I am a political junkie. I am a student of political science and I watch the news far more often than I probably should, but I like knowing what’s going on and being able to engage in discussions that the power players are having. That being said, I’ve recognized that for most Americans political speak is a lot like trying to order trying to order Chinese food from a menu that is written in Mandarin. As discussions have come up in recent weeks I’ve identified certain policies and lawmakers in terms of left and right and have been met with a puzzled look usually followed by, “That’s like democrat and republican right?” Short answer, yes, but it’s so much more than that. So here I am going to try to help, in the most concise way I can, explain the differences between Left and Right as well as the landscape of modern comparative politics.
What does Left/Right really mean?
The Origins of Left & Right
Originally “left wing” and “right wing” referred to a physical poistion which represented political ideology within the National Assembly during French Revolution. The President of the Assembly presided in the middle of the chamber with the kings supporters (those who wanted to conserve socio-political norms; i.e. conservatives) seated on the right wing of the chamber and the revolutionary supporters seeking national reformation were seated on the left wing.
Since the French Revolution commentators, journalists, media outlets, and pretty much everyone else have adopted the left-right spectrum as a way of understanding politics which looks like this:
I don’t like this model… I don’t like it at all.
“Why Dan?” You ask.
Because, it’s doesn’t accurately represent 90%+ of the world’s population. On this spectrum I would fall close to the “center-right” mark, but that’s extremely broad for what I believe, though I digress… this is about the left-right spectrum.
Does Left/Right mean Democrat/Republican?
It can, but usually it doesn’t. The oversimplification and manipulation of political ideology by mass media is resulting (in my opinion) in the polarization of our nation, the radicalization of normally moderate-minded and well intentioned people, and the decline of independent thought.
For example, many Americans think of “right wing” as synonymous with republican and “left wing” as synonymous with democrat, but when we do that we box in our own political freedoms with that of a party platform (even when we disagree with parts, or all, of it!).
Let’s try this. Remove the terms republican and democrat from the left-right debate because really they are just part of it and move in this direction:
- Anarchism– Remember the crazy anarchists in high school? There were those kids who thought it was cool to wear the “A” patch on their messenger bags because it was a punk rock thing to do. Well it’s real, and it’s stupid. Unless we all want to have to arm ourselves to the teeth and be okay with murdering others, we need governance by a body that can establish and maintain laws for the good of it’s citizens. Romans 13 speaks directly to this.
- Libertarianism– This is more or less the area I fall into. Libertarians embrace personal liberty and oppose government intervention in most cases. The more fundamental Libertarians would sometimes argue that speed limits and stop signs are even up for debate on government overreach.
- Conservatism– We all know this one. Conservatives value a relatively small government, however are not opposed to using it to protect societal norms and national security. I find it interesting that many young libertarians oppose conservatives when they have more in common (ideologically speaking) than they do with socialists and leftists.
- Democratic Socialism– Yes, this is different than socialism. No, it’s not the same as Nazi Germany. Yes, it still doesn’t work. Not many people know this about me, and often are shocked to find out that just a few years back I was a proud democratic socialist. I was convinced that if only the government did more, this country would be a better place and American’s would be better off than we were at the time. And then I had children, and then I got a job, and then I bought a house, and then I realized that that view I held was both extremely optimistic (a good thing) and very immature (a bad thing). Democratic socialists view the government as a tool to solve problems within the country and tend to be okay with giving up certain freedoms for the greater good, as long as the democratic process is upheld and they still get a say. If not, it’s tyrannical and needs to be stopped!
- Socialism– Socialists are all about big government. They support government run healthcare, industry, food distribution, and more because the theory is that it will lead to the holy grail of equality.
As a side note: This is Nazi Germany. This is Soviet Russia. You’ll see charts online and commentators who say that those two were on opposite ends of the political spectrum, but it’s not true. I mean just look at their names: Nazi Germany was ruled by the Nationalsozialistiche Deutsche Arbeitpartie or the National Socialist German’s Worker’s Party. The Soviet Union was known as Soyuz Sovietskikh Sotialisticheskikh Respublik or the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. They were both socialist governments, and they both failed for mistakes in both foreign and domestic politics.
- Leftism– This may sound offensive, but it’s not meant to. Socialists nowadays, are more or less lazy. They often times speak about how the government needs to do this or that, but they don’t take steps to change things. The Leftists on the other hand do. Leftists tend to be more on the extreme end of the Left (obviously) and want to see a social utopia come into existence, which sounds good until you disagree with them on something and then it’s time for you to be attacked. Many so-called communists and active socialists follow (most of the time unkowingly) the philosophy of neo-Marxists in their push for social reform.
- Fascism– Some graphics online will put fascism at the far-right of the spectrum, but again I disagree. If the spectrum, as viewed in a modern context, is about the size of government and it’s role in our lives, then that spot goes to the Anarchists, and the far-left goes to the Fascists. Fascists, are a minority. Why? Because fascism is a system of government which the government controls pretty much everything. Think of the George Orwell’s 1984 or, Mussolini’s Italy and post World War II North Korea. These guys don’t typically have much clout in the US because they are a threat to every other group on the list, and we don’t play that.
Notice one very popular “L” word is missing from the list? No, I didn’t forget to add Liberalism. I’ve replaced it, because modern liberalism in the US has more or less become an umbrella term for the last four, perhaps with the exception of fascism. Using these words give us a better understanding of where our leaders and ourselves stand politically. Really, they are related to how big the government ought to be. How much overreach should the government be allowed? How much personal liberty ought we give up for the sake of order/control and social equality?
Where is God on the Left-Right Spectrum
He’s not. God is not on the left or the right. God is above the left AND the right. The nature of the relationship between government and citizen is a measure Freedom vs. Order vs. Equality. All of these are at odds with each other in our fallen world making it impossible to established a “perfect society” on this earth. We can study, debate, reform, and protest government and politics, but ultimately we are under the spiritual (and eventually the physical) dominion of Jesus, and when the latter comes, every knee on the left and every knee on the right will bow in subjugation to the Ruler of the kings of the earth. Only at then end of the age, when Jesus comes back and sin is no more will we see the perfect blend of freedom, order, and equality as God intended.