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Rethinking the Political Spectrum
American Thinker ^ | September 09, 2009 | David G. Muller, Jr.

Posted on 09/09/2009 11:31:47 PM PDT by neverdem

The classic 20th-century political spectrum is gravely flawed as a depiction of the range of philosophical opinion.

The Traditional Political Spectrum

The common depiction of the political spectrum traditionally shows communism at the left end, fascism at the right end, and less extreme political systems at various points in between:

Conventional spectrum

This depiction of the spectrum, and its nearly universal acceptance as a self-evidently accurate framework, has had a number of adverse corollary effects on political thinking and discourse.


Thank Joseph Stalin

Indirectly yet powerfully, Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin is responsible for the classic political spectrum commonly used to show the relationships between schools of political thought and the systems they engender. This is what happened:

Adolf Hitler's National Socialist movement was, as the name clearly says, a party of the left. While not explicitly Marxist-Leninist, National Socialism accepted the essentials of that worldview while adding Germanic racial supremacism to the mix. This is not the place to lay this out in detail, but it is part of the historical record. Jonah Goldberg's Liberal Fascism includes the best recent treatment of the subject. Thus it was not astonishing that in 1939 Hitler and Stalin found ample common interests to establish an alliance, nor did it astonish that Communist Party members in the West almost unanimously took up support for Nazi Germany. The alliance simply recognized the ideological kinship between the two.

Then in 1941, Hitler turned on his fellow socialist and invaded the Soviet Union. How was Stalin to explain or rationalize this turnabout? What ideological signboard could he put around Hitler's neck that would make sense in the Soviet political context? Certainly Stalin could not let it appear he had been duped by a fellow socialist, nor could he allow Hitler to give socialism a bad name. The solution was to label the bad guys, Hitler and the Nazis, as polar opposites of the good guys, Stalin and the Communists. Fascism - a leftist, socialist doctrine - was abruptly and absurdly labeled a phenomenon of the extreme right.

From 1941 onward into the postwar era, Soviet propaganda, diplomacy, and scholarship consistently depicted Nazism as a right-wing phenomenon, communism on the left, with the Western powers arrayed on a vague spectrum somewhere in between. Western academics and journalists fell into the same practice, often but not always because of their own leftist sympathies. Few bothered to contest the analysis and assumptions that underlay the new model, and it was a convenient way to depict and describe political camps. Thus the classic political spectrum of the 20th century became second nature to everyone, not just to communists.

A More Accurate Spectrum

The mental framing device of a political spectrum is not a bad idea in itself. There are indeed relationships among tyranny, liberalism, conservatism, and other political phenomena that lend themselves to depiction on a spectrum. But the spectrum must reflect reality.

There is something nonsensical about a political spectrum that spans the range between tyranny and ... tyranny. If one end of the spectrum is the home of tyranny, then shouldn't the opposite end of the spectrum be the home of liberty, tyranny's opposite? The new spectrum is a rough measurement of liberty: very little liberty on the left end, quite a bit on the right end. At the left extreme reside the hard tyrannies of communism and fascism, as seen historically in such places as the Soviet Union, China, Germany, or North Korea. A bit to the right are the softer tyrannies of socialism, as commonly practiced in Western Europe. Liberalism comes next, then "moderation." Moving further along the spectrum toward greater liberty, one finds conservatism, and finally libertarianism.

new spectrum

Placing the political world into this more accurate framework yields a number of important corollary benefits and insights:

Where is one to place oppressive regimes that are not particularly ideological? On the classic spectrum, they are often placed on the right, between conservatism and fascism. But consider their essential attributes: severe limits on liberty, the confiscation of productive assets by the government or cronies of the dictator, weak rule of law. These attributes have much more in common with socialism than with conservatism; indeed, many such regimes call themselves socialist, whether or not a political science purist would agree.

The most important effect of the new, accurate political spectrum is the clarity it brings to political analysis and discourse. Where the measurement of liberty was obscure or absent from the classic spectrum, it is the foundation for the new spectrum. Political parties, their candidates, past or present political systems from around the world, all can be placed with rough accuracy on the spectrum. And if one values liberty, it becomes far easier to distinguish the better from the worse.

David G. Muller, Jr. is a writer in Northern Virginia


TOPICS: Editorial; Foreign Affairs; Government; Philosophy; Politics/Elections
KEYWORDS: liberty; politicalspectrum; spectrum

1 posted on 09/09/2009 11:31:47 PM PDT by neverdem
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To: neverdem

I totally agree, but they could have added anarchy on the far far right too... real anarchy not that fake radical left kind


2 posted on 09/09/2009 11:34:49 PM PDT by GeronL (http://libertyfic.proboards.com ............. http://tyrannysentinel.blogspot.com)
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To: GeronL
I totally agree, but they could have added anarchy on the far far right too... real anarchy not that fake radical left kind.

I've always put fascism and communism together on the far left, with anarchy on the extreme right.

3 posted on 09/09/2009 11:39:06 PM PDT by Mr Ramsbotham (It's the skinny end of the wedge that goes in first.)
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To: Mr Ramsbotham

that is how it should be


4 posted on 09/09/2009 11:46:50 PM PDT by GeronL (http://libertyfic.proboards.com ............. http://tyrannysentinel.blogspot.com)
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To: GeronL; Mr Ramsbotham

Anarchy has no place on the political spectrum, because it is the total absence of the political spectrum. Under anarchy, there is no external authority, and therefore no politics for that authority to be defined by.

I disagree with this author, because he falls into the same trap that the conventional political spectrum does: defining the spectrum by the ideologies, rather than defining the spectrum by the actions.

IMO, the truly accurate political spectrum would have total centralized government on the far left, with total decentralized government on the far right. This way, communism defines the left end of the chart, with fascism slightly to its right. Federalism becomes the center, because it maintains strict authority while decentralizing it. On the far right, you have totally decentralized authority, such as autonomous city-states.

Just how I see it.


5 posted on 09/09/2009 11:51:40 PM PDT by Terpfen (FR is being Alinskied. Remember, you only take flak when you're over the target.)
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To: Terpfen

Actually, some really weird links brought me to anarchist websites. It actually has a formulated system of “rules” and there are left anarchists and right anarchists. I don’t understand most of it though.


6 posted on 09/09/2009 11:54:23 PM PDT by GeronL (http://libertyfic.proboards.com ............. http://tyrannysentinel.blogspot.com)
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To: GeronL
It actually has a formulated system of “rules”

There's no such thing as organized anarchy. So while there may be some people calling themselves anarchists because they want to steal a TV during a riot, they really aren't.
7 posted on 09/09/2009 11:58:10 PM PDT by Terpfen (FR is being Alinskied. Remember, you only take flak when you're over the target.)
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To: Terpfen

Most of the left anarchists really just want to destabalize society so as to usher in “true” communism. These idiots actually believed the tripe about the stateless communist ideal utopia. Its pretty incredible.

The others seem like hyperlibertarians


8 posted on 09/10/2009 12:02:03 AM PDT by GeronL (http://libertyfic.proboards.com ............. http://tyrannysentinel.blogspot.com)
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To: GeronL

Then, like I said, they aren’t really anarchists.

Reminds me of a joke I once heard. What’s the difference between a liberal and a libertarian? The libertarian just wants to grow, use, and sell his own weed; the liberal wants you to buy it for him.


9 posted on 09/10/2009 12:11:07 AM PDT by Terpfen (FR is being Alinskied. Remember, you only take flak when you're over the target.)
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To: Terpfen

That reminds me of a thread on DU the other day where someone asked if Obamacare would cover prescription pot.


10 posted on 09/10/2009 12:16:09 AM PDT by GeronL (http://libertyfic.proboards.com ............. http://tyrannysentinel.blogspot.com)
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To: GeronL

“Prescription,” right. The sad thing is that weed would improve their symptoms.


11 posted on 09/10/2009 12:17:55 AM PDT by Terpfen (FR is being Alinskied. Remember, you only take flak when you're over the target.)
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To: Terpfen

This thread reminded me of my faux anarchist-revolutionary site which is only about 70% serious.

http://unitedcitizen.blogspot.com/


12 posted on 09/10/2009 12:19:21 AM PDT by GeronL (http://libertyfic.proboards.com ............. http://tyrannysentinel.blogspot.com)
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To: neverdem
At a much more general level, you could put "oligarchy" at the far left and "anarchy" at the far right.

It would then seem that many of our founding fathers would have wanted us Constitutionally just left of anarchy. Certainly not in the center.

13 posted on 09/10/2009 12:23:01 AM PDT by TotusTuus
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To: GeronL
Actually, some really weird links brought me to anarchist websites. It actually has a formulated system of “rules” and there are left anarchists and right anarchists. I don’t understand most of it though.

I recall attending a speech by Karl Hess, back in the late 70's or early 80's. Hess was a Nixon speechwriter, and a friend of liberty, who became disenchanted with politics, resigned the political fight, moved to West Virginia and became a welder. His writing appealed to libertarians of both the right and the left.

At this speech, there may have been 200 or so attendees, the lefties sat on the left side of the room and the righties on the right. This wasn't planned, it just happened naturally as attendees arrived, scouted out the room, and sat next to friends, or next to those who looked like friends. It was a memorable site. Kids with long hair, jeans and "don't tread on me" tee shirts on the left, bow tie clad old right intellectuals on the right.

Just out of college myself and not too well read in the literature of liberty and politics, this was a revelation to me - a sign that the mainstream left vs right single dimension political spectrum was seriously flawed.

14 posted on 09/10/2009 12:39:35 AM PDT by Swing_Thought (The doorstep to the temple of wisdom is a knowledge of our own ignorance. - Benjamin Franklin)
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To: neverdem
The political spectrum is more a circle in Communism theory believe that at the end all government will wither away and die an man will live in a communal peaceful anarchy (think a big hippie commune)
15 posted on 09/10/2009 1:01:07 AM PDT by tophat9000 (Obama plans to fix America like he fixed his dog)
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To: GeronL
These idiots actually believed the tripe about the stateless communist ideal utopia.

Yes I use to deal with the type in a collage class where the made us form groups and roll play forming one of these stateless communist little utopia...

I use to make it a point of being contrary to the point the others in the little utopia have to used hypothetical force (IE create a government) to "check me"...

They had to face the paradox that government is a necessary evil

That we require government for the same reason we want as little of it as possible.

Is really funny how fast you can make a communist anarchists in to a small government private property libertarian in one one these role playing game just by being a the "really world" pain in the ass

16 posted on 09/10/2009 1:27:55 AM PDT by tophat9000 (Obama plans to fix America like he fixed his dog)
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To: tophat9000

lol.

sounds fun


17 posted on 09/10/2009 1:33:31 AM PDT by GeronL (http://libertyfic.proboards.com ............. http://tyrannysentinel.blogspot.com)
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To: neverdem
I would add individual freedom above libertarianism on the right.
18 posted on 09/10/2009 3:16:14 AM PDT by TexasFreeper2009 (Obama lied, the economy died)
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To: neverdem

19 posted on 09/10/2009 4:14:16 AM PDT by decimon
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To: GeronL

[I totally agree, but they could have added anarchy on the far far right too... real anarchy not that fake radical left kind]

Except there is decentralist and centralist anarchy. I’m too sleepy to explain.


20 posted on 09/10/2009 4:49:44 AM PDT by FastCoyote (I am intolerant of the intolerable.)
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To: decimon

I believe that chart is by far the best representation of political thought that I’ve seen over the years. A line doesn’t really adequately cover the real world, whereas a plane does a lot better job of it. I’m about a 85/85 on that chart.


21 posted on 09/10/2009 6:54:14 AM PDT by zeugma (Will it be nukes or aliens? Time will tell.)
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To: FastCoyote

Let me expound on your point, if I may...

The left side of the spectrum involves concentrating the power and decision making locus into the hands of fewer and fewer people. In order to make the populace supplant their goals and decisions with the goals and decisions of these few, force must be used.

The right side of the spectrum, including the true liberals (”conservative” really is meaningless), decentralizes and dilutes the decision making locus to the individual, culminating in anarchy where the individual does whatever he wishes to do without regard to others.

“If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary.” Federalist 51


22 posted on 09/10/2009 7:01:12 AM PDT by MrB (Go Galt now, save Bowman for later)
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To: zeugma
I believe that chart is by far the best representation of political thought that I’ve seen over the years.

Same here. That's one version of what's usually called the Nolan Chart.

My belief is that you can't much restrict either of social or economic freedom without restricting the other. I can't come up with anything as simply intuitive as the Nolan Chart to show that process.

23 posted on 09/10/2009 7:03:43 AM PDT by decimon
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To: zeugma
I’m about a 85/85 on that chart.

Where I would fall would depend on if I'm answering from my more philosophical or more practical mind. That is, whether I'm considering where we could be or where we might proceed from where we are.

24 posted on 09/10/2009 7:09:22 AM PDT by decimon
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To: neverdem
The best representation is one that is two-dimensional, not one.

On one axis is the usual left-to-right, liberal-to-conservative spectrum. On the other axis is the spectrum from totalitarian-to-libertarian.

In other words, one axis represents your political beliefs, the other represents the degree to which you think those beliefs should be enforced on everyone.

An example of a totalitarian conservative would be the biblical Pharisees, or the Taliban. A totalitarian liberal would be Stalin, Hitler, Castro, etc..

25 posted on 09/10/2009 7:11:20 AM PDT by TChris (There is no freedom without the possibility of failure.)
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To: decimon
I have seen this before but find it misleading in important ways. If, for example, "Left Liberal" referred to the "liberal" 19th century values, then it would represent the "Personal Self-Government" position more accurately.
26 posted on 09/10/2009 12:34:23 PM PDT by pilipo (GOP=Gutless Old Party)
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To: GeronL

The call real anarchy “anarcho-capitalism”. When you hear about anarchists on TV it’s always the misnamed leftists who protest at the WTO.


27 posted on 09/10/2009 1:12:21 PM PDT by Impy (RED=COMMUNIST, NOT REPUBLICAN)
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To: neverdem; fieldmarshaldj; BillyBoy; AuH2ORepublican; Clintonfatigued

It’s BS that anyone calls fascism “right wing”.


28 posted on 09/10/2009 1:14:56 PM PDT by Impy (RED=COMMUNIST, NOT REPUBLICAN)
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To: decimon

Thanks for the chart.


29 posted on 09/10/2009 1:54:33 PM PDT by neverdem (Xin loi minh oi)
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To: GeronL
...totally agree, but they could have added anarchy on the far far right too... real anarchy not that fake radical left kind.

Ditto that. Even the dope smoking Libertarians believe in some laws and government to protect individuals from predators. Pure anarchy is the law of the jungle.. perfect freedom to do whatever you have the power to accomplish with no government to interfere at all. The hell hole of Somalia or the tribal territories of Pakistan are examples of places with no government and no law. The guy with the most guns can do whatever he wants.

On the far left extreme, I would say places like North Korea and Cuba have transcended mere Communism, and instead become totalitarian, dictatorial monarchies. Marx and Lenin are just ideological fig leafs.

30 posted on 09/10/2009 2:15:41 PM PDT by Ditto
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To: AdmSmith; Berosus; bigheadfred; Convert from ECUSA; dervish; Ernest_at_the_Beach; Fred Nerks; ...
instead of this:
Rethinking the Political Spectrum, David G. Muller, Jr.
this:
Rethinking the Political Spectrum, David G. Muller, Jr.
thanks neverdem.
31 posted on 09/10/2009 2:41:08 PM PDT by SunkenCiv (https://secure.freerepublic.com/donate/__Since Jan 3, 2004__Profile updated Monday, January 12, 2009)
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To: neverdem
What???    You mean you really can't tell the difference between live-and-let-livers and control freaks?Huh???
The ancient left-right political spectrum was developed when the world was still based on feudalism, a system made up of only "givers" and "takers," (serfs and landlords, or taxees and taxers), long before there was any widespread protection of free (UNcoerced) trade or any developed entrepreneurial ("middle") class (which engages only in mutually-agreed-upon transactions).  That ancient spectrum is so useless (or useful to only the deceitful) in modern times it must be relegated to the status of being hopelessly obsolete. 

Notice how some people even try to put socialists on the "left" and fascists on the "right" (as if they trampled peoples' lives any differently), and then trap you into accepting the bizarre and evil notion that freedom is somehow a "compromise" between, or a combination of, two allegedly "opposite" collectivist extremes.  This, of course, is absurd on its face, and actually leaves limited-government advocacy and the essence of freedom totally off the chart out of the picture.

Further, doesn't it also strike you as obvious that when you try to draw a parallel between the good guys and the bad guys,  you often wind up whitewashing the bad guys instead of  tarnishing the good guys as you intended? 

Newsflash!:  Your basic political choice is NOT which type of control freak or which type or how much intrusive government to have, but WHETHER to have ANY intrusive-type government AT ALL.  YOU may be prone to irrationality or hysteria; YOU may be afraid of individual liberty. ... but that does NOT give you a right to remove LIBERTY from the choices altogether, which is what the "left-right" spectrum essentially does.

Isn't it time YOU started thinking outside the "Which type of powerful government should we have?"  box?
 

-- excerpted from THIS page

32 posted on 09/10/2009 3:30:02 PM PDT by FreeKeys ("A patriot must always be ready to defend his country against his government." - Edward Abbey)
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To: decimon; neverdem; All
That's one version of what's usually called the Nolan Chart.

Some other versions are linked here: http://FreedomKeys.com/nolancharts.htm

33 posted on 09/10/2009 3:39:02 PM PDT by FreeKeys ("A patriot must always be ready to defend his country against his government." - Edward Abbey)
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To: neverdem

Good. Can add Anarchy at the far end.


34 posted on 09/10/2009 3:43:18 PM PDT by bvw
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To: neverdem
I'm so glad that the complex interworkings of our beliefs about the natural world, politics, economics, religion, family, society, friendship, etc. can be properly and completely represented by a few words strung along a single line.

I can stop thinking now, and agonizing about why so many people have such complex and unique views on life.

They are all obviously insane and need to be medicated or institutionalized.

35 posted on 09/10/2009 3:57:19 PM PDT by who_would_fardels_bear (These fragments I have shored against my ruins)
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To: Terpfen
So while there may be some people calling themselves anarchists because they want to steal a TV during a riot, they really aren't.

Most anarchists are little more then common thieves. But when confronted by a person brandishing a firearm to secure their property, they will recoil into their standard libtard mentality

36 posted on 09/10/2009 6:35:49 PM PDT by Ouderkirk (Democrats: the party of Slavery, Segregation, Sodomy and Sedition)
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To: neverdem
A political compass is a more accurate depiction of one's political ideologies than a spectrum of political continuum.

That is to say, that there should be two different axis, and a vector that is comprised of components of both axis will plot to a point. The axis reflect philosophies concerning both personal and economic liberty in conjunction with governmenental authority over both.

http://www.politicalcompass.org/

37 posted on 09/10/2009 7:42:42 PM PDT by raygun
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To: neverdem

Actually, what I learned about the polical spectrum was that it distinguished conservative from liberal with regards to how much social change each advocated. The more conservative one was the less social change they would tolerate.

At each end of the spectrum were those who were militants, i.e., ultraconservative radicals (reactionaries) that would use violence to keep / prevent change from occuring. However, reactionary conservatistism results essentially in revolutionary radical libaralism (wrap-around to the far left). That is because if change is the norm, then preventing change is de facto liberal.

Same thing with the other side of the spectrum, militant radical liberal (revolutionary) results in reactionary radical conservative. That is, only so much change can actually be progressive, change that is too great or socially encompassing results in some sort of re-establishment of pre-existing socials structures, ecoomic policies or other social norms.


38 posted on 09/10/2009 7:52:42 PM PDT by raygun
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To: zeugma

That’s about where I tend to land on those things as well.


39 posted on 09/10/2009 7:57:40 PM PDT by FreedomPoster (No Representation without Taxation!)
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To: Impy; neverdem; fieldmarshaldj; BillyBoy; AuH2ORepublican; Clintonfatigued

>>It’s BS that anyone calls fascism “right wing”.

On that note, see the Hayek quote on my FR profile page. It’s the 3rd one, two paragraphs long. He covers this issue quite well, I believe.


40 posted on 09/10/2009 7:59:46 PM PDT by FreedomPoster (No Representation without Taxation!)
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To: GeronL

“The most important effect of the new, accurate political spectrum is the clarity it brings to political analysis and discourse.”

I think this look at the political spectrum is very useful—especially if you add anarchy at the right, as you suggest.

However, I object to the author suggesting this is somehow new or novel. I read almost identical analyses of the political spectrum in 1968.


41 posted on 09/10/2009 11:12:07 PM PDT by ModelBreaker
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To: Terpfen

“On the far right, you have totally decentralized authority, such as autonomous city-states.”

Well, that puts anarchy right back into your spectrum. The next step beyond autonomous city-states would be entirely autonomous individuals—to wit, anarchy.

However, I like the thinking behind the decentralized vs not as the basis for a spectrum.


42 posted on 09/10/2009 11:14:15 PM PDT by ModelBreaker
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To: ModelBreaker
The next step beyond autonomous city-states would be entirely autonomous individuals—to wit, anarchy.

Remember, the basis for the political spectrum is the presence of a government that engages in politics in the first place. Anarchy is the absence of government. Therefore, anarchy is not on the political chart: anarchy is the absence of the political chart.

However, I like the thinking behind the decentralized vs not as the basis for a spectrum.

Thanks. It really should be the basis: after all, politics is just a gigantic argument over who gets authority over what. Ideologies change--not too many monarchists around these days--but all ideologies advocate a certain level of authority that can be contrasted relative to each other. And place on the chart also depends on the subject being talked about: for example, while ancient Greece as a whole could be described as far-right--completely decentralized government in the form of autonomous city-states--the form of government in each of those city-states differed. Athens had everything from dictatorships to democracies. When you get down to it, this could also explain conflicts of the ancient Greek world: the far-right region of ancient Greece was continually fighting wars against more centralized governments which were to their left in terms of organizational authority, such as the Persian Empire. And since each Greek city-state was autonomous and therefore spanned the spectrum, they had conflicts with each other as well.

There's a little more thought involved with this, but it's far more accurate than the moronic chart we currently have.
43 posted on 09/10/2009 11:47:28 PM PDT by Terpfen (FR is being Alinskied. Remember, you only take flak when you're over the target.)
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To: neverdem
Good essay. Been looking in fact for the history of what Stalin did. Read parts of it before but could not find the details I wanted.

I would disagree on one item: the placement of libertarianism. One could, by its rhetoric, also place the ACLU there. One could, by their rhetoric, place Emma Goldman's anarchists there. But both aided and abetted and one was founded by bolsheviks. When the Libertarian party actually accomplishes something, when it has something to show for all the rhetoric, I'll say it belongs where it is. Right now I see the party and movement as enablers of the left. My instinct is, as with anarchism, the ideology inherently always empowers the opposite of what is claims and the liberty its members often sincerely wish to advance.

But we have seen how it doesnt work that way in practice. We saw it in 1998 when the LP knocked Ensign out (by under 800 votes) and gave us Harry Reid as Majority leader. We saw it in 2002 when the LP was caught taking money from the DNC to run ads against the GOP in the south. We saw it in 2004 when the LP allied itself with the Green party to contest the Ohio vote.

When liberty is confused with licentiousness, the reaction and the result is a Zero tolerance society. The ACLU, by its promotion of "civil liberties", has empowered the courts, empowered lawyers and created a web of laws and regulations which have ensnared the nation. Unfortunately, as I see it the intentions many sincere libertarians have of advancing liberty has had and will have the same outcome as the ACLU has enjoyed with the only difference being the ACLU always intended to restrict freedom while the vast majority (but not all) of those who promote libertarianism do not.

44 posted on 09/11/2009 12:11:50 AM PDT by Brugmansian
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To: FreedomPoster

Excellent quote. I hadn’t heard it before.


45 posted on 09/12/2009 4:46:57 PM PDT by Impy (RED=COMMUNIST, NOT REPUBLICAN)
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To: Impy

On the general subject, if you haven’t read Jonah Goldberg’s book Liberal Fascism, bump it up towards the top of your reading list.


46 posted on 09/12/2009 5:05:56 PM PDT by FreedomPoster (No Representation without Taxation!)
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