The Electric Commentary

Monday, March 20, 2006

The Multi-Dimensional Political Spectrum

Peter DiGaudio, one of the more conservative contributors to the BBA, is asking for description of the political spectrum. He mentions two popular conceptions. The first is the standard right-left dichotomy. The second is a circle:

... and the other is circular, with the extremes of left and right actually meeting.

I think that most libertarians would describe the political spectrum in terms of a Euclidean, two-dimensional graph.

The lower right quadrant would be your social right wing. Here we find obsessive moralizing, culture war issues, and much corporate welfare. And stuff like this. (Hat tip, Sully.) This is the power hungry sector of conservatism. They believe that government power can make the world better, if only they can control it.

Directly opposite this quadrant we find the power hungry left. These are your socialistic snobs. Your hippie do-gooders. They want you to ride your bike, not smoke, eat tofu, drink wheatgrass juice, and they certainly don't want you taking any foolish risks. Ever. This is the nanny state. They know what's best, and they'd like you to pay them for the privilege of obeying their orders.

The difference between these two sides is only a difference of opinion. Both want to harness government for the good of mankind, and neither can be trusted to zip themselves up without massive blood loss. At the meeting of these two quadrants, on the lowest point of the y-axis lies both fascism and communism, two peas in a pod. Both give government the ultimate power, and both make slaves of the people.

Now, let's move out of the more infernal areas of the spectrum and into the illuminating light of the libertarian half.

The upper right quadrant is composed of the economic conservatives. They want to reduce the size of government by cutting spending and cutting taxes. They see economic freedom as intrinsic to personal freedom. Many of these people still have socially conservative tendencies, which makes them hypocrites to some extent, but if push comes to shove, they don't trust government, and they will vote against it. These types of conservatives are currently in the minority. Actually, I can't remember this group ever having been in the majority. I wonder what it would be like.

Opposite the fiscal conservatives are the laissez-faire hippies. OK, let's call them social libertarians. While my brother and I throw the term "dirty hippie" around rather loosely on this blog, we are, frankly, a bit unfair. What we don't like is bossy hippies. They suck. However, there are also permissive hippies. They want to legalize drugs, gambling, and any other victimless/consensual crimes. They think that conservatives are hung up on sex, drugs, and rock and roll, and that the world would be in better shape if people just butted out of these areas. They think that homosexuals should be free to do as they please, that swearing on network TV is perfectly fine (and protected by the Constitution), and that Phish rules.

At the very top of the y-axis we find anarchy, which is always a disaster. However, just under anarchy, looking down on the rest of you from on high, we find libertarianism. Why aren't libertarians just anarchists? Because libertarians know that in much of the world, especially in Africa, there is simply a lack of government. Sure government sucks at most things, but we didn't leave that state of nature for nothing. When we don't have government, the physically strong begin to dominate. That is anarchy, and that is the state of nature. It is no way to live. Strong governmental institutions are essential to a functioning nation, and libertarians, rather than seeking to be rid of all government, merely seek to discover which governmental functions are essential to social stability.

When libertarians say that there is really no difference between Republicans and Democrats, they are speaking vertically. They both wish to gain and exercise the same amount of power, and that is the most important criterion to a libertarian. Libs see most left/right squabbles as petty. The elephants and donkeys missing the forest for the trees.

Most people will fall into more than one category. If you graphed someone's political views you would probably get a bunch of zig-zags or a parabola but in general, everyone will fit somewhere into this spectrum. My hope is that more people find there way into the upper half.


  • Did you ever take the Neal Boortz quiz on Are you a Libertarian?

    By Blogger Peter, at 11:50 PM  

  • I just took it, Peter. It put me in the centrist category, although I was in the libertarian quadrant. Here's the quiz:

    By Blogger MDS, at 11:37 AM  

  • I was squarely in the libertarian quadrant. I love taking stuff like this. It makes me learn more about what I really think. I didn't realize I was that close to pure libertarian. I scored 100 on economic issues and 80 on the personal issues.

    By Blogger Peter, at 11:38 AM  

  • Thanks for the link, M. I'm fairly extreme, apparently, although for a few questions I probably would fall between "maybe" and "agree" if the option were available. Maybe if "minimal" was an option.

    By Blogger PaulNoonan, at 12:08 PM  

  • Paul,
    I just added a link to your analysis to my original post. On your quadrant, I'd probably put myself in the lower half on the upper right quadrant, if that tells you anything.

    By Blogger Peter, at 12:50 PM  

  • Weren't these libertarian quizzes designed to make conservatives think they're really libertarian?

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 8:14 PM  

  • That's a good question. There are varying degrees of conservatives as well as — I think — different types of libertarians.

    I think both have some basic things in common as well as some differences. I know several pure libertarians. Much of what they say makes sense.

    By Blogger Peter, at 8:37 PM  

  • That self gov quiz is rubbish. It tries to make everyone a libertarian.

    By Blogger the Rising Jurist, at 8:43 PM  

  • tr:
    I have seen other ones that were longer and more inclusive. Probably more accurate. On this one, I played around with the limited responses and could change the results dramatically. You may be correct on that.

    By Blogger Peter, at 11:49 PM  

  • I've taken this before, but I did again anyway. I scored centrist (despite only 1 maybe). Dead on the Y axis, a touch below the X axis. I do think it is more reflective of reality than a linear spectrum.

    I then played with the quiz (finding it suprisingly hard not to score as a centrist, so I don't see a libertarian bias in scoring). On the other hand, the description of each of the positions clearly reflects the author's bias and may even be intentional rhetoric. It plays somewhat like an exercise in persuasive word usage. Statists are described using negative verbs (oppose, distrust, etc) acting upon objects with positive associations (freedom, liberty, etc.). Libertarians have positive for both. Had the author sought to be balanced he could have used the same balanced word usage he did for the liberal and conservative descriptions. It would not have been that difficult.

    By Blogger Scott H, at 1:59 PM  

  • Try

    By Blogger RyanSimatic, at 5:33 PM  

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