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Most long-standing spectra include a right wing and left wing, which originally referred to seating arrangements in the French parliament after the Revolution (1789–99). According to the simplest left–right axis, communism and socialism are usually regarded internationally as being on the left, opposite fascism and conservatism on the right. Liberalism can mean different things in different contexts, sometimes on the left (social liberalism), sometimes on the right (economic liberalism). Politics that rejects the conventional left–right spectrum is known as syncretic politics. Those with an intermediate outlook are classified as centrists or moderates.
Political scientists have frequently noted that a single left–right axis is insufficient for describing the existing variation in political beliefs, and often include other axes. Though the descriptive words at polar opposites may vary, often in popular biaxial spectra the axes are split between sociocultural issues and economic issues, each scaling from some form of individualism (or government for the freedom of the individual) to some form of communitarianism (or government for the welfare of the community). In this context, the contemporary American left is often considered individualist (or libertarian) on sociocultural issues and communitarian (or populist) on economic issues, while the contemporary American right is often considered communitarian (or populist) on sociocultural issues and individualist (or libertarian) on economic issues.
The terms Right and Left refer to political affiliations which originated early in the French Revolutionary era of 1789–1799, and referred originally to the seating arrangements in the various legislative bodies of France. The aristocracy sat on the right of the Speaker (traditionally the seat of honor) and the commoners sat on the Left, hence the terms Right-wing politics and Left-wing politics.
Originally, the defining point on the ideological spectrum was the ancien régime ("old order"). "The Right" thus implied support for aristocratic or royal interests, and the church, while "The Left" implied support for republicanism, secularism, and civil liberties. Because the political franchise at the start of the revolution was relatively narrow, the original "Left" represented mainly the interests of the bourgeoisie, the rising capitalist class (with notable exceptions such as the proto-communist Gracchus Babeuf). Support for laissez-faire capitalism and free markets were expressed by politicians sitting on the left, because these represented policies favorable to capitalists rather than to the aristocracy; but outside of parliamentary politics, these views are often characterized as being on the Right.
The reason for this apparent contradiction lies in the fact that those 'to the left' of the parliamentary left, outside of official parliamentary structures (such as the sans-culottes of the French Revolution), typically represent much of the working class, poor peasantry, and the unemployed. Their political interests in the French Revolution lay with opposition to the aristocracy, and so they found themselves allied with the early capitalists. However, this did not mean that their economic interests lay with the 'laissez-faire' policies of those representing them politically.
As capitalist economies developed, the aristocracy became less relevant and were mostly replaced by capitalist representatives. The size of the working class increased as capitalism expanded, and began to find expression partly through trade unionist, socialist, anarchist, and communist politics, rather than being confined to the capitalist policies expressed by the original 'left'. This evolution has often pulled parliamentary politicians away from laissez-faire economic policies, although this has happened to different degrees in different countries.
Thus, the word 'left' in American political parlance may refer to 'liberalism' and be identified with the Democratic Party, whereas in a country such as France these positions would be regarded as relatively more right-wing, and 'left' is more likely to refer to 'socialist' positions rather than 'liberal' ones.
For almost a century, social scientists have considered the problem of how best to describe political variation.
In 1950, Leonard W. Ferguson analyzed political values using ten scales measuring attitudes toward: birth control, capital punishment, censorship, communism, evolution, law, patriotism, theism, treatment of criminals, and war. Submitting the results to factor analysis, he was able to identify three factors, which he named Religionism, Humanitarianism, and Nationalism. He defined Religionism as belief in God and negative attitudes toward evolution and birth control; Humanitarianism as being related to attitudes opposing war, capital punishment and harsh treatment of criminals; and Nationalism as describing variation in opinions on censorship, law, patriotism and communism.
This system was derived empirically; rather than devising a political model on purely theoretical grounds and testing it, Ferguson's research was exploratory. As a result of this method, care must be taken in the interpretation of Ferguson's three factors, as factor analysis will output an abstract 'factor' whether an objectively real factor exists or not. Although replication of the Nationalism factor was inconsistent, the finding of Religionism and Humanitarianism had a number of replications by Ferguson and others.
Shortly afterward, Hans Eysenck began researching political attitudes in Great Britain. He believed that there was something existentially similar about the National Socialists or Nazis on the one hand, and the Communists on the other, despite their opposite positions on the left–right axis. As Hans Eysenck described in his 1956 book Sense and Nonsense in Psychology, Eysenck compiled a list of political statements found in newspapers and political tracts and asked subjects to rate their agreement or disagreement with each. Submitting this value questionnaire to the same process of factor analysis used by Ferguson, Eysenck drew out two factors, which he named "Radicalism" (R-factor) and "Tender-Mindedess" (T-factor).
Such analysis produces a factor whether or not it corresponds to a real-world phenomenon, and so caution must be exercised in its interpretation. While Eysenck's R-factor is easily identified as the classical "left–right" dimension, the T-factor (representing a factor drawn at right angles to the R-factor) is less intuitive; high-scorers favored pacifism, racial equality, religious education, and restrictions on abortion, while low-scorers had attitudes more friendly to militarism, harsh punishment, easier divorce laws, and companionate marriage.
Despite the difference in methodology, location, and theory, the results attained by Eysenck and Ferguson matched; simply rotating Eysenck's two factors 45 degrees renders the same factors of Religionism and Humanitarianism identified by Ferguson in America.
One interesting result Eysenck noted in his 1956 work was that in the United States and Great Britain, most of the political variance was subsumed by the left/right axis, while in France, the T-axis was larger, and in the Middle East, the only dimension to be found was the T-axis: "Among mid-Eastern Arabs it has been found that while the tough-minded/tender-minded dimension is still clearly expressed in the relationships observed between different attitudes, there is nothing that corresponds to the radical-conservative continuum."
Eysenck's political views related to his research: Eysenck was an outspoken opponent of what he perceived as the authoritarian abuses of the left and right, and accordingly he believed that, with this T axis, he had found the link between nazism and communism. According to Eysenck, members of both ideologies were tough-minded. Central to Eysenck's thesis was the claim that tender-minded ideologies were democratic and friendly to human freedoms, while tough-minded ideologies were aggressive and authoritarian, a claim that is open to political criticism. In this context, Eysenck carried out studies on nazism and communist groups, claiming to find members of both groups to be more "dominant" and more "aggressive" than control groups.
Eysenck left Nazi Germany to live in Britain, and was not shy in attacking Stalinist 'communism' (which he regarded as representative of communist ideology), noting the anti-Semitic prejudices of the Russian government, the luxurious lifestyles of the USSR's leaders despite their talk about equality and the poverty of their people, and the Orwellian "doublethink" of East Germany's naming itself the German Democratic Republic despite being "one of the most undemocratic regimes in the world today." While Eysenck was an opponent of Nazism, his relationship with fascist organizations was more complex. Eysenck himself lent theoretical support to the English National Party (which also opposed "Hitlerite" Nazism), and was interviewed in the first issue of their journal The Beacon in relation to his controversial views on relative intelligence between different races. At one point during the interview, Eysenck was asked whether or not he was of Jewish origin before the interviewer proceeded. His political allegiances were called into question by other researchers, notably Steven Rose, who alleged that his scientific research was used for political purposes.
Eysenck's conception of 'tough-mindedness' has been criticized for a number of reasons.
Dissatisfied with Hans J. Eysenck's work, Milton Rokeach developed his own two-axis model of political values in 1973, basing this on the ideas of freedom and equality, which he described in his book, The Nature of Human Values.
Milton Rokeach claimed that the defining difference between the left and right was that the left stressed the importance of equality more than the right. Despite his criticisms of Eysenck's tough-tender axis, Rokeach also postulated a basic similarity between communism and nazism, claiming that these groups would not value freedom as greatly as more conventional social democrats, democratic socialists and capitalists would, and he wrote that "the two value model presented here most resembles Eysenck's hypothesis."
To test this model, Milton Rokeach and his colleagues used content analysis on works exemplifying nazism (written by Adolf Hitler), communism (written by V.I. Lenin), capitalism (by Barry Goldwater) and socialism (written by various socialist authors). This method has been criticized for its reliance on the experimenter's familiarity with the content under analysis, and its dependence on the researcher's particular political outlooks.
Multiple raters made frequency counts of sentences containing synonyms for a number of values identified by Rokeach, including freedom and equality, and Rokeach analyzed these results by comparing the relative frequency rankings of all the values for each of the four texts:
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In further research, Hans J. Eysenck refined his methodology to include more questions on economic issues. Doing this, he revealed a split in the left–right axis between social policy and economic policy, with a previously undiscovered dimension of socialism-capitalism (S-factor).
While factorially distinct from Eysenck's previous R factor, the S-factor did positively correlate with the R-factor, indicating that a basic left–right or right–left tendency underlies both social values and economic values, although S tapped more into items discussing economic inequality and big business, while R relates more to the treatment of criminals, and to sexual issues and military issues.
Another replication came from Ronald Inglehart's research into national opinions based on the World Values Survey, although Inglehart's research described the values of countries rather than individuals or groups of individuals within nations. Inglehart's two-factor solution took the form of Ferguson's original Religionism and Humanitarianism dimensions; Inglehart labelled them "secularism–traditionalism", which covered issues of tradition and religion, like patriotism, abortion, euthanasia and the importance of obeying the law and authority figures, and "survivalism – self expression", which measured issues like everyday conduct and dress, acceptance of diversity (including foreigners) and innovation, and attitudes towards people with specific controversial lifestyles such as homosexuality and vegetarianism, as well as willingness to engage in political activism. See for Inglehart's national chart.
Numerous alternatives exist, usually developed by those that feel their views are not fairly represented on the traditional right-left spectrum.
One alternative spectrum offered by the conservative American Federalist Journal accounts for only the "Degree of Government Control" without consideration for any other social or political variable, and thus places "Fascism" (totalitarianism) at one extreme and "Anarchy" (no government at all) at the other extreme.
In 1998, political author Virginia Postrel, in her book The Future and Its Enemies, offered another single-axis spectrum that measures views of the future, contrasting stasists, who allegedly fear the future and wish to control it, and dynamists, who want the future to unfold naturally and without attempts to plan and control. The distinction corresponds to the utopian versus dystopian spectrum used in some theoretical assessments of liberalism, and the book's title is borrowed from the work of the anti-utopian classic-liberal theorist Karl Popper.
Other proposed axes include:
The Nolan chart was created by libertarian David Nolan. This chart shows what he considers as "economic freedom" (issues like taxation, free trade and free enterprise) on the horizontal axis and what he considers as "personal freedom" (issues like drug legalization, abortion and the draft) on the vertical axis. This puts left-wingers in the left quadrant, libertarians in the top, right-wingers in the right, and what Nolan originally named populists in the bottom. It is possible to consider the Nolan chart to be an Eysenck model that has been rotated 45 degrees. The popular "diamond" presentation of the Nolan chart makes this particular comparison readily apparent.
The traditional left–right spectrum forms a diagonal across the Nolan chart, with communism and fascism both in the ultra-populist corner, an assignment hotly disputed by more liberal-minded communists who do not advocate state control over matters of personal freedom. There are some discrepancies among various forms of the model. In some, the bottom section is labeled with neutral, non-pejorative terms (such as 'communitarian') whereas others use emotional, loaded terms such as 'statist', 'authoritarian', or 'totalitarian'.
The Nolan chart has been reoriented and visually represented in many forms since David Nolan first created it, and has been the inspiration for an endless array of political self-quizzes, perhaps the most famous of these being the World's Smallest Political Quiz, which places one on the Diamond Chart with "statist" at the bottom. As of 2005[update] this quiz is being used in 420 schools. It can be found in at least a dozen popular textbooks that feature the Quiz as part of their enhanced digital content. In August 2000 Portrait of America did a telephone survey that was done using the same questions and scale. More recently, The Institute for Humane Studies has created Politopia, a similar quiz. The Institute found that most applicants fell into the lower, populist section.
There are two three-axis models based on the Nolan Chart. The Friesian Institute has suggested a model that combines the economic liberty and personal liberty axes with positive liberty, creating a cube. The Vosem Chart (from Russian восемь vosem 'eight') splits the economic axis of the Nolan chart into two axes, corporate economics (z-axis) and individual economics (y-axis), which combine with the civil liberty axis (x-axis) to form a cube.
The political compass has two axes. One represents economic issues as right-vs-left. The other represents issues of freedom, or social issues, as authoritarian-vs-libertarian. One can determine their position on the political compass through an online quiz by the same name. It is essentially the same as the Eysenck model and Nolan chart, with slightly different wording.
In a 2003 Psychological Bulletin paper, Jeff Greenberg and Eva Jonas posit a model comprising the standard left–right axis and an axis representing ideological rigidity. For Greenberg and Jonas, ideological rigidity has "much in common with the related concepts of dogmatism and authoritarianism" and is characterized by "believing in strong leaders and submission, preferring one’s own in-group, ethnocentrism and nationalism, aggression against dissidents, and control with the help of police and military." Greenberg and Jonas posit that high ideological rigidity can be motivated by "particularly strong needs to reduce fear and uncertainty" and is a primary shared characteristic of "people who subscribe to any extreme government or ideology, whether it is right-wing or left-wing."
This very distinct two-axis model was created by Jerry Pournelle in 1963 for his doctoral dissertation in political science. The Pournelle chart has liberty on one axis, with those on the left seeking freedom from control or protections for social deviance and those on the right emphasizing state authority or protections for norm enforcement (farthest right being state worship, farthest left being the idea of a state as the "ultimate evil"). The other axis is rationalism, defined here as the belief in planned social progress, with those higher up believing that there are problems with society that can be rationally solved, and those lower down skeptical of such approaches.
In its 4 January 2003 issue, The Economist discussed a chart, proposed by Dr. Ronald Inglehart and supported by the World Values Survey (associated with the University of Michigan), to plot cultural ideology onto two dimensions. On the y-axis it covered issues of tradition and religion, like patriotism, abortion, euthanasia and the importance of obeying the law and authority figures. At the bottom of the chart is the traditionalist position on issues like these (with loyalty to country and family and respect for life considered important), while at the top is the secular position. The x-axis deals with self-expression, issues like everyday conduct and dress, acceptance of diversity (including foreigners) and innovation, and attitudes towards people with specific controversial lifestyles such as vegetarianism, as well as willingness to engage in political activism. At the right of the chart is the open self-expressionist position, while at the left is its opposite position, which Dr. Inglehart calls survivalist. This chart not only has the power to map the values of individuals, but also to compare the values of people in different countries. Placed on this chart, EU countries in continental Europe come out on the top right, Anglophone countries on the middle right, Latin American countries on the bottom right, African, Middle Eastern and South Asian countries on the bottom left, and ex-Communist countries on the top left.
Brian Patrick Mitchell identifies four main political traditions in Anglo-American history. Mitchell analyzed modern American political perspectives according to their regard for kratos (defined as the use of force) and archē or “archy” (defined as the recognition of rank), grounding this distinction of archy and kratos in the West's historical experience of church and state and crediting the collapse of the Christian consensus on church and state with the appearance of four main divergent traditions in Western political thought:
Mitchell charts these traditions graphically using a vertical axis as a scale of kratos/akrateia and a horizontal axis as a scale of archy/anarchy. He places democratic progressivism in the lower left, plutocratic nationalism in the lower right, republican constitutionalism in the upper right, and libertarian individualism in the upper left. The political left is therefore distinguished by its rejection of archy, while the political right is distinguished by its acceptance of archy. For Mitchell, anarchy is not the absence of government but the rejection of rank. Thus there can be both anti-government anarchists (Mitchell’s "libertarian individualists") and pro-government anarchists (Mitchell's "democratic progressives", who favor the use of government force against social hierarchies such as patriarchy). Mitchell also distinguishes between left-wing anarchists and right-wing anarchists, whom Mitchell renames "akratists" for their opposition to the government’s use of force. Anthony Gregory of the Independent Institute credits Mitchell with "the best explanation of the political spectrum," saying he "makes sense of all the major mysteries."
As shown by Russian political scientist Stepan S. Sulakshin, political spectra can be used as a forecasting tool. Sulakshin offered mathematical evidence that stable development (positive dynamics of the vast number of statistic indices) depends on the width of the political spectrum: if it is too narrow or too wide, stagnation or political disasters will result. Sulakshin also showed that, in the short run, the political spectrum determines the statistic indices dynamic and not vice versa.