You’ll often hear politicians and pundits alike speak of “the right” and “the left” in political terms. However, we might not understand what those terms actually mean. These terms fall on what is sometimes called a “left to right” ideological scale. In the United States, there are four predominant political ideologies.
Before we get into the scale itself, we must first understand what an ideology is. An ideology is a clear, coherent, and consistent set of beliefs about the size and scope of the governmentl. Those on the left side of the ideological scale tend to believe in more federal government involvement, while those on the right side of the scale believe in a federal government that is smaller in size and scope. We will look at the four primary ideologies (socialism, liberalism, conservatism, libertarianism) from an economic perspective. The crux of each is founded on economic principles and government’s reach within the economy. When social issues (i.e. gay marriage, abortion) or the military are discussed, that consistency which makes up the fundamental makeup of an ideology gets clouded. Here are some brief descriptions of the four ideologies:
Socialism: This ideology is found on the left-hand side of the left-to-right scale. Socialists believe in curbing the excesses associated with private capital, but also they believe in a more active government intertwining itself within privately run businesses. The end result being that privatization would no longer exist, and that which was once private becomes “public” in the form of a government controlled and regulated economy. Socialism would provide more government programs to those in need, but would also need more taxes from the public to pay for those programs.
Liberalism: Moving to the right of socialism is the liberal ideology. Liberals tend to believe in the role of government as a “safety net”. Government is designed to help those in need through social welfare programs. This may sound like socialism in theory, but liberals do not believe in government controlled, or statist, society. Private capital and businesses may be regulated and taxed by the federal government, but they would not be taken over and controlled by the government either.
Conservatism: To the right of the liberal perspective is the conservative ideology. In the case of the conservative, he believes in a smaller government which is cut down to size by reducing the number of social welfare and spending programs in the United States. Conservatives also believe in cutting taxes. This modern-day conservative is different from the classic conservative. The classic conservative believed in the status quo. Those who espoused such an ideological perspective believed in keeping things “as is”.
Libertarianism: The ideology at the most right of the scale being described here is libertarianism. Libertarianism, at its American core, was promoted during the American Revolution. Classic liberalism, as it was called then, supported a federal government that had very limited powers. The definition of limited powers would be derived from the United States Constitution. Simply put, if there was a question on the size and scope of the federal government, then the Constitution would be final arbiter in settling a governmental dispute between the federal government and the states. Only that which is written specifically for the federal government in the Constitution can belong to the federal government. That which is not a federal government power would then belong to the states.
If the United States had one dominant ideology, which one would it be? Perhaps you believe that we live in a moderate or middle-of-the-road nation. Remember, however, that the moderate position is not an ideology. Moderation in politics is not clear, consistent, or coherent as the definition of an ideology suggests.