Left- and right-wing politics are differentiated by their belief in equality. Left-wing politics supports social equality and egalitarianism, while right-wing politics hold that inequality are inevitable, natural, normal, or desirable.

All the right-wing politics that I am familiar with deduce a social hierarchy or vertical stratification from the inequality they identify, with some people ruling over some others.

But that is not the only way a political system based on inequality can be conceived. Think of a team of people with different talents working together, such as a singer interpreting the song a composer has written: the song you hear would not be heard without either of them, so while they are different, both are equally important – not every composer can sing, and not every singer can write songs. There are many theories of group work that assume a similar differentiation of equally important abilites, and there are probably political theories that are based on the fact that while not everyone has the same abilites, the contributions of all are equally important to society as a whole. The physician needs the bread baked by the baker, and the baker needs the help of the physician when he breaks his arm.

When it comes to political decisions, not everyone has the same ability to make them. Some lack the intelligence and understanding to know which decision would be best; others are to easily corrupted by political power; and yet others are too gentle to make difficult decisions. Like every other role, not everyone brings the prerequisites to rule.

Are there (contemporary) inequality-based political theories or systems that do not lead to a social hierarchy, especially not one based on race or hereditary privileges, but rather to different but equally appreciated roles that are bestowed according to ability (and interest), with ruling being one role that is no more important than any other but that not everyone has the ability to fulfill and so not everyone can partake in (e.g. through voting)?

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    Your premise is contentious. Can you attribute it, or is it your own opinion? I ask because it can be easily dismissed by example: Communists (and others) definitely believe in an unequal stratification, with the workers ruling as a dictatorship over the bourgeoisie. Sep 8 '16 at 20:25
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    I've provided a very broad answer. If you want something narrower, I am open to recommendations for how to tailor it more to your interests. Sep 9 '16 at 2:05
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    Your idea sounds a bit like Plato's idea of three classes (philosopher-rulers, guardians, producers) described in his Republic as Kallipolis.
    – hkBst
    Sep 12 '16 at 6:54
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    Question could effectively ask for a current political theory with the required scope without contentiously attacking existing left or right wing political theories with imprecise attributions. Oct 6 '16 at 3:49
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    "The physician needs the bread baked by the baker, and the baker needs the help of the physician when he breaks his arm." - 100% false assertion. Physician can easily learn to make his own bread (it's not exactly rocket surgery), or easily substitute bread for other carbs, or find another baker (since bread making is so easy, plenty are available, if there's enough demand). Whereas, very few people have expertise to set a broken arm, and ability to obtain said expertise; and you can't easily DIY that for many fractures.
    – user4012
    Oct 27 '16 at 14:58

I'm not entirely sure what you call "contemporary", but I will take the perspective of a political theorist and cast a broad net. This answer isn't going to be comprehensive, but I hope it gives you starting point on some excellent reading (and thinking!) :

What you don't want: Classical Liberalism

First of all, let's talk a minute about the relationship between ruling and the ruled. In the late 18th century, political theorists divided society into two parts: civil society and the state. Civil society generally focused on the domestic affairs (organizing a family) and the economy (which is how families are supplied with goods). The state manages and organizes civil society.

How are they related? Philosophers like Hegel thought that the state was beyond civil society. Since civil society was the realm of economics, this means the state is above personal economic interest. This idea was eventually extended into the notion of an "objective utility maximizer": a government which manages citizens to reach the optimum economic capacity. (For more information, read Hegel's "Elements of the Philosophy of Right")

Generally, classical liberalism assumes that all individuals have equal political capacity. Or at least, that there is no meaningful difference (an idiot's vote is equally as good as a genius's because political representation is not based on intelligence or judgment, but just because we are all legal equals).


One view that opposes this is what I'll call anti-rationalism, as espoused by the Marquis de Sade. His view* is that human beings are not rational - we are principally motivated by our own emotions. Reason can only confirm what we really want. For example, a person prone to poor eating will rationalize eating unhealthy foods. Since we are at our core unreasonable creatures, no government could ever really maximize our liberty or efficiency.

Given all of this, why would we have government at all? According to Sade, no person can fulfill their desires on their own. So, we come together and mutually fulfill each others' desires.

This line of thought is surprisingly influential, although few attribute it directly to Sade. Fundamentally he points out problems in our society: we actually give people the authority to rule over others, which (predictably) they exploit to fulfill their own desires.

If you are in to anarchism, this should sound a lot like mutualism. One of the core differences is that mutualism is typically framed as in terms of mutually beneficial economic (and possibly rational) relationships, while anti-rationalism is framed as being driven by (irrational) impulses.

Recommended reading: "Philosophy in the Boudoir" by Marquis de Sade.

Sade presents all his works as dialogues, so there is always some debate about which characters actually espouse his views.


Although not recent, Calvinist doctrine is still influential in political thought (at least in America). One basic doctrine of Calvinism is predestination: that we are born into our place in the world, as ordained by God. God also specifies what we are to become.

Since God directs where we are born and what we may become, there is nothing "better" about rulers than those they rule. It is simply a matter of God's will.

Although Calvin was writing way back in the 16 the century, this idea is still out there. In the early 20th century steel magnate Andrew Carnegie wrote a book called "The Gospel of Wealth" which was based on a similar premise. And of course you can still find people talking about this in some traditional churches.

The society Calvin (and later writers in similar veins) had in mind was definitely hierarchical in the sense that one person controlled another. However, it wasn't because one person was "better", just that God had ordained them for that role. Although some would say this indicates that person is better in God's eyes, for many Calvinists this amounts to claiming to know God's mind, which is heretical.

Juche and the Masses

North Korea's current stated philosophy is "juche" (Self-Reliance). As part of this view, society is divided into three segments: peasants, workers, and professionals. All three are (theoretically) equal and contribute to societal good. In practice, professionals will typically govern peasants and workers because their aptitude is organizational or intellectual, but they are not superior. Only by having all three classes work together can the country be successful.

In some ways, this resembles Confucian philosophy in that it ascribes a certain role to individuals and requires everyone to fulfill their duty. Outside of Asia, this is also the view of the Ancient Greek stoics - which have been very influential on military philosophy for the last 2000 years or so. Last I knew, the Army staff college (in the USA) was requiring their students to read the Enchiridion, a stoic book which places no value on being the commander, but encourages every person to make the decisions life presents them.

I don't know of any primary documents available in English regarding juche. For recommended reading, probably start with wikipedia.

  • Thank you. With "contemporary" I mean that current political philosophers still elaborate on a theory, thinking it might be applicable. For example, monarchism seems to no longer be a seriously considered possibility in the West. – Juche seems to come the closest to the idea of the political rulers being chosen by ability and not considered hierarchically superior to other professions. What doesn't quite fit is the existence of a political leader and the special role North Korea is attributed in the world. Are there any Western renditions of a similar idea, but without the "Führer"?
    – user2197
    Sep 9 '16 at 9:11
  • I'm tempted to upvote and super-bounty this answer merely based on using de Sade in context :)
    – user4012
    Sep 9 '16 at 20:58
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    @hkBst - Yes. Autarky is very general, juche is very specific. It's built on communist ideas, but as a rejection of some elements of Moaism (like the focus on agriculture) and Leninism (like the focus on materialism). If you think it means anything, that is. It's just as likely to be a rationalization of one regime's activities. Sep 12 '16 at 12:54
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    @what - Not really. I'm kind of stretching a bit. Your best bet is probably mutualism. It's anarchism, but has some strong elements of cooperation for the mutual good. They don't typically advocate strong central leaders. If you develop your own thoughts further, it would be interesting to see where you go. Sep 12 '16 at 13:14
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    Admittedly, "Dilbert" is far less of a deep reference than De Sade, but if you look for more modern adherents of anti-rationalism, Dilbert's creator Scott Adams is perhaps the most famous (at least, the most widely read), espousing what he calls "moist robots" and persuasion-based 4 layer view of humans and their decision making.
    – user4012
    Oct 27 '16 at 15:07

I think you will really really want to watch this lecture "Ryan Muldoon - Trilemma: Equality of Opportunity, Meritocracy, and Social Cohesion. Pick Two." I was thinking of adding it as a comment because you can't really answer your question, but I think it's so good and on-point that it can explain why you may not get the answer to your question. It explains why you can't have equality, meritocracy, and cohesion all at the same time, and which combination is the best.


I think you may be thinking of meritocracy + social cohesion. However that precludes opportunity, which is bad for society overall.

The other system you may be thinking of is technocracy:

Technocracy is a system of governance where decision-makers are selected on the basis of technological knowledge. Scientists, engineers, technologists, or experts in any field, would compose the governing body, instead of elected representatives. Leadership skills would be selected on the basis of specialized knowledge and performance, rather than parliamentary skills.

There is also a Flat Organization similar to how Valve, Inc. is organized. There are no bosses. This is also similar to communes where decisions are made collectively. However, there is still an unstated, de-factor hierarchy of people with greater social skills forming cliques who manage most of the decisions.


Imagine being a part of a company with no bosses, upper-level management, or HR where bonuses, hirings, and firings were all determined by peer consensus. Imagine a company like this going on to become one of the most successful in its space. This isn't a joke: It's the real story of video game developer and publisher, Valve Corporation.

Anarcho-syndicalism is an economic theory with roots in the early 19th century that articulates a form of government in which self-organized cliques of labor work together to directly achieve goals. In essence: socialism minus centralized government plus trade unions.

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