A Theory of the Political Spectrum Part 2/2

In yesterday’s post, I outlined why it is desirable to have a theory of a one-dimensional political spectrum and talked about some of the requirements that such a theory should fulfill. Today I will present my own theory, which is based on the attitude to hierarchy and equality:

The left believes in equality and sees hierarchy as unnatural, pernicious, and exploitative. They seek to tear down hierarchies and to promote equality. Thus, they favour an economic system that leads to a more even distribution of wealth, which means a generous welfare state or outright socialism. They also oppose social stratification, traditional gender roles, differentiation based on race and nationality, etc.

The right does not believe in equality and sees hierarchy as natural, necessary, and proper. They seek to preserve or to (re-)establish hierachical distinctions. This means they favour an economic system in which those they see as most deserving or worthy dominate. They favour social stratification, traditional gender roles, and clearly defined boundaries for social conduct. They think society functions best if everyone knows his place and has a particular role to play.

Based on this theory, Marxist communists are pretty far to the left, but they are not all the way there since they seek to their undertake their great project of equalisation and flattening of hierachies by means of an extremely powerful state, which by its nature is hierarchical. The true left-wing extremists are anarcho-communists who seek to abolish the state as well as capitalism and private property (which they distinguish from personal property).

Similarly, National Socialists are situated on the right, but not on the far right. They organised society on fairly hierarchical lines, including hierarchical relationships based on nationality and ethnicity, but they also favoured rather middle of the road economic policies (something like militaristic Keynesianism) and emphasised the welfare of German workers. The whole Nazi system is also implicitly based on social mobility; after all, Hitler came to Germany as a penniless immigrant. The idea of National Socialism not being on the extreme right wing was also shared by the Nazis themselves. For example, the Horst-Wessel-Lied, the most famous Nazi propaganda song, bemoans “Comrades shot by the Red Front and reactionaries” (emphasis mine).

Reactionaries are the actual right wing extremists. They favour monarchy, aristocratic and clerical privilege, feudalism, and a rigid class system. Aside from a few neo-reactionaries who have sprung up on the Internet over the last few years, the far right is all but dead.

And therein lies the answer to the puzzle of classical liberals shifting from left to right: classical liberals are about as far left or right as they have ever been, but the political landscape has changed around them. Over the last two hundred years, we have seen a wholesale shift to the left. Whereas in the 18th century leaving the distribution of wealth to the market was egalitarian compared to the prevailing order which gave legal advantages to the rich, that same policy is anti-egalitarian relative to the prevailing systems of welfare and progressive taxation which predominate in the 21st century.

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