Renaming the paradigm *UPDATED*

I’ve decided it’s time to jettison entirely the words “Left” and “Right” when used with reference to political ideologies. I came to this conclusion after a very interesting discussion with my mother. While we were talking about the military Junta in Burma, she let drop the fact that she believes that all tyrannies come from the political Right.

I was taken aback, especially when my mother explained to me that the Soviets, Nazis and Italian Fascists were all tyrannies from the Right. I could understand her confusion about the Nazis and the Italian Fascists — after all, Jonah Goldberg wrote a whole book trying to educate people out of their confusion on this subject — but her statement about the Soviets perplexed me.

Further questions and answers elicited this line of circular reasoning, which I’m absolutely certain is not unique to my mother: All military dictatorship are, by definition, from the Right. Socialism, which is by definition from the Left, is an economic and class theory that does not have anything to do with the military. If it were properly applied, the military (or the police) would not be involved in a country’s repressive governance. If a country becomes repressive, it must mean that the Socialism has been wrongly applied. And repression, by its nature, especially with police power behind it, is a Right wing phenomenon — with the Nazis as her example. The fact that the Nazis were socialists was irrelevant to her, because they were failed socialists — they’d moved right when they became militaristic. Nothing I said about history and labels shook her from this circular reasoning.

Because my mother holds these beliefs (and, as I said, I’m sure she’s not alone in them), the fact that American conservatives are denominated as the political “Right” is, to her, proof positive that, if Republicans become dominant, America will become a country governed by a military tyranny. (And this, of course, is precisely what the hysterical “Left” keeps predicting will occur.)

I offered my mother a different way to view the “Left” and “Right” divide, and one that reassured her that she will not be hunted down by the State police for having “wrong” thoughts, a la 1984. I told her that it would be more accurate to define tyrannical systems as “Statist” — that is, they have political systems that vest all power in reside in the state. Whether it’s a military dictatorship, a religious dictatorship, or a Marxist dictatorship, individual citizens have no rights. All power rests in the state.

Mom was readily able to acknowledge that this definition provides a unifying thread for repressive governments, whether one looks at Soviet Russia (or Putin’s Russia), Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy, Cuba, Burma, Argentina, Iran, North Korea, or anywhere else, now or in the past. In each case (and this again harks back to Goldberg’s points), the repression arises when the state, not the individual, becomes dominant. Power resides in the state, people must conform to the state’s desires, and non-conformists are punished swiftly and brutally. As I said to her, the state has no conscience.

Keeping this definition in mind, I asked her to look at the American political parties, Democratic and Republican. Again, she was able to concede that it is the Democrats who seek to consolidate more and more power in the state. They want to gather medical care under the state’s umbrella; they want to expand the reach of public education with mandatory preschool; they want to increase taxes so that the state decides how money is spent, rather than individuals; they want to limit parental decision making with regard to children; they want to control what we can hear on the radio; etc.

Although everything the Democrats seek is phrased in loving terms (“the state will take care of you”), the fact remains that, by electing Democrats, people will cede more and more power to the State. Envisioning this scenario, my mother also agreed that, once the state has that power, it keeps it — and it keeps even it if less beneficent people than our good, nanny-like Democrats are in charge. Also, with the DMV as an example (sorry DMV employees), she acknowledged that, despite the good individuals that may work in a government organization, large government entities such as the DMV are, as often as not, inefficient bullies.

Once I’d wrung all these concessions from my Mom, I dragged her over to the Republican side of things: While Republicans may pine for old-fashioned morality, and while a lot of Republican Congresspeople have distinguished themselves by being pigs at the taxpayer trough, the purer form of Conservatism is obsessed with less government, not more. It wants lower taxes; less government involvement in education and family matters; more market freedom for decisions about insurance and retirement; and free speech on the radios, just to name a few issues.

Conservatives want to contract the power of the Federal government, not expand it, because they have recognized that tyrannies, regardless of the political ideology that powers them, are Statist. Republicans, I said, are Individualists. Given the opportunity to shape this country’s politics, they are the ones who are least likely ones to lead America into the tyrannical, militaristic regime she fears.

It was quite an amazing conversation because, by the end, she really grasped the difference between Left and Right. Right is not Nazis and Fascists and failed Communist states. In America, Right is about individual rights, and Left is about Statism — and it is Statism that, when it runs amok, is dangerous.

Anyway, because of the fact that this type of confusion has poisoned the meaning of these commonly used political terms, I think it’s more accurate to describe the two American ideologies as Statist and Individualist — and I know on which side of the political aisle I want to reside.

UPDATE:  My thoughts on this subject have been affected by growing up with an ex-Communist father (who voted for Reagan), by all the reading I’ve done lately and, especially, by Jonah Goldberg’s book.  What I’ve since learned, though, is that I could have taken a shorthand approach to all of this.  Science fiction writer Jerry Pournelle, back in 1963, created a chart that shows differing political behaviors and, having defined those behaviors, then places on the chart the various political ideologies.

This is a smart way to do things because, instead of looking at the way in which any given ideologue defines and boasts about his politics (Soviets loved to talk about “freedom”), it looks at where those ideologies actually fit in a behavioral chart.  Enjoy the chart, but don’t take the wiki article too seriously.  Mr. Pournelle has tried to correct errors there, and been rebuffed.  Apparently the wiki editors think they understand his theory better than he does.

Mr. Pournelle blogs here, putting up links to articles and blogs that interest him.

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  • Richard Disney

    Brilliant illustrations and step by step explanation of the base philosophy driving modern Liberals/Progressives. I have had similar conversations with people using many of the same word references you have in your post. Although I also use the word Stateism to describe the detestable idea of empowering the State for the “good of the People,” I think the clearest comparison on a philosophical basis is Individualism versus Collectivism. When every individual has the right to life, liberty and property, every one is free whether he lives alone, in a tribe, or in a gigantic nation-state. When any group takes precedent over the Individual, nobody is free whether the group is a neighborhood gang, a tribe, a religion or a nation-state. It could be Tribalism, or Religionism, or “Gangism”, but it is all Collectivism.

    Thank you for this outstanding post that I will refer to many people.

  • Richard Disney

    Nazis, Fascists, Socialists and Communists are all Marxists and are all Collectivists.

  • echeccone

    There is no question that German Nazism, Italian Fascism, Japanese Militarism, Soviet Communism and Chinese Maoism are similar in that the individual was subordinated in varying respects to the state. But the differences amongst these ideologies are actually quite great and subtle–there are truly libraries full of books written on the distinctions amongst these ideologies. For example, Soviet and Chinese style socialism, which arose out of revolutions, called for the eradication of private property, which the Axis powers, whose right-wing leadership arose out of democratic elections, did not. In fact, the German, Italian and Japanese experience included a close cooperation between private companies and the government, which can be termed corporatism but hardly leftist socialism. Actually, Gramsci’s brand of socialism (Marxism light) was a direct reaction to his recognition that Italy was moving toward fascism. Note also that fascism itself was a reaction to the abuses of foreign states that controlled Italy prior to its reunification in the late nineteenth century. Clearly, all of these ideologies did not elevate the individual as Jefferson’s vision of America did; however, the extent of Rome’s centralization of power in WWII was actually less than what we see in America today.

    While I appreciate Bookworm’s sentiment that Jefferson’s vision of America is perhaps the ideal, it is hardly in step with the modern GOP. Republicans have pushed for a strong executive branch in a way that Democrats never have (e.g., Nixon, Reagan, G.W. Bush). Moreover, the consolidation of power by the GOP at the national level in all three branches of government (until the loss of Congress in ’06) lead to the party encroaching on states’ rights on numerous occasions. This suggests that the GOP’s commitment to states’ rights earlier in the 20th century was less motivated by political ideals than by the political reality that state government was their only source of power. Those that are committed to limited government are called Libertarians, and they tend to have an uneasy relationship with the GOP for obvious reasons.

    Finally, I would point out that the leftist forms of tyranny actually have led to greater loss of life than the right-wing forms, as Stalin and Mao each killed many more of their own citizens than Hitler did. For partisan reasons, perhaps Bookworm should keep the old left-right monikers afterall. But what these extremes have to do with Dems and Repubs is beyond me…

  • Mike Devx

    Hello, Book,

    There are paradoxes in trying to describe Liberals as statist and Conservatives as individual rightists.

    The paradoxes tend to be exposed when examining the issue of values and morality.

    Think of your readership here, Book, that consider themselves religious. Not merely spiritual, but religious – and primarily Christian.

    We begin with abortion. What could be more aligned with “individual rights” than a woman’s right to choose? It is conservatives, largely, who want state control over termination of pregnancy.

    It gets murky because a birthed baby is clearly an individual, and at some point while a fetus it clearly is already an individual as well. Many religious folk identify that point as the point of conception; others wait until the fetal cells have begin clear differentiation of function; others to detectable brain activity or heartbeat, etc, etc.

    I believe we’re approaching 30 million abortions in this country since Roe vs Wade. Isn’t that an astonishing number? It is chilling to me and I completely understand and sympathize with those who view it with horror and who call it “The American Genocide”. I personally am completely comfortable with making abortion illegal… as long as the morning after pill is available. As time passes (and I grasp more and more the scope of the idea of 30 million abortions), my position hardens, to the point where even for cases of rape and incest, I would give the women, victims, less than a week to take action, or to unfortunately be required to deliver the baby, probably with an end result of adoption.

    The concept of 30 million abortions since Roe v Wade causes me to accept the idea of “A Culture of Death” and that we have one, and that widespread ennui and nihilism are results.

    Beyond abortion, the religiously faithful want their laws to be closely identified with moral precepts from their faith. You can see this most clearly in the “Blue Laws” that have restricted many things on Sundays. However, “crunchy-conservatives” scare the holy hell out of me, because as “stewards of the earth” they intend to rule every aspect of my life as God’s Chosen Environmentalists. Once they ally with the far-left, Annie Grab Yer Guns, because the war will be on.

    In general, though, I support the idea that communities of faith are very strong and I trust them much more than I trust secular communities. Take any poor community that is thriving and you will find that at its core lies faith. These communities have hope precisely because they remain religiously faithful. To the extent that a rich community appears to be just a hollow shell, ready for total collapse, you will find I think that the more hollow and empty they are, the more secular they are. I have decided that religious faith is again the sustainer of community and civilization, and that secularization inevitably leads to collapse.

    These conclusions that I’ve adopted are clearly a statist view to me. They’re totally at odds with my self-image as a libertarian devoted to Individual Rights. It does seem paradoxical to me and I can’t explain it away.

    Spengler has a lot to say on his website about the importance of the people’s faith to the survivability of a nation’s civilization and culture. And not just their faith, but their very belief that God that takes an active interest in their well-being.

    Where faith is absent or shallow, birth rates plummet. The religiously faithful simply have a lot of kids while the secular do not (there are exceptions, but on the average the correlation is very strong). The suicide rate is highest in secular countries, lowest in countries where religious faith is high.

    So I guess in sum I generally agree with the idea that the left is Statist and the right is Individualist. And most of the time the religious are individualist too, because at the core salvation is a personal, individual experience, and that is why on the right we have a common alliance between libertarians and the religious. But in many cases – and they may be the crucial cases – there are Statist impulses on the right that may very well be the root of why the right promotes civilization, and the left causes its decay.

  • Friend of USA

    “…reassured her that she will not be hunted down by the State police for having “wrong” thoughts, a la 1984.”

    Well it is – to an extent – already happening here in Canada and it is NOT the right that is behind it,

    It is a somewhat long story but I’ll try to keep it short,

    some people have been “dragged” in front of Human rights commissions in Canada for certain ” thought offenses”.

    The most talked about cases on the internet being Ezra Levant for publishing in his magazine the Mohamed cartoons and McCleans magazine ( oldest Canadian magazine) for publishing Mark Steyn who in turn simply quoted European Imams.

    Most complaints come from immigrants, Muslims, gays and other darlings of the left, while the “accused” are almost always some of the people the left is at war with such as the Catholic church, someone with conservative views et cetera…

    You have to know that the plaintifs do not have to spend one cent of their own money, the state pays for everything while the “accused” has to spend large sums to retain the services of a lawyer.

    And unfair situation that favors the plaintif…

    It does not matter if the “accused” in the end wins, spending large sums is a punishement in itself.

    And in a certain category of complaint ( section 13.1 … I f I am not mistaken? ) there is a 100% conviction rate!
    yes a one hundred percent conviction rate… remember this is not Iraq under Saddam but Canada!

    Our own conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper has said – a few years ago before he got elected – that he opposes those human rights courts because they go against the Canadian Charter of rights!

    All those who think the American right/ Republicans want to create a 1984 state where we are hunted down for our thoughts should visit a few Canadian sites such as Ezra Levant’s or Mark Steyn where they can learn more about it.

    It will give them a taste of what could come to the USA someday if you let the leftists/liberals have their way…

  • Oldflyer

    Echeccone, you are obviously well read and conversant with the subject of political movements. But, like many academics (are you one?) you dazzle us with your brilliance, in order to slip in an unsubstantiated zinger.

    There is simply no justification to your assertion that Nixon, Reagan, Bush, i.e.; GOP Presidents, have . . . pushed for a strong Executive as the Democrats never have. When you considered Democrats, I presume you overlooked FDR, who is the all-time champion in the “Accretion of Executive Power Derby”. In second place I would consider LBJ who consistently browbeat the Congress to his will; the expansion of the bureacracy directly resulting from his War on Poverty was massive. The impetus behind that expansion still skews political thinking to this day.

    As one with Libertarian sentiments, I cannot help but note the the inexorable movement is to larger government at all levels, regardless of the distribution of power between parties; and I see nothing that will reverse this trend. Simply put, the mass is now so great that the People who oppose the movement cannot muster the level of motivation and energy necessary to reverse it.

    Back to the discussion. I once read that the political continuum should be viewed as a circle as viewed from a democratic perspective (small d) rather than a straght line, because if you go far enough in either direction you end up in the same place; despotism.

  • Danny Lemieux

    Echeccone, you make the salient point that the relations between the German Nazi and Italian Fascist and “private” enterprise were different than they were under Communism. So, I agree with you, they were.

    However, recognize that “private” enterprise in the former was tightly controlled and managed by the State, with such control addressing management decisions, corporate goals (in alignment with State-mandated objectives) and State (not market)-dictated rates of profitability. Under communism, all semblence of private connection to industry was severed, although the nomenklatura (elite) minority benefited disproportionately from “State” economic activity.

    As to private property “rights”, I doubt that they really amounted to much in Nazi Germany or Fascist Italy – the governments pretty much disposed of private property rights as they saw fit. There was no venue against which to seek redress against the State.

    So, are these relatively minor difference in economic management the only fundamental difference that you can define between National Socialism, Fascism and Communism? If so, it hardly disqualifies Bookworm’s thesis.

    To Oldflyer’s list of Democrats famous for abusing centralized executive power I would also add Woodrow Wilson (the 1918 Sedition Act) and Bill Clinton (Waco).

    Echeccone – would you care to share with us your well-documented list of exta-constitutional, power-centralizing acts by the Republican Presidents you named? Just curious, is all.

  • Bookworm

    Re comment 2: I agree, Richard. However, it’s become so common for people to call the the Nazis, et al, Right Wing (I just heard another example yesterday, but I’ve forgotten where), that my mother’s attitude wasn’t surprising. What was surprising was that she felt that Communists gone wrong were also Right Wing. To her, repression is always a Right Wing problem.

    Re comment 4: Mike, as you know, I’m pro-choice, although less pro-choice than I ever imagined I would be. Having had children takes that abstract fetus and sticks a face on it. Having grown older also makes me more demanding about responsibility, including not just birth control, but also abstinence. (That last may also be because I have a daughter. Mothers of daughters like abstinence.)

    Having said that, the abortion rights really isn’t a state control issue, because the question is a balancing of individual rights: mother’s versus child’s. It’s also a balancing of governmental powers: the power of the individual states v. the power of federal government.

    Right now, as a result of Roe v. Wade, the balance of power has come down on the side of the federal government, which in turn has opted for mother’s rights. Pro-choice people want to flip that power and those rights (state power favoring fetus rights), but that approach still would not impose a police state anywhere.

    Also, in terms of the balance of power factor, the pro-Choice people are the ones who are Constitutionally correct, which is that the Supreme Court, in Roe v Wade, created a Constitutional right where none existed so as to steal state power.

  • Helen Losse

    And where does the individual/statist divide fall with respect to public education? With the dreadful “Leave No Child Behind,” a taecher can never influence children with his/her strenghts because everyone must “teach to the tests.” Individual students, classrooms, teachers, grade levels, schools, principals, districts, etc. are ranked and given merits and demerits by these tests. Isn’t that statist? Gone are the days when the teacher who who taught third grade and was also an excellent gardener could draw up a spelling list (pansy, petunia, phlox, etc.) and teach science for two weeks while the class brought beauty to the school grounds and gained a sense of accomplishment in seeing a project from beginning to end. Isn’t it the right who came up with this nonsense?

  • Bookworm

    I’m entirely with you about the horrible lock step of public education, Helen. The only thing my children are really learning is how to game the system. They’ve mastered short term memorization for taking tests, they do the bare minimum required for any assignment (since assignments spell out carefully the bare minimum required), and they have lost interest in thinking.

  • jj

    Where does the individualist fall with regard to public education? Easy. The answer would be: why is there public education? They’re your kids – you educate them. Nobody told you to have them, but since you did, you feed them. You clothe them. You house them. You medicate them. You transport them. And you educate them – or at least you pay for all the above. You do – not me. They aren’t my kids.

    And if you can’t afford to do all the above, then keep your pants on and don’t have them, because if you can’t afford them you manifestly have little right to have them – and no right whatsoever to expect any of the rest of us to pay for any part of them.

  • Bookworm

    The problem, of course, jj, is that a successful country, but especially one in the modern era, needs an educated populace. It is in our national interest to have children who can master the three Rs, just as it is in our national interest to have functional freeways, clean water, and a military. However, with children there’s a tension about how to fulfill that national interest while still preserving the individualism of families. The answer, of course, is vouchers. Operating on the assumption that most parents want their children to achieve basic educational competency, the marketplace will push to the forefront those schools or methodologies that do the best job. But we’ll still spread at least some of the burden to the taxpayers because of that national, rather than individual, interest in an educated population.

  • Danny Lemieux

    Re. pro-choice versus pro-life, what hasn’t been mentioned is that is all about defining a “human being” and where it begins, not state control thereof. Once a human being is brought into existence (be it within or without the womb), the preamble to the Declaration of Independence applies with respect to the life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

    Many of the arguments in this thread with respect to education and the economy reflect a dichotomy between centralized State control and devolved control to the community and the individual.

    I would agree that “No Child Left Behind” reflects an increase in “Statism”. However, I would also argue that NCLB does not reflect a conservative philosophy (remember, Kennedy co-sponsored it). One of the big and (I believe, legitimate) gripes about GW Bush is that he has not be true to conservative principles on many issues.

    In defense of NCLB, however, I would propose that it mandates a uniform benchmark for school progress BECAUSE of the fact the education system has become so dependent upon the Federal Government ( a Liberal/Left policy position) and that the government is simply demanding accountability for federal spending (a conservative position). The NCLB does NOT mandate that teachers teach to the test, by the way. That is a local decision by teachers and still leaves plenty of flexibility in the curriculum for good teachers to teach. If POOR teachers teach to the test, a policy of “local control” would allow schools to be more selective in the quality of teachers they hire.

    BTW, Book, I disagree with the Pournelle diagram on a number of points, as follows:
    1. “Various” conservatives may love the idea of national identity (nationalism, patriotism) but that does not imply they love the idea of centralized State power. Quite the opposite.
    2. Conservatives are strong believers of State power in foreign policy – that does not equate to “Statism”.
    3. To peg “various conservatives” at the same “statist” level as Welfare Liberals is ludicrous.
    4. “Classic” anarchists I equate with Fascists seeking to destroy society’s institutions in order to implement their own order.
    5. The fact that Pournelle positions conservatives as more “irrational” than welfare Liberals is so counter-intuitive to historical reality that is destroys his credibility.
    6. There is no link here to “economics” ergo property rights, which is an underlying and fundamentally very important differentiation between “Left” and “Right”.

  • Bookworm

    I agree with your criticisms of that chart, Danny. What I liked about it was the way it focused first on behaviors, and then slotted the ideologies in place. There is a lot of room to negotiate about the ideologies, but it still represents an effort to examine what people do, rather than what they say they’ll do and how they label themselves.

  • Ymarsakar

    Republicans have pushed for a strong executive branch in a way that Democrats never have (e.g., Nixon, Reagan, G.W. Bush)

    Roosevelt and his concentration camps plus Truman and the use of nuclear bombs, read that over again as “nuclear bombs”, on civilian and military targets.

    This somehow compares to Nixon, Reagan, W Bush?

    Your sense of history, once again EC, lacks.

    Finally, I would point out that the leftist forms of tyranny actually have led to greater loss of life than the right-wing forms, as Stalin and Mao each killed many more of their own citizens than Hitler did.

    That might have had something to do with the fact that the US actively went to war to stop Hitler but just let Mao, Pol Pot, and Stalin do their thing for decades.

    There’s only so many people you can purge a day while waging a war at the same time and there’s only so many days in a month or a year to do it in.

    FDR was elected to 4 terms, people. That’s 4 times 4 equals 16 years and he would have been made President for Life had he not died in office. Regardless, it’s pretty bad policy and tradition to create such a precedent for the Presidency since any other President may just say “FDR got 16 years, why not me”.

    Clinton actually made some comments about “consecutive terms”.

    To Book,

    to me if you far enough to the Left, you hit the Far Right or what people see as the Far Right. But it’s all on the Left. If you go far enough on the right, you hit Leftists as well.

    So since no matter which direction you go, so long as you go far enough on it, you hit the same spot, then you only need to choose one direction, which is the Left for me, as the road to hell.

    Good work on your mother, Book, it must have taken awhile. The level of difficulty required to convince even a moderate classical liberal about totalitarian societies in the presence of early propaganda integration, is hard. It is literally impossible to convince anti-liberty people on the Left of the same.

    That little thing with brainwashing can cause large consequences further along in life.

    I would agree that “No Child Left Behind” reflects an increase in “Statism”.

    You had Ted “Splash in the Lake” Kennedy backing that Bill, Danny, what did you expect?

  • Ymarsakar

    What I liked about it was the way it focused first on behaviors, and then slotted the ideologies in place.

    I analyze Bush’s psychological profile on the same basis, Book. Meaning, I look at his behaviors first and then at his statements and claims.

    EC, on another thread, spoke about Bush believing in certain things about Watergate. I never go by that route, I much prefer looking at actual behavior and not bio-feedback psychological double mirrors about what people believe when you aren’t those people and can’t know what they believe, only what they say or do or what others say or do about them.

  • Ymarsakar

    Danny, what did you expect?

    Scratch that question, a better question would be why helen thinks Bush’s support of that is somehow the Right or conservative’s fault.

  • jj

    I would posit that the individual a hundred years, prior to general public education, ago was likely better educated in those old three Rs than what we turn out today.

    A hundred years ago those people who wrote (practically everyone) did it much better than people today – and more legibly, too. Most people can just about get through their names and addresses on paper these days. Math? Take away calculators and computers, and can today’s kids do math at a level above simple addition, subtraction, multiplication and division at all? As far as the third R is concerned, forget the kids: I own two dogs that are better read than most teachers today.

    (And frankly I don’t believe you believe it’s much otherwise.)

    If society needs an “educated populace” we are certainly NOT getting it from our public education system.

    We get them from where we always did. Davy Crockett did not learn to tame the wild in school. Most lawyers did not go to law school until recently, they apprenticed. There is not one kid flying or mechanic repairing an F-16 in Afghanistan who learned to do it in public school. There is not one guy driving a truck, engineering a train, repairing a highway, or building a skyscraper who learned to do it in public school. (And even the architect who conceived and designed the skyscraper learned more about it from working at a firm with experienced people than he did in school.)

    Accountants learned how to add in school. (Maybe.) They learned how to be accountants from other, older, accountants. Ditto bankers, tax collectors, car mechanics, stockbrokers, Bill Gates – pretty much whoever you care to look at.

    School was never intended to educate anyone. It was intended to give them a basis, and perhaps jump-start their intellectual curiosity. They learned whatever they actually needed to learn for themselves – always.

    I have made several trips through grad school, as did my brother; and neither of us ever darkened the door of a public institution a day in our lives. Our father, focusing in like a laser, noticed almost immediately after we were born that we were HIS kids. He therefore conceived that as his kids, we were his problem – to feed, house, clothe, etc. And he did it. (And at the same time he got to pay asinine taxes for other people’s kids.)

    If you cannot aford to buy, insure, fuel, and maintain a car – you do not own a car. If you cannot afford to buy, maintain, repair, and pay for a house, you do not own a house. If you cannot pay the phone bill, you don’t have a phone. If you cannot afford the electric bill, you have no lights. If you cannot afford to buy, clean, and maintain Armani suits, you dress from the collection at the House of Wal-Mart.

    Whether we want educated people or not (which we aren’t getting anyway) I don’t know where this attitude came from, or why it’s different than every other attitude. If you cannot afford to medicate, house, clothe, feed and educate a kid (analogous to paying for and maintaining a house, car, or anything else) than you cannot afford to have one, and you have no right at all to expect anyone else to pay for any part of it, any more than you have a right to expect other people to pick up your mortgage or put gas in your car.

  • Oldflyer

    What shallow thinking came up with the notion that a teacher has no recourse but to TEACH TO THE TEST because uniform standards for progress were established in certain core subjects? That is the kind of “Education Establishment” thinking that drives ordinary people crazy.

    In my life-long field, aviation, the government madates certain written tests. The tests have little to do with the requirements for the job, they mostly test arcane knowledte –and were just wickets to pass through. A whole industry developed to “TEACH TO THE TEST”. The difference between that industry and what we consider today, is that no one ever thought that this constituted education–or preparation to do the job. Equally, and this is the essential point, no one doubted that if a person devoted an appropriate effort to studying the subject matter, that individaul would pass the test. I actually did that on one test before I “got smart”. The Teach to the Test industry provided a quick and lazy way to get through a wicket. Since the FAA was completely aware of the practice, the whole business was essentially government sanctioned dishonesty.

    When Teachers follow the teach to the test path, they are essentially lazy and dishonest also.

    Is it too hard to understand the concept of “teach the subject–and the test will take care of itself”?

  • Bookworm

    Someone who is familiar with Pournelle’s thinking, but who couldn’t get the log-in to work on my comments, sent me this information:

    Hi, I don’t have the login to reply to your blog, but here are a couple of thoughts. Danny Lemieux gets something dramatically wrong. He states “The fact that Pournelle positions conservatives as more “irrational” than welfare Liberals is so counter-intuitive to historical reality that is destroys his credibility.” This is totally incorrect. What is meant by irrational isn’t that the people who believe this are irrational, but that their views of the nature of the universe are that it is irrational. What that means is that people who are high in the rational axis believe that changes to law and government incentives have predictable and reliable results, while people who are low on the rational axis believe in the law of unintended consequences. This brings us back to the bit about Pournelle trying to clarify his thoughts…

    Moreover, even at the time he said the chosen two criteria were selected mainly for the ability to separate major groups, not because he thought they were the most elegant choice otherwise.

  • suek
  • Danny Lemieux

    Book, I understand (and agree with) the point that your unnamed commentator makes.

    To clarify – I would agree that conservatives believe strongly in a highly complex (and chaotic) universe, but that this does not preclude a view of the universe being “rational”. I further agree that conservatives are considerably more humble about the ability of humans to effect major changes on society through social policy because of the law of unintended consequences.

    However, I would then have to propose that Fascism and Nazism were intensely and wickedly “rational” political movements that believed in the rational creation of utopian societies. The Nazi’s just happened to believe that certain human beings stood in the way of Utopia and had therefore to either be harnessed as slaves or destroyed – an intensely rational and amoral proposition. Nazism and Fascism should be moved to the upper-right quadrant, together with Liberal/Left welfare utopians.

    I hope that your reader manages to get through with his/her response.

  • Richard Disney

    I agree with you about Nazism and Fascism being very rational in their approach to achieving Utopia. Despite some arguments to the contrary above, I think the more one analyzes Socialism/Communism and Fascism/Nazism the more one sees that they are peas in the same pod. Even though the Nazis allowed some private ownership of the means of production to remain, the key point is that all of the above seek to control the means of production. Also all four movements just listed are excellent at “rationalizing” which individuals or groups stand in the way of “progress” toward Utopia. Once individual rights are subordinated to the good of the Collective, it is easy for the Collectivist leadership to rationalize eliminating those who stand in the Collective’s way. One could say that the only difference between National Socialism (Nazism) and International Socialism (Communism) is the scale upon which they operate.

  • Earl

    The Advocates for Self-Government, a libertarian group, have used a somewhat different chart – on which you can place yourself by taking “The World’s Smallest Political Quiz”… is my placement:

    You can find your own by clicking on Quiz up at the top, or just go here:

    I find this MUCH more helpful than Pournelle’s, but others may disagree. Take the quiz – you may be surprised by how libertarian you are!!

  • Bookworm

    Thanks for the link, Earl. I score big time as a libertarian, as you can see here. It’s not a surprise. I know I’ve been heading in that direction for a long time.

  • Helen Losse

    Cool test, Earl. I’m a liberal.

  • Ymarsakar

    Your PERSONAL issues Score is 60%.
    Your ECONOMIC issues Score is 80%.

  • Ymarsakar

    Btw, the html links you two are posting aren’t perma links.

  • Danny Lemieux

    And, speaking of the Fascist state, here’s Michael Novak’s view of Obamaworld. Brilliant, of course, because it tracks so closely with my view. ;-). I hope that he’s wrong.

  • suek

    I’ve come to the conclusion that it has to do with the population concentration centers – commonly called cities. In the early days of the nation, there was nothing but space…you did for yourself or you did without. When you concentrate people in a city, they can’t really do for themselves – the water system, the roads, the sewage system, the availability of food, the protection of the safety of the individual – all these things had to be done by the organization established as city government. Then it became a matter of “government” becoming less defined by local, state, federal – it was just “the government”. The “government” was supposed to fix problems for people. And eventually, it became what it is today – the mommy government. Self-sufficiency is no longer a virtue – in the city, it would cause chaos – unless you live out in the boonies. Even those people who _think_ they want to move out to the boonies then expect things to run like they did in the city. The weight of the population used to be primarily rural – these days, it’s primarily urban or suburban, hence the larger percent of the population expects the government to take care of them. Europe was always densely populated (at least within recent memory), and has always had the urban perspective.
    Remember the old story about the “Country Mouse, City Mouse”? In lots of ways, it describes what’s happened to the nation. Population density.

  • Danny Lemieux

    Interesting point, Suek. I think that you are on to something.

  • Richard Disney

    I agree with your overall premise as to why “citified” areas are more Collectivist and more Statist. That is why I am an advocate of State’s Rights and choose to live in a less densely populated, less taxed and more free state.

    I agree with the “why” of your comment as to the mentality that leads to dependence on “mommy government”, I just don’t agree with the mentality.

  • echeccone

    Oldflyer, I didn’t make the case for Democrats being necessarily less interested in centralizing power. In fact, I heed Lord Acton’s warning that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. My response is to Bookworm’s apparent point that all centralizing of power is by definition leftwing based. Maybe that wasn’t her point, but it is an oft-heard criticism of liberals even as conservatives has been as bad. I agree that FDR expanded executive power to unprecedented levels at that time, but the next zeniths occurred under Nixon, Reagan and Bush. There is an interesting article from John Dean, White House counsel under Nixon, to document his actions in this regard(, Reagan’s expansions began almost immediately with his intervention with airline traffic controllers and continued through the administration with the circumvention of a Congressional ban on intervening in Nicaragua (Iran-Contra). Bush’s expansion post 9/11 has made the others look rather wimpish and are so recent and well-reported that I need not repeat them here.

    Danny, I wasn’t saying that these actions were extra-constitutional, although I believe many of them were; these are constitutional issues to be debated by legal scholars and historians and decided by courts. This debate, if done in an intelligent and respectful way, is not only healthy but a necessary part of our country’s progress. It also is an old debate, with roots that date back at least to the country’s founding: you should read the following wonderful summary of the debate between Hamilton and Jefferson for context (; also, Ellis’ great little book, The Founding Fathers).

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  • David Foster

    echhecone…”Reagan’s expansions began almost immediately with his intervention with airline traffic controllers”….do.not.understand.

    First, they are not “airline traffic controllers,” they are “air traffic controllers”–they control air traffic of all types, not just airline traffic, and they are government employees, not airline employees.

    Given the the FAA is an executive department of the Federal Government (part of the Department of Transportation), how could it possibly be an expansion of executive power for the President to “intervene” in the operations of this agency?

  • boqueronman

    The familial bonds of authoritarian “left” and “right” are indissolubly linked. The terms “collectivist” and “individualist” seem more edifying because it allows so-called NGOs, labor unions and academics, now largely captured by collectivist forces, to be properly categorized. Remember that the terms “right” and “left” refer to political elements of the National Assembly after the French Revolution. To include any individualist philosophy – conservative (U.S. variety), libertarian or anarcho-capitalist – anywhere on the ideological spectrum of post-revolutionary France is obscuring rather than enlightening.

  • Richard Disney

    boqueronman, you have encapsulated very well why I now use “collectivist” and “individualist” to identify competing interests.

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