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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    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, 2012 at 5:20
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    @DVK: The media is not particularly left wing. In the US, reporters tend to be on the liberal side and management on the conservative. Neither side is particularly left-wing by standards elsewhere. Any argument depending on the media being hard left wing is fallacious. Jan 16, 2012 at 13:51
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    @DavidThornley - This is based on pretty extensive media member surveys, not on some paranoid right winger's opinion of their content. And management being conservative - someone forgot to tell that to Schultzburger.
    – DVK
    Jan 16, 2012 at 14:22
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    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 Jul 25, 2012 at 15:36
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    How do you define "right wing"?
    – Drux
    Jan 21, 2013 at 20:28

8 Answers 8


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, 2012 at 20:48
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    I have provided specific examples of that sharing, which you are welcome to refute.
    – DVK
    Jan 12, 2012 at 2:39
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    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. Jul 21, 2012 at 9:55
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    @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. Jul 21, 2012 at 12:06
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    @herzmeister - how is Fox New related to Nancy Pelosi?
    – DVK
    Jul 23, 2012 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, 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, 2013 at 9:24

The Jonah Goldberg book, "Liberal Fascism," purported to answer this question, by simply listing some liberal programs such as the 1960s' Great Society programs and claiming that these programs were like fascism and nazism; however, it did so without saying how they're like nazism, and without clearly defining what fascism was at all. Most farcically of all, the entire book passes without a single mention of the central tenet of Nazism: aggressive, nationalistic warmaking and the primacy of the military.

The entire right-wing case for claiming that Nazism was a left-wing movement seems to rest solely on the fact that the name of the party (the National Socialist German Workers' Party) contains the word "Socialist." However, this is fallacious. Hitler used many words to lie. This word, in particular, he had good cause to lie about, because the socialist movement had so many millions of voters in Germany that he had to give them a sop. However, Nazism's platform contained virtually no socialist planks. So resting the whole argument on the name of the party is silly.

Also, one should note that in 1930, the socialist wing of the party actually quit the party, led by Otto Strasser. Strasser published an article on the subject entitled "Socialists Quit the NSDAP." He did so largely because Hitler had taken the side of the big bourgeois metalworking industrialist leaders against the striking metalworkers in the strike of that year. Strasser's brother, Gregor, was allowed to stay on for a few more years, because Hitler needed him to rally votes in certain regions; however, after he was no longer needed, he and his brother both became targets of Hitler, and had to spend the rest of the Third Reich years in exile.

Nazism came about explicitly because the Army (for which Adolf Hitler was still working, as an intelligence man) ordered Hitler to infiltrate right-wing political parties with an eye to taking one over for a pro-military movement. The right wing was considered to include parties that were amenable to the industrial and landowning leadership; that didn't want to redistribute wealth and destroy the big bourgeois and wealthy classes; that didn't want to dismantle the German military, as several leftist and centrist parties wanted to do (there was a huge debate in Weimar Germany in the 1920s over whether to build even one cruiser for the Navy, and the left-wing USPD was explicitly founded as pacifist in World War One, as the link from the Bundestag below mentions); that wanted a nationalist movement instead of the internationalism that leftist parties and even some center-right parties like the DVP were accused of forwarding; that were in favor of "traditional" social and familial roles.

There was a split within the right-wing parties such as the DNVP as to whether to be anti-Semitic, or whether to include Jews as good Germans and include them in the right-wing's nationalism; however, the founding statements of the DNVP included anti-Semitic bigotry, and the DNVP's later coalition partner, the Nazis, were explicitly anti-Semitic.

As to policy, Nazism's record is clear: they never raided the wealthy's money and forbade profiteering, as the USSR did, and instead, they left the military, industry, and big landowners perfectly free to keep their riches, as long as they didn't interfere with the war effort or have a personal vendetta from Hitler. The Nazis insisted on "traditional values" in the home, and murdered 8000 gay men. The Nazis sneered at the left's internationalism. The Nazis, most importantly, took on the right wing's main planks, which were militarism and nationalism: they deficit-spent wildly on the military, started aggressive wars (which they claimed were defensive, of course), and persecuted immigrants and people of other races and religions terribly.

Briefly: left-wing parties in Weimar Germany were considered those that sought redistribution of wealth, internationalism, an end to leadership by wealthy military-industrial-landowner elites. Right-wing parties were a reaction against that, which sought to keep the military, industry, and landowners entrenched in power and wealth; sought war as a means to keep that system entrenched and regain lost German lands in the east; and saw nationalism as one tool to rally society behind this, as an alternative to socialism's leveling of classes, which the Nazis rejected. The Nazis were therefore clearly right-wing, as most Germans today (including the German Bundestag, who call them "rechtsextremisten" [right-wing extremists) will tell you.

  • Thank you for the note, KorvinStarmast--unfortunately, since I am new here, I am only allowed to post a maximum of two links. However, I have inserted two links in the post, on edit.
    – andrew
    Oct 12, 2016 at 21:45
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    Antisemitism is almost exclusively (if you go by sheer #s) attribute of modern left (random examples: OWS. Or scandals in Labour party). Not-so-modern, either, if you look at both governmental and social policies of, say, USSR (google "Stalin 1953 doctors plot" for the extreme of that swing - Jews came within a couple of months toward the fate of many other nationalities Stalin nearly destroyed, like Crymean Tatars). Claiming that it's somehow a "right wing" attribute and thus makes Nazis more right than left wing is wrong to the extreme.
    – DVK
    Oct 13, 2016 at 0:51
  • DVK, I never claimed that anti-semitism was "somehow a 'right wing' attribute," nor that it "makes Nazis more right than left wing." Nor did I say that all left-wing leaders were free of anti-semitism (though Stalin was far from being as actively anti-semitic as Hitler was); nor would I have, since some communist leaders were anti-semitic. I said that the DNVP argued over whether to be anti-semitic, but that the Nazis viewed anti-semitism as integral to their nationalism. And those things are true. Nationalism was certainly integral to Nazism, as internationalism was to communism.
    – andrew
    Oct 13, 2016 at 6:15
  • Citation for the fact that the DNVP (German National People's Party, a right-wing nationalist party that allied with Hitler in his coalition government) had a schism between those who wanted an anti-semitic platform and those who didn't: DNVP, by Lewis Hertzman, University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln, NE 1963, 124-64. Also see histories of right-wing Jewish members of that party such as Fritz Arnold, versus the DNVP's explicitly anti-Semitic grounding statements. Presumably I won't need to cite anything to prove that the Nazis were explicitly anti-Semitic, but who knows ;)
    – andrew
    Oct 13, 2016 at 6:43
  • @DVK Whatever you want to see implied is up to you. The right forum for this would be Skeptics.SE and I'm deleting my comment as not constructive (although I stand by its contents), however "is there anti-semitism in the UK Labour Party" would probably be closed as opinion-based.
    – gerrit
    Apr 25, 2017 at 14:04

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.

The media and the academy, and, dare I say, the whole part of the world that has not yet gone insane.

Is this accurate?

It is, to the extent that Nazis and neonazis are and were in the far right. It insn't, to the measure that there are other extreme right wing groups that are not Nazi or neonazi.

The obvious "but" is the "socialistic" part in NSDAP name.

Well, North Korea officially calls itself Democratic Popular Republic of Korea, so either names aren't of that much importance, or both main parties in the United States are just fronts for Juche "philosophy".

The second would be the prosecution of Christian clergy.

Why? No one thinks of Nero or Caligula as socialists, and they certainly had two or three things to teach Hitler about the persecution of Christians.

The third - public works program and other examples of state involvement in the economy.

It was either that or leave the German economy to continue its path to self-destruction.

But involvement of the State in the economy has nothing to do with "left" and "right". Plenty of right wing dictatorships used and abused of State tools to manage the economy, and they did not get any socialistic from that; on the contrary, they used the State paraphernalia to concentrate income and property. The tale that the "right" is somehow anti-statist is merely a lullaby right wingers sing to themselves, nothing more than that. At most, state involvement in the economy is a perpendicular issue; at best, statism is inherently a right-wing ideology.

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

None. It was a militaristic, interventionist, elitist, racist, antisemitic, homophobic, misogynistic, authoritarian regime, hell bent from its starts on suppressing the German left, which they did with brutal efficiency.


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. Jul 21, 2012 at 7:59
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    @LennartRegebro - heh. Succint and accurate critique. +1 :)
    – DVK
    Jul 21, 2012 at 12:51
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    @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, 2012 at 1:59
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    @DVK as well, just to make sure.
    – Steely Dan
    Oct 10, 2012 at 2:00
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    @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. Oct 10, 2012 at 7:36

The problem with this question and it's answers is the failure to fully recognize that people and governments can be both rightist/leftists at the same time, just on different issues. Hitler's variety of socialism was an economic Robin Hood (steal from the rich and give to the poor) strategy to spread wealth among the masses, with the obvious goal to win people over by improving their personal fortunes. But unlike Mr. Hood he did not rob from ALL the rich, just those of a certain ethnic subgroup ... and for good measure he robbed from the poor of that same subgroup as well. While the economic part of his strategy might seem progressive, however the social part of his programs definitely were not.

In America the left/progressives (imperfectly) pursue social policies that equalize the playing field between the have's and the have-not's. Collective bargaining (labor unions) are intended to equalize employees and employers. Consumer protection laws are intended to equalize borrowers and lenders. Anti-discrimination laws are intended to equalize races and genders. Hitler and the Nazis were strongly opposed to even token levels of equality for anyone outside of their preferred genetic subgroup.

In short the Nazi's had a surface veneer of liberal/socialist economic policy but their human social policies were utterly incompatible with any leftist concept.


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 Jul 21, 2012 at 8:01
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    +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... Jan 19, 2013 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.

  • *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. Jul 25, 2012 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. Jan 19, 2013 at 11:45
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    @Nathan Cooper A comment. Nolan chart says Nazism is not right-wing, which is, I believe, central point of the question.
    – kubanczyk
    Jan 21, 2013 at 22:26
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    1/ @Dunk Your over-simplified definition of American right/left is not only erroneous but highly biased. For example if leftists only want more government then why are they opposed to larger military (which is part of government)? If rightists only want less government then why create so many laws that quasi-criminalize individual lifestyles / choices (abortion, LGBT, homelessness, etc)? The list of contradictions to your definition on both sides is extensive. Neither side is so simple that your description can be applied accurately.
    – O.M.Y.
    Mar 20, 2017 at 12:59

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