It is important to remember that the terms we apply to those on the political spectrum are fluid. For instance, conservatives in Europe get their name from trying to maintain the status quo, including all the liberal programs that have already been instituted. Conservatives in America get their name from trying to conserve our First Principles (which would necessitate removing the big, liberal programs). When they introduced their ideas, the Founding Fathers were liberals, today adhering to their philosophy makes one a conservative. In the 1860s, the abolitionist Republicans were the liberals, in the 1960s the Democrats were the liberals, but being a Democrat with a 1960s philosophy today will get you branded a conservative member of the party.
And so the terms “conservative” and “liberal” find meaning only in relation to each other on specific issues. It may be more helpful, however, to utilize the terms Left and Right.
It has become, however, some kind of “common wisdom” that communism represents the extreme Left of the political spectrum and fascism (and fundamentalist Christians) represents the extreme Right. In analysis, however, such thinking make little sense.
Americans seem to be in little agreement these days about fundamental principles. All sides use the same vocabulary, but the words mean different things to each of them. In order to have a meaningful discussion, we need to reestablish a principle of what precisely constitutes a “Left” idea and what precisely constitutes a “Right” idea.
I think there is little disagreement that Progressives, FDR’s New Deal, Johnson’s Great Society and Socialized Medicine all represent ideas of the Left. Supply-Side Economics, repeal of social programs and the primacy of individual liberty above all represents ideas of the Right.
It should not be too much of a stretch to state that government intervention and programs as solutions to problems (social, economic, etc) finds itself on the Left, and individual actions and free market solutions find themselves on the Right.
This is why both sides seem to agree that the logical extension of positive government intervention into economy is communism. In communism, the state owns all industry and means of production. In short, the state micromanages the economy.
But what happens when a different issue is selected? What about social concerns like morality? It doesn’t make any sense that the logical opposite of government control of the economy is government control of morality. The opposite of complete government control of the economy is no government control of the economy. In a theocracy, such as we find in Iran, the government (violently) controls all aspects of public morality, just as it controls the economy in communism. The degree and general philosophy behind the state domination is the same in both cases. Because of this, state control of morality must be placed to the left of the center mark. Thus, we can see that the fundamentalist Christian “right”…those usually termed “social conservatives” are actually part of the big government Left (remember, “conservative” is a relative term, but “Left” is not).
If you’re still hesitant about this, consider the following, the government telling you what car you can drive is an initiative of the Left; the government telling you how much money you must give to other citizens in the form of social programs is an initiative of the Left; the government telling you what words you can use (political correctness, a form of legislated morality itself) is an initiative of the Left. So why should people who advocate allowing the government to dictate whom one can marry be associated with the individual-liberty-loving Right? Well, there is a reason (an oversimplified, invalid one), which I will get to in a bit. In short, whether the government is endorsing with force of law the morality of homosexual acceptance or the morality of heterosexual supremacy doesn’t matter. In both cases, the government is intruding into the bedroom and defining what is “acceptable.” Government intervention = Left. Therefore, “social conservatives” are actually of the Left.
Now, I know what you’re thinking, “What about abortion? The anti-abortion crowd wants to limit a right and define a morality!” If you said that, however, you would be half right. Even those Right of center (although not the “extreme” Right) do define some kind of morality, but that is (as I’ve said) the “good” of individual liberty and Constitutional protection of rights. The anti-abortion argument is standing up for the rights (the real, Constitutionally guaranteed ones) the unborn child has vs the “right” of reproductive freedom (not anywhere in the Constitution) so closely guarded by the pro-abortion crowd. What has happened here is a difference in terminology. The anti-abortion crowd believes the unborn child is just that (a person), whereas the pro-abortion crowd does not (and therefore it has no rights). Until consensus can be reached on that matter, no headway will be made in resolving the dispute between both camps.
And if you still doubt me, consider that until abortion (and now gay marriage) became issues, Evangelical and Fundamentalist Christians leaned Democrat (and even for a while afterward, see their support for Carter in 1980). No particular end of the spectrum (Left or Right) has a monopoly on “social justice” (a core Christian concept), but when it is desired that the government should mandate and administer said “social justice,” that is a step in the direction of both Communism (greater economic control) and theocracy (greater moral control). When the government tells you how you must think and feel (like in a theocracy), that is of the Left…and the Left *does* hold the monopoly on that (political correctness, multiculturalism, diversity, eco-sensitivity, affirmative action…the list goes on and on).
And now we come to fascism. This is not necessarily Nazism per se, but even that still falls on the Left. Eugenics and state population planning were core tenets of the Progressive movement (from which modern liberalism springs). Fascism makes use of government control (but not ownership) of the private sector (remember, the Nazis were the “National SOCIALISTS”). Perhaps “control” is too strong a word. “Influence?” Hm…not strong enough. How about “government *bullying* of private industry and the means of production?” Yes, that is far more accurate. Anyone who knows how fascists run things knows that it’s all about invasive state control. Economically, it’s just this side of communism. Ideologically, it’s just this side of theocracy (either there is a state religion, as in Reformation-era England, or the advocacy of a “religion of the state” as in Nazi Germany). The difference between the ideological aspects of fascism and theocracy is that in a theocracy the religion controls the state, in fascism the state controls the religion and utilizes it to maintain control and loyalty. Both are about government control. Both are Left.
SOCIALISM, PROGRESSIVISM AND MODERN LIBERALISM
Continuing Rightward on the spectrum, we run into various forms of socialism and Progressivism. All advocate different degrees of government control. Whereas socialism tends to limit itself to economic matters, Progressivism contains elements of both economic as well as social engineering. To help you understand the differences (as there is much overlap), I’ve prepared the following list:
Laws favoring trade unions: socialism.
Public education: Progressivism.
Bank and industry bailouts: socialism.
Government healthcare (in whole or in part): Progressivism.
Progressive income tax: socialism.
Population control/engineering: Progressivism.
Government mandated eco-sensitivity: Progressivism
In many ways, the Republicans are where the Democrats were thirty years ago, but they still find themselves “Right of Center.” They advocate government control in some areas (for instance, they would probably not disassemble the Federal Reserve Bank), but tend to eschew social engineering and welfare-state social programs on the whole (even though they would not likely repeal Social Security, Medicaid or Medicare at this point, they would not have come up with them on their own). They are somewhat to the Left of the original philosophy of the Founding Fathers
Somewhat to the Right of the Founding Fathers we find libertarians, “tenth-ers,” and most of those who attend the Tea Parties. Most of these groups would probably do away with Social Security and the whole Great Society tomorrow if they could. A good number argue against the Federal Reserve, US membership in the UN and the existence of a (Federal) Department of Education (which has only been around since Carter).
These are people who value individual liberty above all else. They realize that the American concept of rights is founded on individual property rights and would not likely stray left of Reagan on many issues.
A central tenet of their belief structure is that government, instead of being a solid answer to a particular problem, is usually found to be the cause of any problem one can define. By and large, they would like to see the power of the Federal government limited to national defense, interstate disputes and commerce regulations (when needed), and maintaining interstate infrastructure. Most of the people who put themselves in the categories mentioned in this section believe in laws, but laws to protect individual liberty not to mandate belief or restrict action (beyond what is necessary to keep order in the streets). These are the folks you are likely to find quoting the Constitution and holding it as the final arbiter of Federal authority (with a very strict interpretation of it).
This is a wide niche, however, and there are those who are not very enamored with “law” and only marginally more enamored with “order.” This is NOT your average tea partier, but rather your Montana Militiamen and Unabomber – people who still believe in SOMETHING, but tend to put that in the context of extreme individual liberty.
And so now we approach the extreme Right of the spectrum. If we place increased government control (communism) on the Left, we then know it’s logical extension on the Right is not Fascism (which still requires phenomenal amounts of state control – “statism” as has recently become popular), but the complete absence of ALL government control and laws. These are the Anarchists, and they represent a complete dedication to individual liberty without any other guiding principle or societal structure.