A Fresh Look at the Political Spectrum

It is curious to think that the way in which most political analysts look at the political spectrum in 2016 is based on the composure of the 18th century French Assembly but it’s true.  At that time, the most radical and anti-establishment deputies sat on the left side of the room and the traditional conservatives and monarchists sat on the right.  From this, we still characterize the “left” as being progressives and the “right” as reactionaries.  Completely apart from the fact that both of those words are loaded with connotations which suggest one side is on the side of history and the other is desperately trying to prevent the future from coming to pass, it simply doesn’t do much to describe what contemporary politicians actually think.

Both the terms “left” and “right” have had, for the better part of the last hundred years, much more of a difference of sensibility than one of policy.  In its most dramatic form, we have the conflict in the 1930’s and 1940’s between the “right-wing”  German Nazis and the “left-wing”  Soviet Communists.  Apart from cataclysmic war, the difference between the two is mostly cosmetic.  They are both totalitarian nation-states with no qualms about murdering political opponents and controlling most every component of society.

Given the fact that the political culture of the United States, based on building consensus and the peaceful transfer of power, is about as far from either that of Germany or the Soviet Union as any can be,  these are distinctions from decades past and no longer describe what the people and their elected officials actually believe.

In more recent times,  academics and political analysts have attempted to do better.  One attempt is that of libertarian thinker David Nolan who came up with the Nolan Chart.  This characterized the range of political thought on a two-dimensional axis, one recognizing differences of opinion on economic freedom and the other on personal freedom.  On that basis,  four distinct political positions were identified.  While the traditional “liberal” and “conservative” were identified, so were “libertarians” and “populists.”  While liberals and libertarians favored personal freedom and libertarians and conservatives favored personal freedom, populists were inclined to favor government action in both areas.  It may not have completely replaced the more common “liberal/conservative” dichotomy but is has become a more common way of describing our diverse political community.

Even so, it is still not all that descriptive and misses a great many important differences between political actors.  There is a much wider range of opinion than can be described in either a one or two dimensional model.  In opposition to both, I am prepared to offer a three dimensional model which, I think, better characterizes the range of political opinion that currently exists in the United States.  Of course, any more complex taxonomy threatens to give up in predictive value what it gains in descriptive value.  I don’t think my system does that but, in fact, adds to both.

I will offer a model that describes the political spectrum in three areas: foreign affairs, economics and civil liberties.  In addition, each of those categories will have three possible descriptors.  If you are keeping track,that means that we have expanded the potential number of different positions from four to twenty seven.  Whether that is too many is one I will leave to my readers.

Clearly I can not attempt to lay out my entire model in one post without turning this blog post into a novella.  I will let this serve as an introduction and will begin laying out the specifics starting tomorrow.  As always, thanks for reading and have a great day!



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