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Thursday, September 16, 2004

Blogs are read, and Violet is Blue 

Because it's time to say adieu.

Time for me to go folks. I said everything I needed to say, and I'm not in the habit of repeating myself. The blog will remain online as long as the host allows. If I happen to discover that I still have more to say, I'll be back. I will continue to be available via email. For now, I'll leave you with a recommendation, and with an essay that I wrote about a year ago for another website.

First, I recommend the following editorial by William Rivers Pitt. It's one of the most lucid indictments of American foreign policy that I've read since 9/11/01. Here's a short excerpt:

"Bin Laden asked Fahd to help him resurrect the army that fought with him against the Soviets so that he could fight Saddam Hussein. Here again is an irony of the times: As in the 1980s, Osama bin Laden was spoiling for a fight against an enemy of the United States - for his own purposes, to be sure, but it is difficult to avoid a shake of the head when considering all of the recent rhetoric about a Saddam/Osama alliance."

When the Rabbits Get a Gun
By William Rivers Pitt

As for my essay - consider it a layperson's attempt to make sense of politics. Bye for now...

A Balanced Political Spectrum

While examining the political spectrum concept, I gathered some information and a few provocative ideas that I hope you'll be interested in. Let's begin by looking at the classic political spectrum, along with two competing modern models.

The classic political spectrum, derived from the French Assembly of 1789:

Radical---------------------Conservative

• Left (radical, commoners) - change the established order.
• Right (conservative, aristocracy) - preserve the established order.

The orientation of the spectrum and our usage of "left" and "right" as political terms come from the seating arrangements used in the various legislative bodies throughout France after the French Revolution. Since it only measures attitude toward change, this model is obviously inadequate to serve as a political spectrum. Nevertheless, it's a measure that can be useful in certain circumstances. The modern progressive/conservative scale that I'll mention later is loosely based on this model.

The traditional political spectrum -- based on distribution of power and measuring social equality:

Communism----------<----------Fascism

• Left (communism) - social equality.
• Right (fascism) - social inequality.

Although this model is the one generally accepted in Western countries, it has serious flaws that make it impractical, inaccurate, and unfair. The reason being that it favors theories over reality -- as evidenced by the placement and definition of communism. Using this spectrum becomes cumbersome when trying to reconcile the reality of communism with its aspirations. This model misleadingly equates communism with the concept of equality, and by doing so, wrongly implies that "left" is the preferable direction. Inevitably, competing models were devised to counter this implication.

The American Federalist Journal's version of the political spectrum -- based on degree of political control and measuring freedom:

Totalitarianism---------->----------Anarchy

• Left (totalitarianism) - total government and no freedom.
• Right (anarchy) - no government and total freedom.

In addition to effectively inverting the traditional definition of "left" and "right", the "right-wing" in this model is anchored to a concept that by definition is the absence of any cohesive principle. As the antithesis of political theory, it shouldn't be part of a political spectrum, although removing it from this model would upset the misleading relationship between freedom and size of government that it tries to establish.

In addition, anarchy doesn't really represent total freedom. First, because there's no such thing as total freedom, and second, because real freedom relies on the security that only an organized people can provide for themselves. The relationship between freedom and security is inescapable.

The major problem with these two models is that they suggest that the ideal favors one side over the other. Perhaps a more accurate, practical, and fair model suggests balance as the ideal.

A practical "balance" political spectrum -- based on the distribution of power and measuring freedom:

Collectivism----------Liberal Democracy----------Autocracy

• Left (collectivism) - compromises freedom in favor of society.
• Right (autocracy) - compromises freedom in favor of the individual.
• Balance (liberal democracy) - maximum freedom.

This model parallels the natural dichotomy that exists between the individual and society, where the ideal is to negotiate a sturdy and equitable balance between the rights and responsibilities of the individual, and those of society.

Society----------Balance----------Individual

By establishing that the extremes compromise freedom in different if not equal ways, this model favors moderation above all else. It suggests that tyranny is the probable outcome at either extreme -- a tyranny of one versus a tyranny of many. It rightfully deprives extremists of their vanguardist claims and empowers the center by refocusing the ideal.

To be fair, deprivation of freedom exists in the center as well, but it shouldn't be unjust or even noticeable. In a liberal democracy, we will always be constrained by the laws we agree to live by.

By calling the model "practical", I mean to encourage people to take into account the differences between theory and reality. For example, the autocratic nature of the "communist" movements of the twentieth century outweighs their collectivist aspirations, thus placing them to the far right. In reality, there's not much more than misguided theory that can be placed to the left of socialism. The failures of socialism warn us about the dangers of collectivism.

Perhaps a narrow balance is best, considering that it's less complicated to balance elements that aren't radically different.

As for the issue about size of government -- the government in a liberal democracy should be as big and powerful as the people need it to be, so that it can successfully fulfill the duties that are required of it. Freedom is only affected when there is insufficiency or excess. Each liberal democracy struggles with this balance as well despite the shortcomings of human nature and despite the uncertainties of a rapidly evolving global society.

A scale favoring balance is needed to measure a liberal democracy against its own potential for efficiency:

Insufficiency----------Efficiency----------Excess

For all practical purposes, left and right are interchangeable, and the definitions of "insufficiency", "efficiency", and "excess" are debatable. Note that while efficiency can also directly affect freedom, the primary intention of this scale is to measure the efficiency of a given government relative to the challenges it faces. It can serve as a measure of how well a government solves problems.

In addition to the "balance" spectrum and the efficiency scale, a scale that measures attitude toward change can be useful:

Progressive---------------------Conservative

• Left (progressive) - embraces change.
• Right (conservative) - wary of change.

This scale isn't a "balance" scale, or unidirectional. Left and right are interchangeable. The meanings of "conservative" and "progressive" are relative, so they don't necessarily equate with a value judgement. This scale can be used to measure ideas, issues, individuals, political parties, and governments.

Of course there are other models that I haven't mentioned. If you're interested in researching the topic further, the following page provides a good overview of the political spectrum concept, including information on alternative spectra.

Political Spectrum

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