Sunday, January 31, 2016

political spectrums and quadrants

If you haven't taken the Political Compass Test, it's not a bad five minutes of your life that you'll never get back.

cartesian plane with horizontal left-right axis and vertical authoritarian-libertarian axis

It's a decent test, a bit more realistic than that pinheaded left-right spectrum. However, I've noticed that a lot of people's answers to these fairly general questions put them in the libertarian left, when their social media postings on specific issues would put them more in the authoritarian left quadrant. A more rigorously designed test would catch this better. This test -intentionally or not- allows people to flatter themselves that they are less authoritarian than they really are. More questions about things like guns, sin taxes, free speech/speech codes, interventionism, homeschooling, etc would be more honest. The omission of free speech and press questions is glaring, but hardly surprising, considering that some Brits designed this. I can think of few places that have retreated from historic free speech ideas in the last few decades more than they. 

The lack of discussion of power distribution between central and local government is also, well, pretty European, as federalism is much more central to American political discussions (and other federal systems like Mexico and Nigeria)..  In Europe, a strong centralized state is pretty much accepted as a given across most political ideologies.  
It's also a general trend among Western societies to not think much about the nature of power and force in general- unless it's "the pigs are bad" variety.  We've gotten so used to externalizing violence to the state, that unless you live in the inner city or are stockpiling arms, the paradox of paying taxes for mercenaries in uniform so you can remain peaceful doesn't cross many people's minds.  I think it has a lot to do with the narrowing/decline of words like "authority", "power", and "sovereignty".  In the political tradition I subscribe to, individuals can have all three.  Most people would only use "power" to describe something assigned to the individual.   People have become more uncomfortable with these words in general.  Just look at the European Constitution.  They use the word "competencies" now to describe what formally sovereign nations get to still do under the central EU.  I guess "power" just sounds too rough. 

I've seen quite a few of these tests in the last decade. They pretty much are modeled on the original Nolan Chart, which was designed by a libertarian decades ago to break the intellectual tyranny of left-right binary thinking.  

Here's Mr. Nolan with the chart as it had evolved by the mid 1990's. 

 If you check out the many variations, here's a clearinghouse for them.  

Since this model started among libertarians, why not take "The World's Shortest Political Quiz", as pure, fundamental, and as naively libertarian as it gets?  Imagine a world where everything from food down to sex is a barter exchange and all social relationships are temporary contracts- a libertarian, Rothbardian, weed smoking, second-wave feminist paradise. 

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