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The Horseshoe Effect

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Notice that communism and fascism are closer to each other than both of them are to the center.
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This trope is when two groups who are ostensibly ideologically opposed to each other actually have a lot of ideology in common.

Conventional political theory holds that all political ideologies sit on a linear spectrum from left to right: communism on the far left, fascism on the far right, and everything else somewhere in between. This theory implies that the further away an ideology is from the centre, the more different it is from a corresponding ideology on the opposite side of the spectrum: centre-left and centre-right political parties are distinct but still fairly similar, but communist and fascist political parties are dramatically different from one another, as they sit on opposite extremes of the spectrum.

In the case of the horseshoe effect, however, this is not so. Rather than a linear spectrum from left to right, political ideologies all sit on a curved, horseshoe-shaped arc, in which the two extremes of the spectrum are closer to each other than they are to the centre of the spectrum, and they have less "space" between them than less-extreme points do (if this sounds like a Mind Screw, look at the page image again). This means that the more radical and extreme an individual's political beliefs get, the more they come to resemble the beliefs of individuals on the "opposite" end of the political spectrum.

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For example, far-right fascist or theocratic governments, to advance the national agenda and engender absolute loyalty to God/the state, will interfere with individual rights such as freedom of speech, interfere with individual-institutional rights such as freedom of the press and media, seize property rights for service to God/the state, enact censorship laws, and even try to control the Individual's very own personal life via Thought Crime, punishing behavior considered as aberrant such as homosexuality and the like. Meanwhile, in Marxist-Leninism, an ideal communist society would be a classless, stateless one, but the direct transition of a capitalist society into a communist one is held to be impossible, which is where "the Dictatorship of the Proletariat" comes in: the workers seize control of all private property. The Revolutionary Transitional government will engender absolute loyalty to the state among their citizens, interfere with individual rights, maintain rigid, censorious control of the press and media under the grounds that the state will eventually wither away once the reactionary enemy is defeated, eventually enact Thought Crime policies ostensibly to ensure that no reactionaries ever emerge, which means taking control of a person's individual life (up to and including their sexuality etc.).

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Although the ideologies of the two governments in the example above are ostensibly on opposite ends of the political spectrum (such that both states would consider one another mortal enemies), in terms of practical de facto policies, they end up becoming rather similar.

This theory was first observed in comparing far-right and far-left governments, but is also visible when comparing political groups or organisations on each end of the spectrum. Consider how some far-left radical feministsnote  tend to have remarkably similar attitudes towards prostitution, pornography and Transgender people as do conservative fundamentalists; or how far-right white supremacist groups and far-left black supremacist groups have in some cases been known to collaborate with one another in order to achieve common goals (segregation, for example).

It is commonly seen in concert with tropes such as He Who Fights Monsters, You Are What You Hate, Became Their Own Antithesis or Full-Circle Revolution. It is similar in some respects to Poe's Law; in that trope, the more extreme an opinion becomes, the harder it is to tell whether it is intended satirically or not,note  whereas in this trope the more extreme an opinion gets, the harder it can be to tell whether it is coming from the far-left or the far-right. It could also be considered a form of Moral Myopia. There's also a fair degree of overlap with Both Sides Have a Point; in this case, both sides don't realize they're making the same point.

This trope can also lead people to misguidedly believe in the Golden Mean Fallacy, wherein the correct solution to a problem is assumed to be the middle of two extremes. Among political science circles, this trope can be criticised on the grounds that it presents centrist liberalism as the only option for society to take, which can end up being nothing more than calling for the status quo. Mentioning this trope is also something of a Berserk Button for individuals on either end of the political spectrum, who often resent the suggestion that they have anything ideologically in common with the individuals on the opposite end (as testament to this, look no further than the numerous Justifying Edits this page has undergone since its launch). And also, radicals often have their own versions of the Horseshoe Effect where they claim that centrists serve to only bolster the side they oppose and are most prone to supporting and being swayed by them (this is often called the Fish Hook Effect). Best practice is not to take the existence of this trope as hard-and-fast evidence that opposing political groups or governments always end up ideologically similar to each other; after all, it's the Horseshoe Effect, not the Horseshoe Law.

Compare Mirroring Factions, which is likely to use this trope.

Compare Mirror Character, in which two characters are much more similar than they might appear. Can be related to Enemy Mine, wherein two enemies nevertheless realise they have a common goal and decide to work together to achieve it. Conversely, it can be related to Your Terrorists Are Our Freedom Fighters, when enemies don't realise they have a lot in common. It may also explain why people tend to lump Communists and Nazis together in the popular imagination. See also Villain Has a Point and Jerkass Has a Point, when characters the heroes and the author represent negatively nevertheless are in the right for once (and Strawman Has a Point, when this happens unintentionally). For more information, see this article on That Other Wiki.

Note: This page lists examples of works in which two ideologically opposed groups are presented as having beliefs in common. This page does not pass judgement on whether that presentation is fair, charitable or justified. If you think that a particular presentation is unfair or uncharitable, this page is not the place to argue the point.


Examples:

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    Anime and Manga 
  • In the Gundam franchise, particularly those set around Mobile Suit Zeta Gundam, the Titans were formed as an elite unit meant to wipe out the remnants of the Principality of Zeon. Seems straightforward enough, except that the Titans then loop around to the same kind of fascist supremacists as the Zeons, committing identical atrocities right down to using the same illegal nerve gas. This is also the Watsonian explanation for recycling Zeon mecha designs (the actual reason, of course, being that audiences want to watch a Gundam cut up Zakus).

    Comic Books 
  • Buck Danny: Occurs in the "nuclear alert" story arc. The main villains, the International Federation of Armed Revolutionary Groups, are a movement of extreme-left Western Terrorists. They ally with a cabal of anticommunist Central American generals in order to steal a pair of F-14s from the U.S. Navy. Slightly downplayed in that the generals have no idea who they're dealing with: the IFARG approach them by pretending to be a Corporate Conspiracy interested in financing their rise to power as a bulwark against communism. When the collusion is discovered, the oddity of "fascists allied to leftists" is lampshaded.
  • Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Death Of Captain America storylines give us an extended horseshoe effect with Alexander Lukin and the Red Skull. The former is a Soviet general who was left adrift at the end of the Cold War, the latter is a Nazi who was once Hitler's personal Dragon. Despite their mutual disdain, both of them hate the United States and the free-market democracy it promotes, and want revenge on it for destroying their respective empires, which is ample reason to work together. The original plan is Lukin's, who hopes to cause a massive economic crisis in the United States to demonstrate the emptiness of the capitalist lifestyle, ultimately with an eye to bringing back the USSR. The Skull modifies it to suit his purposes more and more, ultimately culminating in an attempt to help a fascist third-party candidate become President of the United States.
  • G.I. Joe: The Baroness hops from one end of the horseshoe to the other. Born to a family of wealthy European aristocrats, her Start of Darkness was becoming a left-wing radical terrorist as an act of youthful rebellion against her parents. In her present incarnation as a Cobra leader, she combines the revolutionary terrorism of her radical days with the high-end lifestyle and appreciation for the finer things of her noble upbringing (not to mention the title of Baroness). However radical or aristocratic, she remains an autocrat in her politics, an elitist in her attitudes, and generally hostile to the United States.
  • Tintin: The Calculus Affair satirizes the Cold War by portraying rival Syldavian and Bordurian agents fighting over Professor Calculus' latest invention. The two sides are indistinguishable in every way, both seeking to turn it into a weapon of mass destruction, and both resorting to kidnapping and violence to try to force him to work for them. This is especially notable since Syldavia and Borduria had previously been portrayed as polar opposites, the former a monarchy run by a Reasonable Authority Figure and hosting peaceful international scientific programs, the latter an aggressive and dictatorial regime that draws alternatively from Nazi and Communist inspirations. This was the first time the two sides had been portrayed as morally equivalent.
  • X-Wing Rogue Squadron: The Warrior Princess story arc features the Priamsta, the aristocracy of the planet Eiattu VI, and the People's Liberation Battalion, a revolutionary movement locked in a civil war against it. Despite their mutual enmity, the leadership of both factions leads up to the same place, being thoroughly compromised by the local Imperial ruler: Count Labaan of the Priamsta is an Imperial Intelligence agent, while the deposed Prince Harran, who leads the PLB, is in fact an impostor working for Moff Tavira.

    Films — Animation 
  • In The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Frollo pursues an insanely harsh and fundamentalist interpretation of Christianity. In the process, he commits numerous sins while trying to do "God's work", including pride and wrath. By the end of the movie, he goes so far as burn the very cathedral he claimed to defend, becoming the Satanic being he claimed to oppose.
  • Team America: World Police: The Film Actors Guild, an organization that preaches peace, non-violence, and understanding, aligns itself with Kim Jong Il - a man who believes in none of of these things - in order to take down Team America.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Don Camillo: Don Camillo and Peppone. One's the town's priest ("reactionary priest" the other side says), the other is the town's communist mayor. At the end of the day, both work for the common good of the village, favor helping the poor and downtrodden and oppose the selfish landowners.
  • In Inherent Vice, Tariq Khalil - a member of The Black Geurrilla Family prison gang - has struck up a friendship with Glen Charlock of the white supremacist Aryan Brotherhood because "...we found we share some of the similar opinions about the U.S. government".
  • James Bond:
    • SPECTRE is a living Horseshoe Effect, as it liberally recruits former Nazis and former Communists alike. Their successor in the Daniel Craig movies, Quantum (which is eventually revealed to be either a branch of or a forerunner to the rebooted SPECTRE), similarly declares that it works "with the left or the right, with dictators or liberators."
    • Despite its roots in the Cold War, the franchise gives us quite a few capitalists who are willing to work with or for the communists: Auric Goldfinger, Francisco Scaramanga, Aris Kristatos, Max Zorin, and Brad Whitaker most notably.
    • For their part, the communist villains, despite their ideology, are often quite prone to corruption and self-enrichment, behaving much like the stereotype of the capitalists they allegedly hate. Lampshaded in Die Another Day:
      James Bond: Few men have the guts to trade in conflict diamonds since the UN embargo.
      Colonel Moon: I know all about the UN. I studied at Oxford and Harvard. Took a major in Western hypocrisy.
      James Bond: From your modest little collection of cars, I would never have guessed.
    • The Big Bad Duumvirate in Octopussy take this up to eleven. General Orlov is a Soviet general, while his partner Kamal Khan is exiled Afghan royalty. This in 1983, when Afghanistan was fighting a war against the Soviet occupation, a few years after its monarchy was overthrown in a left-wing coup.
  • Four Days in September: Fernando is a member of an underground terrorist group fighting against the brutal, authoritarian right-wing government of Brazil. His group, MR-8, elects to take direct action against the government—by kidnapping the American ambassador and threatening to execute him if the government doesn't release political prisoners. Fernando has a friend, Cesar, who shares his left-wing ideals but disapproves of violent action. When the two of them meet after MR-8 kidnaps the ambassador and Cesar has figured out his friend was in on it, Cesar observes that Fernando and his terrorist gang are really no different from the government they're fighting.
  • The Mask of Zorro crosses this with Full-Circle Revolution.
    • In theory, the Mexican War of Independence was supposed to replace the colonial and monarchical Spanish administration with an independent liberal Mexican government. In reality, the same elites are able to game both systems to remain at the top, while leaving the ordinary people oppressed and neglected. The movie opens with the last Spanish governor gifting the Crown's lands to the local gentry, ensuring the survival of his social class into the new order. Twenty years later, California is still as poor and class-ridden as ever, and the Mexican government has no presence there other than a handful of corrupt and inept soldiers totally beholden to the local gentry, who in turn behave with complete impunity.
    • The villain has his own spin on the Horseshoe Theory. From his point of view, the Spanish and Mexican governments were equally disappointing, because while both of them allowed him privilege and wealth, neither of them allowed him to be the ultimate authority. A situation he plans to remedy by breaking off California into an independent republic, with himself at its head.
  • MonsterVerse:
    • Mostly of the hostile Titans threaten to create ecosystem-destroying conditions on a regional, continental or global scale if they win, speculated by Monarch to be said Titans Hostile Terraforming the environment to their liking. However, amongst the Big Bad Titans that have had these goals, the MUTOs in Godzilla (2014) are prehistoric creatures which are overall Non-Malicious Monsters who merely seek to survive and reproduce according to their instincts — Ghidorah in Godzilla: King of the Monsters (2019) by contrast, is extraterrestrial in origin and is an unnaturally-sadistic Omnicidal Maniac, and the novelizations suggest Ghidorah is attempting to create an ecosphere-destroying extinction event not so much out of environmental necessity as out of malice and hatred for all other life.
    • If there's just two things that all the human Contrasting Sequel Antagonists of every film have in common besides being Knight Templars, it's these: they don't care how many people have to die to see their plans through, and they're too reckless to care that their actions risk causing The End of the World as We Know It.
  • Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country is a classic example. The villains are Federation nationalists terrified of peace with the Klingon Empire, and Klingon nationalists terrified of peace with the Federation, who conspire together to keep the war between their two factions going.
  • Star Wars: The Clone Wars of the prequel trilogy can be seen as this. On one side, the Separatists are a movement supporting independence from the galactic government, largely dominated by wealthy merchants who want complete freedom from government regulation. On the other side, the Republic considers itself the legitimate government of the galaxy and is a unitary state that's well on its way to turning into a totalitarian Empire. However, both of them are autocratic regimes led by charismatic leaders, whose elected parliaments are mostly powerless; both view the Republic's traditional values, and especially the Jedi, as outdated and irrelevant and want to replace it with a more modern, materialistic, and technocratic society; both of them fight the wars with entirely manufactured armies (droids for the Separatists, clones for the Republic) rather than try to rally ordinary citizens to their cause. And both their leaders are secretly Sith Lords, working together to destroy the Jedi and create a new galactic regime under the control of their order.
  • Radio Free Albemuth: In the film, when Nicholas tells Phil that Fremont is a secret Communist, the latter objects that he's a fascist, while Nick says there's no real difference in practice. Fremont in any case is also pretending to be a right-wing anti-communist, so it's not surprising he'd be called a fascist. Both also used very similar tactics.
  • X-Men Film Series: The X-Men want equal rights and peaceful coexistence between mutants and baseline humans. As such, they routinely find themselves caught in the middle between mutant supremacists who believe it's their destiny to overthrow and replace the human race, and human supremacists who fear that this is true and must be stopped by any means necessary. Both sides are violent supremacist bigots, the only difference being which species they hold allegiance to. Best exemplified in X2: X-Men United, whose main villain, Colonel Stryker, is a military scientist who stole and repurposed the X-Men's Cerebro to exterminate all mutants. Magneto helps them stop him in the nick of time... and then promptly retargets Cerebro in an attempt to exterminate all humans.
  • You Don't Mess With The Zohan: The racist hillbillies who Walbridge hires to force the Middle Eastern immigrants out of their property decide to use terrorist attacks, with the main racist willing to suicide bomb himself out of sheer hatred.

    Literature 
  • A recurring theme in 1984:
    • The ideology of the totalitarian Party is called Ingsoc (English Socialism), and yet the society it governs has a great deal in common with far-right fascist dictatorships, with a strictly regimented class system based upon a subservient working class and a hierarchical, dictatorial system of rule. Goldstein's book, which describes the society, puts it rather baldly:
    ...the Party rejects and vilifies every principle for which the Socialist movement originally stood, and it chooses to do this in the name of Socialism.note 
    • The premise of the book postulates an ongoing Forever War between three superpowers (Oceania, Eurasia and Eastasia), the political ideologies of which are, respectively, Ingsoc, Neo-Bolshevism and Obliteration of the Self. To the extent that the citizens of each superpower are aware of the other superpowers' political ideologies, they deride them as monstrous outrages upon common sense. However, as Goldstein notes, the three ideologies are functionally indistinguishable, as are the societies they support.
  • By the end of Animal Farm, the oppressive pigs running the farm are scarcely distinguishable (in appearance or beliefs) from the oppressive farmers they deposed. Contrary to "Common Knowledge", this was less about communism in general and more about Stalinism in particular — Orwell was himself a socialist, albeit one that was highly critical of the Soviet Union and highly supportive of democracy.
  • Parodied in A Confederacy of Dunces:
    • Most obviously, this appears when Myrna sends Ignatius a letter describing a folk singer who gave her a pamphlet detailing a conspiracy theory that the Pope was planning to amass a nuclear armory. She assumed that the folk singer was a leftist anti-religious civil rights activist, and only later realized that the pamphlet was actually published by the notoriously anti-Catholic far-right Ku Klux Klan.
    • Less obviously, Ignatius and Myrna themselves are examples. Theoretically, Myrna is a Jewish far-left proto-hippienote  who's all for socialism and thinks sex will solve everything, while Ignatius is an Irish Catholic far-right avant-la-lettre neoreactionary who believes in medieval-style monarchy and holds very conservative beliefs about sex (so conservative that even the contemporary Catholic Church seems liberal by comparison). Under the surface, however, their political views lead them to rather similar critiques of their common enemies (particularly conventional White Protestants), and Ignatius and Myrna's political views are basically a product of their difficult relationships with the Establishment. In other words, their obvious mutual attraction (despite Ignatius' protestations to the contrary) is clearly less strange than it might appear at first.
  • Frederick Forsyth occasionally indulges in this:
    • The Dogs of War centers around a British industrialist's attempt to overthrow the government of a small West African nation. It's made very clear that this would make no substantive change in the country's fortunes; both the current dictator and his expected successor are violent and power-hungry thugs, both would be largely beholden to a foreign patron (with the Soviet Union switched out for the British industrialist's MegaCorp), and both would leave the population poor, ignorant, exploited, and lacking in any government services. The mercenary hired to carry out the coup, thankfully, ultimately chooses to Take a Third Option.
    • The Day of the Jackal includes a passage describing a controversial French police official. The writer uses the opportunity to take a few swipes at both the extreme-left and the extreme-right (the official's most prominent critics), pointing out the ways in which they're not so different from what they hate:
      The Communists called him a Fascist, though some of his methods of keeping public order were reminiscent of the means used in the workers' paradises beyond the Iron Curtain. The extreme Right loathed him equally, quoting the same arguments of the suppression of democracy and civil rights, but more probably because the ruthless efficiency of his public order measures had gone a long way towards preventing the complete breakdown of order that would have helped precipitate a Right-wing coup ostensibly aimed at restoring that very order.
  • Played to a disturbing degree in Fear, Loathing and Gumbo on the Campaign Trail '72:
    • In the first part of the story we see the rise of Mao Yuanxin, Mao Zedong's sociopathic nephew, who pushes an extreme left-wing ideology that rejects Soviet imperialism, yet copies Stalinist policies, including the mass murder and enslavement of millions of people, and the purging of many leadership roles.
    • In the second part of the story, Donald Rumsfeld becomes President and pushes strict anti-Communist, pro-capitalist policies, but part of this platform includes incarceration of political dissidents in asylums, censorship of the media, seizing of intellectual property, restrictions on interstate travel, and the creation of deranged paramilitaries.
    • After Rumsfeld is overthrown, the Christian Values party comes to power in America to impose their version of Evangelical Christianity. Like with the Lesser Mao, they eventually nuke parts of their own country, obliterate America's most valuable historical monuments, and have slaughtered millions of Americans.
    • In a more benign example, Ron Dellums (the far-left African American congressman) and George Wallace (the Dixiecrat Governor of Alabama) both campaign for the Democratic nomination. Despite being different, they both touch upon themes of political corruption and bringing power back to the people. Eventually Dellums endorses Wallace, and later serves in Wallace's cabinet once elected.
    • In another benign example Libertarian Party gains a massive political following in the American West, promising economic liberalism and individualistic freedom, but by the late 1980s, they've created a series of collective communities, called Bozeman communes across the Midwest. Rumsfeld even sees them as Communists.
  • The Handmaid's Tale:
    • The book depicts radical feminists as having worked together with far-right religious fundamentalists on at least some issues that helped lead to the foundation of the theocratic state of Gilead (after which, the far-right fundamentalists turned around and slaughtered their former allies). Specifically, both had a similar disdain for things such as pornography and prostitution, among other issues.
    • The earliest mentions and descriptions of Offred's mother make it sound like Offred was raised in a religious household, what with Offred mentioning that she watched ultra-conservative Female Misogynist preacher Serena Joy on TV as a child, or her mother's distaste for pornography and delight in burning it. As we later find out, Offred's mother was on the radical feminist side.
  • In the Humanx Commonwealth prequel Diuturnity's Dawn, a human-supremacist group has no problem teaming up with a thranx-supremacist group to plan a terrorist attack, since they share a mutual hatred, a total disregard for their own people's lives, and an opposition to the formation of The Federation, and can agree to table the question of whose species is superior.
  • An Invoked Trope in The Manchurian Candidate, where the Communist Deep Cover Agent is posing as a fervent anti-communist, plotting to gain dictatorial powers under the guise of a Red Scare. In an introduction to a later edition of the novel, the author Richard Condon said he remembered reading an editorial which read something to the effect of, "If Joseph McCarthy were a paid Soviet agent, he could not do more to harm this country than he's doing now," and started to wonder, "What if he really *was*?"
  • Although both German Communists and the Soviet Red Army are among the main enemies of the Freikorps in The Outlaws, the protagonist cannot help sympathy and admiration for their attitude, if not for their ideology. After all, he and many of his comrades are revolutionaries themselves and therefore way more eager to respect other revolutionaries rather than a government which they perceive as weak and corrupt. During his imprisonment, the hero even befriends an activist of the German Communist Party.
  • In The Screwtape Letters, the titular demon speaks about how any ideology can be used to turn a human to evil. He encourages creating zealots on both sides, and claims that after death their opposing souls can be blended into a most appetizing wine.
  • Small Gods features an atheist character of such burning passion that it works just like belief in the gods. This was because he very specifically didn't believe in Om (in fact, he pointedly refused to believe in Om to Om's face); another character who's a general atheist (in a "they're not real but there's no point thinking about it" way) just gets hit by lightning a lot.
  • Star Wars Legends did this a few times:
    • X-Wing Series: A rare benevolent example in Wraith Squadron's collaboration with Imperial Admiral Rogriss. The two sides cheerfully admit that they're ideological opposites and will be shooting at each other again very shortly. However, they're willing to put their differences aside to bring down Warlord Zsinj, the renegade Imperial admiral who's been threatening both sides for the past year. While their beliefs in democracy versus dictatorship are irreconcilable, both groups share a sense of military honor, as well as a general commitment to and willingness to sacrifice for a cause greater than themselves. This is in contrast to Warlord Zsinj, and even many of his underlings, who are ultimately just bandits loyal only to themselves.
    • The following book in the series, Isard's Revenge, deconstructs the concept by pointing out that the Horseshoe Theory can be perilously close to the Golden Mean Fallacy:
      Tycho Celchu: One person says white, another says black, and outside observers assume gray is the truth. The assumption of gray is sloppy, lazy thinking. The fact that one person is diametrically opposed to the truth does not then skew reality so the truth is no longer the truth.
    • The one after that, Starfighters of Adumar, does however give us a straight example in the person of Tomer Darpen, a New Republic Intelligence officer who's backing a violent and autocratic regime in order to gain control of a strategically important planet. Wedge refuses to go along with this, pointing out that there's no point in overthrowing the Empire if the New Republic is simply going to sanction identical regimes whenever it's convenient:
      Wedge Antilles: If we act like the Empire, we become the Empire. And then, even if we defeat the Empire, we've still lost - because the Empire is once again in control. Just with a new name and with new faces printed on the crednotes.
    • The Black Fleet Crisis trilogy shows us that at least some of the factions the Empire kept under its boot were every bit as xenophobic and genocidal as the Empire, just rooted in a different species.
      Princess Leia I'm beginning to wonder if the greatest indignity that the Empire subjected the Yevetha to wasn't holding them to a higher standard of behavior.
    • The Corellian Trilogy: The Saccorian Triad is an impressive three-way version of this: a crime syndicate that supports human supremacist, Selonian supremacist, and Drall supremacist movements alike (one for each of the three species native to the Corellian system). It helps that all of them hate the New Republic and don't want to find themselves accountable to its (or any) laws.
    • Thrackan Sal-Solo, the leader of the human movement, seems incapable of avoiding this trope, despite being a very sincere human supremacist. In the New Jedi Order era, he ends up becoming leader of the Peace Brigade, the movement collaborating with the Yuuzhan Vong, the extragalactic alien conquerors trying to take over the galaxy. (To add insult to injury, the Peace Brigade is itself a multi-species movement). As with the Corellian Trilogy example above, it helps that Thrackan and the Yuuzhan Vong share a burning hatred of the same group (the Jedi).
    • Young Jedi Knights gives us the Diversity Alliance, a terrorist organization that claims to be a response to the Empire's abuses against alien species... except that they don't just blame the Empire, but all of humanity. Not only do they share the Empire's general racist mindset, just in the other direction, but their master plan to exterminate humanity is literally based on an Imperial weapon, the Krytos virus, retooled to target humans specifically.
  • In These Words Are True and Faithful, religious-right Pastor Mandeville agrees with Cassilda Saunders or other radical feminist lesbians on pornography, gay men's sexual freedom, and transgender issues. He even works with them in the Anti-Porn League.

    Live-Action TV 
  • 24: The villains in Season 2 are an extended application of this trope. Wald, one of the first antagonists we meet, is an American Right-Wing Militia Fanatic plotting an act of terrorism. Unknown to Wald, he's being manipulated by Second Wave, a jihadist movement plotting to set off a nuclear bomb in Los Angeles. Second Wave, in turn, is being enabled by a Corporate Conspiracy of Western oil barons and arms manufacturers trying to provoke a war in the Middle East.
  • Braindead 2016: Jules (an extreme right-winger) and Noah (an extreme leftist) actually get into a road rage incident over their opposing views, but are persuaded to ally later because they both agree on so much (never compromising, going to war in Syria, etc.).
  • MacGyver (1985): A recurring trope, appropriately for a show that was fairly patriotic and anticommunist, while nevertheless concerned about the various injustices of American society and abuses of the U.S. government.
    • Early Retirement featured Mac's boss and friend Peter Thornton being framed and replaced by a rogue U.S. intelligence officer, who uses his new position to plot the capture and torture of a visiting dictator and Muammar Gaddafi expy that he suspects of supporting terrorism. After the plot is stopped, the dictator declines to press charges in international courts, candidly admitting that it's exactly the kind of thing he would have done.
    • The main villain of The Gun is a firearms manufacturer and strong Second Amendment advocate who's fond of invoking the U.S. Constitution. He's also dealing arms under the table to Middle Eastern terrorists trying to foment anti-Western violence.
    • The second TV movie, Trail To Doomsday, takes the same concept up to eleven. One of the main villains is a high-end Arms Dealer who's built an off-the-books nuclear reactor and is planning to sell H-bombs to various rogue states. His partners and first clients are a Renegade Russian faction attempting to restore the Soviet Union. MacGyver lampshades the oddity of a communist ideologue working with a capitalist billionaire. Downplayed in that the communist leader was entirely aware of the irony, and had planned from the beginning to eliminate her supplier as soon as he'd provided her with the bombs.
  • Years and Years: Discussed when a far-left party in Spain takes over due to a brief revolution. Daniel laments that they have a policy of repatriating refugees as well. Viktor says far-left meets with far-right in the middle.
  • Saturday Night Live:
    • Parodied on the recurring "Black Jeopardy" sketch. Tom Hanks played a stereotypical southern redneck Trump supporter who did surprisingly well playing a game whose questions are intended for urban black stereotypes.
    • Parodied again in the game show sketch "Republican or not", in which people would give a few vague statements describing their political beliefs and contestants would have to guess if the person is a Republican. Without context, everything everyone says could indicate that they are conservative or liberal.
  • This is a Central Theme of American Horror Story: Cult. Notably Straw Misogynist conservative cult leader Kai Anderson had an Evil Mentor who was a Straw Feminist belonging to a similar cult in the 60's, in the end it's implied Protagonist Ally Mayfair-Richards will be bringing this cult back. It's worth noting that Kia's Start of Darkness began when he killed a fundamentalist priest who spouted the same values Kia would eventually hold.
  • Sleeper Cell: Alex went from a Neo-Nazi who beat up Muslims to a Muslim terrorist (his Muslim wife is horrified by this). He tells some white supremacists about once being like them, and they retort that Alex is even now.
  • Stargate SG-1:
    • The Trust essentially flips from one end of the horseshoe to the other. Originally, it was set up by rogue NID agents who claimed to want to protect the United States and Earth from the Goa'uld and other alien threats, and didn't trust Stargate Command to do so. In Season 8, it's completely infiltrated by the remnants of the Goa'uld: not only are they taken over by the same enemy they were supposed to fight, they turn into a lifeline whose resources the almost-extinct Goa'uld use to find refuge on Earth and try to rebuild themselves.
    • Even before the takeover, the rogue NID and their allies had a great deal in common with the Goa'uld. Both factions are extremely prejudiced and view other species with suspicion or indifference. Both are run by power-hungry sociopaths whose claims to represent higher ideals are a mask for their own greed. And both of them largely follow the same MO in their development, pillaging the technologies of living and dead civilizations alike rather than trying to negotiate or trade for them.
    • The Free Jaffa occasionally fall into this. In "The Warrior", Katano appears to be a revolutionary leader seeking to free his people from the Goa'uld by any means necessary: SG-1 notes that his extreme and autocratic tactics largely treat his Jaffa followers as expendable pawns, and fears that his victory would ultimately be a Full-Circle Revolution after which the Jaffa would serve Katano in much the same way they previously served the Goa'uld. He's proven right, as Katano turns out to be a Goa'uld in disguise. We never learn whether he was trying to destroy the Jaffa rebellion, or simply co-opt it for his own purposes. In Season 9, the Free Jaffa Nation under Gerak's regime also shows some signs of this: when cautioned against using the same torture devices the Goa'uld used to enslave their people, Gerak replies that it's only appropriate that the Jaffa should use them in turn.
    • It's an open question whether the Tok'ra are the Good Counterpart of the Goa'uld, or the other end of the horseshoe. Like the rest of their species, they take human hosts. Unlike them, the process is voluntary, and they share the human's body in a symbiotic relationship. Many Earthers remain skeptical of them, Jack O'Neill in particular, believing (with some justification) that the Tok'ra still don't treat humans as full equals. In fact, when we first meet the Tok'ra leaders, they initially distrust the members of SG-1 because its human members aren't immediately volunteering to become a new host to a symbiote whose host is dying. It doesn't help that, in extreme circumstances, Tok'ra have been known to seize control of a human host without their consent in order to stay alive. For the longest time, they're also quite willing to send Jaffa and Human soldiers into battle without committing any of their number to the fight, and while they will get furious if a Tok'ra dies (SG-1 gets bawled out by the Tok'ra council because a Goa'uld battleship they destroyed a year ago that was invading earth at the time had Tok'ra agents aboard), they care little about the deaths of their allies, echoing the System Lord's casual regard for their warriors in favor of their own lives.
    • The two major factions of ascended beings, the Ori and the Ancients, fit the bill as well. The Ori believe in using their powers to subjugate the beings on the lower planes of existence, whom they then force to worship them as gods. The Ancients, ostensibly their Good Counterparts, believe strictly in non-interference with the lower beings, who they believe should be allowed to develop and achieve ascension (or not) on their own. The end result, however, is that while the Ancients may not oppress the lower beings as the Ori do, they're just as sociopathically indifferent to whether they live or die. By the end of Season 8, they were willing to watch the entire Milky Way Galaxy be purged of all life by the semi-ascended being Anubis, all to teach a lesson to one of their renegade members about the dangers of helping people ascend.
  • Yes, Minister. Sir Humphrey, arch-conservative, and Agnes Woodhouse, militant socialist, are nominally on opposite sides of the political spectrum, but are united in their utter disdain for the common people and belief in the need for strong, authoritarian government. The only thing they really disagree on is who should do the governing, and over the course of their interaction, they go from shouting to wistfully declaring it a damned shame they are on opposing teams.

    Video Games 
  • BioShock 2: Andrew Ryan is an extreme Objectivist whose ultimate goal is to promote Enlightened Self-Interest, while Sofia Lamb is an extreme Collectivist who wants to suppress individualism for The Needs of the Many. Both are oppressive, hypocritical despots who lead Rapture down similar paths to ruination.
  • Joseph Bertrand III and Brooke Augustine from inFAMOUS 2 and Infamous Second Son respectively are both Boomerang Bigot Conduits with extensive military forces that oppress a city with an iron-fist and encourage anti-conduit bigotry in the populous. However, while Bertrand hates conduits and plots to have them all destroyed in a grand scheme, Augustine plots in a misguided attempt at saving conduits.
  • In Kaiserreich: Legacy of the Weltkrieg, Huey Long is a right-wing Authoritarian Democrat (without the "democrat" part) and virulent anti-Syndicalist, but his Share Our Wealth plan is nonetheless rather socialist and would give the American people much of what the Syndicalists actually want.
  • Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep Gives us Master Eraqus. Master Xehanort warns Terra that Eraqus is so obsessed with the Light that it blinds him. We see this firsthand when Ventus and Terra go to confront Eraqus and, rather than explain his reasoning to his own students he instead decides to just kill Terra because his potential to join the Dark is too great and Ventus for having the potential to see Xenahort's dark plans come to fruition. This, of course, leads to his own death and his failure to stop both events from occuring anyway.
  • Shin Megami Tensei:
  • Soma Spirits: Form and Dissonance are zealots for the emotions of Joy and Sorrow respectively, believing that only their preferred emotions are good while the opposite emotions are evil. After the world is split into Joy and Sorrow halves, they each want to destroy the half of the world that they disagree with and have the exact same plan of turning their proteges into living weapons who are just as obsessed with their respective emotions as their mentors. In the true ending, both are so dogmatic about their ideals that they decide to team up to destroy Soma when their proteges render their plans impossible.
  • Assassin's Creed:
    • The Order of Assassins and the Templar Knights are both opposing organizations that have fought for centuries due to their conflicting opinions of how mankind should regulate itself. The Assassins believe that free-will is worth the trial & error and must be protected, while the Templars believe that free-will will destroy mankind and how they must enslave mankind to ensure its survival. Yet both of them have the long-term goal of a world at peace and their means are murder, sabotage, localized control of cities as power bases and income sources, etc. Furthermore, the Assassins follow the creed "nothing is true; everything is permitted", but this creed has led to more than one of their members working against their order's interests, including flat-out joining the Templars.
    • In Assassin's Creed, it is revealed at the end that Al Mualim — Altaïr's mentor and leader of the Levantine Assassin Order — was manipulating Altaïr into killing high-ranking members of the Templars so that he could secure the entire Templar Order (and by extension the Apple of Eden) for himself, having worked with both organizations to achieve this.
    • In Assassin's Creed III, Haytham Kenway's arc at the beginning of the game is played just like a regular Assassin in both plot and gameplay. The twist is revealed that the entire time he was working in the interests of the Templars, their motivations so similar to one another that neither Desmond nor the players realized this until it is flat-out stated that Haytham and his friends work for the Templars. Later in the game both factions back the Rebels in the American Revolution for their own reasons, leading to many awkward moments when Haytham and his Assassin opposite Connor are both hanging around with Washington; in one mission they outright team up.
  • Demonstrated by Frostpunk via the Order and Faith paths. The Order path focuses on keeping people productive by suppressing discontent, while the Faith path keeps people productive by inspiring them with hope. However, as the trees go further on, both begin exercising increasingly brutal and oppressive means to enforce the captain's will, and are functionally identical by the time they hit the final law: New Order/New Faith.
  • In Divinity: Original Sin II, Malady discusses how there's little practical difference between the omnicidal chaos of the Voidwoken and the despotic order of the Magisters — in game, they both deliberately inflict terror, disarray, and mass death on the greater population, and both even make use of the Black Ring Apocalypse Cult.
  • The Elder Scrolls:
    • The Morag Tong is a legal Dunmeri assassin's guild of Professional Killers. They hold Mephala, a Daedric Prince whose sphere is "obscured to mortals", but who is associated with manipulation, lies, sex, and secrets, as their patron deity. The Dark Brotherhood is an illegal assassin's guild (leaning closer to a Psycho for Hire organization) which split off from the Morag Tong long ago. They practice a relative Religion of Evil, serving the "Dread Father" Sithis and his wife, the Night Mother, a mysterious entity who leads the Brotherhood and speaks through the Listener of the organization. According to some sources, the Night Mother may very well be an aspect of Mephala, meaning that both groups, despite their differences, are still dedicated to the same deity.
    • The Aedra and the Daedra are typically viewed as opposites, particularly by mortals. Good and Evil. Order and Chaos. Light and Dark. Gods of Good and Gods of Evil. Angels and Demons. However, prior to the creation of Mundus, the mortal plane, there was no distinction made between these et'Ada ("original spirits"). The Aedra are simply the et'Ada who participated in creation (which is why their name means "our ancestors" in Old Aldmeris, while the Daedra ("not our ancestors") did not. This is why scholars and, in a few cases, the deities themselves, are quick to point out that these are beings truly Above Good and Evil who operate on their own Blue-and-Orange Morality. Anyone trying to classify them as such is simply trying to apply mortal moralities to immortal beings, which is a foolhardy endeavor.
    • Vivec, the Tribunal deity, clearly was never a big fan of the Dwemer. As one of Nerevar's councilors, Vivec believed that peace could not be had between the Chimer and Dwemer. He later urged Nerevar to make war on the Dwemer when evidence was brought forth that showed they were in possession of the Heart of Lorkhan and were attempting to tap into its power. However, Vivec would later draw his own divine powers from the Heart and the A God Am I-type response he gives if you question his past actions is very similar to the one he attributes to the Dwemer Architect Kagrenac when Nerevar originally questioned him about the Heart in The Battle of Red Mountain:
      Vivec: "Can you, mortal, presume to judge the actions and motives of a god?"
      Kagrenac (per Vivec): "But Kagrenac took great offense, and asked whom Nerevar thought he was, that he might presume to judge the affairs of the Dwemer."
    • In Morrowind, Mages Guild Archmage Trebonius Artorius is an incredibly skilled Battlemage, which allowed him to rise in the ranks of the Mages Guild. However, he quickly proved utterly incompetent at managing Guild affairs, so he was Kicked Upstairs to be in charge of the Guild branch in the most backwater district of the Empire, keeping him out of the hair of his mainland superiors. In Morrowind, the Imperial Mages Guild has to compete with the native Dunmer Great House Telvanni, a Magocracy made up of ancient and rather amoral sorcerers, when it comes to the business of magical arts. Trebonius, notorious for assigning his underlings Impossible Tasks, will demand that the Player Character kill all of the Telvanni councilors. His eccentric demands and power without common sense actually make him very similar to a typical Telvanni mage lord, and his solution for dealing with them is exactly what a Telvanni would do to his rivals.
    • In Skyrim, take a race that prides themselves for completely shaping modern Tamriel into what it is today, who bull-headedly looks down on other races and professions that are commonly not used in their culture even though history has shown that they were once skilled practitioners of it, follow a religion that is basically a combination of Men and Mer beliefs while a sizable minority still follows their old religion. All of these can easily describe both the rival Nords and the Altmer as of the 4th Era.

    Web Animation 
  • DarkMatter2525: The "Christian VS Muslim" video argues that fundamentalist Christians exhibit many ideological similarities with Muslims.
  • A recurring theme in TektonTV is that anti-theists ("fundie atheists") have much in common with fundamentalist Christians in the way they interpret The Bible.

    Web Original 
  • Jreg parodies this in his videos with Horseshoe Centrist, a personification of someone incapable of seeing the difference between literally opposite things. In general, a theme of his videos is that centrism will always be a threat to extremes far more than the extremes will be to each other, which prompts the 4 extremes to do a Villain Team-Up. Otherwise, the series is based on the Political Compass instead of Spectrum, and therefore any similarities between ideologies are explained due to them hugging one axis of the compass together.
    • Commie and Fascist in Centricide 5 end up summoning Nazbol to defeat Horseshoe Centrist which simultaneously proves his theory right and wrong.
  • This comic from Everyday Feminism draws such a comparison between "TERFs" (trans-exclusionary radical feminists) and conservative Christians.
  • Rational Wiki examines the concept in detail here. Some examples from the page:
    • The page argues that, while North Korea is ostensibly a communist state (although they technically stopped calling themselves that a long time ago), it has a great deal in common with nationalistic, authoritarian fascist regimes.
    • The page argues that, although Ayn Rand was a virulent opponent of Marxism, Objectivism has been criticized on the grounds that it is essentially Marxism turned on its head, to the point of having a cult of personality around her during Rand's life, and purges of dissidents within the philosophy.
    • The page points out that Ted Kaczynski, the "Unabomber", has just as many admirers on the left as on the right. As an aside, in his manifesto Industrial Society and its Future, Kaczynski criticized the left and advocated certain views typically associated with the right. He and fellow terrorist Timothy McVeigh conversed in prison, and apparently found they had much to agree on.
  • Frequently mentioned and discussed on Less Wrong.
  • The now-defunct Gamer Jargon website defined "Smoke Nazi" as either one who insists that no-one present smoke, and takes this insistence well beyond bounds of propriety or restraint, or one who insists on smoking, and takes this insistence well beyond bounds of propriety or restraint. It also noted that where there is one, there is likely to also be the other ("Anti-smoke Nazis usually claim some dire medical need to be free of smoke. The general consensus is that such people are better off not leaving their homes. Pro-smoke Nazis are usually just libertarian assholes. The general consensus is that such people should throw away their Ayn Rand books and get a life.")
  • politicalcompass.org averts this, instead pairing the left/right axis with an authoritarian/libertarian axis, splitting economic distribution and moral regulation into two different spectrums. However, this only removes the "horseshoe" shape out from the theory. Then again, it's harder for people to visualize "The Torus Theory" as well.
  • This article argues that, despite the self-professed opposition between fundamentalist Christians and fundamentalist Islamists, they share a remarkably large number of beliefs outside of the strictly theological. And then there is this 4chan post comparing the "alt-right" with fundamentalist Islam.
  • An actual scientific study into the phenomenon. Key quote:
    ...strong Republicans and Democrats are psychologically similar, at least with respect to authoritarianism…these findings support a view of mass polarization as nonsubstantive and group-centric, not driven by competing ideological values or clashing psychological worldviews.
  • One Cracked article discussing PETA's controversial "Holocaust on Your Plate" ad campaign that compared the meat industry to the Holocaust pointed out that you could go on Tumblr or Reddit and play a game of "PETA supporter or Neonazi?" They gave the example of this Tumblr post: "Sorry but to me there is no difference between a Jew and a pig."
  • This comedy sketch highlights perceived ways in which white racists and "woke" anti-racist progressives can end up advocating for similar things:
    Woke: All I said was that black men who date white women have internalized racism, and white men that date ethnic women are fetishizing them.
    Racist: Guy's against interracial dating now! Like, am I being pranked?
    Woke: White people need to stop wearing dreadlocks, and they need to stop appropriating black peoples' music!
    Racist: Shaved heads and country music, the way God intended!
  • The video by The Financial Diet, "Reacting To The Worst Personal Finance Channel On YouTube", has host Chelsea and Big Joel reacting to a financial advice channel. The channel has quite pro-capitalist and libertarian views, but it is such that, as the hosts notice, it sounds almost Marxist in its view of capitalism. The channel speaks as if there is only two classes (owner and worker), ignoring the middle class, its views on inflation seem to find that Capitalism is extremely frail and systems are easily inflated by any influx of money (which Big Joel has to say that he feels weird by defending capitalism after the channel says that because even he has to admit that Capitalism is more resistant than what they paint it as), says that billionaires really didn't get their money by working any harder than most people have, etc.

    Western Animation 
  • In the Black Dynamite episode "Bullhorn Nights" or "Murder She Throats", the KKK and the Black Pumas are revealed to be working together and killing Black porn stars in hopes that it would cancel the interracial porno "Willy Wanker & The Chocolate Factory".
  • In the American Dad! episode, "Stan of Arabia", Stan, a right-wing, uber-patriotic American, longs for the days when men had the final say in a marriage, and women did as they were told. After he and his family are sent to Saudi Arabia for a shit job, he realizes that Sharia laws matches his values pretty well, and ends up renouncing his American citizenship to stay there. In the same episode, Hayley, a leftist, feminist, American teenager, ends up bonding with a Saudi radical over their shared distaste for American militarism.
  • In the final season of The Legend of Korra, Kuvira's Earth Empire uses methods uncomfortably similar to those of the previous Earth Kingdom, including rule by intimidation and forced conscription. Her plan to take over the United Republic by force had already been planned by the Earth Queen for similar reasons (the Republic was founded on Earth Kingdom land).

 
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The Horseshoe Centrist

The Horseshoe Centrist is the anthropomorphic personification of the Horseshoe Theory, a being who is incapable of distinguishing two opposite things and is the most powerful of the Centrists. His power is demonstrated when Commie and Nazi try to kill him, beating them by using the fact that Authoritarian Left and Authoritarian Right are the same thing against them.

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Main / TheHorseshoeEffect

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