Is There a Place for the Left/Right Distinction in the 21st Century?
You can stand in front of a McDonald’s restaurant and see a variety of burgers, ice cream, French fries, nuggets, coffee, milk shakes, soft drinks and so on. With all of this food, you can create a very tasty meal. For example, if you are dissatisfied with the cheeseburger, you can ask for a cheeseburger without pickles, or perhaps add a side of fries or nuggets to compliment your burger. These meals have hundreds of variations and the same counts for the political spectrum in Germany. You choose meal No. 1 “CDU” and you can differentiate between a conservative, liberal, or social burger. You can take a religious or atheistic milk shake, and authoritarian or libertarian French fries. In short, concerning German political parties which do not stand for extremist programs, you can find each coloration in nearly every party.
Nevertheless, in the media and the everyday discussions between Germans, you can recognize the frequent use of the left/right distinction. But does this dichotomy really represent the political spectrum in Germany? Yes, in a simplistic way, it does. But does it accurately describe the politics of the current political parties in the Bundestag ? No, not at all.
Let us take a closer look at the idea of the left/right distinction. It is based on a one-dimensional examination of the political spectrum from right (aristocracy) to left (bourgeoisie), which first appeared in the national convention of France in 1789. Then, it spread throughout Europe. The following terms are often ascribed to describe the political left in Europe: egalitarian, progressive, internationalist, pacifist, urban, culturally tolerant, and social. On the other hand, the following terms roughly describe the political right in Europe: elitist, conservative, nationalist, interventionist, rural, traditional, and authoritarian. This characterization can be further completed for the German political spectrum by the differentiation between the political left as representing blue-collar workers, the underclass, and minorities, while the political right represents white-collar workers, the upper (-middle) class, and government officials. But who stands for the middle class – the class which features stability, balance, and normality – meaning the average citizen, Fritz, or “Michel” as he is called in Germany?