What does left wing and right wing mean?

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liveboy21
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What does left wing and right wing mean?

Postby liveboy21 » Sat Jan 21, 2012 4:05 am UTC

I have heard the terms 'left wing' and 'right wing' on the news many times. However, in the case of the United States, the terms tend to be used as synonyms for 'Democratic party' and 'Republican party'. It seems very unlikely to me that the parties in the US fall into neat political terms, so I'm guessing that the words are being misused in this case.

So, what does left wing and right wing mean? Also, does left wing and right wing mean the same thing when said on television?
Does it mean different things in different countries? Does it mean something different when said by a different political party?

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Re: What does left wing and right wing mean?

Postby Copper Bezel » Sat Jan 21, 2012 4:44 am UTC

Actually, the Wikipedia article on left-right politics isn't a bad place to start. In broad terms, left and right have real and consistent meanings, but they're entirely relative.
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Re: What does left wing and right wing mean?

Postby stevey_frac » Sat Jan 21, 2012 4:48 am UTC

I think you will find this article useful.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Left%E2%80 ... t_politics


It means the same thing pretty much anywhere you hear it, but left and right wing parties may have different stances , and be more, or less libertarian/authoritarian depending on where in the world they are.

Left generally seeks to implement social programs for the less fortunate, that the more fortunate end up paying for through taxes. This has a normalizing effect between the rich and the poor.

The right generally seeks to let market forces rule, and defends capitalism and the right to property.

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Re: What does left wing and right wing mean?

Postby Le1bn1z » Sat Jan 21, 2012 4:53 pm UTC

Perhaps I am just cynical, but I don't believe that the genuine menaing has changed much from when the terms originated in the various government assemblies during the French Revolution.

To the right of the speaker sat the "right wing" - largely the nobility, who advocated for greater institutional rights and priveledges for the propertied class, including special tax exemptions for the rich, de facto and de jure special status for the rich under the law and a political system which maximised control of the monied class. There was also a social agenda of reinforcing the loyalty of the nation at large to those with financial power.

As defenders of those who are well-off under the existing system, they were inherently against broad-scale social "change."

The left wing consisted largely of representatives of broad swaths of society - but who coalesced around a belief in an activist governemnt which takes greater control of society in order to implement social change. Some of this is economic - rigging the system to improve the lives of the poor in terms of money and resources, but also social - attempting to undermine long-standing institutional loyalties which benifit the monied class.

As defenders of those who were impoverished under the existing system, they were inherently supportive of broad-scale social "change."

The priorities and pit-falls of both agendas remain relevant to this day.

The "right wing" has espoused many agendas over the years - mercantalism, protectionism, big-government, small-government, free-trade and "free-market."

What these agendas have had in common is that they "just happen" to allow those with large sums of money to accrue far more money and political power - whatever happens to everyone else being secondary.

The "left wing" has also espoused many agendas over the years - pretty much the same list as the "right wing," but in different orders and with different details. They tend to want to help the nation's poor to start to prosper.

How well their agendas work is entirely another matter.

Sometimes left-wing governments institute disasterous and tyrannical changes - the French Revolution and the Terror being obvious example.

The right-wing often includes those who are simply cautious about change - particularly rash change based on abstract ideology - but who advocate social change and benifit based on slow, methodical progress on an issue by issue basis (Edumund Burke, Eisenhower, Robert Stanfield, Benjamin Disraeli).

This is sometimes called centrism. It is, in fact, a species of conservativism.

Right-Wing sometimes also includes radicals who want sweeping change which will greatly increase the power of the privileged and/or reinforce institutional loyalty (Joseph Le Maistre or modern Republican hard right, for example.)

Left-Wing sometimes includes radicals who wish to establish a new monied elite (Stalin).

Left-Wing sometimes includes those who benifit from large government powers, and wish to accrue more power by having the government take on more responsibility or protect the priveleges accrued by a class of people due to government intervention (Modern French Socialists).

When you think right or left wing, though its is less useful to think of size of government, tax formulae, foreign policy, militarism etc. - these change.

The only thing close to constant I have found are the conflicting ways of thinking about the rights of classes of people.

For this reason, left and right wing are sometimes the wrong words to use in articulating a debate - Liberalism v. Corporatism; Democratic v. Libertarian; Militarism v. Diplomatic; Progressive v. Absolutist - these are often better words to describe what people try to talk about in sloppy left and right wing terms.

I think this is part of the reason of the Ronpaul's new success - his ability to cut through the stale foolishness of left and right and articulate arguments on a different axis of debate... even if its sometimes absolutely bizarre crazy-talk.

The Green Party in Canada under Jim Harris experienced a similar surge a few years back for the same reason.
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Re: What does left wing and right wing mean?

Postby liveboy21 » Sun Jan 22, 2012 5:12 am UTC

Hmm...let me see if I'm reading the wikipedia article right. So in terms of social policies and economic policies, left wing would advocate for more government involvement and right wing would advocate for a stronger elite class, immune to the effects of government? (I could not see any references to military or diplomatic policies in the article)

So why would we treat left wing and right wing as opposites when that can only happen if you're certain that the stronger government of the left wing will create policies that will not support an elite class?

Or is my initial definition extremely flawed?

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Re: What does left wing and right wing mean?

Postby yurell » Sun Jan 22, 2012 5:17 am UTC

Strength of government isn't related to left vs right. For example, Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia were both very strong governments, but far-right and far-left respectively. Authoritarianism vs anarchy is really its own axis.
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Re: What does left wing and right wing mean?

Postby CorruptUser » Sun Jan 22, 2012 6:11 am UTC

yurell wrote:Strength of government isn't related to left vs right. For example, Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia were both very strong governments, but far-right and far-left respectively. Authoritarianism vs anarchy is really its own axis.



That always bothered me; how was the National Socialist German Worker's Party a right-wing party? Nazis are always the go-to "right wing extremists", despite having been rabidly anti-corporate, implemented universal healthcare, had a state-controlled economy, etc. Just because they talked about old empires and were xenophobic/genocidal doesn't mean they were conservative.

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Re: What does left wing and right wing mean?

Postby '); DROP TABLE users; » Sun Jan 22, 2012 12:06 pm UTC

CorruptUser wrote:That always bothered me; how was the National Socialist German Worker's Party a right-wing party? Nazis are always the go-to "right wing extremists", despite having been rabidly anti-corporate, implemented universal healthcare, had a state-controlled economy, etc. Just because they talked about old empires and were xenophobic/genocidal doesn't mean they were conservative.

Yes, ish. The Nazis are difficult to classify. The problem really stems from the whole notion of trying to stuff people and parties into neatly categorised and mutually exclusive boxes. Labels like left/right wing etc. are inherently flawed, because they try to map a complex set of often independent beliefs and policies onto a single axis. The reality is that political belief systems are often multi-dimensional, which leads to conflicts when you try to reduce them down to a single dimension.

The Nazis are generally considered to be a far-right party because of their nationalist, authoritarian and xenophobic views, which were probably the most defining aspect of the party. Whether that equates to being conservative or not is a matter of how you define "conservative". Of course, just because they stuffed the words "socialist" and "worker's" in their party name doesn't mean they actually followed those ideas. Political parties (and countries) have been given laughably dishonest names for centuries. For example, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea. I'm sure we can all agree that North Korea is about as far from democratic as it is possible to get. The People's Republic of China is governed by the Communist Party, yet the country is effectively capitalist. Names don't really mean anything in politics. All of these terms have been widely abused, and people will slap any label on any political viewpoint if it's to their advantage (e.g. Republicans attacking Obama for being a "socialist").

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Re: What does left wing and right wing mean?

Postby CorruptUser » Sun Jan 22, 2012 4:29 pm UTC

Except the Nazi's actually did implement many socialist policies, opposed the free market, opposed religious institutions, and started the first major universal healthcare system in the world. Very little of their social or economic policies were right-wing.

Just because racists tend to vote right-wing doesn't mean the right-wing has racism as one of its tenets; many marijuana advocates are in the left-wing, but the left-wing also wants strict control over the sale of tobacco and alcohol, so I wouldn't say "anti-drug" is either left or right-wing.

It's a fringe-group, that should be the go-to example of why the left/right dichotomy is so terrible at classifying things, rather than the go-to example of right-wing extremists. (Real-world) communists have never struck me as left-wing extremists, simply because they had no semblance of any of the left-wing policies on personal freedoms (show me a communist country with free-speech).

As for "democratic people's republic of tyranny", keep in mind that "democratic" literally means 'rule by the people', not 'rule by elections'. If the Communists believe that they are representing the people, then no, they aren't lying when they have "democratic" in the name.

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Re: What does left wing and right wing mean?

Postby Le1bn1z » Sun Jan 22, 2012 7:12 pm UTC

The confusion from Nazism stems from its relation to Fascism.

The Fascism of Mussolini and Franco was very right wing. Nazism was a spectrum buster - mostly because of Hitler's madness and the mass PTSD mental-health catastrophe that was post-WWI Germany.

liveboy21 wrote:Hmm...let me see if I'm reading the wikipedia article right. So in terms of social policies and economic policies, left wing would advocate for more government involvement and right wing would advocate for a stronger elite class, immune to the effects of government? (I could not see any references to military or diplomatic policies in the article)

So why would we treat left wing and right wing as opposites when that can only happen if you're certain that the stronger government of the left wing will create policies that will not support an elite class?

Or is my initial definition extremely flawed?


Not necessarily. The right wing seeks to benefit the existing elites, yes. But that can sometimes take the form of stronger, more omni-present government, though certainly a weaker central government (or the government that controls the elite).

Take the feudal and semi feudal regimes that persisted in parts of Europe into the 20th century. Here, local barons could control every aspect of the area under their control. In addition to the courts and police, the controlled all business interests, set taxes and often owned major businesses themselves (even the local bars and inns were effectively "state-run companies" - the state being the dude in the castle on the hill.) They often controlled the local church, and through it all religion, education and charity. They pumped up social conservatism in the form of religion and, later, nationalism (fascism) in order to instil loyalty. Can't get more "big government" than that. Or more right-wing.

Right and Left wing are best understood by their purpose, not the mechanism by which they achieve it.
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Re: What does left wing and right wing mean?

Postby TranquilFury » Sun Jan 22, 2012 7:26 pm UTC

Right wing generally means socially authoritarian, left wing generally means economically authoritarian.

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Re: What does left wing and right wing mean?

Postby CorruptUser » Sun Jan 22, 2012 8:12 pm UTC

Except that there has never been a country that was economically authoritarian that wasn't also socially authoritarian. Name an extreme socialist/communist country that had free speech, a 'liberal' drug policy, or tolerance of homosexuality.

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Re: What does left wing and right wing mean?

Postby '); DROP TABLE users; » Sun Jan 22, 2012 9:36 pm UTC

Le1bn1z wrote:Right and Left wing are best understood by their purpose, not the mechanism by which they achieve it.

Exactly. Even if two people share the exact same ideals and goals, they may have very different ideas of how they should be achieved.

CorruptUser wrote:keep in mind that "democratic" literally means 'rule by the people', not 'rule by elections'. If the Communists believe that they are representing the people, then no, they aren't lying when they have "democratic" in the name.

Yeah, and I don't think anyone believes the average North Korean has any say whatsoever in their government, or is well represented by it. Democracy is generally understood to mean that the people have some kind of input into the political system, either by electing representatives or participating in a form of direct democracy where decisions are made by the votes of the public. But I can see where you're coming from. Nit-picking the definitions actually just illustrates how subjective this stuff is - I'm sure if we did a survey of a thousand people, we'd get dozens of different definitions for what democracy is. Which leads to another problem in trying to come up with classifications for different political systems and parties - there isn't even a decent consensus on what the terms even mean.

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Re: What does left wing and right wing mean?

Postby TranquilFury » Sun Jan 22, 2012 10:20 pm UTC

CorruptUser wrote:Except that there has never been a country that was economically authoritarian that wasn't also socially authoritarian. Name an extreme socialist/communist country that had free speech, a 'liberal' drug policy, or tolerance of homosexuality.
I don't see what that has to do with it, within a government the two 'wings' aren't mutually exclusive, though they do compete for expression. If there's a big enough imbalance of power between a government and it's residents the government can be authoritarian in both categories.

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Re: What does left wing and right wing mean?

Postby Diadem » Mon Jan 23, 2012 4:34 am UTC

stevey_frac wrote:I think you will find this article useful.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Left%E2%80 ... t_politics

It means the same thing pretty much anywhere you hear it

Ehm, how do you gather that from the wikipedia article? That article alone gives a lot of different defitions of the words. Besides, plenty of issues have moved from left to right or right to left over the last few generations.

The terms mean roughly the same, perhaps. Broadly speaking left wing is progressive on social issues and conservative on economic issues, while right-wing is progressive on economic issues, and conservative on social ones. Though for economic issues 'progressive' and 'conservative' are perhaps not the right words to use.

Anyway, the original definitions are pretty much 'left = progressive' (wants change) and 'right = conserva'tive' (keep things the same). But those words evolved in 18th and 19th century France, where 'change' meant 'social change', specially, more rights and a better life for the downtrodden. So this immediately gives two definitions that are not necessarily the same. If you want to change a very progressive country to a more conservative country, are you left wing (because you want change) or right wing (because you are conservative). The general consensus seems to be right wing.

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CorruptUser wrote:That always bothered me; how was the National Socialist German Worker's Party a right-wing party? Nazis are always the go-to "right wing extremists", despite having been rabidly anti-corporate, implemented universal healthcare, had a state-controlled economy, etc. Just because they talked about old empires and were xenophobic/genocidal doesn't mean they were conservative.

Yes, ish. The Nazis are difficult to classify. The problem really stems from the whole notion of trying to stuff people and parties into neatly categorised and mutually exclusive boxes. Labels like left/right wing etc. are inherently flawed, because they try to map a complex set of often independent beliefs and policies onto a single axis. The reality is that political belief systems are often multi-dimensional, which leads to conflicts when you try to reduce them down to a single dimension.

The Nazis are generally considered to be a far-right party because of their nationalist, authoritarian and xenophobic views, which were probably the most defining aspect of the party. Whether that equates to being conservative or not is a matter of how you define "conservative".

Another important reason the nazis are called 'extreme right' is because of their fierce hatred of communists. If they hate communists they must be opposites right? But that's not really true, they are often pretty much indistinguishable, and the real reason those groups hated eachother so much was because they competed for the favour of the same groups.

It should be noted though that the nazis never considered themselves right-wing. That label was given to them ater the war, mostly, it seems, by left-wing groups. I've always suspected this was done more out of a desire to associate their opponents with nazism, then out of a desire for historical accuracy. Though there are certainly some good reasons for the label, as you rightly point out.

Not enough though, imho. Nationalism and xenophobia were never part of the definition until the nazis came along. And besides the communists can be pretty nationalist too. And authoritarian, which in fact socialism is to a large degree. In fact the opposite of authoritarianism would be individualism, which is generally considered right-wing. And their entire social platform is very left-wing. Their propaganda was all aimed at the working class and the poor. As were many of their policies. And they were surprisingly liberal on many social issues [example: animal rights].

It's doubtful if the nazis can be considered socialist, there are strong arguments against that label, but I'd certainly consider them left-wing. Well, if you had to pick a wing, but truth to told I see no good reason to do that in the first place.


Of course, just because they stuffed the words "socialist" and "worker's" in their party name doesn't mean they actually followed those ideas. Political parties (and countries) have been given laughably dishonest names for centuries. For example, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea. I'm sure we can all agree that North Korea is about as far from democratic as it is possible to get. The People's Republic of China is governed by the Communist Party, yet the country is effectively capitalist. Names don't really mean anything in politics. All of these terms have been widely abused, and people will slap any label on any political viewpoint if it's to their advantage (e.g. Republicans attacking Obama for being a "socialist").[/quote]
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Re: What does left wing and right wing mean?

Postby liveboy21 » Mon Jan 23, 2012 5:12 am UTC

OK...so if I'm understanding this thread right...

The left wing/right wing spectrum attempts to map two variables (economic policy and social policy) onto one dimension. Also, the variables themselves are not properly defined. (Also, social policies aren't always seperated from money, so how does that work?)
Left wing policy means either change or policy in favour of the majority of citizens
Right wing policy means either maintaining status quo or policy in favour of the elite class

and so statements like 'Capitalism is right wing' or 'Health care is left wing' have no meaning unless you're referring to a specific policy and you know the effects on each section of the population.

Is this correct?

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Re: What does left wing and right wing mean?

Postby CorruptUser » Mon Jan 23, 2012 5:34 am UTC

liveboy21 wrote:Left wing policy means either change or policy in favour of the majority of citizens
Right wing policy means either maintaining status quo or policy in favour of the elite class


No, supporters of both sides believe that their policies are in favor of the majority, while the leaders happen to be those elites that benefit.

Anyway, in traditional politics, without trying to demean either side, 'left-wing' is about promoting egalitarianism, while 'right-wing' is more about natural law. Usually.

Basically, egalitarianism has the problem that, well, some people are more productive than others, and the problems arising from forcing everyone to have the same status/wealth despite varying abilities and work ethics are the reasons Communism has never worked on all but the smallest scales. Natural law has the problem in that sometimes, people are at the bottom of the pile because of reasons other than their own abilities or work ethic, and sometimes government can actually improve some people's lives with minimal cost (or sometimes net benefit) to everyone else in society.

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Re: What does left wing and right wing mean?

Postby Derek » Mon Jan 23, 2012 6:14 am UTC

Diadem wrote:Another important reason the nazis are called 'extreme right' is because of their fierce hatred of communists. If they hate communists they must be opposites right? But that's not really true, they are often pretty much indistinguishable, and the real reason those groups hated eachother so much was because they competed for the favour of the same groups.

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Re: What does left wing and right wing mean?

Postby pinkie pi » Wed Jan 25, 2012 11:02 pm UTC

The terms "left-wing" and "right-wing" are flawed because they each conflate social and economic policies which aren't necessarily connected. "Left-wing" encompasses both social liberalism and socialism/communism/collectivism (depending on how far to the left they are), while "right-wing" includes social conservatism and laissez-faire capitalism. However, there are many political philosophies that don't fit easily onto this continuum; libertarianism, for example, is socially liberal but extremely capitalist. Similarly, authoritarian communists like Stalin, Mao, etc. can't be accurately classified on a single, linear system. A system with two (or more) dimensions would be more accurate, though admittedly adding more dimensions could make it more convoluted. However, these terms could possibly be somewhat useful in, say, the United States, where social and economic views are almost always correlated, provided you're careful not to apply those terms to the few exceptions.

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Re: What does left wing and right wing mean?

Postby CorruptUser » Thu Jan 26, 2012 4:09 am UTC

I think it would be best to group people into 3 groups, at least for the US. Moralists, the people who believe government should be about providing maximum benefit to society. Traditionalists, people who want to do what has worked before. And Individualists, people who want to maximize freedom. It's not really right to say one is obviously superior to the others, as they all have their valid points. Traditionalists argue that change tends to hurt the people already at the bottom the most, Moralists respond that doing nothing hurts the people at the bottom permanently, and Individualists retort that Moralists have few qualms about sacrificing the few for the many so long as it's someone else taking the hit.

Obviously, they are not mutually exclusive, but it does better explain the US than the "right-left" dichotomy. The "left", Democrats are mostly moralists, while the "right", Republicans, are mostly traditionalists. Individualists are not well represented by either party, but until the Libertarians get their act together the individualists jump between parties. Currently, the Republican party caters more towards individualists than the Democrats, though that can easily change.
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Re: What does left wing and right wing mean?

Postby Lucrece » Thu Jan 26, 2012 4:14 am UTC

CorruptUser wrote:Except the Nazi's actually did implement many socialist policies, opposed the free market, opposed religious institutions, and started the first major universal healthcare system in the world. Very little of their social or economic policies were right-wing.

Just because racists tend to vote right-wing doesn't mean the right-wing has racism as one of its tenets; many marijuana advocates are in the left-wing, but the left-wing also wants strict control over the sale of tobacco and alcohol, so I wouldn't say "anti-drug" is either left or right-wing.

It's a fringe-group, that should be the go-to example of why the left/right dichotomy is so terrible at classifying things, rather than the go-to example of right-wing extremists. (Real-world) communists have never struck me as left-wing extremists, simply because they had no semblance of any of the left-wing policies on personal freedoms (show me a communist country with free-speech).

As for "democratic people's republic of tyranny", keep in mind that "democratic" literally means 'rule by the people', not 'rule by elections'. If the Communists believe that they are representing the people, then no, they aren't lying when they have "democratic" in the name.


How is it universal healthcare when they're excluding considerable swaths of the population (Jews, homosexuals, ethnic minorities, political adversaries, the unorthodox) from said benefits by sending them to torture/execution hybrid camps?

Fascism also opposes religious institutions, not just communism. Both have the common factor of being in the extreme of authoritarianism, and what comes with that territory is the desire to see no other power structure compete for the sheeple with them.
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Re: What does left wing and right wing mean?

Postby CorruptUser » Thu Jan 26, 2012 4:43 am UTC

Canada doesn't let non-Canadians get free health care, but I wouldn't say Canada doesn't have universal health care for Canadians. It was Universal Health Care for whatever the state decided were Germans.

Fascism is not right or left wing; it's a very broad definition that includes many authoritarian systems ranging from Marxist-Leninism to Theocracy. Basically, if it requires loyalty of thought* as well as action, it's Fascism. Obviously Fascism's biggest enemy is always competition.

*There have been many examples of dictatorships/monarchies that allowed free speech. Not nearly as many as the ones that don't, but they existed in some form.

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Re: What does left wing and right wing mean?

Postby lutzj » Thu Jan 26, 2012 2:24 pm UTC

CorruptUser wrote:Canada doesn't let non-Canadians get free health care, but I wouldn't say Canada doesn't have universal health care for Canadians. It was Universal Health Care for whatever the state decided were Germans.

Fascism is not right or left wing; it's a very broad definition that includes many authoritarian systems ranging from Marxist-Leninism to Theocracy. Basically, if it requires loyalty of thought* as well as action, it's Fascism. Obviously Fascism's biggest enemy is always competition.

*There have been many examples of dictatorships/monarchies that allowed free speech. Not nearly as many as the ones that don't, but they existed in some form.


The definition of Fascism I've heard that made the most sense to me was that a Fascist society places the goals and well-being of the government over all other individuals and groups, and everyone is expected to strive to empower the state. This could be coupled with socialism or capitalism (although pure communism or a true free market probably wouldn't be compatible), theocracy, monarchy, whatever.

It's easy to see why it was popular during Europe's period of "we need to be stronger than the nation next door to survive," and with dictators who want to empower the state because they are the state.
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Re: What does left wing and right wing mean?

Postby CorruptUser » Thu Jan 26, 2012 4:16 pm UTC

It doesn't have to be absolute loyalty to the state per se, just absolute loyalty to a particular organization above all else. Said organization often wants to become the state, but until then... Benito's Fascist Party demanded loyalty to the Fascists, not to Italy, until the Fascists took control of Italy.

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Re: What does left wing and right wing mean?

Postby Byrel » Wed Feb 01, 2012 4:59 am UTC

There is actually an xkcd referencing this: http://xkcd.com/868/

The Nolan chart mentioned is one attempt at solving this problem which happens to be quite popular with internet libertarians. Essentially they keep the left-right axis, but add an orthogonal axis for personal liberty as well.

It seems to do a better job of categorizing people than a traditional left-right uni-dimensional system. It much more easily allows for thing like the Christian left (strong government compassion/welfare programs, pro-life), libertarians (fiscally conservative, pro-marijuana legalization) etc.

However, even that falls short of a complete description, as there are several other axis as well. Foreign interventionism? Federalism? I've noticed that whenever (what I consider to be) an oppressive copyright or intellectual property bill (like SOPA or the Research Works Act) is introduced in the US, there are a lot of people from both parties for the bill, and a lot opposed. That is one set of issues in which our left/right system has broken down practically.

In fact, any issue can be taken as an extra axis if desired, which leads to an extremely ungainly (but highly accurate!) 42-dimensional political space. Fortunately for peaceful political discussions a lot of those axis are highly correlated in some countries, which lets us ignore them. There is an interesting survey mentioned in the wikipedia article on the Nolan chart, which seems to indicate that those two axis are not redundant in America at least. It would be interesting to see similar surveys using other axis as well.

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Re: What does left wing and right wing mean?

Postby TranquilFury » Wed Feb 01, 2012 6:04 pm UTC

doesn't matter how many axes you grind, to accurately and precisely predict a politician's behavior you need 3 things: that politicians fundamental goals(can sometimes be inferred), an understanding of his/her competence(stupid people are unpredictable), and an understanding of the environment in which that politician will function.

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Re: What does left wing and right wing mean?

Postby addams » Fri Feb 03, 2012 9:50 pm UTC

I was told that a healthy Eagle needs both wings. Right and Left.
Yeah. Not helpful to you. But; That is the way it was told to me.

I was, also, told that I do not do Politics. The guy was right on that one.
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Re: What does left wing and right wing mean?

Postby userxp » Sat Feb 04, 2012 5:15 pm UTC

I think the terms "Democrat" and "Republican" just make it more confusing. Almost everyone supports democracy and republicanism.

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Re: What does left wing and right wing mean?

Postby CorruptUser » Sat Feb 04, 2012 10:51 pm UTC

That's why people say they are "pro-life" and not "anti-choice", or "pro-choice" and not "anti-life". Everyone likes choices and life, not one wants to be against those...

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Re: What does left wing and right wing mean?

Postby Mambrino » Tue Feb 07, 2012 2:43 am UTC

CorruptUser wrote:It doesn't have to be absolute loyalty to the state per se, just absolute loyalty to a particular organization above all else. Said organization often wants to become the state, but until then... Benito's Fascist Party demanded loyalty to the Fascists, not to Italy, until the Fascists took control of Italy.


I think the Wikipedia article on Fascism defines it pretty well. Fascists believe that the nation is an organic community; according to the fascist ideology, every individual should be loyal to the nation, and the only true respresentantive of true nation is the Fascist Party (and its Supreme Leader). According to Benito, being loyal to the Fascists was same thing as being loyal to the Italy.

I've always thought that it's amazingly similar to the communist viewpoint, anyway: just replace "nation" with "proletariat".

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Re: What does left wing and right wing mean?

Postby yurell » Tue Feb 07, 2012 2:45 am UTC

CorruptUser wrote:That's why people say they are "pro-life" and not "anti-choice", or "pro-choice" and not "anti-life". Everyone likes choices and life, not one wants to be against those...


I'm pro-life and pro-choice, I like both these things. However, I am pro-abortion.
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Re: What does left wing and right wing mean?

Postby omgryebread » Tue Feb 07, 2012 3:39 pm UTC

Byrel wrote:There is actually an xkcd referencing this: http://xkcd.com/868/

The Nolan chart mentioned is one attempt at solving this problem which happens to be quite popular with internet libertarians. Essentially they keep the left-right axis, but add an orthogonal axis for personal liberty as well.

It seems to do a better job of categorizing people than a traditional left-right uni-dimensional system. It much more easily allows for thing like the Christian left (strong government compassion/welfare programs, pro-life), libertarians (fiscally conservative, pro-marijuana legalization) etc.

However, even that falls short of a complete description, as there are several other axis as well. Foreign interventionism? Federalism? I've noticed that whenever (what I consider to be) an oppressive copyright or intellectual property bill (like SOPA or the Research Works Act) is introduced in the US, there are a lot of people from both parties for the bill, and a lot opposed. That is one set of issues in which our left/right system has broken down practically.

In fact, any issue can be taken as an extra axis if desired, which leads to an extremely ungainly (but highly accurate!) 42-dimensional political space. Fortunately for peaceful political discussions a lot of those axis are highly correlated in some countries, which lets us ignore them. There is an interesting survey mentioned in the wikipedia article on the Nolan chart, which seems to indicate that those two axis are not redundant in America at least. It would be interesting to see similar surveys using other axis as well.
In some respects, the Nolan Chart can add confusion and inaccuracy. Plenty of conservatives are for personal liberty (to own guns, beat children, buy wasteful lightbulbs), but so are liberals (to sleep with whomever, burn flags, buy porn). If you tell me someone is conservative, meaning the traditional American definition, I can usually pretty clearly find what liberties they want and which they don't.

Just adding axes also cannot make a political graph completely accurate, because it doesn't account for intensity of belief. The Nolan chart provides a good example. It has libertarians equidistant from the poles, yet libertarians tend to align with conservatives, because their economic beliefs tend to be more intense than their social beliefs. A libertarian may nominally support gay rights, but they are much more concerned with taxation.

Left-wing and right-wing are valid and useful terms because they fairly accurately describe modern (especially American) politics. That's about it, though.
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Re: What does left wing and right wing mean?

Postby CorruptUser » Tue Feb 07, 2012 6:14 pm UTC

Except, like I said earlier, there are three major political ideologies in the US, not two. Traditionalism, Moralism, and Individualism. Basically, government is either there to protect the current structure even if it prevents improvement, to do the most benefit even if it means some have to suffer, or to protect personal liberties at almost any cost.

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Re: What does left wing and right wing mean?

Postby Le1bn1z » Tue Feb 07, 2012 7:07 pm UTC

omgryebread is absolutely right about the utility of the notions of left and right wing.

The terms originated in the French revolution to denote the differences between the power blocs vying for power in the National Assembly.

As the political language of the time could not define them using commonly known labels and ideologies, they did the only logical thing and described them by where they stood in relation to one-another.

The left wing litterally sat on the left side of the assembly, and the right wing to the right of the speaker.

While "left" and "right" may change, political entities tend to each develop their own axis of political contention.

Such contention is messy, and rarely fits into nice, clean-cut ideological categories.

Rather, the axis of contention usually has conglomerates of compatible interest-groups banding together against incompatible intersts, with some groups getting tossed to the fringes.

Perhaps it would be better to think of politics as bancing webs of interests, like a tower in World of Goo.

As I said above, the only consistant "core" of the right and the left wing seems to be how they view the rights of the very rich over everyone else.

For example, the original right-wing of royalist France believed in special tax exemptions and priviledges for the very rich, so that ordinary workers would pay far higher tax rates than the wealthiest - and provisions to ensure that the poor could not demand standards of protection against abuse by their employers.

As you can see, the reems of political philosophy written since then has changed ever so much.
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Re: What does left wing and right wing mean?

Postby omgryebread » Tue Feb 07, 2012 10:53 pm UTC

CorruptUser wrote:Except, like I said earlier, there are three major political ideologies in the US, not two. Traditionalism, Moralism, and Individualism. Basically, government is either there to protect the current structure even if it prevents improvement, to do the most benefit even if it means some have to suffer, or to protect personal liberties at almost any cost.
Except, for working definitions, we don't need to consider individualists. Firstly, because a lot of American individualism is traditionalism in disguise (most individualist philosophies everywhere have the side effect of preserving traditional power structures. Inequality persists or increases, social pressures remain, etc) and secondly, because even if you do insist on separating them, individualists function as a faction of either wing (usually the right), and not as a separate bloc.
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Re: What does left wing and right wing mean?

Postby nitePhyyre » Wed Feb 08, 2012 1:52 am UTC

Byrel wrote:In fact, any issue can be taken as an extra axis if desired, which leads to an extremely ungainly (but highly accurate!) 42-dimensional political space.
Are you referencing something in particular, or were you being hyperbolic with '42'?

omgryebread wrote:In some respects, the Nolan Chart can add confusion and inaccuracy. Plenty of conservatives are for personal liberty (to own guns, beat children, buy wasteful lightbulbs), but so are liberals (to sleep with whomever, burn flags, buy porn). If you tell me someone is conservative, meaning the traditional American definition, I can usually pretty clearly find what liberties they want and which they don't.
I'm not sure I agree or not, but buying and selling guns/lightbulbs/porn do not fall under 'personal liberty'.

More importantly, it only adds confusion and inaccuracy if you are using it wrong. You seem to be conflating philosophies with issues. The charts are designed to elucidate what philosophy someone ascribes to, in general. You aren't supposed to be able to ask someone where they land on the chart and then be able to tell them where they stand on issue X. If someone has a view on an issue that is opposite to their philosophy, it isn't that the chart (or how they self-identity) is wrong, it is that humans are inconsistent.

omgryebread wrote:Just adding axes also cannot make a political graph completely accurate, because it doesn't account for intensity of belief. The Nolan chart provides a good example. It has libertarians equidistant from the poles, yet libertarians tend to align with conservatives, because their economic beliefs tend to be more intense than their social beliefs. A libertarian may nominally support gay rights, but they are much more concerned with taxation.
Umm, no. Where you land on the axis is the intensity of the belief. That's how charts work. The graph has 4 separate quadrants. A libertarian can be anywhere in the 'libertarian' box. What do you mean when you say "It has libertarians equidistant from the poles"?

omgryebread wrote:Left-wing and right-wing are valid and useful terms because they fairly accurately describe modern (especially American) politics. That's about it, though.
I would be dubious about saying that the left/right spectrum describes anything. It seems to me that it prescibes political views. You are either left, or right. Us or them. It seems descriptive only because it shuns everyone who it doesn't describe until they get in line.

Worse, it creates a dishonest, inaccurate, political discourse. America has a right-wing party and a far right-wing party. Using a simple 2 box spectrum, by necessity, obfuscates that fact; you can't have all the parties in one box. Left/right politics is what allows one party to call someone else a communist because they want to change the corporate tax rate from 32 to 35 percent. (Along with massive public ignorance, that is.)
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Re: What does left wing and right wing mean?

Postby omgryebread » Wed Feb 08, 2012 4:41 am UTC

nitePhyyre wrote:I'm not sure I agree or not, but buying and selling guns/lightbulbs/porn do not fall under 'personal liberty'.
Sure they do?

[/quote]More importantly, it only adds confusion and inaccuracy if you are using it wrong. You seem to be conflating philosophies with issues. The charts are designed to elucidate what philosophy someone ascribes to, in general. You aren't supposed to be able to ask someone where they land on the chart and then be able to tell them where they stand on issue X. If someone has a view on an issue that is opposite to their philosophy, it isn't that the chart (or how they self-identity) is wrong, it is that humans are inconsistent.[/quote]Except the chart doesn't cover all possible philosophies, or any chart that doesn't cover an axis for every issue is bound to miss some. I'm for a progressive tax structure, for heavily regulating gun ownership, for civil rights, all those liberal things, and I'm generally against regulations. I'm not against regulations because I'm inconsistent, I'm against them and I think it falls in line perfectly well with my other beliefs.

omgryebread wrote:Just adding axes also cannot make a political graph completely accurate, because it doesn't account for intensity of belief. The Nolan chart provides a good example. It has libertarians equidistant from the poles, yet libertarians tend to align with conservatives, because their economic beliefs tend to be more intense than their social beliefs. A libertarian may nominally support gay rights, but they are much more concerned with taxation.
Umm, no. Where you land on the axis is the intensity of the belief. That's how charts work. The graph has 4 separate quadrants. A libertarian can be anywhere in the 'libertarian' box. What do you mean when you say "It has libertarians equidistant from the poles"?
No. Think of it like this. I am far left on gay rights and health care. I am center-left on energy, and centrist on military budgeting. Take two politicians. Both are far left on gay rights, and center-left on energy. One is far left on health care and far left on military budgeting. The other is far left on military budgeting but centrist on health care. They both differ from the sum total of my positions an equal amount (both agree totally on 3/4 things, and disagree the same on 1 issue.) Presumably I should not have a strong preference for either politician, but I do strongly favor the one who matches my position on health care. I care that much more about health care than military spending.

A political position graph has no way of measuring this preference. You can see real life examples quite easily. Democrats nominally support criminal justice reform, yet rarely push it, because they value other things much higher. Libertarians vote republican more than they do democrat because they value economic liberty more highly than personal liberty.

I would be dubious about saying that the left/right spectrum describes anything. It seems to me that it prescibes political views. You are either left, or right. Us or them. It seems descriptive only because it shuns everyone who it doesn't describe until they get in line.

Worse, it creates a dishonest, inaccurate, political discourse. America has a right-wing party and a far right-wing party. Using a simple 2 box spectrum, by necessity, obfuscates that fact; you can't have all the parties in one box. Left/right politics is what allows one party to call someone else a communist because they want to change the corporate tax rate from 32 to 35 percent. (Along with massive public ignorance, that is.)
Except American politics does fall on a left-right spectrum. It is either left OR right. Or fine, it's "left, or right, or your-vote-doesn't-matter-because-everyone-else-is-left-or-right"

On a global spectrum, yes the Democratic Party is not that left-wing (they're probably best described as center-left). That's not surprising though. Maybe there are super-anarcho-capitalist aliens, so on a universal spectrum, the Republican party is center-right, because wow they support a lot of government compared to the Alpha Centaurian Corporatist Party. So describing Democrats as the left is perfectly fine within the context of American politics.


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Re: What does left wing and right wing mean?

Postby CorruptUser » Wed Feb 08, 2012 4:58 am UTC

omgryebread wrote:

omgryebread wrote:Just adding axes also cannot make a political graph completely accurate, because it doesn't account for intensity of belief. The Nolan chart provides a good example. It has libertarians equidistant from the poles, yet libertarians tend to align with conservatives, because their economic beliefs tend to be more intense than their social beliefs. A libertarian may nominally support gay rights, but they are much more concerned with taxation.


Umm, no. Where you land on the axis is the intensity of the belief. That's how charts work. The graph has 4 separate quadrants. A libertarian can be anywhere in the 'libertarian' box. What do you mean when you say "It has libertarians equidistant from the poles"?


No. Think of it like this. I am far left on gay rights and health care. I am center-left on energy, and centrist on military budgeting. Take two politicians. Both are far left on gay rights, and center-left on energy. One is far left on health care and far left on military budgeting. The other is far left on military budgeting but centrist on health care. They both differ from the sum total of my positions an equal amount (both agree totally on 3/4 things, and disagree the same on 1 issue.) Presumably I should not have a strong preference for either politician, but I do strongly favor the one who matches my position on health care. I care that much more about health care than military spending.

A political position graph has no way of measuring this preference. You can see real life examples quite easily. Democrats nominally support criminal justice reform, yet rarely push it, because they value other things much higher. Libertarians vote republican more than they do democrat because they value economic liberty more highly than personal liberty.


Side note: please use spaces and paragraphs in your posts so it's easier to read when quoting.

Back to to the discussion; you could always use a hypergraph to depict political positions. It can't be written on paper, but it mathematically would be able to describe what you are talking about. Each axis would represent a position, and how extreme each position is.

The only problem is in describing complicated positions; abortion doesn't smoothly go from 'no abortions ever' to 'instant abortions for everyone'. A person could be in favor of abortions but support parental notification. Someone could support abortion of defective fetuses but otherwise oppose it. There are a small few that believe the fathers should have abortion rights.
Last edited by CorruptUser on Wed Feb 08, 2012 5:05 am UTC, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: What does left wing and right wing mean?

Postby liveboy21 » Wed Feb 08, 2012 5:03 am UTC

It looks like this comes back to where you can use the terms left wing and right wing?
Can a party be left wing or right wing?
Can a position of an issue be left wing or right wing?
Can a voter be left wing or right wing?

Under the assumption that the words can be used in those contexts, you would need slightly different definitions of the words left wing and right wing since parties and voters will usually have more than one issue in mind.

The issues that omgrybread mentioned are issues that show different parties wanting to use government control in different aspects of a citizen's actions and shows that the parties aren't just more government versus less government.

Presumebly for an issue, left wing and right wing just comes from more government versus less government or guidance versus freedom.
However, for parties and voters, I still find it hard to understand how people can say things like 'The Nazis are right wing' when there are obviously a lot of issues involved. (and that's not even getting into whether the Nazis are really right wing.) Perhaps in this case, the definitions come from what the 'core' beliefs are? (I feel like I'm wrong here, so feel free to rip this statement apart)

I have to say though that if you start defining parties using "This is what they actually believe in" and "These are the issues they're using to get votes/power" as seperate things then it looks like you're going to need to add another axis or two to the Nolan chart from earlier.

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Re: What does left wing and right wing mean?

Postby Zamfir » Wed Feb 08, 2012 5:51 am UTC



Back to to the discussion; you could always use a hypergraph to depict political positions. It can't be written on paper, but it mathematically would be able to describe what you are talking about.

You can use a bar chart, with a bar for every dimension you have constructed. That still makes the dubious assertion that you can assign more than very vaguely meaningful numbers to people's positions, and it still carries the implicit assumption that scoring 5 on two issues means you somehow think similarly strong on them, which would require amazing measurement techniques to make true.

For the rest, bar charts are an enormous improvement on a Cartesian plane. A cartesian plane suggests independence, and an extremely simple and regular distance function between any two positions. L2 norm ftw.

That's why such graphs can be dangerous: human beings, all of us, have a strong intuition for the mathematical structure of the 2d spatial plane. There's very little reason why this structure would be in detail a good model for politics, but once you make a chart we get sucked in and apply our intuitive understanding anyway.

We can't help but conclude that some points are 'close together' and others 'far apart', even though those geometrical distances are the result of a range of arbitrary choices in presenting some questionnaire data. We see 'gaps', areas on the plot where few people project themselves, and we consider this meaningful, again despite being the artificial result of the plotting technique. Etc.
Last edited by Zamfir on Wed Feb 08, 2012 6:36 am UTC, edited 1 time in total.


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