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Right-wing politics

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Right-wing politics

Right-wing politics are political positions or activities that view some forms of [13]

The term "right wing" has been used to refer to a number of different political positions through history. The political terms Right and Left were coined during the French Revolution (1789–99), and referred to where politicians sat in the French parliament; those who sat to the right of the chair of the parliamentary president were broadly supportive of the institutions of the monarchist Ancien Régime.[14][15][16][17] The original Right in France was formed as a reaction against the Left, and comprised those politicians supporting hierarchy, tradition, and clericalism.[18] The use of the expression la droite (the right) became prominent in France after the restoration of the monarchy in 1815, when le droit was applied to describe the Ultra-royalists.[19] In English-speaking countries it was not until the 20th century that people applied the terms "right" and "left" to their own politics.[20]

From the 1830s to the 1880s, there was a shift in the Western world of social class structure and the economy, moving away from nobility and aristocracy, and moving towards the bourgeoisie and capitalism.[21] This general economic shift towards capitalism affected centre right movements such as the British Conservative Party that responded by becoming supportive of capitalism.[22]

Although the term 'right-wing' originally designated traditional conservatives and reactionaries, it has also been used to describe neo-conservatives, nationalists, racial supremacists,[23] Christian democrats, religious fundamentalists, and classical liberals.[17]

In the United States "right wing" has quite a different history and meaning. For the most part the American right wing is an integral part of the conservative "movement" in the U.S.[24] The right has been a major factor--and often dominant--in American politics in the Age of Reagan since 1980.[25] There are also fringe "extremist" elements who reject key elements of the American consensus, are vehemently opposed to the nation's political leadership, and try to exclude groups they hate, sometimes by using violence.[26]


5 May 1789: Opening of the Estates-General in Versailles

The political term right-wing originates from the French Revolution, when liberal deputies from the Third Estate generally sat to the left of the president's chair, a habit which began in the Estates General of 1789. The nobility, members of the Second Estate, generally sat to the right. In the successive legislative assemblies, monarchists who supported the Ancien Régime were commonly referred to as rightists, because they sat on the right side. A major figure on the right was Joseph de Maistre, who argued for an authoritarian form of conservatism. Throughout the 19th century, the main line dividing Left and Right in France was between supporters of the Republic and supporters of the Monarchy.[17] On the right, the Legitimists and Ultra-royalists held counter-revolutionary views, while the Orléanists hoped to create a constitutional monarchy under their preferred branch of the royal family, a brief reality after the 1830 July Revolution. The centre-right Gaullists in post-World War II France advocated considerable social spending on education and infrastructure development, as well as extensive economic regulation, but limited the wealth redistribution measures characteristic of social democracy.

In British politics the terms 'right' and 'left' came into common use for the first time in the late 1930s in debates over the Spanish Civil War.[27]

The Right has gone through five distinct historical stages: (i) the reactionary right, which sought a return to aristocracy and established religion; (ii) the moderate right, who sought limited government and distrusted intellectuals; (iii) the radical right, who favored a romantic and aggressive nationalism; (iv) the extreme right, who proposed anti-immigration policies and implicit racism; and (v) the neo-liberal right, who sought to combine a belief in a market economy and economic deregulation with the traditional Right-wing beliefs in patriotism, élitism, and law and order.[28][29]


The meaning of right-wing "varies across societies, historical epochs, and political systems and ideologies."[30] According to The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Politics, in liberal democracies, the political Right opposes socialism and social democracy. Right-wing parties include conservatives, Christian democrats, classical liberals, nationalists and, on the far Right, racists and fascists.[31]

Roger Eatwell and O'Sullivan divide the Right into five types: 'reactionary', 'moderate', 'radical', 'extreme', and 'new'.[32] Chip Berlet argues that each of these "styles of thought" are "responses to the left", including liberalism and socialism, that have arisen since the 1789 French Revolution.[33] The 'reactionary right' looks toward the past and is "aristocratic, religious and authoritarian".[33] The 'moderate right', typified by the writings of Edmund Burke, is tolerant of change, provided it is gradual, and accepts some aspects of liberalism, including the rule of law and capitalism, although it sees radical laissez-faire and individualism as harmful to society. Often he moderate right promotes nationalism and social welfare policies.[34] 'Radical right' is a term developed after World War II to describe groups and ideologies such as McCarthyism, the John Birch Society, Thatcherism, and the Republikaner Party. Eatwell stresses that this use has "major typological problems" and that the term "has also been applied to clearly democratic developments." [35] The radical right includes right-wing populism and various other subtypes.[36] Eatwell argues that the 'extreme right' has four traits: "1)anti-democracy; 2) nationalism; 3) racism; and 4) the strong state".[37] The 'New Right' consists of the liberal conservatives, who stress small government, free markets, and individual initiative.[38]

Other authors make a distinction between the centre-right and the far right.[39] Parties of the centre-right generally support liberal democracy, capitalism, the market economy (though they may accept government regulation to control monopolies), private property rights, and a limited welfare state (for example government provision of education and medical care). They support conservatism and economic liberalism, and oppose socialism and communism. The phrase far right, by contrast, is used to describe those who favor an absolutist government, which uses the power of the state to support the dominant ethnic group or religion and often to criminalize other ethnic groups or religions.[40][41][42][43][44] Typical examples of leaders to whom the far right label is often applied are Francisco Franco in Spain and Augusto Pinochet in Chile.[45][46][47][48][49] The US Department of Homeland Security defines right-wing extremism as hate groups who target racial, ethnic or religious minorities and may be dedicated to a single issue.[50] The phrase is also used to describe support for ethnic nationalism.


The original use of "right-wing" in reference to communism had the conservatives on the Right, the liberals in the center, and the communists on the Left. Both the conservatives and the liberals were strongly anti-communist. As time went on, however, conservatives accused liberals of being "soft on communism", and using freedom of speech and freedom of religion as a cover for their hidden communist sympathies. The history of the use of the term "right-wing" to mean anti-communist is a complicated one.

Early Marxist movements were at odds with the traditional monarchies that ruled over much of the European continent at the time. Many European monarchies outlawed the public expression of communist views, and the Communist Manifesto, which began "A spectre is haunting Europe," stated that monarchs feared for their thrones. Advocacy of communism was illegal in the Russian Empire, the German Empire and Austria-Hungary, the three most powerful monarchies in continental Europe prior to World War I. Many Monarchists (except Constitutional Monarchists) viewed inequality in wealth and political power as resulting from a divine natural order. The struggle between monarchists and communists was often described as a struggle between the Right and the Left.

By World War I however, in most European monarchies, the Divine Right of Kings had become discredited and replaced by liberal and nationalist movements. Most European monarchs became figureheads; elected governments held the real power. The most conservative European monarchy, the Russian Empire, was replaced by the communist Soviet Union. The Russian Revolution inspired a series of other communist revolutions across Europe in the years 1917–1922. Many of these, such as the German Revolution, were defeated by nationalist and monarchist military units. In this period, nationalism began to be considered right-wing, especially when it opposed the internationalism of the communists.

The 1920s and 1930s saw the fading of traditional right-wing politics. The mantle of conservative anti-communism was taken up by the rising fascist movements on the one hand, and by American-inspired liberal conservatives on the other. When communist groups and political parties began appearing around the world, as in the Republic of China in the 1920s, their opponents were usually colonial authorities, and the term right-wing came to be applied to colonialism.

After World War II, communism became a global phenomenon, and anti-communism became an integral part of the domestic and foreign policies of the United States and its NATO allies. Conservatism in the post-war era abandoned its monarchist and aristocratic roots, focusing instead on patriotism, religion, and nationalism. Throughout the Cold War, colonial governments in Asia, Africa, and Latin America turned to the United States for political and economic support. Communists were also enemies of capitalism, portraying Wall Street as the oppressor of the masses. The United States made anti-communism the top priority of its foreign policy, and many American conservatives sought to combat what they saw as communist influence at home. This led to the adoption of a number of domestic policies that are collectively known under the term "McCarthyism". While both liberals and conservatives were anti-communist, the followers of Senator McCarthy were called right-wing, and those on the Right called liberals who favored free speech, even for communists, leftist.


In France after the French Revolution, the Right fought against the rising power of those who had grown rich through commerce, and sought to preserve the rights of the hereditary nobility. They were uncomfortable with capitalism, with the Enlightenment, with individualism, and with industrialism and fought to retain traditional social hierarchies and institutions.[14][51]

In the 19th century, the Right had shifted to support the newly rich in some European countries, particularly England, and instead of favoring the nobility over industrialists, favored capitalists over the working class. Other right-wing currents on the continent, such as Carlism in Spain and nationalist movements in France, Germany, and Russia, remained hostile to capitalism and industrialism. There are, however, still a few right-wing movements today, notably the French Nouvelle Droite, CasaPound, and American paleoconservatives, that are often in opposition to capitalist ethics and the effects they have on society as a whole, which they see as infringing upon or causing the decay of social traditions or hierarchies that they see as essential for social order.[52]

In modern times, "right-wing" is sometimes used to describe [53] Anthony Gregory has written that right-wing libertarianism, "can refer to any number of varying and at times mutually exclusive political orientations." He holds that the issue is not right or left but "whether a person sees the state as a major hazard or just another institution to be reformed and directed toward a political goal."[54]

Conservative authoritarians and those on the far right have supported fascism and corporatism.[52]


In France, cultural conservatism, which supports the preservation of the heritage of a nation or culture, and often sees deviations from cultural norms as an existential threat.[58]

Natural law and traditionalism

Right-wing politics typically justifies a hierarchical society on the basis of natural law or tradition.[5][6][7][8][9][59]

Traditionalism was advocated by a group of U.S. university professors (labeled the "New Conservatives" by the popular press) who rejected the concepts of individualism, liberalism, modernity, and social progress, and sought instead to promote what they identify as cultural and educational renewal,[60] and a revived interest in what T. S. Eliot referred to as "the permanent things" (concepts perceived by traditionalists as truths that endure from age to age alongside basic institutions of western society such as the church, the family, the state, and business.)


Right-wing populism is a combination of ethno-nationalism with anti-elitism, using populist rhetoric to provide a radical critique of existing political institutions. According to Margaret Canovan, a right-wing populist is "...a charismatic leader, using the tactics of politicians’ populism to go past the politicians and intellectual elite and appeal to the reactionary sentiments of the populace, often buttressing his claim to speak for the people by the use of referendums."[61]

In Europe, right-wing populism often takes the form of distrust of the European Union, and of politicians in general, combined with anti-immigrant rhetoric, and a call for a return to traditional, national values.[62]


Government support for an established religion was associated with the original French "right wing."[63] Joseph de Maistre argued for the indirect authority of the Pope over temporal matters. According to Maistre, only governments founded upon a Christian constitution, implicit in the customs and institutions of all European societies but especially in Catholic European monarchies, could avoid the disorder and bloodshed that followed the implementation of rationalist political programs, as in the French Revolution. The Church of England was established by Henry VIII. Some churchmen are given seats in the House of Lords but are considered politically neutral, rather than right or left wing.

The Christian right is a major force in North America. They generally support laws upholding what they consider religious values, such as opposition to abortion, contraception, sex outside of marriage, and to same-sex marriage. Outside the West, other religious and ethnic groups are considered right-wing. In India, Hindu nationalism is sometimes considered a part of the Right. The Hindu nationalist movement has attracted privileged groups fearing encroachment on their dominant positions, and also "plebeian" and impoverished groups seeking recognition around a majoritarian rhetoric of cultural pride, order, and national strength.[64] Many Islamist groups have been called "right wing" including the Great Union Party,[65] and the Combatant Clergy Association/Association of Militant Clergy[66][67] and the Islamic Society of Engineers[68][69] of Iran.

Religious fundamentalists frequently feel that governments should enact laws supporting their religious tenets.[70][71][72] The religious Right may be in conflict with scientific positions on evolution and other matters where science disagrees with dogma.[73][74][75][76]

The term "family values" has been used as a buzzword by right-wing parties such as the Republican Party in the United States, the Family First Party in Australia, the Conservative party in the United Kingdom and the Bharatiya Janata Party in India to describe support for traditional families, and opposition to the changes the modern world has made in how families live. Right-wing supporters of "family values" may oppose abortion, euthanasia, homosexuality, and adultery.[77]

Social stratification

Right-wing politics involves in varying degrees the rejection of some egalitarian objectives of left-wing politics, claiming either that economic inequality is natural and inevitable or that it is beneficial to society.[59] Right-wing ideologies and movements support social order. The original French right-wing was called "the party of order" and held that France needed a strong political leader to keep order.[17]

British conservative scholar R. J. White, who rejects egalitarianism, wrote: "Men are equal before God and the laws, but unequal in all else; hierarchy is the order of nature, and privilege is the reward of honourable service".[78] American conservative [53] Right libertarians reject collective or state-imposed equality as undermining reward for personal merit, initiative, and enterprise.[78] In their view, it is unjust, limits personal freedom, and leads to social uniformity and mediocrity.[78] Left-libertarians, however, argue that "equality does not mean an equal amount but equal opportunity... Free opportunity and acting out your individuality means development of natural dissimilarities and variations".[79] In their view, freedom without equality gives more freedom to those at a higher social status, and equality without freedom is a form of oppression.[80][81]

See also


  1. ^ Johnson, Paul (2005). Auburn University website "Right-wing, rightist". A Political Glossary. Retrieved October 23, 2014. 
  2. ^ Bobbio, Norberto and Allan Cameron,Left and Right: The Significance of a Political Distinction. University of Chicago Press, 1997, p. 51, 62. ISBN 978-0-226-06246-4
  3. ^ J. E. Goldthorpe. An Introduction to Sociology. Cambridge, England, UK; Oakleigh, Melbourne, Australia; New York, New York, USA p. 156. ISBN 0-521-24545-1.
  4. ^ Rodney P. Carlisle. Encyclopedia of politics: the left and the right, Volume 2. University of Michigan; Sage Reference, 2005. p.693, 721. ISBN 1-4129-0409-9
  5. ^ a b T. Alexander Smith, Raymond Tatalovich. Cultures at war: moral conflicts in western democracies. Toronto, Canada: Broadview Press, Ltd, 2003. p. 30. "That viewpoint is held by contemporary sociologists, for whom 'right-wing movements' are conceptualized as 'social movements whose stated goals are to maintain structures of order, status, honor, or traditional social differences or values' as compared to left-wing movements which seek 'greater equality or political participation.' In other words, the sociological perspective sees preservationist politics as a right-wing attempt to defend privilege within the social hierarchy."
  6. ^ a b Left and right: the significance of a political distinction, Norberto Bobbio and Allan Cameron, p. 37, University of Chicago Press, 1997.
  7. ^ a b Seymour Martin Lipset, cited in Fuchs, D., and Klingemann, H. 1990. The left-right schema. pp. 203–34 in Continuities in Political Action: A Longitudinal Study of Political Orientations in Three Western Democracies, ed.M.Jennings et al. Berlin:de Gruyter
  8. ^ a b c Lukes, Steven. 'Epilogue: The Grand Dichotomy of the Twentieth Century': concluding chapter to T. Ball and R. Bellamy (eds.), The Cambridge History of Twentieth-Century Political Thought. pp.610–612
  9. ^ a b Clark, William. Capitalism, not Globalism. University of Michigan Press, 2003. ISBN 0-472-11293-7, ISBN 978-0-472-11293-7
  10. ^ Smith, T. Alexander and Raymond Tatalovich. Cultures at War: Moral Conflicts in Western Democracies (Toronto, Canada: Broadview Press, Ltd., 2003) p. 30. "That viewpoint is held by contemporary sociologists, for whom 'right-wing movements' are conceptualized as 'social movements whose stated goals are to maintain structures of order, status, honor, or traditional social differences or values' as compared to left-wing movements which seek 'greater equality or political participation.' '
  11. ^ Scruton, Roger “A Dictionary of Political Thought” "Defined by contrast to (or perhaps more accurately conflict with) the left the term right does not even have the respectability of a history. As now used it denotes several connected and also conflicting ideas (including) 1)conservative, and perhaps authoritarian, doctrines concerning the nature of civil society, with emphasis on custom, tradition, and allegiance as social bonds ... 8) belief in free enterprise free markets and a capitalist economy as the only mode of production compatible with human freedom and suited to the temporary nature of human aspirations ..." pp. 281-2, Macmillian, 1996
  12. ^ J. E. Goldthorpe. An Introduction to Sociology. "There are ... those who accept inequality as natural, normal, and even desirable. Two main lines of thought converge on the Right or conservative side...the truly Conservative view is that there is a natural hierarchy of skills and talents in which some people are born leaders, whether by heredity or family tradition. ... now ... the more usual right-wing view, which may be called 'liberal-conservative', is that unequal rewards are right and desirable so long as the competition for wealth and power is a fair one." p. 156. Cambridge, England, UK; Oakleigh, Melbourne, Australia; New York, New York, USA p. 156. ISBN 0-521-24545-1.
  13. ^ Modern Catholic Social Teaching: The Popes Confront the Industrial Age, 1740-1958. Paulist Press, 2003. P132
  14. ^ a b Goodsell, Charles T., "The Architecture of Parliaments: Legislative Houses and Political Culture", British Journal of Political Science, Vol. 18, No. 3 (July , 1988) pp. 287–302
  15. ^ Linski, Gerhard, Current Issues and Research In Macrosociology (Brill Archive, 1984) p. 59
  16. ^ Clark, Barry Political Economy: A Comparative Approach (Praeger Paperback, 1998) pp. 33–34
  17. ^ a b c d e f Andrew Knapp and Vincent Wright (2006). The Government and Politics of France. Routledge.  
  18. ^ Rodney P. Carlisle. Encyclopedia of politics: the left and the right, Volume 2. University of Michigan; Sage Reference, 2005, p. 693. ISBN 1-4129-0409-9
  19. ^ Gauchet, Marcel, "Right and Left" in Nora, Pierre, ed., Realms of Memory: Conflicts and Divisions (1996) pp. 247-8
  20. ^ "The English Ideology: Studies in the Language of Victorian Politics" George Watson Allen Lane: London 1973 p.94
  21. ^ Alan S. Kahan. Mind Vs. Money: The War Between Intellectuals and Capitalism. New Brunsiwck, New Jersey: Transaction Publishers, 2010. p. 88.
  22. ^ Ian Adams. Political Ideology Today. Manchester, England, UK; New York, New York, USA: Manchester University Press, 2001. p. 57.
  23. ^ Iain McLean and Alistair McMillan, The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Politics, Right(-wing)...and for extreme right parties racism and fascism., p. 465, Oxford, 2009, ISBN 978-0-19-920780-0.
  24. ^ Jerome L. Himmelstein, To the right: The transformation of American conservatism (1992).
  25. ^ Sean Wilentz, The Age of Reagan: A History, 1974-2008 (2008).
  26. ^ Stephen E Atkins (2011). Encyclopedia of Right-Wing Extremism In Modern American History. ABC-CLIO. p. 12. 
  27. ^ Charles Loch Mowat, Britain Between the Wars: 1918-1940 (1955) p 577
  28. ^ Ball, T. and R. Bellamy, eds., The Cambridge History of Twentieth-Century Political Thought pp. 610–612
  29. ^ Clark, William. Capitalism, not Globalism (University of Michigan Press, 2003) ISBN 0-472-11293-7, ISBN 978-0-472-11293-7
  30. ^ The meaning of 'right-wing' and 'left-wing' varies across societies, historical epochs and political systems and ideologies. Social cognition: an integrated introduction Martha Augoustinos, Iain Walker, Ngaire Donaghue; SAGE, June 15, 2006 - 364 pages, page 30
  31. ^ McLean, Iain and Alistair McMillan, eds.,Concise Oxford Dictionary of Politics (Oxford University Press, 2009) ISBN 9780199205165
  32. ^ Davies, p. 13
  33. ^ a b Berlet, p. 117
  34. ^ Eatwell: 1999, p. 284
  35. ^ Eatwell: 2004, pp. 7-8
  36. ^ Berlet, p.117
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  38. ^ Vincent, Andrew, Modern Political Ideologies, 2nd ed., (Wiley-Blackwell, 2008) p. 66, ISBN 978-0-631-19507-8, "Who to include under the rubric of the New Right remains puzzling. It is usually seen as an amalgam of traditional liberal conservatism, Austrian liberal economic theory ... extreme libertarianism (anarch-capitalism) and crude populism."
  39. ^ Betz & Immerfall 1998; Betz 1994; Durham 2000; Durham 2002; Hainsworth 2000; Mudde 2000; Berlet & Lyons, 2000.
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  45. ^ "A Dictator's Legacy of Economic Growth". 2006-09-14. Retrieved 2007-10-15. 
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  51. ^ Martin E. Marty, R. Scott Appleby, American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Fundamentalisms observed, "Reactionary right-wing themes emphasizing authority, social hierarchy, and obedience, as well as condemnations of liberalism, the democratic ethos, the "rights of man" associated with the legacy of the Enlightenment and the French Revolution, and the political and cultural ethos of modern liberal democracy are especially prominent in the writings and public statements of Archbishop Lefebere", p. 91, University of Chicago Press, 1994. P. 91. ISBN 0-226-50878-1, ISBN 978-0-226-50878-8.
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  54. ^ Anthony Gregory, Left, Right, Moderate and Radical,, December 21, 2006.
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  64. ^ Thomas Blom Hansen, The Saffron Wave: Democracy and Hindu Nationalism in Modern India, Princeton University Press, 2001, ISBN 1-4008-0342-X, 9781400803422
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  73. ^ Fekete, Liz (1 August 2002). "Christian school teaches right-wing creationist theories". Independent Race and Refugee news network. The government policy of funding for faith schools has been criticised after it was revealed that the Emmanuel City Technology College in Gateshead is teaching creationism - that human origins are (relatively) recent and divine - as opposed to scientific evolution, to explain our origins. 
  74. ^ Heneghan, Tom (Nov 22, 2006). "'"Muslim creationism makes inroads in Turkey. Creationism is so widely accepted here that Turkey placed last in a recent survey of public acceptance of evolution in 34 countries — just behind the United States." "Darwinism did become an issue during the left-vs.-right political turmoil before a 1980 military coup because Communist bookshops touted Darwin's works as a complement to Karl Marx. 'It looked like Marx and Darwin were together, two long-bearded guys spreading ideas that make people lose their faith,' said Istanbul journalist Mustafa Akyol. 
  75. ^ DeGette, Diana (2008). Sex, Science, and Stem Cells: Inside the Right Wing Assault on Reason.  
  76. ^ Chris Mooney, The Republican War on Science: Revised and Updated, ASIN: B001OQOIPM
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  • Berlet, Chip. "When Alienation turns Right". In Langman, Lauren and Kalekin-Fishman (Eds.) The Evolution of Alienation: Trauma, Promise, and the Millennium. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2006 ISBN 0-7425-1835-3, ISBN 978-0-7425-1835-3
  • Davies, Peter. The Extreme Right in France, 1789 to the Present: From De Maistre to Le Pen. New York, NY: Routledge, 2002 ISBN 0-415-23982-6, ISBN 978-0-415-23982-0
  • Eatwell, Roger. "Introduction: the new extreme right challenge". In Eatwell, Roger and Muddle, Cas (Eds.) Western Democracies and the new Extreme Right Challenge. London, UK: Routledge, 2004 ISBN 0-415-36971-1, ISBN 978-0-415-36971-8
  • Eatwell, Roger. "Conclusion: The 'End of Ideology'". In Eatwell, Roger and Wright, Anthony (Eds.) Contemporary Political Ideologies. Continuum International Publishing Group, 1999 ISBN 0-8264-5173-X, 9780826451736
  • Paola Bacchetta and Margaret Power (eds). Right-Wing Women: From Conservatives to Extremists around the World. New York: Routledge, 2002.

External links

  • Right Wing Watch website

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