Our Flawed Political Spectrum

The X-Axis Based Political Spectrum Widely Taught in American and European Classrooms. Example Above.

According to the simplistic viewpoint widely disseminated in modern education, the political spectrum is a simplistic line that runs over the x-axis; communists on the far-left and fascists on the far-left. It is further usually based on notions of hierarchy or vague rhetoric about the “size” of the government. To extend this further, in the modern system, the “left” is generally considered a mixture of anarchists, communists, socialists, and liberals. The “right” is likewise listed as a mixture of conservatives, monarchists, and fascists. So how did this system come into place?

The origins of the terms “left-wing” and “right-wing” were based on the events of the French Revolution in 1789, over the fact that supporters of the French Monarchy sat on the right side of the National Assembly, while supporters of the French Revolution sat on the left-side of it.

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 — Baron de Gauville

Ironically from a modern perspective, support for laissez-faire deregulation, along with free trade and commerce had strong advocates among the French “left”, while in comparison the French “right” widely supported protectionism, the monarchy, and opposed economic liberalism. This stance would be unthinkable in most “right-wing” parties today, especially in Western-style democracies.

Cold War alliances, 1980. (From Wikimedia)

In the 20th century, the left-right divide was widely used to describe the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union, with the United States being seen as the defender of right-wing politics, against a “Godless”, “far-left”, and communist-controlled Soviet Union. The result of this caused modern economic liberalism and conservative social policies to become immensely and powerfully intertwined in American political thought, leading to misinterpretations and false equivalencies in modern political thought.

The left-right scale begun to be based on notions of hierarchy, economic and social freedom, and general support for economic liberalism. Support for economic liberalism became linked to the political right, whose most famous advocators included President Ronald Reagan and Chicago-school economist Milton Friedman. The spectrum begun to crystallize, with support for certain social orders and hierarchies being linked with the right-side of the spectrum, while left-wing political parties were defined as supporting egalitarianism and multiculturalism.

Singapore photographed at night, photographed by Singapore Guide.

The most crucial flaw in current political spectrum system is the simple nature of it. There is no reason that a laissez-faire capitalist could not also support social liberalism, such as same-sex marriage or abortion. Likewise, there is no reason that an environmentalist cannot also support restrictions on abortion access or oppose homosexual relations; often times there is no connections at all, except of political advantages to political parties. It can be compared to a jigsaw, with many pieces having little to no connection with each other; with the underlying purpose of gaining support of interest groups in order to win an election.

“Far-Right” Marine Le Pen of National Front, Greeting Supporters in France. (Unknown Source)

Furthermore, with the rise of political parties that have a pragmatic approach to public policy, such as the ruling People’s Action Party of Singapore, the current system becomes more outdated. How would you describe a political party that supports the “left-wing” values of multiculturalism, communitarianism, multiracialism, pragmatism, and economic interventionism; while also supporting “right-wing” practices of cultural conservatism, meritocracy, free trade, and semi-authoritarianism?

This combined with the rise of “far-right” leaders such as Marine Le Pen in Europe are also undermining the current system; Marine Le Pen supports increased welfare spending, while also rejecting liberal internationalism such as the European Union, and opposition to large-scale refugee settlement in Europe. By many measures of the scale, she is more left-wing then even the French Socialist Party except in immigration! Inaccurately, she is listed as far-right due to her stance on internationalism and liberal cosmopolitanism. Some have ridiculously compared Marine Le Pen to the 2010s-era Tea Party!

Ultimately, the political spectrum is an attempt to simplify political ideologies and make them understandable to the layman. It can be compared to an individual who is only allowed to view a three-dimensional shape’s sides in 2 dimensions, say a cube. Is the side (support for hierarchical institutions) being viewed a square? Yes, but does it adequately describe the shape as a whole? (political ideology as a whole) No, it does not! The modern political spectrum is simply viewing a small sum of the ideology, but not the core of the ideology. By viewing an inaccurate view of a political ideology, it is no surprise that we get inaccurate interpretations of that ideology!

In an upcoming article, I will offer a solution to the current flaws listed above with an improved political spectrum. The goal of the revised political chart will be a spectrum easy to understand for the layman, while having enough detail and information to provide an accurate understand of political ideologies in the modern world.

It’s time for a change, we just need the courage to do it.

If you are interesting in viewing Part II of the series, follow my Twitter for updates here. Thanks!