Monday, December 30, 2002

Most regular readers have probably run across the political axes that I normally use to define political positions; one being whether society should be hierarchical or egalitarian, and the other being whether or not their conception of society is as a collection of independent individuals or an organic body, with each person making up a part of the whole. It's as useful and fairly reliable as any two-dimensional political classification system I've ever seen, but I do have to admit that the system Kevin Drum devised is pretty interesting itself:

There are plenty of possible choices, and one possible matrix is shown on the right. The vertical axis is a reflection of your basic view of human nature: people are naturally selfish and bad vs. people are naturally good if you allow them to be. The horizontal axis describes your view of what molds people: people are mostly responsible for their own actions vs. people are substantially shaped by their society and their environment.

Does this work? Here are the four political "types" that it produces:

"Limbaugh Conservative": This type believes that people are basically out for themselves and are responsible for their own actions. No blaming society for these folks! They have an instinctive belief in law and order and traditional values.

"Principled Conservative": These folks also believe people are responsible for themselves, but they basically view their actions as good. Thus: free market capitalism, in which self-interest turns out to be a good character trait, and a principled view that society is best when government interferes least and allows human nature to come to the fore.

"Practical Liberal": This type reluctantly agrees that people are selfish and often untrustworthy, but believes that bad luck and poor upbringing have a lot to do with it. Like FDR, they tend to believe that government programs can help produce better people by creating a better society.

"Academic Liberal": These are the people at anti-globalization rallies. They believe that people are fundamentally good but are corrupted by big business, big religion, and other societal forces. Get rid of the corrupting influences of powerful institutions and human nature will make the world a better place.
As I said, interesting. It does loosely fit the framework I mentioned, however; the "people are good" vs. "people are bad" can be fairly easily mapped onto the "hierarchy vs. egalitarian" axis, and the "responsibility" axis is a variation of the question asking whether society or individuals are the key actors.

Kevin goes on to ask:

All right then, try it yourself. This is the game I promised you at the beginning of this post: try to figure out two dimensions of underlying temperament that do a good job of predicting political views. Here are a few possibilities besides the two I already used:

Long-term view vs. short-term view.

Personal view of the worlds vs. big picture/root causes view.

Emotional vs. analytical.

The goal is to find two dimensions that (a) categorize 80% of the population reasonably well, and (b) do a decent job of predicting political viewpoints. For example, in my scheme, does the knowledge of what quadrant somebody is in do a good job of predicting their views on abortion, gun control, environmental regulations, etc.?

And now for the final question, left as an exercise for the reader (of course!): using my matrix, can you classify people's attitudes toward racism in America? You just knew it would get back to that, didn't you?
Welp, let's see. I've already got my two axes, so how do these fit?

a)I'd say it works pretty well; there's a lot of hierarchical individualism within American society, but there's a strong current of hierarchical organicism as well, as the religious do tend towards an organic conception of society. (We're all God's children/members of the church/sheep to be shepherded or whatnot). What isn't generally present is strong egalitarianism, which explains part of the reason why socialism never really took off in the United States. (There are others, and lots of them, but that is part of it.) There is some egalitarianism on certain issues, of course, but the strong acceptance of "winners and losers" shows an America that believes strongly in some measure of hierarchy based (ideally) on merit.

b)It's been done. A quick breakdown:

-Organic+Hierarchy=old-style Conservatism. Simple. Maybe not relevant today, but still certainly fits the temperment of a lot of the religous, and is part-and-parcel with historic conservatism. Divine Right of Kings and all that.

-Organic+Egalitarianism=Socialism and Social Democracy. Also simple; Marx was quite clear in arguing that the individual is a part of a larger group, and socialist and social democratic systems are designed on that principle. This would be the "hard left" in American politics, and the entire left in a fair bit of Europe.

-Individualistic+Egalitarian=Anarchism. Not anarcho-capitalism, but good old fashioned left-wing anarchism, the land of "property is theft" and of tearing down Locke's beloved enclosures. On a (much) lesser level this would also describe modern democratic liberalism; individuals have rights, and equality is something that should be strived towards without a damned good reason not to. (John Rawls made this point.)


-Individualistic+Hierarchical=Helllo, Libertarianism! (And Anarcho-Capitalism). We're all individuals, some are better than others, and the fundamental principle is Don't Touch My Stuff.

As for those issues, (abortion, gun control, or environment) it really depends. Abortion is a battle between the individualists and the organicists; women's control over their own bodies vs. society's desire to protect those who cannot protect themselves. (Assuming, for the moment, that the fetus is not as of yet an individual, but that's a big battle that can split apart individualists too.) Gun control is another one, although made tricky by the specificities of American culture; an organicist would argue that society should be the ones protecting people and (in turn) should not be at the mercy of well-armed individuals, whereas individualists disagree. Environmentalism is a little of all four: individuals' right to do with their property as they wish vs. society's desire for the protection of the environment and the battle between those who think that those who can afford clean air and water should pay for it and the others can go hang (which would be a relatively extreme hierarchical view) against the view that all people have a right to clean air and water no matter what.

And as for Kevin's final question? Three words:

Hierarchy of races.

No comments:

Post a Comment