Left vs. right, diagrammed

Tuesday 10 November 2009

I'm sure this will be controversial: an infographic summarizing the differences between the political Left and the political Right:

left vs. right

(keep clicking through to get to a full-size readable version).

Probably both sides will find things to complain about, though I suspect the right will be more upset. The terms used there seem negative to me, or is that just because I'm on the left?

Interesting that they made a "US" version, which simply has the colors reversed! I knew our settling on blue for left was a recent innovation, I hadn't realized that the rest of the world long ago settled on the opposite.


andrew 6:31 AM on 10 Nov 2009

Yeah, I gots my beefs with it, but not as much as I was prepared to have when I saw the post. The problem with pithy is that is isn't complete. By definition.

Giacomo 7:07 AM on 10 Nov 2009

I'm a typical European "leftie", and I find it stupid.
Mussolini was a laissez-faire traditionalist supportive of free-trade? The Kennedy administration was full of pacifists?

The political space has as many dimensions as there are topics open for debate. Forcing it to live in a one-dimensional space is an exercise for newspeople, who find it easier to sell spectator sports.

This is just advertising for a book from which I'd stay well away.

Carl Tyler 7:14 AM on 10 Nov 2009

FYI Britain represents the left with red and right with blue also. Probably something the US took from Britain ;-)

Carl 7:55 AM on 10 Nov 2009

Carl, which Britain are you referring to? Clearly not the one I live in, which happens to be described on wikipedia and, like most of Europe, associates "red" with "leftist parties" because of the connection with early Socialism.

The US took their red/blue connotations from their own flag, leave them alone.

Giacomo 7:56 AM on 10 Nov 2009

(lol, previous comment was me)

Michelle 7:59 AM on 10 Nov 2009

Giacomo has it right, but what jumped out at me was that the Left "Interferes with Social Lives" and the Right does not. The book must have crossed over from an alternate universe.

Nate Eagleson 8:50 AM on 10 Nov 2009

Speaking as a sort-of conservative (although I kind of blend values and systems from both sides of that chart), I'd like to point out that a lot of conservatives would disagree strongly with the claim "The world is fine as it is" (under Society & Culture).

However, they almost all agree that the world's problems can't be fixed by government, and mostly agree that you can't fix all the world's problems (the argument goes something like "There are only so many resources, and people can only achieve so much - think carefully about what problems you want to try to solve, because you can't just fix them all."). Thus, you get the traditional conservative backlash against attempts to "fix this problem" by politicians. It's not so much that "things shouldn't change" as it is "that isn't going to work", "that's a waste of resources", or "that's not something the government can fix", in my experience.

A more accurate summary of conservative beliefs, on the average, might be "The world is broken, and we can't really fix it."

(Of course, just because something cannot be done doesn't mean you shouldn't try, and that's where I think a lot of conservatives fall down. However, it is true that if you say up front "this task is impossible", your approach to doing what you can about it will be very different from your approach if you say "the world can be fixed".)

I do find the labels of right and left kind of simplistic, personally - I agree with Giacomo. Presenting politics as a two-sided war is not a great idea.

David Welden 11:06 AM on 10 Nov 2009

Most of the world conflates Leftist with Communist and hence red is the color most often associated as in the former USSR and China. Up until the McCarthy era the US also made this connection. Why it has flipped in the US in recent years I don't know, but perhaps it is similar to how the views and platforms of the Republican and Democratic parties have shifted over the decades since their inception.

Lennart Regebro 1:10 PM on 10 Nov 2009

It's reasonably accurate for something as unintelligent as trying to squeeze politics into a lift-right scale. I do find much of the characterizations of the right on the government level to be incorrect. But otherwise it's OK.

Giacomo: The characterization of Italian fascist as "right" is simply an effect of socialists deciding that fascism must be to the right, because they didn't like them. Italian fascism and Nazism both sprung out of socialism and have more in common ideologically with the socialism in general than with conservatism. By rights (hehe) Italian Fascism and Nazism should be claimed to be leftist ideologies.

But I know, that wasn't your point. But still. :)

Giacomo 2:45 PM on 10 Nov 2009

Lennart, sorry but that's not quite right :)
Fascism did have strong right-wing connotations: affinity with big-business and the upper classes, institutional racism, nationalism, protectionism... All political parties that ever had an ideological or nostalgic relationship with fascism (and there are quite a few in Europe) have always been involved in coalitions set up by conservative, "right" parties. Franco in Spain outlawed the entire leftist spectrum.

Undoubtedly, fascistic movements did have what we (relatively recently) came to consider as "leftist" connotations (big on State intervention, modernism etc) and there's the famous quote by Molotov about Communists and Fascists being at opposite ends of a very flexible ruler, but they were always firmly to the right of the European political discourse.

Lennart Regebro 3:55 PM on 10 Nov 2009

The affinity with big business and protectionism are also typical leftist things. Nationalism, sure. Italian fascism wasn't racist, btw.

Franco in Spain was right-wing, but he was conservative. The label fascist only was applied to him by others, as with all other right wing "fascists". The original Italian Fascism came out of socialism, just as Nazism in Germany. This is not really something that is up for debate. What can be discussed is why they came to be branded as right-wing, and that is IMO because the left in Europe always managed to keep a firm grip on the "problematisation" and therefore branded everything they didn't like as "right". This is why the "right" contains completely different ideologies like liberalism (except in the US), conservatism and fascism, while the left (except in the US) contains only variants of socialism.

In the US the "right" managed to get control over the problematisation as a part of McCarthyism, and as a result conservatism is "right", and liberalism got pushed together with socialism as "left".

All this of course just shows how useless a left-right scale is.

Evan Scheessele 6:18 PM on 10 Nov 2009

I like it. There are pretty but pointless (or poorly researched/agenda-driven) info-graphics; this is an honest attempt at the art. Less controversial than it could be.

DavidM 9:03 PM on 10 Nov 2009

Conservatism has nothing to do with "Big Business" or "The world is fine as it is".

Conservatism is belief that government is the ONLY entity which can forcibly take your property, labors or your life. Therefore it must be restricted and only used to protect others rights. I am speaking primarily of fiscal conservatism here ( probably sound like a libertarian).

Free men engaging in free enterprise using their labors and legally obtained property is what ensures "progress". The US has 5% of the worlds population, yet produces upwards of 25% of its GDP output. If this isn't proof enough of the power of free markets , nothing will convince anyone.

Greg M. Johnson 9:50 PM on 10 Nov 2009

Giacomo's observations about Mussolini vs. Kennedy are spot-on.

The one observation that is most cogent in the graphic is in regards to rights: Others Must Observe vs. Others Must Not Interfere. It explains how the right was successful in getting through the American Congress a bill allowing Certain Persons to possess a gun if they travel to another state. It explains reluctance to adopt civil rights in the South. Thinking about those two words, it also naturally buts ardent pro-choicers in the same philosophical camp as the gun enthusiasts.

Josh 9:58 PM on 10 Nov 2009

I agree with some comments that politics is more complicated than can be captured in two dimensions. Part of the problem with the diagram is that it doesn't "show its work." Without sources, the author's choices of what to include are endlessly and fruitlessly debatable.

Richard Schwartz 10:28 PM on 10 Nov 2009

Origins of the current "Red State" / "Blue State" terminology in the US. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Red_states_and_blue_states#Origins_of_current_color_scheme It is very recent.

Richard Schwartz 10:54 PM on 10 Nov 2009

Reality is multi-dimensional with each dimension really a continuum rather than a binary choice, but the reason that the one-dimensional left/right model continues to be popular, and indeed useful, is that in practice in most political systems coalitions have to develop. In order for one coalition to secure the right to rule it must get to 51%, but the major members of the coalition don't want to compromise too much on their core principles and bringing in more partners to get farther past 51% increases the amount of compromise required to hold the coalition together. Therefore over time, in a more stable society the result is very likely to be a split into two roughly equal-sized coalitions that persist over time. There is always ebb and flow, not just in membership of coalitions but also in the dominant issues that hold the coalitions together, but at any point in time a pair of long-term durable coalitions can reasonably be seen as the two values on a binary dimension. And historically over much of the past century, give or take, the left/right definitions that we're familiar with have fit a lot of the more durable national and international coalitions reasonably well.

Robin Munn 10:56 PM on 10 Nov 2009

Michelle commented:

what jumped out at me was that the Left "Interferes with Social Lives" and the Right does not. The book must have crossed over from an alternate universe.

As far as sexual ethics are concerned, you're right -- the Left holds the laissez-faire position and the Right has more interfering tendencies. But in pretty much every other aspect of society, it's the Right that tends to advocate "let people do what they want" and the Left that tends to say "people make stupid choices, government should intervene to save them from themselves."

Example: smoking -- is it the Left or the Right that tends to argue for regulation in this area? Obesity -- which side of the political spectrum tends to argue "we should regulate what people eat, fast-food companies should be forced to offer healthy choices, etc."? (I don't know for certain what the political opinions of Morgan Spurlock, who made the documentary Super Size Me in 2004, are -- but the fact that he optioned the rights to the book The Republican War on Science is a bit of a clue...) Speech codes (especially on college campuses) -- "offensive and/or hateful speech should not be tolerated" tends to be a leftist position, whereas "political debate should be free and unrestrained, and if someone is advocating hate, the best remedy is to speak out about why their position is wrong" tends to be held by people on the right. (F.I.R.E., the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, is an officially nonpartisan organisation but usually ends up defending conservative-leaning student groups; I've rarely seen them take cases where liberal-leaning student groups claimed their speech rights had been offended, though whether this is because they refused such cases or such cases simply weren't happening often is something I do not know).

Drugs, and specifically marijuana, are the only other counterexample I've come up with -- there are some right-leaning libertarians who argue for legalizing marijuana, but most of the "legalize marijuana" advocates tend to be on the left.

Hmmm, so far I've got sex & drugs as the issues where the left is more freedom-oriented than the right... I gotta come up with a way to work rock & roll in here somehow. :-)

Lennart Regebro 1:36 AM on 11 Nov 2009

DavidM: That was a unique definition of conservatism. Can you link to something supporting that definition or is that your own?

Robin Munn 10:03 AM on 11 Nov 2009

Lennart - I think DavidM was referring to Gerald Ford's line (often wrongly attributed to Thomas Jefferson), "[a] government big enough to give you everything you want is a government big enough to take from you everything you have."

DavidM's definition of conservatism -- at least American conservatism (can't say I'm familiar with how conservatism is expressed in the entire world) -- sounds about right to me, BTW.

Lennart Regebro 10:09 AM on 11 Nov 2009

As a description of fiscal conservatism (what the rest of the world call economic liberalism), sure. But that's an extremely limited view of conservatism, and ignores everything except economic questions, and also the fact that US conservatives have dropped the fiscal conservatism the last ten years and in fact spend more even than liberals.

So it seems to me to be a fairly inaccurate description of conservatism, as it only is accurate on economic issues when it comes to those conservatives who has embraced liberal economic policies.

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