Wednesday, June 26, 2002

I've seen this little test going around a lot recently, and a lot of people treating it as an accurate designation of political belief. While I do agree with the idea of a dual-axial political test, the terms that seem to be used here based on a very quick look at it are incredibly suspect. I mean, "libertarian vs. authoritarian?" This doesn't "lead the witness" in the slightest, really it doesn't. Frankly, "the world's shortest political quiz", pretty much ensures that anybody who holds even mildly reasonable political beliefs ends up a libertarian. Handy for proselytizing, not so useful for anything else. Considering that it was conjured up by Jerry Pournelle, this really isn't that surprising. (At least I think Jerry was behind it, but I could be wrong.)

Come to think of it, considering that this site is called "Advocates for Self-Government", this is even less surprising.

The chart I've seen used by real political scientists is a little more accurate than this, but is also based on two axes. One is egalitarianism vs. elitism/meritocracy; the idea that everybody is equal measured against the idea that some are superior to others (whether due to ability, birthright, class, or whatever). The other is based on how one views society: whether one believes that it is a collection of atomistic individuals, or whether it is a more organic body, with each human serving as a part of the greater whole. It does not involve any value judgements (unlike the extremely biased-sounding "authoritarian" label)

Placement of different political movements on this chart leads to some interesting findings: among other things, it shows that there is a corellation between old-style toryism and socialism, because both are based on an organic conception of society; the only difference is that toryism is more elitist, whereas socialism is more egalitarianism. Liberalism also ranges back and forth- classical liberals (or current libertarians) lean towards the individual-elitist corner of the map, whereas modern liberals lean towards the individual-egalitarian corner of the map. (Anarchists would place at the extreme of individual-egalitarianism). It is also useful in clearly defining the difference between a liberal and a socialist; it's not in whether they believe in egalitarianism or not, but how they see society.

(Liberal readers should remember that the next time some idiot bleats about egalitarianism being "inherently socialist".)

This actually has been used to explain why socialism never really took off in the United States... because there was never really much of a tory presence in the U.S., few Americans had this organic conception of society, and therefore were less receptive to the idea of individuals being inseperable from society that is critical to the entire concept of socialism, whether of the radical marxist kind or the social democratic kind. (This is Harold Innis' "fragment" theory, actually). There are other explanations I've heard, of course, everything from the innate religiosity of American society to the simple fact that the racial divide has been so dominant in American society that people don't identify as a class, but as a race... but it's certainly an interesting concept.

So the next time somebody emails or links that quiz, I'd suggest treating it critically at the very least, and treating it to your recycle bin at worst.

Edit: I've just read the quiz. It's ludicrous. I haven't seen a survey this bad since high school. No, actually, I'm wrong... I've never seen a survey this bad. Any pollster who used questions like these would be fired, and possibly shot gangland-style thereafter in order to prevent him or her from breeding. The definition of "Authoritarian" is so laughably biased it's stunning.

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