Revisiting Millman’s Taxonomy



Will writes from Washington, D.C. (well, Arlington, Virginia). You can reach him at willblogcorrespondence at gmail dot com.

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16 Responses

  1. Avatar Jaybird says:

    The more axes the better!

    (Optimist vs. Pessimist was another I thought was useful.)Report

    • Avatar Will says:

      @Jaybird, I think progressive vs. reactionary captures the optimism-pessimism split, Jay.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird says:

        @Will, we must hang with different Progressives (Or Reactionaries (or both)).Report

      • Avatar Plinko says:

        @Will, I guess it depends on what you’re being optimistic about. Progressives are optimistic about the ability of cultural/technological development to make things better while Reactionaries are pessimistic about change by definition. Today’s American Progressives are most likely cynical because of their perception about the national political situation, not about the capability of innovation to make things better.Report

  2. Avatar Pinky says:

    I think I’m jumping into this conversation midstream, but here’s how I tend to look at politics. Contemporary liberalism is socially elitist and economically populist. Contemporary conservatism is socially populist and economically elitist.

    Let’s break that down. In a democracy, any party or movement, right or wrong, would dominate the country if it were populist. Elitism can’t be successful on its own. In our current politics, the social issues are divided between a traditional majority and an experimental minority. On marriage, drug use, abortion, and dozens of other issues, the majority favors the approach of old-time religion and the elite favors progressivism.

    Economically, the liberal favors a populist position of equality, support for the masses, and a bit of protectionism. The traditional union position. The conservative takes the elitist position of the traditional rich man.

    I don’t know how that fits into anyone else’s breakdown, but it explains a lot of the tension within the two-party system in a way that most people fail to.Report

    • Avatar Will says:

      @Pinky, If you have a minute, Millman’s original post is worth reading.Report

      • Avatar Pinky says:


        Will, I read Millman’s article on your suggestion. I’ll have to mull it over for a while. My first reaction is that his left/right distinction is faulty. Maybe I agree with Simon that it should be replaced with Will’s populist/elitist axis. The “winners” are typically the few. (You know, even as I write that, I flinch. I really don’t like Millman’s schema.)Report

    • Avatar Lisa Kramer says:

      @Pinky, On most ideology quizzes, “populist” is used to describe socially conservative/economically liberal attitudes. It’s easy to say that that is an incomplete or inadequate summary, but I think you’ve put your finger on why it really isn’t all that off-base.Report

  3. Avatar Katherine says:

    I would use “populist vs. technocrat” as the fourth axis rather than “populist vs. elitist”, as it seems to capture the distinction better: supporting an action because it’s the will of “the common people” vs. supporting an action because you think it’s an effective policy. Or supporting a politician because you like them vs. supporting one because you think they have a good platform. Populism doesn’t have to be religious, though in America it often is.Report

  4. Avatar Simon K says:

    Isn’t populism versus elitism the same as the left-right axis? My understanding was that left versus right was supposed to stand for attitudes to success, with the the right-wing feeling success is usually well deserved and should be encouraged and the left feeling its usually down to luck and should be ameliorated.

    That would make most of the Tea Partiers left wing reactionaries conservatives (although some of them may be liberals) in Noah’s scheme. Admittedly thats an odd thought, but it might not be very far off, in that they seem to echo the (historically left wing) idea that the current system is corrupt and therefore success within it doesn’t mean anything.

    I supposed the difference is that left-wingers and populists are generally trying to devalue different kinds of success – economic versus intellectual or something. But its hard to pin this idea down . The CEO of Goldman Sachs is wildly economically successful but I’m pretty sure he’s in the Tea Party’s “elite” – I doubt it would be different if he didn’t have an MBA. If we’re going to add a new axis, we should at least be clear about how it differs from the existing one and right now I’m not – it just seems like we have anti-elitist sentiment focussed on different parts of the elite.Report

    • Avatar RTod says:

      @Simon K, I think that only goes so far. I rarely see right wing pundits trumpeting either scientific or cultural elites. (and lest the science thought be hijacked by the global warming hubbub, think evolution or the Earth being more than 6,000 years old)

      I think populism v. elites is valid; I think there is a tendency born of democracy to believe that plain old folks, regardless of knowledge, skill level or degree of success, are inherently better, smarter, wiser and more deserving than those acknowledged as elites.Report

  5. Avatar Will H. says:

    A populist is, more or less, a certain type of radical.
    Whatever the opposite of ‘radical’ would be would come closer than ‘elitist’ to describing that position.Report

  6. Avatar Brian Callaghan says:

    What about a divide between nationalist and internationalist/cosmopolitan? Those who support “free trade” since it raises living standards in the thrid world, but at the expense of unskilled labour in one’s own nation state. Thomas Friedman vs unionsReport

  7. Avatar Lisa Kramer says:

    I guess populist will always be a word that can be used in different contexts: as a modifier or as a “full stop.”

    I’ve thought that Millman’s taxonomy already did a pretty decent job of identifying populists – the liberal/conservative measure is a little fuzzy (in terms of which is the more “populist” in his description), but Left and Reactionary seemed to be gimmies.

    As for the populist vs. elitism axis (or the other suggestion of making it populist vs. technocratic), well, I’ll see your Millman modification and I’ll raise you another:

    How about cosmopolitan vs. provincial? I’m thinking here of the idea of cosmopolitans thinking in global terms of what is best and applying that overall ethic downward to individual communities while provincials apply what’s best for their community to a global scale under the assumption that other communities likely have the same needs. This would go a long way in determining issues like protectionism vs. free trade, immigration issues, political decentralization, local business vs. major retailers, etc… certainly all things that – for people who do believe in populism as an ideology – would apply quite neatly.Report