The Political spectrum reference article from the English Wikipedia on 24-Jul-2004
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Political spectrum

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A political spectrum is a way of comparing or visualizing different political positions, by placing them upon one or more geometric axes.

Table of contents
1 Determining political spectra
2 Left and Right
3 Alternative Spectra
4 Multi-axis models
5 External links

Determining political spectra

The key assumption of such a spectrum is that people's views on many issues correlate strongly, or that one essential issue subsumes or dominates all others. For a political spectrum to exist, there must be range of beliefs. Political systems in which most people fall clearly into one group or another with almost no one in between, such as most nationalist controversies, are not well described by a political spectrum.

In a modern Islamic country, for instance, a political spectrum might be divided along the issue of the clergy's role in government. Those who believe clerics should have the power to enforce Islamic law are on one end of the spectrum, those who support a secular society are on the other; moderates fall at various points in between. In Taiwan, the political spectrum is defined in terms of Chinese reunification versus Taiwan independence.

Even in issues of nationalism, spectra can exist; for example, in the Basque Country of Spain, Basque nationalists range from the EAJ/PNV, who have engaged in coalition governments with both the socialist PSOE and the conservative Partido Popular, to ETA, which engage in terror tactics and armed struggle against the Spanish national government, which they view as an occupying power.

Political spectra can end when one group wins so thoroughly that there is no longer a divergence of opinions. This occurred in the 1970s in the People's Republic of China in the case between the rightists and the leftists in which the rightists won or in the late 18th century controversy between the Federalists and the Anti-federalists in the United States. However, what tends to happen in this situation is that the winners start disagreeing over new issues and a new political spectrum is created.

However, many times the political spectrum remains, although the issues which define the spectrum changes. An example was the controversy over the succession of William of Orange's successor to the English throne. This helped to define the British political spectrum which exists to this day, long after the original controversy was resolved.

Left and Right

See main article Left-Right politics

In modern Western countries, the political spectrum usually is described along left-right lines. This traditional political spectrum is defined along an axis with Conservatism, theocracy, or Fascism ("the right") on one end, and Socialism or Communism ("the left") on the other. In North America and Europe, the term Liberalism refers to a wide range of political viewpoints, often seen as divergent between the United States and the rest of the world. The term left and right was also used to describe politics in China starting in the 1920s until the 1980s, although the issues often were very different from the ones in Western nations.

There are various different opinions about what is actually being measured along this axis:

Historical Origin of the Terms

The terms Left and Right to refer to political affiliation originated early in the French Revolutionary era, and referred originally to the seating arrangements in the various legislative bodies of France. The aristocracy sat on the right of the Speaker (traditionally the seat of honor) and the commoners sat on the Left, hence the terms Right-wing politics and Left-wing politics.

Originally, the defining point on the ideological spectrum was the ancien régime ("old order"). "The Right" thus implied support for aristocratic or royal interests, while "The Left" implied opposition to the same. Because the political franchise at the start of the revolution was relatively narrow, the original "Left" represented mainly the interests of the bourgeoisie, the rising capitalist class. At that time, support for laissez-faire capitalism and Free markets were counted as being on the left; today in most Western countries these views would be characterized as being on the Right.

As the franchise expanded over the next several years, it became clear that there was something to the left of that original "Left": the precursors of socialism and communism, advocating the interests of wage-earners and peasants.

Alternative Spectra

Some people feel that it is not obvious how these various concepts are related. They say that it is very confusing to speak of the right or the left without indicating what exactly you are referring to. They believe that one should first establish context by defining the axes upon which different positions will be measured.

Nonetheless, the right-left spectrum is so common as to be taken for granted. Many people even have a hard time conceptualizing any alternative to it. However, numerous alternatives exist, usually having been developed by people who feel their views are not fairly represented on the traditional right-left spectrum.

Perhaps the simplest alternative to the left-right spectrum was devised as a rhetorical tool during the Cold War. This was a circle which brought together the far right and left ends of the traditional spectrum, equating "extreme socialism" (i.e. the Communist Party) with "extreme conservatism" (i.e. Fascism). This nexus was particularly useful to those opposed to rapprochement with the Soviet Union.

Another alternative spectrum offered at American Federalist Journal emphasizes the degree of political control, and thus places communism and fascism [totalitarianism] at one extreme and anarchism [no government at all] at the other extreme.

Another alternative currently popular among certain environmentalists uses a single axis to measure what they consider to be the good of the Earth against the good of big business, which is seen as being the force most likely to harm the earth.

In 1998, political author Virginia Postrel, in her book The Future and Its Enemies, offered a new single axis spectrum that measures one's view of the future. On one extreme are those who allegedly fear the future and wish to control it, whom Postrel calls stasists. On the other hand are those who want the future to unfold naturally and without attempts to plan and control, for whom she uses the name dynamists.

Other axes that might merit consideration include:

Multi-axis models

A number of proposals have been made for a two-axis system, which combines two models of the political spectrum as axes.

The first person to devise such a two-axis system was Hans Eysenck in his 1964 book "Sense and Nonsense in Psychology." Starting with the traditional "left-right" spectrum Eysenck added a vertical axis that considered "tough-mindedness" or authoritarian and "tender-mindedness" or democratic. The effect of this new axis is that those who have very different views with regard to authority, but have the same "left-right" view (so like Stalin and Noam Chomsky), can be distinguished.

The model used by [ The Political Compass] (external link) and discussed in the article "Political model" is very similar to Eysenck's chart, but instead measuring social freedom, as opposed to "tender" and "tough" -mindedness.

A second, very different, two axis model was created by Jerry Pournelle. Pournelle's model has liberty (a dimension similar to the diagonal of the Nolan chart embraced by many United States Libertarians, with those on the left seeking liberty and those on the right focusing control) perpendicular to belief in the power of one's political philosophy of choice (with those on the top believing that all the evils their ideology attempts to fight would go away if only their ideals were instituted, and those at the bottom reduced to blind, celebratory attachment to their ideology for its own sake -- the fascist who will now do anything to celebrate "greatness", the anarchist given to tossing bombs around for the fun of it).

The Friesian Institute have even suggested a three axes spectrum. It combines the economic liberty and personal liberty axes with positive liberty, creating a cube. Another three-dimensional representation is the Vosem Chart, the axes of which represent cultural issues, fiscal issues, and corporate issues.

See also:

External links