Misconceptions of Left vs. Right (Part 7): Academic Agent’s Fourteen Points


So far, this series of articles has covered the origins of the left/right dichotomy during the French Revolution, as well as the Authoritarian vs. Libertarian, Liberal vs. Conservative, Order vs. Chaos, Equality vs. Hierarchy, Nature vs. Nurture, Constrained vs. Unconstrained, Individualism vs. Collectivism, and Empathy For The Rich vs. Sympathy for The Poor dichotomies, as well as the Chesterton’s Fence analogy.

Last week, The Academic Agent introduced his Brand New Political Compass, which separates ideology into seven different axes: Economic, Social, Biological, Cultural, Moral, and Historical.

The economic axis concerns state intervention in the market, with the authoritarian Joseph Stalin at one end and the libertarian Murray Rothbard at the other.

The cultural axis divides the modernists and the traditionalists. The social axis is the Equality vs. Hierarchy dichotomy. The moral axis divides the libertines and the puritans.

The biological axis is essentially the Nature vs. Nurture dichotomy, with the “Blank Slate” theorists at one end and the eugenicists at the other.

The causal axis divides materialism and idealism. Lastly, the historical axis divides the progressive and cyclical views of history.

One could argue that Academic Agent’s system separates too many closely linked ideas, making seven different axes unnecessary. The left, on average, is for greater economic intervention, for equality instead of hierarchy, for libertinism over puritanism, for nurture over nature, for materialism over idealism, and for progressive over cyclical history.

If each of these axes already fit within the left vs. right dichotomy, then why separate them?

Well, if we view ideology through the Academic Agent’s Fourteen Point Political Compass in lieu of the standard left vs. right view, this web of worldviews becomes a lot simpler. Even though it’s seven times more complex, it accounts for all the numerous exceptions to a singular dichotomy (and it would finally end the unproductive debate on whether fascism is left or right wing).

This compass does provide the benefit of giving libertarianism a well-defined home. Many libertarians describe themselves as “neither left nor right.” The four-quadrant political compass puts libertarianism as most people know it into the bottom right purple quadrant.

Although libertarians are defined by their dedication to the nonaggression principle and support for free-market capitalism, they are quite politically diverse in many other areas. With the political compass arranged into seven different axes, libertarianism can be placed definitively on one side of the economic axis.

On the other axes, libertarians will find greater differences. They will be more divided on the cultural, social, moral, and biological axes. And that’s fine, because this political compass accounts for that.

Are there any downsides to this compass? Possibly. It may do better to add or remove an axis. It might benefit from the addition of a Nationalism vs. Globalism axis, or an Individualism vs. Collectivism axis.

Or, it may be better to combine the social and biological axes, since egalitarians tend to hold a more unconstrained view of human nature. Then again, one of the positives to this compass is its ability to distinguish between similar yet different ideological positions.

Thus far this article series has been unable to find a template that describes left vs. right with significant accuracy. Many have come close, but tell only part of the story. Thomas Sowell’s Constrained vs. Unconstrained view came the closest, but only by leaving Marxism and Utilitarianism as exceptions. Perhaps Academic Agent’s method is the only solution: separate one axis into several different unattached axes.

Even if you find his political compass needlessly complex or missing a few axes, at the very least we can say his Fourteen Points are better than those of Woodrow Wilson.

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Nathan A. Kreider is author of the Misconceptions column for Being Libertarian, and has written for the Austrian Economics Center, the Foundation for Economic Education, and the Liberalists. He also occasionally publishes a blog and video content, including short book reviews, which can be found on his website, nkreider.com. He can be contacted by email via [email protected]