A Menagerie of Outspoken Opinions on Science, World Politics, and Geek Culture

Tuesday, June 15, 2004

Navigating By Political Compass

Okay, I think it's about time we all had a lesson in just what is meant by terms like liberal, conservative, libertarian, and authoritarian. The standard, one-dimensional "left = liberal, right = conservative" political chart is woefully inadequate; what if your opinions are not all on one side? It certainly does not make you a centrist, because political outlook doesn't balance like a math equation (an eco-terrorist who strongly supports the death penalty is not a moderate).

To really have any useful meaning, political affiliations must be charted on at least two separate axis: Economic and social. The Political Compass by politicalcompass.org uses a two-dimensional grid to chart both, economic being left-right and social being up-down. Answering a series of questions gives you a score that appears on a graph. I took my results and added them (in blue) to a graph that also includes some famous political figures for comparison:

sandor's political compass Posted by Hello

I suggest that everyone go read The Political Compass Introduction (it's a little less than a page of text) and then take the quiz (which takes about five minutes). For a 10 or 15 minute investment of time you'll likely come away with a broader insight into your own political stance.

For those who don't want to bother, here's a quick-and-dirty explanation of the axis:

Authoritarian ("Up"): An authoritarian wants to exert control over others and make them behave in a certain way. Authoritarian ideals are often nationalistic, religious, or even racist. An authoritarian extremist is a fascist.

Conservative ("Right"): A conservative believes in free-market economics; they favor few (if any) government controls on business, few (if any) social programs, and low taxes. A conservative extremist is a laissez-faire capitalist.

Libertarian ("Down"): A libertarian believes in individual freedoms and personal responsibility. They resent government (or any other) intrusion into what they see as their personal business. Libertarians very often use the motto "Your right to swing your fist ends at the tip of my nose" (you can do whatever you like so long as it hurts no one else). A libertarian extremist is called a libertine.

Liberal ("Left"): Liberals desire a planned or managed economy. They believe a large, central government that collects high taxes and regulates business will protect people from exploitation. A liberal extremist is called a Socialist.

So when we speak of a conservative here we do not necessarily mean someone who is religious, pro-death penalty, and anti-abortion. We mean someone who is a capitalist.

Your (stereo)typical far religious right Republican is correctly referred to as a authoritarian conservative. I myself am a libertarian conservative - and an almost dead-center one at that. I'm too far from the central X-Y point to be considered a moderate in any respect, but I'm not close enough to either end to be called an extremist either. I'm a strong, solid individualist and capitalist who takes neither to the point of fanaticism ... and I know and accept that there are some things I'm going to have to compromise on if I want to be able to vote for one of the two or three main presidential candidates.

I wish I had the luxury of voting for a nice centrist (from either big party) or a genuine Libertarian. I really do. Since the 9/11 terrorist attacks, however, I've been a single-issue voter; I'm going with the guy who I think has the best plan to win the war on terror. Not the guy who has the perfect plan (because that doesn't exist) but the one who has put forth solid, workable ideas than can end terrorism by destroying its root causes of Islamic Fascism and Arabian Tribalism. George Bush is that guy. He's not my first choice - I'd prefer we had John McCain leading us right now. But President Bush and his administration at least understand that we are at war (our enemies have been at war with us for decades ... we just didn't start fighting back until the Autumn of 2001) and that the time for half-measures and "proportional responses" is past. We're in this for our way of life. We're in it for western secular Democracy. I want someone at the helm who intends to win.