Starting with observations about the abandonment of bourgeois values in the late 1960S and early 1970s, a shift of political orientations towards the left, and a correspondence of left-right orientation with certain values, the article identifies basic components of both orientations and pursues the question of how self-placement on the left-right scale and the priorities attached to equality and social justice on the one hand, and decision-making freedom on the other, have developed in Germany since the mid-1970s. Results indicate that a leftward shift in the climate of opinion, such as occurred in Germany, will have a serious impact on the value system of a society. The fundamental contrast between the values of freedom and equality is identified as being at the root of the left-right division and its corresponding value systems.
`He was convinced that there is a real contradiction between freedom and equality. That there can be a socialist path, which says that equality is important, and there can be a liberal path, which contends that freedom has top priority. Anyone who believes he or she can create harmony between the two without any contradictions is mistaken. Either we pay with our freedom or with equality. He was convinced that the choice between the two is of existential significance.' The Israeli journalist Avishai Margalit on his friend, the philosopher Isaiah Berlin of Oxford. Quoted from: Frankfurter Rundschau, December 6, 1997.
The concepts of left and right as categories of political orientation serve to illustrate two divergent research strategies. The first approach starts with hypotheses that are founded on theory and subsequently employs the methods of empirical social research to test whether these hypotheses are confirmed or not. Conversely, it is also possible to commence with some unexpected findings of empirical social research and try to develop a theory that explains the findings and links them to existing theories. As early as the late 1940s, in Chapters II and III of his classic work, Social Theory and Social Structure, Robert Merton (1949/1968) described the tense relationship between the advocates of these two methods of arriving at scientific insight.(1)
The latter of these two approaches is not commonly encountered in social research today. Nonetheless, progressing from empiricism to theory often proves more fruitful than the former approach, since it facilitates the analysis and theoretical treatment of surprising findings which might have gone unheeded had a research strategy based on a particular theory been utilized.
The present article adheres to the second principle, presenting the results of research derived from several unanticipated findings of empirical studies on value systems. Specifically, this systematic research was engendered by three surprising findings obtained in surveys by the Allensbach Institute:
1 The discovery of the value change in Germany from 1967 to 1972, in other words, the abandonment of the bourgeois values that had characterized German society for the past 200 years. 2 The detection of a pronounced leftward shift in the climate of opinion in Germany, as ascertained via self-placements on the left-right scale. 3 The discovery that respondents' self-placements on the left or right of the political spectrum correspond with certain basic attitudes concerning value issues, thus allowing some values (e.g. social security, state welfare, and human closeness) to be clearly classified as belonging to the left, while others (for example, economic competition, domestic security, and religiousness) are plainly attributable to the right--a correlation which is found not only in Germany, but around the globe.
The latter discovery, i.e. that there are numerous values which are characteristically held by the left and the right around the world, ultimately gave rise to the following research question: What is at the heart of the divide between leftist and rightist values?
Any discussion of this question must necessarily adhere to a strategy of extreme simplification. It goes without saying that there are highly distinct currents within the political camps of left and right in many countries around the world. For example, in a number of countries, we can discern two different directions within the bourgeois-conservative spectrum: namely, those groupings which advocate minimal state intervention and a laissez faire economic policy, on the one hand, and, on the other hand, the paternalistic current, which calls for a considerably stronger and more vigilant state charged with protecting the citizens from incursions of all kinds.
The fact that many of the terms used to characterize various political currents have different meanings in different countries can also easily give rise to misunderstandings. A classic example of this is the term `liberal,' which is practically synonymous with `left' in the United States, yet signifies a bourgeois social concept associated with the political center in Europe and Canada.
The present study also completely excludes political extremism on both sides of the political spectrum, since specific extremist attitudes, such as the willingness to use or accept the use of force against people who hold different opinions, may in part eclipse or in some cases even stand in irreconcilable contradiction to the basic values analyzed in this discussion. The present article thus deals exclusively with the values of the democratic left and the democratic right.
This article does not intend to define, analyze, or even distinguish between the different variations within the two political camps of left and right. It is rather concerned with uncovering the basic components which are the prerequisites for assigning a political attitude or concept to the left or right. If the widespread classifications of left and right do …