The horseshoe theory (also called horseshoe scheme) assumes that the political spectrum of a society can be compared to a horseshoe. Political forces are said to differ only in that they either accept, support and maintain the state and its order or reject and even fight it.
Horseshoe theory: There are only two major forces: moderates and extremists.
The horseshoe is initially divided into two parts on the horizontal axis: Moderate and Extremist forces. Moderate forces differ from extremist forces in that they do not want to attack or change the basic free democratic order – which is what extremist forces want.
Constitutional protection also defines as extremist endeavors activities that pursue the goal of attacking or eliminating the constitutional order and liberal democracy.
Extremist forces are directed against elements of the free democratic basic order such as pluralism.
Extremist forces use strong enemy-friend thinking and have great ideological dogmatism.
Horseshoe scheme: left, center, right
The horseshoe is divided into three parts on the vertical axis: Left forces on the left side, the moderate center in the middle, and right forces on the right side. Their transitions are partly blurred.
Left and right forces are divided into moderate and extremist forces, respectively. Left-wing extremist forces are found in the transitions from left-wing to left-wing extremist forces. The same applies to the right. In the transition from right to extreme right, radical right forces can be found. For the moderate center, there is no extremist counterpart in the horseshoe scheme.
Horseshoe theory: conclusions and criticism
The horseshoe theory allows the following conclusions:
Left-wing extremism can be equated with right-wing extremism. It can be concluded that left-wing extremists and right-wing extremists are similar in their methods, structure, nature, and traits, and share certain commonalities. (Commonalities include: Willingness to use violence, rejection of the state or the police as a force for order, rejection of dissenters, desire for a different/changed form of government).
The fact that the goals of left-wing extremists and right-wing extremists, their view of humanity and their worldview differ is not taken into account. Nor is any distinction made between totalitarian or anarchist forces.
The horseshoe scheme suggests that there are similarities between left-wing extremists and right-wing extremists. Whether there are more similarities than differences and what predominates is not considered.
Also, the horseshoe theory stands for the fact that left- and right-wing extremists are closer than one extreme (or both extremes) to the moderate center.
One consequence of the horseshoe theory is that left-wing extremists can be accused of fascism and that similarities between left-wing and right-wing extremists are specifically sought.
Fundamentalism, such as Islamism, is not represented in the horseshoe scheme.
The influence of the economic system on the political spectrum and the living conditions of people are not taken into account or mapped in the horseshoe theory.
The horseshoe scheme is merely an assumption about the interrelationships of the categories Moderate-Extremist and Left-Extremist-Right.
The horseshoe scheme is not a linear mapping of the political spectrum.
Who invented the horseshoe scheme?
The horseshoe theory was conceived and developed by French philosopher Jean-Pierre Faye in the 1990s. With the shape of the horseshoe and the consequence that left and right extremist forces can be equated, he wanted to depict the totalitarianism of both sides and show that left and right extremists are closer in their views and essence than to the moderate center.
The idea for the horseshoe theory came to Jean-Pierre Faye when he discovered historical similarities between left/left extremists and right/right extremists. An example is, for example, the invasion of Poland by Hitler’s Germany, which was carried out together with the Soviet Union. In the German-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact, fascists and communists (briefly) joined forces.