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Explainer: The Political Right and Left

July 23, 2018

The terms "political right" and "political left" get thrown around a lot. You've probably heard of the extreme version of left-wing thinking, communism, and the dangerous extreme of right-wing thinking, fascism. But what exactly does right and left mean? Here's a quick explainer. 

In general, the left is associated with pushing for change, while the right prefers the status quo and resists change. 

In this way, the political left is often called more "progressive", often supporting policies of change, like:

  • Same sex marriage 

  • Right to abortion 

  • Prioritising the environment 


On the other hand, the political right, depending on how extreme, can oppose these policies. 


That being said, an important distinction between the right and left is the relationship between individual liberty and government power. 

As shown above, broadly speaking, the left supports more government power in society, while the right strives for as much individual liberty as possible. 


These differences can be split into small government (right) and big government (left). This has a large impact how the left and right view policies on the economy. 


Small government

Right wing ideology believes that a completely equal society (where everyone has the same income and resources) is an unlikely outcome, and that some level of inequality is inevitable. Preserving individual liberty (the freedom of people to do what they want) is the main goal of right wing governments. Small government means very little intervention in individuals' life in general, but particular in the economy. That means:

  • Less rules and regulations for businesses, to promote innovation and growth 

  • Less tax for businesses and individuals 

  • Striving for a "free market", in which the government doesn't intervene, and just lets businesses and customers do their thing.


Big government

Left wing ideology believes that a completely equal society should be the ultimate goal of government. To achieve this perfect situation of equality, left wing governments are happy to limit some individual rights for the benefit of equalising the community. Big government means a lot of intervention in people's lives, particularly with the economy and taxes, meaning:​

  • More rules and regulations for businesses

  • More tax for businesses and individuals - this tax money is then handed out to lower-income people

  • Striving for an equal society, where the government intervenes a lot to make sure that everything is almost the same for everyone.



And that's the basics of the political right and left! However, at this point, there is a last important point: 

That's because there are loads more categories that determine someone's political standing, such as "authoritarian" and "libertarian." It's important not to immediately define yourself, or others, as immediately "right" or "left", because the lines get murky when it comes to actual government policy. 


But now you know the basics of the political right and left! This was Explainer: The Political Right and Left. 









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