b-school, Business, Economics, MBA, Personal, Politics, Thoughts

Finding myself in the political compass (aka different kinds of liberals)

One of the things that amazes me most is how almost anyone can define himself as a liberal. From people defending free market at all costs, to authoritarian leaders that start wars, to people defending compassionate conservatism, to people fighting for human rights and marriage for same-sex couples… all of them define themselves as liberals.

There’s only one other concept more self-identified than liberalism, that is centrism or, even better, the idea of being a moderate. Everybody is a moderate, regardless of what you may think, you’ll always find somebody more radical than you. But when one of the few people more radical than you happens to be Adolf Hitler, the odds are that you’re not as moderate as you might think.

Different kinds of liberals

Fortunately the richness of the English language provides us with alternative words to liberal, one of them being libertarian. Remember the post about Rawls and Nozick? Nozick would be a libertarian. Many people that are really libertarians label themselves as liberals. Why not? It’s rather clear the two concepts intersect somewhere.

But one of the best ways to classify the different kind of liberals is to use two dimensions for liberalism: social liberalism and economic (or fiscal) liberalism.

That is most helpful to classify people: some people defend a lot of freedom in front of the state for economic matters, that would mean few or no taxes at all, freedom of enterprise, expanded society shielding for investors or even managers, work force flexibility, no market regulations at all, and many more. They opt for a reduced state (Nozick’s style) that will center its tasks to protect property rights and contract rights and all kind of acquired rights. The only thing that the state would monopolise would be security, and for efficiency reasons. But then those same people would use that force-enabled-state to put social order. Where that begins is by putting trespassers to jail, but where that ends is not so clear: kicking immigrants back to their countries? forbidding abortion and jailing doctors? making compulsory to teach science conditioned to the Holy Bible? Outlawing and punishing sex before marriage? This kind of people were those who embraced Nozick’s ideas (they still do) and make him nervous and uneasy at the same time.

So it seems clear you can be an economic liberal, but socially conservative. Or even authoritarian in that sense. That would lead to fascism. Or defend individual rights an at the same time wish for an economic system controlled by the state so no individual would be crushed in the economic sense. Also makes sense to me. In that case you could be a social liberal but a socialist at the same time. Ghandi or Zapatero (Spain’s Prime Minister) would be in that classification.

Let’s draw both dimensions:

  • On the horizontal axis the economic dimension. More leftist would lay obviously on the left, like communism or socialism, planned or more regulated economies. On the right more freedom for entrepreneurs and companies, unregulated markets, more choices, and further right free market without any control that is savage and rough market. Milton Friedman would lean to the right, and general Pinochet, ex-dictator from Chili, would be on the extreme right.
  • On the vertical axis the difference between libertarian and authoritarian. Fascism on the top, like Hitler, the more control the better, and liberalism on the bottom. That would suit Bentham and the hedonists for example. Ghandi and Friedman would be both social liberals, while one would lean to the left: Gandhi, and the other to the right: Friedman proclaiming both individual freedom and fiscal freedom.

This chart could summarise both parameters:

Now, test yourself and know where you are

The source for the previous graph is a very recommended link: http://www.politicalcompass.org/

In that page there is a questionnaire that you can complete. It’s made up of six pages, each one with a series of questions that will challenge both your political and economical views. And then locate you in the two dimensional space.

That’s what I’ve done. I’ve just completed the political questionnaire on http://www.politicalcompass.org/questionnaire. That was funny so I just thought I’d share my results with you 😉

To my surprise, these were my coordinates:

  • Economic Left/Right: 0.25
  • Social Libertarian/Authoritarian: -2.87

What amazes me most is that I’ve always thought that centrism was a myth. Or at least a psychological effect: people would tend to think they were “in the middle” regardless of their views. How could anyone not agree with the affirmation “I am a reasonable human“? Even with the alternative one: “I am an unbiased observer of reality“?

Well, probably the test is wrong, but it put me on the center, right in between left and right. Am I the sole centrist that I know? Should I be analysed? Who knows…

And regarding the social scale, I’d be on the liberal zone, half way to anarchism, I guess that would be libertarian.

If you draw the coordinates, the blue point, I fall somewhere in between Gandhi and Milton Friedman, an funny mix. Still unsure of what that means to my future development as a human, I’ll have to think further about that.


12 thoughts on “Finding myself in the political compass (aka different kinds of liberals)

  1. gasdocpol says:

    When Cheney meets privately with the likes of Kenneth Lay to hand pick energy regulators in California , that is not in my humble opinion promoting free markets.

    Lying us into the Iraq mess does not sound very conservative to me.

    People who are secure in their heterosexuality do not feel threatened by same sexcivil union.

  2. And yet he labels himself as a liberal, probably because he sees himself as part of the market, not as part of an interventionist state, and he is talking about energy he envisions himself as a “market maker”, not a regulator.
    Can you feel threatened by same sex marriages (in Spain we have same sex marriages not civil unions) and at the same time be a liberal? Well, so many politicians do.

    With this post I’m trying to make people think and open questions over well-established labels. The idea of having two axis: one over social issues, the other over economic issues, is just a way to offer a methodology to analyse two different kinds of liberality. I’m sure there must be more than two dimensions to it.
    In fact, that’s quite the point. Do not believe in labels or brands. No one owns ideas or ideals. Just try to think by yourself and try to see further the appearances. And you’ll be surprised how, in human beings, the process of lying begins when you start lying to yourself. 🙂

    Best regards


  3. gasdocpol says:

    I am fascinated by your matrices and I will get back to them.

    We need both true Liberals and true Conservatives. The Neocons that put Bush in the White House have given Conservatives a bad name.

  4. Hmmm…I’ve got these scores:

    Economic Left/Right: 0.75
    Social Libertarian/Authoritarian: 0.36

    Probably these numbers fit with my position, but I have several doubts on the methodology they’ve used and the meaning of these scores. Nevertheless it’s an interesting exercise.

    One last word: in the States a liberal is a person closer to left-wing opinions (specially regarding issues like abortion, civil rights or homosexuality) , whereas in Europe is associated to Tatcherites (in other words, economic freedom).

  5. I suggest trying the “World’s smallest political quiz”, which is a very simple quiz, and I find more accurate then the more complex “political compass”.

  6. Gabriel,

    Congratulations for your excelent post.

    We should be very careful when using the terms liberal and libertarian in English, as usually they have opposite meanings depending at which side of the Atlantic Ocean your are.

    The European Liberalism, the liberalism of the old Whigs are the American Libertarians, and aren’t represented by any of the two main parties, that is, the Republicans are not libertarians in the US sense nor liberals in the old continent use of the term.

    On the other hand, American Liberals aren’t represented by any significant party in Europe, but the term is equivalent to Democrats in the States.

    To clarify, from now on I will use the term liberal in the European sense.

    I think that in the US, such party doesn’t exist because the liberalism is in the foundations of its Constitution and its Democracy, imperfect, of course beceause everything that is human it’s in essence imperfect (and the recognition of that is precisely one of the ideas of the liberalism).

    About conservatism and liberalism, I strongly recommend the addenda that Hayek incorporated to his book The Constitutions of Liberty, titled “Why I am not a Conservatist” (I’m sorry if doesn’t match with the original because my book it’s in Spanish and this is a translation of a translation. Well, I recommend reading the entire book, but in that particular chapter a description is made of socialists, conservatists and liberals, and explain also why liberals are not in the middle. Just as the test try to capture. In fact, another of his essays, Road to serfdom, is dedicated to “the socialists of all parties”.

    Two more things that I think should be clear. One is that being liberal doesn’t mean you don’t have strong moral sentiments and stick to them. That’s not liberalism but relativism.

    Another is that being liberal, in the classic way, doesn’t imply a strong believe in the “laissez faire”. Liberals believe that some State is necessary but insist in that should be subject to strict control, because the harm the Government can inflict to a Society is huge.

    I’ve found in your post the inspiration I was lacking this week, so I think I will elaborate this on my blog as soon as I find the time if you don’t mind. (Anyway I almost write a post instead of a comment!)

    Best regards,

  7. Thanks a lot for your post.

    When I think of liberalists and libertarians I usually think of the economic meaning of those ideas, more than the whole political concept. There are so many things that I’m grasping but I still have to comprehend. The history of economic thought makes me read a lot. I’ve read Robert Nozick, Ludwig von Mises from the Austrian School or George Reisman Nobel Laureate and his huge treatise on capitalism, so now I’m worried I could be leaning, or heading towards one side.

    Wish I had more time and could read more than I do, but you’ve awaken my curiosity so I’m going to add Hayes to my list just after finishing Friedman. (Which will be this weekend while flying and waiting at airports probably)

    As you said your comment is worth a post. And I will be there to read it. That was in fact the intention of mine: there are some “labels” that many people use for their purposes, but there’s a lot of thought behind them, and a lot of humanity and its story behind them. We must not trivialise them and treat them as brands but try to understand them, their reasoning, and use them to be able to think wider, deeper and construct our own thought and our own opinion.

    And then share it with others, not to convince or to get votes, as other do, but as to follow the longer than life, harsh but also pleasurable and highly rewarding path to knowledge.

    Thanks again to all for your comments. I’m learning a lot with you, and there isn’t anything more internet 2.0 than learning.

  8. Pingback: Reír « D.T.L.F. @ INSEAD

  9. Loved your post & responses.
    “…to follow the longer than life, harsh but also pleasurable and highly rewarding path to knowledge.”
    Exactly my sentiments & I’m a Leftist Libertarian…whatever that label means:)
    Congrats too on the centrist viewpoints – just seems v level headed to me
    V. impressed with your reading list – for a working, studying, blogging guy you seem to do it all!

  10. Thanks a lot for the kind comments 🙂 I only have one thing to say to that: I love learning, and I always seem to find time for things I love doing, don’t know why. (And congratulations for sharing your part of the adventure through your blog too 🙂

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