Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Political Spectrum 2: Shape

I believe that most political observers, if asked to draw a graphic representation of the political spectrum, would draw a line. A point would be placed on the line, representing the center. To the left are socialism, affirmative action, gay rights, "green", "pro-choice", separation of church and state. To the right are low taxes, laissez-faire, "pro-life", "don't ask, don't tell", "In God We Trust".

The further to the left someone is on the political spectrum, the further they are from the views of those on the far right of the spectrum. And vice versa. Of course. Or not?

As I see it, the logical end point that both extreme left and extreme right approach, is anarchy. They don't get all the way there. After all, anarchy is a utopian state, in the literal sense of "a place that does not exist". But they approach that end point, the way a mathematical series will approach but never quite reach a certain point.

"Anarchy" has long been the battle cry of the extreme left. One example is the Haymarket Riot of 1886. Some of the protesters against the Vietnam War and, more recently, some "anti-globalization" protesters, have also embraced the label of "anarchist".

In the other direction, there are the extreme libertarians. They don't tend to embrace the label of "anarchist", but, of course, they aim to limit government's size and functions as much as possible. Again, they don't get all the way there, and there's a big difference between limited government and no government, but the further out one is on the libertarian spectrum, the smaller one wants government to be.

What is shared in common between a make-love-not-war protester, and a libertarian with a Daniel Boone-like "when I can see the smoke from my neighbor's chimney, I'll move further out on the frontier" approach? (Libertarianism doesn't necessarily equate to radical individualism. One key libertarian concept is being communitarian through voluntary associations, rather than government. But I think the furthest end of the libertarian scale is that which most emphasizes rugged individualism.)

To state it tautologically: each person wants government not to do what each person wants government not to do. Now, to delve deeper into that incredibly profound statement: Those on the left usually want to limit government's regulation of their personal lives, e.g., unconventional sexual relationships, recreational use of drugs, freedom not to serve in the military. Meanwhile, on the right, they don't want to be taxed, have their businesses regulated, or be told what values their children should be taught.

So where does that leave our "shape" question? In a circle, of course.

According to that interpretation, there is no "left" and "right". There's just one arc of the circle that, in various ways and for various reasons, wants government to do more, and another arc that wants government to do less. Oh, and a huge retinue of politicians, bureaucrats, lobbyists and consultants whose livelihood depends on that first arc, and is threatened by the second.

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