Time to retire the Left-right Political Spectrum

by Jeff Aguilar

For two centuries (or at least since the French Revolution) political systems have been artificially placed on a linear Left-Right political measuring stick. On the Left side of this political line are what are generally considered ‘liberal’ forms of government, and on the right are what is considered ‘conservative’ forms of government. Political parties such as the American Democratic and Republic parties are placed on this spectrum, as are forms of government (communist, socialist, theocracies, etc), and even media publications.

Plotting political parties and political systems on this linear spectrum fails to adequately account for the many similarities between systems of government that are at supposedly polar opposite ends of the spectrums (communism on the far left and fascism on the far right), and the stark contrasts between others that are plotted nearby (liberal socialism vs totalitarian communism). The failures of this system of political modeling are obvious and a new model needs to be promoted as a replacement.

My own system relies on two degrees of freedom on a cartesian grid. Social freedoms vs Economic Freedoms. Social freedoms encompass everything from freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of assembly, religion, to personal expression and activities. Economic freedom encompasses the freedom to own property, acquire wealth, establish businesses and business relationships, and the ability to operate freely from regulatory and financial controls.

The Quadrants

Using the freedoms model to chart political views four quadrants emerge: Socialism, Libertarianism, Totalitarianism, and Theocracies (or social conservatism). The Socialism quadrant is marked by systems of government with a high degree of social freedom. There are few restrictions on speech, personal expression, religion, etc, in pure socialist societies. Conversely, these governments would utilize high taxation to generate revenue for social programs, inhibiting personal wealth growth and economic freedom. Classic European socialism would fit into this quadrant, varying from Greece to Scandinavia.

Libertarianism is marked by a high degree of both social and economic freedom. Libertarian governments are marked by few laws or regulations that inhibit personal thought or expression, and do not advance religious or moral codes. Low taxation allows individual wealth building. At an extreme is the complete absence of government.

Totalitarianism is marked by inhibited social and economic freedom. Individual thought and expression is regulated with the potential for incarceration or ostracism for deviation from what the government considers acceptable. Economic freedom is inhibited by both a collectivist ideology either through high taxation or outright banning of private property. Even if private property is allowed, the government can seize it without warning for any reason, leading to little economic security,

Finally theocracies are marked by inhibited social freedom, but varying degrees of economic freedom. Often there are social or religious codes that are strictly enforced and which may lead to incarceration or death. In contrast, individuals may be able to build personal wealth through investments and business relationships. Saudi Arabia and Iran are two examples of theocratic governments.

Nazism and Soviet Communism in the Same Quadrant

On the traditional political spectrum Nazism (or extremist fascism) and Soviet Communism are at polar opposite ends, but in this model they are in the same Totalitarian quadrant. Soviet communism banned personal property beyond simple homes and personal possessions and limited freedom of speech, assembly, etc with the threat of incarceration. In Nazism, personal property rights were retained, but only as long as the government chose not to seize them. Businesses were tightly controlled by the government. Personal freedoms were inhibited too, often with the threat of incarceration or death for opposition to the government, and in both a single party controlled the government.

Modern Chinese Communism now straddles the line between economically free and restricted by totalitarianism. As the country has evolved from the Maoist state, personal wealth building is now allowed and encouraged. Many of the world’s billionaires are now Chinese. Still, the country remains socially restrictive and utilizes censorship and the threat of incarceration to control the population.

American Democratic Socialism has emerged in recent years as promoted by a range of Democratic politicians from AOC to Bernie Sanders, to activists such as those promoting BLM and Antifa. It falls into the same Totalitarianism quadrants since it seeks to inhibit economic freedom through high taxation and restrictive regulatory laws, and even wealth seizures. Likewise it is socially restrictive utilizing methods and controls to limit thought and speech to “accepted” norms. Cancel-culture and even the threat of violence is advanced by this ideology to ensure adherence to social norms.

American Political Parties

While the American Democratic Socialist is in the Totalitarian quadrant, traditional Democrats would be economically more inhibited than traditional Republicans, but moderately more socially free. Democratic initiatives to raise taxes result in lesser opportunities to build individual wealth, but there are fewer restrictions advanced on personal freedoms.

It must be noted that the modern Democratic party has drifted toward the Totalitarian quadrant as traditional Democrats are replaced by younger, more extremist members who adhere to Democratic Socialist beliefs. The modern Republican party is drifting toward Libertarianism as the religious right has been replaced by Tea Party republicans with lesser concern for religious and moral traditions but a strong, anti-tax ethos.

The Libertarian Party exists in the Libertarian quadrant where both social freedoms and economic freedoms are guaranteed from interference from government. This quadrant would also represent the original vision of American democracy as envisioned by the Founding Fathers.

Somalia represents a failed state where the government exerts little to no control over the populace. People are free to earn wealth using any manner, even piracy, without fear of government interference. At the same time this anarchy requires that individuals protect themselves and with no societal structures to ensure public safety lives are markedly more dangerous than in less ‘free’ societies.

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