International parties don't necessarily fit into a comfortable left/right spectrum
by Clifford F. Thies
Some people are stuck, like cartoon characters, in the two-dimensional world of left-right, Red-Blue politics. For them, it's liberals versus conservatives, with moderates somewhere in the middle. For some purposes, this is a useful dichotomy. But, it's mostly a facade. Behind the scenes, a lot is going on.
At any given time there usually is a meaningful two-dimensional political spectrum; well, at least within the U.S. two-party system. Diverse positions on economic policy, social policy and foreign policy seem to align with each other, as though something fundamental is involved.
Consider the issue of homosexuality. Should the government restrict it or promote it? Isn't it natural for the political party that says government should restrict homosexuality to also be the party that favors free-market economic policies? And, isn't it natural for the political party that says government should promote homosexuality to also be the party that favors socialistic economic policies?
Actually, looking at the broad course of U.S. history, there is no correlation between traditional morality and free-market economics. And, on a global basis, we find market-liberal parties, such as the Free Democrats of Germany, that combine secularism and tolerance with free-market oriented economic policies. For that matter, what about the "live and let live" philosophy, the idea that government should be neutral, instead of either restricting or promoting, or taxing or subsidizing what people think, say or do when in private?
In voting systems that feature proportional representation with a low threshold, the political spectrum often involves multiple parties; for example, Israel, which has a threshold of only 2 percent. In the recently concluded Israeli general election, there was the center-right Likud-Yisrael Beiteinu Party (31 seats), the more secular Yesh Atid Party of Yair Lapid (19 seats), and the more religious Jewish Home Party of Neftali Bennett (12 seats).
Anarcho-left to Anarcho-right
Also in the right-of-center, there are two ultra-orthodox parties (Shas, sephardic tradition; and, United Torah Judaism, ashkenazi tradition), with 12 and 7 seats.
In the center, there are Tzipi Livni's Hatnuah (6 seats) and what remains of the once significant Kadima Party (2 seats).
In the left-of-center, there is Labor (15 seats), considered to be center-left (but sounding more Trotskyite than center-left nowadays), and Meretz (6 seats), a green-socialist party.
Finally, there are three Arab parties (Ballad, 3 seats, social-liberal; Hadash, socialist, 4 seats; and, United Arab List, Arab nationalist and Islamic, 4 seats), with a total of 11 seats.
As you can see, there is almost a complete matrix of positions along both an economic axis (from socialist to free-market) and a social policy axis (from secular to tolerant to religious to sectarian).
Furthermore, the alliances among and boundaries between these parties are constantly in flux, part of and endogenous to the political process. And, what is sometimes the funniest thing about the political spectrum, is that sometimes your fiercest enemy isn't the opposite political party, but the nearest political party. (Possibly because these parties have to exaggerate the differences between them.)
To illustrate all the possibilities in a U.S.-style "two-party" system, I have developed an expanded political spectrum. This expanded political system includes the possibilities of fringe parties of both the left and right, as well as centrist third-parties and independent candidacies.
There are "far-left" and "far-right" parties. These parties tend to advocate more for their members (either based on class or on nationality) at the expense of others. They tend to be pessimistic about the future, thinking the world is running out of resources, that the population is exploding, that there is a decline of values, and that immigrants and/or minorities are taking over.
There are also "anarcho-left" and "anarcho-right" parties. An example of the first is the Pirate Party of Europe, and an example of the second is the U.S. Libertarian Party. These parties tend to be suspicious of hierarchies, e.g., corporations in the case of the Pirate Party, and governments in the case of the Libertarian Party. They tend to be optimistic about the future at least when individuals and/or their associations are allowed to be free.
Some people theorize that, at the extremes, the far-left and far-right, and also the anarcho-left and anarcho-right positions blend into each other, so that the political spectrum wraps around upon itself.
Just as there are potentially two different kinds of parties at each of the edges of the political spectrum, there are potentially two different kinds of parties of the center. One type I'll call populist and the other moderate. The populist tends to mix racial or nationalistic views into a basically non-ideological platform. The moderate position tends to mix "good government," reformist views into a basically non-ideological platform. An example of a moderate Presidential candidate is John Anderson of Illinois, in 1980. And, an example of a populist Presidential candidate is George Wallace of Alabama, in 1968.
While third-party and independent candidates continually "pop up" in the U.S., the challenges involved in keeping a party organized when it gains little or no political power and the ability of the major parties to realign their positions make it very difficult for third parties and independents to survive. Indeed, the way that third parties are successful, when they are successful, is when they become co-opted by one or both of the major parties.