Monday, September 12, 2011

"Left and Right: the Great Dichotomy Revisited," University of Minho, Braga, Portugal, March 23, 2012.

Ever since the French Revolution, the terms 'left' and 'right' have been used to frame and explain the political positioning of parties, voters and public policies. Although many thinkers claim that this dichotomy is exhausted and no longer provides an adequate understanding of contemporary political divisions, 'left' and 'right' remain central in political debate. But is the content of these terms really understood by all political actors? What does each individual or group recognize as 'left' and 'right'?

It is true that other classifications of political cleavages have been suggested, but none seems to have replaced the traditional division between left and right. Many people have thought that an opposition between materialist and post-materialist orientations or between libertarian and authoritarian values could cut across left and right. However, these new oppositions seem to have been absorbed, at least partly, by the old dichotomy. But is this really the case? Are there, in fact, no other sets of terms that might provide a clearer division of the political spectrum? The standard most commonly used to distinguish left from right has been the concern with equality. But is this social-economic criterion actually the best? Particularly at a time when very divisive “new politics” issues arise? And even if one accepts the validity of the traditional criterion, how can we describe and explain the approaches from left and right on equality issues?

Furthermore, there is more than one ideology within each side of the political spectrum – there is not only one left, there are several lefts, and the same is true about the right. If we accept that there is something that unifies these several lines within each side of the political divide, what, then, separates different views of the left or the right and allows us to distinguish between them? Which are the political values that are shared by the different ideologies on the left and on the right and which are those that keep them apart?

Contact BOTH Ana Rita Ferreira ( and João Cardoso Rosas ( by November 30, 2011.

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