Why The Left/Right Spectrum Fails To Capture Modern Political Division

It is tradition in British politics for both lefties and conservatives to put each other into neat little boxes – Corbynista, Tory, Pinko, Rightist. However, in recent times the lines between these convenient labels have blurred, to the point where they are simply no longer accurate. The left/right spectrum doesn’t work.

Clearly, the Brexit vote was not a matter of the left vs the right. Of course, the outcome was partly the result of a disenfranchised populate who felt like sticking it to the establishment. But more than this the Leave campaigners were successful because they played on the genuine concerns of working-class Britain. The things that counted, ultimately, were jobs, living conditions and immigration.

There is a refocused political division at play here that has taken emphasis away from the classical socialism/conservatism divide and opened the door to open vs closed politics.

The US

For the last thirty years, the goal has been promoting economic and political integration – everyone seemed to agree that the Washington Consensus philosophy of the WTO worked. However, this has changed; we need only look over to America to see this in full force. Out with Obama, the pro-globalisation, pro-integration and pro-cooperation dinosaur, and in with the America-first, protectionist, isolationist Trump. US politics in this sense has become less about the left vs the right. It is about open arms vs drawbridges up.


The same trend can be seen in Britain. Almost fifty percent of the voting population, both left and right alike, voted to keep our doors open to the rest of Europe in 2016. These people wanted to cooperate with our neighbours and share the dividends from mutual prosperity. However, the other half of the UK demanded, and successfully at that, that we put up walls to protect ourselves from the dangerous (and some may say unfair) reality of global markets.

Once forcefully backed by UKIP, the Leavers who had aligned themselves with Farage have now dispersed almost evenly among the Conservatives and Labour, further illustrating the fact that left vs right is simply an inaccurate way of categorising the populate in 2017.


So how does the emergence of isolationist ideology present itself in society? Firstly, we have seen in Britain a sharp backlash in opposition of the vast cultural diversity that open-doors politics has brought. Growing diversity and global interdependence has led to a loss of cultural definition, for better or for worse, and the culturally conservative amongst us have had enough. But that’s just one side of the story. More and more of the socially liberal globalists have answered the call to arms in defence of the status quo – that it is right that society is fully integrated, because this is how we can learn and develop. However national identity is not the only effect observable in society today. The job market is saturated, and concern over the level of immigration has developed into a worrying precursor to social incoherence, propelled by the globalists’ incessant xenophobic labeling.

What Needs To Happen?

So, there is a new political divide in town. How can steps be made to ‘bridge the gap’ and create a government that rules in everybody’s interests? The first thing that the pro-world faction need to do is drop the racism slander. It is now ignorant to write off the globally sceptical nationalists as xenophobes and racists. There are real concerns that these people face and nationalistic protectionism provides an answer. On the other hand, this new wave of social protectionism must accommodate for the belief that the outside world has a lot to offer. There is value in diversity, and instead of cutting it off we might be better to make it work for us.


If you’d like to read more about the changing political landscape in the United Kingdom, I’d suggest reading this article from Wikipedia , on the concept of the Nolan Chart of political ideology, which graphs political freedom on one axis against personal freedom on the other. In the meantime, if you thought this article was of some value to you then share it with your networks below!


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  1. It’s a really interesting idea and I’ve not before now really considered this. I’ll watch the interview now – Zygmunt Bauman is someone who I’ve come across before but never engaged with so should be interesting.

  2. I think it might be in place to further substantiate the analysis of the post-modern supra-structure. Globalisation vs Protectionism is one conflict, but I think that role of identity in understanding politics is growing larger everyday. A question such as “Should the government legislate the use of preferred pronouns?” shines light, in my opinion, on a bigger and more infected political divide than the question “Should the government put higher taxes on corporations?” in today’s society. In many ways, it is this type of identity-politics vs traditionalism-conflict Trump is coming from (in a lack of a better way of putting it).

    Though not unproblematic, I like to use the GAL vs TAN scale (Green-Alternative-Libertarian vs Traditional-Authoritarian-Nationalist) as an analytic tool in understanding today’s political climate. It takes in account both Nationalism and Protectionism, but also identity (traditional, alternative).

    Do you see where I’m coming from? What do you think?
    Really great article, looking forward to more!

    1. Interesting take on what clearly seems like a problem! What is it exactly you mean by identity vs traditionalism? Are you talking about the role the government should be playing in society or am I getting the wrong end of the stick?


      1. So, in traditionalist, rural societies, one’s place in society would be assigned external to one’s will. Sexuality, gender, religion and even occupation were predestined at birth.

        In solid modernity, through the rise of division of labour and emphasis on individuality, this was internalised to the individual. One’s occupation, husband, religion, were to be wholly decided by the individual. Yet there was always a dimension of moralism – homosexual, colored and transgender people were looked down on and even persecuted.

        In late modernity (or what Zygmunt Bauman calls fluid modernity), this (quite ugly) dimension of modernity is gone. Identity is no longer a cultural or a biological phenomena, but based on individual “existence”, as the existentialists would call it. Do you identify as non-binary? Fine by me. Are you homosexual? Awesome. The values of enlightenment have been “totalised” to replace the previous hierarchal structure of culture.

        However, given that the history of ideas fundamentally have their basis in dialectic, backlash must soon come. I think that the Trump, Le Pen and Brexit movements make up this backlash for two reasons.

        The first reason is that the fluidity and insecurity of late modernity makes people prone to support movements which aim to bring back security and collective identity. Donald Trump is a perfect example of this. Yes, he lies. Yes, he is pretty sexist and racist. But we don’t care, for he is offering an alternative to the complex reality of globalisation and multiculturalism. With the burden of always having to “create yourself”, the characteristic of fluid modernity, comes a will for other people to take on that burden. It’s like an individualised master-slave dialectic – in order to understand yourself you need to negate yourself, through transferring your freedom of identity to someone else. I believe that the same thing can be said with Le Pen and Farage. (This interview explains it much better than me https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EG63MkQb1r4&t=63s)

        The second reason is that the movements are based on a nationalist claim to identity. We are not Europeans, we are British and French. We are not Globalists, we are Americans. This claim of identity I believe stand in stark contrast to the reality of fluid modernity.

        On the political scale we find the opposition of these ideas in post-modernism and identity politics. According to these doctrines, it is wholly up to the individual to decide who they are. Any one who wishes to criticize, say their gender identity, is a fascist. In the campuses in America and Canada we see a really big movement of this sort.

        Now, one might claim that this just speaks of the up-down dimension on the ordinary political scale, but I believe that is a misunderstanding. The y-dimension of that scale is concerned with wether the state should be involved in deciding identity. It asks the questions “who should we be allowed to be” – atheists, prostitutes, narcotics etc.

        I believe this new conflict of identity regards the question “who are we?” – British, American, French – or vegan, people of color, environmental-lovers, queer, whatever it might be.

        I don’t know if this makes any sense whatsoever, but I can really recommend the interview with Bauman. He explains it really well.


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