The Liberal-Leftist Mind Set

One of Jonah Goldberg’s readers nails it, I think:

Political thought can be described as a straight line with communism occupying the far left position, fascism the far right.

While I’m in agreement with a lot of its positions I’m not a socialist. For instance, I think some income inequality is probably necessary. And while there are parts of communism that I agree with, there are also parts that I have significant misgivings about, like the relative lack of press freedom and free speech.

There is almost nothing I find appealing or I’m in agreement with when it comes to conservatism.
My own views are pretty centrist. I may lean a little to the left but there isn’t anything extreme about my politics, and besides most of the people I know have similar opinions so I must be pretty solidly in the center.


If I’m in the center, and can find more common ground with communism than conservatism then conservatism must be pretty far to the right; if not exactly fascist very much in the same neighborhood.

Note the false premises that lead to the conclusion, starting with the very first one (which has at least two — the notion that politics is expressible on a single-dimensional axis, and that fascism is the opposite of communisim on such an axis). Another is that such views are “centrist” (a term that again implies that there is a single line to be in the “center” of).

But as Jonah says, their problem is that they don’t understand their own intellectual history, and most of them think that “progressivism” and “liberalism” (neither of which term really applies to their belief system) started in the sixties, when they think about it at all.

11 thoughts on “The Liberal-Leftist Mind Set”

  1. Politics is expressible as a single dimensional axis, although you do lose information that way. The seating chart in a European parliament is a useful guide to predicting which way a given legislator will vote.

  2. It’s also important to bear in mind, Will, that party cohesion in European parliaments is far stronger than here. MPs can be disciplined far more harshly for breaking with the party line than their counterparts in Congress.

  3. “most of the people I know have similar opinions so I must be pretty solidly in the center.”

    Two words: Self-selection bias

  4. Way back in the day, my poli sci course used a wheel analogy to describe political thought. Basically, they took the same line as described in the quoted portion, and bent it, such that the most reactionary / right-wing school of thought (monarchy) was right next to the most radical / left-wing school (Maoism).

    Alas, Fascism was just to the left of monarchy – very much a conservative thing.

  5. Alas, Fascism was just to the left of monarchy – very much a conservative thing.

    Alas indeed, given how many have been so mistaught over the decades, including (apparently) you.

    “Liberal/Conservative” are just as useless as political labels as “Left/Right.”

  6. McGehee:

    To the extent that US politicians in the two party system can and do cross the aisle to vote with the other party, there is an empirical way to place each one on a single dimensional axis. It might, however, cause less confusion if the two ends of the spectrum were called red and blue.

    The system is less useful for dealing with nutcases too extreme to get elected to public office at all.

  7. Rand:

    If you think left and liberal are useless labels, don’t use them. Nobody is making you do it.

    I don’t think the terms are useless, but they do need caution and qualification.

    I will bet you a copy of The Moon is a Harsh Mistress that when members of the British National Party are seated in the European Parliament they will sit on the right side of the chamber and they will vote more like the right half of the room than the left.

  8. The BNP have some socialist elements to their plank. They’re also Louis XIV style protectionists, bring-back-flogging social traditionalists, nationalists, and raise-the-drawbridge conservatives on immigration. I stand by my prediction of where they’ll sit and who they’ll vote with. In any case time will tell.

Comments are closed.