Big Head Press

L. Neil Smith's
Number 652, January 8, 2012

"The old-fashioned, traditional, right-left
spectrum doesn't work as a description of the
political world around us, and it never did."

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Political Geometry: A Lesson for the Media
by L. Neil Smith

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Attribute to L. Neil Smith's The Libertarian Enterprise

Like me, you may have noticed a lot of confusion, lately—some of it genuine, most of it pretty transparently affected—with regard to exactly where, on the traditional right-left political spectrum, Congressman, physician, and 1988-2012 Presidential candidate Ron Paul fits.

I decided to write this article when I was listening—rather painfully—to Dick Morris, floundering like a dying megatherium in the La Brea tar pits as he tried to pin down Ron Paul's philosophical identity. The politically "flexible" Mr. Morris (we first heard of him as a Clinton advisor; these days he seems to think he has something to teach Republicans) is a pundit's pundit, a wonk's wonk, and a moron's moron. He doesn't have a clue what the real political landscape looks like.

Most individuals, I gather, tend to think of Dr. Paul as some kind of conservative—perhaps a member of the Old School, in the style of Barry Goldwater or Robert Taft—while others are convinced he's a libertarian.

However a few—Newt Gingrich, for example—owing to Paul's views on issues like the War on (Some) Drugs and bringing our troops home from Afghanistan and a hundred-odd other countries, have claimed that Dr. Paul belongs somewhere to the left of Barack Hussein Obama, although that involves a number of misperceptions, among them that the left in general are this nation's advocates for peace, when in fact every war in the 20th century except the last two, was started by Democrats.

But Gingrich holds this somewhat bizarre opinion, or at least he expresses it in public, I suspect, because he either doesn't know, or is desperate not to acknowledge what he, himself is. Newt Gingrich is a genuine, full-blown, 24 karat—but then, I'm getting ahead of myself.

Let's get something straight, once and for all. And if you take nothing else away from this article, take this: the old-fashioned, traditional, right-left spectrum doesn't work as a description of the political world around us, and it never did. It offers us no real information and it creates a great deal of confusion, exactly as intended.

Although it purports to show us an entire universe of thought that stands between the most right wing position that can be taken (usually that of Hitler and the Nazis), and the most left wing position that can be taken (usually that of communists like Mao Ze Dong), there are a great many very real entities in a very real political world that simply don't fit on that spectrum, and others that are in the wrong place. As the great libertarian teacher Robert LeFevre pointed out decades ago, there is no position on the spectrum where you won't get taxed.

Adolf Hitler, for example, was a man of the left, the word "Nazi" being an abbreviation (in German) for "National Socialist Workers' Party". There are a lot of people, mostly socialists, who don't want to believe that, but it's undeniably true. The fasces, emblem of Benito Mussolini's Italy (which Hitler, many seem to have forgotten, or never knew, admired greatly and tried to emulate), the axe with rods bound to it to make its handle stronger, is a symbol of left wing collectivism.

When I took my one and only Political Science course in college, in 1966, the instructor told us that when certain opinions show up in the polls he and his colleagues conduct—chiefly those of admirers of Ayn Rand, or followers of Henry George—their opinions have to be thrown out, since they don't fit anywhere on the traditional political spectrum.

This is science? When the data refuse to fit the model, throw out the data, rather than the model? If this is "science", it's exactly the same "science" that brought us Global Warming. And it is from at least forty years of corrupt, lazy, irresponsible academics like this poli-sci instructor that we get our present generation of news media "personalities".

Let's throw out the model, instead, and see what happens.

Imagine a triangle, with a lower right corner, a lower left corner, and a corner, or apex, at the top. Even at this stage—when the picture is far from complete—such a diagram comes closer to representing the real shape of our political landscape than a simple line.

Label the right-hand corner paternalistic. Those who occupy this corner, and the positions they take, tend to be autocratic, strongly oriented to the past, concerned with what they believe (often falsely) is history and tradition, and with, above all, punishment, which they offer as a cure for every social ill. Their mysticism tends to focus mostly on an ancient, angry father-god. In their view, others should be adequately organized, even regimented, properly disciplined, and controlled. They maintain a posture of perpetual threat-display. People of the right either want to be spanked, or to do the spanking, themselves.

Think of the patrician George F. Will or the late William F. Buckley.

Individuals who occupy the left-hand corner are inclined to be maternalistic, majoritarian—as long as the vote goes their way— oriented toward the present (they call it "living in the now"), and prone to medicalizing social problems and "healing" everybody whether they wish to be "healed" or not. They substitute animism and other mystical nonsense for traditional religion. They believe people must be watched over, taken care of, institutionalized, and medicated. When their veneer of altruism is stripped away, they become hysterical and violent. People of the left either want to be mommied, or to be Mommy, themselves.

Think of Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid, or the repulsive Elizabeth Warren.

Inhabitants of the upper corner of the triangle typically think of themselves as self-determined, self-motivated, individualistic, and oriented toward the future. It is less common for them to be mystical or religious than otherwise. They display a live-and-let-live attitude of respect toward others—believing they should be left alone rather than meddled with—and favor restitution rather than punishment or therapy in the case of wrongdoing. The other two positions, right and left, are basically infantile. The apex is the only place for real adults.

Good examples would be LeFevre, Robert A. Heinlein, or Dr. Mary Ruwart.

It should be reasonably clear by now that the left-hand corner is where socialism lives—if you want to call it living—the ethical view that the rights of the group come before those of the individual. However the right-hand corner is often misidentified, as with the case of Mussolini, Hitler, and the Nazis. Look over the characteristics associated with it: the correct political expression of the right is monarchism. Long after revolutions in the 18th and 19th centuries, loyal advocates of the king are still out there, pressing his royal case.

But sometime in the early 20th century, somebody (German political theorists, according to LeFevre) noticed that socialism never works. Think about Lenin's murderous reign in Russia, or about Mexico, which most people aren't aware experienced the world's first authentic communist revolution under Emiliano Zapata. All that socialism ever seems capable of producing, in the end, is poverty, starvation, and mass-executions.

Despite its obvious faults, the right—monarchism—does work. (There's something that works better, but remember for the moment that we're dealing with theorists who had no use for individual liberty.) Under right wing rule, peace is possible (socialism is only happy when it's at war), poverty is relatively scarce, progress grinds on, slowly but steadily, and a limited amount of freedom is permissible to the people. Historians consider 19th century England to have been a golden era.

Those German theorists must have asked themselves, what if you combined the best features of socialism with the best features of monarchism, in effect generating a fourth corner and squaring the political triangle? You could have elected monarchs, whose first priority, of course, would be the nation's social welfare. But you could encourage the illusion of private ownership of the means of production, under which the so-called owners, poor dumb suckers, bore the liabilities of ownership, while government directed and controlled the enterprise through regulations, and skimmed the profit off as taxation.

What the theorists got instead was crony capitalism, from Krupp to Halliburton, a direct descendant of 19th century British mercantilism that Adam Smith complained about in Wealth of Nations, plus a sick obsession, driven by "social welfare" considerations, with eugenics, culminating ultimately in ethnic cleansing and genocide. And instead of world peace, they inherited the left wing's penchant for war and conquest.

Mussolini, Hitler, and all the rest were socialists, but of a new stripe, a compromise combining not the best aspects (there aren't any) but the worst aspects of both systems, the mutant spawn of left wing majoritarianism and right wing authoritarianism, who call themselves fascists.

Today's fascists include embarrassments like Newt Gingrich, Rick Perry, anyone who ever bossed or worked for the Department of Homeland Security or the Transportation Safety Administration, and every single politician who voted for the USA Patriot Act or the National Defense Authorization Act. If you understand that to mean I'm equating them to Adolf Hitler, you're absolutely right. It can happen here, and it has.

It's always gratifying when a theory receives validation from a new and unexpected direction. Sometime after I learned so much from LeFevre, two home-grown theorists, freedom activist Marshall Fritz, and David F. Nolan, founder of the Libertarian Party, drew a graph in which one axis showed how much individual liberty any given political arrangement permitted, while the other axis showed how much economic freedom. Rotating the square 45 degrees, up onto one corner, gave them the diamond-shape that we now know as "The World's Smallest Political Quiz".

The left, as might have been predicted, seem to be more tolerant of individual, personal liberty than the right, but are contemptuous of the market and have little or no use for economic freedom. The right, on the other hand, favor what they believe is economic freedom, but can't stay out of people's bedrooms, and when they can, suppress individual liberty. Those at the bottom corner, whom Fritz and Nolan called "populists" are actually fascists, who would destroy both kinds of freedom.

If you favor high degrees of individual liberty and economic freedom, then you're headed for the libertarian corner of the graph. And if you're willing to abide by the Zero Aggression Principle, under which you pledge never to initiate force against another human being for any reason, nor to advocate or delegate the initiation of force, then you've hit the apex, the very pinnacle of political and ethical existence.

Ron Paul hasn't quite made it up to the apex yet. But over the 35 years since I first met him, at a sparsely attended breakfast speech he gave at the Libertarian Party national convention at the Sheraton Palace hotel in San Francisco in 1977, the man has gradually climbed closer. His foreign policy very clearly reflects the Zero Aggression Principle.

Heinlein, whose personal journey from socialism to libertarianism was even longer and more arduous, observed that there are two kinds of people in the world: those who believe that other people should be controlled, and those who do not. Dr. Paul is clearly in the second category.

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