Left vs. Right
The left-right political spectrum does not map consistently onto any
single dimension of policy (e.g. freedom vs. security, stasis vs.
change) or constituency (e.g. rich vs. poor, religious vs. secular).
However, there are two policy dimensions that define a political space
through which a diagonal slice accurately captures the left-right
spectrum. Those two policy dimensions are
Economic liberty is freedom
from coercion against one's property or access to unowned resources.
- economic liberty vs. security,
- personal liberty vs. security.
Economic security is safety
from not having enough property or resources.
Personal liberty is freedom
from coercion against one's body, expression, or non-coercive actions.
Personal security is safety
from expression or action that one believes has improper (but
Leftists advocate economic
security and personal liberty. Leftists
believe that economic liberty is dangerous because economically weak
people will too readily agree to noncoercive transactions that leftists
think are unfair.
Rightists advocate economic
liberty and personal security. Rightists believe that personal liberty
is dangerous because morally weak
people will too readily engage in
noncoercive behaviors that rightists think are immoral.
The Nolan Chart
Libertarian Party co-founder David Nolan was in 1971 apparently the first to
publish the insight that the left-right spectrum is a slice through the
2-D space of personal and economic liberty vs. security. It's
customary to orient the chart so that Leftism is on the left and
Libertarianism (rather than fascism, yuck) is on the top. Here I
overlay a sampling of political labels, organizations, and leaders onto
their general position in the chart.
(The faces you might not recognize are Huey Long and Jerry Falwell.)
You can take a 10-question online quiz to get a
rough idea of where you fit in the chart.
Outlier issues: Gun control. Financial privacy. Campaign finance.
Not outliers: gambling, stock speculation.
Two Other Dimensions
A third important dimension is inclusiveness vs. exclusiveness
(i.e. enfranchisement) according to attributes such as property
religion, race, gender, citizenship, age, intelligence, sentience, and
sexual orientation. In theory this third dimension is independent
of the first two, but in practice it correlates (imperfectly) with the
personal liberty vs. security axis. The correlation is weakest
fetal status and citizenship.
An increasingly interesting fourth dimension is futurephilia vs.
Historically, rightists feared the future, while leftists and
believed history was on their side. Lately, leftists fear technological
development even more than rightists, leaving the future to be defended
mainly by libertarians.
- Leftists are generally inclusivist, but see fetal enfranchisement
threat to women's enfranchisement.
- Enfranchisement of non-citizens implies support not only for for
immigration, foreign aid, and human rights abroad, but also for free
and humanitarian interventionism (as opposed to isolationism or
However, leftists oppose free trade out of economic ignorance, and
interventionism due to fear of imperialism.
Classification of Some American Political Groups
The Incumbent Parties
Democrats are leftists with strong (but not yet dominant)
of futurephobia and protectionist exclusivism.
Republicans are rightists with competing factions leaning
libertarianism and moral securitarianism.
The Libertarian Party is unrivalled by any
party in its principled advocacy of liberty, but borders on anarchism
with its rejection of all:
The ACLU consists of civil libertarians who too often
to a leftist temptation to oppose economic liberty.
- mandatory taxation,
- state aid to the indigent,
- state regulation of currency, monopoly, and pollution.
The Cato Institute advocates market
liberalism (and is where I copied the name "market liberal"). Even
though I disagree with Cato's isolationism, its
for Congress is a reasonably reliable guide to my thinking on any
issue not discussed in my platform.
Non-libertarian Third Parties
Greens are futurephobic
Peace and Freedom is a California party of isolationist
socialists -- like the Greens, only more
The Reform Party consists of confused populists and
right-wingers who have convinced themselves that procedural reforms
magically reconcile competing political principles like those of
right-wing RP nominee Pat Buchanan and marxist RP activist Lenora
American Independents and the Constitution Party are
isolationist pro-life rightists.