Ideology Cannot Be Linear

Ideology Cannot Be Linear

In this day and age, we are all very accustomed to the idea of left versus right in terms of the political/ideological spectrum. Traditionally, we are taught that those on the left, the so-called liberals, encourage high government spending on social programs and socially liberal government policies and laws, while those on the right, the conservatives, discourage spending, favor business and military spending, and promote more restrictive or conservative policies and laws. This dichotomy (left v. right) has its origins in revolutionary France, when the members of the National Assembly were arranged into supporters of the monarchy on the right (of the king) and supporters of revolution on the left. When the French Revolution came into full swing, the new Legislative Assembly found moderates seated in the center, “innovators” sat on the left (of the center), and “conscientious defenders of the constitution” were seated on the right. This left-versus-right dichotomy became increasingly prevalent in the mid-19th century with the rise of Marxism as an ideology, and probably entered the common parlance (at least in the European languages) around the turn of the 20th century.

Whatever the history of the currently-popular political spectrum, its linearity is misleading in that it is used to broadly apply to a number or collection of issues that are not actually dichotomous in the way in which individuals perceive them. While this set of issues differs from place to place and country to country, most countries today have a few sets of issues in common that are associated with one or another aspect on the spectrum. These issues would include gay rights, the legality of abortion (or lack thereof), the role of religion in society, military expenditure relative to national wealth/income, the use of tax breaks versus public welfare programs, and the emphasis on/preference for large or small business. Generally-speaking, people are led to believe that the majority of individuals identifying as one side or another on the political spectrum will have a particular preference in common depending on the side, with moderates taking a somewhat middle approach to addressing these issues in contrast to more extreme approaches on the left and the right. We are led to believe that those on the far or fringe right are akin to Nazis and are quite often hardcore racists and survivalists, whose views are ultranationalistic, fascist, or reactionary. We are also led to believe that those on the far left are Communists, anarchists, or radicals whose aims are to radically upend the social order and effect dramatic political change in favor of egalitarianism. Our experiences contribute to our understanding that either extreme can and does lead to terrorism.

But that’s not where the commonalities end. Both ends of the political spectrum have two major approaches to government: Facists and ultranationalists tend to promote the dominion of the State as ultimate authority and representative of the people; Communists and radicals promote the State as the ultimate expression of the will of the people and preach subservience of the individual to the will of the group (i.e. the State). Some survivalists and reactionaries abhor government, particularly many modern forms, and advocate a retreat from all centralized government and promote self-reliance and subsistence living; anarchists exhibit a similar abhorrence of government (albeit for different reasons) and not only promote a retreat from centralized government but its destruction as an institution.

The funny thing about all this is that, in the broadest sense and in terms of practical application, on a linear spectrum, a Communist becomes a Fascist the moment he starts caring only about his own people, and a Fascist becomes a Communist the moment he starts considering the welfare (or at least the utility) of other people in addition to his own.

A linear understanding of political ideology will lead to such obvious paradoxes. Facists certainly do not share the same social or ideological principles as Communists, or at the very least the two groups will have two very distinct answers to the same questions of principle.

While one’s general secular social outlook and perspectives may color the way in which one tends to perceive questions of principle and responses to issues, a number of other influences inevitably play significant roles (some greater than others, and some greater even than one’s social outlook/perspectives) on the way in which one perceives questions of principle and responses to issues. One’s moral and/or religious outlook/interpretations, or lack thereof, would be expected to have a great influence on one’s political perceptions. One’s cultural identity would as well (for instance, in America, most individuals would not be ready to embrace a Communist approach to issues, even on the left, while many in Russia might be expect to do so, even in Russia’s right wing). One’s sexual orientation might affect perception on a specific issue but not on any others (see the Log Cabin Republicans for a seemingly paradoxical example – they are paradoxical only on a linear political spectrum).

In a nod to this realization, the mass media in recent years has begun referring to aspects of other political spectra, especially libertarians (traditionally socially liberal and fiscally conservative) but not so much populists (socially conservative and fiscally liberal). However, the as-yet consistent adherence to a linear political spectrum has caused the media to portray libertarians as a different brand or possibly more liberal form of conservative (i.e. moderate), which is an inaccurate characterization.

Additionally, where one is (i.e. where one lives as opposed to where one considers to be the homeland or home town) is likely to affect one’s political ideology: for instance, in the U.S., my opinions and perceptions tend to be centrist, only slightly left of center (or slightly right, depending on the particular spectrum and its emphasis on various issues) and borderline libertarian, but in Korea, my opinions and perceptions would be relative to my feelings for Korea, not the U.S., and I suspect that I would come out strongly on the right and probably borderline authoritarian.

Ultimately, it is evident that political ideology cannot be linear and should not be perceived even as two-dimensional; it is time we started thinking as such.


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