The real divide

So this debate has brought us to the political axis which has split America, and which, in the twenty-first century, is probably the most important political axis for us to consider. This axis splits across party lines as we have seen it during this election cycle shatter the traditional Republican coalition but also divide the Democrats as well. Arguments along this axis were also some of the strongest driving factors of the wars throughout the twentieth century. Where you stand ideologically along this axis largely determines how you feel about taxation, freedom, health care, and even immigration and globalism.

What is this all-important axis? It is the line that runs from communitarianism to individualism. The traditional Nolan chart of political preferences has labeled this axis as ‘authoritarian’ ↔ ‘libertarian’, which could be reasonable labels, although due to past abuse of these terms they have become contaminated with all sorts of confounding ideologies that give these labels certain liabilities in any pure philosophical discussion. In an attempt to be more precise in my language, which is a requirement when trying to make points clear, rather than ‘muddy-the-waters’ as so many pundits would prefer, I will stick to the ‘communitarian’ ↔ ‘individualist’ (C↔I) labels.

All of the major government systems can be placed along this axis, including communism at one end, socialism (Scandinavia) a bit further along the spectrum, other Western style liberal democracies (excluding Scandinavia and the United States) coming next, and finally the furthest along on the spectrum (at least among large nations) would be the American ‘experiment’ as defined by the founding fathers, if not as much the reality into what we have transmogrified the US system today. We could place anarchism at the far right of this axis.

Now we have added into this mix ‘Trumpism’, which I would argue we will not really understand for years to come as the president-elect appears to have not made up his mind about many things and has yet to implement any policy, but for the sake of argument I will use ‘Trumpism’ as we have come to know it during the election cycle. Unfortunately for those of us who tend to be of a libertarian mindset, this ‘Trumpism’ does not appear to be anything close to our traditional libertarian or individualist philosophy but rather seems a mishmash of populism, authoritarianism, moderate social liberalism, and free market ideology. What I can say is that this system is likely much closer to the original American ideal along the C↔I axis than anything that Hillary Clinton advocated, and certainly light years away from Obama’s politics of the past eight years, which has seemed hell-bent on transfiguring our society into some utopian progressive fantasy land way down on the left hand side of the axis.

As simplistic as the Nolan Chart is, and as hackneyed as it has become, it is still quite informative to examine this layout in order to cut through some of the propaganda that has been populated by all manner of unreliable sources, not the least of which has been the ‘mainstream media’.

You can take the quiz for yourself to see where you lie:


Here are a few variations I found with a quick search. Some I include only for their humor value. If you are not already very familiar with this chart, you will quickly get the idea. Political ideologies may also be mapped in many other ways, with just about any shape you can imagine having been used. The point of all of this is that a simplistic left/right, Democrat/Republican view of the world does all of us a disservice in these discussions.

Standard Nolan chart:


This is a very reasonable split-up of the chart including many of the views in modern American politics:

nolan-chart-majorphilosophiesAnother view of the chart with historical world philosophies:

A more complex view of the chart (also rotated) with more views:


Where the 2016 candidates + Obama stand:


How most libertarians see the chart:


One of my personal favorites with relevance to this current discussion:nolan-chart-subdivisions


One of my usual foils came at me with his opinion that individualism is really the attitude of the haves versus the have nots. To quote:

And I don't think your country of origin has changed its mind about how it provides for the group. Those provisions are not created from voluntary contribution, but by mutually agreed desire to have the system available for all. This momentary blip due to the foolish failure to recognize that generosity to the world, outside of people of like mind, is wide open to abuse by people whose countries have failed to provide decent standards of living. That blip must and will be dealt with and the social group will settle down and recreate the circumstances needed. 

That quality has not been achieved by personal voluntary contributions as you appear to believe is the way it should be, but by the social group imposing its collective will on individuals. IMO that is the biggest single error that the US has made in promoting its original statutes of liberty. Were your views to be implemented across the board, you would be unable to ensure that everyone, or anyone, paid their due share to the whole process of social conformity; no ability to impose taxes to pay for any services that are required, no right to call on people to help defend the nation in event of attack, no means of establishing some form of law and order or anything else that is needed to make the social group viable. That is the horror of personal rights and freedoms. In any good society, all rights and freedoms must be for the benefit of the group, in order that they may benefit the individual. Freedom of any form is dependent on the conditions pertaining, never something for the individual to take on for themselves, unless they are prepared to be made a pariah in their own group.

This is a straw-man argument. He has chosen not to recognize what I have said all along: that this axis is a spectrum, that where we stand along this spectrum at any given point in time is a subject of debate, and that this is precisely what we have our political system set up to debate in a civil manner. Instead, he insults me by saying that if I happen to think that we have strayed too far down in the communitarian direction that must mean that I am an anarchist, want NO government, NO taxation, and NO national defense.

Of course that is not my position, nor was it the position of our founding fathers, who very carefully set aside in our Constitution what they felt was the rightful place of government. And please do not also try to smear me with the common leftist canards that the founding fathers had slaves so we cannot appreciate anything they did or that slavery was enshrined in the Constitution so the document no longer applies. I do not condone what was done in the past regarding slaves in any way – we have moved beyond that way of thinking, from the African slave merchants who sold their enemies into slavery to the Western world which took advantage of the situation.

But what was done by the founding of the United States was that a government with limited powers, checks and balances, and all conceivable (at the time) design limitations was established and allowed to be tested as a system in the real world. And the result, which you can clearly see, is that the country flourished and has become very powerful.

On the other hand, communitarian government systems have been tried repeatedly over the past few centuries and have overwhelmingly failed. Not only have these governments typically had to kill large percentages of their populations to be put into practice, but they have required brutal totalitarian regimes with secret police to maintain. If the failures of the twentieth century are not clear enough evidence, just look at Venezuela, once a thriving country, abundant in natural resources, which has been now driven down to third-world status with large numbers of people unable to obtain food or medical care in that ‘progressive paradise’. As Margaret Thatcher famously said, “The problem with socialism is that you eventually run out of other people’s money.”

How many pogroms are needed, how many ‘cultural revolutions’, how many hundreds of millions of more people need to die before people can see the dangers of collectivism?

My arguments have always centered on a few things: 1) The American experiment established one of the few places on earth that people were free to generally do as they please, with a limited government and system of laws put into place to try to maintain that system; 2) All governments tend to grow, based on the self-interest of the people running the governments. If clear obstacles, laws, and checks-and balances are not put into place, all governments will tend to grow and slide down the axis towards more and more communitarianism, because government ‘experts’ always believe that they are smarter and better at making decisions than ‘common-folk’; 3) It is the place of the political system to help the people argue and decide just where on the axis between pure communism and anarchy that they wish to live; and finally 4) The science and economies of countries further towards the individual side of the axis will thrive, because they unleash the power of the people to create, explore, and build through the inherent incentives in the system (you keep what you earn, create, or build, and share it how you like), while the countries further towards the communist side will sink into excessive bureaucracy, corruption, and laziness due to disincentives to work (all property is to be equally shared, no matter how much effort each individual put into obtaining or creating said property).

Now, all of that being said I will grant that there are exceptions to the rule. Countries across the world differ in vast ways in their geography, natural resources, and most importantly in the beliefs, value systems, work ethic, and the intellectual and creative abilities of their populations. These differences will lead to different levels of achievement that can be reached by each country and their individual citizens. A serious problem in trying to measure various countries against each other, and even individuals within any given society against their compatriots or among people in the world at large is that ‘achievement’ itself is very subjective. I always laugh at rankings of, say, the United States’ position in the world on a measurement such as health care. ‘Health care’ itself is such a complex subject that any such ranking would be severely problematic unless it can be broken down into smaller subjects which are all encompassed under the blanket term. These rankings never measure what they purport to measure, but instead reveal the agenda of the people who have produced the report. We can, however, attempt to produce a ranking in objective measures, such as, say life expectancy or infant mortality, but if you read my recent essay on statistics you can see how even such ‘objective’ measures can still be highly subjective and be used to try to advance an agenda.

There are also plenty of examples of problems within the United States system, including all forms of corruption – fraud, graft, nepotism, breach of trust, exploitation of workers, (and on and on ad neuseum) – which occur in both the governmental and private sectors. I would argue that the smaller the government, the less opportunity for corruption. I do think that in a system with a healthy rule of law (something the Obama DOJ has apparently forgotten about) it is important to have enough power and ability to monitor corporations and punish misdoings. I also think that we tend to jail way too many people in the United States, but again my argument is that the underlying problem is that we have strayed from our founding ideals and favored safety and security over freedom.

One of the biggest problems in modern politics from my perspective has been the mixing of the ideas of globalism and free trade into the argument. The left wants globalism to help spread the wealth of the more advanced nations to all the people of the globe. The right wants free trade to be able to expand their markets. Both sides want immigration in order to advance their goals. This is all well and good in theory: I actually think that open borders and free trade are important concepts –  given that the people on both sides of the bargain share similar ideals, beliefs, and ethics. What has been lost on many of the coastal elites of all political stripes (the people I call the bubble inhabitants) is that the world is populated by people of vastly differing fundamental ideologies.

We currently have a large percentage of the world population whose fundamental religious texts call for all unbelievers to be killed, converted, or enslaved. These are the fundamental ideas behind the cult that is called Islam, and though the majority of the people who profess this faith may not believe what their leaders and religious texts call for, the fact that these tenets remain unchanged and ensconced in their ‘religion’ is problematic. If we are to accept these people into modern Western society, it is not unreasonable to ask them to reform their statements of faith.

We also have many large and powerful nations (i.e. China, Russia, Iran) who openly flaunt the deals which we make with them, knowing that the will of most of the Western democracies is weak and they can get away with it. This power differential does not lead to fair bargaining when considering trade agreements, nuclear deals, or immigration policy.

But who ever decided that ‘globalism’ has to be the way of the world anyway? I never got to vote on this topic. What we have is a group of oligarchs, i.e. the bubble inhabitants, who have taken control of the US government and used their power for self-enrichment, all the while telling the regular people in flyover country that what they are doing is inevitable, the wave of the future, and for the ‘common good’.

Enough of this rant. It is Thanksgiving. Time to focus on the many blessings in our lives that we can be thankful for.