Why do we have Left-wing and Right-wing as the only two political choices? - S2 Bonus Winner
One of the modern world’s most bitterly fought battles is the constant contestation between ‘Left–wing’ and ‘Right–wing’. Today, most of our political debates and economic discussions revolve around these broad ideologies and the ideas embodied within them. Is Capitalism evil? Why does a political party resort to minority appeasement? Are welfare schemes and ‘freebies’ prudent governance choices? Such questions regularly dominate our discourse.
Certain institutions, political parties and think tanks identify themselves with either ‘Left–wing’ or ‘Right–wing’ depending upon their leanings. In a two–party democracy like the US, we see a marked distinction where Democrats are clearly on the Left while Republicans lean towards the
Right end of the political, social and economic spectrum. Even in a multi–party democracy like India, certain parties like the BJP and Shiv Sena are roughly classified into Right–wing while the Congress, CPI and TMC are said to constitute the Left–wing of the country.
But how did Left and Right become the only means to classify our ideologies?
What is Left and Right?
The definition of what constitutes Left–wing and Right–wing has considerably evolved since the
time they were first used. In 1789, when members of France’s National Assembly convened to write a new constitution for the post–revolution order, the ‘conservatives’ who favoured to retain the powers of the King sat towards the right of the Assembly’s President, while the ‘radicals’ who
wanted a new political system sat towards the left side. Over the years, the seating arrangement of members became synonymous with their political leanings, and as French Revolution made
headlines around the world, the terms Left and Right began to be used by other political groups and institutions to identify where they stood.
Today, these terms have expanded their umbrella beyond politics, to include economics and society
under their wings. A ‘Left–wing’ is usually considered to be supportive of Minority rights, believe in a Socialist or Communist economy, and bat for a liberal society where individual rights and freedom are secured. A ‘Right–wing’, on the other hand, is considered to be a cheerleader of the rights of the Majority, believe in a Capitalistic, free–market economy, and lean towards preserving the traditional, more conservative values of a society. This matrix clearly lays out the ideologies
encapsulated by each wing:
Have you ever wondered that what binds these seemingly independent belief systems into two competing schools of thought? After all, what could Capitalism possibly have in common with conservative thinking? Why are liberals also some of the more vociferous supporters of minority
rights and welfare schemes for the poor?
The answer requires us to dig deeper. At the foundation of each ideology is the type of groups and
people whom the ideology tries to protect and promote. All the belief systems under Left–wing, for instance, protect the interests of the less–privileged — the minorities, the poor and the individual citizens. Whereas, the ideologies classified under Right–wing seek to promote the interests of the more–privileged — the majority, the rich and the collective society. Ultimately, the division between Right and Left becomes about standing up for the rights of the fortunate vs. the unfortunate, the competent vs. the unskilled, and those doing good in their lives vs. those not doing so good in their lives.
immigrants to enter a country or not, whether to ban abortion and contraceptives to uphold the sanctity of marriage, whether to give tax breaks to the rich or subsidies to the poor, or whether to
allow menstruating women to enter temples in defiance of scriptures.
the other, forcing it to move towards the other extreme side. Today we are witnessing a similar stark
polarisation between Left and Right, where the allegiances have become so sacrosanct that we are
blindly following the school of thought we subscribe to without even looking at the ideas of the
other side. This is clearly counter–productive as we lose out on the best practices of each other.
Is there an alternative?
Yes. There is a pressing need today for us to shun the rigorous binaries of Left and Right and
explore a more needs–based approach to run an institution or a country. Perhaps the world needs a
third alternative: a Centre–wing or a Hybrid–wing. This author thinks that such a system would
comprise of a secular government which wouldn’t unduly favour either the majority or the minority,
a moderately Capitalistic economic system, and a liberal social order. Such a practical system is
more likely to provide the best outcomes to people, unshackled from the strangulating chains of
Left–wing and Right–wing.
finding a meeting ground. Hopefully, that will put an end to our extremely draining and intensely
polarising debates where each side sits on its high horse and refuses to budge.