Saturday, March 18, 2017

The Evolution of the Political Spectrum

      The idea that Democrats represent the Left and Republicans represent the Right is even more ridiculous than the idea that the left-vs.-right political spectrum can explain politics. But of course, we all know this. However, what many of us don't know is how the traditional left-vs.-right “political spectrum” or “political compass” got the way it is, and exactly how and when it outlived its usefulness. Understanding the history of the spectrum, and how the modern two-dimensional square political spectrums developed, are vital keys to understanding what the real map of politics and anarchism looks like.

Figure #1: The Left-vs.-Right Model

      The concept of a linear, one-dimensional, left-vs.-right model evidently originated in the late 18th century in the French National Assembly, during the French Revolution (see Figure #1). It was the press who gave the “left” and “right” labels to the representatives, who were seated on the left or right of the chamber according to their support for either the monarchists and those loyal to the Ancien Régime (on the right), or the Revolution (on the left). This arrangement continued after the body's replacement with a Legislative Assembly, and through a National Convention, to today. In the mid-19th century, influential economists Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, and Claude Frédéric Bastiat sat on the left of the chamber at the same time.
      Today in the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives, Democratic Party representatives sit on the left, while Republicans sit on the right. It's similar, but that does not necessarily mean that Republicans are more likely to support monarchy, nor Democrats revolution. And it certainly doesn't mean that the Republican Party is conservative, nor that the Democratic Party is Leftist. Additionally, the existence of totalitarian socialists and libertarian and “anarcho-” capitalists show that the old left-vs.-right paradigm is no longer relevant.
      But that was true back when Proudhon and Bastiat both supported the French Revolution. That's because according to the modern, common perception, Proudhon is regarded as a Mutualist of the left, while Bastiat is considered a classical liberal of the right. Bastiat influenced Belgian economist Gustave de Molinari, the author of The Production of Security, and the first person to articulate what is now called “market-anarchism”. The Molinari Institute bears his name, and many self-described libertarians, anarcho-capitalists, and Agorists are influenced by Molinari, including self-described Aristotelian objectivist Roderick T. Long, who has written on the difficulty of classifying anarchists on the traditional left-vs.-right spectrum.
      After the Paris Communes of 1848 and 1871, and the careers of Marx, Proudhon, Bastiat, and Molinari, the early 20th century saw the rise of synthesis-anarchism; people like Rudolf Rocker and Voltairine deCleyre wanted individualist anarchists, socialists, and anarcho-communists to work together to fight capitalism and the state. Some modern variants of “Anarchy Without Adjectives” integrate the most anti-capitalists elements of libertarian-leaning anarchism, such as contributions from left-Rothbardianism and left-wing market-anarchism, mutualist anarchists, Geo-anarchists (anarchist students of Henry George), and others.
      In the mid-20th century, the rise of Hitler, Mussolini, Franco, Japanese imperialism, and the U.S.S.R. gave rise to Horseshoe Theory (see Figure #2). The pre-WWII Molotov-Ribbentropp treaty (to carve-up Poland between Germany and the U.S.S.R.) and the late 20th century Stasi of East Germany, showed the public that liberalism is a moderate center, while the extreme left of communism and the extreme right of fascism met at an evil authoritarian center. However, Horseshoe Theory only goes so far; it only shows the top half of the political compass, leaving anarchism out of the mix (see Figure #3). Thus, anarchism is considered “fringe” by most Americans, and even as “extreme” as totalitarian systems (partially owing to the widespread perception of anarchism as necessarily chaotic or violent).

 Figure #2: Horseshoe Theory

Figure #3: The Full 2-D Political Spectrum

      It's not entirely accurate to describe Adolf Hitler as a socialist snowflake art student who hated privilege and capitalism, nor Barack Obama as Adolf Hitler. Nor is it accurate to describe Nazism as socialism just because “National Socialism” has “socialism” in the name. It's also inaccurate to describe Gregor and Otto Strasser as Nazis, because although they were the Nazi Party's socialist propaganda arm, they were betrayed and assassinated by the party's leadership. Just as National Socialism was capitalist, today the closest descriptor for Strasserism that we have is “social-nationalism”, which makes it sound more nationalistic than National Socialism. But the Strassers were to the left of the larger segment of the Nazi Party that betrayed them; the Strassers were German socialists who opposed both Jewish and German capitalism, and they were more socialist than the National Socialist German Worker's Party (Nazis).

      The work of the Strassers – as well as that of Egoist Max Stirner, Ernst Junger, Charles Maurras, Georges Sorel, Austromarxist Otto Bauer, Nestor Makhno, Enver Hoxha, the National Bolsheviks and national communists, other “proletarian nationalists”, and patriotic socialists - only compound the difficulty of mapping all political philosophies on the traditional left-vs.-right axis (especially authoritarianism and fascism and their variants). This difficulty owes itself to the existence of nationalist-leaning communist and socialist philosophies on one hand, and progressive and Marxist-influenced philosophies oriented towards markets and free enterprise (such as those of Adam Smith, the Physiocrats, and the Chicago School) on the other. The difficulty of mapping all the strange and new philosophies – often bearing such absurd names as “National-Anarchism”, “Anarcho-Fascism”, “Anarcho-Monarchism”, “Anarcho-Statism”, and the bizarre Marxist-Stirnerite philsophy of “EGO DIKism” which perhaps unintentionally synthesizes the post-Left with the alt-Right - prompts us to look at politics in a new way.

      In middle school biology, we were taught to use Punnett squares (named for Reginald Punnett, who devised them). A Punnett square is a variation of the Pournelle chart; it it used to predict the chance that certain dominant or recessive genetic traits would be inhereted by offspring. This is done by displaying two aspects of one parent's genes on the X-axis, against the other parent's genes on the Y-axis (see Figure #4). We can do the exact same thing with anarchism and totalitarianism on one axis, and communism and capitalism on the other. The result is the two-dimensional development of the one-dimensional left-vs.-right axis; the “Nolan chart” (see Figure #5), popularized by Libertarian Party co-founder David Nolan in 1971. In the previous several years, similar political spectrums had been published by Maurice C. Bryson and William R. McDill (in their article “The Political Spectrum: A Bi-Dimensional Approach” in The Rampart Journal of Individualist Thought in 1968), and Stuart Christie and Albert Meltzer (in The Floodgates of Anarchy in 1970).

Figure #4: A Punnett Square

Figure #5: The Nolan Chart

      However, the two-dimensional map does not fully solve our problem. If we consider that we have communism on the left and capitalism on the right, and totalitarianism on top and diffusion of power and chaos on the bottom, then there's no reason why we can't have a third dimension. Why not moderate compromise vs. radical discord? After all, the goal of anarchism is, more or less, to work together, and if we can't, then for different anarchist schools to leave each other alone. If anarchists can live with only working together when we agree, then not only does that make sure nobody is harmed when people voluntarily cooperate, it also shows that what the anarchists want is the opposite of the goal of politics.

      Of course, what politicians want is compromise by any means necessary. But moderate compromise has not worked for us. That's why the “radical center” has emerged, and so has the “progressive-libertarian alliance” that began ten years ago between Ron Paul, Ralph Nader, Dennis Kucinich, Mike Gravel, and others. With the third dimension of moderate political compromise vs. radical (whose Greek root radix means “root”) centrism, we can now show how where the East German Stasi are in relation to market-tolerant Anarchists Without Adjectives. My 62-sided, color-coded, three-dimensional political spectrum – which my friend Charles Poston named “the Politosphere” (see Figures #6 and #7) - attempts to map these three dimensions onto a globe.

Figure #6: The Politosphere (View from Top)

Figure #7: The Politosphere (View from Bottom)

      Anyone interested in finding out more about political spectrums can visit, Jacob Asplund's, or; Google-search “The World's Smallest Political Quiz”; read the Wikipedia article “Left-right politics”; or go to my blog and type “political spectrum” into the search field on the top-left. You may also wish to look for the three-dimensional cubic political spectrum at, the site of an online video game that allows players to make political decisions to run their own fictional e-nations, complete with flags and mottos.

      The discovery, delineation, and enumeration of economic schools of thought bearing implications in politics as well as anarchism make it possible to expand the number of economic categories which may be shown on any particular spectrum (see Figure #8), for, as anarcho-syndicalist Rudolf Rocker explained, anarchist tendencies are “only different methods of economy”. But the left-vs.-right economic axis aside, tools like those listed in the above paragraph will help make it possible for more people to understand that we live in a three-dimensional political continuum, not a black-and-white, left-vs.-right false dichotomy. Venn diagrams and Euler diagrams are also helpful learning tools (see Figure #9).

 Figure #8: A Political Spectrum with
12 Economic Categories and 5 Power Categories

Figure #9: An Euler Diagram of
Statism, Socialism, and Capitalism

      Not only that, these tools will make it possible for more people to fully understand anarchism and totalitarianism, and it could also enable collaborative efforts to create more detailed political spectrums, perhaps even with radically different axes and shapes from the figures shown here.

Written on March 18th and 19th, 2017

Figures #1-#4 and #6-#9 Created by Joseph W. Kopsick

between 2011 and March 19th, 2017

Figure #5 came from

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