I recently came across a fascinating eBook, Understanding the Political Spectrum by R.G. Price. The 92 page book gives insight on what the political terms Left and Right actually mean and how they’ve changed throughout history. It seems as though everyone has their own interpretation of these terms, but are vastly confused what is truly meant by them.
Like many people I’ve long struggled on how to identify myself politically. On any given issue I could give you a straight answer, but I never seemed to fit a predefined ideology. Why should my view on global warming have any relevance on what I think about gun control?
Price explains that one of the major problems in American politics today is the widespread misconception of what the political spectrum actually looks like. He acknowledges that both the Political Compass and Nolan Chart are useful tools to solve this issue, but argues that they are both incomplete. Particularly their use of “authoritarian” and “libertarian” paints a picture that can easily be shown to be contradictory.
Price paints a different picture of the political landscape with his Rational Spectrum:
There are a few things on The Rational Spectrum that may raise a few eyebrows. First is the use of Social Right and Social Left for the vertical axis. Price explains that both the Social Right and the Social Left don’t oppose each other on any given issue, but rather that they are both opposing Liberalism (The inner circle on the spectrum). In America today, liberalism may be more often thought of as “libertarian-ism.”
Liberalism in its classical sense, to put it simply, is anti regulations and anti authoritarianism. Therefore it is always the opposing force when discussing any social issues and economic issues for both the Left and Right. First, let’s look at some examples of specific social issues to give this point more clarity:
Anti Gay Marriage vs Liberalism (freedom to marry regardless of sex)
Anti Marijuana Legalization vs Liberalism (freedom to use marijuana)
Anti Abortion vs Liberalism (freedom to terminate a pregnancy)
Affirmative Action vs Liberalism (freedom to hire)
Gun Control vs Liberalism (freedom to buy, own and use guns)
Global Warming Regulations vs Liberalism (freedom to pollute)
Price goes onto explain that the Social Right and Social Left may even agree on some issues, but for drastically different reasons. One example he gives is the issue of pornography. The Far Right is against pornography because they believe its immoral- often times for religious reasons. The Far Left on the other hand is against pornography because it represents the objectification of women. For Liberalism, however, pornography is perfectly acceptable because it’s just another form of human expression. Every social issue is a fight for regulation.
Now let’s look at the horizontal axis. Perhaps less surprisingly, this deals with economics and is what is traditionally meant by the terms “Left” and “Right.” However, Price makes a unique distinction in that Laissez-faire Capitalism is a centrist idea rather than a far right one which many other political spectrum’s claim. Price argues that the far right is actually Corporatism which wants regulations to reduce competition and create Oligopolies. The far left or Socialism in contrast, wants regulations on businesses so that their benefits are shared across society.
Similarly, the moderate left advocates for Social Democracy while the moderate right advocates for corporatistic capitalism. Social democracy is a mixed economy where capitalism is retained, but social welfare provisions are in place to make capitalist’s activity tolerable to society at large. I encourage you to read this article to better differentiate this and socialism. Likewise, corporatistic capitalism is in favor of corporate power, but to a lesser extent then the far right.
I highly encourage everyone to read Price’s work. His clarity will help shine a light on the disarray that is the American political spectrum. Cheers!