Comments and observations on social and political trends and events.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Does being objective preclude taking a political side?

During the lead up to the Presidential election I received several comments on some of my posts or I found comments posted elsewhere questioning my objectivity because I obviously sided with the Republican ticket (although with major reservations) and dared to oppose Obama. The implication seemed to be that you couldn’t be objective if you take sides. I hope it’s clear from the context of my posts that objectivity doesn’t entail permanently suspending judgment. It means supporting your conclusions with data and logic.

In any case, I happened to stumble across an interesting site, The Political Compass, that augments the normal economic spectrum of left versus right with a social scale: authoritarian versus libertarian. While the web site doesn’t express it this way their scales measure freedom along two axes. The “normal” horizontal scale of left and right measures economic freedom. The Political Compass model adds a vertical scale of social freedom with authoritarian at the north pole and anarchism at the south. Under this scheme, communism lies at the left end of the spectrum while libertarianism resides at the other end. Incorporating the vertical dimension of social freedom, fascism sits at the north end while anarchism represents the south pole. (I don’t entirely agree with the author’s equation of authoritarianism with fascism. I’d put fascism on the same horizontal scale as communism since both are variations of collectivist economics. I would also argue that the south pole is not anarchism but libertarian.)

Despite these quibbles the result is a quadrant in which the upper left is authoritarian left or state imposed collectivist. Stalin would fall into this quadrant. The lower left quadrant represents voluntary regional collectivism as championed by Gandhi. The authors place Margaret Thatcher in the upper right quadrant of the authoritarian right. I’d say it’s more appropriate to put a representative of the religious right, such as Mike Huckabee, in this quadrant. Finally, we have the lower right quadrant consisting of advocates of both economic and social freedom, such as Ayn Rand and most right libertarians.

As the authors of the web site explain:

despite popular perceptions, the opposite of fascism is not communism but anarchism (ie liberal socialism), and that the opposite of communism ( i.e. an entirely state-planned economy) is neo-liberalism (i.e. extreme deregulated economy).

The usual understanding of anarchism as a left wing ideology does not take into account the neo-liberal "anarchism" championed by the likes of Ayn Rand, Milton Friedman and America's Libertarian Party, which couples social Darwinian right-wing economics with liberal positions on most social issues. Often their libertarian impulses stop short of opposition to strong law and order positions, and are more economic in substance (ie no taxes) so they are not as extremely libertarian as they are extremely right wing. On the other hand, the classical libertarian collectivism of anarcho-syndicalism (libertarian socialism) belongs in the bottom left hand corner.

From Wikipedia about left-libertarianism:

Left-libertarianism is generally regarded as a doctrine that has a strong commitment to personal liberty and has an egalitarian view concerning natural resources, believing that it is illegitimate for anyone to claim private ownership of resources to the detriment of others.

From the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy:

Libertarianism is often thought of as “right-wing” doctrine. This, however, is mistaken for at least two reasons. First, on social—rather than economic—issues, libertarianism tends to be “left-wing”. It opposes laws that restrict consensual and private sexual relationships between adults (e.g., gay sex, non-marital sex, and deviant sex), laws that restrict drug use, laws that impose religious views or practices on individuals, and compulsory military service. Second, in addition to the better-known version of libertarianism—right-libertarianism—there is also a version known as “left-libertarianism”. Both endorse full self-ownership, but they differ with respect to the powers agents have to appropriate unappropriated natural resources (land, air, water, etc.). Right-libertarianism holds that typically such resources may be appropriated by the first person who discovers them, mixes her labor with them, or merely claims them—without the consent of others, and with little or no payment to them. Left-libertarianism, by contrast, holds that unappropriated natural resources belong to everyone in some egalitarian manner. It can, for example, require those who claim rights over natural resources to make a payment to others for the value of those rights. This can provide the basis for a kind of egalitarian redistribution.

So after all of this where do I fall on their scale? According to the test on the web page I fall into the lower right libertarian quadrant, but just barely. If the most extreme score is 10 right and 10 down for the lower most corner of the libertarian my score was 2.75 right and 2.5 down. Assuming their model is valid I’d like to think that my score shows that my libertarian leanings are tempered by my attempts to look at my ideas and positions objectively.

I encourage you to take the test on The Political Compass site.

No comments: