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.