The Real Political Spectrum

Now that another one of those vitriolic, antagonistic, exercises in mutual character assassination that we call an election is past us, it is the perfect opportunity to examine our perceived political polarization. Elections reveal that we characterize most people or groups today by their view towards government either and by the type or the amount of power they feel government should wield. It's impossible to pick up a newspaper or watch the evening news on television without seeing or hearing all kinds of references to "liberals" and "conservatives" or to a "right wing" and a "left wing." From such labels we're supposed to get the impression that the terms are used to describe opposite sides of an issue or opposite ends of some spectrum of political philosophy, with "moderates" and "centrist" in the middle. From another perspective, however, such a spectrum not only does't really provide a very useful description of these groups it actually ignores or obscures what's really going on.

Forget Democrats versus Republicans, left versus right, liberals versus conservatives, fascists versus communists, or revolutionaries versus reactionaries. To bring things into the proper focus, we need to rearrange the political spectrum into a more realistic representation: On one end is the individual, making his own choices and decisions about his personal life and property; on the other end is the state, or government, where a relatively small number of people are able to make everyone else act in ways they might not otherwise have chosen, usually by wielding or threatening the use of some kind of force or other penalty for not complying. The extremes of this more logical political spectrum would be total anarchy on one end versus rigid totalitarian dictatorship on the other. If you arbitrarily drew a line and placed totalitarianism on the left end and anarchy on the right then, yes, traditional Democrats/liberals would fall more to the left of Republicans/conservatives but the distance between the two groups is not as great as it once was and certainly do not represent the extremes. Both major parties in the country have moved inexorably to the left, when measured by their actions and policies and not merely by their rhetoric (this concept was explored in depth by David Boaz in his book, Libertarianism: A Primer). This spectrum is a pretty useful tool for understanding politics.

All political philosophies, from individualists to Marxist-Leninists, fit along this new line. On one end is the individual; on the other is the state. Every philosophy just varies in its degree of an individual's control over himself versus state control over the individual. For example, it doesn't really matter whether Medicare policies are set by Republicans or Democrats; the important thing is whether seniors are individually afforded the opportunity to determine for themselves the nature of their health plan or if the government makes enrollment in their plan mandatory.

Liberty versus Power. It is never a surprise, of course, that power is always more appealing to those who have it than to those who don't. While the nature of power has taken many forms in history, there has always been a single recurring theme: The will of some is coercively forced upon others. Power fuels man's ambition to rule others by providing the ability to impose one's will on another.

And with the imposition of will comes the likelihood that someone will take exception to it. And then you have conflict. Conflict leads to disharmony, disruption, and possibly destruction. It seems to me that if government is the organized imposition of will by some over others, and that the imposition of will leads to conflict, then we ought, therefore, to enjoy more peace and prosperity in proportion to the degree we limit the power of government.

Do men have to be governed? Or do they just have to be restrained?.

Robert V. Wickes is an Ordinary Joe who believes that other Ordinary Joes need to educate themselves about the reality of the American political system. Learn more at http://www.mythamericabooks.com

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