This post is the first in a series of three posts which were originally part of one article. I decided to post my article “Proposing a New Political Map” in three parts because it became too long for a single post. This article serves as an introduction to my understanding of politics. Ideas presented in this article will form the basis of future posts.
Right now, I’m trying to decide between using WordPress to publish my posts and using Blogger. There are several features I like about WordPress, but I don’t like the fact that I have less options when it comes to deciding how the blog will look. I’ve published an alternative version of this post on Blogger. The content is the same but the appearance is different. Let me know if you think the Blogger version looks better or not.
The map of political ideologies which is proposed by the Political Compass site, (as well as by other sites which purport to tell people their political worldview, such as the Political Spectrum Quiz and Politopia) is flawed. While it is an improvement over the traditional left-right political spectrum, I feel that it leaves out certain ideologies, including my own. In this article I will attempt to put forward a different approach to understanding the various political ideologies which people adhere to. I am motivated to do so partially by a desire to understand the political landscape and partially by a need to have my egalitarian ideology recognised as being distinct from liberalism.
Section 1: The Current Ideological Map and its Flaws
According to sites such as Political Compass, people can be sorted into ideological categories based on whether they support more government control over society or less government control over society. Social issues and economic issues are placed on two different axes. As a result people are divided into four different categories Authoritarian Leftists (who want more government control over both social and economic issues), Authoritarian Rightists (who want more government control over social issues but less government control over economic issues), Libertarian Leftists (who want less government control over social issues but more government control over economic issues) and Libertarian Rightists (who want less government control over both social and economic issues.)
By focussing on the Political Compass website, I do not mean to suggest that the problems I am describing are specific to the site. It is merely one example of many sites which use a similar system to classify people politically. I am discussing the site because it is the most popular, most well known site of this nature.
A Different Kind of “Liberal Bias”
The Political Compass site has a liberal bias (though not the sort which conservatives typically accuse it of having.) Before I go any further I should explain what I mean by the term “liberal”, since the word often causes confusion. It is often used to describe people who favour less government influence over the private realm, but more government influence over the economy (often in the form of increased social spending.) It is also used to describe those who favour less government control over the economy. For example, the term neo-liberal describes those who favour the deregulation of corporations and reductions in government spending. In this article I will use the term “liberal” to describe the more general philosophical sentiment that restrictions on individual behaviour (which can exist as a result of laws, social stigmas or philosophical/political ideologies) are always negative and freedom-robbing. This sentiment is used to justify the deregulation of both the social and economic realm.
When I say that the Political Compass site promotes a liberal outlook, I am not suggesting that the test compels people to answer the questions in a liberal way. This accusation may in fact be valid, but I will discuss it in another article. I will instead argue that the site defines people in terms of where they stand in relation to liberalism, making liberalism the ideology against which all other ideologies are measured.
The site divides its users into liberals and non-liberals, while ignoring the fact that there are different types of non-liberals (in both a social and economic sense.) According to the site’s political map, one can either endorse more government control over society or less government control. Governments are evaluated only quantitatively, not qualitatively. In other words, no one is ever asked what type of government they would like to live under or what ends they want their government to aim for. They are only asked whether they want more or less government or to put it another way, big government or small government. It is assumed that all “big governments” (both those which are real and those which can be imagined) are more or less the same and thus all “big government” supporters are more or less the same. This could easily be an example of what psychologists call the “Out-group homogeneity effect” in which members of the out group are seen as being more similar to each other than they actually are. If non-liberals are the supposedly homogenous out-group, then it logically follows that liberals are the “in group”. Even if the creators of the test do not identify as liberal themselves, they are sorting people into ideological groups the way a liberal would.
The political map used by the site fails to explain certain ideological trends. For example, according to the test (which the site uses to determine one’s political alignment) opposition to pornography is a symptom of social authoritarianism (or conservatism.) However, political ideologies which are generally considered to be progressive such as such as revolutionary socialism, communism and radical feminism, have, both in the past and present, taken a stance against the pornography. These movements hold other positions which are labelled as socially libertarian by the test, such as support for abortion rights and an accepting attitude towards of gayness. Some might argue that these movements are therefore centrist (or at least, closer to the centre than similar movements which endorse pornography), at least when it comes to social issues, but this does not match with the way these movements are generally perceived by society, nor does it match up with the way they perceive themselves.
The test does not ask questions about prostitution, an issue which is closely related to that of pornography and which also poses a challenge to the site’s political map. The revolutionary leftist movements referenced above are not the only ones arguing that prostitution should not exist. Countries which are generally viewed as being progressive such as Sweden, Norway and Iceland have adopted the Nordic Model (also known as the Swedish model), a set of laws aimed at ending prostitution by legalising the selling of sex, while criminalising the buying of sex. At this point in time, the left leaning president of France, Francois Hollande, and his government are also seeking to implement such laws. Meanwhile conservative politicians in Norway seek to get rid of the Nordic Model.* This clearly does not fit with the common view that to be socially progressive is to support total “sexual liberation” and that to oppose such an agenda makes one conservative.
Environmental issues also present a challenge to the way in which the Political Compass site divides people into social libertarians and social authoritarians. Questions about the environment are mostly absent from the test. The only environment related question featured in the test is presented as an economic question about whether government regulation is needed to prevent corporations from causing environmental damage. In reality, the issue of environmental destruction deserves more than one question and protecting the environment cannot merely be regarded as an economic issue. The kind of social transformation required to stop global warming will likely involve major changes to the way in which people live their day to day lives.
Environmentalism is typically viewed as a socially progressive movement, not a socially conservative one. However, the sorts of changes it calls for are not compatible with the social libertarian approach of encouraging “individual freedom” within the private realm. For example, environmental activists often argue that governments should aim for a world in which people use public transport or bicycles instead of cars, while a consistent social libertarian would argue that the type of transport an individual chooses to use is none of the government’s business.
Reasoning versus Positions
The last issue I have with the approach taken by the Political Compass site is that it focuses on people’s positions rather than their reasons for holding such positions. This is of course a common problem with political alignment tests. Some sites (such as this one) do inform test takers of the arguments made by both sides of any given political issue. However, test takers are not allowed to indicate which argument they find convincing or what kind of reasoning they used to arrive at their position. Thus such tests do not account for the fact that two very different ideologies can encourage people to take the same stance on a given issue.
For example, some proponents of gay rights do not support attempts to legalise gay marriage because they are critical of marriage as an institution and believe that legalising gay marriage will grant unwarranted legitimacy to marriage. These gay marriage opponents should not be placed in the same category as conservatives who oppose gay marriage because they believe that gay relationships are inferior to straight relationships. When it comes to determining someone’s political ideology the reasons they have for holding their positions should matter just as much, if not more than, the positions themselves.
I recognise that political tests may be created with the intention of helping people decide who they are going to vote for in an upcoming election, in which case the focus on positions, rather than reasoning, makes sense. However these tests often purport to tell people what their political ideologies are without making any references to political parties. Any test which attempts to determine people’s political ideology should be aimed at uncovering the broad philosophical principles that cause people to have the positions they do on political issues. This cannot be done simply by asking people whether or not they agree with certain policies. This does not mean that questions about issues and policies should not be used in political tests, but rather that people’s stances on such things should be seen as symptoms of an underlying political worldview.
*More information on the Nordic Model can be found at these sources
– http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/health-and-families/features/why-the-games-up-for-swedens-sex-trade-8548854.html (a pro-Nordic Model article)
– http://www.ctvnews.ca/canada/prostitution-laws-what-are-the-nordic-and-new-zealand-models-1.1603213 (an anti-Nordic Model article)
– http://feministcurrent.com/8263/podcast-prostitution-not-a-job-not-a-choice-a-talk-by-janice-raymond/ (a pro-Nordic Model speech, which discusses how various countries have responded to the model and to prostitution in general)
In the next post I will put forward a new political map and discuss where different ideological movements belong on that map. I later hope to show how this new map explains the current unexplained trends discussed above.