrinaire than liberals. However they were unsuccessful in most countries and generally have only been able to achieve power through cooperation with other parties.

Socialist parties were organized in order to achieve political rights for workers and were originally allied with liberals. However they broke with the liberals when they sought worker control of the means of production. Christian Democratic parties were organized by Catholics who saw liberalism as a threat to traditional values. Although established in the 19th century, they became a major political force following the Second World War. Communist parties emerged following a division within socialism first on support of the First World War and then support of the Bolshevik Revolution.

Right-wing extremist parties are harder to define, other than being more right-wing than other parties, but include fascists
Fascism is a radical authoritarian nationalist political ideology. Fascists seek to rejuvenate their nation based on commitment to the national community as an organic entity, in which individuals are bound together in national identity by suprapersonal connections of ancestry, culture, and blood...

 and some extreme conservative and nationalist parties.

Green parties were the most recent of the major party groups to develop. They have rejected socialism and they are very liberal on social issues.

These categories can be applied to many parties outside Europe. In the United States for example both major parties are liberal, even though there are left–right policy differences between them.

Contemporary usage in the United States

The terms left-wing and right-wing are widely used in United States but, as on the global level, there is no firm consensus about their meaning. The only aspect which is generally agreed upon is that they are the defining opposites of the United States political spectrum
Political spectrum
A political spectrum is a way of modeling different political positions by placing them upon one or more geometric axes symbolizing independent political dimensions....

. Left and right in the U.S. are generally associated with liberal
Modern American liberalism
Modern American liberalism is a form of liberalism developed from progressive ideals such as Theodore Roosevelt's New Nationalism, Woodrow Wilson's New Freedom, Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal, John F. Kennedy's New Frontier, and Lyndon Johnson's Great Society. It combines social liberalism and...

and conservative respectively, although the meanings of the two sets of terms do not entirely coincide. Depending on the political affiliation of the individual using them, these terms can be spoken with varying implications. A 2005 poll of 2,209 American adults showed that "respondents generally viewed the paired concepts liberals and left-wingers and conservatives and right-wingers as possessing, respectively, generally similar political beliefs", but also showed that around ten percent fewer respondents understood the terms left and right than understood the terms liberal and conservative.

The contemporary Left in the United States is usually understood as a category including New Deal liberals
Modern American liberalism
Modern American liberalism is a form of liberalism developed from progressive ideals such as Theodore Roosevelt's New Nationalism, Woodrow Wilson's New Freedom, Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal, John F. Kennedy's New Frontier, and Lyndon Johnson's Great Society. It combines social liberalism and...

, Rawlsian liberals
John Rawls
John Bordley Rawls was an American philosopher and a leading figure in moral and political philosophy. He held the James Bryant Conant University Professorship at Harvard University....

, social democrats
Social democracy
Social democracy is a political ideology of the center-left on the political spectrum. Social democracy is officially a form of evolutionary reformist socialism. It supports class collaboration as the course to achieve socialism...

 and civil libertarians
Civil libertarianism
Civil libertarianism is a strain of political thought that supports civil liberties, or who emphasizes the supremacy of individual rights and personal freedoms over and against any kind of authority...

, and is generally identified with the Democratic Party
Democratic Party (United States)
The Democratic Party is one of two major contemporary political parties in the United States, along with the Republican Party. The party's socially liberal and progressive platform is largely considered center-left in the U.S. political spectrum. The party has the lengthiest record of continuous...

. In general, left-wing implies a commitment to egalitarianism
Egalitarianism is a trend of thought that favors equality of some sort among moral agents, whether persons or animals. Emphasis is placed upon the fact that equality contains the idea of equity of quality...

, support for social policies that favor the working class
Working class
Working class is a term used in the social sciences and in ordinary conversation to describe those employed in lower tier jobs , often extending to those in unemployment or otherwise possessing below-average incomes...

, and multiculturalism
Multiculturalism is the appreciation, acceptance or promotion of multiple cultures, applied to the demographic make-up of a specific place, usually at the organizational level, e.g...

. The contemporary Left usually defines itself as promoting government regulation of business, commerce and industry; protection of fundamental rights such as freedom of speech and freedom of religion; and government intervention on behalf of racial, ethnic, and sexual minorities and the working class.

The contemporary Right in the United States is usually understood as a category including social conservatives
Social conservatism
Social Conservatism is primarily a political, and usually morally influenced, ideology that focuses on the preservation of what are seen as traditional values. Social conservatism is a form of authoritarianism often associated with the position that the federal government should have a greater role...

, Christian conservatives
Christian right
Christian right is a term used predominantly in the United States to describe "right-wing" Christian political groups that are characterized by their strong support of socially conservative policies...

 and free market
Free market
A free market is a competitive market where prices are determined by supply and demand. However, the term is also commonly used for markets in which economic intervention and regulation by the state is limited to tax collection, and enforcement of private ownership and contracts...

 liberals, and is generally identified with the Republican Party
Republican Party (United States)
The Republican Party is one of the two major contemporary political parties in the United States, along with the Democratic Party. Founded by anti-slavery expansion activists in 1854, it is often called the GOP . The party's platform generally reflects American conservatism in the U.S...

. In general, right-wing implies a commitment to conservative Christian
Conservative Christianity
Conservative Christianity is a term applied to a number of groups or movements seen as giving priority to traditional Christian beliefs and practices...

 values, support for a free-market system, and "traditional family values". The contemporary Right usually defines itself as promoting deregulation
Deregulation is the removal or simplification of government rules and regulations that constrain the operation of market forces.Deregulation is the removal or simplification of government rules and regulations that constrain the operation of market forces.Deregulation is the removal or...

 of banking, commerce, and industry.

Whether something is to your left or to your right depends on where you stand. According to liberal commentator David Sirota
David Sirota
David J. Sirota is a progressive Denver-based American political figure, radio show host and commentator. He is an author, book reviewer, nationally syndicated newspaper columnist, a Democratic political strategist, political operative, Democratic spokesperson, and blogger...

, writing in Salon.com
Salon.com, part of Salon Media Group , often just called Salon, is an online liberal magazine, with content updated each weekday. Salon was founded by David Talbot and launched on November 20, 1995. It was the internet's first online-only commercial publication. The magazine focuses on U.S...

, "On economic issues, we are often told that right is center, center is left, and left is fringe."

Relevance of the terms today

Some political scientists have suggested that the classifications of "left" and "right" are no longer meaningful in the modern complex world. Although these terms continue to be used, they advocate a more complex spectrum that attempts to combine political, economic and social dimensions.

However, a survey conducted between 1983 and 1994 by Robert Altemeyer
Robert Altemeyer
Robert "Bob" Altemeyer is a retired Professor of Psychology at the University of Manitoba.He has written extensively on authoritarianism and refined the theory into the concept of Right Wing Authoritarianism. Altemeyer's work is extensively referenced in John W. Dean's 2006 book, Conservatives...

 of Canadian legislative caucuses showed an 82% correlation between party affiliation and score on a scale for right-wing authoritarianism when comparing right-wing and social democratic caucuses. There was a wide gap between the scores of the two groups which was filled by liberal caucuses. His survey of American legislative caucuses showed scores by American Republicans and Democrats were similar to the Canadian Right and liberals, with a 44% correlation between party affilitation and score.

Norberto Bobbio
Norberto Bobbio
Norberto Bobbio was an Italian philosopher of law and political sciences and a historian of political thought. He also wrote regularly for the Turin-based daily La Stampa....

 saw the polarization of the Italian Chamber of Deputies in the 1990s as evidence that the linear left/right axis remained valid. He thought that the argument that the spectrum had disappeared occurred when either the Left or Right were weak. The dominant side would claim that its ideology was the only possible one, while the weaker side would minimize its differences. He saw the Left and Right not in absolute terms, but as relative concepts that would vary over time. The key distinction was one of equality. The Right was committed to inequality while the further left one went the more committed to equality one was. In his view, the left/right axis could be applied to any time period.

The political philosopher Charles Blattberg
Charles Blattberg
Charles Blattberg is a professor of political philosophy at the Université de Montréal. Blattberg grew up in Toronto and completed his undergraduate degree at the University of Toronto, where he also served as president of its Students’ Administrative Council during the 1989–90 academic...

 has proposed response to conflict as the basis of a reinterpreted political spectrum. According to Blattberg, those who would respond to conflict with conversation should be considered as on the left, with negotiation as in the centre, and with force as on the right. See his essay "Political Philosophies and Political Ideologies."

External links

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