Changing the Spectrum
The traditional political spectrum places ideologies, and their corresponding parties, in between identical extremes: absolute control by a centralized state, i.e. totalitarianism on the left and authoritarianism on the right. This traditional view ostensibly assigns differing attributes to the same statist control of a National Socialist state and of a Communist state. The space between these two ideologies spans virtually the entire spectrum and yet, the de facto methods of governance under such regimes represents a distinction without a difference. Basically, for all of the particulars in the middle, traveling to either end of the traditional spectrum finds that each end culminates the same way. No matter what ideology, if taken to the extreme, ends in total control by the state.
This perspective creates a sense of balance to the ideological universe and has an underlying moralistic warning to boot: the danger of devotion to ideological extremes. Another interesting aspect is the lack of the anarchist or minimalist vision (or lack thereof) of government. With all-powerful state control enveloping all other in-between ideologies, there is not room for a vision representing no government at all. Moreover, there are ideologies, while widely separated on the spectrum, that have much in common and some closer together that have much less. As a visual aide in explaining ideological differences, the traditional spectrum of political visions leaves a bit to be desired.
So, how better to situate the differing ideas permeating modern political thought?
Where do the ideas of the past sit in relation to these ideas?
***A thoroughly examined and consistently logical approach has been described by Craig Biddle of the Objective Standard. I highly recommend his article, and the site as well.
Instead of the inconsistent mess of the left and right spectrum, housing socialists and national socialists at different ends, an altogether restructured approach categorizes similar ideologies together. This is as it should be. This approach can vary and actually create alternate spectrums that have slightly different criteria: one based upon individual rights and one on the limits of governmental power.
THE SPECTRUM OF INDIVIDUAL RIGHTS- In terms of the protection or violation of individual rights, rights violating ideologies that utilize extreme force are placed on the far left and the most protective ideologies are on the far right. According to this idea, a very small centrally focused system could still be extremely controlling and violate the rights of its citizens while a system with a massive national defense can still prize and protect individual liberty. Ideologies are situated based upon how free the citizens are to interact, trade, engage in business and religion, and so on. Statists are next to statists on the spectrum, regardless of their titles. Commies and Nazis together at last.
In fairness, in case my bias in favor of this approach is too glaring, a valid criticism of this view might be that groups with special interests often attempt (and succeed) to utilize government as a tool in “preserving” rights. It might not be long before an erosion of the respect for individual rights takes a back seat to the common good. This would create the illusion of individual rights with subversive state control. (See Germany circa 1933)
THE SPECTRUM OF LIMITED GOVERNMENTAL POWER- The size and scope of government as reflected by an ideology has a direct bearing as to where that ideology is situated on this spectrum. The more influence and control that the state has, the more expansive the government. A strong federal system would be placed further left and total anarchy would be about as far right as possible with little or no state control. A problem with this view is that government could be strong in certain areas and still promote the safety and rights of its citizens. National defense is an example of a role that really only a strong government can play. This requires “larger” government in terms of size and money but does not necessarily mean that there is more control over the citizenry.
And so it goes…
At this point you may be thinking that all of this specificity is about as intriguing as the prospect of rearranging your sock drawer. If your eyes have glazed over, shake it off and remember the fundamental point: all of this is meant as a tool. Any political spectrum is merely a means to the end of discovering more about political thought and how the different systems relate to one another. Ideas and opinions change. (or “evolve” to borrow the phrase du jour) Answer these questions about yourself: what truly matters and how do you feel about the issues of the day? The ideologies will reveal themselves. They are simply the coating, the name given to the deeper body of ideas that drive the changes made, for better or worse, within our political system. Once you identify with an ideology, the manner of proper governance becomes clear.