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.
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."
Explanation of the theory
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 and a desire to greatly increase the size of government in order to advance their respective objectives.
In some far-left political systems (such as state socialism) the government seizes control of all means of production in order to enforce its economic ideology. In some far-right political systems the government also seizes absolute control of economic activity, seeking to advance the national interest. This theory asserts that both the far-left and the far-right seek to greatly expand the size and scope of government and are opposed to free and fair elections, free speech, free press, free expression, republicanism and other legitimately democratic institutions.
Other scholars such as Ludwig Von Mises and more recently, Jonah Goldberg [author of "Liberal Fascism"] reject the Horseshoe theory and place Communism, Socialism and Fascism all on the left end of the political spectrum. Prior to WW2, there was a distinction between International Socialism, with its center being in Moscow and Russia and National Socialism also known as Nazism with its center being in Berlin and Germany. Both had similar social policies but one focused on a world wide movement and the other was focused as a national movement. Similarly Italian Fascism had its roots in Socialism and Mussolini considered himself a Socialist. National Socialism and International Socialism cooperated closely with each other culminating in the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact in which Hitler and Stalin agreed to cooperate and carve up Eastern Europe. When Hitler broke this treaty and attacked Russia, this created a schism between National Socialism and International Socialism. From that point on Russia and its leftist sympathizers distanced from National Socialism placing it on the other end of the spectrum. At the same time, Russia became an ally of the US and UK in WW2 which led Western academics to also place International and National Socialism on opposite ends of the political spectrum.
Assertions have been made that North Korea is a far-right state, in addition to, or perhaps instead of, being a far-left state. In The Cleanest Race, Brian Myers purports that North Korea is far-right due to their xenophobia, intense nationalism and pseudo-religious glorification of former and current leaders and race-based rhetoric, despite the fact that the North Korean regime describes itself as a champion of communism and Marxism-Leninism through its state ideology of Juche. This comparison may suggest, according to some proponents of the horseshoe theory, that supposedly "far-right" policies (jingoism, nationalism, religious rhetoric, etc.) and supposedly "far-left" policies (forceful redistribution of wealth, nationalization of the means of production, class warfare, etc.) are actually located on the same part of the political spectrum because all or most of these policies are adopted by authoritarian regimes with the aim of expanding the size of government.
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".
- 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."
- University of Reading: Peter Barker
- University of Sheffield: Peter Thompson
- "Le Siècle des idéologies". Pocket. 2008-12-22.
- "Challenging Centrist/Extremist Theory". Publiceye.org. copyright 2008.