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I notice that the media routinely refer to Hitler's politics as "extreme right-wing". "extreme right-wing" and "neo-nazi" have become practically a synonym.

Is this accurate?

The obvious "but" is the "socialistic" part in NSDAP name. The second would be the prosecution of Christian clergy. The third - public works program and other examples of state involvement in the economy.

What are other characteristics of Hitler-era nazism that make it wrong to call it a right-wing movement?

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There's a whole book explaining why Nazism and Fascism are a lot more of a left wing than right wing phenomenon. "Liberal Fascism" by Jonah Goldberg. The reason that media refers to Hitler as "right wing" is because they are uber-predominantly hard left wing. Some of the surveys and studies summarized here: mrc.org/biasbasics/biasbasics3.asp – DVK Jan 2 '12 at 4:54
As the FAQ says: "You should only ask practical, answerable questions based on actual problems that you face. Chatty, open-ended questions diminish the usefulness of our site and push other questions off the front page." – Canageek Jan 2 '12 at 5:20
Left and right wing is always a woolly, ill-defined term, I find. Saying that, I like the definition of Facism as an "extreme centrist" ideology. Nazism is a peculiar and even more extreme brand of Facism, with racial ideologies on top. – Noldorin Jan 4 '12 at 9:45
This is a poor question. Right wing conservatives (like anyone) are keen to distance themselves from Nazism and Hitler. Trying to pretend that Hitler isn't right wing (rather than trying to show how what they think isn't nazism) is a cheap, silly way to do it – Rory Jul 25 '12 at 15:36
How do you define "right wing"? – Drux Jan 21 '13 at 20:28

There are two problems with the way the discussion is phrased, which I will try to summarize below.

  1. Terminology problems. Some are unfortunate byproduct of social sciences being an imprecise (to put it politely) field of study, some are byproduct of cultural/historical drifts and differences, and some are a product of deliberate misinformation by "left wing" propaganda.

    • It's very hard to define "Right Wing" today, especially since most people referred to as "Right Wing" today not only have nothing in common with the historical origin of the term (French Monarchists after French Revolution), but don't have much common politically with each other aside from opposing some or all of the policies labeled "Left Wing", and even that for a wide variety of reasons.

      Leftists (themselves a somewhat diverse bunch) lump together on the right anyone from staunchly anti-religious "sex maniac" Ayn Rand to "Family Values" Christian fundamentalists some of whom literally wouldn't agree with Randian Objectivists about anything other than Communists being a common opponent.

      Even single-country party affiliations don't help much either, for a variety of reasons. "USA Republicans are Right Wing" is a nice soundbite, except you just lumped together Ron Paul, Pat Robertson, Martin Luther King Jr., Trent Lott and Abraham Lincoln. Again, not really all THAT much in common between the 5 of them.

    • A somewhat related but separate problem is historical drift. As a classical example, originally support for laissez-faire capitalism and free markets were counted as being "on the left"; today in most Western countries these views would be characterized as being "on the right".

    • Most historically correct mapping would be "conservative" defined as "people who want to preserve status quo". Of course, this is absolutely not correllated either way with Nazism or anything else, as is perfectly exemplified by post-USSR Russia where communist hardline parties are considered "Right Wing" and pro-Western economically liberal ones are "Left Wing" (for that matter, Germans who wanted to destroy Third Reich to return to Weimar Republic would be staunch conservatives by that definition).

    • A second somewhat workable definition would be a two-axis mapping, for example Nolan chart, Milton Rokeach's "Freedom/Equality" axis, Hans J. Eysenc's R-, S- and T-factors (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Political_spectrum for details).

      The problem this poses is of course the fact that the typical "Right Wing" vs "Left Wing" are NOT correlated with either fascism or communism, since the 4 of them occupy separate sides of the square.

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  2. The fact that most of the people in position of asserting such claim - Western mainstream media and social/political scientists - are largely on the left wing of politics themselves, and either consciously or consciously prefer to disassociate themselves and associate their political opponents with something that most people instantly associate with "evil" without thinking about the nature of evil.

In reality, Nazism and Fascism had, as you noted, share a LOT in similarity with a lot of socialist/communist politics

  • The obvious indicator was mentioned by you - Nazis real name was NSDAP, National-Socialst German Worker's Party.

  • Italian Fascism was meant to be a rejection of both the left and the right of the time. Mussolini in 1919 described fascism as a movement that would strike "against the backwardness of the right and the destructiveness of the left".

  • Most importantly, belief in the supremacy of the state over the individual; in using coercive power of the state to achieve the goals, and in the ability to govern the affairs of the people from a central seat of power.

  • to be added...

BTW, this is not to say that there was nothing relating Nazism with what would commonly be referred to as "right wing" points:

  • The main and most obvious one was opposition to communism, though the roots and reasons for it were completely different.

  • Nazism in Germany specifically was economically positioned as a "somewhat oligarchic" state capitalism at the top (with oligarchs being a power group but with a combined power status much lower than that of other state actors). Calling it "right wing" is at least somewhat plausible if you make a largely flawed "capitalism==right wing" association (as noted above, Von Mises style free market capitalism at that time was considered a left wing thing, whereas today in USA it is most strongly represented by Tea Party that leftists frequently portray as "most right wing" force in politics; and anti-free-market Communists in today's Russia are "Right Wing").

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Why not just say they are different terms that are misapplied across different languages and cultures? Your answer sounds like the wounded cry of someone whose politics have been assaulted — "Nazism and Fascism ... share a LOT .. with a lot of liberal/progressive politics" [emphasis yours] — rather than a balanced, dispassionate explanation. – Robusto Jan 11 '12 at 20:48
I have provided specific examples of that sharing, which you are welcome to refute. – DVK Jan 12 '12 at 2:39
Nothing to elaborate. In Europe for example, liberals are considered right-wing. Therefore, when you put "right-wing" as opposing "liberal/progressive" policies, that would confuse the heck out of anyone not into US politics. And of course, when you say that Nazism shares a lot with liberal politics, that's just wrong. Socialists have unfirtunately more or less gotten a monopoly on the word "progressive" but don't mix "liberal" into that. Liberal policies by any meaning except "socialist but afraid to call it that" are diametrically opposed to nazism in all ways. – Lennart Regebro Jul 21 '12 at 9:55
@DVK: Firstly I think it's incorrect even from a US standpoint to say that Nazism and Fascism shares a lot with liberal/progressive politics. Socialist/communist, yes. Liberal/progressive, no. Secondly my point is that as long as you write it solely from a US perspective, it's not worth to vote up. Secondly, I think you give too much weight to charts that try to extend right/left with another dimension. As right/left fundamentally means nothing, they are misguided. – Lennart Regebro Jul 21 '12 at 12:06
@herzmeister - how is Fox New related to Nancy Pelosi? – DVK Jul 23 '12 at 22:33
  • Right wing means justification of social hierarchy.
    Left wing means promotion of social egalitarianism.

  • The Nazi economic program was largely left wing (command economy).
    But simply because the Nazis were statists does not mean they were left wing...

The essential program was right wing

  • Their Social Darwinism – belief in the innate inferiority of "undesirables"....
  • Extreme Ethnic-Nationalism (opposition to diversity and multiculturalism).
  • Staunch Xenophobia and hatred of foreign elements
  • Belief in Racial Hierarchy and domination by racial superiors (not a left-wing or Marxist notion)....
  • Belief in total Cultural Homogeneity.
  • Ceaseless glorification of Militarism, Imperialism and the Marshal ethic.


  • Mein Kampf is completely littered with denunciations of Marxism:

    • Marxism, (the Jewish founder of Communism) Marx and Bolshevism (Russian Communism) are mentioned more than 200 times in Hitler's book in a negative light.
    • Hitler did not want his National Socialism conflated with Marxian Socialism.
  • In fact, Hitler constantly rants against what he believes to be a Jewish-Communist scheme to take over the world. He suspected that Jewish financiers were merely funding this movement.

    • Hitler believed that Jewish financiers were funding the Communist movement. Nazism held that Communism and Jewry were one and the same (see Alfred Rosenburg's the Jewish Bolshevism)...
  • The Nazis grew out of the intensely racist German Nationalist movement called the völkisch and the anti-communist Freikorp movement -- both of which were intensely anti-left.

    • The Nazis were strongly opposed to the communist party and the social democrats...

    • The term socialism was employed to draw workers away from communism and into völkisch nationalism.

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Your answer contains good elements, but also what looks like personal opinions. It would be nice to organize it around the sources (which you rightly cite), rather than relegate them to a "furthermore". Last, but not least, welcome to history@se! – astabada Jan 19 '13 at 9:24

The distinction between right-wing and left-wing is, ultimately, one of fundamental attitudes towards authority and the proper relationship of the individual human being to it. Specific policy prescriptions are superficial and largely irrelevant; we find that often one can support the same basic policy prescription from either perspective. Thus, on the left you have libertarians and Objectivists who endorse laissez-faire because they believe that it empowers the individual with respect to authority, and on the right you have conservatives who endorse a similar form of laissez-faire because they believe that it strengthens the nation or, in a more literal understanding of the word "conservative," simply because "it's what we've always done" (which, by reifying the status quo, essentially turns it into an authority of its own and elevates it above the individual). Similarly, on the left you have the utopian socialists who endorse collective ownership of the means of the production because they believe that doing so empowers the individual with respect to authority more so than the alternative, while on the right you have the Stalinists and Nazis who endorse collective ownership of the means of production because they find believe that doing so empowers the state.

Whether or not you personally happen to believe that one groups' chosen means are an effective way of accomplishing their goal is not relevant. What matters when determining whether a particular group is leftist or rightist is not what they do but why they do it. Thus, since ultimately the purpose of NSDAP policy was to strengthen the state and nation, rather than to empower the individual, Nazis are firmly on the right (this is not the same thing as saying that all right-wingers are closet Nazis, of course).

Let's shy away from trying to categorize a movement one way or another simply because it uses a certain word in its name. Most people would not categorize the Democratic Peoples' Republic of Korea (North Korea) as a democracy despite the use of the word "Democratic" in its name. Similarly, the NSDAP was not a leftist movement, and the presence of the word "socialist" in the name does not change that.

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First you say "The distinction between right-wing and left-wing is, ultimately, one of fundamental attitudes towards authority and the proper relationship of the individual human being to it." then you go on to point out that both left and right contains people who want to empower individuals and those who want to empower the state, showing that there is no right/left distinction in this case. In fact, the distinction is that the right-wing is called the right-wing and the left-wing is called the left-wing. There is no ideological or political distinction that actually fits global reality. – Lennart Regebro Jul 21 '12 at 7:59
@LennartRegebro - heh. Succint and accurate critique. +1 :) – DVK Jul 21 '12 at 12:51
@LennartRegebro No, that's not a valid critique at all. At no point do I present a left-wing thought-system that "want[s] to empower the state." An accurate critique, by defintion, avoids making blatantly untrue claims about the argument it is directed towards. – Steely Dan Oct 10 '12 at 1:59
@DVK as well, just to make sure. – Steely Dan Oct 10 '12 at 2:00
@SteelyDan: You are trying to get out of my critique by absurdly calling Stalinists "right-wing". That's of course complete nonsense, of the kind libertarians use when they call Nazis "left-wing". The global consensus is that Nazis are right-wing, and Stalinists left-wing. If you are so attached to the words "left" or "right" that you can't accept that, then this is your problem. You clearly presented a left-wing system that want to empower the state. – Lennart Regebro Oct 10 '12 at 7:36

I think that Nazi regime was unique in world history in that it unlike any other regime before and after had two faces: it externally pretended to be a left-center force, a left-centrist socialist pro-workers, progressive, industrialist, anti-monarchist, anti-religious, pro-women rights, pro-animal rights, anti-capitalist, anti-monarchist, anti-colonialist party. But in reality it turned out that Nazism was actually far more right than any monarchists, Russian "black-hundreds" and conservatives were before. It was hiding its ultra-right face for a while to achieve popular support.

This duality led to many mistakes by individuals and politicians who made deals with Nazi party and Nazi Germany. German Cristians thought they are dealing with a centrist patriotic party when voting for enabling act. Vatican thought Hitler is quite like Mussolini: a moderately conservative centrist. Stalin thought he was dealing with a left-center party of small bourgeoisie. Ethnic minorities also thought Nazis are pro-national self-determination and cultural autonomy.

Many Jews saw that Nazis for a first time in 2000 years allowed Jews to have their own police, ambulance service, postal service, orphanages, and even telephone stations. They did not knew the orphanages and hospitals were designed to quickly separate those unable to work. Nobody could imagine Nazis will kill people in new shining uniforms they just designed for Jewish police (no other regime gives a forage cap with a badge to a condemned enemy).

Many Russians and Ukrainians believed Germans will build a moderate form of Socialism without collectivization and other excesses of Soviet Union.

Many Germans believed that Nazis really protect animal rights for ethical reasons, not just to make a ban on Jewish meat.

In reality it turned out that even conservative clergymen looked like Bolshevicks compared to Nazis.

This masquerade became possible because Hitler departed from earlier tradition typical for ultra-right, volkishe movements. Initially he was even criticized from the far-right positions for even use of the word "party" instead of traditional for the right-wing "league" "movement" or "union". But Hitler was smarter. He abandoned monarchism in favor of unrestricted ultimate dictatorship. He pursued clergy because they were too left for him and Christian principles were too egalitarian and not enough anti-Semitic, although historically religious Christians were the most anti-Semitic group. He denounced aristocracy and social estates in favor of eugenics. He denounced right-wing to promote ultra-right instead.

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This is not unique in any way. In fact every single leftist group that ever got power has used that power either to grab more power or money, or made the industry richer or created an elite (sometimes after first destroying the elite that was there). Either then, no left exists at all, or NSDAP is a perfect fit for the left. :-) -1 – Lennart Regebro Jul 21 '12 at 8:01
+1 except for the part abput the Jewish police. You really can't consider the shiny new uniforms and the rest in isolation from te Nuremberg laws, the ghettos, the vilification, the actions, and what not. IOW, you roghtly point out that many groups mistook the Nazis for something they liked, but the Jews had no problem seeing they were bad. Alas, the real degree of their badness was not understood before it was too late. I am also not sure if you got the Stalin anle right, but let's not go there... – Felix Goldberg Jan 19 '13 at 16:34

I must say in reading the answers that I don't see why this is a contentious issue at all. I'll answer from the US spectrum viewpoint, our european friends can swap the right/left, liberal/conservative meanings to their understanding.

The bottom line is that the conservatives/right wing in the US believes in limited government. The less governmental power the better. Government is not a solution to problems but governments are the cause of problems. The federal government, in particular, should only be limited to the powers granted by the Constitution. IOW, they believe that a weak central government is best.

The liberals/progressives/left wing in the US believe that the government must be the central player in solving the countries problems. The federal government should have all the powers it needs to do its job in order to make for a "better society", even if it means re-interpreting what words mean in the Constitution. IOW, they believe in a very strong central government.

After pointing out the obvious it is readily apparent that the NSDAP is in high agreement with the liberal/progressive/left wing beliefs. Strong central government, telling people how they must think and behave and give of their personal posessions for the betterment of society.

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*The bottom line is that the conservatives/right wing in the US believes in limited government. The less governmental power the better.*No, you're describing anarchism? This has zero nuance or relation to political science, and no supporting evidence at all - it sounds more like propaganda than an answer. Must be an election year. -1. – RI Swamp Yankee Jul 25 '12 at 14:26
-1 if you look up the nolan chart you'll find the (well accepted fact) "political left" are typically "Those supporting low economic freedom and high personal freedom." What you're describing in the last paragraph is statism (authoritarianism, totalitarianism, or fascism). It's unsurprising the Nazis come out left with that clear misidentification of what the left is. – Nathan Cooper Jan 19 '13 at 11:45
@Nathan Cooper A comment. Nolan chart says Nazism is not right-wing, which is, I believe, central point of the question. – kubanczyk Jan 21 '13 at 22:26

"Far right" is just socialist propaganda, used in order to portray their opponents with Hitler. You disagree with us? We're not saying you're Hitler, but he was righ-wing after all...

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-1. Not an answer. Comment if you must. – Nathan Cooper Jan 19 '13 at 11:40
-1 What Nathan said. – Felix Goldberg Jan 21 '13 at 19:18

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