Right Wing, Liberal, Conservative…? Political Orientation Labels

Political junkies will be familiar with the Political Compass test, which adds Authoritarian/Libertarian to the standard Right/Left two-dimensional scale. On this test I come down in the Right-Libertarian quadrant:

Political Compass chart

Political Compass chart

Which isn’t too surprising, since I tend to be a classical liberal: believing a self-organizing society of free markets and few laws works better for everyone in the long run. So it’s always a bit shocking when someone thinks I’m “right wing,” a label which has come to include anyone who dissents from Progressive orthodoxy and who expresses any doubts that bringing the best and brightest to power and passing laws to eliminate Bad Behavior will bring Utopia.

The best way to look at this is as modes of thought, all of which can be useful in the appropriate situation. None is always and everywhere correct. And those who inhabit one or two modes at all times are the least likely to make good policy decisions. Authoritarians are almost incapable of understanding that telling other people what to do and how to behave correctly almost never works to accomplish the intended goal of increasing Goodness as they define it, but often does encourage hypocrisy, lawlessness, black markets, and dependency which damage the natural governors of social life — reputation and community enforcement of good behaviors.

Going over the labels and what they mean:

Progressive: The idea of Progress is to leave old and incorrect thinking behind, and replace it with updated, more correct thought and behavior. A Progressive believes they are helping the Arrow of History by pushing along societal progress at a faster rate by using government force to change behavior; some elite of scientists and thinkers will guide the ignorant masses through law and social workers toward a better society. Progressives gave us eugenics, Prohibition of alcohol and drugs, homogenized public schools designed to indoctrinate the population with Progressive teachings, and US entry into WWI and a succession of alliances and wars since. More recently, they are responsible for Obamacare / ACA health insurance, which heavily taxed the small number of younger and middle and upper-class purchasers of individual policies to help subsidize the older, poorer, and sicker, but ended up in a death spiral of higher prices and falling enrollments. Other “make someone else behave correctly” ideas of theirs include plastic bag bans, high soda taxes, gun control, and complex green energy subsidies that are hurting lower-income power consumers. Progressives often correctly identify problems but then fail to understand why passing a law or regulation to ameliorate the problem will simply cause more and worse problems elsewhere while reducing the population’s autonomy and accountability.

Conservative: Conservatives tend to be uncomfortable with change and afraid of loss while having trouble imagining the good that comes with change. Conservative thinking should always be a part of policy discussions; the Chesterton’s Fence analogy suggests no proposed change to a complex system should be evaluated without understanding how the existing system evolved to reach that point. Excessive conservatism leads to stagnation, and defense of the indefensible, as Southern conservatives defended slavery and today’s Democratic party defends public school unions.

Right and Left Wing: These labels date back to the French revolutionary era, where the Assembly sorted itself by support for King and status quo on the right, and revolution and change on the left. The Political Compass test uses this dimension to indicate support for less or more control of individual economic decisions, which is far simpler than its normal use to indicate a raft of associations: the Right Wing with religious belief, smaller government, support for military and law enforcement spending, and less regulation of business, while the Left Wing supports larger government, smaller militaries, less religion, and greater collective control of economic decisions.

Liberal: The root is Latin for free, and this term once applied to those who believed in maximizing individual decisionmaking capacity. Early Liberals opposed the Corn Laws (restrictions on food imports) of Britain, which increased food prices to the poor while benefitting the remaining landed gentry. The liberal tends to examine the justification for each law that interferes with freedom. Conservatives of that era believed the laws should reinforce their moral beliefs and penalize bad behavior, even when the behavior did not effect them directly. “Setting the tone,” religious principles were enshrined in law. Liberals saw this as a fundamental error, but the current usage of the term in the US is for authoritarian Progressives who are closer to the Conservatives of two centuries ago, supporting a moralistic view of law that would use it to penalize immoral thoughts — but now the targets are racism and sexism instead of illicit sex and pleasurable activities.

Radical: This came from the Latin radix, the root. Radicals aimed to get at the root causes of inequality, and the term came to be associated with extremism — to be radical was the opposite of conservative, pushing to tear out the fences of tradition and precedent to achieve a just society. In the sense that policy changes should be based on addressing not the superficial symptoms but their root causes, I am a radical.

So I’m far from “right wing” — but I do reject Progressive principles, and think trying to micromanage other people’s behavior to satisfy my ideas of what is proper or desirable is itself morally wrong. If I can personally persuade someone to stop behaving in a manner that endangers themselves or others, I will; but I will not give power to paid bureaucrats to manage behaviors which aren’t directly injuring people. It is none of my business if there’s a whorehouse operating out of earshot, or people wasting energy, or wealthy people spending vast sums on luxury yachts. I do not know enough to decide these matters for someone else, and I choose not to be governed by a democratic tyranny that gives the dumbest 51% of the population the ability to control what I decide to do for myself. The Founding Fathers were quite rightly afraid of an unrestrained democracy, and added the Bill of Rights to make sure there were guardrails hoping to prevent the corrupt feedback loop we are now suffering under. The permanent and unaccountable Administrative State (built by Progressives) has taken control of education, the media, and government, making it nearly impossible to reform through elections — unless the people see that as the primary problem of this age, and rise up to change it by electing enough radicals to tear down the structure that supports it — the graduated income tax, the funded bureaucrats and academics, the protected oligopolies created by regulation like media cartels and medical care, and the public employee unions that make it impossible to punish malfeasance. This is a radical position, based on conservative appreciation for free markets and natural social relations based on mutually-beneficial exchange, voluntary social cooperation and charity, and freedom of religious belief and practice. Those who do not tolerate others’ beliefs and try to control behaviors that don’t directly harm them should have no power to compel others, and a government that is allowed to mold the population’s beliefs to suit its increasing power is to be resisted.

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