Tuesday, March 15, 2011

A proposal to amend the political spectrum

It's needed fixing for a while, after all, hasn't it? We see left-wing, so-called "progressives" locked in a defense of the status quo (e.g., Wisconsin), and right-wing, so-called "conservatives" advancing schemes of far-reaching change. To cope with these anomalies, a common dodge has been to propose a two dimensional political space as opposed to a linear one (e.g.), but this has never had much impact on everyday political usage, and, in any case, such a space often reasserts the usual one-dimensional spectrum in the form of a diagonal line across the more populated quadrants.

So I propose to accept the unidimensional structure of a left-right political spectrum, but amend the definition of its wings or poles. The left-wing would, once again, be defined in terms of the long term, progressive project to advance the cause of individual emancipation, and the right-wing would, also again, be seen in terms of the defense of statist authoritarianism. The extreme right would be the location of totalitarian politics, whether socialist or fascist, while the extreme left would be the location of the anti-state politics of anarchism and anarcho-capitalism. Between those extremes, of course, would lie the vast majority of  current political positions, but now those positions could be more clearly understood and labelled in terms of their relative location vis-a-vis the respective projects of left and right. Thus, most of what's thought of now as the contemporary left, for example, is defined by its adherence to, and advance of, the proscriptions, regulations, and requirements of the so-called welfare state (aka "nanny state"), and hence is actually a form of state-based authoritarianism -- i.e., is really right-wing. Similarly, a sizable chunk of what's now considered the right is actually concerned with the progressive or evolving liberation of the individual from such constraints or chains, and hence is really left-wing.

Now, of course, there are many other aspects of beliefs, orientations, values, etc. that provide the basis for alliances and oppositions over many particular issues, but these are more cultural or even psychological rather than political as such, and their variety may well require many more than even two dimensions. The virtue of this proposed amendment is that it lays bare the purely political structure that lies in back of most if not all actual political disputes -- behind issues such as abortion, re-cycling, unions, education, e.g., there is the question of what kind of options or policies are even appropriate for dealing with them. How one answers that question is what determines one's position on the revised political spectrum.

In thus reversing much of our conventional notions of the political left and right, this amendment resolves the anomalies mentioned above, in which putative "leftists" defend entrenched special interests, and supposed "conservatives" propose new and even radical solutions. It both simplifies and clarifies the political landscape, in other words, and blows away a good deal of the rhetorical fog that has served merely to confuse.

And for me personally, there's the interesting irony in finding myself once again labelled a leftist.


  1. Your thesis might hold some water assuming history started 50 years ago. But it didn't. The "status quo", not to say GOP, was traditionally opposed to unions--. Eventually collective bargaining laws were passed for trade unions. Later, JFK signed an order giving CB rights to public employees.

    Even some "moderates" have argued that the Walker/WI-GOP-TP are attempting to overrule the Fed. govt in regard to PE rights to CB. Whether one is democratic or not, you probably would not care for forced pay cuts, or modification of pension contracts, not to say losing your negotiation right. So who is the statist? Walker. At any rate, it's a ...Fed issue, really.

  2. The point of my proposal was to make "status quo" irrelevant to political categorization -- what matters is support for authoritarian vs. free or libertarian forms of social organization. The further point is that current fashions for political labelling are backwards, since what's presently called the left predominantly supports authoritarianism in one form or another, while much at least of what's currently called the right supports freedom.

    Unions present a good test case here. A true leftist (i.e., one as I would label her) would certainly support the right of people to assemble in any organization they wish, and to pursue, individually or collectively, whatever they wish. She would NOT, however, support the right of such organizations to force others to join them, nor to threaten others who don't agree with them. And she would see the case of public employees as particularly problematic, since such people can use their state-granted monopoly status as a lever to extort disproportionate advantages from everyone who is forced to pay their salaries through taxes. That's the case that Walker and others on the right are attempting to re-balance. Which makes him, and the others, new leftists, ironically.

  3. what's presently called the left predominantly supports authoritarianism in one form or another, while much at least of what's currently called the right supports freedom

    Your usual semantic manipulation. Unions may seem authoritarian to some TP types, or...Ayn Rand fans, but to the people in the union, they are just protecting their jobs and paychecks--their best interests. The authoritarians did not want unions.

    Now, granted unionism may have problems, but the Ayn Rand sort of pure capitalism at any cost has more problems. Initially trade unionism meant--skilled workers--electricians, plumbers, carpenters, machinists, etc. Even Marx held to that. Only later were the public employees--cops teachers, etc-- and unskilled labor (ie garment workers, janitors, food service etc) allowed C.B. rights. But the right can't parse out the problem--its all or nothing per Aynism.

    For that matter, "free" can (and is) used in any mannner of ways. Execs at B of A or G-man sachs, or Koch bros want freedom to make more money (and that's part of the WI situation re pensions). But freedom to a millionaire banker or corporation (ie free from regs or taxation) is not freedom to like Joe Sixpack. It's a typical ambiguity exploited by the rightist demogogues-- You want to be free don't you? Ergo, lets have a free makret, and end all regs, and get back to like JP Morgan style capitalism. The demagogues forget that de-reg (bipartisan supported via Gingrich/Clinton) was one of the key factors behind the mortgage crisis of 2008.

  4. The demagogues forget that de-reg (bipartisan supported via Gingrich/Clinton) was one of the key factors behind the mortgage crisis of 2008.

    Alas, just a lefty myth, no matter how often repeated. The mortgage crisis was created by demogogic left-lib politicians pressuring the big mortgage providers, and through them the banks, into providing junk loans to people who had no means of repaying them -- just another instance of a kind of politically motivated "regulation" that backfired badly.

    "Free" can indeed be used in any manner of ways, but people are increasingly wising up to the kinds of distortions the left uses to -- so it hopes -- divide and conquer society. Real freedom in fact involves the freedom to make money -- i.e., create wealth -- and it does in fact apply as much to people the left like to denigrate as "Joe Sixpack" as it does to the Koch brothers. I know class warfare suits the lefty agenda, but, for example, just regarding regulation alone, everybody else has a common interest in reducing its burden on the economy. In fact, the Koch brothers are far better able to afford its enormous bureaucratic overhead than the person who just dreams of starting their own business, finally getting free of bosses, whether company or union.

  5. I'm not denigrating working people, but you would like to suggest it. In fact I'm defending the right of collective bargaining for skilled workers in the private sector, unlike you.

    Clinton, working alongside Gramm/Gingrich , signed off on ending the Glass-Steagall act--part of the New Deal-- which allowed financiers to speculate with secured funds such as mortgages (previously secure). They also made it easier for lenders to make loans to people who couldn't afford it/had little chance of paying back. That was a key factor in the mortgage crisis (Volcker has said as much as well).

    That's part of the historical record, not a "lefty" myth. And was the New Deal "left"? Perhaps to righty types-- aka apologists for finance capitalism-- or those who think Ayn Rand was an economist.

  6. In other words it was Gramm's doing--following orders from lenders (ie, the RIGHT by definition, aka financiers, regardless of their party affiliation) --to have regs loosened on qualifications. Clinton agreed to it--ie, bipartisan supported (with much GOP support, ie Gingrich's congress). Perhaps some moderate demos were involved along with the Gramm/GOP, but it was hardly the 'left" except in the new TP-populist bogus jargon. Bill Clinton was not a "leftist" he was centrist .

  7. Most people, J, including obviously both Clinton and Bush, understand that finance capitalists don't generally want to lose their money through foolish risks, and don't need a regulation to tell them that. Something else, therefore, is needed to explain the mortgage meltdown, and the following two factors do just this:
    - First, as I've said, the mortgage agencies come under political pressure from the left (eg, Barney Franks) to make mortgage loans to the poor - ie, those unable to repay them.
    -And second, the too-big-to-fail syndrome, which encourages risky loans.

    In other words, the fault lies with the tradition of left-liberal corporatism , which does indeed go back to FDR and earlier.

  8. Nope. It went down under Clinton/Gingrich-- e.g. the repeal of Glass Steagall and a few other de-reg acts, one of which was the loosening of quals. (which many Repugs financiers supported.--they can just hand off the bad paper to insurance people, other underwriters.). It wasn't just the quals, though--it was allowing speculation/trades/swaps with massive blocks of mortgage funds, a point routinely overlooked by teabuggers.

    Teabaggers generally know nothing about history, anyway, so....they just chant names. Besides, Freddie Mac was a NIXON scam, ie privatization. Pelosi and Frank inherited a mess and may have stalled, but it started with Gingrich/Clinton ...if not Nixon.

  9. It went down under Clinton/Gingrich-- e.g. the repeal of Glass Steagall and a few other de-reg acts, one of which was the loosening of quals.

    The repeal of Glass Steagall, etc., is irrelevant to the latest financial crisis, unless, as I indicated, you think finance capitalists actually do want to lose their money on foolish risks, and are only prevented from such losses by bureaucrats. Which is bizarre, but obviously not too bizarre for you and fellow gullible lefties.

  10. Not irrelevant to 2008, whatsoever. And finance capitalists may not want to lose their money on foolish risks, but they do. Not bizarre, that's called...speculation. Maybe read a bit about the Great Depression. Or maybe the stock/money markets are now "leftist" as well, according to PaulTardism? TPsters just can't handle historical fact.

    Your chant of "lefty" also BS. Capitalists brought about the crisis, but politicians gave them the reins. Bush's man Paulsen arranged the bailout, also. Was he a leftist? No. But according to the new Rand Paul-TP-Palin jargon, the big finance companies are "leftist" as well (are the GOP who support them? sure, in Sarahland)

  11. And finance capitalists may not want to lose their money on foolish risks, but they do.

    No, they sometimes lose money on risks, it's true, but that's the nature of their business, and how anybody is able to start or fund a business, buy a house, etc. And certainly no politician or bureaucratic regulator has done, or will be able to do, better.

    My chant of "lefty", by the way, only pertains to current usage. As the post implies, most of the types commonly labelled leftist now would be better classified as rightist, since their embrace of state regulation puts them essentially in the same camp as other corporatists. This is why it's funny, and a bit sad, to see the recurrent bitter surprise of the self-styled "progressives" when they see their erstwhile political heroes -- Clinton, Obama -- continually embrace corporatist bailouts. Real lefties would understand that regulations actually benefit the rich, the established, and the well-connected.

  12. I think before we re-define the different political parties we need to re-define GOVERNMENT. The government regardless of the party in POWER has become the uncontrollable monster that none can control or even to guide.

    Many political leaders from different parties and with different philosophies have tried to put some control on the bureaucracy without success. Even when it is in their best interest it is not possible to do so.

    We need to define what GOVERNMENT is and to make it as precise as possible with LIMITATIONS. The government cannot continue to be responsible for everything and for everyone.

    When we have so defined GOVERNMENT we can then reform the political spectrum. Without defining government it will not matter what the political spectrum is, we need to give them something better to work with.

  13. Thanks for the comment, Ron. I agree that the government or state shouldn't and can't be responsible for everything, but people differ over how much it should be responsible for, and those differences were what I proposed to use to describe the political spectrum -- from those, on the new right, who see the government as a kind of parent figure, reaching into all aspects of our lives, to those, on the new left, who see the government as at best a kind of necessary evil, and want to limit its coercive powers. I meant the proposal just as a means of clarifying these differences, but with little expectation that it would really take hold.

  14. Yes, it is. Before leaving it, I put up a couple of posts that tried to explain why I was doing so -- here and here -- but I've been taken up with other projects since and have never gotten back to it, alas.


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