Previous | .Next

Methodological Divisions

Norberto Bobbio in Left & Right: The Significance of Political Distinction, agrees with Diamond that the left/right axis is best defined by the struggle between equality v. inequality." Doctrines can be assessed as more or less egalitarian according to the greater or lesser number of persons involved, the greater or lesser quantity or worth of the benefits to be distributed, and the criteria used in distributing these benefits to certain groups of persons."8 Turning to methodological issues, Bobbio labels those who resort to authoritarianism and reject democratic method "extremists," and those that accept the rules of democratic conduct "moderates." Bobbio then argues that the duality of freedom v. authoritarianism is a separate dimension that spans left and right.

Methodological Propensity for Various Right-Wing Sectors

Therefore an additional continuum for viewing the right would be methodological, in which a variety of topical interests would be pursued using tactics that ranged from democratic civil discourse to armed revolution. (See Chart Three).

Many groups in all the sectors have at least some philosophical roots in orthodox versions of Calvinistic Protestant Christianity, especially support for heterosexual patriarchy, individualism, and a free market economy. The WASP has its sting.

Intent and effect are separate issues when studying social and political movements. For example, movements that pursue supremacy and power often rationalize it as promoting justice and democracy, this is especially true with forms of right-wing populism.

There is overlap at the margins of the sectors, and some ultra-conservative political ideologues such as Pat Buchanan and Sam Francis draw from several tendencies. Nonetheless, the various branches of the right each have distinguishing characteristics and operate as self-conscious movements.


There is a dynamic relationship among the various sectors of the right. The activist right pulls conservatism over in terms of both militancy and ideology, and simultaneously pressures liberals to concede the center and retrench. A vigorous activist right opens recruitment opportunities for the far right. At the same time the dramatic excesses of far right provides a cover for ideological victories of the activist right and conservative right, and makes them seem more reasonable.

Diamond points out that the distinct sectors of the right are sometimes system supportive and sometimes system oppositional. They form shifting alliances based on shared goals that vary across time and topic.9 This is an especially useful concept since the same type of paramilitary far right groups that assisted government agencies in spying on civil rights and antiwar dissidents in the 1960's were busy forming anti-government armed militias and blowing up federal buildings in the 1990's.

It is erroneous to conclude that since there are often shared themes on the right that all right-wing groups work together. For instance the conservative Heritage Foundation is a long-standing critic of the far right LaRouche network, some traditional conservatives are offended by the sweeping changes proposed by the more reactionary and ultra-conservative activists in the New Right. The far right views both the activist right and conservative right as weak-willed wimps or active agents of the global conspiracy to enslave patriotic White Americans. Far right groups such as the LaRouche network, Liberty Lobby, and the Christian Identity movement attempt to join more moderate activist right and conservative coalitions, but guilt by association is unethical and inaccurate, despite its popularity as a direct-mail fundraising pitch by liberal watchdog groups. It is not fair to presume that all conservatives are on a slippery slope toward reaction, nor that all reactionaries are inevitably borne on a transmission belt toward fascism. Migrations do occur, but they occur in both directions, just as on the left.

A number of analysts over the years have suggested variations of a chart that arrays political groups on multiple dimensions.10 (See Chart Four).

When analyzing any social or political movement multiple aspects must be assessed independently with an eye toward establishing where on a polar continuum the movement is currently located.

The polar dimensions listed in Chart Four are just a few of the more important dimensions that can be considered. To make matters even more complicated, any movement will experience drift back and forth along these continuums over time. A complex analysis must consider topic, method, and historic moment.

Chart Four:
Multidimensional Model of the Political Spectrum

Egalitarian (Left) or Inegalitarian (Right)
Consensual or Authoritarian
Individualism or Statism
Reformist or Revolutionary
Centralized or Decentralized
Elite Institutions or Populist Mobilization
Monocultural or Multicultural
Traditional Orthodoxy or Unconventional nonconformism
Rational Debate or Irrational Conspiracism

Previous | TOC | Next

8 Norberto Bobbio

9 Diamond

10 [deleted online]

Online Articles:

Spotlight On

Browse Topics | Site Guide | Multimedia Bookstore | Magazine | Publications | Activists Resources

Political Research Associates

Copyright Information, Terms, and Conditions

Please read our Terms and Conditions for copyright information regarding downloading, copying, printing, and linking material on this site; our disclaimer about links present on this website; and our privacy policy.

Updates and Corrections