This is an issue that has been on my mind lately. It seems that either I had the best political science professor EVAR, or no one else was paying attention. In any case, the questions continues to arise, how can politician 1 be a democrat and be for the war in Iraq, and politician 2 be a republican and be pro-choice? Or whatever.
It really isn’t complex. Republican and Democrat are names of parties, they are not vectors on a political grid. There are actually four (4) cardinal vectors of political philosophy. They are Conservative, Liberal, Libertarian, and Populist. You might have a pretty good idea of what the first two mean, but it seems as though few have a working definition of the final pair.
Here is a brief on each paradigm straight from the wiki. I don’t agree with these personally, but rather than complicate matters, included them here as a basis of comparison.
- Conservatism is a philosophy defined by Edmund Burke as “a disposition to preserve, and an ability to improve”. The term derives from conserve; from Latin conservÄre, to keep, guard, observe. Classical conservatism does not readily avail itself to the ideology of objectives. To a conservative, the goal of change is less important than the insistence that change be effected with a respect for the rule of law and traditions of society. Credit: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Conservatism
- Liberalism is an ideology, philosophical view, and political tradition which holds that liberty is the primary political value. Broadly speaking, modern liberalism seeks a society characterized by freedom of thought for individuals, limitations on power, especially of government and religion, the rule of law, the free exchange of ideas, a market economy that supports relatively free private enterprise, and a transparent system of government in which the rights of minorities are protected. In modern society, liberals favour a liberal democracy with open and fair elections, where all citizens have equal rights by law and an equal opportunity to succeed. Modern liberalism advocates usually a limited degree of government interference in the free market, often in the form of anti-discrimination laws, civil service examinations, universal education, and progressive taxation. This philosophy frequently extends to a belief that the government should provide for a degree of general welfare, including the dole for the poor, housing for the homeless, and medical care for the sick. Such publicly-funded initiatives and interferences in the market are rejected by modern advocates of classical liberalism, which emphasizes free private enterprise, individual property rights and freedom of contract; classical liberals hold that economic inequality, as arising naturally from competition in the free market, does not justify the violation of private property rights. Credit: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Liberalism
- Libertarianism is a political philosophy advocating that individuals should be free to do whatever they wish with their person or property, as long as they do not infringe on the same liberty of others. Libertarians hold as a fundamental maxim that all human interaction should be voluntary and consensual. They maintain that the initiation (or threat) of physical force against another person or his property, or the commission of fraud, is a violation of that principle. Credit: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Libertarian
- Populism is a political philosophy or rhetorical style that holds that the common person’s interests are oppressed or hindered by the elite in society, and that the instruments of the state need to be grasped from this self-serving elite and used for the benefit and advancement of the people as a whole. Hence a populist is one who is perceived to craft his or her rhetoric as appeals to the economic, social, and common sense concerns of average people. Credit: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Populist
So, what does this mean? Here’s a visual:
As a hot-button example, Pro-Choice vs. Pro-Life is in some ways more of a Populist / Libertarian issue, rather than Conservative / Liberal. In the traditional conservative outlook, Abortion is only bad because it is a change to the status quo. On the other hand, in a traditional Libertarian view, Abortion is bad because it infringes upon the rights of another, whereas in the populism ideal the individual is not relevant.
Surely at this point, the reader has already discovered a flaw in this simplified presentation. And that flaw is the debate regarding whether life begins at the point of conception or not. To which I say, “Precisely!” That takes us to a fully two-dimensional Cartesian grid, rather than the one-dimensional “right or left” ethic. If the reader will grant, at least for the sake of argumentation, that the conservative places the origin of the individual at the point of conception (at least) from historical perspective, whereas the liberal from the understanding of (like-minded) science would not do so.
I’ll completely ignore all comments on the above–think of this as stick figures on a chalk board, not a landscape in oils. Suffice to say that I’m fully aware that the debate is more complex than I’ve represented–once again, that is not the focus of this essay. Oh, and read for comprehension–you might not disagree if you try to understand what I’m really saying.
So now we can chart our apples-and-oranges viewpoints on the grid:
- Viewpoint A is completely pro-choice and favors more government control.
- Viewpoint B doesn’t mind more government control, but is against abortion.
- Viewpoint C is probably against abortion in general terms, but maybe is in favor of all types of stem-cell research.
- Let’s then say that Viewpoint D is completely against government control and abortion.
The main thrust here is that political viewpoints are many times unintelligible when taken purely on a “left-right” continuum. Unless they are plotted against on a two-axis grid, often actions made by politicians make little sense (granted that they make sense at all).
So, take this for what it’s worth–hopefully this will add some perspective.