Features, Politics

It’s Time to Retire the Political Spectrum

American culture is dominated by the idea that politics is a contest between two philosophies that occupy opposite sides of a unidimensional spectrum. People can be placed on either the “left” side (with “liberals” or “progressives” leaning that direction), or the “right” side (with “conservatives” leaning that direction). This paradigm rules in the media, scholarship, punditry, informal conversation, social networking, and virtually every other site of political discourse.

Here’s the problem: it’s completely wrong.

Humans create models to simplify and impose order on experience, but the models are only valuable if they improve, rather than distort, understanding of reality. Some theories—such as the germ theory of disease—are valuable and accurate, while others—such as the ‘four humors’ theory of disease—are harmful and inaccurate.

The political spectrum is one of the inaccurate and harmful models. Just as the four humors theory led doctors to bleed their patients to death in previous centuries, the political spectrum is bleeding our republic to death today in three ways.

1. Confusion

The political spectrum creates confusion. It tells us, for example, that both fascist Adolf Hitler and libertarian Milton Friedman are on the “far right,” yet Hitler advocated nationalism, socialism, militarism, authoritarianism, and anti-Semitism, while Milton Friedman advocated internationalism, capitalism, pacifism, civil liberties, and was himself a Jew.

George W. Bush’s big-government, militarist philosophy is considered “right wing” as is Rand Paul’s small-government, anti-militarist philosophy. We say that liberals believe in free speech and conservatives believe in free markets, yet moving to the “extreme left” means clamping down on free speech (as with Stalin or Mao) and moving to the “extreme right” means clamping down on free markets (as with National Socialism).

In short, the political spectrum teaches us that opposites are the same and the same are opposites. This is absurd.

Some try to save the spectrum by bending it into a circle, saying that if we go too far to the right or left we wind up in the same place—totalitarianism. But we are still left with the vexing question: what do we mean by “right” or “left” (or, for that matter, the new “up” and “down” the circle has introduced)? This modification of the spectrum only tells us that totalitarians are the same, but we don’t need a meaningless circle to know this.

The reality is that the two sides of the spectrum are largely mixes of incoherent, unrelated, and constantly shifting positions lumped together by the accident of history. What does being aggressive in military have to do with free markets?1 What does opposing abortion have to do with favoring the Iraq War or capital punishment? What does belief in “getting tough on crime” have to do with opposing gay marriage? And what does favoring tax cuts have to do with expanding military spending?

Defenders of the political spectrum may acknowledge this variation, but will claim that, underneath all the difference, there is an “essence”—some core idea, assumption, philosophy, or disposition—that ties all people of each side together.2 They might say, for instance, that all those on the right (conservatives) want to conserve and all those on the left (progressives) want change.

But when we consider the actual views of those called conservatives and progressives, we find that this doesn’t hold. Saying conservatives want to conserve only begs the question, “conserve what?” Both progressives and conservatives want to change tax rates, abortion laws, immigration policy, gun laws, and safety net spending—they only differ in which way they want to change them.

Some modify these definitions a bit, saying all those on the right are “backward-looking” while those of the left are “forward-looking,” yet Yuval Levin, Brink Lindsey, and others have shown that both left-wing and right-wing policies are backward-looking and marked by nostalgia, depending on the issue.3 The most prominent leftist economist in America, Paul Krugman, constantly pines for the more equal and regulated economy of the 1950s while leftist icons Karl Marx and Jean Jacques Rousseau were wistful for a primitive time before property introduced corruption. Claiming that someone is “forward looking” also assumes we know the future. We don’t. If we did, our track record of prediction as a species wouldn’t be so poor.

Of course, most people don’t use these definitions, but invent their own. If you pose the question, “What is a conservative [or progressive]?” to a hundred people, you will likely get a hundred answers. And most of these answers will tell us more about the person answering the question than about the ideology itself. A progressive might say, “Progressives care about the poor while conservatives care about the rich”; a conservative might say, “Conservatives love America while progressives hate America.” Neither of these definitions describes actual progressives or conservatives, but only reveal the prejudices of the person answering. The vast majority of people on both the Left and Right are patriotic and concerned about the disadvantaged. It clarifies nothing to say otherwise.

Some maintain that conservatives believe in limited government while progressives believe in expanding government, but this simply isn’t true. Those called conservatives today generally want more government when it comes to military spending, promoting morality, punishing crime, and enforcing immigration law, while those called progressives today want less government involvement when it comes to reproductive choices, domestic surveillance, and the military.4 And if ‘right-wing’ means less government, what are we to do with fascists like Mussolini who declared, “Everything in the state, nothing against the state, nothing outside the state”?

Others claim that the right wing is defined by foreign policy “hawkishness” while the left wing is defined by foreign policy “dovishness.” But those on the American Left were far more hawkish than those on the Right until the 1960s.5 The view that ‘right-wing’ is synonymous with hawkishness is a fairly recent development and looks to be changing again with the growing influence of “America First” sentiments in the Republican Party.

Every proposed essence for right or left is easily falsified, leading to the conclusion that ideologies are evolving social constructs.6 Yet those who cling to the spectrum make their theories of right-left immune from falsification through creative ex-post storytelling. The test of truth is not storytelling, but prediction; those clinging to the political spectrum make no predictions, but they do tell plenty of stories.7 With enough creativity anyone can turn the random noise of politics into signals of coherent ideologies.

For example, it is impossible to falsify the claim, “the Republican party moved to ‘the right’ under George W. Bush” because we can simply redefine “the right” to make it fit whatever Bush happened to be doing. Who foresaw in the 1990s that invading a foreign country to spread democracy and doubling federal government spending would be considered “conservative” in the next decade? Who in the 1850s foresaw that advocacy for the welfare state would soon be considered “liberal”? It is only in hindsight that we can unite limited-government “liberals” like Locke, Jefferson, Mill, and Godkin and expansive-government “liberals” like Croly, FDR, LBJ, and Obama. Clearly, the left-right model of politics, confuses far more than it clarifies.

2. Hostility

The obvious question to all of this is: “If the political spectrum is largely meaningless and causes so much confusion, why does nearly everyone buy into it?” Part of the answer is laziness. Putting people into one of two ideological boxes is far easier than understanding their unique point of view. Reducing politics to a simple contest between right and left is far easier than reasoning through hundreds of issues. Humans generally prefer simplicity to truth and would rather sign up for a “side” than do the hard work of thinking.

But even more powerful than laziness is tribalism. Social psychologists have found that humans have an intrinsic need to belong to groups in order to gain a sense of identity, purpose, and belonging. Ideologies fill this need.8

Most people assume that, when it comes to politics, we begin with some core commitment to a principle (e.g., “change,” “liberty,” “compassion,” “preservation,” “patriotism”), adopt political positions based on this commitment, and then identify with the ideology that encompasses all of these positions, but recent social psychology tells us this is exactly backward. Humans generally identify with an ideological tribe first and only adopt and justify the views of that tribe afterward.9 In Jonathan Haidt’s words, “Often our beliefs are post hoc constructions designed to justify what we’ve just done, or to support the groups we belong to.”10

This leads us to the second major problem with the political spectrum: it creates hostility. By telling us that there are two (and only two) sides in politics, it inherently pits a heroic, enlightened side against a villainous, foolish side. We don’t need to understand those who disagree with us, we only need to destroy them. They are “others” we can demean, belittle, and feel superior to. Anti-Semites needed the Jews as scapegoats for the world’s problems and ideologues today need political “opposites” for the same reason. Just as racism leads people to judge and hate based on skin color, “ideologism” leads people to judge and hate based on political labels. Ideologism has become a new form of acceptable bigotry, but can be as ugly as racism, sexism, imperialism, or any other “ism.” Unfortunately, it is pervasive, damaging, and getting worse.11

Ideologism also creates guilt by (assumed) association. By labeling someone “left” or “right,” we can make them guilty of crimes they didn’t commit and ascribe to them beliefs they don’t hold. Senator Joseph McCarthy, for instance, was a master ideologist who labeled any opponent of his agenda “left-wing” thereby making them guilty of the crimes of Communists everywhere. Many of today’s “conservatives” are no better, arguing that all “progressives” are guilty of eugenics because certain “progressives” of the past advocated eugenics.12 Yet the progressives themselves are not above this tactic, often smearing conservatives as “racists” since those with the label “conservative” in the past advocated slavery and opposed Civil Rights. Come out against the Iraq War and you are akin to Stalin; come out against the ACA and you are akin to Bull Connor. We can’t have reasoned political debates when we consider those “on the other side” guilty of humanity’s greatest sins. Far better to stop thinking in terms of “sides” at all.

Ideologism is an especially pernicious form of bigotry because the indeterminacy of political labels means that we can apply the terms “right” or “left” to nearly anyone for any reason. During Mao’s Cultural Revolution, millions of people were beaten, imprisoned, humiliated, and killed for being “rightists,” even though nobody really knew what a “rightist” was. The epithet was so vague that it was used against even the most committed Communists. Religious zealotry in 1690s Salem meant that dozens were falsely accused of being witches and ideological zealotry today means that millions are falsely accused of being “commies” and “fascists.”

It’s a cliché that understanding is superior to hatred in human affairs, and yet how many of us work to understand others when it comes to ideology? With the exception of those who gain fame and fortune by stoking the flames of political anger (e.g., Ann Coulter, Kieth Olbermann, Sean Hannity, Michael Moore, Rush Limbaugh, etc.), most of us would like to see more civility in our public discourse. The political spectrum makes this difficult.

3. Dogmatism

Finally, and most tragically, the political spectrum closes our minds. Philip Tetlock, James Suriowecki, and others have shown that those who think ideologically are less capable of solving problems, thinking creatively, and making predictions than those who don’t. Ideologues often declare, “Truth has a [left or right]-wing bias,” but this statement is both arrogant and false. Ideologues are demonstrably less guided by evidence and less able to see reality than those who think outside the left-right boxes. Foxes (eclectic thinkers) outperform hedgehogs (monistic thinkers) when it comes to cognitive tasks, but the spectrum turns us into hedgehogs.13

It shouldn’t be hard to see why ideological thinking makes us foolish: it creates a mental prison. The political spectrum tells us that there are two (and only two) ways to approach politics and that one side is right on everything and the other is wrong on everything. Finding truth then becomes a simple matter of declaring for the “correct side” rather than engaging in the hard work of critical thought.

When practicing science, we understand that we must alter our paradigms to fit new evidence, but ideology makes us alter new evidence to fit our paradigms. Many argue that we should allow free speech and consider alternative viewpoints because “we might be wrong.” Actually, we should consider alternative viewpoints because we are certainly wrong and the only way to be less wrong is to have our views challenged. Ideological thinking stifles this open-mindedness that would help eliminate errors in our thinking. The point of politics should be the improvement of society, but political tribalism puts the quest for victory above the quest for truth. It leads us to assert our ideological dogmas with more force, hatred, and vehemence, which only retrenches us in our errors.

Instead of declaring for sides, Americans should address specific problems and debate a wide range of approaches to those problems without encumbering them with ideological labels. We should be listening rather than labelling, practicing humility rather than arrogance, and seeing complexity rather than duality. As long as we remain stuck in the political binary, the solutions to our most urgent political problems will remain out of reach.

On immigration, for instance, ideologues are working themselves into a frenzy over whether we should have more or less immigration. But they are probably asking the wrong question. The debate over “how much?” might profitably be turned into a debate over “what kind?” By admitting more skilled immigrants to America, we could gain many of the advantages of immigration (higher economic growth, diversity, providing opportunity) while minimizing many of the disadvantages (burden on the public sector, growing poverty and inequality). This solution is currently ignored because political discourse is trapped in the left-right view of “more vs. less” immigration.

Similarly, we are unable to reduce the national debt because the left-right spectrum presents us with two bad fiscal alternatives: increasing spending (left) or cutting taxes (right). Compromising between the two sides of the spectrum only leads to the “tax-cuts-in-exchange-for-increased-spending” policies that have produced record budget deficits in this century. We will continue to be limited in our ability to find solutions to public problems so as long as we imprison ourselves in the categories of left and right.14

Conclusion

It wasn’t easy for doctors to give up the four humors theory of medicine and it’s not easy for us to give up the binary spectrum theory of politics. But discard the spectrum we must. If we really want to be on the “right side of history,” we should be in the forefront of letting go of this misleading paradigm. It will likely be ridiculed by our descendants for the same reasons we currently ridicule astrology and phrenology.

Philip Tetlock once said, “Partisans across the opinion spectrum are vulnerable to occasional bouts of ideologically induced insanity.”15 It’s time to stop the insanity. The vast majority of Americans agree on the basics of wanting a safe, prosperous, and peaceful country. Starting from these points of commonality, instead of from the divisions created by the left-right binary, might do wonders in getting fruitful action taken on today’s social problems and letting our political discourse heal.

 

Endnotes

[1] In fact, Bruce Porter saw that war is the single greatest catalyst for the expansion of state power and that conservatism, as it had evolved to be both anti-state and pro-war by the late 20th century, was self-defeating. Porter, War and the Rise of the State (NY: Free Press, 1994).

[2] Jason Weeden and Rob Kurzban call this the General Orientations Model. Weeden and Kurzban, “Do People Naturally Cluster into Liberals and Conservatives?” Evolutionary Psychological Science, March 2016, Vol 2, pp. 47-57.

[3] See Levin’s The Fractured Republic (NY: Basic Books, 2016) and Lindsey’s The Age of Abundance (NY: HarperCollins, 2007).

[4] As a percentage of GDP, Federal Government spending went from 21% to 18% under Bill Clinton, and from 18% to 25% under George W. Bush, but which of the two was considered “conservative”?

[5] Conservative isolationists, remember, were the harshest critics of FDR’s “interventionist” policies in the 1930s.

[6] In The Hidden Agenda of the Political Mind (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2014) and “Do People Naturally Cluster into Liberals and Conservatives?” Kurzban and Weeden wisely propose a Domain-specific Model of politics to replace the binary, simplistic, and false General Orientations Model.

[7] For instance, the proposition that says the right, at its essence, believes in conserving, would predict that environmental conservation would be associated with the right. It’s not and this view is thereby falsified.

[8] Because political parties are necessary, some tribalism is endemic to democracy, but belonging to a party without thinking there is a philosophy behind the party’s policies would do wonders to reduce that tribalism.

[9] Daniel Kahneman, Thinking Fast and Slow (NY: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2011).

[10] Jonathan Haidt, The Righteous Mind (NY: Pantheon, 2012), 290.

[11] See Shanto Iyengar and Sean J. Westwood, “Fear and Loathing Across Party Lines: New Evidence on Group Polarization” American Journal of Political Science, Volume 59, July 2015, 690–707.

[12] George Will, “Eugenics Was a Progressive Cause,” Washington Post, March 9, 2017. Also see Thomas C. Leonard, Illiberal Reformers: Race, Eugenics, and American Economics in the Progressive Era (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2016).

[13] James Surowiecki, The Wisdom of Crowds (NY: Doubleday, 2004); and Philip E. Tetlock, Superforecasting: The Art and Science of Prediction (NY: Crown, 2015).

[14] If a sociologist told you that everyone can be divided into one of two categories: dumb, good looking, athletic “jocks” and smart, ugly, un-athletic, “nerds,” you would counter that such a categorization schema is both false and harmful. The world isn’t that simple. There are many characteristics not given in this binary, there is infinite variation within those characteristics, and there are many who fit neither side. The political spectrum creates these same problems and worse.

[15] Stewart Brand, The SALT Summaries (Long Now Press, 2011), 128.

Hyrum Lewis

Hyrum Lewis

Hyrum Lewis is a Visiting Scholar at Stanford University and Professor of History at BYU-I. He received a PhD in History from USC. He can be found on Twitter at @LewisHyrum
Hyrum Lewis

Latest posts by Hyrum Lewis (see all)

Filed under: Features, Politics

by

Hyrum Lewis is a Visiting Scholar at Stanford University and Professor of History at BYU-I. He received a PhD in History from USC. He can be found on Twitter at @LewisHyrum

31 Comments

  1. I generally like Quillette but this article is naive and uninformed. It’s more rationalization than rational; a great example of the sort of post hoc construction mentioned in it.

    It refers to The Righteous Mind but nobody who deeply understands that book could have written this article.

    Conservatism is the psychological profile of the all-foundation moral matrix in combination with the cognitive style of holistic intuitionist Aristotelian empiricism. It is the predisposition (ala Hibbing*) toward the set of moral intuitions for which the object of care is the family unit – social capital – and which favor process-based negative conceptions of liberty, equality, justice, and fairness. Its goal is “to create a healthy, happy society” that does the most possible good for the most possible people. It accepts human nature as immutable, and sees the enemy of liberty as consolidated, concentrated, political power. It therefore sees government as a necessary evil, the purpose of which is to protect rights, and for which power must be restricted lest tyranny and oppression rule.

    Liberalism is the psychological profile of the three-foundation moral matrix, with extra emphasis on care, in combination with the cognitive style of WEIRD rationalist Platonic idealism. It is the predisposition (ala Hibbing) toward the set of moral intuitions for which the object of care is the individual and his/her feelings, and which favor outcome-based positive conceptions of liberty, equality, justice, and fairness. Its goal is “to create a healthy, happy society” that does the most possible good for the most possible people. It sees human nature as having unlimited potential, and sees political power as a source of good. It therefore sees government as the ultimate tool for achieving good, for which power must be consolidated and concentrated in order to prevent the rich and greedy from abusing and oppressing the less fortunate.

    https://theindependentwhig.com/2017/04/29/science-based-definitions-of-conservatism-and-liberalism/

    • LukeReeshus says

      I too found this essay a little baffling. Yes, the unidimensional political spectrum is overly simple and often confusing, but it is not worthless. It does capture, to some extent, important psychological differences between progressives and conservatives.

      What’s more, the author seems to think that the very concept of a political spectrum is unhelpful. I wonder if he would feel the same way about a bi-dimensional one? (I personally find it to be an outstanding conceptual tool.)

      Plus, I don’t think losing the “left-right” characterization would diminish political tribalism all that much. Political differences are, after all, much deeper than the labels people use for themselves and others.

      No, in the U.S. at least, the main problem isn’t that we only have two political poles. The problem is that we only have two political parties.

    • Samedi says

      Once you say “Conservatism IS …” or “Liberalism IS ….” you have already lost the argument. Those are just your definitions and have no objective validity. Arguing over the definitions of things which don’t exist is pointless. As the author of the article stated these labels are merely mental categories (models) not real things that can be empirically verified.

      • LukeReeshus says

        @Samedi

        You seem to be saying that conservatism and liberalism, as patterns of thought, do not exist.

        Which is rather strange, such as saying that—for example—the eternal trade-off between security and freedom isn’t real, or at least that those who consistently favor one more than the other can’t be categorized into separate groups.

        I think you missed The Independent Whig’s point.

        • AS says

          @LeekReeshus

          I think you might’ve missed the point of the author of the article then. Of course one can define two (or more) opposing groups based on the issue and the trade-off you mention. However, the problem with the US left/right divide is that is has become so rigid that it “forces” one (esp. politicians) to adopt a whole set of policies based on one convictions – policies that do not necessarily have anything to do with one another. Let’s say one defines himself as a conservative because of one or two issues one strongly believes in – let’s say opposition to abortion and gay marriage. With that comes a heap of other things, like a belief in low taxes, low levels of regulations for corporations, skepticism (or total disbelief) when climate change is in question, support for gun owners, etc. Why cannot one be an anti-abortion campaigner who believes fully in anthropogenic global warming, high taxes on the rich, and restriction of gun ownership? Or why can’t another be in favour of full abortion rights without question, and LGBT marriage in all forms, but also for super-low taxes, lax business regulations, and unrestricted gun ownership?

          Of course, one in practice can be – but this is lost in the political debate, when the two parties vote as a bloc (which more and more of an occurrence, with less and less lawmakers making decisions issue to issue on its own merits). Then when people (beyond just politicians) get “tribal”, holding publicly a view from the other “tribe” becomes a reason for, essentially, public harassment.

    • AS says

      I find it odd that you are trying to scientifically define so rigidly American “conservatism” and “liberalism” as if they were the only two options available (and it seems that way with your polar opposites of focusing on negative-based and positive-based conceptions of liberty), when in fact there are many other political positions available. In most European countries, American conservatism would be labelled “right-wing” and American liberalism “centre-right”, with a whole lot of other options at the centre and towards the left.

      Furthermore, your definition seems to fail completely on many issues that are at the middle of the conservative-liberal fight in the United States. How is restricting abortion rights a “protection of rights” and “limitation of government”? Banning abortion (or making it very difficult to obtain) is meddling in people’s lives on behalf of the government (this is just a fact; it is unrelated to one’s position on how abortion should be treated in law). Yet most conservatives promote this kind of policy, despite in not being limiting government’s power, but rather giving it more control over people’s lives. The same can be said of opposition to gay marriage, legislation that forces gender-separation of toilets, and so on. Again, I am not stating any opinion about these issues, but the positions that conservatives take on them do not fit neatly into your definition.

      The idea that conservatives want to limit government power and that liberals want to increase it is just plain false; they just vehemently disagree on the areas of jurisdiction in which government should be “big” or “small”.

  2. The Humours theory might have been given up but it was hardly disproven. Mechanical, materialist reductionist science and medicine believe the natural world is no different to the man-made machines they are good at designing.

    The domination of thought by left-brain rationalists leads to such ridiculous divisions. In fact, it requires them.

    When science gets beyond materialist reductionism there will be some hope of change. More so for Allopathic medicine which drowns in this error and kills and injures millions every year because of it.

    • The Humours theory might have been given up but it was hardly disproven.

      Yes, it was. Totally.

      What the absolute fuck?

      • By all means show me the conclusive evidence which scientifically dismisses the theory.

        You cannot, because the theory was not debunked, it was dismissed.

        However, everything old is new again applies to maggots for wounds; bloodletting and leeches, to mention just a few, so revisiting the Humours Theory with increasing knowledge and sifting through the new names, might surprise even you.

        • AS says

          @rosross

          I hope you’re aware that until the late 19th century, going to the doctor usually made your illness/condition worse, rather than better. See what Montaigne has to say about physicians, it’s very telling (and very typical of the pre-modern period). Modern medicine is not perfect and has many flaws, but is leaps ahead of pre-modern medicine on pretty much every count. Pre-modern medicine was mostly iatrogenics.

          • I realise that such a belief is common. That does not however necessarily make it true.

            Just like today there were good doctors and bad doctors.

            And just as in the past, doctors often do more harm than good by the abuse of certain treatments. For example, antibiotics is the modern version of bloodletting.

            Bloodletting in moderation could stimulate a repair and restore response from the body – bloodletting to excess will probably kill you. Interestingly, the benefits of bloodletting are being re-assessed, as are the benefits of maggots for wounds and leeches. Doctors in the past may have been mocked by arrogant and hubristic modern science-medicine but they knew more than science would today admit or often, accept.

            Antibiotics in life or death situations were invaluable. Not so much anymore because doctors have handed them out like lollies and science has sold them on to agriculture.

            Antibiotics in moderation could save your life. Antibiotics to excess and practised by modern medicine will compromise your health and possibly kill you, although the antibiotics are not likely to be blamed.

            Where Allopathic medicine is leaps ahead is in mechanics – sewing back bits which get broken off. It is invaluable in crisis-trauma although would do less harm and more good if it used non-toxic modalities like Acupuncture and Homeopathy first, and the toxic big guns, last.

            Modern medicine rarely cures. Medication for life is not cure and neither is having body parts regularly removed or replaced with plastic and metal.

            While there are some great benefits to materialist reductionist medicine there are many destructive if not deadly aspects. Allopathic medicine is the third biggest killer in the US and fourth in most other developed nations, most of it from prescribed medications.

            Drugs are the bedrock of conventional medicine and are one of the world’s top killers. That is not health.

  3. Well, it is also time to bring word to their original meaning …

    ‘Liberal’ is a traditional right wing label. If I would like to read the most liberal texts available, I take look at the French and the US constitution! (The latter inspired by the former) The US constitution even contain neoliberal parts …

  4. I agree the terms are useless.

    If anything, they are even more useless in the UK. Bush’s partner in crime was the liberal interventionists of New Labour; much of the oppisition to the wars came from the ‘Right’.

    But we also see this in both our relationship to Europe, and between Scotland and the rest of the UK.

    I was a Remainer but there has always been a strong ‘Left-wing’ opposition to the EU which was given no voice in the debate; instead the media presented the entire issue as one of pro-immigration ‘Left-wingers’ and ‘Right-wing’ racists.

    And the strong support for Europe among Scots who previously voted for independence from England gives the lie to the notion that Scottish independence is based on ‘Right-wing’ nationalism.

    There are other axes to consider: globalist vs isolationist; individualist vs collectivist; liberal vs authoritarian. My commitment to redistribution and workers’ rights doesn’t mean I have to align myself with the ‘Left’ when it comes to violence against speakers accused of wrongthink.

    • Samedi says

      I agree. This is an excellent article. I suppose these labels persist for emotional and rhetorical reasons. They are perfect for demonizing your opponent but useless for real understanding.

      I think the best approach is not to use them at all. Vague and ill-defined abstractions often prevent us from understanding something. Better, in my opinion, is to address the arguments of a specific writer or speaker on their own merits. This has the advantage of avoiding genetic and ad hominem fallacies as well. Sadly, it seems that the genetic fallacy has become commonplace when discussing politics: X is a [conservative|liberal] therefore everything they say is “wrong” or “bad”. And, their motivations are “evil”. What a mess.

  5. Santoculto says

    ”It accepts human nature as immutable”

    One of the biggest thinking-mistakes of conservatism.

  6. Santoculto says

    Diversity is not a distortion. We have a bunch of internal diversity on the left on the middle and on the right, common feature of all spectrum. What is consistently linear has been the behavioral guidelines but the new left is a new strategy to conquer political hegemony while the old left has been conservative in many if not most dimensions. The difference is the lack of racial emphasis. For example, what differentiate nazism from communism has been that racial impetus of the first. In the rest they are both classically totalitarian. Politics is about everything that is social and economic. So it’s expected a multidimensional nature and different subgroups falling in different multidimensional composites. Libertarians for example. In terms of social issues they are basically “extreme leftists but with freedom emphasis on economic policy”, only thing they differ from current leftists. They are “rightly extremists” in only one dimension OR at least the current libertarians because the first ones has been less left-leaning. Raynd popular book and MAGA have a lot of common.

    Again genuine right is what we call “alt” right specially in cultural/behavioral/evolutionary aspects. The other “rights” are “softly’ combinations or mixing breeds.

    Genuine left is more unclear because we have that great change of left from economic emphasis to social/cultural emphasis. Most of “old lefties pre second war world” are/were socially conservatives. They are basically the working and middle classes who want more social equality or less social injustice. Many them were embodied by new left because they share supposedly some common interests. What is underlying on the left is the feeling to reduce inequalities or prejudices.

    We have partisans and idealists, two different types that usually are the body of most of ideologies, religions, whatever cultural schizotypy. Partisans seems more prone to be false about their ideological feelings, they are more opportunists than idealists. Smarter partisans tend to become leaders of this corruptible parties while smarter idealists tend to be the first to go out when they become aware about many inconsistencies of its pet-ideology. Less smarter partisans become the defenders of the party, while less smarter idealists become the defenders of the ideology.

  7. nicky says

    And you did not even mention the incomprehensible smooching up of the liberal, egalitarian (?) ‘feminist left’ with the most patriarchal, misogynist, homophobic, intolerant, racist (yes!), hegemonistic and imperialist ideology there is: political Islam.
    As illustration we could mention Linda Sasour, one of the leaders of the ‘women’s march against Trump’, but also apologist and promotor of the KSA, the perfect embodiment of the said (patriarchal, misogynist etc) ideology; basically an absolute monarchy, whose justice system is virtually indistinguishable from that of DAESH /ISIS.

  8. Ann L says

    Well, silly me. I think he hits on a great point: that lumping people into vast categories does not yield meaningful information and decreases the public range of discourse. For example, a well-known liberal candidate recently sent me an email that reduced “women’s rights” to “support for legal abortions and Planned Parenthood. Gahh.

  9. Brian O says

    Another proposed spectrum of political ideologies is government size. More powerful/bigger government as one pole, and Anarchy as the other pole, with smaller/more limited government toward the center.
    This groups Stalin and Hitler together, where I think they belong, and, since the groupings make more sense, is simpler to use to make predictions. (Not enough government quickly is replaced by too much government, governments with a little too-much power tend to accumulate power, etc)

    • Johnny Cuyana says

      Brian O., although I see your’s as not being quite “spot-on”, I find your’s — so far — to be the most correct and meaningful comment here; in fact, much more so than the actual article. [If I can find more time, I will expound more comprehensively on this comment of mine; particularly as it reinforces your comment and deconstructs that of the above author.]

      In the meantime, as I find it to happen so often, I am somewhat baffled that such an article can be composed and submitted for public consumption in a serious [clinical?] venue; where this article, to me, is just another example of current day academic propaganda.

      My impression — and it is nothing more than that — is that this author has surrendered/lost a good bit of their objectivity. [Am I correct to observe that articles of this type “pass”, that is, reach the low acceptable standards of today’s academia?]

  10. I think the author gets caught up in his own definitions of terms like “conservative” and “liberal.” People can coin any term, adopt any term and not actually observe any of the principles of those terms. The latest farce I have encountered is “anarcho-communism.” I suspect this sprang from the “left libertarian” movement (born of a chance pairing between Rothbard and The New Left over objections to the war in Vietnam) that claims you can love and trust government while expanding it before you shut government down. The reasoning behind the movement seems to be: use gov’t to redistribute wealth and once everyone is equal, we will toss gov’t aside because we will no longer suffer the vissitudes of human nature because we all see the beauty of economic equality! Yeah, give a lot of power to a gov’t and then they will see why they aren’t needed and out of a job…and they will simply go away!

    This was the most hard hitting explanation I remember reading.

    http://afr.org/the-political-spectrum-con/

    • AS says

      The “withering away of the state” was a major feature of Yugoslav communist worker self-management ideology (see the works of Edvard Kardelj, primary ideologue). It partly worked – the (Yugoslav) state withered away. However, so did socialism and workers’ self-management. With a rather ugly bang I might add.

  11. For quite a long time I wondered why the complex political sphere is reduced to “left” “right” and “middle”. It’s rather like Lewis explained here, the political sphere is multi-dimensional. There’s an economic dimension, a (non)-interventionist a civil rights dimension and so on. On these axes, one can be regressive, conservative or progressive in various degrees.

  12. I was always under the impression that the left/right political split referred to economic policy.
    With the left being in favour of large and expensive social programs like welfare and universal healthcare which require the government to introduce things like a progressive tax system. As one travels further to the left the progressive tax starts to turn into distributive justice and finally communism. Naturally going to the right it goes the other way first abolishing things like capital gains tax and estate tax before moving on to flat tax, low tax and finally reaching anarcho-capitalism with no tax at all.

    So conservatives and to a lesser extent classic liberals, (with their high regard for personal responsibility and free market capitalism) who generally spend less on social safety net programs and prefer to implement business friendly policies, would find themselves firmly on the right side of the spectrum.

    Liberals and progressives who tend to want to provide for the weakest in society have to implement progressive tax rates in order to generate sufficient income. They also tend to foist more regulation on businesses. This places them squarely on the left of the spectrum

    So it’s not strictly the political ideology that determines the place on the spectrum but the economic policies that are implemented in pursuit said ideology.

    Apparently i have been mistaken for many years.

  13. Caché says

    I find it interesting that nobody has yet observed that the use of ‘left’ and ‘right’ are directly correlated with the existence of First Past The Post, and two party political systems.

    • LukeReeshus says

      Sorry to sound petty, but (from three days ago):

      No, in the U.S. at least, the main problem isn’t that we only have two political poles. The problem is that we only have two political parties.

Comments are closed.