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Are concepts of left and right meaningful outside the European context

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Introduction

Are concepts of left and right meaningful outside the European context?' The traditional left-right axis has since the finish of World War One and particularly since the end of World War Two dominated not just European politics but world politics as the political right and the political left came to represent democracy and the side of 'good' and anti-democracy and supposed 'evil'. Despite the apparent contradictions, the socialist left (of varying degrees of extremity) commanded a significant amount of electoral support in most mainland European countries. Since the end of the Cold War era the concepts of left and right in politics has changed somewhat. In considering whether these concepts are meaningful in a non-European context, three key topics need to be examined. Firstly, the political left and the political right and their interrelationship need to be defined as concretely as possible. Secondly, it has to be examined whether these concepts have any meaning in politics today and finally, we need to decide then if the concepts are meaningful outside of the European context. This will be achieved through the broad study of six national political systems within and outside of Europe. The traditional left-right axis refers to the simple attempt by political commentators to classify the mainly economic (but also social) ...read more.

Middle

It borders on ridiculous that we can and do use the same catch-all term to describe the ultra-socialist, authoritarian agenda of the neo-fascists and the extremely liberal, economically and socially, agenda of the libertarians. As such, the left-right axis appears fundamentally useless. The problem can be solved by the introduction of a second axis, the vertical axis or y-axis, to represent degrees of liberalism and authoritarianism. The right-left axis can then, as it was in pre-Cold War times, be used to place broad economic policy. For this purpose alone, it's quite useful. In Germany the SPD occupy a centre-left position, the Greens and the CDU occupy centre-right, while the FDP sit to the right again. Given that the Greens and the CDU would be unlikely to ever go into government together, given their radically differing social platforms, the functional limitations of the system are easily exposed. Similarly, in France, the left-right divide is clear to see. The centre-left, centred on the French Socialist Party, competes with a centre-right grouping led by the UMP (Union pour un Mouvement Populaire). In both countries, despite stiff electoral competition, a consensus exists for the maintenance of some measure of welfare state and though the Socialists in France are Europe's most left-wing leading party, the scale in both countries is merely comparative. ...read more.

Conclusion

All this adds up to quite a conservative (as opposed to radical) political culture, in which parties find more to identify with each other than to differ. Japan, on the other hand, lies somewhere between the Irish case and the American. From 1955 to 1993, Japan was governed by without interruption by the centre-right Liberal Democratic Party, a highly factional but nonetheless popular party. The left had reorganised well after post-World War Two politics resumed, but due to a lack of cohesiveness and the huge economic success of the LDP years, they were never able to mount a serious challenge. That changed in the early 90s as the LDP became unable to form single majority governments and was forced first into coalition-building and then into opposition as the first Socialist prime minister (from the Japanese Socialist Party) came to power in 1994. It seemed then that the country was geared for a transition to a standard bi-polar political system but in 1998 the JSP reformed as the Social Democratic Party and saw a huge fall-off in support. The new liberal party, the Democratic Party, and the Japanese Communist Party made gains at their expense. The new centrist/centre-right axis is the dominant force in Japanese politics today. The right-left spectrum is useful here, however, as there are radical parties (the Communists) that can command significant electoral support meaning a wide ideological range is represented by parties, rather than the pre-1993 system which saw one party encompass wide-ranging ideologies. ...read more.

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