Chris and Rob have been finding different kinds of fault in the classic left/right political spectrum: Chris prefers two criteria which (he argues) are more or less orthogonal (pro- and anti-state, pro- and anti-poor people), while Rob opts for ‘conservative’ and ‘liberal’ as fundamental alternatives.
The trouble with all these discussions is that so many different oppositions end up being overlaid. In comments on Chris’s post, for example, Tim Worstall makes a pretty good fist of locating himself on the Left. Speaking as a Marxist, I’m not fooled for a minute – but I have to admit that I often feel closer to the Worstall Right than to the Euston Manifesto Left.
I gave some thought to this stuff some time ago, in an attempt to work out why I counted at least one Tory among my trusted friends while finding many genuine socialists hard to be around. I dismissed the thought that I was moving Right with age, partly because it was uncomfortable and partly because I knew that my position on Chris’s rich-or-poor scale hadn’t budged; I don’t think there are many right-wingers who enjoy singing along to “The Blackleg Miner“, put it that way. I also dismissed the thought that the difference between my Tory friend and my irritating socialist acquaintances was that the former was a thoughtful and intelligent bloke; there was no a priori reason for this exclusion, you understand, it was just a bit too obvious.
Anyway, what I came up with was a two-part scale, covering both your views on human nature and your views on political change (the greatest flaw of Robert’s liberal/conservative scale, in my view, is that it tends to conflate these). Each of these two breaks down into two elements, giving a total of sixteen distinct positions. Where human nature is concerned, we look at whether people should be controlled or liberated and at who should be doing the controlling or liberating. As for political change, we ask both whether we believe change should be welcomed or resisted and how we relate this change to the present.
Human nature first. The most fundamental question: are people good or bad? In other words, if left to themselves would people destroy social order or create a new and better society? For this part of the scale I’ll borrow from Church history.
An Augustinian believes that, ultimately, people are sinful; politics is, or should be, concerned with establishing laws and institutions which enable sinful people to coexist without tearing one another apart.
A Pelagian believes that, ultimately, people are good; politics is, or should be, concerned with enabling people to work together, play together and generally enjoy life in ways which have hitherto not been possible.
Now for the location of control or liberation: central or local? government or community? ruler or family?
A Jacobin believes that all politics worthy of the name happens in government; left to their own devices, communities tend to stagnate or run wild
A Digger believes that politics happens in affective communities and in everyday life; left to government, politics becomes managerial and sterile
An Augustinian Jacobin is an Authoritarian: people need to be governed, and who better to govern than the government?
An Augustinian Digger is a Communitarian: what we want isn’t law-abiding individuals but communities of respect
A Pelagian Jacobin is a Liberal: the government can help people realise their potential, either by freeing them from oppressive conditions or simply by getting out of the way
A Pelagian Digger is a Hippie (sorry Paul): isn’t it great when people get together and do stuff, without waiting for politicians to tell them what to do?
A Liberal is the opposite of a Communitarian; an Authoritarian is the opposite of a Hippie.
Now for attitudes to political change.
A Whig believes that change should, all things being equal, be embraced: that the risk of regression and lost opportunities is greater than the risk that change will destroy something worth preserving
A Tory believes that change should, all things being equal, be resisted: that the risk of losing valuable cultural and political resources outweighs the risk of failing to grasp opportunities for progress
Finally, let’s look at how change relates to the present. For this part of the act I’ll need a volunteer from the history of Western philosophy; specifically, G.W.F. Hegel. Hegel believed that historical change had an immanent meliorist teleology – in other words, that things were getting better and better, and would eventually reach a point where they couldn’t get any better. He also believed that this point had in fact been reached (cf. Francis Fukuyama, who rather amusingly trotted out precisely the same argument the best part of two centuries down the line). Marx adopted the Hegelian framework, but with the crucial modification of placing the end of history the far side of a future revolution. We can call these two positions Right-Hegelianism and Left-Hegelianism.
A Right-Hegelian believes that, to the extent that it makes sense to talk of a good society, the good society is an extension of trends which have a visible and increasingly dominant influence on society as it is now
A Left-Hegelian believes that it emphatically does make sense to talk of a good society, and that such a society will in important senses require the reversal or overthrow of society as it is now
A Right-Hegelian Whig is a Reformer: things have changed, things will continue to change, there has been progress and there will be more progress
A Right-Hegelian Tory is a Conservative: our existing institutions are valuable and should not be put at risk for the sake of speculative benefits
A Left-Hegelian Whig is a Revolutionary: things could be much better, and things can be much better if we push a bit harder
A Left-Hegelian Tory is a Historian: things could be much better, but our main task is to keep alive the resources of that hope
The opposite of a Revolutionary is a Conservative.
The opposite of a Reformer is a Historian.
Liberal, Authoritarian, Communitarian, Hippie; Conservative, Reformer, Revolutionary, Historian. That gives us a total of sixteen hats to try on, and to fit to our various political rivals. See how you get on.
Me, I’m PDLT, a Hippie Historian (who’d have thought it?); this makes me the polar opposite of an AJRW, an Authoritarian Reformer. (Like, for instance, Charles Clarke.) Works for me.
I have spotted one potential weakness of this scale. It gets in most of the points made by Rob, Chris and their commenters, including Matt and Tim, but with one obvious gap: Chris’s rich/poor scale, which (as I’ve said) is fairly fundamental to my own sense of political identity. Can this be fitted into the model, and if so where? Or is this a different kind of question?
Update 30th April
Jamie, the only other Hippie Historian to have surfaced so far (if anyone can think of a better label than ‘Hippie’ for the Pelagian/Digger combination, by the way, I’ll be all ears), writes
I’m also, incidentally, mildly annoyed at having to qualify libertarian with left wing. Hayekianism is not a libertarian doctrine.
I think this is an important point & goes some way to addressing my point about the rich/poor axis, just above. Consider: if I believe in freedom of action, I must necessarily believe in freedom of action for everyone, to be curtailed only by provisions which have a similarly universal reach. But equality of opportunity and constraint for rich and poor is no equality at all – in Anatole France’s formulation, The law, in its majestic equality, forbids the rich as well as the poor to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets and to steal bread. Inequalities of wealth are, in effect, inequalities of constraint and opportunity; any consistent libertarianism would begin by establishing whether these inequalities follow any consistent pattern, and would oppose them if so. The alternative would be to take the current distribution of wealth and power (and hence of effective liberty) as given, accept it as a more-or-less immutable starting-point. I don’t understand why anyone would do that – but then, I’m a Left-Hegelian (see also my posts on Euston).