What we know as the left-right political spectrum has been with us for over 200 years now. It is a staple of political commentary and has become thoroughly accepted as part of the political furniture. It has thus become another convention that sustains its own supportive and unquestioning environment.
There are three general things I would like to say about this spectrum:
1. It is a top-line description of one political polarity, and there are many others.
2. It was originally named and determined in relation to attitudes towards the French monarchy, but went on to be about self-government.
3. It makes no sense without the concept of self-government. Without a state to argue over, without neighbours to whom one is yoked, it has little useful function. In areas expanded beyond where these two essentially local conditions apply, as in international relations or environmental issues, it makes progressively less sense.
It also makes little sense when mixed up with non-western traditions, the most obvious of which is Islam. Westerners are unsure about where to place Islamism in this left-right scheme, as are many Islamists themselves. A creed that can be seen as universalist and egalitarian would seem to fit on the left, but the radical anti-materialism and deep traditionalism of much Islamic militancy relate clearly to right-wing models. As does its overwhelming religiousness. Political Islamism is both quasi-nationalist and fiercely anti-nationalist. So what is going on?
Left-right calibrations can be useful, but they are by no means definitive or universally applicable. We need more than that to understand the modern world.
Here are some outline thoughts on the matter.