A few weeks back, I got into a heated dispute with a friend of mine about political terminology that nearly had the both of us kicked out of class. Admittedly, I started it by claiming that the radical left and fundamentalist right of politics were both equally bigoted and closed-minded; not the sort of idea this particular friend would just let by. We fought (loudly and disruptively) for a time, and neither of us was able to understand the other–it was like we were on entirely different pages–until we realized that the problem was our political terminology. When I said “radical left,” I meant socialism; when he said “radical left,” he meant anarchy.
Despite my friend’s insistence that I shouldn’t focus on political labels, this had me thinking about the political spectrum and how unfairly exclusive it is. The traditional Left-Right political spectrum does not really allow for items like libertarianism, anarchism, and totalitarianism. Where do they fall? Not on this scale. All three of those fit on a different scale entirely, which I have defined–though I am not the first to do so–as a ‘control spectrum’. This is what I mean.
The U.S.-style Left-Right political spectrum (not classical French Revolution-style, I’m afraid; it’s not entirely applicable anymore) can be represented like this:
Notice that here, the furthest left view is socialism, not communism. (Due to horrible planning on my part, I forgot to leave space at either end–who knows what radical ideals will be exposed in the future?) This is my interpretation, and it’s very general. I don’t know a lot about political science, but this was my working grasp of modern-style left and right politics. If it’s inaccurate… it was just a thought.
The control spectrum, which I have been pondering lately, looks more like this:
Anarchy, a state without control, is on one side; Totalitarianism, a state with total control, is on the other. For convenience, the points of a few other political ideas have been set on the spectrum–and note that this is a very rough sketch, not at all set in stone. Notice that communism is on this scale–on the side of greater control–and that socialism is not.
This gives us two entirely different scales, because things like totalitarianism, libertarianism, communism, and anarchy cannot be plotted on the Left-Right spectrum. Feudalism, Monarchy, and other various “-archies” do not plot well either on the Left-Right. And just try to plot democracy; optimistically, the entire Left-Right just describes different forms of it.
My conclusion? We need a better political scale, if it remains a scale at all (it likely won’t). Left-Right works only within systems like the U.S. where (mostly) only those two ideas are seriously debating. But there are other political ideals; communism has existed, feudalism has existed, and monarchies still exist today. There should be an effective way to define them all in relation to each other without having to create dozens of spectrums. I’m not sure how this could be accomplished. Possibly through a political compass like this one. For all I know, to do this would require throwing out all our current terminology and starting anew. What I do know is that, as the world changes to suit globalization, our politics will have to change as well to accommodate other systems. Nationally? Globally? It’s hard to say. But it will happen.