The Political Spectrum Part 1- Finding a Place to Sit

The Traditional Spectrum 


The opposing parties, factions and ideologies that create the implemented policies of every governmental system are as necessary an evil as ever there was.  The rule of an “infallible” leader has dominated much of history, as seen with the divine right of kings and today in brutal North Korea.  China has attempted to govern through collective leadership with collective (or state) ownership of property.  Direct democracy was in place in ancient Greece.  The United States is often referred to as a democracy when in fact we have a representative republic, with elected officials creating policy instead of the direct approach where all citizens vote on all issues.

“The effect of [a representative democracy is] to refine and enlarge the public views, by passing them through the medium of a chosen body of citizens, whose wisdom may best discern the true interest of the nation….”

-James Madison.

Each approach to governing is endowed with certain attributes.  They all possess similarities and differences and when placed together form what is known as a political spectrum.  This spectrum can help anyone looking at the various ideologies to discern the distinctions and determine where one sits among the vast array of thoughts being thunk.

A political spectrum is a classification of existing ideologies that visually demonstrates how these perspectives relate, ideologically speaking, to one another. The centrist or moderate points of view are positioned in the middle of the spectrum while the more radical views, as in ideologically driven, lay on the ends of either the left or right.  Hence the phrases left and right wing, radical left and radical right.

In my experience, most people are not ideologically driven.  They work, have fun and know about issues that are perceived to directly affect their families.  There is not much investigation as to where their stance on those issues places them in terms of ideology or why they should care.  However, that is not to say that people are devoid of greater opinion or principle.  Principles, beliefs and opinions all correspond to specific ideologies. Views held on economic issues, like free versus controlled markets, or social issues, like abortion or same-sex marriage, are all categorized by these belief systems.  People who have never connected the dots from an opinion to a specific belief system still share or oppose views held by the most ideologically driven members of their shared society.

So where do these beliefs position an individual along the spectrum of ideas?  The distinct political parties and leaders the world over are all a part of groups that subscribe to one ideology or another, sometimes parts of two or more.  These groups, and the corresponding ideology(ies) are situated on the political spectrum and like-minded individuals can determine in whose company they keep.  Sometimes knowing who it is that shares a certain ideology can drive people to or from a specific line of thinking.

Side Note, for example, the slur ‘nazi’ is thrown around as a political epithet, meant to imply that a political opponent is evil, immoral, without conscience, a potential hate-monger, killer and genocidal maniac; a really bad guy.  The power of the word ‘nazi’ is that it embodies all of these negative attributes, without ever identifying them specifically.  The nazi ideology is so powerful, so evil, that the name is all that is needed.  This is the significance of an ideology.-

Using the traditional perspective (see Part 2 for alternate views on the perspective of a political spectrum) the two major political parties in the United States are: the modern Republican party, situated on the right and the Democratic party on the left.  (How far in either direction requires an open mind and an objective outlook.  In politics, these attributes can be in short supply.  They are rarely spotted as a pair.)   For sanity’s sake we can place them like this: Communism on the extreme left and Democrats left of center.  Fascism sits on the extreme right and Republicans are right of center.


As the ideologies stretch further right and left the groups transform into more rigid, radical belief systems.  This is evidenced at the far end of the left with the placement of Communism and the far right with Fascism.  Depending on one’s voting record, it can be established where one sits in relation to these distinct groups.  If no voting record exists then the degree to which one shares or disagrees with the principles and policy decisions of these groups can establish placement on the spectrum.

This is a very simplistic explanation.  It is my attempt to help discover where you will be situated now that you have decided to take a seat.  This information will inform you about policies and candidates in your community.  Identification helps inform and increases understanding.  The disengaged electorate is due, in part, to a lack of understanding which leads to a lack of interest.  However, the information provided here is just the beginning.

The minimal examples given are relevant to the United States and have a great deal of historical notoriety.  However, do not be limited by an association with only major groups.  When voting, the two party system dominates but ideology is another matter.  There are literally hundreds of groups that stake out a place on the spectrum.  Some are very fringe groups that do not deserve more than a passing glance by rational people (like yourself).  Others possess appealing alternatives and subtle nuances to the major ideas of the day.  Explore what fits, what is right.  As with jeans, when they fit they fit.  When they don’t, it may be tough to describe the problem, but something just ain’t right.

Now, make way for me to throw a wrench…

All of this is not to say that the traditional political spectrum is completely sound.  It does come with a certain degree of contradiction that will be explored in Part 2.  The traditional political spectrum allows for a basic view on how much the same groups differ from one another but it does not adequately (in this writer’s most humble opinion) address the groups in the context of government as a whole.  As history has shown, both communist and fascist governments have been guilty of significant violations of individual rights.  Both are examples of a significant size, scope and role of government in the lives of citizens.  With these commonalities, how is it that these groups are classified as opposites on the traditional political spectrum?



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