Posts Tagged ‘Right vs. left’

The imaginary political spectrum

November 3, 2011

We talk about political ideas and proposals in terms of an imaginary spectrum.  Politicians are leftist, rightist or centrists.  But what does that mean?  Self-described left-wingers generally see themselves as champions of poor oppressed people against their enemies.  Self-described right-wingers generally see themselves as defenders of traditional moral values against their enemies.

A Tea Party supporter once explained to me that the Right consists of the champions of individual liberty against governmental authority.  By this definition, Hitler was on the Left, and people such as President Obama and myself, although not Nazis, were closer to Hitler on the spectrum than the Tea Party leaders.  But the American Civil Liberties Union champions individual civil liberties against government authority.  Is it then a right-wing organization?

The so-called Nolan Chart addresses this complexity.  Libertarians see self-described liberals on the left as defenders of personal liberty and self-described conservatives on the right as defenders of economic liberty.  But libertarians think that they alone are consistent defenders of liberty in all aspects.

Click on Nolan Chart Survey for a quiz that will show you your place on the Nolan chart.

Click on The Wheel of Politics for another libertarian-centric chart, this one a hexagon showing libertarianism in relation to progressivism and conservatism.  Libertarians go in more for this kind of political taxonomy because, in my opinion, they see politics more as a conflict of ideas while liberals see it more as a conflict of interests and conservatives as a conflict of values.

The SF writer Jerry Pournelle produced a chart placing political ideologies along two axes – statism versus liberty, and rationality vs. irrationality.

This explains how Nazis and Communists can be so alike, yet so opposed to each other.  Rationalism in this case does not refer to what people really are, but how they think of themselves.  Communists thought of Marxism-Leninism as the only scientific philosophy; the Nazis glorified instinct and despised intellectuality.

 Click on The Pournelle Political Axes for Jerry Pournelle’s explanation of his chart.

But this way of looking at things leaves out an important dimension, which is captured on a chart, shown below, created by political scientist Daniel Chirot.

Click to enlarge