CCS Scholar Verlan Lewis Publishes New Book

verlan lewis headshot

Verlan Lewis, the Stirling Professor of Constitutional Studies at UVU, has recently co-authored a new book. The Myth of Left and Right: How the Political Spectrum Misleads and Harms America is available Dec. 23, 2022, from Oxford University Press, and argues that the common left-right political spectrum represents a major source of the confusion and hostility that characterize our contemporary political discourse.

As the authors explain, there is no enduring philosophy, disposition, or essence uniting the many positions linked with liberal and conservative issue positions today. Far from being an eternal dividing line of American politics, the concept of a left-right political spectrum entered the United State in the 1920s.

Since that time, “left” and “right” have evolved in so many unpredictable and contradictory ways that there is nothing beyond tribal loyalty that holds together the many divergent positions under the banners of "liberal" and "conservative."

Cutting against the grain of most scholarship on polarization in America, this book powerfully shows why the notion of a political spectrum ranging only from left to right is the central political myth of our time and a major cause of the confusion and vitriol that permeate public discourse.

Authors Meet Critics

In September 2022 in Montreal, at an author-meets-critics event at the annual meeting of  the American Political Science Association in Montreal, Verlan and Hyrum Lewis discussed their new book, The Myth of Left and Right: How the Political Spectrum Misleads and Harms America, with leading political-science scholars.

In the exchange, Hyrum and Verlan explained how the myth of left and right is undermining Americans’ commitment to constitutional government, including the rule of law, federalism, separation of powers, individual rights, and pluralism.

To strengthen adherence to the United States Constitution among American citizens and politicians, Lewis and Lewis argue that we need to stop thinking and talking about politics in terms of “left” and “right.”

Frances Lee, a professor of politics and public affairs at Princeton University and one of the APSA panel discussants, said: "This timely book challenges entrenched ways of thinking about American politics. Even if readers do not agree with the authors on every point, they cannot ignore the powerful critiques lodged here. The authors rightfully demand that we transcend simplistic understandings of political alignments that conflate party and ideology and that fail to come to terms with how the definitions of 'right' and 'left' continually evolve over time."

Philip Tetlock, the Annenberg University Professor at the University of Pennsylvania, has written that the book is “an insightful dissection of the misleading notion that it is possible—without severe distortion—to reduce voters and politicians to points along a one-dimensional left-right scale."

About the Authors

Hyrum Lewis is an associate professor of history at Brigham Young University–Idaho. He received his Ph.D. from the University of Southern California and was previously a visiting scholar at Stanford University.

Verlan Lewis is a visiting scholar in the Center for American Political Studies at Harvard University and the Stirling Professor of Constitutional Studies at Utah Valley University. He received graduate degrees from Cambridge University and the University of Virginia and completed postdoctoral work at Stanford University in Political Science. He is also the author of Ideas of Power: The Politics of American Party Ideology Development (Cambridge University Press, 2019).