Monday, November 23, 2009

Political Spectrum

In a high school political science class I was taught that the political spectrum extends from communism on the far left to fascism on the far right, with Democrats and Republicans more or less in the center. Even back then this seemed stupid to me because in practice both communism and fascism are most strongly characterized by the subjugation of the individual and the community to the state. I asked my teacher where anarchy fit into this spectrum and bizarrely he suggested that it should be even further out to the right, past fascism.

There are many ways to chart political systems and philosophies relative to one another. Why do so many people consider to use and reference the Left vs. Right model? What do ‘leftness’ and ‘rightness’ indicate? For example, was my teacher correct to place anarchy on the far right? And if so, what essential characteristic is common between fascism and anarchy so that they end up on the same end of the spectrum?

Numerous other methodologies have been suggested for depicting the relative similarities and differences between various political systems and philosophies. The Nolan chart, for example, puts economic freedom on one axis, and personal freedom on another. Useful, perhaps, for explaining the Libertarian worldview, but rather limited in its ability to describe other political philosophies in their own language. For example, where precisely would Progressives place themselves on such a chart? I suggest that they would be apt to claim that the chart needed to be redrawn with different axes, perhaps one of which would be rationality in policy.

How would you draw a chart of all political systems/philosophies? How many axes would you need to describe the most important characteristics of each system? Below are some suggestions for possible axes:

Practical regulation ßà Moral regulation

Coercive ßà Free to opt out

Provides many public goods (roads, schools, etc.) ßà Provides few public goods

Focus on individual rights ßà Focus on community rights

More regulation of business ßà Less regulation of business

More regulation of personal activity (what I do in private) ßà Less regulation of personal activity

More regulation (in total) ßà More freedom

Governmental powers highly consolidated ßà Governmental powers very distributed (checks and balances)

Government captive to the people (officials easily removed from office by popular demand) ßà People captive to the government (individuals easily killed or imprisoned by officials)



  1. My boyfriend and I agree with the postion of anarchy on the political spectrum that your teacher suggested !

  2. That's very interesting! Would you care to explain further?

  3. Check out this map here

  4. Anonymous,

    That's a good map! It's a better developed version of the one I posted.

  5. Found your site by accident, glad I did, you propose some interesting questions and ideas.

    Your teacher lead you down the, what I consider typical leftist view of the left-right political scale. The one thing she got half-right is Anarchy being on the far-right. Take for a moment what the scale is meant to represent and how we can weigh things. If you move to one extreme on the scale(left) you should be seeing 'complete and total control by Government', this means every single thing in our lives would be dictated by Government. We would essentially be mindless robots controlled by the very few in charge. Opposite that moving to the polar extreme on the scale(right) you would, as your teacher stated, find Anarchy. Anarchy, at it's core definition, is simply lack of Government or any governance. So on a left-right scale it does fit on the farthest right, considering the farthest left is total control, logic says the farthest right should be a polar opposite, which is no control. Anarchy, though, is not unique to the extreme of the right. Any time we a nation changes the method or form of Government, they will go through a period of relative Anarchy. So, if a Socialist Government moves toward a Communist Government, essentially going from left to further left, there would be a period of Anarchy. In this case, though, Anarchy here would not be definable to the far right extreme, it would in fact be, of varying degree, left. If we look at history, Stalin and Lenin, East and West Germany post WW2, or China and Mao, where Government has moved from left to further left we can see why Anarchy is left. In the case of Russia and China, there were civil wars fought during the change of Government. This was the period of Anarchy. You had two clearly defined groups fighting against each other to establish control. Therefore, Anarchy placement on the left-right scale should in fact be placed on the furthest right extreme by definition alone, but should also encompass the entire scale from left to right. The reasoning for this is fairly simple. During a period of Anarchy, people will continue to believe what they know or expect. So in the case of a Socialist Government moving to a Communist Government, the supporters of each will hold true to the tenets of their beliefs, making Anarchy quite flexible, and dependent on the underlying ideology. If you look towards the US revolution, Anarchy was both right and left simultaneously. Simply because we wanted a limited government and maximal freedom while the King wanted to keep his Monarch in place.

  6. Where your teacher really steered you wrong, though, is by saying Fascism is on the right. If the scale goes from Communism on the left to Fascism on the right, where do we(USA, Constitutional Republic) and other free nations fit in? We don't, according to your teachers idea. In reality, Fascists and Nazis opposed Communism, they also opposed Capitalism. They are said to have adopted tenets from both the left and the right, which is true enough, but that doesn't make them fall on the right. Lets examine what a Nazi is. Nazis self identified themselves as National Socialists. Next we should look at Fascism, what is it? It's still Socialism, but with a slightly different methodology. Under Fascism(and Nazism) people where allowed to keep more private property and retain some free-market functions, this is what many on the left will use to say it is on the right. Both practiced Corporatism, which doesn't mean corporations like we know them as businesses and such, although the corporate business entities often sat at the top. Under Fascism/Nazism, the difference from typical Socialism or Communism in this aspect is how control of the means of production is enacted. The Government still has ultimate say. People were freer to setup businesses and execute private ventures, but they were overseen by the Government and often needed permission. This is different from Russian style Socialism(Communism) because the state has complete control of the means of production. So to sum this up real quick, Fascism/Nazism is left, it's closer to general Socialism than it is to Communism, but quite left of what we know as a Constitutional Republic which is clearly far to the right(as founded).

    A quick look at a scale labeled correctly should look something more like this; the far left arrow should read 'total control' while the far right arrow should read 'no control'. Within that we should probably place Socialism somewhere in the middle of the left and Capitalism somewhere in the middle of the right. Fascism should be in the relative area of Socialism while Communism should clearly be even further to the left of those. Monarchy should also be on the far left, in the same relative area as Communism. We would have to examine different Monarch rulers independently to clearly place them on a scale, but all of the are on the left.

    As for the Libertarian scale. It tries to create a subset definition which is completely unnecessary. Referring to the Totalitarian Populist, that is clear far left, and exhibits qualitys close to total control. While Libertarian would sit in a wide range, depending on which era or type of Libertarian we use as representation. Libertarian could easily fit anywhere from right of Socialism(in the left spectrum) all the way to the far right extreme where we see no control. The traditional Libertarian, who advocates limited Government and maximal freedoms would fall on the middle to far right.

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