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American Politics

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 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 non-coercive) influence.

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 ownership, 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 for fetal status and citizenship.

An increasingly interesting fourth dimension is futurephilia vs. futurephobia. Historically, rightists feared the future, while leftists and progressives believed history was on their side. Lately, leftists fear technological development even more than rightists, leaving the future to be defended mainly by libertarians.

Classification of Some American Political Groups

The Incumbent Parties

Democrats are leftists with strong (but not yet dominant) strains of futurephobia and protectionist exclusivism.

Republicans are rightists with competing factions leaning toward libertarianism and moral securitarianism.

Libertarian Groups

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 succumb to a leftist temptation to oppose economic liberty.

The Cato Institute advocates market liberalism (and is where I copied the name "market liberal"). Even though I disagree with Cato's isolationism, its 600-page Handbook 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 protectionist leftists.

Peace and Freedom is a California party of isolationist futurephobic socialists -- like the Greens, only more socialist.

The Reform Party consists of confused populists and protectionist right-wingers who have convinced themselves that procedural reforms would magically reconcile competing political principles like those of right-wing RP nominee Pat Buchanan and marxist RP activist Lenora Fulani.

American Independents and the Constitution Party are protectionist isolationist pro-life rightists.