Why the Right-Left Spectrum Makes No Sense Today.

Recently I read Andrew Hindmoor’s book ‘What’s Left Now?’ for an upcoming episode of ‘Can I Make A Point?’ Towards the end, Hindmoor discusses the left-right political spectrum. On reading this, I considered how flawed the political spectrum can be. It does not fit the mould in which most people’s politics fit. I am firmly on the right, yet many people today fit into four or five categories.


First, there is the problem of defining politics on the left and the right. Today to be left-wing is to oppose war. But if being anti-war is left-wing then I am left-wing. The right appears to own patriotism. If so, then Orwell and Atlee are new members of the right. Of course this is not true. Left and right are subjective and neither side has a monopoly on virtues and vices.


Second, the political spectrum promotes absolutism and a level of ideological purity that inevitably leads to echo chambers and tribalism. Let me give you an example: Those on the right must be for deregulation at all cost, free markets, low taxation and this, in turn, must mean they love Margaret Thatcher. For the left, one must believe socialism is the best economic system, favour open borders and hate every right-wing Conservative government.


In turn, this then leads to people only listening to people in their political spectrum as they will only listen to those in their ‘tribe’ and only follow people on Twitter who agree with them. If we saw politics as being multifaceted instead of a spectrum, we may find that political dialogue would go further.


Third, the political spectrum assumes there is a legitimate centre-ground. As Paul Embery, Matthew Goodwin and others have set out, most voters are centre-left on issues of economics and culturally centre-right.


The left-right spectrum also does not allow for a full picture. I am a free marketeer, I believe some good and meaningful domestic reforms came from Margaret Thatcher’s premiership. But I also believe in the nation-state and see valid areas for intervention. My friend Danny is a socialist but I know he believes there are areas where the private sector can outperform any public sector option. Does that make me left-wing and him right-wing?


I am sure I am not alone in having a real mix of influences underpin my existing outlook. Some include George Orwell, Tony Benn, William Gladstone, Ronald Reagan, Sir Roger Scruton and others across the political landscape. The political spectrum is flawed as it was first established when the USSR was a threat and President Reagan and Margaret Thatcher were the dominant politicians of the age.


So what should replace it? In short, nothing. Perhaps we could be more open in our approach to politics? Instead of asking if someone is left or right, maybe start by asking yourself what you can learn. We should adopt Frank Underwood’s mantra - read everything. To end the tribalism and echo chamber culture of politics, we must work to accept that political ideas are much like people. They are complicated and take time to be understood.



Bradley is a Burkean Conservative and Associate Editor at Liberal Base. His interest are in tribalism, relationship of liberty and order, western political parties and the rise of China.You can follow him on twitter @burkeansmithite