Right-wing politics

ISBN (identifier) Nationalism Enlarge

Right-wing politics represents the view that certain social orders and hierarchies are inevitable, natural, normal, or desirable,[1][2][3] typically supporting this position on the basis of natural law, economics, or tradition.[4]:693, 721[5][6][7][8][9] Hierarchy and inequality may be seen as natural results of traditional social differences[10][11] or the competition in market economies.[12][13][14] The term right-wing can generally refer to "the conservative or reactionary section of a political party or system".[15]

The political terms Left and Right were first used during the 18th century French Revolution to reference the seating arrangement of the Parliament: those who sat to the right of the chair of the presiding officer (le président) were broadly supportive of the institutions of the monarchist Old Regime.[16][17][18][19] The original Right in France was formed as a reaction against the "Left" and comprised those supporting hierarchy, tradition, and clericalism.[4]:693 The expression la droite ("the right") increased in use after the restoration of the monarchy in 1815, when it was applied to the Ultra-royalists.[20]

From the 1830s to the 1880s, the Western world's social class structure and economy shifted from nobility and aristocracy towards capitalism.[21] This general economic shift towards capitalism affected centre-right movements such as the British Conservative Party, which responded by becoming supportive of capitalism.[22]

The people of English-speaking countries did not apply the terms right and left to their own politics until the 20th century.[23] The term right-wing was originally applied to traditional conservatives, monarchists, and reactionaries; an extension, extreme right-wing, denotes fascism, Nazism, and racial supremacy.[24] In Europe, economic conservatives are usually considered liberal, and the Right includes nationalists, nativist opponents of immigration, religious conservatives, and, historically, a significant number of right-wing movements with anti-capitalist sentiments, including conservatives and fascists, who opposed contemporary capitalism because they believed that selfishness and excessive materialism were inherent in it.[25][26] In the United States, the Right includes both economic and social conservatives.[27]


According to The Cambridge History of Twentieth-Century Political Thought, the Right has gone through five distinct historical stages:[28]

  1. The reactionary right sought a return to aristocracy and established religion.
  2. The moderate right distrusted intellectuals and sought limited government.
  3. The radical right favored a romantic and aggressive form of nationalism,
  4. The extreme right proposed anti-immigration policies and implicit racism.
  5. The neo-liberal right sought to combine a market economy and economic deregulation with the traditional right-wing beliefs in patriotism, elitism and law and order.[9][page needed]

Rightist regimes were common in Europe in the Interwar period, 1919-1938.[citation needed]


5 May 1789, opening of the Estates-General in Versailles in 1789, as the conservatives sat on the right

The political term right-wing was first used during the French Revolution, when liberal deputies of the Third Estate generally sat to the left of the presiding officer's chair, a custom that 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 Old Regime 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 (often secularists) and supporters of the monarchy (often Catholics).[19] 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.[citation needed]


In Hungary after the collapse of a short-lived Communist regime, according to historian István Deák:

Between 1919 and 1944 Hungary was a rightist country. Forged out of a counter-revolutionary heritage, its governments advocated a “nationalist Christian” policy; they extolled heroism, faith, and unity; they despised the French Revolution, and they spurned the liberal and socialist ideologies of the 19th century. The governments saw Hungary as a bulwark against bolshevism and bolshevism’s instruments: socialism, cosmopolitanism, and Freemasonry. They perpetrated the rule of a small clique of aristocrats, civil servants, and army officers, and surrounded with adulation the head of the state, the counterrevolutionary Admiral Horthy.[29]

United Kingdom

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.[30]

United States

The United States Department of Homeland Security defines right-wing extremism in the United States as "broadly divided into those groups, movements, and adherents that are primarily hate-oriented (based on hatred of particular religious, racial or ethnic groups), and those that are mainly anti-government, rejecting federal authority in favor of state or local authority, or rejecting government authority entirely. It may include groups and individuals that are dedicated to a single issue, such as opposition to abortion or immigration." [31]


The meaning of right-wing "varies across societies, historical epochs, and political systems and ideologies."[32] 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, and nationalists; as well as fascists on the far-right.[33]

British academic Roger Eatwell and Neal O'Sullivan[who?] divide the right into five types: reactionary, moderate, radical, extreme and new.[34] Journalist Chip Berlet wrote that each of these "styles of thought" are "responses to the left", including liberalism and socialism, which have arisen since the 1789 French Revolution.[35]

  1. The reactionary right looks toward the past and is "aristocratic, religious and authoritarian".[35]
  2. 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. The moderate right often promotes nationalism and social welfare policies.[36]
  3. 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."[37] The radical right includes right-wing populism and various other subtypes.[35]
  4. The extreme right has four traits: "1) anti-democracy; 2) nationalism; 3) racism; and 4) the strong state."[38]
  5. The New Right consists of the liberal conservatives, who stress small government, free markets, and individual initiative.[39]

Other authors make a distinction between the centre-right and the far-right.[40]

General positions


First edition of Manifest der Kommunistischen Partei, or Manifesto of the Communist Party, printed in England, 1848

The original use of "right-wing" in reference to communism had the conservatives on the right, the liberals in the centre and the communists on the left. Both the conservatives and the liberals were strongly anti-communist. The history of the use of the term right-wing in reference to anti-communism is a complicated one.[51]

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 [that] 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, in most European monarchies the divine right of kings had become discredited and was replaced by liberal and nationalist movements. Most European monarchs became figureheads or they accepted a lesser degree of powers while elected governments held the day-to-day 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 1917–1923. Many of these, such as the German Revolution, were defeated by nationalist and monarchist military units. During this period, nationalism began to be considered right-wing, especially when it opposed the internationalism of the communists.

The 1920s and 1930s saw the decline 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, 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, religious values 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, the Enlightenment, individualism and industrialism and fought to retain traditional social hierarchies and institutions.[16][52] In Europe's history, there have been strong collectivist right-wing movements, such as in the social Catholic right that has exhibited hostility to all forms of liberalism (including economic liberalism) and has historically advocated for paternalist class harmony involving an organic-hierarchical society where workers are protected while hierarchy of classes remain.[53]

A Carlist flag

In the nineteenth century, the Right had shifted to support the newly rich in some European countries (particularly England) and instead of favouring the nobility over industrialists, favoured capitalists over the working class. Other right-wing movements, such as Carlism in Spain and nationalist movements in France, Germany and Russia, remained hostile to capitalism and industrialism. Nevertheless, a few right-wing movements — notably the French Nouvelle Droite, CasaPound and American paleoconservatism — are often in opposition to capitalist ethics and the effects they have on society. These forces see capitalism and industrialism as infringing upon or causing the decay of social traditions or hierarchies which are essential for social order.[54]

In modern times, "right-wing" is sometimes used to describe laissez-faire capitalism. In Europe, capitalists formed alliances with the Right during their conflicts with workers after 1848. In France, the Right's support of capitalism can be traced to the late-nineteenth century.[19] The so-called neoliberal Right, popularised by US President Ronald Reagan and UK Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, combines support for free markets, privatisation and deregulation with traditional right-wing support for social conformity.[8] Right-wing libertarianism (sometimes known as libertarian conservatism or conservative libertarianism) supports a decentralised economy based on economic freedom and holds property rights, free markets and free trade to be the most important kinds of freedom. Political theorist Russell Kirk believed that freedom and property rights were interlinked.[55]

Conservative authoritarians and those on the far-right have supported fascism and corporatism,[54] a political ideology which advocates the organization of society by corporate groups, such as agricultural, labour, military, scientific, or guild associations on the basis of their common interests.[56][57]


On January 5, 1895, Captain Alfred Dreyfus was cashiered.

In France, nationalism was originally a left-wing and Republican ideology.[58] After the period of boulangisme and the Dreyfus Affair, nationalism became a trait of the right-wing.[59] Right-wing nationalists sought to define and defend a "true" national identity from elements which they believed were corrupting that identity.[19] Some were supremacists, who in accordance with scientific racism and social Darwinism applied the concept of "survival of the fittest" to nations and races.[60] Right-wing nationalism was influenced by Romantic nationalism, in which the state derives its political legitimacy from the organic unity of those it governs. This generally includes the language, race, culture, religion and customs of the nation, all of which were "born" within its culture. Linked with right-wing nationalism is 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.[61][page needed]

Natural law and traditionalism

T.S. Elliot, 1923

Right-wing politics typically justifies a hierarchical society on the basis of natural law or tradition.[5][6][7][8][9][page needed][62]

Traditionalism was advocated by a group of United States university professors (labeled the "New Conservatives" by the popular press) who rejected the concepts of individualism, liberalism, modernity and social progress, seeking instead to promote what they identified as cultural and educational renewal[63] 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).


Tea Party protesters walk towards the United States Capitol during the Taxpayer March on Washington, 12 September 2009.

Right-wing populism is a combination of civic- and ethno-nationalism with anti-elitism, using populist rhetoric to provide a radical critique of existing political institutions.[64] 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".[48][page needed]

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.[65][page needed] In the United States, the Tea Party movement states that the core beliefs for membership are the primacy of individual liberties as defined in the Constitution of the United States, small federal government and respect for the rule of law. Some policy positions include an opposition to illegal immigration, a strong national military force, the right to individual gun ownership, cutting taxes, reducing government spending and balancing the budget.[66]


Maharajadhiraja Prithvi Narayan Shah (1723-1775), King of Nepal, propagated the ideals of Hindu text Dharmashastra as ruling ideology

Government support for an established religion was associated with the original French Right.[52] Philosopher and diplomat Joseph de Maistre argued for the indirect authority of the Pope over temporal matters. According to Maistre, only governments which were founded upon Christian constitutions — which were implicit in the customs and institutions of all European societies, 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 and some churchmen are given seats in the House of Lords, but they are considered politically neutral rather than specifically right or left-wing.

American right-wing media frequently urge the government to enact laws which support their religious tenets.[52] They also oppose sex outside marriage and same-sex marriage, and they sometimes reject scientific positions on evolution and other matters where science tends to disagree with the Bible.[67][68]

Outside the West, some other religiously and ethnically based political groups are considered right-wing.[citation needed] The Hindu nationalist movement has attracted privileged groups which fear encroachment on their dominant positions as well as "plebeian" and impoverished groups which seek recognition around a majoritarian rhetoric of cultural pride, order, and national strength.[69]

In Israel, Meir Kahane advocated that Israel should be a theocratic state, where non-Jews have no voting rights[70] and the far-right Lehava which strictly opposes Jewish assimilation and the Christian presence in Israel.[71] The Jewish Defence League (JDL) in the United States was classified as "a right wing terrorist group" by the FBI in 2001.[72]

Many Islamist groups have been called "right-wing" including the Great Union Party[73] and the Combatant Clergy Association/Association of Militant Clergy[74][75] and the Islamic Society of Engineers of Iran.[76][77]

The term family values has been used 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. Supporters of "family values" may oppose abortion, euthanasia, and teenage pregnancy.[78][79]

Social stratification

Russell Kirk, 1963

Right-wing politics involves in varying degrees the rejection of some egalitarian objectives of left-wing politics, claiming either that social or economic inequality is natural and inevitable or that it is beneficial to society.[62] 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.[19] 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".[80] American conservative Russell Kirk also rejected egalitarianism as imposing sameness, stating: "Men are created different; and a government that ignores this law becomes an unjust government for it sacrifices nobility to mediocrity".[80] Kirk took as one of the "canons" of conservatism the principle that "civilized society requires orders and classes".[55]

Right libertarians reject collective or state-imposed equality as undermining reward for personal merit, initiative and enterprise.[80] In their view, it is unjust, limits personal freedom and leads to social uniformity and mediocrity.[80] In the view of philosopher Jason Stanley in How Fascism Works, the "politics of hierarchy" is one of the hallmarks of fascism, which refers to a "glorious past" in which members of the rightfully dominant group sat atop the hierarchy, and attempt to recreate this state of being.[81]

See also


  1. ^ Johnson, Paul (2005). "Right-wing, rightist". A Politics Glossary. Auburn University website. Archived from the original on 19 August 2014. Retrieved 23 October 2014.
  2. ^ Bobbio, Norberto; Cameron, Allan (1996). Left and Right: The Significance of a Political Distinction. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. pp. 51, 62. ISBN 978-0-226-06246-4.
  3. ^ Goldthorpe, J.E. (1985). An Introduction to Sociology (Third ed.). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. p. 156. ISBN 978-0-521-24545-6.
  4. ^ a b Carlisle, Rodney P. (2005). Encyclopedia of Politics: The Left and the Right. Thousand Oaks [u.a.]: SAGE Publishing. ISBN 978-1-4129-0409-4.
  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 c Clark, William Roberts (2003). Capitalism, Not Globalism: Capital Mobility, Central Bank Independence, and the Political Control of the Economy ([Online-Ausg.]. ed.). Ann Arbor [u.a.]: University of Michigan Press. ISBN 978-0-472-11293-7.[page needed]
  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. ^ Gidron, N; Ziblatt, D. (2019). "Center-right political parties in advanced democracies 2019" (PDF). Annual Review of Political Science. 22: 23. doi:10.1146/annurev-polisci-090717-092750. Defining the right by its adherence to the status quo is closely associated with a definition of the right as a defense of inequality (Bobbio 1996, Jost 2009, Luna & Kaltwasser 2014). As noted by Jost (2009), within the context of Western political development, opposition to change is often synonymous with support for inequality. Notwithstanding its prominence in the literature, we are hesitant to adopt this definition of the right since it requires the researcher to interpret ideological claims according to an abstract understanding of equality. For instance, Noel & Therien (2008) argue that right-wing opposition to affirmative action speaks in the name of equality and rejects positive discrimination based on demographic factors. From this perspective, the right is not inegalitarian but is “differently egalitarian” (Noel & Therien 2008, p. 18).
  12. ^ 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, Macmillan, 1996
  13. ^ Goldthorpe, J.E. (1985). An Introduction to Sociology (3rd ed.). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. p. 156. ISBN 978-0-521-24545-6. 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.
  14. ^ Gidron, N; Ziblatt, D. (2019). "Center-right political parties in advanced democracies 2019" (PDF). Annual Review of Political Science. 22: 24. doi:10.1146/annurev-polisci-090717-092750. ...since different currents within the right are drawn to different visions of societal structures. For example, market liberals see social relations as stratified by natural economic inequalities.
  15. ^ "right wing – definition of right wing in English | Oxford Dictionaries". En.oxforddictionaries.com. 20 April 2014. Retrieved 15 November 2016.
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