Tuesday, March 15, 2011

A proposal to amend the political spectrum

It's needed fixing for a while, after all, hasn't it? We see left-wing, so-called "progressives" locked in a defense of the status quo (e.g., Wisconsin), and right-wing, so-called "conservatives" advancing schemes of far-reaching change. To cope with these anomalies, a common dodge has been to propose a two dimensional political space as opposed to a linear one (e.g.), but this has never had much impact on everyday political usage, and, in any case, such a space often reasserts the usual one-dimensional spectrum in the form of a diagonal line across the more populated quadrants.

So I propose to accept the unidimensional structure of a left-right political spectrum, but amend the definition of its wings or poles. The left-wing would, once again, be defined in terms of the long term, progressive project to advance the cause of individual emancipation, and the right-wing would, also again, be seen in terms of the defense of statist authoritarianism. The extreme right would be the location of totalitarian politics, whether socialist or fascist, while the extreme left would be the location of the anti-state politics of anarchism and anarcho-capitalism. Between those extremes, of course, would lie the vast majority of  current political positions, but now those positions could be more clearly understood and labelled in terms of their relative location vis-a-vis the respective projects of left and right. Thus, most of what's thought of now as the contemporary left, for example, is defined by its adherence to, and advance of, the proscriptions, regulations, and requirements of the so-called welfare state (aka "nanny state"), and hence is actually a form of state-based authoritarianism -- i.e., is really right-wing. Similarly, a sizable chunk of what's now considered the right is actually concerned with the progressive or evolving liberation of the individual from such constraints or chains, and hence is really left-wing.

Now, of course, there are many other aspects of beliefs, orientations, values, etc. that provide the basis for alliances and oppositions over many particular issues, but these are more cultural or even psychological rather than political as such, and their variety may well require many more than even two dimensions. The virtue of this proposed amendment is that it lays bare the purely political structure that lies in back of most if not all actual political disputes -- behind issues such as abortion, re-cycling, unions, education, e.g., there is the question of what kind of options or policies are even appropriate for dealing with them. How one answers that question is what determines one's position on the revised political spectrum.

In thus reversing much of our conventional notions of the political left and right, this amendment resolves the anomalies mentioned above, in which putative "leftists" defend entrenched special interests, and supposed "conservatives" propose new and even radical solutions. It both simplifies and clarifies the political landscape, in other words, and blows away a good deal of the rhetorical fog that has served merely to confuse.

And for me personally, there's the interesting irony in finding myself once again labelled a leftist.