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In politics, right-wing, rightist and the Right are generally used to describe support for a stratified society to promote or preserve social order or traditional values. The terms Right and Left were coined during the French Revolution, referring to seating arrangements in parliament; those who sat on the right supported preserving the institutions of the Ancien Régime (the monarchy, the aristocracy and the established church).
The concept of a political Right became more prominent after the second restoration of the French monarchy in 1815 with the Ultra-royalists. Today the term the Right is primarily used to refer to political groups that have a historical connection with the traditional Right, including conservatives, reactionaries,monarchists, aristocrats and theocrats. The term is also used to describe those who support free market capitalism, and some forms of nationalism.
The political term right-wing originates from the French Revolution when liberal deputies from the Third Estate generally sat to the left of the president's chair, a habit which began in the Estates General of 1789. The nobility, members of the Second Estate, generally sat to the right. In the successive legislative assemblies, monarchists who supported the Ancien Régime were commonly referred to as rightists because they sat on the right side. One major figure on the right was Joseph de Maistre who argued for an authoritarian and less liberal form of conservatism. Throughout the 19th century, the main line dividing Left and Right in France was between supporters of the Republic and those of the Monarchy.
On the right, the Legitimists and Ultra-royalists held counter-revolutionary views and rejected any compromise with modern ideologies while the Orleanists hoped to create a constitutional monarchy, under their preferred branch of the royal family, a brief reality after the 1830 July Revolution. The Bonapartists advocated the idea of a strong and centralized state, based on popular support. Since then the term right-wing has come to be associated with preserving the status quo in the form of institutions and traditions.
In Europe, with a strong traditional class-structure, historians and social scientists identified the political spectrum on the basis of class, with left, right and center representing the working, upper and middle classes. While these cleavages developed at the time of the French revolution, they deepened in the 19th century and both right and left accepted the class nature of their positions. While universal suffrage, the acceptance of democracy and regional and religious division blurred the distinction between the groups, the analysis continued to be applied. The most usual ideologies of left, right and center were socialism, conservatism and liberalism. Seymour Martin Lipset saw modern political parties as continuing the "Democratic Class Struggle" that led to their creation.
In America, with its economic system less codified as rigid a structure of hereditary social classes, the political spectrum has been analyzed with a more ideological emphasis. For example, Louis Hartz identified the mainstream political ideology of America as Lockean liberalism, not lying in a feudal past, and saw the two main opposing forces in American history as Whig and Democrat, representing the industrialists and the agriculturalists, but both accepting liberal principals and therefore essentially centrist. Russell Kirk however argued that the American Revolution had been a conservative reaction and therefore the term conservative could apply to American politics.
Although Kirk's theory gained very little academic acceptance, it popularized the term conservative in the United States and it was adopted by the New Right and later by the majority of the Republican Party and blue dog Democrats. Lipset coined the term radical right in 1955 to describe radical groups opposed to social reforms and foreign interventionism and the term right later came to be applied to American conservatism.
Friedrich Hayek wrote that it was incorrect to represent the political spectrum as a line with socialists on the left, conservatives on the right and liberals in the middle. Instead he suggested seeing each group as pulling at the corner of a triangle. The socialists had by mid-twentieth century pulled harder, so that the entire political spectrum had shifted to the left and socialist ideas had become respectable. In the United States however the difference between conservatives and liberals was obscured by the fact that it was possible to defend individual liberty by defending established institutions, as the American tradition was liberal. He thought that the attempt to transplant the European type of conservatism to America had created confusion in viewing the political spectrum as had the tendency of American radicals and socialists to call themselves liberals.
In the West, after World War II, traditional rightist parties and movements such as monarchists, aristocrats and authoritarian conservatives have diminshed in power on the mainstream right and were replaced with liberal conservatives, libertarians and laissez faire capitalists.
The spectrum of right-wing politics ranges from centre-right to far right. By the late 19th century, the French political spectrum classified the center-right as Constitutional Monarchists, Orleanists, and Bonapartists, and the far right as Ultra-Royalists and Legitimists. The centre-right Gaullists in post-World War II France advocated considerable social spending on education and infrastructure development, as well as extensive economic regulation but a limited amount of the wealth redistribution measures more characteristic of social democracy.
A definition of the term "centre-right" is necessarily broad and approximate because political terms have varying meanings in different countries. Parties of the centre-right generally support liberal democracy, capitalism, the market economy (although with some limited government regulation), private property rights, the existence of the welfare state in some limited form, and opposition to socialism and communism. Such definitions generally include political parties that base their ideology and policies upon conservatism and economic liberalism.
The terms far right and radical right have been used by different people in conflicting ways. The term far right is most often used to describe nationalist, religious extremist and reactionary groups as well as fascism and Nazism. The BBC has called politician Pim Fortuyn's politics (Fortuynism) far right because of his policies on immigration and Muslims. The term far right has been used by some, such as National Public Radio, to describe the rule of Augusto Pinochet in Chile. Left-wing publication New Left Review called Ronald Reagan's policies "radical right". The US Department of Homeland Security defines right-wing extremism as hate groups who target racial, ethnic or religious minorities and may be dedicated to a single issue, such as opposition to abortion or immigration.
Some associate ethnic nationalism with the right. According to scholars of fascism, there are both left and right influences on fascist ideology. They argue that fascism is a search for a third way among all these views. Roger Griffin claims that fascist movements have become more monolithically right-wing, and fascism has become intertwined with the radical right.
Right-wing politics involves in varying degrees the rejection of egalitarian objectives of left-wing politics, claiming either that equality is artificial or that the imposition of social equality is detrimental to society. The right-wing claims that social stratification is not necessarily negative as leftists claim, and can be beneficial to society.
Right-wing ideologies and movements support social order. The original French right-wing was called "the party of order" and said that France needed a strong political leader to keep order. Latin Conservatism, founded by Joseph de Maistre, is uncompromising in its belief in the need for order. Maistre, like Thomas Hobbes before him, supported absolutism as the only means of avoiding violent disorder. Maistre, who fled the French Revolution, became convinced that ultra-liberal ideas, particularly Rousseau's theory of a "general will", had led to the horrors of the French Revolution and the bloodshed of the Napoleonic Wars.
Maistre also objected to the quasi-secularism and self-indulgence of some late 18th and early 19th century monarchies, and believed that state and church must remain inseparable. The principles of Maistre's Latin Conservatism were fully instituted in Spain under Francisco Franco. Religious fundamentalists have often supported the use of political power to enforce their religious beliefs. While traditional right-wing politics supports legal and moral authority over those who would challenge such authority, the Libertarian Right, in contrast with the religious Right and the nationalist Right, is anti-authoritarian.
A common way to sum up the beliefs of the right is to focus on a support for tradition, at least rhetorically. How far back traditionalists should look, however, is not always clear. Critics sometimes argue that the historical tradition to which right wingers refer never existed. From the European Renaissance until the Enlightenment, references to Greek and Roman traditions were frequently cited as arguments for political change from monarchy to more democratic ideals, which would now be described as left-wing. Similarly, the early Islamic Empire was in many respects more liberal than the ideal advanced by contemporary conservative Islamists.
Traditionalism emphasizes the need for the principles of natural law and transcendent moral order, tradition and custom, hierarchy and organic unity, agrarianism, classicism and high culture, and patriotism, localism, and regionalism. It may be said to have affinities with reactionary and counterrevolutionary thought, and some adherents of this movement perhaps embrace that label, defying the stigma that has attached to it in Western culture since the Enlightenment. Many traditionalist conservatives believe in monarchism.
Traditionalism has existed in various forms in the West since its beginning, however it was in the 18th century that modern traditionalist conservatism emerged and even then it was not until the mid-twentieth century in the United States that it was an organized intellectual force. Traditionalism was found in the writings of a group of U.S. university professors (labeled the "New Conservatives" by the popular press) who rejected the notions of individualism, liberalism, modernity, and social progress, promoted cultural and educational renewal, and revived interest in what T. S. Eliot referred to as "the permanent things" (those perennial truths which endure from age to age and those basic institutions that ground society such as the church, the family, the state, and community life.)
The term "family values" has had different meanings in different cultures. In the late 20th- and early 21st Centuries, the term has been frequently used in political debate, especially by social and religious conservatives, who believe that the world has seen a decline in family values since the end of the Second World War. The term has been used as a buzzword by right-wing parties such as the Republican Party in the United States, the Family First Party in Australia, the Conservative party in the United Kingdom and the Bharatiya Janata Party in India. Right-wing supporters of "family values" generally oppose abortion, euthanasia, homosexuality, and adultery. Leftists and feminists often accuse the right of supporting patriarchy and gender roles.
In France, Nationalism was originally a left-wing and Republican ideology. Nationalism became a main trait of the right-wing and, moreover, of the far right after the Dreyfus Affair. These right-wing nationalists endorsed ethnic nationalism and believed in defining a "true" national identity and defending it from elements deemed not part of the identity and corrupt. They also promoted Social Darwinism, applying the concept of "survival of the fittest" to nations and races. Right-wing nationalism was influenced by Romantic nationalism in which the state derives its political legitimacy as an organic consequence of the unity of those it governs. This includes, depending on the particular manner of practice, the language, race, culture, religion and customs of the "nation" in its primal sense of those who were "born" within its culture.
Linked with right-wing nationalism is cultural conservatism. Cultural conservatism supports the preservation of the heritage of a nation or culture, usually in the face of external forces for change. The culture in question may be as large as Western culture or Chinese civilization or as small as that of Tibet. Cultural conservatives try to adapt norms handed down from the past. The norms may be romantic, like the anti-metric movement that demands the retention of avoirdupois weights and measures in Britain and opposes their replacement with the metric system. They may be institutional: in the West this has included chivalry and feudalism, as well as capitalism, laicité and the rule of law. Cultural conservatives often argue that old institutions have adapted to a particular place or culture and therefore ought to be preserved. Others argue that a people have a right to their cultural norms, their own language and traditions.
Historically, the Right has advocated preserving the wealth and power of aristocrats and nobles. Reactionary right-wing politics involves the creation or promotion of a social hierarchy. Right-wing politics views social and economic hierarchies as either natural or normal and rejects attempts to remove such hierarchies. For example, right-wing politicians in France during the French Revolution opposed the removal of the monarchy and aristocratic privilege. Traditional rightists were uncomfortable with liberal capitalism. Particularly in continental Europe, many conservatives have been uncomfortable with the impact of capitalism upon culture and traditions. The conservative opposition to the French Revolution, the Enlightenment, and the development of individualistic liberalism as a political theory and as institutionalized social practices sought to retain traditional social hierarchies, practices and institutions. There has also been a conservative protectionist opposition to certain types of international capitalism. There are still right-wing movements, notably American paleoconservatives, that are often in opposition to capitalist ethics and the effects they have on society as a whole, which they see as infringing upon or decaying social traditions or hierarchies that are essential for social order. Conservative authoritarians and those on the far right have supported corporatism.
In modern times, most right-wing ideologies and movements support capitalism. In Europe, capitalists formed alliances with the Right during their conflict with workers after 1848. In France, the right's support of capitialism can be traced to the late 19th century. Right-wing libertarianism (sometimes known as libertarian conservatism or conservative libertarianism) supports a decentralized economy based on economic freedom, and advocates policies such as property rights, free markets and free trade. Russell Kirk believed that freedom and property rights were interlinked. Anthony Gregory has written that right-wing, or conservative libertarianism, "can refer to any number of varying and at times mutually exclusive political orientations." He listed some as: being "interested mainly in 'economic freedoms'"; following the "conservative lifestyle of right-libertarians"; seeking "others to embrace their own conservative lifestyle"; considering big business "as a great victim of the state"; favoring a "strong national defense"; having "an Old Right opposition to empire." He holds that the issue is not right or left but "whether a person sees the state as a major hazard or just another institution to be reformed and directed toward a political goal."
The Right often advocates equality of opportunities as an alternative to equality of outcome. Russell Kirk, a major figure of American conservatism included "civilized society requires orders and classes" as one of the "canons" of conservatism. Western-style corporate capitalism but not full-fledged laissez-faire economics or individual autonomy was adopted by reformist governments in Singapore and Taiwan during a period of authoritarian rule and economic reform. These countries continue to venerate tradition in what has been described an "Asian model" of capitalism.
Right-wing populism is a combination of ethno-nationalism with anti-elitist populist rhetoric and a radical critique of existing political institutions. According to Margaret Canovan, a right-wing populist is "...a charismatic leader, using the tactics of politicians’ populism to go past the politicians and intellectual elite and appeal to the reactionary sentiments of the populace, often buttressing his claim to speak for the people by the use of referendums.
Government support for the majority religion has from the beginning of the movement been a major part of right-wing politics. The original French right-wing supported the power of the Roman Catholic Church and opposed the secularization proposed by the anti-clerical forces of the Left. Religious figures with right-wing views, as in the Roman Catholic Church after the French Revolution, typically called for the creation or restoration of the authority of religious institutions and the social hierarchy that was associated with religion. Joseph de Maistre argued for the indirect authority of the Pope over temporal matters. According to Maistre, only governments founded upon a Christian constitution, implicit in the customs and institutions of all European societies but especially in Catholic European monarchies, could avoid the disorder and bloodshed that followed the implementation of rationalist political programs, as in the French Revolution.
The Christian right is a major political force in the West, supported by the Republican Party in the United States and by Christian Democratic parties in Europe. They generally support laws upholding religious values, and laws against immigration, especially immigration by non-Christians. Hindu nationalism has been a part of right-wing politics in India. A form of conservative populism, the movement has attracted not only privileged groups fearing encroachment on their dominant positions, but also "plebeian" and impoverished groups seeking recognition around a majoritarian rhetoric of cultural pride, order, and national strength. The Likud party in Israel expresses support for the Torah within the context of civil Judaism. Many Islamist groups have been associated with the right, such as the Great Union Party, the Felicity Party of Turkey and the Combatant Clergy Association/Association of Militant Clergy ('Jame'e-ye Rowhaniyat-e Mobarez) and the Islamic Society of Engineers of Iran.
Early communist movements were at odds with the traditional monarchies that ruled over much of the European continent at the time. Many European monarchies outlawed the public expression of communist views, and the Communist Manifesto began "A spectre is haunting Europe," suggesting that monarchs feared for their thrones. Advocacy of communism was illegal in the Russian Empire, the German Empire and Austria-Hungary, the three most powerful monarchies in continental Europe prior to World War I. Many Monarchists (except Constitutional Monarchists) viewed inequality in wealth and political power as resulting from a divine natural order. By World War I however, in most European monarchies, the Divine Right of Kings had become discredited and replaced by liberal and nationalist movements. Most European monarchs became figureheads; elected governments held the real power. The most conservative European monarchy, the Russian Empire, was replaced by the communist Soviet Union. The Russian Revolution inspired a series of other communist revolutions across Europe in the years 1917–1922. Many of these, such as the German Revolution, were defeated by monarchist military units.
The 1920s and 1930s saw the fading of traditional right-wing politics. The mantle of conservative anti-communism was taken up by the rising fascist movements on the one hand, and by American-inspired liberal conservatives on the other. When communist groups and political parties began appearing around the world, as in the Republic of China in the late 1920s, their opponents were usually colonial authorities or local nationalist movements. Two examples of reactionary anti-communist dictatorships were the governments of Francisco Franco and Augusto Pinochet.
After World War II, communism became a global phenomenon, and anti-communism became an integral part of the domestic and foreign policies of the United States and its NATO allies. Conservatism in the post-war era abandoned its monarchist and aristocratic roots, focusing instead on patriotism, religion, and nationalism. Communists were also enemies of capitalism, portraying Wall Street as the oppressor of the masses. The United States made anti-communism the top priority of its foreign policy, and many American conservatives sought to combat what they saw as communist influence at home. This led to the adoption of a number of domestic policies that are collectively known under the term "McCarthyism".
Throughout the Cold War, conservative governments in Asia, Africa, and Latin America turned to the United States for political and economic support. Some of these were authoritarian regimes, which – according to their critics – used the fear of communism as a means of legitimizing repression, the suspension of civil rights, and the abolition of democracy. Examples include South Korea under Syngman Rhee (see Jeju massacre), the Republic of China under Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek, South Vietnam under Ngo Dinh Diem, Indonesia under General Suharto, Zaire under Mobutu Sese Seko, Paraguay under Alfredo Stroessner and Chile under Augusto Pinochet.
During the 1980s, the conservative governments of Ronald Reagan in the United States, Margaret Thatcher in Britain, and Brian Mulroney in Canada followed a clearly anti-Soviet foreign policy that is credited by their supporters as a major factor in the fall of the Soviet Union and the democratization of Eastern Europe and other countries. In the aftermath of the Cold War, communism is no longer seen as a major force in world politics, and therefore most conservatives are far less concerned with anti-communism. However, conservative anti-communism resurfaces anywhere that communist political groups make significant advances, such as in Nepal in recent years.