The Different Meaning of Left and Right in Highly Industrialized Democracies

Wednesday, July 12, 2017
WMP Yudowitz Seminar Room 1 (University of Glasgow)
Detlef Jahn , University of Greifswald
The Left and Right ideology dates back to the French Revolution and divisions within the French National Assembly. Later, political philosophers saw a major divide in a disagreement over the concept of equality. The European labor constituted itself as a Left movement confronted with conservative groups at the Right. This means that the Left-Right semantic is genuinely European, as it emerged within the rapidly industrializing countries in the core of the continent in 18th and 19th centuries. However, political developments of the late 20th century indicate that the Left-Right dimension is becoming increasingly obsolete.  This paper addresses several questions related to the country-specific meaning of Left-Right. First, it asks the extent to which the Left-Right semantic has changed over time and what that means for its explanatory power. Second, the paper examines various countries with different historical backgrounds. It has often been stated that the Left-Right semantic works differently in the US than in Europe. However,  in countries with specific legacies (e.g., Ireland) or countries with a non-European culture (e.g., Japan), it is doubtful whether the Left-Right dimension has the same meaning as in core European countries. Finally, there is a huge debate around whether the Left-Right dimension works in the context of Central and Eastern Europe. The paper focuses on the Left-Right positions of political parties in the above-mentioned countries and identifies the various meanings of this ideological dimension in these regions.