I have been writing and rewriting a book for over 20 years that captures my study of political theory. The goal of publishing that book will be to advance a universal scale for defining political belief systems. Or, to put it in plain language, “What does it mean to be politically left, right, liberal or conservative?”
In the first article of this three-part series on defining the political spectrum, I assert that the terms left and right, rather than liberal and conservative, provide a more useful standard for civic definition. You can read that primer here:
Part II: The Model
The political idioms right and left were not originally intended as a sliding scale. According to The Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition (2001), “The designation stems from the seating of the nobility on the right side of the presiding officer in the French National Assembly of 1789.” And, “the radicals were seated to the left of the presiding officer.”
The American Reference Library, produced by World Book Encyclopedia, places communism, socialism and anarchy together as left-wing ideologies while fascism and nazism are placed together as right-wing. The American Reference Library attempts to differentiate between the left and right as collectivism (communism) versus dictatorship (fascism). The Oxford Dictionary of Sociology piles on the confusion by stating that the term fascism has come to mean an “authoritarian right wing ideology.” What a mess.
I assert a much more simple categorization: The more government involvement, the more to the left is the position; the less government involvement, the more to the right. That would place totalitarianism to the far left and anarchy to the far right. Socialism, democracy, communism, fascism, etc., all have their place in relation to total government control on the far left and the absence of government on the far right.
While this simplicity is useful for describing classic governmental structures, it is inadequate for describing an individual human’s political dispositions. We must move beyond this single dimension to express political spectrum designations. The need is for a maxim for the two general areas where we, as individuals, develop political opinions; (1) the controlling of citizens and (2) the providing for citizens. Respectively, we refer to these two primary categories as social and fiscal.
One who is Socially Left prefers government involvement in the engineering of its citizens’ behavior. Conversely, one who is Socially Right prefers less government involvement in engineering citizen behavior. To be Fiscally Left is to prefer the use of the government for providing human services. To be Fiscally Right is to prefer the voluntary supplying of human services by natural, entrepreneurial efforts.
The common phrases right wing and left wing also become very useful for modeling one’s political position. In the book, The Theory of Political Relativity (now unavailable wherever fine books are sold), I use the illustration of a biplane to convey the idea of each of us having a social wing and a fiscal wing. While the two wings are typically in similar positions of right or left, they are not necessarily in synch with each other for every individual.
We frequently see folks who are fiscally to the right, while socially to the left. For example, they may like to see a lean government that controls the use of handguns. The biplane model allows for such an expression.
The other three components of the biplane model are illustrated using the fuselage, the elevator and the rudder. The rudder is used to account for personal experiences that influence the tack of a biplane, like a strong wind blowing from the left or the right. A common example of this would be someone who naturally leans to the right fiscally, but whose profession is public school education. The culture of their profession may create an exception to their otherwise rightwing course.
Next week, Part III: Cause and Effect