The recent Republican and Tea Party debates mean only one thing: the Presidential campaign is in full swing far earlier than anyone could possibly want. Over the next (long, long) fifteen months, I am sure that annoying people on the internet and supposed professionals alike will be throwing out words like “socialist,” “libertarian,” and “fascist” without any regard for what they truly mean. What can you do about it? You can’t stop them, but you can arm yourself with information. A great way to get an easy to understand overview of ideologies without leaving the comfort of the internet is the Political Compass. The site offers analysis and references along with a quick quiz to help you place yourself on the political spectrum.
The biggest problem with the way we tend to talk about The Left and The Right in politics is that we tend to focus on just the economic continuum. In reality, ideology is much more like a grid showing the intersection of the role of the state in economic issues (horizontal scale) and other matters aspects of society (vertical scale). In countries like the US that have two large parties playing the primary electoral role instead of many, you end up with what sometimes seem like strange associations. For example, when we look at the Republican Party on this grid instead of just a left-right economic scale, it seems strange to think that the strong libertarians (Libertarians) and strong authoritarians (the Religious Right) would end up in the same political party.
So where are our favorite ideologies visually? Communists or Socialists would be somewhere in the top left quadrant, wanting state influence on the economy and social structure. (They’d differ in placement of their dots, of course. Despite the prevalent narrative, they’re not the same thing.) True Libertarians would be somewhere in the bottom right, wanting little state involvement in the economy or social structure. The most vocal type of Republican out there right now would be somewhere in the top right quadrant, wanting little state involvement in economic issues but more control over social matters. And the bottom left? Well, those are the folks like me, mostly self-identified Democrats or progressives who want some level of state intervention in the economy but take a more hands-off approach to social issues.
To give you some perspective, here are a couple of helpful placement charts that the Political Compass provides to show their best guess at the political ideology of relatively well-known public figures.
So now you have a handy tool to show people when they go off spouting words they don’t understand. Take the test! Find out where you stand in perspective.