Michael Eriksson
A Swede in Germany
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Political scales and the Nazis

Introduction

Anyone who claims a good political understanding should have the following insights (in approximation, if not fully):


Side-note:

In the second item, I originally wrote “far Left—not far Right”. While this is true, by any reasonable definition, the idea of “far Right” is extremely problematic; and by avoiding the respective “far”, I dodge that issue.

Notably, decades of Leftist propaganda have all but ensured that anything migration critical, nationalist, (real or imagined) racist, or even anti-Semitic is automatically considered “far Right” by large swaths of the population—regardless of any and all opinions in other areas and regardless of how common such sentiments are now or have historically been among Leftists. Anti-Semitism, in particular, seems to be outright more common among Leftists, as demonstrated e.g. by the many vicious and hateful anti-Israel and anti-Jew reactions following the massive terrorist attacks against Israelis in October 2023.

At least in Germany, it is even worse: The differentiation between the flawed “far Right” and a more general “Rightwing” is disappearing under the pressure of Leftist propaganda and media hegemony, leading to a situation where many ignorants hear “Rightwing” and immediately think “Nazi”, “Racist”, whatnot. (Providing yet another reason why the Left–Right scale is useless.)


I have elaborated on such issues elsewhere, in particular in a very lengthy (but still unfinished) article series on the Nazis. (TODO Import from Wordpress and link.) However, there might be a much better way to go about it—to give a few saner scales and see who ends up where.

Looking at such saner scales, the Nazis indeed have much more in common with groups like Communists, Social-Democrats, and Biden-era U.S. Democrats and pseudo-Liberals than with me and groups like Libertarians, classical (!) Liberals, and Conservatives.

While I will not discuss it below, it pays to keep in mind that “evil is as evil does” and that certain systems, attitudes, whatnot can increase/decrease the scope of that evil. For instance, had the Nazis instituted small government, they would not have had the resources to launch large scale wars. For instance, had they favored uniform civil rights, they would have had no choice but to leave the Jews alone. (In both cases, even assuming that their opinions on e.g. Lebensraum and Jews had otherwise remained unchanged.)

Disclaimers

No political grouping of a non-trivial size is perfectly homogeneous in opinions, and groupings like “Communists”, let alone “Leftists”, are extremely large. Correspondingly, it must throughout be understood that claims about this or that grouping should be seen as “typical”, “common”, “average”, or similar—not as all-encompassing.

This, in particular, when we look at different countries and the Right, which is much more heterogeneous than the Left. I do not rule out that some claims could require outright modifications to accommodate, say, Argentinian politics. (Generally, my knowledge of South-American politics is thin; generally, my take on modern politics is likely to be colored by the countries that I now best—Sweden, Germany, the U.S., and the U.K.)

A common complication is the difference between preferences that are, in some sense, “nominal” and “effective”, “direct” and “indirect”, etc. Below, I will focus on the effective preference, but it can pay to bear in mind that the naive individual might hold different nominal and effective preferences without being aware of this. (A problem that seems to be particularly common on the Left.) An explicit below example is the division of the Leftist “equality of outcome” camp. A particularly common example family is those who have no interest in, or even a mild aversion to, big government—but whose wishes for this-and-that invariably leads to big government. Then we have the interesting issue of Communism, which often states a nominal long-term goal of “no government”, citing Socialism as a mere transitional phase, but where the historical record is a train wreck. (I will ignore such nominal Communist positions below.)

Another complication is the often considerable gaps in opinions, motivations, whatnot, between the voters for party X, the members of party X, the leaders of party X, the ideologues of party X, and whatever else might apply. I have not attempted to discuss this, but I encourage the reader to keep such gaps in mind where relevant.

I have not attempted to rate anything and everything that is rateable, mostly due to low modern relevance and my wish to keep this page manageable. However, it might well be that such attempts would have required further scales or modifications to current scales. Consider anarchists. (To boot, speaking just of “anarchist[s]”, without further modifiers, might make classification impossible in any reasonable scheme, in the same manner that “monarchist” and “republican”, without further modifiers, tells us too little for a reasonable classification.)

Exactly what scales to provide is a point where I might change my mind over time. The current scales form a compromise between giving a sufficiently clear picture and keeping the number of scales down. The number of other scales that could be used is endless, but there is considerable diminishing return on the illustrative value of further scales. (At the opposite extreme of the simplistic Left–Right scale, each individual issue could be given a separate scale.) However, the below should give the right idea and is more likely to see additions and minor revisions than removals.

A particular complication when choosing scales is granularity, overlap, and what might or might not be sufficiently covered by other scales. Is, e.g., a scale “own responsibility vs. nanny [and/or welfare] state” sufficiently covered by the other scales or would it merit separate treatment? (For now, with an eye at the aforementioned compromise, I leave it out.) Something like “respect vs. lack of respect for private property” is likely sufficiently covered, but it might not be clear where it is best covered, as it could be a matter of civil rights but equally e.g. of the individual vs. the collective.

Also see below for some other scales not included.

Notes on terminology and groupings

For simplicity, I will use the word “Libertarian” to include classical Liberals and those who might still use the word “Liberal” in a broadly historically justifiable sense. The word “Liberal”, as such, will be entirely or almost entirely avoided due to the contamination of meaning that has taken place over time. (The type of pseudo-Liberalism propounded by e.g. the U.S. Democrats is often outright antithetical to actual Liberalism.)

Conservatives are tricky due to the wide range of meanings over time and geography. Consider e.g. divisions between the “paleo” and “neo” camps in the modern U.S. and the more wide-spread division between Conservatism as seen in the U.S. and Britain vs. “continental” Conservatism. (Also note confusion from sloppy language, as when someone fails to make a distinction between “Conservative” and “Republican” in the U.S. Ditto e.g. “Liberal” and “Democrat”, “Progressive” and “Democrat”.) For the purposes of this text, I use a fairly wide definition, with the negative side-effect that mentions tend to be vague. However, my use will often be tilted towards the reasonably current, and I do not guarantee that claims that hold today would have held, say, a hundred years ago.


Side-note:

What of other “Rightwing” groupings than Conservatives and Libertarians?

Looking at at least the modern world and at least the countries where I have sufficient familiarity with the political landscape, these two and/or what can be considered adjacent groups cover most of the field, and attempts to discuss other groupings do not seem productive. A better take is to forget about the Left–Right scale and attempts to match such groupings onto it, and to, instead, use more nuanced scales like the below to begin with. For instance, if we find that the U.S. MAGA movement is neither Conservative nor Libertarian, does that really matter? No: What truly matters is not whether it is X, Y, or Z, but what it actually aims at on various issues. (Likewise, except for the Left’s propaganda gains from mislabeling, it matters less whether the Nazis are labeled as “Rightwing” or “Leftwing” than that they had more in common with various Leftist parties than they do with e.g. Conservatives and Libertarians.)

A particular complication is that much of what is decried as “Rightwing” or “far Right” by the Left is so (especially, in countries like Germany) based solely, and misleadingly, on narrow issues like immigration and without considering a wider set of opinions—and certainly not the types of scales that I suggest. (Also see an earlier side-note.)

Another complication is the wishy-washy idea of a political “Center”, which is plagued by issues like different views in different countries and the increasing number of parties that cowardly hide behind the label “Center” in order to avoid the Left-created stigma of the label “Rightwing” (while no such hiding was necessary in the not too distant past).


While the Nazis were Leftwing, it will often be practical to mention them separately from the rest of the Left, as the purpose of this text is a comparison of various groups, and I will often use variations of “Left” with the implication of “the non-Nazi Left” or similar. (The discussion will not be sufficiently nuanced to warrant more specific terminology. I will also only bother with divisions like “New Left” vs. “Old Left” and “Marxist Left” vs. “non-Marxist Left” when it is unusually important. Sadly, the Left almost consistently fares poorly on these scales, with a mere difference in degree between subdivisions. See an excursion on the 20th-century U.S. Democrats, however.)

I have vacillated over whether to speak of “scale”, “spectrum”, or something else. For the time being, I prefer “scale”, even though “spectrum” is arguably the better word. The reason is simply that “spectrum” rings oddly in my ears after a recent text on the Spectrum Fallacy. (That text also indirectly contains some pointers as to why simplistic scales/spectra/whatnot can do more harm than good even outside politics.)

Suggested scales

(Usually indicated by two opposing preferences, with the understanding that the strength of preference is variable over a wide range of values, not limited to two poles.)

Small vs. big government

The Left is almost invariably in favor of big government, including some (e.g. the Communists of the USSR) who take it to the point of totalitarianism. Ditto Nazis. Libertarians almost invariably oppose big government, and very many favor some version of the night-watchman state. Conservatives are more mixed, with opinions spread over a wide range and varying from time to time and place to place, but usually, at least, favor smaller government than the local and contemporary Leftist counterparts.


Side-note:

While big government does not imply a totalitarian society, or vice versa, a totalitarian society becomes harder and harder to avoid as government grows. As could be seen during the COVID-countermeasure era, the dividing line between even a nominally free and democratic society and a totalitarian one is not very strong with the size of government and the societal dominance of government common in the modern Western world.

Conversely, very big government is hard to avoid in a totalitarian society.

Similar remarks apply to the degree of government control/influence more generally. I almost included a scale for this, but saw the additional value as too limited.


A complication among non-Leftist groupings, however, is the mixture of incompetence and power hunger that seems to plague politics. To make matters worse, there are different manifestations of power hunger, e.g. (a) a wish for more governmental power to increase one’s own power as an elected official, (b) increase of government in order to secure votes and, thereby, reelection and continued power, (c) currying favor with lobbyists or the “industry” for personal gain. The result is often that things move for the worse even under non-Leftist governments—just more slowly. (Similar complications can apply elsewhere without explicit mention.)

Individual vs. collective

This in at least two variations:

Firstly, the individual vs. an overall collective, the state, or similar. Is the individual considered valuable in his own right or is he a mere drone in the Borg collective, a mere worker in an anthill, whatnot? (In the case of the state/government/whatnot: Does the state exist to serve the individual or the individual to serve the state?) Here, it is clear that the Left and the Nazis strongly prioritize the collective over the individual, while Libertarians are the other way around. Conservatives are, again, mixed, but they are less so than on some other scales. Moreover, the Conservative instances are often more a matter of mindset than politics, as with being civic/community minded. The Conservative might then be engaged in the local community, while the Leftist calls for tax increases in the name of some abstract “greater good”.


Side-note:

A source of potential confusion is the great emphasis given to a more limited set of individuals in e.g. Nazi-Germany and the USSR, notably very high-ranking party members and, of course, the likes of Hitler and Stalin, with their cult-like followings. This, however, does not change the situation for the man on the street and is more a symptom of a self-serving attitude by those high-ranking than of the underlying ideology. Also note “Animal Farm”.


Secondly, the individual vs. a smaller grouping, e.g. the class, race, sex, whatnot that applies. Note e.g. the Marxist obsession with class and how a worker who is not sufficiently compliant with the prescribed ideology can be deemed a class traitor, the equal obsession of the “New Left” with “identity politics” and “intersectionality”, and the Nazi take on the German people vs. Jews, Slavs, etc. Am I allowed to be the individual that I am, with my own interests and priorities, my own political preferences, my own this-and-that, or should all what I am be dictated by and/or dedicated to my class/race/whatnot? Both Libertarians and Conservatives differ radically from Leftists and Nazis.


Side-note:

Note the difference between the above and more voluntary arrangements, e.g. that a member of a team voluntarily puts the good of the team above his own. For that matter, if someone makes a voluntary decision to e.g. prioritize his country above himself, this is at most partially relevant to the above. The situation is very different if he tries to force others to do same or, worse, if the government gives them no choice. (Generally, a common difference in attitude between the Leftists and the non-Leftists is that when they have the same opinion about e.g. what should be done, the latter do so for themselves and let others make their own decisions, while the former all too often try to force everyone else to do the same—usually, by applying governmental power; often, in the form of taking their money so that the government can spend it in the “right” manner.)

Partial special cases, however, can occur in some areas. Consider families in combination with an external pressure to “put the family first”, “be a family man”, or similar—something comparatively common in Conservative circles (and not necessarily rare elsewhere). However, not only is “put the family first” something that most seem to do anyway, but the connection to one’s family is much closer and more natural than to the government or one’s class/race/sex/whatnot. This to the point that the family sphere has more in common with the individual sphere than with e.g. the national sphere.

As an aside, with an eye at Feminist readers, I picked “be a family man” because it is a common phrase. The lack of a female counterpart is irrelevant to the bigger point. In particular, something like “be a housewife” is not a counterpart, as it is not a given that this is what would be best for the family. (Nor, contrary to Feminist propaganda, is a housewife necessarily making a sacrifice for her family—many of them, perish the thought, actually prefer to spend time with their children instead of incompetent coworkers and obnoxious bosses, prefer housework over office work, etc.)


Equality of opportunity vs. equality of outcome vs. inequality


Side-note:

Here I am forced to deviate a bit from the normal “X vs. Y” scheme: Looking at modern Western societies and the non-Left vs. the (comparatively speaking) moderate Left, an “equality of opportunity vs. equality of outcome” scale works well. (This was my original approach, which made the discussion of Nazis, etc., unnecessarily wordy and complicated.) Casting a wider net, this works poorly, as many other societies and many non-moderate parts of the Left clearly prioritize[d] inequality. For brevity, with some oversimplification, I will speak of three camps, namely, “opportunity”, “outcome”, “inequality”, with the understanding that real positions are now somewhere in an implied two-dimensional figure, e.g. a triangle, where the three camps play a similar role to the “X” and “Y” on the implied one-dimensional figure/line used elsewhere. (Of course, even such a triangle and these three camps only give an over-simplification.)

I stress strongly that I do not consider equality of outcome to be equality at all. In fact, as it ruins true equality, equality of opportunity, it is antithetical to equality. This excepting only very strongly and systematically unequal societies where, e.g., nobles and peasants have radically different opportunities and, hence, outcomes—here, striving for equality of outcome over inequality might be the lesser evil. Even with these exceptions, however, equality of outcome is a third-rate substitute for equality of opportunity and would, on the outside, be acceptable as something temporary.

(The phrase “equality of outcome” is used by convention only.)


Here there is a very sharp divide between typical Libertarian/Conservative (“opportunity”) and moderate Leftist (“outcome”) groupings. However, the “moderate Left” largely falls into two sub-camps, namely those who explicitly favor “outcome” and those who (a) nominally favor “opportunity”, but (b) effectively favor “outcome”. The latter through a naive belief (or claimed belief) in outdated and severely flawed “nurture only” thinking—where there is a difference in outcome, there must be a difference in opportunity; ergo, we only have equality of opportunity when all significant differences in outcome have been eradicated.

For Conservatives, a historical reservation is needed: Society, in general, often had an “inequality” attitude in the past. While this societal attitude tended to influence all groups, the Conservatives of yore were likely unusually susceptible. Consider e.g. a Tory–Whig comparison in 19th-century England.

The Nazis were clearly in the “inequality” camp, e.g. through giving Jews a systematically and considerably worse set of both opportunities and outcomes. (To what degree they might have favored “opportunity” or “outcome” within more specific groups, notably German men, I am currently uncertain.)

The same applies to many strongly Leftist regimes, where factors like being upper class, being rich, or, even, being educated could prove severe handicaps—at extremes, deadly handicaps. Another interesting parallel with the Nazis is that compliance, support of the regime, and similar, were often more important than actual ability and accomplishment.

Ditto large parts of the “New Left”, in that being the right/wrong race, sex, sexual orientation, whatnot can give considerable plus/minus points in life—and that compliance, etc., is more important than ability and accomplishment.


Side-note:

Sadly, it is not uncommon for compliance, etc., to be valued more highly than ability and accomplishment even in more moderate settings and even outside politics. However, the aforementioned cases often involve a virtually religious take, where the voice of the party speaks with ex-cathedra authority and dissent can have very grave consequences, be it a vicious firing (e.g. in today’s U.S.) or a vicious firing squad (e.g. in the USSR)—similar to how some heretics in medieval Europe could find themselves on top of a vicious fire.


Strong vs. weak civil rights

Again, we see a very similar pattern of Libertarians for strong civil rights, Nazis and at least far Left movements against, with Conservatives spread-out-but-usually-better-than-the-Left.

Compared with the previous scales, there are at least two complications:

Firstly, at least the nominal positions of the (non-far) Left are much more positive than usual.

Secondly, there is often a great discrepancy between the nominal and actual positions of various Leftist groups, e.g. in that free speech is awarded on a “as long as you do not say the wrong thing” basis, or in that Leftist actions are incompatible with Leftist words.


Side-note:

In light of the misleadingly named “civil-rights era” of the U.S., a part of the problem with the Left could be a failure to understand that civil rights are mostly a matter of protecting the citizens from the government, e.g. to ensure a sufficient degree of freedom of speech and due process, and not, beyond topics like the protection of life/limb/property and the enforcement of contractual obligations, of e.g. ensuring that citizens are “nice” to each other. Laws to, say, prevent (non-governmental) racial discrimination might be beneficial and increase fairness, but they are, at best, secondary in terms of civil rights. (Indeed, they often pose an ethical dilemma, even in the big picture, in that they potentially limit the right of self-determination of the one in favor of the other, while laws in the “thou shalt not kill” and “pacta sunt servanda” families are unlikely to cause ethical debate before we enter the details, e.g. when self-defense does or does not justify a killing. Likewise, a ban on governmental racial discrimination is much more clear cut.)

Another potential explanation is a misprioritization of rights or, even, an invention of whatever “rights” are wanted. For instance, in current U.S. colleges there seems to be a common supposition that a “right” not to hear certain words, even when well established and in common use, would trump the right of free speech—which is a complete insanity. Ditto the “right” to force others to use words with new meanings that deviate from the established.


Free vs. unfree markets

The Left has occasionally been forced to give markets some freedom, be it to save the economy, to stay with the current voter trends, or in light of overwhelming empirical evidence. Even here, as with e.g. the post-Mao China, the freedom has been very far from what a Libertarian would consider reasonable. Barring such unwilling semi-tolerance of free markets, the Left has a very “anti” attitude, ranging from the wish to regulate the economy strongly to outright plan/command economies or abolishment of private enterprises. Even the alleged “third way” of the Swedish Social-Democrats went into insanities.

Contrary to popular Leftist myths of Nazism as a thin cover for raw Capitalism, the Nazis favored a strongly regulated economy, as seen e.g. by the governmental imposition of planning goals or the attempts to unify entire industry branches into single gigantic corporations (e.g. IG Farben). Also see earlier discussions (TODO import Wordpress texts and link).

Again, Libertarians are “pro” and Conservatives spread-out-but-usually-better-than-the-Left. If certain types of market restrictions are left out of consideration, the Conservatives move further into the clear. Consider trade tariffs, which are viewed positively by many who might prefer free markets in other areas. Here we can also see a difference in motivation, e.g. in that a Leftist might take the (highly naive) view that the government knows best, that regulation is needed to ensure ideologically wanted outcomes, or similar, while someone pro-tariff might wish to even the international playing field or protect local industry. The latter, too, is usually misguided, but in a less drastic manner and often through a wish to combat problems caused by already existing market disturbances that have artificially made local industry uncompetitive. (Note the difference between such a stance and full-blown Mercantilism, which was something massively negative.)


Side-note:

A particular evil is that governments often regulate or otherwise interfere with markets where it is not warranted—but often fail to do so where it would be warranted. For instance, efforts to ensure “truth in advertising” and that businesses fulfill their contractual obligations towards customers are scarce, while licensing schemes for even low-level work are popular. (At an extreme, I have heard of licensing schemes for e.g. “nail technicians” and other “beauty professions”. Of course, spurious licensing schemes are just one of many, many ways that governments interfere with markets.)


Excursion on scales not suggested

There are a great number of other conceivable scales and areas where a scale could be applied that I do not suggest. Besides the aforementioned issue of overlap, consider some representative examples and reasons:


Side-note:

I will be more informal in describing scales for parts of the below. For instance, a “Pro-/Contra-environment” formulation would have been preposterous. For instance, the field of religion is so wide that attempting to push a single scale would have been obviously insufficient.

Unlike the above, the order of alternatives, pro-/contra-, whatnot, does not necessarily follow the good-followed-by-bad pattern.

While I will often comment on where various groups would land on these scales, I will not do so consistently in the manner of the above, as the purpose here is mostly to explain why the respective scale has not been included.


  1. Use vs. rejection of evil methods and a “the end justifies the means” attitude:

    Use of such methods and the display of such an attitude is a very common issue with the Left. Indeed, they are among my strongest and most common complaints about the Left (cf. any number of older texts). However, only rarely are questions like methods suitable to define a political grouping and they are usually best viewed as something on another dimension entirely. (But, yes, these methods and this attitude match the Nazis very well.)

    In contrast, use of evil methods can be legitimately used to condemn some group as evil. Communism in the USSR, e.g., was a very great evil because it used very evil methods on a very large scale—including expropriation, violence, imprisonment of political dissenters, and mass killings. Being Communist, as such, only made it Communist, while e.g. implementing naive-enough-to-be-harmful policies only made it harmful—expropriation [etc.] made it evil. (Admittedly, I have on occasion been sloppy and used “evil” even in cases of e.g. harmful-through-incompetence).

    This notwithstanding the risk that some types of ideologies seem to go hand in hand with evil methods and/or attract followers of a certain mentality and/or flower when applying a certain mentality, whatnot.

    The attitude to evil methods could be viewed as an example of an otherwise important meta-division that makes a poor fit for the format and/or is too abstract to be helpful in the context of “replace the Left–Right scale”. Other examples include whether someone is more rational or more emotional, whether someone thinks for himself or relies on authority, and whether someone is more “teach a man to fish” or more “give a man a fish”. (The former alternatives tend to be relatively more common with the Right and the latter with the Left, however.)

  2. Humanitarianism vs. egoism:

    Looking at large parts of the Left, such a scale might catch much of the Leftist perception of (and/or misleading propaganda about) it self and others—“Only we of the noble Left care about the poor! The evil Rightwingers do not give a damn!”.


    Side-note:

    A similar attitude in the “Leftwing good; Rightwing bad”, “We are idealists; they are egoist”, “We are enlightened; they are ignorants”, whatnot, families can be found in many other areas.

    Similar statements apply in these cases. In particular, it has ever again been my experience that Leftists speak from a position of ignorance, be it of what their opponents actually believe or of what the facts of the matter actually are. (Cf. many older texts. A text on a massive issue with “alternate facts”/“alternate science” on the Left is in planning. TODO link when written.)


    This self-perception, however, is usually detached from reality and the implied scale both much too crude and much too likely to give a misleading impression. To get some feel for the underlying issues, we can contrast some common Leftist takes on social aid with my own (and many others on the non-Left). We now have juxtapositions like:

    • Wants to take the income of others, even if against their will, to finance help by the government vs. wants help to be given (mostly) on a voluntary and individual basis.

    • Wants to help anyone in need without conditions and restrictions vs. wants to help those who play fair and try to get back on their feet, with conditions that limit e.g. the time span of help and that give reasonable incentives. (With the caveat that some situations of need might be inherently unlimited in time. Contrast e.g. a paraplegic with someone temporarily unemployed.)

    • Wants to give a man a fish vs. wants to teach a man how to fish for himself.

    • Sees everyone in need as a victim of circumstance, society, whatnot vs. sees how many are, e.g., in long-term unemployment through their own actions (or lack thereof).

    Generally, there is often a meta-difference that the alleged egoists understand issues like incentives, human nature, market forces, and the wastefulness of typical government interventions, while the Leftists do not.

    From another perspective, the “noble” Left appears to contain more or far more egoists than than the non-Left, ranging from politicians who seek power through buying votes with the tax-payer’s money to those voters who look for handouts. Also note how often Leftism is based on “us vs. them” thinking, class/race/whatnot thinking, or similar. This while Libertarians, the maybe most common targets of “Egoist!!!” accusations, often are among those most keen on preserving the rights of others, those most set on a general right to “Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness”, etc. If in doubt, who is the greater egoist? The one who just wants to keep what he has worked for or the one who wants to be given what he has not worked for at someone else’s cost?

  3. Pro-/Contra-globalization:

    This is one of many cases where the relative takes have changed over time and where approximately matching political groupings are unusually likely to have different takes in different countries, which makes it both an unstable criterion and one unsuitable for a compare-X-with-the-Nazis purpose.

    For instance, the Swedish Left of my youth was strongly anti-globalization, based on a flawed understanding and/or misleading propaganda about globalization-as-exploitation, where evil Western countries somehow stole what should belong to the “third world”, while the non-Left was usually strongly positive, saw the benefits of free markets and world trade, etc. (In modern Leftist parlance, globalization might have been seen as an off-shot or special case of “colonialism” by the Swedish Left.) The current U.S. Left, on the other hand, seems to be strongly pro-globalization, while Trump and portions of the U.S. Republicans have a more protectionist take. (In a wider analysis, we might also see a drift in meaning and implications, e.g. that globalization is confounded with migration or that the Left sees globalization as a means to introduce “international government”, to regulate even more, whatnot.)

    As a special case, large parts of the Swedish Left, and the more so the further Left we went, were strongly opposed to the EU, while such opposition is today more often found on the non-Left. To the Left, the EU has proved to be yet another way to grow big government even bigger, to take from wealthier countries and give to poorer countries, to reduce the power of the individual relative the collective, and whatnot, while the non-Left has seen it go from a promising means of free trade and economic growth to yet another layer of government putting out misguided and destructive policies.

  4. Takes on the environment:

    These are a good example of how scales can be more or less important at different times, contexts, countries at hand, etc. Environmental issues were once of little importance, grew to be very important in my lifetime, but have since been more or less drowned out by a sub-set of “climate change”, “global warming”, whatnot. Environmental issues are also a good example of something that has no strong division between what is traditionally referred to as “Left” and “Right”. (Environmental and/or climate hysteria tends to be predominantly Leftist, but this does not apply to more reasoned opinions.)

    This even when we look at the environment as a scale or sets of scales in general. In the more specific context of a comparison with/classification of the Nazis, the environment is a dead end, due to the differences in both the environmental situation and the level of environmental awareness between, e.g., 2024 and 1934.


    Side-note:

    Interestingly, the Left often has the worse record on environmental issues, e.g. when we contrast modern China with the modern U.S. or the East Germany of old with its West German counterpart—in both cases through a Leftist regime prioritizing the environment below goals like keeping industrial production up. (My personal suspicion is that the Nazis would, had they remained in power, have had a more East German than West German attitude, but I can do no more than speculate.)

    A particular negative, if of a different kind, is the absurd aversion to nuclear power that large parts of the Left have shown since, at least, the 1970s—the cause of immensely more use of fossil fuels than would have been necessary with more nuclear power. This especially and paradoxically among alleged “greens”.


  5. Takes on migration:

    Many potential scales are too tricky to treat in an even remotely blanket manner. For instance, while I do not deny that takes on migration are very important in today’s political world, treating migration (in general or specifically one of “e-” and “im-”) in a serious manner would lead to a much longer text. Consider my own take: I am, myself, an immigrant to Germany and am positive to “free movement” in principle, but I am also highly negative to the manner in which such issues are handled by politicians and am well aware of how considerable pragmatism is required in practice. (Note, especially, that there is a world of difference between a system of merely free movement, at one’s own risk, and free movement in combination with a right to public aid or other measures that incur costs for the tax-payers already in a country.) I am also, unlike many on the Left, able to understand the difference between e.g. productive and unproductive immigrants, from which follows that immigration by the one might be welcomed even when immigration by the other is not. Likewise, I am well aware of the “brain drain” issues that might be harmful to the country of emigration. A simplistic scale of, e.g., “pro- vs. anti-[im/e]migration” would be meaningless and misleading in my case. Indeed, it would do more harm than good with anyone outside groups that demand a near-blanket policy on the issue.


    Side-note:

    To make matters worse, this is one of many complex issues that the Left stubbornly tries to reduce to a single, highly simplistic, either-or: Either you are in favor of free immigration or you are an evil xenophobe. That the alleged xenophobes actually often are highly well-informed, rational, and motivated by entirely different concerns, e.g. the sustainability of the economy, is never taken into consideration.

    Among the topics discussed on this page, “Humanitarianism vs. egoism” might be the best other example.


  6. Takes on “law and order”:

    Here most of the camps tend to be too heterogeneous for a discussion to make great sense (without going into considerably more depth than intended), and there is the major complication of opinions arising for reasons only indirectly related to politics, e.g. various takes on how and why criminals become criminals.

    However, I note a clear tendency for Conservative proponents of “law and order” to strive for the protection of the people from crime, terrorism, and whatnot, while Leftist proponents seem more interested in the protection of the government from the people. What proportion of Conservatives and Leftists are proponents, I leave unstated, especially as someone on the Left is less likely to use this particular phrase. (Libertarians, in my impression, are rarely proponents of “law and order”, beyond the night-watchman state; are vary of the risks of over-emphasizing the safety of the people at the cost of civil rights; and are very, very vary of the risks with protecting the government, which all too easily creates a “Polizeistaat” instead of a “Rechtsstaat”.)

    The Nazis were definitely strong on the latter version; but my (currently superficial) impression is that they valued the former unusually highly too. This with the reservation that protection was selective: Germans, yes; Jews, no; etc. (A potentially interesting parallel is the take of many Leftist in the U.S., where Black crime is to be treated with silk gloves or, by some extremists, is seen as fair “reparations”.)

  7. Takes on religion:

    Religion is almost irrelevant to political orientation, except on the level of correlation, and the strong polarization found in the U.S. is not present in e.g. my native Sweden or adopted Germany. (This includes the sub-issues of Evolution and abortion, both strongly related to religion in the U.S.)

    However, it is noteworthy that Communists, Nazis, large parts of the current U.S. Left, etc., are/were strongly anti-religion or, on the outside, see/saw religion as a tool to manipulate the people. As I have noted elsewhere, this is likely because such groups prey on the same types of humans that are otherwise often swept up in religions—defeating religion means less competition.

Excursion on the U.S. Democrats

In some cases, the 20th-century U.S. Democrats might be a partial exception to claims about the Left—as a party seen as Leftist but not always typical in its Leftism. (However, the same does not, or only weakly, apply to the 21st-century version.)

Giving this issue a full treatment would require far more research than time allows me, but I note that:

  1. The U.S. two-party system complicates comparisons, as the range of opinions on any given issue (within one party) tends to be much wider than in multiparty systems like the Swedish.

  2. The combination of the previous item with a then less Leftist (relative e.g. Europe) political climate might have made some portions of the Democrats “Rightwing” by the standards of e.g. the Swedish Social-Democrats or the 2024 U.S. Democrats.

  3. Actual policies implemented when in power were often decidedly Leftist and on the “Leftist side” of the suggested scales, especially under FDR and LBJ.

The conclusion is that support for, say, small government among a non-trivial minority of the 20th-century U.S. Democrats would tell us little about the Leftist take on small government.

Excursion on Fascism

I deliberately avoid a discussion of Fascism. Firstly, my understanding of Fascism is more shallow than of Nazism. Secondly, and more importantly, the words “Fascism” and “Fascist” have become so abused over time that they have lost any true meaning. This in at least two regards, namely (a) the common use to point to someone authoritarian, “police state”-y, totalitarian, whatnot, and (b) the widespread Leftist (especially, Communist) use to indicate someone of the “wrong” opinion—this to the point that e.g. Social-Democrats and Trotskyist have been condemned as “Fascist” on a large scale. In case of (a), the use ranges from a hyperbolic child complaining about a parent or teacher perceived as too strict to a blanket labeling of authoritarian regimes as “Fascist”.

(Also note the similarity between (b) and e.g. “Racist!!!” and “White supremacist!!!” in today’s U.S., which is yet another sign of a deliberate and recurring Leftist tactic of (mis-)labeling opponents for the purpose of discrediting them, instead of seriously arguing against their ideas and opinions.)

If we look at Fascism in a narrower, more ideological and historical sense, however, we again find a greater similarity with most of the Left than we do with most of the non-Left—drastically so, if we look at Libertarians.

Excursion on a single-scale replacement

As should be clear, I am unlikely to be happy with any attempt to replace the Left–Right scale with a single other scale. However, the order, in some sense, on the suggested scales is very similar. One could, then, assemble some semi-reasonable single-scale replacement by putting Libertarians at one end and Communists/Nazis at the other. Some typical groups might then be ordered: Libertarians, Conservatives, Social Democrats, Communists/Nazis.

(Or, to have the left and right of the page be closer to the old Left–Right classifications: Communists/Nazis, Social Democrats, Conservatives, Libertarians.)

The Left–Right scale, in contrast, cannot order Libertarians and Conservatives in a reasonable and non-arbitrary manner, and many would suggest the opposite order on that scale. The common misplacement of the Nazis as far Right is a further semi-incompatibility. (They belong on the far Left, but the error is so common that disputes could be endless. On the replacement scale, the placing is not open to such disputes.)


Side-note:

In the first version of this page, I spoke of the choice of “X vs. Y” description as “an open question”. The issue, while unimportant in the big picture, remained with me through the day after publication, and no truly good choices appear to exist:

For instance, to speak of “Left vs. Right” or in terms of an improved “Left–Right scale” has some justification, but might lead to confusion in the now and be outright misleading at past times. (In all fairness, a problem that the Left–Right scale has too—another reason why it is highly problematic.)

For instance, something like “freedom vs. subjugation” or, with a nod to Hayek, “freedom vs. serfdom” also has some justification, but has its own problems, especially with an eye at the individual scales. (For instance, someone in favor of freedom might still prefer big government and someone in favor of small government might still want to see the people, or considerable portions thereof, subjugated.) A particular issue is that even someone who effectively (cf. an above discussion) has a subjugation preference might nominally favor something very different—and only a small minority is likely to self-identify as “pro-subjugation”. This would make the name unworkable.

The least bad option might be “Libertarianism vs. anti-Libertarianism”, but this is simplistic and would risk an implicit redefinition in terms of Libertarianism, when the intent is an aggregation over the individual scales. It also becomes problematic with positions that could be seen as beyond Libertarianism. (Exactly what these would be is also a potential point of debate, but some anarchist positions are at least candidates.)

Throughout, we have the potential problem that a name based on the suggested individual scales might become misleading if further scales are added.


Excursion on applying the scales to society

An interesting exercise is to look at our respective current societies and see how well or poorly they fare. The result will, of course, vary from society to society, be more subjective, depend on point of view and level of insight, etc. (In particular, someone with a too limited understanding of how society works, of economic principles, of this-and-that, might significantly underestimate the problems.) Further, the result could vary with the exact choice of scales. Further still, this is a slight abuse, in that the scales are intended to capture what is wished for—not what is. Nevertheless, a discussion can be enlightening (and depressing).

In most Western countries, in 2024, the following claims apply reasonably-to-very well:

  1. Small vs. big government: The government is exceptionally large and has an almost inexorable tendency to grow larger over time.

  2. Individual vs. collective: In governmental contexts, the collective (in the first juxtaposition used above) and, especially, the government is prioritized above the individual.

    In other contexts, the situation can be very different. However, the prevalence of “intersectionality”, “identity politics”, an obsession with “diversity”, whatnot, often makes the collective (in the second juxtaposition) unduly important.

  3. Equality of opportunity vs. equality of outcome vs. inequality: Inequality is at least nominally anathema, but can be relatively common through a drive towards equality of outcome. The government prioritizes equality of outcome over equality of opportunity; and the concerns from the previous item often make equality of outcome a partial de-facto goal even in the private sector. In some areas, notably education, even when private, a “very often” might be the better choice.

  4. Strong vs. weak civil rights: While the situation is not comparable to e.g. a Communist dictatorship, civil rights are far weaker than they should be—and seem to be continually weakening. Common issues include great restrictions on life choices, enormous taxes (which, at least with the amounts at hand, are legalized theft and are often used contrary to the wishes/interests of the tax-payer), increasing restrictions on free speech, increasing surveillance and control, weak “due process”, political persecution of non-Leftists using government resources, attempts to indoctrinate the people using government resources, stifling bureaucracy, civil servants/government agencies that are protected from complaints and lack external supervision, etc.

  5. Free vs. unfree markets: While the situation, again, is not comparable to e.g. a Communist dictatorship, it is quite bad and growing worse. The problems are endless, some large, some working on a “death by a thousand cuts” basis. Particularly common issues include barriers to entry, restrictions on pricing, attempts to steer consumers and/or producers into certain directions in an undue manner, trade barriers, undue levels of regulation, minimum wages, and unduly union-friendly laws.


    Side-note:

    This applies even to countries considered highly “free market” by the naive, including the U.S.

    There is, in particular, more to being a free-market economy that not being a command/plan economy.



    Side-note:

    Note the importance of words like “undue” and “unduly”. Some degree of regulation, e.g., might be beneficial or even necessary, but it has to remain within reasonable limits, be sufficiently targeted to achieve a (legitimate!) purpose, etc. Regulations in many countries, especially those in federations with multiple levels of regulators, often fail such tests. (Exactly where to draw the limits, I leave unstated. Even when the words are not used, similar statements might apply, but to a lesser degree and/or with a lesser likelihood.)

    Specifically regulations are a very common cause of overlap, e.g. in that more regulation can make the process of starting a new business slower and more costly, which creates a barrier to entry.


Speaking in rough terms, we can expect a grade of F for “Small vs. big government” and something usually varying between B and D on the other scales. (The exact grade will vary from country to country and time to time. They need not be the same on all scales, but are likely to be correlated.)

Excursion on attitudes and meta-divisions

Above, I mention attitudes (repeatedly) and “meta-divisions” (at least once; the term is ad hoc and I do not necessarily claim it to be ideal).

After the original writing, I have increasingly come to consider these more interesting than specific political positions, as they (a) might affect behavior more strongly, (b) might often be the cause of political positions. (A separate text with a fuller treatment might or might not follow in the future, depending on how my thoughts develop. For the text at hand, they are largely off-topic and, therefore, relegated to an excursion.)

For instance, those with and without a “the end justifies the means” attitude will behave very differently from each other in many situations. For instance, those who blindly adopt the opinions of some authority might end up with very different opinions from those who think for themselves, expose themselves to different schools of thought, whatnot. Belief in authority comes with the twist that differences in the authority at hand can lead to different outcomes, in that it might be the combination of attitude and exposure to authority that determines whether someone becomes the adherent of a particular religion, a Marxist, a Nazi, or a whatnot—not necessarily some inherent preference for a particular religion or ideology.


Side-note:

A central argument against religious beliefs, and in favor of atheism, is how strongly religious beliefs can be colored by the surrounding society, if less so today than in the past. Whether someone has been strongly Christian or Muslim, e.g., has historically largely been a matter of place of birth. (In some countries, e.g. Iran, this remains true. Similar remarks hold for e.g. Communist dictatorships and ideology.) How, then, can even the most ardent faith tell us anything about what religion is the divine truth?


An interesting semi-parallel to belief in authority is how the order and amount of exposure to various (real or perceived) injustices and other problems can be important, in that a very similar basic attitude (e.g. a wish for fairness) can manifest differently based on this exposure. (But this is far less problematic, much more understandable, and often, in some sense, “nobler” than what results from a belief in authority.) For instance, someone robbed at gun point might be in favor of “law and order”, while someone who has suffered an illegitimate nighttime apartment search by the police (I have!) might be against it. (Note, however and cf. above, that these cases refer to two different types of “law and order”, which is another complication when we compare the development of political opinions.)


Side-note:

A related complication is that ignorance of the best solution to a problem, a failure to consider own responsibility, etc., can lead some to faulty conclusions based on exposure. For instance, if someone struggles to feed his family, a wish for e.g. redistributions and handouts is understandable. However, chances are that a more growth-oriented policy (with lower taxes, less money printing, whatnot) would be better for him—and for everyone else, too. If there are severe systematic societal problems contributing to his situation, as in many poorer countries, they are more likely to be in areas like governmental corruption than e.g. “exploitation by evil foreign Capitalist dogs”. (Good solution: Attack corruption. Bad solution: Throw out all foreigner investors.) If he has long-term problems in a modern Western country, chances are that his own choices contribute more than the politicians’ choices. (Good solution: Shape up and do things better. Bad solution: Increase handouts.) Etc.


Many other examples of attitude differences exist. A potentially particularly important one is how we relate to the success of others. I have repeatedly heard variations of the following claim used to contrast someone’s Left-dominated home country (e.g. Sweden) with the U.S. of the past (not necessarily of today):

In the U.S., if someone sees someone with a better car, he says to himself “There is no reasons that the other guy should have a better car than I do. I will bite down, I will work hard, and then I, too, will be able to buy a car like that!”.

In [the home country at hand], if someone sees someone with a better car, he says to himself “There is no reasons that the other guy should have a better car than I do. I will pull up my keys and scratch it—and that serves the bastard right!”.

Such a categorical contrast is unlikely to have ever held true, but it is interesting in terms of the likely political choices of the respective attitude holder: The hard worker is more likely to vote for a party oriented at e.g. growth, individualism, and equality of opportunity; the scratcher, at e.g. redistribution, anti-individualism, and equality of outcome.