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Sunday, December 05, 2004


Spectra, Multifaceted
In an attempt to find alternative political spectra other than "red"/"blue" (whatever that is), I found the following article:


Some people feel that...it is very confusing to speak of the right or the left without indicating what exactly you are referring to. They believe that one should first establish context by defining the axes upon which different positions will be measured.

Nonetheless, the right-left spectrum is so common as to be taken for granted. Many people even have a hard time conceptualizing any alternative to it. However, numerous alternatives exist, usually having been developed by people who feel their views are not fairly represented on the traditional right-left spectrum.

Perhaps the simplest alternative to the left-right spectrum was devised as a rhetorical tool during the Cold War. This was a circle which brought together the far right and left ends of the traditional spectrum, equating "extreme socialism" (i.e. the Communist Party) with "extreme conservatism" (i.e. Fascism). This nexus was particularly useful to those opposed to rapprochement with the Soviet Union.

Another alternative spectrum offered at American Federalist Journal emphasizes the degree of political control, and thus places communism and fascism [totalitarianism] at one extreme and anarchism [no government at all] at the other extreme.

Another alternative currently popular among certain environmentalists uses a single axis to measure what they consider to be the good of the Earth against the good of big business, which is seen as being the force most likely to harm the earth.

In 1998, political author Virginia Postrel, in her book The Future and Its Enemies, offered a new single axis spectrum that measures one's view of the future. On one extreme are those who allegedly fear the future and wish to control it, whom Postrel calls stasists. On the other hand are those who want the future to unfold naturally and without attempts to plan and control, for whom she uses the name dynamists.

Other axes that might merit consideration include:

  • Role of the church: Clericism vs. Anti-clericism. This axis is not significant in the United States where views of the role of religion tend to get subsumed into the general left-right axis, but in Europe clericism versus anti-clericism is much less correlated with the left-right spectrum.
  • Urban vs. rural: This axis is also much more significant in European politics than American.
  • Foreign policy: interventionism (the nation should exert power abroad to implement its policy) vs. isolationism (the nation should keep to its own affairs)
  • Market policy: socialism (government should democratize or control economic productivity) vs. laissez-faire (government should leave the market alone) vs. corporatism (government should subsidize or support existing successful businesses)
  • Political violence: pacifism (political views should not be imposed by violent force) vs. Militancy (violence is a legitimate or necessary means of political expression). Informally, these people are often referred to as "doves" and "hawks", respectively.
  • Foreign trade: globalization (world economic markets should become integrated and interdependent) vs. autarky (the nation or polity should strive for economic independence)
  • Diversity: multiculturalism (the nation should represent a diversity of cultural ideas) vs. Assimilationism or nationalism (the nation should represent the dominant ethnic group)
  • Participation: Positive Liberty (positive participation in the government) vs. (rule by a limited number of people)


Multi-axis models
A number of proposals have been made for a two-axis system, which combines two models of the political spectrum as axes.

The Nolan Chart
The first person to devise such a two-axis system was David Nolan, creator of the Nolan Chart. This chart shows economic freedom (taxation, free trade and free enterprise) on the x axis and personal freedom (issues like drug legalization, abortion and the draft) on the y axis. This puts liberals in the top left quadrant, libertarians in the top right, conservatives in the bottom right, and authoritarians (whom Nolan originally named populists in the bottom left....

A second, very different, two axis model was created by Jerry Pournelle. Pournelle's model has liberty (a dimension similar to the diagonal of the Nolan Chart, with those on the left seeking liberty and those on the right focusing control) perpendicular to belief in the power of one's political philosophy of choice (with those on the top believing that all the evils their ideology attempts to fight would go away if only their ideals were instituted, and those at the bottom reduced to blind, celebratory attachment to their ideology for its own sake -- the fascist who will now do anything to celebrate "greatness", the anarchist given to tossing bombs around for the fun of it).

Having three axes is a modified Nolan Chart created by the Friesian Institute. It combines the economic liberty and personal liberty axes with positive liberty, creating a cube showing the form of government crossed with the four corners of the Nolan Chart. Another three-dimensional representation is the Vosem Chart, the axes of which represent cultural issues, fiscal issues, and corporate issues.


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