Saturday, January 06, 2007

The Nolan Chart: Do political labels matter?


Does it make sense to try to apply political labels?

At libertarian party booths at state fairs, it has been popular to offer passers-by the opportunity to take “The World’s Smallest Political Quiz” (offered by Advocates for Self-Government, in Catersville, GA, which I visited in 1998; link here: );, connected to a graphic object called the Nolan Chart, an explanation on Wikipeida here.

The conceot of a square with corners that correspond to Authoritarian, Conservative, Libertarian, and Liberal seems very neat. The idea of making a vector dot product of economic liberties with social liberties also sounds very straightforward.

I talked about this early in Chapter 5 of my first DADT book (the “manifesto” or “screed”), and again in Chapter 6. At other times, I speak loosely of conservatism, liberalism, and libertarianism as points of a triangle (not necessarily equilateral), as of authoritarianism could be easily discounted. Maybe not, as even Wikipedia associates authoritarianism with a false populism. And authoritarian societies follow several ideological models on their own, including Marxist-Lenin communism, fascism, and radical Islam (which can be seen as an odd mixture of fascism and communism, based on theology).

"Libertarian" would naturally comprise social and economic liberty. Conservatism would embrace social tradition and convention (emphasis on the nuclear family) and economic liberty. Liberalism (“the rope in sand” to the religious Right) would be the opposite. These are obvious over-simplifications, reinforcing political partisanship (counting votes instead of winning arguments). Ideologically, most of us would associate liberty today with some kind of progressivism and reform, an idea that Jesse Ventura tried to emulate when he won the governorship of Minnesota in 1998 for the Reform Party (which then went in wayward directions).

Various writers have proposed other decompositions. Andrew Sullivan, in his book Virtually Normally in the 90s, described social attitudes toward homosexuality in a fashion that parallels political paradigms: prohibitionist, liberationist, conservative, liberal. In The Conservative Soul (2006) he distinguishes fundamentalism, theoconservatism, and conventional conservatism.

One underlying concern is how burdens are to be shared. Liberals tend to stress group remedies, and conservatives tend to emphasize individual socialization through the family and church, with minimal government intervention. But this gets muddied when you talk about marriage. In Chapter 5 of The Manifesto, I suggested a kind of covenant marriage that could allow same-sex marriage. (That would include one per lifetime, elimination of no-fault divorce, and benefits to kick in only when there is at least one child or dependent elder relative.) It sounds moralistic, all right. Is it conservative or liberal? It is both. It does not sound libertarian, which would want to reduce marriage to a private contract, with the sacramental meaning left to voluntary religious expressive associations. (Remember the editorial “Licensed Expired” in GLIL’s newsletter in 1996?) In fact, part of me wishes we could adopt the literal “deconstruction” of marriage that pure libertarianism would recommend. I wish we could to that to the income tax (replacing it with nothing) and the military (then so much for “don’t ask don’t tell”). I wish we weren’t in Iraq, and I wish there were no Al Qaeda. I think it is useful to talk about progressive solutions that stress personal responsibility, taking the responsibility concept quite far into objectivistic territory, and that sometimes itself can lead to scary conclusions. Other areas where libertarianism has to settle some of its own internal debates includes campaign finance reform (or term limits) and even all the "right to life" issues.

My first DADT book title uses the words “conservative” (I call myself a “gay conservative”) and later libertarian. Perhaps, literally, I am neither. I am wandering somewhere inside the Nolan Chart or in my Triangle, with uncertain position, like one of Heisenberg’s or Bohr’s quantum particles.

Picture: James Madison's home, Montpelier, near Charlottesville, VA

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