Millman’s taxonomy.

William Brafford

William Brafford grew up in North Carolina, home of the world's best barbecue, indie rock, and regional soft drinks. He just barely sustains a personal blog and "tweets" every now and then under the name @williamrandolph.

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27 Responses

  1. Will says:

    I can’t decide if I’m a liberal right reactionary or a conservative right reactionary. Or a liberal right progressive. Curse my indecision!Report

  2. Rufus F. says:

    Haha! I got conservative left reactionary too. It’s still a bit fuzzy though- I’m not sure I like either of the choices on that first one.Report

    • @Rufus F., that’s one of the trouble spots. Some of the fuzziness is because a lot of people play cultural authority (i.e., the authority of ‘mediating institutions’) against political power.Report

      • @William Brafford, That’s part of it. The other thing is that I personally idealize the absence of authority in a way that sounds like their “liberal”. But, what I realized after teaching for a few years was that there really are a lot of people who do better, and accomplish more, within structures of commanding authority. I would try leaving the students free to guide their own learning and a lot of them would be pissed off about it. So, ideally I guess people accomplish greater things in the absence of authority. But it’s hard for me to know if it isn’t just crueler in some cases to cut them free to drift on their own.

        So, I guess the thing is that it’s hard for me to come to a hard and fast conclusion on that one. I’ve got trouble with the ‘conservative’ position, which strikes me as arrogant and paternalistic, and also the ‘liberal’ position, which also strikes me as arrogant and presumptuous.Report

        • Rufus F. in reply to Rufus F. says:

          @Rufus F., Actually, after posting this in the morning it occurred to me that he might be doing a fine job of defining liberals and conservatives and I might just be finding liberalism and conservatism to be relatively limited philosophies.Report

    • T. Greer in reply to Rufus F. says:

      @Rufus F., Upon reflection, I do not much like this either. I left the following comment on their site:

      I will add to the chorus of folks who think this is brilliant, save perhaps the first metric. You state the metric as thus:

      “a liberal outlook trusts individuals and questions authority; a conservative outlook distrusts individuals and defers to authority.”

      This skews things a bit. It seems to me that one can be an individualist without placing much trust in individuals themselves. Ayn Rand is the perfect example here. As you state, she did not really trust in the power of the great majority of mankind at all. She placed her trust in a dogmatic and authoritarian belief system. But this system was completely centered on the individual. Rand saw life through the eyes of the atomized individual and could imagine nothing else.

      Contrast this with some of the Chinese Daoist philosophers. These men were extremely skeptical of authority, but overall their philosophy was grounded in a communitarian worldview.

      So how to classify people like this? I suggest, as have others before, that you break up ‘liberal’ and ‘conservative’ into more specific groupings. As I see it, the replacement metrics could be:

      * Individualist vs. Holists. Individualists are those whose world views are centered on the individual. Individuals make up communities, not the other way around. The Holists, on the other hand, have a world view centered on larger groups – individuals are segments of a much larger, more important, interdependent whole.

      * Humanitarian vs. Cynic (Skeptic?) – Humanitarians believe that individuals are in essence good beings, and will succeed if given the chance; Cynics believe the opposite, believe that humans are, as you state, perverse, and have little faith in innate human capacity or our ability to change it.

      Under these two groupings, the two earlier examples make more sense. Rand is an Individualist Cynic, while the Daoists were Holistic Cynics.

      So what do you guys think? Does this make sense, or am I talking crazy?Report

  3. T. Greer says:

    Yeah, that is the one advantage the political compass has over this metric – it allows for degrees. As Millman has it, either we are leftist or rightist, conservative or liberal. But what if one of those distinctions matters little too me? I knew right away, for example, that I was reactionary. But it took me a long bit of contemplation to figure out if I was a left or right wing. Eventually I just decided that this metric was not particularly important to me. I am probably left-wing, but if so, I am a very weak leftist. In contrast, the ‘degree’ of my reactionary-ness is quite high.Report

    • @T. Greer,

      If you look at how Millman applies his concepts to various bloggers, I think you’ll see that he’s thinking of these as spectra. E.g.: Douthat is “deeply conservative” but not very intense on the right/left divide. As for me, I’m pretty strong on the conservative thing but I’m only medium on the other two.Report

  4. Jaybird says:

    The liberal vs. conservative axis is interesting the way he puts it… I suppose I would make the distinction like this: when you watch COPS, or Dallas SWAT, or any of those cop shows, is your first inclination to sympathize with the police or to sympathize with the hillbilly?

    When it comes to the idea of free speech or a free press, do you sympathize with the people who are saying “we should make exceptions” or with the people who would be told what the exceptions would be?

    In any given power dynamic, who do you sympathize with?Report

    • Jaybird in reply to Jaybird says:

      I suppose I’d also make a further distinction between left and right. I don’t like the “winners and losers”. While the description of the “right” may be accurate, it seems to me that the left’s focus is more on “equality” than on the whole “loser” thing. That emphasis removes the note (that probably only I can hear) of ugly paternalism.

      Progressive vs. Reactionary makes sense to me, though. That one, at least, is straightforward.Report

      • @Jaybird, regarding the liberal/conservative thing:

        I like Millman’s schema because it deals with pre-policy gut-level commitments. Hopefully there’s a process that goes something like this: (life experience) -> (gut-level commitments) -> (reasoning and argument) -> (political commitments). Given a particular pundit, we can guess at where she lands in this system, and that’s why this is fun. But I don’t think it really works the other way: if I know your basic commitments and even the relative weights of such commitments, I can’t get to your policy preferences, because the reasoning process can be so idiosyncratic.

        I don’t think “equality” gets you out of a “winner”/”loser” perspective. The only reason to try to achieve equality is that some people have more stuff than other people do.Report

      • @Jaybird, The Progressive / Reactionary thing interests me the most. I think quite often Reactionism is mistaken for Progressivism. What I mean is that I think that Progressivism (in the modern sense) is often a reaction to populist outrage and more of a vote grab that a well-intentioned attempt to move culture forward. I think it’s fair to call Conservatives reactionary because we are the foot on the brake pedal. I just wonder if we’re giving modern liberalism a pass on the label of reactionary as well.

        Maybe it all comes down to what is being reacted to? Liberals react to populist outrage, conservatives react to liberal overreach.Report

  5. Jivatman says:

    I think that out of the three, right/left is probably the least accurate.

    First of all, a quibble, people who sat on the left, the anti-monarchists, included extreme free-marketers like Bastiat, furthermore, as did the term “liberal” itself (it still maintains a semblance of that meaning in Europe, such as with some of the Liberal Democrats).

    Next, people who favor a freer market do not do so because they look at outcomes – that entrepreneurs should be rewarded – but because they believe that people’s economic freedom, and contracts, should be respected.

    Those who support a larger social safety net are likely to do so because of equality, usually called fairness.

    Economic Libertarians are more likely to use macro statistics that show countries implementing free market policies, like much of the former USSR, with torrid growth rates, wheras egalitarians are more likely to show how places like Western Europe have less disparity between the rich and poor.

    For the libertarians, the growth is not really what concerns them, economic freedom is, for the egalitarians though, the disparity is in fact what concerns them.

    Inevitably, there is always a conflict between freedom and equality in many economic decisions. A voucher program for example will allow some people to afford private schools while others will not. Will it raise the quality of education for everyone, including those who receive no more money on a voucher than would have been spent on a public school? Many argue so.

    Of course, we could still spend even more money than currently on education in those programs.

    Or take a plan by one of the “orange book liberals” (more economic liberal wing of the lib dems). Which would convert the NHS into a national health insurance scheme used by other european countries, with a combination of public, private, and voluntary providers.

    So there is even some overlap possible, one could advocate more money spent on education and health care, but still advocate more economic freedom.

    The progressive vs. regressive dichotomy is definitely one of the most interesting of the things highlighted here, and probably the most difficult one I have to place myself in. I have great nostalgia for Greece, and the Age of Enlightenment, but on the other hand love technology. I would prefer some combination I guess.

    When the term conservative was first used, this is meant regressive in this sense, especially as exemplified by Edmund Burke. Still, he was an economic and social libertarian, viewing liberty not as an abstract principle but something that had anciently been in the heart of English people. He said the following of the American revolution:

    “I do not know how to wish success to those whose Victory is to separate from us a large and noble part of our Empire. Still less do I wish success to injustice, oppression and absurdity”.

    Compare to Paine, a progressive, one of the most vocal agitators of the American, and later french, revolutions.

    It should be no surprise that Burke looked favorably upon institutions, such as religious, while Paine saw little use for almost any old institution, believing totally new ones should be built.

    Both were “liberals” in the sense we would now call libertarians; advocating free trade, personal liberties, rule of law, ect, but one was a progressive and the other a regressive.Report

  6. TJ says:

    The progressive-reactionary axis is the most problematic, I think. It matters a lot whether you think we should go back to the sex roles of the 50s, or the consciousness of the 60s, and if you think that the past is always better than the present or that some aspects of the past was better than the present, or may be better than the future.Report

    • @TJ, I don’t know that reactionary always means ‘looking backwards fondly’. As I stated above, it’s usually about trying to control liberal overreach. I look at conservatives as simply fighting a delaying action most of the time so that society can ‘progress’ at a safer pace.Report

      • North in reply to Mike at The Big Stick says:

        @Mike at The Big Stick, I’ll agree with you on the end effect/result of conservative activity Mike. But Conservative intent seems to be very much reactionary which is why so many social liberals actively fear them.Report

        • @North, Well as I said – I consider conservatism to be reactionary. That’s not a bad word. I always use the car analogy. When I was taking driver’s ed I was in one of those specially equipped cars where the instructor had his own steering wheel and brake pedal if I did something crazy. A couple of times I got a bit too excited and jammed on the gas going through a neighborhood or I wasn’t paying attention when merging on to the freeway. The instructor tapped the gas and in one case grabbed the wheel and pulled the car over to give me a talking to.

          You can probably see where I’m going here. Liberals, who just want to get where they want o go as fast as possible look at conservatives who tap the brakes and occasionally grab the wheel as being a pain in the ass. We’re the grumpy old driving instructor who yells “Slow down”! You all perceive it as some kind of desire to keep society static. It’s not. We just want to get where we’re going in a safe way.

          I rely on Disraeli as a touchstone for much of conservatism. It was he who said that change is inevitable and the choice is not between change or no change but in how change is inacted and at what pace. God conservatives should look forward too. We just remain skeptical about change for the sake of change.Report

          • North in reply to Mike at The Big Stick says:

            @Mike at The Big Stick,
            Indeed Mike and as you define it I certainly would consider it a good thing and not even those to the left of me would be able to work up much of a lather about it. But frankly that does not appear to be the extent of it. To use your metaphor conservatives appear to want and verbally pine for the ability not only to grab the wheel to slow us down but also to take full control, drive the car back to our house and not only deny us a car license but also to take away our bikes and put us back on tricycles again.
            Now I’m too young to feel a lot of this viscerally myself but I’ve spoken and heard the elderly gays for instance who remember how it was. For them god was a crucifix embossed on the soul of the boot that was stomping on their faces. Women as well. You can imagine how charmed they are at the idea of turning the clock back.Report

            • @North, I think yeah, sometimes conservatives have to completely stop the process. Often this doesn’t mean the liberal intentions are bad, but they need to go back to the beginning and start over. As for trying to go backwards, that’s only when liberals were able to push their agenda through and it later proves to have been bad (abortion comes to mind there).Report

          • TJ in reply to Mike at The Big Stick says:

            @Mike at The Big Stick, Well, I find it odd to run together the principled conservatism of Disraeli with the label “reactionary”. Reactionary politics seem to me to be primarily fascist or quasi-fascist, longing for a time of greater social hierarchies. In any case, I know many liberals who idiolize the 60s and thinks that it has been downhill since then.Report

            • @TJ, Again – I don’t think reactionism is about looking backwards. Take the internet for example. Let’s say Al Gore really did invent it and it’s a liberal policy initiative. A conservative might say, “This internet thing seems like a good idea but maybe we should make sure people can’t suffer identity theft and kids can’t look at porn.” They shouldn’t be saying, “We were better off when we sent mail on paper.” An ideal form of conservatism (and I refuse to debate conservatism as practiced by the current GOP because it skews the conversation) should only be the angel on your shoulder, not the troll clinging to your ankles.Report