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The Horseshoe Theory?

+1 vote
The horseshoe theory is the idea that rather than the 2 or 4 axis grid or political grid, the political spectrum wraps around and two opposites come together making it shaped like a horseshoe. It pretty much states that the "far-left" and the "far-right" pretty much have similar positions on various things, even though the philosophy behind them are vastly different. I'm pretty sure this is a "centrist" theory. So, I guess my question is if y'all view it as a valid theory?

An example would be anarchism vs. fascism.

I guess someone could fix the tags if I mess them up.
asked Mar 10, 2015 by Zubaz (3,940 points)

2 Answers

+4 votes
I first encountered this political theory in jr high or high school via a couple teachers who had progressive/liberal politics, but liked to think of themselves as more radical than they actually were.

In describing things like the tendencies of fascism and state communism to centralize and have authoritarian structures it makes some sense, but I don't think it is more accurate than some other more recent models I have seen in charting that, for example, the Political Compass (http://www.politicalcompass.org/) and in some ways I think it is far less nuanced.

However I don't think either of these theories actually is very helpful when talking about anarchists. The political compass maps a position based on the presumption of state, government, etc. So, for example, I just started taking the test and quit after about 12 questions because I didn't find my perspective represented in the possible answers> Depending on how I chose to engage with that lack of options, I have previously been categorized as both left and right libertarian by the test.  As far as the horseshoe theory, it tends to also leave out huge swaths of what define anarchist and anti-state politics (never mind anti-politics).

I think probably the most honest thing I ever heard about the horseshoe theory was when, trying to wrap my head around where an anarchist would fit in it, I asked the teacher of my high school civics class that very question and she looked at me and said, "anarchists aren't even on this chart." twenty years on, that has proven to be the most true thing I took from that class.

(edited for some readability issues)
answered Mar 11, 2015 by ingrate (21,620 points)
edited Mar 12, 2015 by ingrate
i had not heard of the horseshoe theory before, but the thoughts from your last paragraph occurred to me too when i read this question....that anarchical thinking would fall between, around, and outside of the shoe.

ingrate, could you expand on this thought from your first paragraph: "...teachers who....liked to think of themselves as more radical than they actually were." i've heard this criticism directed at me before (including from myself!), but i don't understand very well what meaning it has. i have a few ideas, but i'd like to hear yours.
BAA- I was in jr high and high school in the late 80's to early/mid 90's, and most of the teachers I am talking about either had been involved in the counter culture of the late 60's and early 70's or had come of age influenced by that time period, but at this point were voting Dukakis or Clinton and talking about all the inspiring change that had happened back in the day. They liked to think that it was really edgy to encourage us to question authority (excepting theirs, of course) or talk about that high school and college were really just preparing us to follow orders (not that they actually liked it when we challenged that dynamic or rebelled against it).

Honestly, some of those teachers were really important to me being able to become who I am now, and I am really glad I encountered them as opposed to some of the experiences of other friends around the same age as me, but in hindsight I think they had compromised themselves past the point of being the radicals they had maybe once been.

Have you read Letters of Insurgents? If not, I think you would appreciate it.
ingrate, thanks for the reply and reading suggestion. i found the letters on the anarchist library site. i'll check it out.
Thank you. I never heard of it before and someone was telling me based on my views that I'm proving the horseshoe theory to be true. I thought I'd ask. I'm new here, btw. :)
you know, ever since i became an anarchist i think about how interesting it is that in the beginning of college I had a class called "redefining education". This class mercilessly questioned the educational system, the teacher even saying "i tried to have classes that were free and had no standards whatsoever, but the parents complained about it". He was true to his word, the classes were all discussion based and everyone was allowed to say what the wanted about education, i found myself agreeing with the teacher, we even read an article that talked about how schools were like prisons and i found this very therapeutic! It's interesting that how even though i hated the school system all those years, this class "allowed" me to take an intellectual position against the school system, as if i didn't have to morally accept some form of education
+1 vote
"I think probably the most honest thing I ever heard about the horseshoe theory was when, trying to wrap my head around where an anarchist would fit in it, I asked the teacher of my high school civics class that very question and she looked at me and said, "anarchists aren't even on this chart." twenty years on, that has proven to be the most true thing I took from that class."

I feel as long as we are on the subject of the political spectrum, this most accurately applies. A belief in authority is a belief in authority, a belief in politics is a belief in politics. The difference between liberal and conservative is often very blurry, the main difference being that conservative is a belief in tradition whilst being a liberal is a belief in "social justice" and "change", being  a liberal is a belief that the system can be reformed while being conservative is a belief that authority is a natural balance that cannot be upset. I often debate with myself which of the two is worse...to believe in progress or to be honest about contempt for humanity?!

This question reminds me of a train of thought i had about fascism vs. anarchism before: while they are polar opposites, i find their utopian desires to be an interesting commonality. The Nazis believed in the forceful return to the "natural community", while anarchists believe in the unleashing of desires and to allow humans to sort out their disagreements amongst themselves. The totalitarian communist belief (as opposed to the anarcho-communist) is that true community must be achieved through any means necessary as a means of "progress", which i guess isn't any different that nazism/fascism.

the real divider between other political philosophies and anarchism is the justification for force
answered Mar 14, 2015 by anonymous
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