Monday, July 31, 2006


A Two-Dimensional Political Nomenclature

Libertarian, Liberal, Conservative, Authoritarian:
A Two-Dimensional Political Nomenclature

There are of course limits to such a one-dimensional classification scheme implied by such words spectrum, left, and right (as in my previous post). The Advocates for Self-Government, a Libertarian organization, have a useful two-dimensional classification scheme. To illustrate this, they have set up their World's Smallest Political Quiz, which is quick, easy, and fun. They set up two axes, one for "personal issues" and one for "economic issues." Thus liberals score in the left corner, conservatives score in the right corner, libertarians score in the top corner, and authoritarians (now called "Statists" in the new version of the quiz) score on the bottom corner.

The test has been improved in the past year or two. Older versions of the test consistently told me that I was a "left-liberal," while the current test has me hovering around the intersection of centrist, liberal, and libertarian. While this describes my own political evolution, I do not think my views have changed that much recently. Rather, I think this change reflects that some of the more radical libertarian statements ("End taxes", open borders) have been replaced by more moderate positions (cut taxes in half, "no national ID card").

Less extreme libertarian positions make it more likely that many individual test-takers (including your humble blogger) will score closer to the upper corner, and thus more libertarian. Since one purpose of the test is to help libertarians find each other (i.e. to help organized Libertarians recruit members), one might object that the test has been biased to attract more recruits. The Advocates themselves do a nice job of responding to this, but briefly, an accurate test best serves their interests. Any organization wants to recruit the right people; new members who actually disagree with the fundamental precepts of an organization are bound to do more harm than good. I welcome comments below on whether you regard the new quiz as an improvement.

A two-dimensional classification scheme remains a simplification, but this four-cornered scheme is nonetheless useful. However the traditional one-dimensional left-liberal-conservative-right scheme remains useful because a great many people find themselves on this axis. (I welcome comments as to why this is so; I hope to explore this in future blogging.) That is why we have (and need and use) both sets of terms.

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