Right-wing politics hold that certain social orders and hierarchies are inevitable, natural, normal, or desirable, typically defending this position on the basis of natural law, economics or tradition. Hierarchy and inequality may be viewed as natural results of traditional social differences or the competition in market economies. The term right-wing can generally refer to "the conservative or reactionary section of a political party or system."
The political terms Right and Left were first used during the French Revolution (1789–99), and referred to seating arrangements in the French parliament; those who sat to the right of the chair of the parliamentary president were broadly supportive of the institutions of the monarchist Ancien Régime. The original Right in France was formed as a reaction against the Left, and comprised those politicians supporting hierarchy, tradition, and clericalism. The use of the expression la droite (the right) became prominent in France after the restoration of the monarchy in 1815, when it was applied to the Ultra-royalists. The people of English-speaking countries did not apply the terms "right" and "left" to their own politics until the 20th century.
Although the right-wing originated with traditional conservatives, monarchists and reactionaries, the term extreme right-wing has also been applied to movements including fascists, Nazis, and racial supremacists. From the 1830s to the 1880s, there was a shift in the Western world of social class structure and the economy, moving away from nobility and aristocracy towards capitalism. This general economic shift toward capitalism affected centre right movements such as the British Conservative Party, which responded by becoming supportive of capitalism. In the United States, the Right includes both economic and social conservatives. In Europe, economic conservatives are usually considered liberal, and the Right includes nationalists, nativist opposition to immigration, religious conservatives, and historically a significant presence of right-wing movements with anti-capitalist sentiments including conservatives and fascists who opposed what they saw as the selfishness and excessive materialism inherent in contemporary capitalism.
The political term right-wing was first used during the French Revolution, when liberal deputies of the Third Estate generally sat to the left of the president's chair, a custom that 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. A major figure on the right was Joseph de Maistre, who argued for an authoritarian form of conservatism. Throughout the 19th century, the main line dividing Left and Right in France was between supporters of the republic (often secularists) and supporters of the monarchy (often Catholics). On the right, the Legitimists and Ultra-royalists held counter-revolutionary views, while the Orléanists hoped to create a constitutional monarchy under their preferred branch of the royal family, a brief reality after the 1830 July Revolution. 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 limited the wealth redistribution measures characteristic of social democracy.
In British politics, the terms 'right' and 'left' came into common use for the first time in the late 1930s in debates over the Spanish Civil War.
The Right has gone through five distinct historical stages: (i) the reactionary right sought a return to aristocracy and established religion; (ii) the moderate right distrusted intellectuals and sought limited government; (iii) the radical right favored a romantic and aggressive nationalism; (iv) the extreme right proposed anti-immigration policies and implicit racism; and (v) the neo-liberal right sought to combine a market economy and economic deregulation with the traditional Right-wing beliefs in patriotism, élitism, and law and order.
The meaning of right-wing "varies across societies, historical epochs, and political systems and ideologies." According to The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Politics, in liberal democracies, the political Right opposes socialism and social democracy. Right-wing parties include conservatives, Christian democrats, classical liberals, nationalists and, on the far Right, racists and fascists.
Roger Eatwell and Neal O'Sullivan divide the Right into five types: 'reactionary', 'moderate', 'radical', 'extreme', and 'new'. Chip Berlet argues that each of these "styles of thought" are "responses to the left", including liberalism and socialism, which have arisen since the 1789 French Revolution. The 'reactionary right' looks toward the past and is "aristocratic, religious and authoritarian". The 'moderate right', typified by the writings of Edmund Burke, is tolerant of change, provided it is gradual, and accepts some aspects of liberalism, including the rule of law and capitalism, although it sees radical laissez-faire and individualism as harmful to society. Often the moderate right promotes nationalism and social welfare policies. 'Radical right' is a term developed after World War II to describe groups and ideologies such as McCarthyism, the John Birch Society, Thatcherism, and the Republikaner Party. Eatwell stresses that this use has "major typological problems" and that the term "has also been applied to clearly democratic developments." The radical right includes right-wing populism and various other subtypes. Eatwell argues that the 'extreme right' has four traits: "1) anti-democracy; 2) nationalism; 3) racism; and 4) the strong state". The 'New Right' consists of the liberal conservatives, who stress small government, free markets, and individual initiative.
Other authors make a distinction between the centre-right and the far right. Parties of the centre-right generally support liberal democracy, capitalism, the market economy (though they may accept government regulation to control monopolies), private property rights, and a limited welfare state (for example government provision of education and medical care). They support conservatism and economic liberalism, and oppose socialism and communism. The phrase far right, by contrast, is used to describe those who favor an absolutist government, which uses the power of the state to support the dominant ethnic group or religion and often to criminalize other ethnic groups or religions. Typical examples of leaders to whom the far right label is often applied are Francisco Franco in Spain and Augusto Pinochet in Chile. 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. The phrase is also used to describe support for ethnic nationalism.
Right-wing politics involves in varying degrees the rejection of some egalitarian objectives of left-wing politics, claiming either that social or economic inequality is natural and inevitable or that it is beneficial to society. Right-wing ideologies and movements support social order. The original French right-wing was called "the party of order" and held that France needed a strong political leader to keep order. British conservative scholar R. J. White, who rejects egalitarianism, wrote: "Men are equal before God and the laws, but unequal in all else; hierarchy is the order of nature, and privilege is the reward of honourable service". American conservative Russell Kirk also rejected egalitarianism as imposing sameness, stating: "Men are created different; and a government that ignores this law becomes an unjust government for it sacrifices nobility to mediocrity". He took as one of the "canons" of conservatism the principle that "civilized society requires orders and classes". Right libertarians reject collective or state-imposed equality as undermining reward for personal merit, initiative, and enterprise. In their view, it is unjust, limits personal freedom, and leads to social uniformity and mediocrity.
The original use of "right-wing" in reference to communism had the conservatives on the Right, the liberals in the center, and the communists on the Left. Both the conservatives and the liberals were strongly anti-communist. The history of the use of the term "right-wing" to mean anti-communist is a complicated one.
Early Marxist 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, which began "A spectre is haunting Europe," stated 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. The struggle between monarchists and communists was often described as a struggle between the Right and the Left.
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 nationalist and monarchist military units. In this period, nationalism began to be considered right-wing, especially when it opposed the internationalism of the communists.
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 1920s, their opponents were usually colonial authorities, and the term right-wing came to be applied to colonialism.
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. Throughout the Cold War, colonial governments in Asia, Africa, and Latin America turned to the United States for political and economic support. 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". While both liberals and conservatives were anti-communist, the followers of Senator McCarthy were called right-wing, and those on the Right called liberals who favored free speech, even for communists, leftist.
In France after the French Revolution, the Right fought against the rising power of those who had grown rich through commerce, and sought to preserve the rights of the hereditary nobility. They were uncomfortable with capitalism, with the Enlightenment, with individualism, and with industrialism and fought to retain traditional social hierarchies and institutions. In Europe's history, there have been strong collectivist right-wing movements, such as in the social Catholic Right that has exhibited hostility to all forms of liberalism, including economic liberalism, and has historically advocated for paternalist class harmony involving an organic-hierarchical society where workers are protected while hierarchy of classes remain.
In the 19th century, the Right had shifted to support the newly rich in some European countries, particularly England, and instead of favouring the nobility over industrialists, favoured capitalists over the working class. Other right-wing currents on the Continent, such as Carlism in Spain and nationalist movements in France, Germany, and Russia, remained hostile to capitalism and industrialism. There are, however, still a few right-wing movements today, notably the French Nouvelle Droite, CasaPound, and 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 causing the decay of social traditions or hierarchies that they see as essential for social order.
In modern times, "right-wing" is sometimes used to describe laissez-faire capitalism. In Europe, capitalists formed alliances with the Right during their conflicts with workers after 1848. In France, the Right's support of capitalism can be traced to the late 19th century. The so-called neoliberal Right, popularized by Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher, combines support for free markets, privatisation, and deregulation with traditional right-wing support for social conformity. Right-wing libertarianism (sometimes known as libertarian conservatism or conservative libertarianism) supports a decentralized economy based on economic freedom, and holds property rights, free markets and free trade to be the most important kinds of freedom. Russell Kirk believed that freedom and property rights were interlinked. Anthony Gregory has written that right-wing libertarianism, "can refer to any number of varying and at times mutually exclusive political orientations." 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."
Conservative authoritarians and those on the far right have supported fascism and corporatism.
In France, nationalism was originally a left-wing and Republican ideology. After the period of boulangisme and the Dreyfus Affair, nationalism became a trait of the right-wing. Right-wing nationalists sought to define and defend a "true" national identity from elements deemed to be corrupting that identity. Some were supremacists who, in accordance with Social Darwinism, applied 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 from the organic unity of those it governs. This generally includes, the language, race, culture, religion and customs of the nation, all of which were "born" within its culture. Linked with right-wing nationalism is cultural conservatism, which supports the preservation of the heritage of a nation or culture, and often sees deviations from cultural norms as an existential threat.
Right-wing politics typically justifies a hierarchical society on the basis of natural law or tradition.
Traditionalism was advocated by a group of U.S. university professors (labeled the "New Conservatives" by the popular press) who rejected the concepts of individualism, liberalism, modernity, and social progress, seeking instead to promote what they identified as cultural and educational renewal and a revived interest in what T. S. Eliot referred to as "the permanent things" (concepts perceived by traditionalists as truths that endure from age to age alongside basic institutions of western society such as the church, the family, the state, and business).
Right-wing populism is a combination of ethno-nationalism with anti-elitism, using populist rhetoric to provide 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."
In Europe, right-wing populism often takes the form of distrust of the European Union, and of politicians in general, combined with anti-immigrant rhetoric, and a call for a return to traditional, national values. In the United States, the Tea Party movement states that the core beliefs for membership are the primacy of individual liberties as defined in the Constitution , small Federal government and respect for the rule of law. Some policy positions of this include an opposition to illegal immigration, a strong national military force, the right to individual gun ownership, cutting taxes, reducing government spending, and balancing the budget.
Government support for an established religion was associated with the original French "right wing." 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 Church of England was established by Henry VIII. Some churchmen are given seats in the House of Lords but are considered politically neutral, rather than right or left wing.
Religious fundamentalists frequently feel that governments should enact laws supporting their religious tenets. The Christian right is a major force in North America. They generally support laws upholding what they consider religious values, such as opposition to abortion, contraception, sex outside marriage, and to same-sex marriage, and reject scientific positions on evolution and other matters where science disagrees with the Bible. Outside the West, other religious and ethnic groups are considered right-wing. In India, Hindu nationalism is sometimes considered a part of the Right. The Hindu nationalist movement has attracted privileged groups fearing encroachment on their dominant positions, and also "plebeian" and impoverished groups seeking recognition around a majoritarian rhetoric of cultural pride, order, and national strength. Many Islamist groups have been called "right wing" including the Great Union Party, and the Combatant Clergy Association/Association of Militant Clergy and the Islamic Society of Engineers of Iran.
The term "family values" 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 to describe support for traditional families, and opposition to the changes the modern world has made in how families live. Right-wing supporters of "family values" may oppose abortion, euthanasia, the normalizing of homosexuality, divorce, teenage pregnancy and adultery.