Deconstructing the “Left-Right” Spectrum: Part II
In the previous installment, I briefly summarized the origin of the modern-day political spectrum of “left vs. right.” In its origins within the early days of the French Revolution, they essentially boiled down to two very simple terms: “Right” simply meant supporting more power in the hands of the government, and less in the hands of the people, while “Left” was the opposite – more power to the people, less to the government.
By this original definition, a vast majority of our modern understanding of politics can be properly demolished.
Part II: Republicans, Democrats, and the Economy
It has been said for the longest time now that modern-day conservatives are the classical liberals of the 1800s. Never before has this statement been more true than it is today. And just as much as conservatives are the classical liberals, so, too, do the two parties – through the original definitions of “left and right” – present a strange contradiction in their modern-day designations of “left and right.”
The Republicans, with their support for less regulations, lower taxes, and, generally, support for more personal freedoms – be they about religion, speech, or firearms – indeed personify the original definition of “left” more so than “right.” Conversely, the Democrats, and their desire to see the government take greater control of many aspects of life – from health care, to guns, to unions – truly do match the original French conception of “right” rather than “left.”
This could not be more perfectly personified than through the dichotomy of the two parties’ respective views on the economy. In today’s America especially – with the prominence of such individuals as Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren – the Democrats could not be prouder of their increasing support for outright socialist policies, while the Republicans are more vehemently in support of free-market capitalism than at any time since the 1980s.
As such, this highlights yet another subject that is rather upended by the original definitions of “left and right:” capitalism and communism. As you may know, the traditional notion is that capitalism is a right-wing economic model with communism as its left-wing counterpart. However, the positions of these economic models on the left-right scale have also been misconstrued over time. Capitalism, an economic system that calls for free and unregulated markets and one that allows for individual innovation and entrepreneurship, is about as “left” as possible. Conversely, communism and its calls for extreme government control of the market, meets the French definition of “right” before the modern understanding of “left.” This is also where the authoritarian/libertarian scale (the y-axis on political ideology tests) would come into play.
I would argue that the main reason for communism becoming so horribly confused with the “left-wing” identity is the fact that Karl Marx’s original writings seem to reflect left-wing ideas: Namely, his belief that the elite upper class should be eliminated while the poor masses take all the power. That is, indeed, much closer to the original French definition. But, of course, in practice, communism yields the quite opposite results: another elite upper class taking power, and maintaining it with even stronger control than the previous ruling class. That, of course, is the French definition of “right.”
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