The Compass and the Constructs
(This was written by our own Joe Sal!)
A brief explanation of the political compass
The political compass is a graph consisting of four quadrants. The graph has a y-axis (the up and down dimension) which signifies a spectrum from Libertarian at the bottom to Authoritarian at the top.
On the x-axis (the left and right dimension) the spectrum follows the political terms of Left and Right. Left ideology being on the left and Right ideology on the right.
Several other graphs use the same Left-Right ideology spectrum, except that the left becomes collectivist and the right becomes individualist. For discussing constructs, I find it useful to label the left as Social and the right as Individual, to bring clarity about where the constructs arise.
The graph above has labels of economic left and economic right; this may create a timeline issue. Economic right should represent capitalism. However, capitalism in its early form was a solution to problems of feudalism, the first problem being social ordering, where there was a fixed place for everyone. There were few ways out of these social orders even if a person’s interests and talents would have been better utilized in a different order.
The other problem with feudalism was that the worker had little control over the final product they produced. The capacity of the greater social order to extract the products of an individual’s labor was unchecked. Capitalism in its early form was supposed to be a solution to buttress against that type of action. Now fast forward to today and look at capitalism. The stuff we are calling capitalism today has very little to do with the individual. So when one creates economic modeling and says the far right is about capitalism, it needs to be understood that it is about a very specific form of capitalism. This is why I oppose using the economic labeling of the x-axis, it requires consideration of how capitalism has changed over time to what it is today. There have been some changes in the left economic modeling as well, I will leave that for future discussion.
“Authoritarian” appears to be a good label for the top of the y axis. “Libertarian” probably isn’t the best for the bottom label. Libertarianism has a pretty broad spectrum of followers that can reach above midway in the graph.
Maybe anti-authoritarian for the bottom, or just a scale: 0-100% authority from the bottom up.
Why constructs, and why the individual and the social?
In the development of society, did anyone ever lay out the principles to organize society? What is society? Should it be formally organized? Answers will vary. Society is made of individuals. Not some abstract concept of individuals but the real thing in the flesh. Those individuals will have varying desires about what society should be.
Individualists would likely say there needs to be little formal organization of society; the collectivists would likely desire a very organized society. Centrists would prefer some value in between.
So how does society get organized? For collectivists, it requires a collective to decide the social constructs necessary for organization. For individualists, it requires an awareness of how individual constructs interact. Centrists require a mix of these.
So what are social and individual constructs? I have attempted to list some here:
Something a person can furnish, produce, provide, or require for one’s self, whether a greater society exists around them or an extremely sparse population.
|personal means of production||personal means of exchange|
|personal means of protection||personal means of medicine/health|
|personal means of education||personal property/possessions|
|subjective value||subjective preference|
|subjective rights||subjective religion/spirit|
|subjective morality||subjective truth|
|subjective justice||subjective consent|
|subjective rule of law||subjective sovereignty|
Something a group produces, builds, possesses or agrees upon in a social context.
|rules of engagement||militia|
|political parties||political oaths|
|rule by law||social contract|
|majority consent||representative consent|
|social objectivity||universal truth|
|universal principles||public property|
|foreign policy||market value|
|financial institutions||price index|
|supply of wage labor||salary|
|capital outside of personal property||means of production outside personal|
|markets beyond/outside of personal exchanges||private property beyond/outside of personal property|
Constructs in the political compass
The further one goes left or right, the more polar these constructs supposedly become. The more left you go the more rigid and desirable the social constructs become. The more right you go, the more individual constructs are desired.
The Left may argue against this point of view, but there is a very easy test to see how entrenched they are in the concept. Start subtracting social constructs, and see how quickly these things become important. There may be some talking past each other here also, in that the political compass built on social or collective terms may be different than the term Left as originally pulled from the French Revolution context or even in contemporary usage in the U.S. (this applies to the Right as well).
How authority fills the constructs
Power in the political sense: What is it? The definitions above are showing that it is the ability to influence or control the behavior of people or sometimes events.
So what we should be seeing both in the left and right, is that the more authority is invested in a construct, the more strongly the constructs will weigh in controlling the behaviors of the group or individual.
In the other direction the more authority is subtracted from the constructs the less the constructs have the ability to influence or control us.
Conflicts in individual and social constructs
This is an interesting topic that I may address more in the future if folks want to read it. For the most part we are living it in color.
A note on right authoritarianism
The right may desire to invest authority in individual constructs, but if the control of the construct is social, they have no other means to affect change other than to transform the social construct to align with the authority they want in their individual construct.
This leads to those events where the left builds a social construct and the authoritarian right gains control or uses it in a context for which it wasn’t originally designed.
A note on y-axis movements
Since power is derived from the addition or subtraction of authority in constructs, it’s important to understand how people are changing the power dynamic when they add or subtract authority, or move their authority from one political party to another.
Here is a link to a compass displaying various parties (no claims,but it seems pretty accurate):