The Political Spectrum is a Line Not a Graph

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Thu, Nov 12 - 9:00 am EDT | 3 years ago by
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The Morse Code - Left-Right

Throughout my time as a political opinion writer, I’ve said many controversial things about many different subjects. I’ve made more groups angry than I can count on eight hands – and some of those groups I even belong to. That said, I feel as if I’ve never said anything more controversial than when I tweeted: “There’s no such thing as a leftist libertarian.”

Before I go on, I want to mention that I’m not speaking with authority granted unto me by all political experts and that the following is one man’s understanding and beliefs. You can disagree with these beliefs, as many of you will, and that’s okay. All comments are welcome. Secondly, I understand that many beliefs about the right/left spectrum diverge due to factors such as geographical location, upbringing, education and level of political involvement. To save time, and because I don’t understand the reasoning behind other country’s political labeling (for example, how is “far right” considered Nazism when socialist is right there in the descriptor?), we will be taking examples and ideas using the political situations and events in the United States of America.

Finally, I admittedly like to keep things simple. I tend not to have too much patience for minutia of any kind and I think the old adage “the devil is in the details” is more true than we give it credit for. If I had a dime for every instance where someone attempted to dance his or her way out of a logical conclusion using trivial details, I’d be able to afford the expensive toilet paper. This isn’t to say that I don’t consider nuances or variables in any given situation, and elements important to drawing a conclusion should be adhered to. But when it comes to a great many things, keeping it free of gray areas saves us all from an endless parade of triteness and exhaustive circular arguments.

With that in mind, I could only draw the conclusion that on the American political spectrum there are only two directions you can go: right and left. It’s a very simplistic line segment where you can easily place one’s political leanings based on their beliefs.

I’ve seen so many visual aids to describe political alignments that I feel I could fill a shelf’s worth of books with them and not type a word. Most of them are complete nonsense, while others are relatively decent but still don’t really make a lot of sense.

Some have been subscribing to a political alignment graph that looks like this:

View post on

Not only do I find this graph more complicated that it needs to be, I also find a lot of its terminology misleading and even oxymoronical.

Let’s take Anarcho-Communism for instance. You can have one or the other but definitely not both. Communism concerns itself with complete centralization. Everything is owned and operated under the governing authority and private ownership is more or less out of the question. Everything belongs to “the people,” which is usually window dressing for whatever oligarchy ends up in charge. Anarchism is no centralization, no government control, everything is private property to those who can claim it and keep it and there is no state. One utilizes a set of strict and often despotic laws, the other one is completely devoid of law. They cannot be mixed. They are oil and water. So we can toss that out.

Then there are redundant terms that I feel were added into the chart just to have something opposite of something else. Every instance of Ultra-Capitalism I found on dictionary sites reverted to “capitalism,” and the only one I found with any kind of solid definition was from a Star Trek wiki. Also, we can throw out Ultra-Anarchism, because you can’t get more anarchic than “anarchism.”

Why is Progressivism nestled between Conservatism and Libertarianism when it clearly stands opposed to both? Why is Activism up there? It’s not a political philosophy; it’s an action you take on behalf of your political beliefs. Why does it stand opposite to Authoritarianism? I feel like Libertarianism should be in that spot. Liberalism is dead center? It’s a word pertaining to freedom. Shouldn’t it be further to the right?

All in all, this chart seems a bit nonsensical. It’s verbiage is all over the place and trying to figure out where you sit on it would is nigh impossible. So let’s throw it out, along with “Anarcho-Communism” which sounds like something cooked up by a ’90s kid who listened to too much Rage Against the Machine, desperately trying to sound deeply philosophical.

A more simplistic chart would be the one favored by the consumer revolt movement, GamerGate, which featured only four labels on each side and left it up to distance on which square you placed to help you see where you fell in on the political spectrum.

Political Chart
By Traced by User:Stannered (en:Image:Political chart.jpg) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

While I do appreciate the simplicity of the chart, right off the bat I’m having trouble getting behind the terminology being used here. Specifically, that of “Libertarian Left.” I have a problem with it because, like Anarcho-Communism, I can’t see how it exists.

I realize the hair on the back of a lot of necks just rose enough to now mimic Sonic the Hedgehog, but my reasoning is pretty solid.

See, the American political left has always had a sordid history in the U.S. when it came to the advancement of freedom. It was the Democrats who primarily voted for slavery, and it was Democrats who had strong ties to the Ku Klux Klan – even having a member of it in their party until 2010. In fact, the American left’s history is so pocked with racism and its attempts to restrict the rights of different races that it completely omitted a massive chunk of its history when speaking about its past during the 2008 elections.

Today, many Americans view the right as the side who wants to stop people from marrying who they choose. While there are politicians on the right who do have this divergence from liberty, they don’t speak for the whole. Sixty-one percent of Republicans aged 18-29 are pro-gay marriage, and with the older generation who disapproves literally dying off, it’s only a matter of time before resistance to it becomes a minority. On top of that, there are gay Republican groups out there such as GOProud and The Log Cabin Republicans. However, as much as the left would like to claim they’re for gay rights, many of its frontrunners only switched to this view not very long ago after having “evolved.” Both Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton changed their views to support gay marriage very recently in 2012 and 2013, respectively. It was Clinton’s husband, Bill, who signed DADT and DOMA into law, and told a whale of a tale when it came to their defense of it. Obama hardly lifted a finger to advance the rights of gays but seemed to like to take credit for it whenever something good did happen. When it comes to homosexuals, political leftists only seem to care when it’s convenient, and will likely revert should it ever become inconvenient again. All in all, the left is just as guilty as the right when it comes to things the right is typically vilified for.

Meanwhile, those on the right tend to uphold liberty and smaller government as its primary qualities, which stands in complete contrast from the progressive left who wants to limit liberties such as free speech and gun ownership, while expanding government programs and taxes. The right fought for the freedom of slaves, promoted civil rights and seeks to reduce government, sometimes to the point of eliminating entire longtime government institutions. It stands behind these things solidly to the point where when it’s most influential party, the Republicans, grow government or cave to the Democrats too often, they will push them out of office in favor of candidates who take more hardline stances. The tea party’s 2010 purge of the GOP establishment is a good example of this.

Sometimes, even the conservative movement doesn’t reach far enough for liberty as many would like and so you have many going further, describing themselves as something further to the right. I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard someone – or even myself – say, “I’m a libertarian when talking to conservatives. I’m a conservative when I’m talking to libertarians.” It’s even spawned the term “conservatarian,” about which National Review writer Charles C.W. Cooke authored a very enjoyable book.

The reason for the slow but steady adoption of the label isn’t arbitrary. With the advancement of liberty being a primary concern to many on the right, and those who are right-wing moving further and further toward liberty, it’s only natural for a fusion to begin with the party who has the term directly in its name and supported many of these stances all along. All conservatives had to do was advance further to the right to get there, where their libertarian cousins waited. But the overall point here is that traveling further right gets you to libertarianism and my liberty, while traveling further left takes you to those places where liberty is reduced, such as socialism. (See Bernie Sanders for that.)

Many on the left do resist, and outright reject, the narratives and collectivism of their far left cousins. In fact, a good term was coined by the mighty Allum Bokhari called “cultural libertarianism” to describe this love of individual freedom of expression and choice. However, many of these same people who support this personal freedom back further government centralization such as higher taxes, expansion of welfare or even repealing of the Second Amendment. In fact, libertarian YouTuber, “That Guy T,” had a very good video speaking on this very subject, saying “…being a cultural libertarian does not equate to you being anti-authoritarian.”

Long story short, being anti-SJW, wanting to smoke pot legally and supporting gay marriage does not necessarily a libertarian make. You’re still having to contend with the very anti-libertarian views of government expansion of power. This is why I come to the conclusion that there is no such thing as a “Leftist Libertarian.” Like Anarcho-Communism, you can have one or the other but not both.

So with all of this in mind, I and many others don’t view the political spectrum as a graph, but as a line. The further right you go, the more free you become, until you hit anarchy. The further left you go, the more control you fall under, until you hit despotism. Depending on your beliefs, I can easily adjust the Overton window to find out where you fall on the right/left spectrum. It’s simple, easy and I don’t have to spend hours pointlessly debating about where someone belongs on a graph that seems to mislead people with improper, or just flat out weird, terminology.

Many reject this view for various reasons. For some it’s not nuanced enough. Some outright refuse the idea of being considered right or left. Some would be horrified to learn that they don’t fall on the wing they thought they did. As I stated before, you’re more than welcome not to see things how I do, but I’ve noticed with some humor that my simplistic line has often been more accurate than the most complicated chart.

You are now free to proceed to the comments section and lose your damn mind.

Top photo by Pablographix / Getty Images

Hailing from Austin, Texas, Brandon Morse has been writing about politics and culture across many websites for the last six years, with a heavy emphasis on anti-authoritarianism. Aside from writing articles, he is also known for voice acting and authoring scripts. He is an avid gamer, dog person, and has a bad habit of making vague references to things no one has heard about or seen. Follow him at @TheBrandonMorse on Twitter.

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  • David Gray

    This is some pretty revisionist stuff.
    I think you’re basically just reinventing politics from an exclusively American point of view and cherry picking to suit your preferred positions.

    I personally don’t much like the new political compass charts because they’re almost exclusively a thin veneer to absolve the right wing of historically right wing behaviour, because in American the right wing is limited to classical liberal republicanism.
    The right wing emerged as a concept from France.
    The right wing of their parliament was a physical place where real people sat to express their support for certain ideals.
    Those ideals were CONSERVATIVE and MONARCHIST.
    These people were aristocrats that OPPOSED THE MERCHANT CLASS.

    You know what occupied the left of the original French parliament that coined these terms?
    Liberals. Literal classical liberals. They were the extreme progressives of the time.

    When you do this whole rewrite of right and left to serve your own political preferences you do a disservice to yourself and your own politics.
    You’re essentially producing propaganda that isn’t even bloody necessary.

    “the right wing” is best described with ONE WORD. CONSERVATIVE.
    This is not a bad word, so just fucking own it man!
    The problem is that conservative us not a positive word either. Nor is “progressive”
    They are ENTIRELY ambiguous.
    Conservatism is ABSOLUTELY necessary to preserve what works and to give stability (which is essential)
    “progress” is necessary to address and fix problems.
    Both require balance.
    Change for it’s own sake is unhelpful while adherence to tradition is stagnant.

    Trying to pretend that the right has license over ideas that are favoured by modern American conservatives is utterly unworthy of anyone with an ounce of political awareness or honesty.
    Drop that shit like a hot rock.

    The left has been anti authoritarian from inception. By it’s nature it is fractious and argumentative.
    Those are it’s greatest strengths and it’s greatest weaknesses.
    The fact you can point to regimes that originated on the left to suggest ALL of the left wing is these things is strange, because capitalism originated on the left too, It was WILDLY progressive and an abandonment of tradition.

    “the more right you go the freer you are” is just delusional.
    “the more right you go the freer you are if you have money” might be more apt, but in the highly collectivist communist regimes you guys on the “libertarian right” love to talk about the people at the top are pretty damn free too. Stalin didn’t have many restrictions on his behaviour, so I guess communism was totally free!
    It’s silly. It’s beneath people of intelligence. Some people are more equal than others. A satirical observation of communism that perfectly applies to the vision of the modern right wing imo.

    However much the new political compass irks me, it at least describes the modern reality.
    “left = slavery, right = freedom” does not and never has described reality.
    You talk from within a nation that happily arrested people for the wrong political affiliation in the very recent past, and it was not the left wing doing that.

    • Steven Schwartz

      Thank you.

    • Brandon Morse

      Thank you for your input, but after your history lesson from another country (which I discarded as many countries have different ideas to what certain things mean) you went on a revisionist trip yourself. The left has always been anti-authoritarian? In what dimension? The party of slavery, and segregation, and collectivism? The same party that interned Japanese people into camps and continuously increase welfare entitlements with other’s money is anti-authoritarian? The party that does that then proudly proclaims their being on the left and decries the right? I’m not sure where you’re getting your facts, but I’ll ask you to look again.
      You might think I’M coming up with these definitions myself, but rest assured, I’m not. These are words used by the populace, with the parties, and in the media. All I did was take history, vocabulary, and put it all together and drew a very logical conclusion.

      And please, refrain from the “politically ambiguous” nonsense. There’s no such thing. Everyone has beliefs that can easily be sorted into one category or another.

    • David Gray

      You again rely on rendering down broad political philosophies to MODERN *American* political parties, with “republican” in the guise of “the right” and “democrats” cast as “the left”

      You are literally trying to justify your revisionism by spouting a great deal of nonsense which applies modern definitions and positions onto historical entities.
      Are you REALLY going to suggest that the historic Republican party has anything to do with the GOP of today? The republican part of 30 fucking years ago would be unelectable by the modern republican electorate, Reagan included.
      It’s not exactly a secret that the “dixiecrats” abandoned the Democrats and Republicans adopted “the southern strategy” which essentially reversed the parties stances on race.

      I honestly expected better from you.
      I think you’re a top bloke, but as always you Americans love your indoctrination, on both sides of your false choice political system.
      Your disingenuous last comment I will ignore. It’s unworthy, so I’ll chalk it to just being perturbed that somebody dared voice dissent with your opinions. I know that’s scary. You know, somebody that describes reality and acknowledges the value of the right wing while providing a definition that is not only universally accepted, but also positive, but that doesn’t just roll over because you declare special knowledge justified with cherry picking and rhetorical talking points.

    • Steven Schwartz

      And please, refrain from the “politically ambiguous” nonsense. There’s no such thing. Everyone has beliefs that can easily be sorted into one category or another.

      Nonsense, unless you mean at the fundamentally trivial level of “We can ascribe any political belief a range of boxes, and put any belief in one of said.”

      There are plenty of people out there whose beliefs do not cohere into a single rational whole; who are “left” on some issues and “right” on others, where those words even have any meaning.

      Trying to squash the entire realm of political values into a single line is at best a rhetorical trick, at worst the moment where one wonders “What is he trying to hide?”

      After all, by your model, Christian dominionist theocrats are left-wingers, which anyone observing it would find risible.

    • James

      “The left has been anti authoritarian from inception. By it’s nature it is fractious and argumentative.
      Those are it’s greatest strengths and it’s greatest weaknesses.”

      And yet now the left is almost as authoritarian as those it started out against if not more. Hell at least I can get the most repugnant conservative to say, “yes what you do in your own home is just for you.”

      Modern Liberals seek to make it so even the THOUGHT outside of what they feel is right is punished. They might not use guns to enforce it or lock people up but they are perfectly willing to make sure those peoples lives are destroyed. And of course usually after they have been in power for enough time the guns do come out.

      The problem is Modern Liberalism is a whole different creature than its original adherents swore to.

    • David Gray

      I am more angry at “the left” and liberals being this way than I am that typically regressive “trad cons” are.
      The latter are being true to their core philosophy, the former are hypocrites of the highest order.
      I wouldn’t rush to absolve the right of the same authoritarian bullshit though. They engage in it too, it’s just becoming less effective and some are starting to abandon it. Ignoring things like the war on drugs, putting God on everything and other such idiocy just isn’t honest.
      As long as people concede that both sides do it and neither is right to, I’m happy. I just get VERY frustrated with “libertarians” that constantly try to reinvent the entire right wing to be their fantasy, and that has being going on since around the time “the left” started shitting its bed. (I’d say it’s only started to be a real problem in the last 3-4 years, though I may be guilty of assuming good faith in those times before regressive liberals started attacking anyone that wasn’t in their personal cults)

    • Steven Schwartz

      Hell at least I can get the most repugnant conservative to say, “yes what you do in your own home is just for you.”

      I wish you good luck trying that with the religious conservatives.

      They might not use guns to enforce it or lock people up but they are
      perfectly willing to make sure those peoples lives are destroyed.

      Example, please? I strongly suspect your examples are for what people have *done*.

  • Kasimir Urbanski

    I think the line is “Collectivist” and “Individualist”, not ‘conservative’ or ‘liberal’ because those latter terms are too easily manipulated and the meaning of them changes over time. But I agree with many of your other points.

    • Steven Schwartz

      The problem with those two terms — or, indeed, with any two terms — is that for any general use, it’s too simple.

      A person who believes in a businessman’s freedom to do business with whomever he wishes, but who also believes that if you’re not a Christian you shouldn’t be in government, that he should be allowed to own what guns he wants, but thinks gay men should be locked up — where does he fit on that line?

      Or how about someone who believes in a governmental safety net, but in drastically reduced police power/increased police *responsibility*, community self-policing, drug legalization, etc.

      Neither of these are easily presentable on a line. Indeed, even a square doesn’t work for a lot of these things.

    • Brigadon

      Generally most political problems exist because people try to oversimplify them. The problems are not simple, neither are the solutions. When you have 300 million people, the problem is 300 million times worse.

    • Steven Schwartz

      We are in agreement — I remember the old H.L. Mencken line: For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong.

    • Brigadon

      Exactly. That’s why everything must be moderated by something else. ‘pure’ anything invariably leads to corruption and destruction. We are seeing what ‘pure’ socialism and egalitarianism is doing. On the other hand, ‘pure’ meritocracy would have at least as many problems (arguably military dictatorships are one of the ultimate forms of pure meritocracy) pure free market has shown itself to be incapable of existing in a real world with rapid travel and communications, ‘pure’ elitism stagnates, and every other ‘pure’ solution has at least as many problems as they would cure.

      A stable, healthy society needs a little bit of everything, and I have a feeling that the backlash of people recoiling from ‘pure’ marxism and victimocracy will be considerably less pleasant, if much more sustainable, than our current cult of Moloch Dawkinsists.

    • Steven Schwartz

      We are seeing what ‘pure’ socialism and egalitarianism is doing.

      Where on earth are we seeing that? Certainly not in this country, nor, indeed, in Europe — nor in China, nor anywhere else I can think of.

      To suppose that a single solution would work everywhere is simply folly — there we’re in agreement. The question is how to moderate and negotiate between them.

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