[First published December 26, 2004]In an interview with Germany’s Sueddeutsche Zeitung daily, California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger said (link here) that “the Republican Party currently covers only the spectrum from the right wing to the middle, and the Democratic Party covers the spectrum from the left to the middle. I would like the Republican Party to cross this line, move a little further left and place more weight on the center.”
This reference to a left-right spectrum is surprising, coming from Schwarzenegger who is more libertarian than Democrats or Republicans in his political philosophy. Perhaps he felt this was a matter of communication to newsmen who seem to know of no other way of characterizing political differences than left versus right. This is all one ever hears in the news, and even by informed commentators who ought to know better.
The left –right way of understanding political differences has a long history, which some only take back to the seating on one side of the aisle or the other of different factions in the French National Assembly during the time of the French Revolution. Left versus right was used during the American Revolution as well, and even further back at the time the English Revolution of the 1640s. So reporters and commentators can be excused for believing this left-right spectrum of politics is the only one possible.
It is not. There is also up!
Libertarianism is often mentioned in the news, but it seems to hang in the air as a political philosophy without secure footing on the political left-right scale, to use a more appropriate word for what will follow. Some treat libertarian social views emphasizing maximum freedom, including legalizing dope, prostitution, and gambling, and support for abortion, as left wing. Some others treat its belief in a free market and freedom from excessive regulation as right wing. Libertarianism can’t be both left and right wing at the same time, but few seem to recognize this contradiction.
In dealing with politics at its most diverse on the world stage, what we have here is three political scales, rather than just the left-right one. There is one scale from extreme left socialist/communist to the fundamentalist monarchist or theocrat (for religious rule). Another scale is of the latter at one end to the libertarian at the other. And the third scale is from libertarian to the extreme left. These three scale are connected at their ends to form a political triangle, as shown in the figure below.
(use this link if image not shown) http://www.hawaii.edu/powerkills/PK.FIG8.1.GIF
Empirical research on political systems and an analysis of the different ideologies confirms this political triangle. Let’s place the libertarian end as up, as I did in the figure. Then we can well ask of a politician, is he left wing (towards socialism), right wing (towards fundamentalist/traditional rule of some kind), or up-wing (towards the greatest freedom in social and economic matters)?
Then again, as crazy as libertarians have become on foreign policy, maybe the triangle should be flipped top to bottom so that we have them as down-wing.