Why Are Liberals Considered 'Leftists' and Conservatives Considered 'Right-Wingers'?

By Frank Hill

Doesn't it strike you as 'odd' how everyone seems to be calling everyone else certain names in the political world nowadays....but no one seems to know what they are or what these labels mean anymore?...

'Here's a simple definition of ideology:  'A set of beliefs about the proper order of society and how it can be achieved.' 
And here's the most basic of all ideological questions: Preserve the present order, or change it?
At the French Assembly of 1789, the delegates who favored preservation sat on the right side of the chamber, while those who favored change sat on the left.  
The terms right and left have stood for conservatism and liberalism ever since.'*
Presumably after the French Revolution, all those who stood for 'conserving' the monarchial reign were guillotined while the ones who won the right to 'change it' got to do all the guillotining but that is another story for another time.

We bet you think you are a 'true blue believer' in large, more compassionate government.  Or you believe that the best government is that which governs the least as did Thomas Jefferson and James Madison. So you are either a 'rightie' who thinks you are always right on all the issues or a 'leftie' who thinks you are always right on all the issues as well.

We think we can prove you wrong with a couple of simple little tests:

'Are you for more or less government spending when it comes to agriculture programs?  Defense? Education? Transportation? Health Care? Social Security? Medicare?'

'Are you for or against more government oversight into the sensitive personal areas of privacy and probity such as abortion, gay rights, illegal immigration or gun control?

You see?  We can see some people nodding: 'yes', yes', 'no', 'oh, heck no!' as they go through each line.

Hardly anyone we have ever met has been for less government spending 100% across the board. Including tax breaks for corporations or targeted industries.  Any time you cut taxes for one small part of the economy or society, that is 'just like spending more federal taxpayer money' on that program.  6 of one; half-dozen of the other as they say in the Joint Taxation Committee on Capitol Hill.

'Tax expenditures' they call them.

We can't find anyone who is 100% for more government spending across-the-board either, truth be told.  Liberals have a tough time swallowing more defense spending while conservatives choke on spending more for domestic programs.

And since liberals as well as conservatives seem to have great difficulty proposing higher taxes to pay for their expansive use of the government till, there is no word in the federal budget vocabulary to make the analogous comparison that 'higher taxes are like less federal spending'.

Think of higher tax revenues as the opposite of 'tax expenditures' in the budget.  More like 'black holes of taxation'...they take in every tax dollar in sight and you really never see the impact of them ever again, do you?

Same with liberals and conservatives on the social issues where they tend to flip-flop on their 'unlimited' versus 'limited' government intrusion views.  The same liberals who want more federal involvement (spending) to help the poor also want less federal intrusion into what they consider completely private issues ranging from abortion decisions to gay marriage to smoking marijuana.

The same conservatives who want less federal spending except in defense also say they want limited government except when it comes to setting norms and rules and regulations for society on the touchy social issues named above.

So, what is it?  Are you a big-government liberal or a small-government conservative?  100% of the time.

Would you sit on the 'right side' of the US Congress today and scream out, like the French Assembly right-wingers did in 1789:  'We want to preserve the current order in the United States because it seems to be working so well lately!'? (Obama supporters in 2012)

Or would you be a crazy left-winger screaming out for rebellion and revolution and calling for 'change the hope, please!' because things have not gone so swimmingly over the past several years? (Obama opponents in 2012)

Be honest.

'Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose' as the old French saying goes.  

'The more it changes, the more it is the same thing'.
* From 'The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion' by Jonathan Haidt, p.277

(Editor's Note: Frank Hill's resumé includes working as chief of staff for Senator Elizabeth Dole and Congressman Alex McMillan, serving on the House Budget Committee and serving on the Commission on Entitlement and Tax Reform. He takes on politics from a fiercely independent perspective at the blog Telemachus).


  1. Cut out the paper strip and glue the fascism to the communism, and that's really what you've got.

    I would encourage everyone to check out the Wall Street series for it details with their own words how the monopoly capitalists of the early 1900s paid for and ran Soviet Russia. Also, the ties between these same monopoly men and the rise of Hitler are indisputable. However, they will never come to light in the controlled, monopoly-owned media.

    The twisting of words and labels is as old as the Garden of Eden. The Elites are experts at it, just as their man Orwell predicted they would be. Actions not words should be our litmus test.

  2. fascism, nazism, communism, and socialism are all the same in my book.

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  4. Yes, there is a fundamental flaw in your graphic. NAZI is short for National Socialist Party. Nationalized Healthcare and all the leftist propaganda are straight from the NAZI playbook. The reason for the Nazi flag's colors are to represent socialism (mainly red with white and black in center) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nazi_symbolism

    You should swap the two end points of fascism (totalitarianism) and anarchy.

    1. If the NAZI party was left then why did Hitler support franco's pro-monarchist regime? (Franco re-instated the Spanish monarchy after his rule)

  5. I should also add that the distinction between European liberalism and American liberalism is important in this discussion.

    Classic American Liberalism is currently closer Libertarian-ism. Recently it was associated with Constitutionalism or Republicanism.

    Modern American Liberalism is closer to European Socialism which is why many of us refer to President Obama as a socialist.

  6. Here is a nice explanation: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UJ6hICTnxg8&t=3m13s

  7. Preserve vs. change is superficial. Freedom vs. Statism is better. Or Individualism vs. Collectivism.

    Interesting anecdote: after the French revolution, left vs. right was preserved. On the left was the collectivist, "voice of the people" types who eventually took over in a very bloody manner and were for summary execution of royalty. On the right were more individualist enilghtenment (American) types, including Thomas Paine, who argued for rule of law and wanted to have trials for the King etc. They lost and were eventually imprisoned or executed. I've been meaning to read up on this period to determine if the 'right vs. left' distinction doesn't have some merit.

  8. National Socialism is what Barry practices (GM?). And Il Duce ran the same state capitalism shop as Lenin (that's what Ernst Rohm also wanted for Germany, BTW); the big difference between Nikolai and Benito was Benny was doing it so he could run a new Roman Empire with Italy at its core; Niki wanted to be godfather of a global movement with each country being its own little satrap.

  9. "Political tags - such as royalist, communist, democrat, populist, fascist, liberal, conservative, and so forth - are never basic criteria. The human race divides politically into those who want people to be controlled and those who have no such desire." - - - - - Robert A. Heinlein

  10. How about this?

    'Large concentrated power in Washington' versus small limited government diffused to the states'?

    Choose your side...and stick with it. Once and for all.

    Wouldn't that clear things up a bit as to who is who and on which side going forward?

    1. Classical liberalism best defines small limited federal government. A term I often wonder if it is even given the exposure it should in schools, including universities today.

  11. Your left to right scale is deeply flawed. For one thing, you'd have the libertarians, a number of which are kissing cousins to anarchists, somewhere between the communists and the anarchists. That ain't right. (Pun intended.)

    You might do better with an x/y axis. As a lineal representation, it just doesn't work, IMHO.

  12. Another example, in this election cycle at least, many libertarians have claimed to be the true conservatives and others denote themselves as conservative/libertarian or vice versa.

    So, on your linear scale, are those conservatives with libertarian leanings more like monarchists (Ha!) or liberals? Or do you make no distinction between conservatives and libertarians, or between liberals and libertarians?

    Would you be staking out the position that libertarians are to the Left of conservatives?

    (BTW, this would not be a novel idea. There are some who claim that Ron Paul is a NeoLiberal.)

    And even should you imagine libertarians to be in the exact center of the political universe, what do you do with the NeoAnarchists within the libertarians?

    Or, as one moves from conservatism to liberalism (presumably to stop half way), the liberals want to pass innumerable laws as to what you can say, what you can eat, what you can drink, etc. etc. This seems to me to be antithetical to libertarianism.

    Again, IMHO, moving towards liberalism would be the same as moving towards monarchy in having someone else dictate what you may or may not do.

    I think the first thing good conservatives should do is to set up a homeless shelter for all those poor libertarians who have no place on your chart!

  13. I got this chart off the internet...Google images....'left wing right wing'

  14. You made some major errors in your chart. Naziism which is fascism are leftist ideologies and are on the wrong side of your chart. They are what is considered National Socialism. Totalitarianism of any form including your "monarchy" are all leftist ideologies. Was this falsehood on purpose? It's really simple. More government goes left, less to the right.

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  16. This chart is a nonsense. The problems don't lie in extreme right or left, one axis is simply not enough. There are various different charts, most of them are 2D which is already a lot better. Nazism was pretty much centrist, with both left and right policies. Yet it was extremely authoritarian. Monarchy is far right authoritarian, unless it became a constitutional monarchy and the monarch has ceded a lot of his or her power to the elected representatives. In fact, monarchy is a lot closer to fascism than Nazism is.

  17. Nazism belongs on the left side of the chart, not the right side. NAZI stands for National Socialism. The NAZIs are socialists.


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