The Roots of Left vs. Right Ideologies

Right wing and left wing movements, when viewed from a public policy angle, may appear utterly inconsistent and contradictory. Right wing movements nowadays appear and/or profess to favor little government involvement in financial affairs, but don’t seem to be too keen on civil liberties or a smaller military. Left wing movements appear to focus on civil liberties, and a more humble military, while supporting government intervention in financial affairs.

How, may one ask, does this make any sense?

Well, none of the above definitions actually look at the root of these ideologies which in my opinion are rather emotional inclinations more than anything else. I recently posted a comment to The confusion between right and left which explains it:

Left vs. Right Ideologies

Socialism vs. capitalism are economic concepts of societal organization. As such they are objective and scientific.

But left vs. right ideology emerges from emotional tendencies and then guides one’s political actions and decisions. Whether one leans toward one or the other rather seems to be rooted in one’s childhood upbringing, and the role that authority figures have played in one’s life. Thus it needs to be analyzed as such:

Left wing sentiment is rooted in the feeling of guilt and a resulting pity for weakness. As a corollary that means pity for the poor, pity for minorities, pity for the elderly and the disabled, etc. This naturally means that left ideas oppose power and strength as an end in itself (but not necessarily as a means to ends that satisfy their pity for the weak). It also means that left wingers have a high tolerance for the notion of surrendering one’s body to earthly pleasures, which most people consider a weakness. One could reasonably argue that left wing thinking, as a tendency, is the projection of a rather maternal upbringing, mostly stressing instincts that prevail on the female side rather than the male side, such as caring, kindness, forgiveness, weakness, dependency. These are attributes that go way back to the beginnings of the human species and while they are becoming less and less relevant on a practical level in today’s advanced world, they still play a role in the psychology of the human mind. (This is not to generalize, just to point out general psychological tendencies in the different genders of the human species, of course always duly accounting for exceptions to the rule.)

Right wing sentiment is rooted in the feeling of fear and the admiration of strength as a perceived necessity to combat it. As a corollary this means admiration of military and the glorious nation state. It also comes with a high relevance assigned to strength through discipline and the rejection or at least a curbing of indulgence in earthly pleasures. At times it may be expedient for right wingers to pull the “fiscal discipline” card, just another corollary of the idea of discipline in the minds of many people. Right wing sentiment leads, as a tendency, to a rejection of protection for the weak and/or minorities, and a general animosity to indulgence and pleasures. One could reasonably argue that right wing thinking, as a tendency, is the projection of a rather paternal upbringing, mostly stressing instincts that prevail on the male side rather than the female side, such as strength, discipline, order, and independence.

Important: What I am pointing out above are the extreme ends of the spectrum. Moderate left and right ideas can be placed anywhere between those two extremes.

Now, whether one supports state control of the economy depends on one’s premises. If the overall mood is such that the economy should be regulated to curb the actions of the powerful successful industrial tycoons, for the supposed benefit of the weak and poor workers, then a leftist ideology is rather likely to support such policies, while a right wing one would lean toward rejecting it. (It is certainly fair to compare the current mood with this scenario.)

If, however, the mood is such that the currently powerful and rich have attained their status by state means, and that free markets enable poor people to rise to the ranks of wealthy ones, then a leftist ideology may actually favor less government involvement while right wingers may support the opposite. (This scenario can be more or less compared to the mindset that generally prevailed during The Age of Enlightenment and arguably during the founding days of the United States.)

Nor do left and right wing ideas have their roots in conservatism vs. progressivism. The left wingers of the Cuban revolution are today referred to as conservatives because they want to keep the current system in place. The same applies to virtually all radical subversive left wing movements that tried to establish a socialist or theocratic utopia.

My point being, left and right ideologies first and foremost emerge out of emotional considerations. How their supporters stand on specific matters of public policy largely depends on the overall conditions and mood that prevails in public opinion.


(Non-political) Libertarianism is completely indifferent to right or left wing ideologies. It doesn’t need emotions to justify its proposals. Its method rests on logic and evidence, and as a result the recognition of universal human rights derived from consistent and universal ethics. It is in its fundamentals not a pre-conceived ideology, but a scientific world view. A libertarian will endorse changes to his views wherever one convinces him on logical grounds. He will never cling to creeds for their own sake or to merely manage his anxiety about existing societal problems. He views them as a means to attain a better society.

Libertarianism is to economics and politics what Galileo’s theories were to geology, what Einstein’s Theory of Relativity was to physics, or what Darwin’s discoveries were to biology. It really has nothing at all to do with political ideologies.

While the right wing ideologue will oppose leftist welfare proposals on the grounds that they are “liberal bleeding heart socialist” ideas, the libertarian will simply point out that he, too, shares the objective of lifting the poor out of their current predicaments and helping them enter the ranks of the middle class, but that the leftist proposals will actually accomplish the exact opposite of the desired outcomes.

While the left wing ideologue will oppose right wing militaristic ventures on the grounds that they are harmful to the many weak nations we occupy, the libertarian will argue that he shares the objective of having a strong defense, but that spreading militarism across the globe will actually weaken your security, harm your troops, and attain the opposite of the ends sought.

It is hard to tell how long it will take for all the false ideas that still prevail in economic and societal matters to be rejected by the majority. But whoever truly opens up his mind, sets aside emotional and preconceived notions, and begins approaching important questions from first principle, will never again listen to the proponents of those false ideas the way he used to.

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3 thoughts on “The Roots of Left vs. Right Ideologies”

  1. Once again, nice post. I recently wrote some stuff about this on my blog: “The Confusion of Left vs. Right” It is in the same general area of thought. I offer one additional thought on your post here –

    It is very hard for people to accept libertarian ideals. There’s too much reality involved.

    The promise of the welfare nanny state is appealing to many infantile emotions that adults carry around with them from childhood. The idea that the govt exists to take care of me is really no different than a child who sees his parents as infallible protectors and providers of food, shelter, etc. This is of course a fantasy – parents have to produce to provide.

    On the other hand, the admiration of strength and imperialistic tendency of man is based on the fantasy of an overestimation of man’s abilities. See Alexander the Great’s death from disease for a classic example of this type of hubris. He created an empire spanning thousands of miles but was undone by a microscopic life form.

    So I think it is clear that libertarianism flies in the face of how most people *want* to see the world, not just how they’ve been trained to see the world. Libertarianism requires a high level of humility and maturity. Acquiring humility and maturity is a painful process, because you are forced to recognize your limitations and false ideas. The masses are not known for their humility or maturity, nor for their tolerance of pain.

  2. These ideas you float are absurd when measured against history. Millitary adventure can be at times very profitable and nation building (america and WW2) so Libertarians were wrong there. Liberal ideals have worked to lift millions out of poverty with GI BILL, Social Security Medicare, etc..created clean water regulations etc..

    Conservative principles likewise have created great military spending has led toi advances which likewise produced technologies that advanced modern life such as computers, GPS, internet etc…

    Libertarians have been correct about misguided wars, (see vietnam, Iraq) Liberals have been misguided about giving Cash to poor people (wlefare) without requiring work. Righties are misguided often about social issues and people rights to be left alone to do drugs, have abortions sex etc…

    My point being—you are wrong about your description about liberal ideals–liberals want jeconomic justice at the end of the day and more freedom on social issues… libertarians want freedom all around so they are consistent. Conservatives want to preserve the status quo and roll back economic social programs BUT add social issue regulations.

    You even forgot one group–POPULISTS who want more govenrment or economic justice AND more social issue regulations. Think blue dog democrats or the long lost Rockerfeller Repubs (RINOS)…so they are OK with less freedom on both issues. (social and ecomic) SO they are also consistent in philosophy like the LIbertarians are about freedom (social and economic) .

  3. Your comment exemplifies the common fallacies people hold about left/right ideology, as I explained in this article. Like I said, it’s not like political people start with the issues themselves without any emotional inclinations behind them. The emotion comes first, then come the political manifestations.

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