The broken terminology employed in modern political discourse fuels crazed tribalism.
The graphic above is from a discussion on a UK website called The Student Room. Armchair Mutineer believes this is a good representation of the parameters of political beliefs reflected in contemporary society: communism on one end and fascism on the other. Clearly, the maker of the spectrum must be from Canada, but this graphic could be applied to any democracy. (Armchair Mutineer’s only other comment on that graphic would be the Republican party belongs far closer to the Democrats than “Nazi” Germany. President Bush was one of the worst recent U.S. Presidents, but he does not deserve to be pictured next to Hitler. That’s just ridiculous.)
The traditional spectrum shows us the limits of left-right thinking. There’s an entire world of political philosophy outside of that continuum. The greatest flaw in the political continuum treats government as a priori.
Better political spectrums add multiple dimensions (see below).
Again, one can quibble with the distances between some of the labels on the spectrum, but this graphic seems to do a better job at capturing the diversity of political views. The addition of “Fundamentalism” adds a theocratic dynamic, parallel to the total state of communism and fascism. Most objectionable about this graphic is liberalism at the very center–the porridge Goldilocks picks. The fault of this graphic is its square nature, as if there’s neat and measurable distances between these beliefs.
So perhaps the problem is this whole undertaking of attempting to categorize the myriad belief systems, political parties, and historical leaders across an array based upon two (or four) concepts. It’s a complex mapping problem, so any solution is bound to be messy.
Why is this important? For one thing, if you look at enough of these spectrums, you start to see many are designed in a way that reveals political opinion. Anarchy is put on the left, put on the right, or entirely ignored. The politics of the designer are always around the middle. Like the porridge Goldilocks chooses, the position they want you to land on is “just right” — far enough away from Hitler and other crazies, just over the centrist border of tending left or right.
Spectrums are pregnant with labels. When labeling occurs minds shut off. Upon mention of anarcho-capitalism, minds shut off. Both words have negative connotations. Some people would confuse a voluntary society with nihilism or primitivism. Others would jump to some form of plutocracy where corporate interests rule, like the dystopian future imagined on the TV show Continuum. One can see the labels being dealt like cards as people reason by analogy.
Murray Rothbard, in his book Society and State, wrote, “I define anarchist society as one where there is no legal possibility for coercive aggression against the person or property of any individual.”
“Fiscally conservative” is a lie when it comes to describing Republicans, who are just as prone to support huge government spending for wealth redistribution (beyond social safety net, the party supports entitlement programs like Social Security and Medicare) and the high taxes needed to support a huge standing military. The desire for lower taxes and less regulation is conflated with the GOP being supporters of “economic freedom” (an equally problematic term, discussed below); but there is a critical difference between making legislative changes at the margin that lower taxes or pull back government interference in the market place (the Republican’s historical approach) and a political philosophy that favors self-direction, free exchange, and legal rights of ownership.
“Economic freedom” is a rhetorical trap libertarians fell into. Economic freedoms are things like the right to earn a living by making choices of what a person does with their time, the right to engage in any kind of commerce involving free exchange, and holding legal rights of ownership over the money and property a person gains. By distinguishing those rights with the label “economic” from so-called “political freedoms” (free expression, religious freedom, due process, etc.), the concepts of economic freedom tend to take a backseat. What could be more central to someone’s life than what they do with their time? We all work for a living and navigate in commerce, and we certainly have more economic activities on any given day then political ones. That is not to say political rights are not vital, the point is that all individual rights are vital.