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More than Left and Right

The Left-Right spectrum doesn't distinguish liberals from progressives, but they are very different.

by James Leroy Wilson
January 7, 2010

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More than Left and Right

The newly-created Transpartisan Center created a report on the failure of the left-right spectrum in explaining people's views on issues like healthcare.

The report, called "The Transpartisan Matrix," explains that the Left and Right spectrum reveals attitudes about the role of government as opposed to the role of markets. What it does not explain, however, is attitudes towards individual rights - as opposed to, say, the role of social institutions. Hence, there should be not just a horizontal Left-Right line to explain one's view of markets, but also a vertical line to explain one's preference for freedom or order.

(Historically, the Left-Right distinction was based solely on views on liberty where, for example, in France of the early 19th century, libertarians were on the left. The spectrum was later used to reflect one's views on equality. But I believe this report is correct: in today's America the Left-Right distinction refers to government vs. markets.)

The two lines - Left-Right, Freedom-Order - intersect to create four quadrants: "order left," "freedom left," "freedom right" and "order right."

What the authors don't do is assign names to these positions. I will do so.

Order-left quadrant: Progressive

Progressives believe there is no problem government can't solve, and with the people's consent reflected in mass representative democracy, government should have a free hand. Markets must be subordinate to government and must follow its direction. Individuals are encouraged to devote their lives to the "greater good" by working in and for public institutions. Many activities are to be prohibited outright as socially harmful, and when they are permitted, they are to be heavily taxed and regulated.


Freedom-left quadrant: Liberal

Liberals belive society is best off when indivdiuals get a fair deal; government serves to protect their rights and provides an environment in which they flourish, using pragmatic governmental means to protect and help individuals. Markets must be checked and regulated to protect individuals, but otherwise indvididuals should be free to do as they want provided they don't harm anybody else.

Order-right quadrant: Conservative

Conservatives believe society is best off when a variety of social institutions are strong, such as family, church, and businesses. Government is necessary to protect these traditional institutions from external enemies and excessive individual liberties, but would otherwise prefer to leave them unregulated. This is why conservatives often have unquestioning loyalty to the military and police, but a distrust of government employees with white collars.

Freedom-right quadrant: Libertarian

Libertarians believe the best, most just society is achieved when individuals are free to do as they please with themselves and their justly-acquired property. "Government" in the form of State bureaucracy is unnecessary and mostly harmful, although "government" as a systematic process for the adjudication of disputes will probably remain in place.

The authors of "The Transpartisan Matrix" explain the blunder of the healthcare reform proposals that contained an individual mandate to purchase health insurance. The mandate not only alienated the entire right, but also the "Freedom-left" or what I prefer to call liberals.

Indeed, the President's progressive agenda also alienates liberals in that it includes a continuation of George Bush's policies of domestic surveillance and a "surge" in the War on Afghanistan.

And let's be clear, such policies, though "anti-liberal," are quintessentially progressive.  Progressivism is dedicated to the progressive growth of the State - not just in the economic realm, but in all realms. That's why progressives got the U.S. into most of its wars in the 20th Century.

Libertarians have generally been clear on how they are distinct from conservatives. On the left, liberals believe government should be our servant, but they have been beaten down by progressives who co-opted their name and believe that government should be our master. It's time the true peacemakers and civil libertarians on the left begin distancing themselves from progressives.

 

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Ayn R. Key from http://aynrkey.blogspot.com writes:
January 10, 2010
A different take, but the end result has more than a passing resemblance to the Nolan Chart with Authoritarian renamed Progressive. But I do like how you renamed one axis into order-freedom instead of "Civil" or "Social" as most Nolan Charts do. The Government-Market axis is nearly the same as the Economic axis.

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