Political scientists' general consensus is that "left wing" includes liberals, progressives, socialists and communists, and the "right wing" includes conservatives, traditionalists, reactionaries and fascists. The spectrum also includes moderate, center-right, center-left, far-right and far-left politics.
History of the Left-Right Political Spectrum
The left-right political spectrum was born during the French Revolution of 1789. In the French National Assembly, supporters of the king sat on the president's right, and supporters of the revolution sat on his left. In 1791, the National Assembly was replaced by the Legislative Assembly, and the seating arrangement continued ‰ÛÓ this time with moderates occupying the center seats. By the early 20th century, the terms left and right were associated with specific political ideologies.
The Left and Right Wing in the United States
In the United States, the Democratic Party is generally identified as being on the left, and the Republican Party is generally identified as being on the right. The two parties disagree on a number of topics, which include abortion, gun control and the death penalty. While the liberal thought supports abortion, government interference with the right to bear arms and oppose the death penalty, the republican ideologies support the opposite.
American liberalism supports government regulations in order to provide support for the disadvantaged, in order to promote social and economic equality. On the other hand, American conservatism uses government influence in order to uphold certain morals, often cited from religious sources. Unlike American liberalism, it does not promote government regulations in economic or business matters.
Additional Ideologies in the Left-Right spectrum
Generally speaking, left-wing politics support social equality. In addition to liberalism, other examples of left-wing or left-leaning ideologies include Stalinism, Maoism, socialism, communism, progressivism, anarcho-communism and social liberalism.
Conservatism is one of the most well-known of right-wing and right-leaning ideologies. Other examples include fascism, Nazism, neoconservatism, neoliberalism, libertarianism, paleoliberalism and anarcho-capitalism.
Extreme Left-Wing Ideologies
One of the more extreme examples of left-wing ideologies is communism. Communism calls for the end of capitalism and private ownership of any belongings. The idea is that the government provides all of one's needs, and in turn, the individual contributes whatever they can to society. In practice, communist countries are viewed as oppressive by democratic countries.
Extreme Right-Wing Ideologies
Neoconservatism is considered to be one of the more extreme right-wing ideologies. It takes a firm stance against anti-authority media and aligns itself with religious conservatives. Neoconservatives consider the state of the culture of America when discussing politics and their worldview.
Criticisms of the Left-Right Spectrum
The left-right spectrum has been criticized for being too narrow, as it is possible for a member of a political party to hold positions on the opposite side of the spectrum. For example, the pro-life and pro-choice causes are identified with the right and left respectively, but there are pro-life Democrats and pro-choice Republicans. In fact, it's common for people to hold a set of beliefs and opinions that transcend just one political party. Rather than embrace all aspects of any political affiliation, it's wise to come to one's own conclusions to find one's place in the left-right political spectrum. Understanding one's position on political matters is crucial when it's time to vote, both locally and nationally.