An Incorrect Venn Diagram of Liberal and Conservative Progressivism

Ethan Gach

I write about comics, video games and American politics. I fear death above all things. Just below that is waking up in the morning to go to work. You can follow me on Twitter at @ethangach or at my blog, And though my opinions aren’t for hire, my virtue is.

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45 Responses

  1. Dan Miller says:

    It’s a noble effort, but I think the necessary inaccuracy and loaded terms make this not very helpful as an analytical tool. Better to measure group membership by how individuals actually interact–do they publish in the same magazines or attend the same conferences? Do they link to one another approvingly? It’s highly subjective, of course, but I think more useful than trying to start with abstract concepts and map people onto teams based on how they view those concepts. Politics doesn’t work that way IMHO.Report

    • Ethan Gach in reply to Dan Miller says:

      I’m not trying to arrange teams so much as look at a trajectory of political/philosophic traditions and see where they actually interact and/or conflict.

      For one, I think the move from fundamentalism to progressivism is pretty indisputable but also a very good development. Whether we should reflect that through a liberal or conservative lense though is debatable.

      Where as liberals rely on more empricial/scientific/technocratic accounts and policies and use government as a means of executing on policy, conservatives lean toward more pragmatic/experiential/individualistic accounts and seek to affect policy and outcomes through small groups and associations.

      I think there is also a fundamental split between liberals and conservatives on the issue of labor and capital.Report

  2. Mike Dwyer says:

    I probably don’t agree much with the diagram but I like the effort. I see progressivism as existing basically from Middle Right all the way over to Far Left. Per Disraeli, we’re all progressive. The only ones that don’t fit IMO is the Far Right folks who want to see us return to My Three Sons.Report

  3. BlaiseP says:

    I sorta like this. Gives me considerable insight into how you’re thinking.

    It’s been my observation people’s political opinions are shaped by perceived injustice, episodes in their own lives or the lives of people around them. If you’ve been oppressed by bureaucracy, you want to get rid of it, not merely reform it. If you’ve been robbed, you want law ‘n order and severe punishments for robbers. For every action, there’s not only an equal and opposite reaction, there’s a framework created where such actions and reactions are a modus vivendi: the bent sapling grows as it was bent.

    The Declaration of Independence uses an interesting phrase “while evils are sufferable”. Evils stack up. Eventually there’s a reaction. If the Progressive has been around such evils, so have the Conservatives and Fundamentalists and Liberals. All might agree they’re evil — but look at how each of them reacts to evil. That’s what tells you who they are, those responses.Report

  4. MikeSchilling says:

    It won’t be useful until you show where Good Guys and Bastards fit.Report

  5. Take a bath, you dirty hipster. And learn to use a coaster for Chrissake.

    This is why we can’t have nice things.Report

  6. I’m having a hard time interpreting this. What continuum is expressed on the X-axis?Report

  7. Jason Kuznicki says:

    Some questions:

    How is it that “free marketeer” and “neoliberal” are on opposite ends, without any apparent overlap?

    Where would you place (various flavors of) anarchists? Within their respective camps? Off in a separate bubble? Many if not all of these ideologies have anarchist permutations of one kind or another.

    Can we throw in some names? Hayek would be an interesting one, but he was famously particular about terminology.Report

    • Anyone else is welcome to throw in names (I was certainly not brave enough to do so), and I was kind of hoping others with a better sense of the fault lines might offer their own (it’s a shame we can’t get them in the comments, but certainly in separate off-the-cuff posts would be great I think).

      As I mentioned above, I really don’t know how to account for neoliberalism. I point to “free marketeer,” which I assume I made up though maybe it is a thing (Shamelessly I didn’t bother to check), as someone who believes that there is an invisibale hand that can be unleashed for the good of humanity if only the forces that would inhibit it are mitigated.

      Understandably, that is a caricature, and I don’t think that such people really exist (at leat not outside of soundbyte rhetoric) and so it was more of an attempt to try and demonstrate a movement away from an armchair analysis of ecnomic forces to one that is more rigorus in data collecting/modeling and scrutinizing the assumptions of enlightenment ideas about human nature.

      Admittedly, this diagram tries to lay out (not without bias) a case for the positive development of thought processes and epistemological methods used by and inherent in different political traditions and ideologies.

      As such, it does a poor job of getting at the other developments and oppositions, for instance between labor and capital, group rule and the individual, and so on. I think it would be great if we tried to flesh out the others, and then seek to reconcile all of them at some point, or at least theorize about the irreconciliability.

      Given your experience recently with von Mises and the humble skepticism of the Austrian school though, maybe you could propose a re-evaluation of, or complicating factors regarding Progressivism and how one should go about speculating about human nature and social interaction in their view?Report

    • Murali in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

      How is it that “free marketeer” and “neoliberal” are on opposite ends, without any apparent overlap?

      I’ll second this objection and add another one. How are neoliberals on the same side as communitarians? (CK Macleod and Elias Isquith will be the first to note that whatever else it is, Neo-liberalism is not communitarian. Whereas they think that is a criticism, I think it is a point in favour, but that’s a different issue) And how are crunchy cons and liberaltarians similar enough to be on the same section?Report

      • Ethan Gach in reply to Murali says:

        So as I’ve noted a couple of times, neoliberal was extremely hard to place.

        With regard to crunchies and liberaltarians, perhaps you can elucidate the defining differences there for me.Report

      • Ethan Gach in reply to Murali says:

        Here’s the Crunchy:

        “But we are not liberals. For one thing, we don’t share the liberal faith in the ultimate goodness and perfectibility of mankind. Because we believe in evil and the duty of good men and women to confront it with violence if necessary, we are not pacifists. We don’t believe that morality is relative, and that each generation is free to find its own truths, and to adopt a moral code that suits its desires. We object to the idea that there’s nothing wrong with our country that a new tax or a government program can’t fix.

        We don’t believe it’s the government’s job to guarantee social equality, only equality before the law and, within reason, equality of opportunity. Guns don’t bother us (unless they’re in the hands of criminals), and neither, as a general rule, does capitalism (unless it, too, is in the hands of criminals).”

        Perhaps you can articulate the Liberaltarian, and we can see the important deviation, and correct accordingly for my oversights.Report

        • J.L. Wall in reply to Ethan Gach says:

          The short would be: Rod Dreher is a Crunchy Con, and E.D. (circa 2008) is/was a Liberaltarian(ish).* The problem is, I think, in how we define the latter … it has several possibilities … But I think of it as much more individually/socially permissive in terms of variation from established cultural/social norms/mores than the Crunchy Cons. Crunchy Conservatism is a (more conservative) type of communitarianism — whereas liberaltarianism strikes me as a more government/regulation-friendly variant of libertarian thought. Maybe the policies don’t always map out horribly differently, but the worldview/theoretical frames are.

          Shorter: You could argue that Wendell Berry fits into your “communitarian” slot, and perhaps into your “Crunchy Con” slot, but he’s sure as hell no liberaltarian.

          As for how to change the coffee-map: I’d just flip the order, maybe drawing in a new border somewhere, so that “liberaltarian” is closer to “progressive” and “Crunchy Con” is closer to “fundamentalist.”

          But overall, I like this map as a starting place for conversation.

          *E.D.’s political views have been more or less stable for a while now, which means this sentence is impossible to make funny — whereas once it would have been too easy.Report

          • Murali in reply to J.L. Wall says:

            The liberaltarian is a libertarianism that is in many ways truer to its classical liberal roots.

            If traditional Nozickian libertarianism (of which few if any actually adhere to) places too much emphasis on property rights and economic liberties (placing economic liberties over other liberties) and welfare state liberalism places too little emphasis on economic liberties thinking that they are mere means to generating desired social welfare patterns, liberaltarianism corrects the errors of both. For liberaltarians, economic liberties are important both for the social welfare patterns that they engender and because the exercise of economic liberties are important domains of self authorship.Report

    • James Hanley in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

      How is it that “free marketeer” and “neoliberal” are on opposite ends, without any apparent overlap?

      Maybe it’s just a function of the two-dimensional representation, and this map of political spacing is really meant to be a globe.Report

  8. Marchmaine says:

    I think it might be worth considering changing Fundamentalist to Traditionalist… it unloads a loaded term and serves as a much better opposite to Progressive.

    If you do that, then Communitarian is a better fit between Traditional/Liberal than Reactionary (which I think is just wrong there). What you then put in the vacated nexus between Liberal and Progressive is up to you.Report

    • Marchmaine in reply to Marchmaine says:

      I hate to reply to myself, but since I can’t edit…

      Also think you’ve got Crunchy-Cons in the wrong spot… they are probably conservative communitarians, but their outlook is fundamentally Traditional, not Progressive.

      The Nexus between Conservative and Progressive seems really to be the classic definition of Neo-Con; and when you change Fundamentalist to Traditionalist, you really do see the Neo-Con / Paleo-Con split in the right light.Report

    • Ethan Gach in reply to Marchmaine says:

      I thought about traditionalist, and would be fine substituting it if we agree that fundamentalism is inherent in traditionalism, in so far as traditionalists prefer the status quo/past not for empirical reasons but for emotional and arrational ones.Report

      • Jaybird in reply to Ethan Gach says:

        traditionalists prefer the status quo/past not for empirical reasons but for emotional and arrational ones

        “This has been demonstrated to work” seems to me to be a reason embraced at least as often as “I’m white, male, straight, and this benefits me and those whom I own or otherwise fall under my protection.”

        And, I suppose, it could be pointed out that both of the above sentences can be said without veering into emotionality or leaving rationality.Report

        • MikeSchilling in reply to Jaybird says:

          “This has been demonstrated to work” seems to me to be a reason embraced at least as often as “I’m white, male, straight, and this benefits me and those whom I own or otherwise fall under my protection.”

          Ask “work for whom?”, and 1 often morphs onto 2.Report

        • Ethan Gach in reply to Jaybird says:

          In which case I think they could be put in any of the other categories.

          If you want X because X works, that makes you a pragmatist who’s policies incidentally tend toward tradition, rather than a traditionalist who works first from a the view that the past is better by virtue of being the past.Report

      • Marchmaine in reply to Ethan Gach says:

        No we do not so agree.

        Fundamentalism is a habit of thought that is found in all stripes of political philosophies. That is why it is a loaded term and not doing the work you want it to do.Report

        • Ethan Gach in reply to Marchmaine says:

          “Fundamentalism is a habit of thought that is found in all stripes of political philosophies.”

          That is decidedly not true. It can be found in all adherents, but not in all the philosophies themselves. Otherwise you could not have a philosophy that is opposed to Fundamentalism, which would be an odd ontological development.Report

      • J.L. Wall in reply to Ethan Gach says:

        I had a similar thought as Marchmaine — but I think the term change only works if we agree to think of “Traditionalism” in the way T.S. Eliot embodied it — to the exclusion of either Burkean or MacIntyrean notions (or any other). Which is to say, I’m not sure that there’s an unloaded term that’s going to get across what you want to get across on that axis.Report

  9. Ethan Gach says:

    For the record, anyone who would like to suggest an improved or even radically different version of the above (and who doesn’t have posting privileges), please send it to me at ethan dot c dot gach at gmail dot com and I’ll be happy add it to the post.Report

    • Marchmaine in reply to Ethan Gach says:

      I dropped you a note with some thoughts… mostly derivative with the biggest change making the center “Classical Liberal” and everything else a deviation thereof.

      Finally the Libertarians have their home and can call the rest of us deviant splitters – out loud, anyway – I expect this is common talk at libertarian ice-cream socials (Bring Your Own Ice-Cream, of course).Report

  10. Ethan Gach says:

    Also, while this might just seem an academic discussion to some (akin to the number of angels on the head of a pin) I find it interesting, helpful from an organizational stand point, a good way to refresh my labels so that my shortcuts are more accurate and I don’t approach other people’s with the wrong pressumptions, and also a good way to stretch my own political imagination.Report

  11. Michael Drew says:

    My critique would be that, in my view, in relation to some of the other terms there, and in the context of practical American politics and also theory (perhaps even more in theory), Liberal and Conservative ought to be something like 50% overlapping, not non-overlapping (with Liberal being a much larger circle, overlapping with many more other things than (which) Conservative does (not). Obviously I acknowledge that people try to use the terms to choose up what they want to make mutually exclusive sides, but in practice what you find are that many of the same values that cause people to embrace one of the labels are what cause others to embrace the other (not all, but many). In my view, this is because America is a broadly Liberal society, with most self-described Conservatives sharing a basic set of Liberal values (some of which they try to distinguish from some lesser liberalism by calling them classical liberalism, though in practice all that means is that they are more absolutist about certain specific ones of those, while de-emphasizing others but not rejecting them outright).

    Another way to say this is that Liberalism as such, with no other modifiers, is simply an assumption that forms that background of most of the other viewpoints listed up there in the American context – other than some of the more radical ones, and radical variants of many of them. So it could basically just be a dinner-plate sized mark containing large parts of most of the other circles, though leaving parts of most of them excluded to represent the parts of those ideologies that pursue the values that define them to the point of not being able to coincide with the basic tenets of Liberalism.Report

    • I agree that in America, it’s almost all liberalism in the sense of political philosophy, but the problem is also that the chartist (hey, where are the Chartists?) is trying to organize political or political-historical and philosophical (or political-philosophical or historical political-philosophical) divisions at the same time, with other heterogeneous elements thrown in.

      Even a Venn diagram usually has an implied x- and y-axis, simply because it’s 2-dimensional. So, in the examples, it looks like “x” is “conservative liberal” and y is “empiricist idealist.” An alternative typical infographic method might be to 1) set your conceptual boundaries – e.g., “ideological groups active in American politics since 1800” – then 2) set up the classic left-right spectrum as your x, and time as your y. Another approach might be an x of statism anarchism and a y of right (traditionalism) left (revolutionism). Not a recommendation, just one alternative.

      Or since everyone likes the coffee circles, you could try a 360-degree left/right “clock” with ultra-right meeting ultra-left, though you’d still have to decide whether you were describing philosophies globally, ideologies globally, political groups in America now, political groups in America historically, etc. Other typical approach set up an x and a y, say right/left and state/individual, then map famous names onto the field.

      If you start with a search engine of choice “political spectrum” or “political spectrum Venn diagram” image search, you’ll find a lot of examples to work from. You’ll eventually find the somewhat widely distributed “Pournelle” chart that is somewhat reminiscent of Mr. Gach’s in terms of x-y, but doesn’t try to Venn it:

  12. E.C. Gach says:

    I’m thinking this might be a good visual symposium at some point. Everyone who’s interested submit their own visual system of relations between the different philosophies/traditions.

    If nothing else it would all help us get to know how other people see things.Report

    • Michael Drew in reply to E.C. Gach says:

      I don’t know if i’ll be able to produce it, but if I did, I think it would use a lot of large circles/shapes (for things like Liberalism, Empirical Rationalism, Conservatism, etc.) and a few much smaller ones (anarchists, jacobins, communists, etc.), with a great deal of overlap among the large ones, and the small ones placed in particular places at the conjunctions of the borders of the large circles, where the broad, overarching philosophies finally do depart from each other (i.e., I think the smaller ones will tend to be extreme offshoots of one or a combination of the larger ideas).

      The idea being to depict the notion that it’s actually enough harder to show why various systems of thought actually aren’t consistent at certain places than why they are, such that the basic presumption should be that they are more often than not (with the exception of dissident viewpoints that define themselves in opposition to the main currents – i.e. the small cirtcles). The problem is that this would produce a really muddled visual image. That would be a feature if the idea is to represent how the sets of ideas really do relate in the idea space, but if the idea is rather to represent how they are differentiated, then you’d end up tightening up and pulling the circles apart for the sake of conceptual clarity. Which would be okay, and probably end up looking like a variant of what you’ve done above.

      I like your idea of shaded borders, but of course that raises the question of whether borders are an appropriate way to think of these ideas. Perhaps a scatterplot with various regions would be better. On the other hand, I do think it’s right to say that one thing ideologies do tend to do (though it’s far from a rule) is roughly define questions that place various positions or value-orderings inside or outside of themselves. So I think what you’ve got here is schematically quite appropriate.Report