The horseshoe theory in political science asserts that rather than the far left and the far right being at opposite and opposing ends of a linear political continuum, they in fact closely resemble one another, much like the ends of a horseshoe. The theory is attributed to French writer Jean-Pierre Faye.
Horseshoe theory competes with the conventional linear left-right continuum system as well as the various multidimensional systems. Proponents of the theory point to similarities between the extreme left and the extreme right. Specifically, the two ends share an authoritarian element. In extreme left political systems (such as communism) the government takes control of the economic resources. In extreme right political systems (such as fascism) the government also takes control of the economic life, creating a central planning. With both extremes, this theory asserts, the power elite are opposed to genuine clean elections, genuinely free media and speech, and similar democratic institutions that characterise the political center.
Origin of the term
The earliest use of the term in political theory appears to be from Jean-Pierre Faye's book Le Siècle des idéologies. Others have attributed the theory as having come from Lipset, Bell and an entire ‘pluralist school’.
Critics of the theory have suggested that many sociologists consider the Horseshoe theory to have been discredited.
In University of Reading academic Peter Barker's book, GDR and Its History, Peter Thompson of the University of Sheffield observes that the theory is "increasingly orthodox", and describes the theory as seeing "left and right-wing parties being closer to each other than the centre".
- Encel, Frédéric; Thual, François (2004-11-13). "United States-Israel: A friendship that needs to be demystified". Le Figaro (Paris). Archived from the original on 2007-09-30. Retrieved 2009-02-13. "Jean-Pierre Faye's famous horseshoe theory (according to which extremes meet) finds verification here more than in other places, and the two states of delirium often mingle and meet, unfortunately spreading beyond these extremist circles. But contrary to the legend deliberately maintained and/or the commonplace believed in good faith, Israel and the United States have not always been allies; on several occasions their relations have even been strained."
- "Le Siècle des idéologies". Pocket. 2008-12-22.
- "Challenging Centrist/Extremist Theory". Publiceye.org. copyright 2008.
- "The Political Horseshoe again". AIJAC. Retrieved 2009-02-13. "I think Mr. Loewenstein has done a good job demonstrating why many people believe, as the “political horseshoe” theory states, that there is a lot more common ground between the far left, where Loewenstein dwells politically, and the far right views of someone like Betty Luks than people on the left would care to admit."
- Political Research Associates: Study the U.S. Political Right
- University of Reading: Peter Barker
- University of Sheffield: Peter Thompson