Beyond Liberal and Conservative, Left and Right

While running for Lt. Governor of MA in 2002 I had the opportunity to speak with a lot of Libertarian candidates and their supporters and encountered an interesting wallet card they would use to ascertain one’s political views.  It wasn’t a standard left to right horizontal axis, it also had a vertical axis.  The vertical axis measures where one’s views fall on social and civil liberties scale and the horizontal axis measures where one’s views fall on economic issues.

Someone recently invited me to take a similar exercise on facebook, and although some of the questions on the “test” used to plot your positions on the X axis and Y axis need some refinement the Political Compass does give a better snapshot of one’s political worldview than a label such as liberal or conservative, red or blue.

The dual axis, split along social libertarian and economic axises divides the political compass into four quadrants: an authoritarian (top) left and an authoritarian right and a libertarian (bottom) left and libertarian right.  Hitler would plot at about zero on the economic axis and at the top of the authoritarian axis while Gandhi would plot in the middle of the lower left quadrant. I scored -6.8 on the economic line and -6.8 on the libertarian line, putting me in the lower left quadrant, even lower and to the left of Gandhi near Nelson Mandela. Nice Company, if I do say so myself.  ALL of the Democratic and Republican candidates who ran or are still running for President this year plot in the upper right quadrant, except Dennis Kucinich.  There is far less difference between McCain and Obama than there is between either of them and Ralph Nader, who plots in the lower left near me and Gandhi. Sweden, one of the more widely cited socialist governments in the world plots at just about the exact center of the graph.

I’d love to see a breakdown of people of who took this “test” by age, ethnicity, race, religion, sexual orientation, education level, income, geography and the other usual demographics.

This tool is by no means perfect and it still relies on a lot of labeling such as libertarian and left and right, but I like some of what it’s doing such as distinguishing the left quadrants with “state-imposed collectivism” for authoritarian socialism and “voluntary regional collectivism” for libertarian socialism.  It’s a start. It’s better than the black and white red and blue thinking that American political science has been trapped in for the last thirty years.

There are precious few voices in the American political landscape that consistently speak on behalf of my values, and the ones that do are still years away from being able to get elected to state-wide or national office.  I find it troubling that my electoral choices plot closer to Hitler on this particular tool than they do to Gandhi and Nelson Mandela, but that’s me. What do you think?

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