Monday, November 15, 2004

3D Politics

Last week, I figured out that Liberal is not the antonym of Conservative. Liberal is the antonym of Authoritarian. Simplisticaly, I thought that the opposite of Conservative would be Progressive.

However, the resulting 2D plot of political space failed to generate the depth of insight I was hoping for. The problem is that Conservative, the tendency to want to keep things the way they are/were, is loaded with too much historical baggage. Conservatives were the first to work to protect our environment; Nixon signed the Endangered Species Act into law in 1973. However, if go back in time to 19th century, the colonial push towards the West was marked by environmental disregard. Settlers killed millions of Buffalo without consideration for the ecological or economic damage they were doing. In other words, whether a position is conservative or not depends on how far back you want to go.

Obviously, using a continuum from progressive to conservative to regressive isn't an ideal analyical tool for mapping political positions. Still, referring to contemporary right-wingers as regressives is both apt and gratifying.

So what is it about the conservative/regressive worldview that is time-independent?

Pessimism
Certainly, there's the view on the right that problems of human affairs are fundamentally intractible at the social level. This is a pessimism that resonates with the religious: man is too deeply flawed to solve his own problems, so he must appeal to a divine power for help.

Power to the Powerful
Conservatism primarily conserves power among the already powerful. It's no coincidence that "conservatives" are identified with efforts to preserve racial segregation, regressive tax schemes, elimination of social benefits for the underprivileged (including affirmative action), and the transfer of public assets and public enterprise into corporate hands.

Nepotism
Who among the powerful can be trusted to maintain the status quo? Friends and relatives, of course. Consider the Bush administration's current priorities. No bid contracts in Iraq have benefited Halliburton (the company formerly led by the Vice President) and Bechtel with lucrative contracts. George Shultz, the former U.S. Secretary of State, and the man credited with the ascendency of George W. Bush to the Presidency of the United States, served on the board of Bechtel and was Executive Vice President of the company in the 1980's. The recent Medicare prescription drug benefit is a benefit not for seniors, but for HMO's and pharmaceutical companies. The new priority, social security privatization will benefit the brokerage industry by mandating that every citizen risk part of his earnings in brokerage accounts.

Foreign Policy for Profit
Until recently, conservatives supported foreign policy that was designed to benefit American multinational corporations, while protecting U.S. treasure with defensive use of military power, and offensive use of covert power. Republicans have generally favored economic engagement with corrupt and oppressive regimes when there are profits to be made. The interests of the downtrodden are of no sincere interest to them. Communism was a threat that merited special attention, for the communist worldview swore to eliminate private property and sweep away privilege.

Continuing in this tradition, George W. Bush saw an opportunity for profit in his invasion of Iraq. Unlike his predecessors, Bush has completely ignored the defense of treasure paradigm. He has permanently damaged the America's brand, exposed us to increased danger of terror attack, bogged down the military in an unwinnable war, and risked the entire economy in a gamble for Mid-East oil. However, his friends and family stand to make out like kings.

Fear
Unofficially, the view from the left is that the Republicans are a haven for racists and bigots. This could just be coincidence. Racists aren't going to admit to being racist, so they have to find a legitimate cover story. The Republican's just happen to have economic reasons for maintaining the status quo. Nonetheless, the right's opposition to the progression of civil rights is real enough.

Naturally, any party whose political platform is fundamentally based on pessimism will benefit in a climate of fear. That's why we are now engaged in a "war on terror." Conveniently, this war, inasmuch as it has been defined, is interminable.


So, let's return to our political geometry. We now have as axes: Liberal-Authoritarian, Optimistic-Pessimistic, and Fairness-Nepotism. There are eight combinations of these attributes, more if you include neutral positions.

Here are some of those combinations:

Political LocationPositions
Liberal-Optimistic-FairnessDemocratic idealists
Liberal-Optimistic-NepotismCorrupt Democrats
Liberal-Pessimistic-FairnessLibertarian idealists
Liberal-Pessimistic-NepotismLibertarian with pro-corporate agenda
Authoritarian-Optimistic-FairnessSocialist revolutionary idealists
Authoritarian-Optimistic-NepotismSoviet-style communists
Authoritarian-Pessimistic-FairnessReligious right-wing idealists
Neutral-Pessimistic-FairnessThe original American right
Authoritarian-Pessimistic-NepotismFascism
Neutral-Pessimistic-NepotismThe new American right

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