Two Problems with the Current Political Spectrum
The current idea of the left and right political spectrum aligns perfectly with Marxism. That’s one problem.
During the French Revolution the politicians “for the people” sat on the left side of the assembly. The politicians for the king sat on the right side of the assembly. Thus, another bad idea was born. And, another great way for politicians to manipulate people. (Notice that both sides were horrible options.)
The key idea of Marxism is that there is a class struggle between poor people and rich people. The middle class would be considered rich in this struggle, and thus destroyed. Obviously Marx’s ideas have been proven wrong. Supporters of Marxism will deny this no matter what. Marxism is more of a religious movement than anything else. It requires faith and an absence of questions. (Marxism is popular in universities, oddly enough. And, the United States meets most of the qualifications for a Communist country contained in the Communist Manifesto by Marx and Engels, such as a graduated income tax.)
The fact that you’re talking within this framework of class struggle when using the idea of the left-wing and the right-wing in politics is the first issue. The second issue is that it’s confusing because it’s unclear.
When you go way left you end up with… Stalin. When you go way right you end up with… Hitler. Hitler and Stalin were a lot alike. This shows in a pretty straightforward way why the left-right spectrum works so poorly. Let me be clear here, I don’t think the use of left and right in politics is going away. I doubt it will ever go away. But, popular things can be dumb. This is just one of those examples. I was in my early teens when I realized that the left and the right become the same thing in practice and that the left/right political spectrum should really be more like a circle. I didn’t realize that other people wouldn’t make this realization.
What does being on the left mean? Who is on the left? What does being on the right mean? Who is on the right? Well, it depends on who you talk to. Are libertarians on the left or the right? Everyone is certain, but no one agrees. That means communication isn’t happening. Communication is almost impossible with such a bad concept as the left/right political spectrum at the center of the discussion. There have been some attempts to correct this issue.
Adding one more axis helps a lot. Then you can have the economic axis and the personal/social axis. The Nolan Chart doesn’t work great, but it was a good intention. The Pournelle Chart works quite a bit better. In this chart you have state worship on the right and the state as evil on the left, and you have irrationality on the bottom and rationality on the top. In the Pournelle Chart the Communists, Nazis, Socialists, and Fascists are clumped along the right. This is good, because in a lot of ways all of those things are alike. People like to try to sell the idea that they are opposites and that you have to choose between them. These are all horrible options. (They are only horrible options if you value human life. If you want the destruction of human life then they are good. If you want power and you can use one of them then they are also good. If you resent people and want them hurt, then they are all perfect.)
The Pournelle Chart also puts both Nazis and Anarchists along the bottom. This is also decent, but I don’t think you’re ever going to get much agreement among people about whose ideas are rational and whose are irrational. I think there’s a good reason for that. Everyone tries to sell their ideas as rational. (Also, Nazism isn’t impossible, as demonstrated by history. Anarchy, on the other hand, is quite a delusional impossibility. Someone will have enough power to make the rules. This might be in a limited area over a limited time, but the idea that there will be no rules is foolish.)
It seems like the Political Compass is becoming more popular. This has left on the left and right on the right, which is still confusing because we need to know what they mean still. It has authoritarian on the top and libertarian on the bottom. I consider that top and bottom division much more important. I’m not sure that will ever catch on though. Are you on the left or the right? That seems like a question people won’t mind asking and answering. Are you on the top or on the bottom? I doubt that will become a popular question, or answer.
I think that a better spectrum might be individual versus collectivist. Or, individual rights versus identity politics. Notice that identity politics is just another term for racism and sexism, it’s just the politically correct term. The people that use these terms usually try to preemptively accuse other people of being racist and/or sexist in an attempt to cover up their own racism and sexism. It’s a good strategy that often works. In the workplace racism and sexism are usually called “diversity”.
Or, property rights versus not having property rights. Notice that when you eliminate property rights you also introduce slavery. Why? Because your right to your own body is your first property right. It’s usually referred to as the right to life. If you eliminate property rights then there is no reason not to have slavery. It comes in a variety of forms as the Nazis and Communists have demonstrated with their prison systems and serfs that weren’t allowed to travel. Using the violence of the state to take other people’s stuff is often called “equality”. (Notice that the Nazis led the modern world into the age of gun registration and confiscation. An example a lot of people in the United States now want to follow.)
Another spectrum could just be freedom versus not freedom. Free speech versus not free speech. Free association versus not free association.
Notice that all of these spectrums would clump the Communists, Nazis, Socialists, and Fascists together. They are all collectivist, identity politics, against property rights, against freedom, against free speech, and against free association.
Any spectrum that clumps the Communists, Nazis, Socialists, and Fascists together is better than our current left/right political spectrum where you have no choice but to rank yourself somewhere in between a Communist and a Nazi. What a ridiculous idea. I realize that it’s extremely useful for the politicians. It helps divide people and stir up emotions. That’s exactly what politicians want and need. But, it’s horrible for the people. (Notice that the Soviets had to push the idea that the Nazis were a lot different than themselves. To do this they had to try to get people to ignore the fact that the Nazis had Socialism in their name and tried very hard to associate them more with Fascism. They were successful.)
The other terms that people use are liberal and conservative. We have the same issue of confusing definitions here. Liberal originally comes from the Latin libertas which means liberty. In the United States liberal means something more like socialism mixed with tyranny now. The French Liberal School of economics is great. Thomas Jefferson’s favorite economist, Jean Baptiste Say, was one of the four major figures of the French Liberal School. One of my favorite economists was also a member of the French Liberal School, Frederic Bastiat. They hold the opposite beliefs of what is now considered liberal in the United States.
Conservative refers to preserving the past. Which past? How far back? Sometimes people say they are Constitutional Conservatives. I think that’s a decent term. It pretty clearly defines what someone is for and what they are against. It gives a good reference point.
It’s to be expected that politicians will twist and turn these words to their advantage. That’s part of why words in politics often come to mean the opposite of what they used to mean. That’s a good way to win an argument, to frame it in the right light. That’s why the right/left political spectrum is so bad, because it frames the discussion in such a way that there is no good side.
Some people will debate how I’ve presented the left and the right. Well, that’s my point isn’t it? That we can’t even have good communication because of these fuzzy terms. Some people say the left should be called Progressive and is about change. Well, there is change for the better and change for the worse. There are people that want to decrease freedom and those that want to increase freedom. Which change do you want? Progressing where, to what? You can see how these ideas don’t add anything useful to the discussion.
I don’t think this situation is really going to change in the near future. We can hope that it will get better. I expect it to get worse. Maybe though, we can make a small difference by trying to point out some of these issues.
You can find more of what I’m doing at http://www.JeffreyAlexanderMartin.com