When I was part of the Green Party, we kept telling ourselves that we were beyond Left & Right politics. In fact we said, we are neither Left or Right but out in front. We told everyone that we were thinking forward.
In its own way, it made sense. The Greens have helped expand the political debate which has illustrated the inadequacy of the Right vs Left dichotomy. I believe that the entire Right vs Left political spectrum is so archaic it should be completely thrown away. Its history stretches all the way back to the 18th Century which may indicate why it no longer is relevant to modern times.
The Right vs Left spectrum was born during the French Revolutionary era, where the Right and Left political positions refers to the seating arrangements in the various legislative bodies of France. At that time, the aristocracy sat on the right of the Speaker while the commoners sat on the left.
“The Right” was made up aristocratic or royal interests, including the church, while “the Left” was represented mainly the interests of the bourgeoisie and early capitalists. At that time, support for free market capitalism were issues promoted by the Left while opposition to capitalism and its materialistic ways was held by the Right.
History has shown us that the capitalists won the debate and have replaced “the Right” as the new ruling class. Interestingly, they are now considered to be “the Right” and now defend capitalism against “the Left” who seeks to replace/modify it with some form of socialism. The old opposition has become the new establishment and in turn is faced with its own opposition. No wonder people say that politics is confusing. The left became the right and the left became the right. Sheesh.
Absurdity aside, there is more to politics than whether one can be for or against capitalism. Thankfully, some ingenious people have come up with new political spectrums that expand the range of political debate. In a way. these spectrums are just like maps – they help us identify where we are and where we potentially want to go.
The first is “The World’s Smallest Politcial Quiz“:
This Quiz is actually a diamond-shaped chart that introduces a new axis in which to compare different political values. By asking and scoring ten questions, the quiz-taker is placed into one of five political categories: Statist, Right/Conservative, Centrist, Left/Liberal, and Libertarian.
The biggest criticism of this spectrum is that it actually a clever marketing tool to lead people to self-identify as being more libertarian. To score a 0 means that you are statist, to score 100 is to be a true libertarian. The tool is the creation of Marshall Fritz on behalf of the libertarian Advocates for Self-Government. But that fact does not take away from its merit – that it successfully expanded the political spectrum.
An even better tool was created by Jerry Pournelle, who was a political scientist and science fiction writer. The chart follows the same two axis system that The World Smallest Political Quiz did, but takes a different focus:
What I find so superior about the Pournelle Chart is that it identifies two axis that are different from all previous matrixes. Instead of contrasting Economics and Personal Values, this system is much more specific and philosophical: What is the role of the State and Can the Nature of Man be Improved Upon?
The chart is superior because it does not fall into the old Left vs Right spectrum of being for or against capitalism. After all, it is possible to have capitalism and still be communist as evident by the success of China.
The Statism/x-axis represents one’s attitude toward the State. It is meant to reflect the political philosophy towards state and centralized government. The farthest right position entails state worship, while the farthest left views the state as an evil entity and prefers individual freedom.
The Rationalism/y-axis represents one’s attitude towards planned social progress. It is meant to reflect the political philosophy whether problems in society can be solved through the use of reason. The very top position has complete confidence that planned social progress is possible; while the very bottom represents skepticism and distrust of such approaches, believing that a human utopia is not possible. The people at the top would subscribe to notions of progress and abdicating tradition when necessary. They would conflict directly with those at the bottom who would be suspicious of progress that does away with social norms and puts silly ideas in people’s minds.
The matrix helps us understand where Fascism was both similar and different from Socialism. They both worship the State but have diametrically opposed ideals of humankind’s perfectibility What a fascinating tool! Pournell is genius to boil down the essence of all political thought (up to now) to two fundamental questions. Finally, it becomes possible to get beyond the archaic Left vs Right politics.
So now that we can get past the old debate. Where do you stand? You could take The World’s Smallest Politcial Quiz to test yourself. Just remember it is biased towards the libertarian position because of the way the questions lead. In the spirit of self-disclosure, I would have to say that I am libertarian in most of my views. I always appreciated the anarchistic roots found in the Green Party and would think that the ideal government would be a green-libertarian one.