The Political Triangle

Seeking a better understanding of the tensions and similarities that divide or bind us.

A few weeks ago, Robert Jeffery gave us an article entitled “The Origin of Left/Right Politics”… In it, Mr. Jeffery offered an alternative way of looking at our political divisions, so I wanted to reboot and extend that conversation here.

All of us are, of course, familiar with the political compass. Going left to right, along the x-axis, takes you from state run economies to individually-run economies. The y-axis, from the bottom to the top, takes you from a libertarian or libertine, “do-as-you-please” ideology at the bottom of the graph to an authoritarian, prison state, hell hole at the top.  

Mr Jeffery had the following to say about it:

I believe that the weights assigned to each of his measures skews the results in a manner that makes the assignments of someone’s political bent inaccurate. For example, while Communist and Fascist appear to be at the same level of authoritarianism scale, the communist sits at the extreme left of the chart whereas the fascist sits almost at the opposite end of the conservative scale. Considering that more human suffering and loss of life under communist dictators has occurred than ever under a democratically elected system, I believe that NAZI and Fascist ideologies must be counted as Left Wing ideologies. 

Oddly, both Communism and Fascism are actually socialist ideologies. The only difference is the racial cleansing that was done by Hitler and the NAZIs during WWII. Both Hitler and Mussolini were very authoritarian leaders. They were allies. While Mussolini did round up a few Jews, at the request of Hitler. It was never on the scale of the NAZI party. They simply believed that the Socialist Revolution that Marx and Ingles dreamt of would never be achieved on an international scale that Marx had postulated. The Revolution needed to be done on a national scale.

Aside from the likes of Stalin (which in most iterations sits in the top left-hand corner of the graph), people argue over the location of every other politician in history. Hitler is found on both sides of the left and right divide because no one wants him, though everyone agrees he is an authoritarian who belongs at the top of the compass.  What is argued over is how far left is the ideology that he represents. As a matter of historical record, the National Socialist state had a planned economy complete with three-year plans. Take that socialists.

What is interesting is that no elected politician ever is placed in the libertarian state run economy corner. That is because the two cannot co-exist. Individualism (the libertarian ethos) and collectivism (the left-wing ethos) are antithetical. There is no viable constituency for this.  Finding the one person who is an exception only means you found someone who does not understand the definitions of what are collectivism, individualism etc. 

The compass is therefore flawed.

The Political Triangle

An alternative to this epic fail is something called the “Political Triangle.” The triangle is based upon three axes: Individualism, Communism, and Absolutism.    This formulation of the political landscape does not attempt to aggregate libertarian socialists … there is no reason to.  The author of the triangle appears to be a “Paleoconservative” of some sort.  I am not here to argue the finer points of where he/she placed the historical figures, they appear to be in reasonable places, all well and good.  

The political thought along the border of the triangle between communism and absolutism does not recognize the individual in any political sense, the collective is what matters.  It is about the state, the class, the race; these collectives were called fascism, communism, and national socialism in the 20th century.  The nations that attempted to fully express these collectivist ideologies met with varying levels of catastrophe.

The American Republic is an ongoing experiment founded on the ideal that all men should be treated equally before the law.  While the American Republic, as originally conceived, was a flawed experiment its original ideals puts it in the individualist camp of the triangle near Jefferson.  Since then, especially with the start of the 20th century’s progressive era, there has been a move towards collectivist governance as depicted by the positions of Obama and Bush.

The true utility of this landscape is that it explains the world views of the different groups and how they perceive the others in the landscape.  Socialists lump monarchists, the GOP, and fascists into the same basket - they are all Nazis.  Conversely individualists, such as classical liberals of the 19th century variety put collectivists into the same bin, be they communists or national socialists.  For the alt-right fascists it is the small-r republicanism (theoretically a casteless society, by law) as the same problematic pile of nihilists.

This framework explains the political landscape with refreshing clarity and allows for a better understanding of the tensions and similarities that divide or bind us.  I hope this may allow for more meaningful dialogue than what we currently are witnessing.