Which way does your political compass point?

One of the commonest clichés about contemporary British politics is that there are no differences between the parties.  It’s not a view I entirely endorse myself – there are differences between the major parties on some issues – but it’s always struck me that there’s enough truth in the assertion to make it hard to dismiss out of hand.  So I was interested to come across a website that seems to show that this great similarity does in fact exist.

The website is called The Political Compass, and it seeks to do away with what it calls the ‘old-fashioned’ practice of thinking about politics purely in terms of left and right, and to think instead in terms of two axes.  Thus, in addition to the ‘Economic Scale’ of left to right, they suggest an additional ‘Social Scale’ which runs from authoritarian to libertarian.  (That’s libertarian in the sense of being radically anti-authoritarian, not necessarily believing in extreme free-market economics.  Under this definition, ‘Libertarians’ in the mould of Ayn Rand are not true libertarians, since they advocate authoritarian policing and military action in defence of the interests of the wealthy.  Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, despite being so leftwing as to have come up with the slogan “property is theft”, was a true libertarian, because he rejected all forms of authority.  I agree, it’s confusing – blame the fact that Rand’s followers co-opted a political term that doesn’t properly describe them.)  Anyway, making use of these two axes enables the Political Compass to come up with a more sophisticated way of representing political affiliation:

I think there is something to be said for this approach, although I’m not fully convinced by the methodology.  I’ll come on to some of the reasons for that in due course (I’ll bet you can hardly stand the suspense…), but for now, let’s presume that the method of analysis is fully reliable.  On this basis, the people behind Political Compass have created a chart identifying the position of many of the parties standing for election in the 2010 UK general election:

As I say, I’m not 100% convinced by the methodology, and it results in some strange placings – in particular, I think there are good reasons to dispute the positioning of the BNP relative to the other parties.  For now, though, I want to take note of two very striking things – namely, that, on the left-right spectrum, all the major parties (Conservative, Labour, Liberal Democrats) are significantly to the right of centre line, and, even more noticeably, that virtually all the parties – whether large or small – are clustered towards the authoritarian end of the chart.

It’s this that has helped to clarify some of my thinking around the familiar assertion that there are ‘no differences’ between the parties.  Clearly there are differences – almost two-thirds of the left-right spectrum divides UKIP from the Scottish Socialists, and roughly the same amount of the authoritarian-libertarian spectrum separates the BNP from the Greens.  But if we were to delete those parties that are not putting up candidates in the majority of constituencies (so the DUP, Sinn Fein, Respect, Scottish Socialists, Plaid Cymru, the SNP, and the SDLP all vanish), the resulting chart would reveal very starkly just how similar the remaining parties are.

If your personal political preferences are towards the authoritarian right, then you are literally spoilt for choice, with no less than four parties (BNP, Conservative, Labour, UKIP) to choose from.  If you’re comfortable with the level of authoritarianism displayed by one or other of those parties but would prefer a left-of-centre approach – tough, you’re completely out of luck.  If you prefer a party from the libertarian right then you have one option, the Liberal Democrats, but they are very much towards the top left-hand corner of that quadrant of the chart, meaning you wouldn’t have to be particularly rightwing or particularly libertarian to find the Lib Dems’ policies pretty weak stuff.  For those on the libertarian left, the Greens are more centrally placed within that particular quadrant, suggesting that their policies are more likely to satisfy a broader range of opinion within that sector of the political field, but again there is only a single option.

The major effect of this, I think, is to force a recognition that vast swathes of political opinion are unrepresented within UK-wide political structures.  And this is before we have taken into account the fact that virtually none of these parties are significant players – even amongst those parties which are fielding candidates in lots of constituencies, half had no representation in the 2005-10 parliament, and will consider it a major success if they have even one MP in the new one.  If those parties are removed from the chart, leaving only those which have a chance of taking a prominent role in government, the position is even bleaker.

As this simplified version of Political Compass’ chart makes clear, these three parties span less than one third of the left-right spectrum, and less than half of the authoritarian-libertarian spectrum.  Looking at a chart like this, filled with so much empty space, it’s pretty hard, I think, to deny that there is something to the ‘all the same’/ ‘what’s the point in voting?’ argument.  On one level, no, the parties are not the same – even when things are reduced to the three parties that have any chance of a substantial role in government, there is clear blue water (and even a small amount of clear violet water…) between them.  On another level, though, it’s also true to say that the similarities between the parties are much greater than the differences.  A prospective voter has only to be centrist (let alone anything more hardcore) on either of the axes to be shut out of making a meaningful contribution to politics.

Another part of the Electoral Compass site features a test that enables you to determine where on the standard chart your own opinions place you, and it turns out (though it’s no great surprise to me…) that I am one of the people who is disenfranchised in this way.  Here are my results:

As you can see, according to the designers of this test, I am ultra-leftwing, and pretty strongly libertarian.  Given that I tend to haver between describing myself as an anti-authoritarian socialist and an anarchist, the broad sweep of this is reasonably accurate.  (That’s an anarchist in the proper sense of the word, by the way, not the no-rules, every-man-for-himself, I-can-do-just-what-I-like-and-no-one-can-stop-me sense that it’s acquired in popular usage.  An anarchist society (or, at least, the flavour of anarchist society I advocate) would still have rules – in fact, it would be very highly structured – it’s just those would rules would be determined and upheld by common consensus, not by an authoritarian elite.  You should look anarchism up sometime, if you haven’t already.  It’s a very persuasive philosophy, and a lot more practical than it’s given credit for.)

That said, and despite my positioning on the chart making sense in broad terms – I’m definitely a bottom-left-hand corner kind of guy – the specifics of it do strike me as a little odd.  For example, I’m positioned as being more leftwing than anti-authoritarian, which is pretty much the opposite of what I would expect.  I think I know what has damaged my anti-authoritarian credentials – I mildly endorsed the proposition that it can sometimes be right for a parent to smack their child, I also think that education in childhood should be compulsory, and I declared support for government regulation is some areas of economic life – but that’s not to say I agree that expressing these views should be regarded as particularly authoritarian.

On the smacking point, for example, I tend to take the view that children are not adults, and that in certain very narrowly-defined circumstances, and in the heat of a particular moment when there may be a risk of harm to the child or to others, a slight physical remonstration can be more effective than any alternative, but this is a long way from the premeditated violence with intent beloved of the pro-smacking lobby.  And on the subject of compulsory education, since a self-organising society can only hope to function if all its members are capable of following and engaging in discussion, a certain minimum standard of education is mandatory.  That said, I think a system of education that was less formalised and more interested in instilling knowledge than it was forcing children into a set curriculum would be an active pleasure for most kids – learning stuff is pretty much hardwired into all young animals – so I’m not sure the compulsion part would amount to much more than parents telling their kids to get out of bed.

If I can at least understand why the test has placed me higher up the authoritarianism scale than I might have expected, I am rather more at a loss to understand how it has decided I am so dedicatedly leftwing.  To be positioned at the far left of the chart means that I have been judged to favour a fully collectivised economic system in which there is no role for the free market.  As it happens, this is a less-than-accurate assessment of my views – as we’ve seen before, I’m an advocate of employee-owned cooperatives in preference to traditional corporate structures, but I would fully expect those cooperatives to compete on the free market.  What intrigues me most, however, is how the designers of the test have arrived at the decision that I support fully collectivised economic activity when they didn’t actually ask me any questions that would establish my views on the issue one way or the other.

When it came to issues of corporate governance, I was asked: if I thought that companies that do something wrong should be punished; and I was asked if I thought companies failing to do what we wanted them to do voluntarily should be made to comply with our wishes; and I was asked if I agreed or disagreed with the assertion that companies have no social responsibilities beyond generating profits; and I was asked if protectionism is always wrong; and my views about corporate behaviour in the developing world were probed.  If you’ve been reading this blog for a while I would imagine you can guess what my positions on all of these issues are, but the thing is – all of these are reformist notions.  Taken together, they imply a series of restrictions on companies’ freedom of action, but this is not to say that they presuppose the abolition of companies, nor of markets.  In fact, what they add up to is a formula for a socially-directed market, which is, necessarily, still a market.  Yet, having expressed opinions which showed that I supported the idea of socially-directed markets, I was identified on a graph of famous political figures as being as hard left as Stalin, who instigated a fully planned economy – i.e. one in which markets had no place (or, to be pedantic, only semi-legal grey markets and fully-illegal black markets had a place).

In fact, this was not the only time I had a sense that the creators of the test were ascribing views to test subjects without fully investigating if they applied.  For example, in order to test my attitudes towards drug policy, I was invited to offer an opinion on whether possession of a small amount of cannabis for personal use should be a criminal offence, but in the arena of drugs policy this is really only very moderately libertarian (and relies on the ludicrous fudge that it’s ok to possess drugs, but not to buy, sell, grow or manufacture them).  To fully test my libertarian credentials, I would need to have also been asked what my attitude towards the sale of hardcore drugs like heroin or crystal meth was.  (If you’re interested, I would argue that they should be available for sale, but that we should also do all we can to persuade people not to take them, and they should be taxed sufficiently to recover all the costs – medical, social and criminal – associated with their use.)

To take a second example, on the issue of gay rights, I was asked to accept or reject the assertion that it’s impossible for a person to naturally experience homosexual feelings.  Unsurprisingly, I opted to reject the assertion, but this is not actually a test of social attitudes towards homosexuality.  You can be entirely libertarian in your approach to gay rights – can in fact be freely and happily homosexual yourself – while still believing that homosexuality is not a ‘natural’ phenomenon, but a learned one.  It’s true that those who condemn homosexuality often do so on the grounds that it’s ‘unnatural’, but I have personally met a self-identified gay man who passionately believed that only the urge to have sex is naturally-occurring, and the choice of opposite- or same- sex partners is just that – a choice.  He fully endorsed equal rights for gay people, but he would still have answered this question in a supposedly ‘authoritarian’ way.

In fact, I think the gay rights example exposes a pretty fundamental flaw in the way the test evaluates authoritarianism/ libertarianism.  It’s pretty obvious that holding what in America are called progressive social views – equality of the races, equality of the sexual orientations, etc – are taken by the test’s creators to indicate a libertarian perspective, but it seems to me this is not necessarily the case.  For example, we have recently arrived at a situation in the UK in which people who hold very progressive views on matters such as sexual orientation advocate a strongly authoritarian approach towards those who don’t share them, as was demonstrated late last year when a number of people (including a spokeswoman for the supposedly ‘libertarian’ Liberal Democrats) lodged formal complaints with the BBC for daring to allow people to express views that dissented, sometimes radically, from the liberal consensus on gay rights.

It seems fairly obvious to me that there are two separate spectrums of thought involved in the range of opinions on matters such as homosexuality.  There is, firstly, a spectrum that runs from (for want of better terms) progressivism to conservatism, with those who advocate full equality at the progressive end, and those radically opposed at the conservative end.  At the same time there is a separate spectrum that runs from authoritarianism to libertarianism.  In this way (and looking only at the extremes of the spectra), it’s possible to have people who are strongly opposed to homosexuality, and believe that it should be illegal and punishable by death (as in many countries that endorse a conservative interpretation of sharia law), but it’s also possible to have people who are strongly opposed to homosexuality, but also believe that questions of personal morality are a matter for individuals not governments (as some rightwingers in the USA do).  Equally, at the other end of the conservative-progressive spectrum, it’s possible to have people (like Lynne Featherstone of the Liberal Democrats) who take an extremely progressive approach to gay rights, but think that the law should be used to prevent people expressing a dissenting view, and also people (like me) who share the extremely progressive approach, while still thinking that we have to protect the right of people to express dissenting views.  (In the interests of full disclosure, I do think there should be some limits on freedom of speech, but only when the comments expressed are likely to cause or result in actual harm to real people.)

Of course, in terms of establishing the political opinions of individuals and parties, this progressive-conservative axis would have to operate alongside, not just libertarian-authoritarian, but also left-right.  There are dedicated free-marketeers like Alan Duncan who are very progressive on social issues, and dedicated free-marketeers like Norman Tebbit who are decidedly not.  If this three-axis system was introduced I think it would help to clarify some of the problems with the positioning of parties like the BNP.

In the chart I reproduce above, the BNP are positioned as extremists on the authoritarian axis, but they are placed as being only very slightly more authoritarian than Labour.  I wouldn’t be particularly inclined to argue about Labour’s place on the authoritarianism axis – this is the party that dreamed up control orders and the ID database, after all.  I can also see the case for regarding the BNP as not being especially right-wing – they advocate protectionism after all.  But it’s also clear that the chart above is not accurately reflecting the extremism of the BNP vis-à-vis Labour and the other mainstream parties.  Despite their many undoubted faults, the Labour party have been very progressive on many social issues, where the BNP are decidedly not (and even their current grudging tolerance is a very recent development – within the last year or do).  It’s also clearly nonsense to argue that Nick Griffin would have been only fractionally less likely than Tony Blair to set up the Equality and Human Rights Commission, the organization which took the BNP to court for having a discriminatory membership policy.  A three-axis system would represent the extremism of the BNP far more effectively, since it would position them (along with UKIP) at the extreme conservative end of the progressive-conservative spectrum, poles apart from Labour, the Liberal Democrats, and the (present-day) Conservatives.

In fact a three-axis system would be generally more useful in assessing the views of individuals and groups, as it would help to resolve a number of the oddities of placement in Political Compass’ system of analysing political opinions.  Of course, until such time as 3D computer displays become standard, creating a graphical representation of a three-axis system would be fairly problematic, so I can understand why it hasn’t been implemented.  In their FAQ, the designers of the Political Compass acknowledge that their two axis system may not be perfect, but that it offers an improvement on the old-fashioned way of thinking about politics purely in terms of left and right.  I think that’s probably true.  I’ve certainly found it an interesting way to think about politics in the run-up to this election, and also to think about some of the more deep-seated reasons why disengagement from politics is so prevalent.  I’d encourage you to go and have a look round their site yourself – it’s very interesting.

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8 Responses to Which way does your political compass point?

  1. Katherine says:

    That test is not designed for philosophers! I sat there for a good five minutes trying to decide what they meant by “free” before I remembered that it was an online quiz and that I ought, therefore, to pull myself together. I suppose that should be reversed – philosophers are not designed for that test – as that might be a bit more accurate!

    I ended up with (x -7, y -5).

    I agree that adding an axis would improve the meaningfulness of the score. Economics and government authority are not the sole constituents of politics by any stretch.

  2. cb says:

    That’s a really interesting site. I took the test and got x -6.88, y -6.31 -so not that far from you but I am quite surprised because I expected my views to be more ‘mainstream’! I’m much further to the left than I’d thought I would be!

  3. aethelreadtheunread says:

    Thanks for the comments.

    KatherineThat test is not designed for philosophers! I sat there for a good five minutes trying to decide what they meant by “free”

    Is there any word they use that a philosopher couldn’t spend at least 20 minutes debating? ;o) lol I don’t think you should be so quick to dismiss your philosophical approach, though, since it’s a way of thinking about the unexamined preconceptions that underlie the analysis and the test, and which ultimately affect its reliability.

    I ended up with (x -7, y -5)

    Welcome to the bottom lefthand corner – it’s where all the cool kids hang out. ;o)

    I agree that adding an axis would improve the meaningfulness of the score. Economics and government authority are not the sole constituents of politics by any stretch.

    Indeed. Adding an extra scale for conservatism/ progressivism would still only really be scratching the surface.

    cbI took the test and got x -6.88, y -6.31 -so not that far from you but I am quite surprised because I expected my views to be more ‘mainstream’! I’m much further to the left than I’d thought I would be!

    Good to know you’re joining the celebration in the green square. :o)

    When i originally wrote this post it was way longer – hard to imagine, i realise, given how long the version i posted is. One of the sections i cut dealt with the fact that the UK electoral system works in such a way that the views of a couple of million swing voters in marginal constituencies are massively over-emphasised, and, because these voters tend to be somewhat rightwing and authoritarian, that’s the direction all the parties move in. This has been a very long-winded way of saying that, despite the appearance suggested by where the major parties are positioned, i think the mainstream of the population as a whole is probably to the left of where we think they are, so you may actually be right about being in the mainstream.

  4. Kapitano says:

    I’ve come across that site occasionally. At heart, it’s nothing more than: “The conventional way of describing political placement is imprecise, so here’s our alternative which is very slightly less imprecise, therefore much better.”

    The two axes are not completely independent, as shown by the fact that most placements grade from bottom-left to top-right. The terms overlap.

    They’re also ambigious. Where’s Barack Omaba on this plane? He’s authoritarian because he’s using the power of the state to impose changes on both the population and corporations – lower taxes and mandatory health insurance. He’s libertarian because some of these changes give corporations greater control over government – in particular campaign contributions are no longer capped. He’s on the right because all his efforts to save the economy rely on stimulating trade and keeping businesses afloat – banks get bailed out, people don’t. And he’s on the left as regards nuclear weapons.

    Sarah Palin? She’s highly authoritarian on church matters, but highly libertarian when it comes to individual self-determination, unless that individual is acting as an employee – in which case only employers have rights. She’s big on low taxes for voters, but even bigger on speaker’s fees for her.

    The scale assumes that individuals and groups have consistent, well thought-out positions, which obviously they usually don’t. People are hypocrites, and ideology gets rearranged to suit convenience, as aims and objectives get redefined according to what’s actually possible at that time.

    Any decent way to categorise beliefs will need many more axes, and any placement within them will have to look like one of Kandinsky’s blobs with one of Gauss’s blurs. If you want to ask what someone’s political position is, you need to ask what issue they have that position on, and where they are in their society.

  5. aethelreadtheunread says:

    Hi Kapitano, thanks for the comment. I thought this post might get your attention, although i also thought the ideas in it wouldn’t be new to you. :o)

    The terms overlap.

    I agree. The far-left of the left-right spectrum as it’s conceived by the creators of the site is fully collectivised economic activity, which implies a heavy emphasis on the rights of the collective, at least in the economic sphere. They define the far-right extreme as unrestricted free-marketism, but the antonym of collectivism is actually individualism, which would imply a heavy emphasis on the rights of the individual. But a heavy emphasis on the rights of the individual would also be a feature of the extreme libertarian end of that scale, and a heavy emphasis on the rights of the collective would appear at the authoritarian end. So, i agree, the terms are not as mutually exclusive as their neat geometric positioning suggests.

    Where’s Barack Omaba on this plane?

    In general terms, that’s an easy question to answer – he’s in the top right-hand quadrant, like virtually every mainstream politician, albeit slightly further away from the corner than George W Bush.

    He’s authoritarian because…

    We can take it to a more fundamental level, i think. The whole concept of an executive branch of government is pretty authoritarian in itself, and the practice of concentrating that executive power in the hands of one person (as opposed to a comittee, for example) is even more authoritarian. I don’t see that any President of the US could ever be libertarian, unless s/he set about dismantling the powers of the office.

    He’s libertarian because some of these changes give corporations greater control over government – in particular campaign contributions are no longer capped.

    I’m fairly sure that the reason corporate donations are no longer capped is because the Supreme Court decided that they could be legally regarded as ‘persons’, and US electoral law currently places few restrictions on what donations a person can make. I don’t think Obama had anything to do with the reform.

    Setting that aside, though, corporations are themselves authoritarian structures, so i don’t think you can really argue that giving more power to corporations is an anti-authoritarian step. I know pundits on FOX News would spin it that way, but that’s because they work with a rather odd definition of the term, where only a government can be authoritarian, and handing power to unelected elites is libertarian. I feel pretty sure the people behind the electoral compass website would dispute that definition of libertarianism – i certainly would.

    He’s on the right because all his efforts to save the economy rely on stimulating trade and keeping businesses afloat – banks get bailed out, people don’t.

    I think most people would accept that the rightwing thing to do would have been to allow the banks to fail, and to hell with the consequences. I think the decision to bailout the banks rather than individuals betrays a disturbing closeness to the economic elite, but i’m not sure it’s any more rightwing than a decision to split the money given to the banks between all citizens would have been.

    And he’s on the left as regards nuclear weapons.

    Nuclear weapons aren’t a left-right issue, so far as i can see. In the cold war, leftwing westerners argued against nuclear weapons, but that was because they felt that the west had nothing to fear from communism, not because the posession of nuclear weapons is rightwing. You could make a case for militarism/ pacificism (or confrontation/ concilliation, to put it in more general terms) requiring a wholly separate spectrum, but of the two that currently exist, they fit far more neatly into the authoritarian/ libertarian spectrum, i think. Nuclear weapons, or the threat of their use, are designed to impose restrictions on the behaviour of foreigners, after all.

    Sarah Palin?

    You hit the nail bang on the head with the joke about speaking fees. :o) She’s a populist, and as a consequence will say whatever is popular. So, as you say, she’s conservative and authoritarian on social issues, libertarian on the constitutionally-mandated rights, so authoritarian in her opposition to other rights she’s prepared to contemplate the use of violence to see they’re withheld… Basically, she’s a mess.

    The scale assumes that individuals and groups have consistent, well thought-out positions, which obviously they usually don’t.

    This is certainly a big problem, although you could i suppose make the case that tools like the political compass might help people to make more rational decisions. But i’m not sure they’d be able to overcome the innate tribalism of politics. Before Gordon Brown had insulted Gillian Duffy, it was obvious she was radically out of sympathy with current Labour policies and was only planning to vote for them because that was who she’d always voted for.

    Any decent way to categorise beliefs will need many more axes

    Agreed. In my post i suggested a third, but as i said to Katherine, that would still only be scratching the surface.

  6. Kapitano says:

    Hi there Aethel. I don’t consider myself especially interested in politics. Just surrounded by it.

    The whole concept of an executive branch of government is pretty authoritarian in itself.

    True, though there’s the question of exactly who the authority is over. Newspapers, small businesses, co-operatives, charities, banks, religious organisations, the army, ISPs, private individuals etc, and the related question of in whose interests the authority is exercised.

    An authoritarian government that protects small businesses from large ones is rather different from one which protects religious organisations from media scrutiny.

    I’m fairly sure that the reason corporate donations are no longer capped is because the Supreme Court decided that they could be legally regarded as ‘persons’

    Corporations have been legally persons and thus permitted to make contributions since 1886. The cap was only removed this year.

    pundits on FOX News

    Obviously they’re not a source of serious ideas. The people behind the electoral compass site probably are serious – they’re just probably also wrong.

    If I can quote myself: “When shallow people are wrong, it’s for shallow reasons. When deep people are wrong, it’s for deep reasons.”

    Nuclear weapons aren’t a left-right issue, so far as i can see. In the cold war, leftwing westerners argued against nuclear weapons, but that was because they felt that the west had nothing to fear from communism

    Some leftwingers thought that way – usually those who had illusions that soviet communism was progressive. Of those who didn’t have such illusions, I’ve never heard of one who thought nulcear weapons were a good idea, though some may have grudgingly accepted the ‘balance of terror’ arguments of the right.

    Nuclear weapons are a form of force. The left is in general against using force, and the further people go to the right, the more they think it’s justified.

    Before Gordon Brown had insulted Gillian Duffy, it was obvious she was radically out of sympathy with current Labour policies and was only planning to vote for them because that was who she’d always voted for.

    I’ve only followed that particular silly event belatedly, but from what I can tell Duffy was a rather confused individual who swallowed the (Labour and Conservative) line that immigrants are to blame for economic troubles in some mysterious way. Not a bigot, just a damn fool who listens to bigotry.

    In my post i suggested a third, but as i said to Katherine, that would still only be scratching the surface.

    I think there are two major problems with this kind of categorisation system. The first is, as we’ve said, it oversimplifies. The second is that it’s inventors want it to be fixed and eternal, hovering above the real world and encompassing it.

    Every model gets out of date, and the result of trying to interpret a changed world according to an obsolete model is…gibberish. Which may be why most political analysis is exactly that.

  7. aethelreadtheunread says:

    Hi again, Kapitano.

    I don’t consider myself especially interested in politics. Just surrounded by it.

    Sorry for being part of the engulfing tide… ;o)

    An authoritarian government that protects small businesses from large ones is rather different from one which protects religious organisations from media scrutiny.

    Undoubtedly, but this is kind of the point of the political compass site, i think, to begin the process of teasing apart the separate strands of political thought. The two governments are different, but both are authoritarian for all that.

    Corporations have been legally persons and thus permitted to make contributions since 1886. The cap was only removed this year.

    Thanks for the correction – that will teach me to rely on Johann Hari for my information (as newspaper pundits go he’s one of the best, but he is still a polemicist and as such will sometimes massage the facts to fit his theories). To reiterate the main point, though – the decision was taken by the Supreme Court, not Obama, so we can’t really use it as evidence in assessing his political orientation.

    Obviously they’re [pundits on FOX News] not a source of serious ideas. The people behind the electoral compass site probably are serious – they’re just probably also wrong.

    I take the point in general terms, but on the specific issue (whether taking power from an authoritarian government and giving it to (unelected, and therefore arguably even more authoritarian) corporations is a libertarian act) we’re discussing opposite points of view, and this wouldn’t seem to address the substance of that issue.

    The left is in general against using force, and the further people go to the right, the more they think it’s justified.

    Sorry, but that’s just wrong, and a refugee from a simplistic worldview which sees all leftwingers as happy, skipping, lovely people. What about Stalin and Mao? We’re surely not going to go down the rather deluded route of arguing that they weren’t leftwing, or that the reports of the attrocities carried out at their instruction are a conspiracy by rightwingers?

    The issue of use of force is entirely separate to the issue of left-right. As i said, given a reductive two-axis system, the use of force by the authorities to force people to behave in a particular way is much closer to authoritarianism than anything else. This is certainly reductive and simplistic – but less reductive and simplistic than claiming that leftwingers are characterised by a reluctance to use force.

    I think there are two major problems with this kind of categorisation system. The first is, as we’ve said, it oversimplifies. The second is that it’s inventors want it to be fixed and eternal, hovering above the real world and encompassing it.

    Every model gets out of date, and the result of trying to interpret a changed world according to an obsolete model is…gibberish. Which may be why most political analysis is exactly that.

    I can absolutely see your point here, Kapitano, but this reminds me a little of the time we were discussing the categorisation of sexual orientation. We agree that the situation is messy and complex, and that absolute accuracy of classification is by definition impossible. But at that point we diverge, with me arguing that even though a thing may be difficult to do well and impossible to do perfectly it’s still worth pursuing because we gain something from the attempt, and you arguing that anything that emerges from an imperfect ananlysis is a distortion of the true picture, and so fundamentally distorted that it is, to quote you, ‘gibberish’.

    On the specific point here, i guess i would argue that the method of analysis employed by the Political Compass website is, as a destination, not that useful, but as a suggestion for a direction of travel – thinking about political orientation in a nuanced, multi-factoral way – it has some value. But i can appreciate that you may not see the point of starting out on a journey towards what will always be, whatever we do, innacurate and imperfect and misleading. We’re just different kinds of people, i think. :o)

    (Sorry if i have put words in your mouth, or characterised your positions wrongly or misleadingly.)

  8. iee says:

    Sarah Palin can ask as much as she likes as speaker’s fee, but remember, nobody is forced to pay and nobody is forced to attend. So no authoritanism there.

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