Pournelle was dissatisfied with the traditional Left-Right distinction. One variable describing such a complex situation “produces political absurdities.” Just because one is not of the Left does not mean that he is of the Right. At least, not in the way the “Right” is usually meant.
Even two dimensions is not enough to capture the subtleties of any person’s beliefs. There are people calling themselves Catholics who support abortion, for instance. Just as there are others who are against capital punishment but who advocate guns for personal protection (I’m thinking of radio host and radical lawyer Ron Kuby).
Politician David Nolan came to the same conclusion as Pournelle: one dimension is not enough to describe political affiliation.
Both gentlemen produced a two-dimensional chart in an attempt to move away from the simplistic. Nolan’s first:
His axes are Personal and Economic Freedom. Those governments, or people arguing for a government, who prefer to award their citizenry the least Personal and Economic Freedom are called “Statist” or sometimes “Communist.” These folk, according to Nolan, desire tyranny. Not to be used against themselves, surely; but they say that an all-powerful government is ideal.
Those governments who opt for the greatest Personal Freedom and the least Economic Freedom are said to be “Leftist” or “Socialist.” Oppositely, those who opt for the greatest Economic Freedom but the least Personal Freedom are said to the “Rightest” or “Conservative.”
At the top of the pyramid—the apex, if you will—we find a system which values equally maximum Personal and Economic Freedom. These fine folk are called “Libertarian”. Coincidentally, this is the same political affiliation of the chart’s designer (Nolan is also a follower of Ayn Rand).
Now Pournelle’s chart:
Its two axes are (horizontal) “Attitude toward the State,” and (vertical) “Attitude toward planned social progress.”
The more you feel that the State can solve all problems, the further right you go. Likewise, the more you feel that the State is an evil—necessary or tyrannical—the further left you travel.
The vertical axis is more difficult. According to Pournelle, this axis “can be translated ‘rationalism’; it is the belief that society has ‘problems,’ and these can be ‘solved’; we can take arms against a sea of troubles.”
That is, the more you believe superior brain power can tackle the complexities of government, the higher up the chart you go, until you reach a point where reason is “Enthroned.” Not unexpectedly, Max Steiner and Ayn Rand are found in these lofty reaches.
Understand, this axis does not describe any person’s rational state. This describes the belief a person has toward the idea that reason can solve problems.
Now, those who advocate larger States are Communists, Socialists, Welfare Liberals, and Various Conservatives, Fascists and Nazis. The first three are separated from the later by their belief that Intellectuals Are Our Hope.
Those who say the State should be small to nonexistent are Objectivists, Libertarians, and Hippies, and Anarchists. Once more, the belief in brain power separates the first from the second two.
An immediate advantage Pournelle’s chart has over Nolan’s is the center line: Pournelle’s can immediately be rescaled so that this is the 0 point. Further, although it is drawn as limited (finite) in extent, it need not be in reality. That is, we can stretch the axes out farther than we see. This cannot be done with Nolan’s chart.
Nolan’s chart takes a critical body blow with his labeling Socialists as those who enjoy the “greatest personal freedom.” This is utter nonsense. By “utter” I mean, the greatest possible; just in case there was any ambiguity. A socialist is born to regulate, to constrain and restrict: not in any logical or consistent fashion, but as his whims’ direction.
Also, to say that the Right are those who would love to do nothing more than restrict personal freedom but gleefully allows maximal economic freedom is just-less-than-utter nonsense. What—exactly—is the distinction between “economic” and “personal”? Is opening a tobacco—vile sin!—shop classed as an economic or personal exercise of freedom?
Nolan also faces the unsupportable problem of calling “libertarian” what is ordinarily labeled “anarchist.” What else is absolute freedom in all aspects? The system where there is no control of any kind?
Neither Pournelle or Nolan claim that their two dimensions are all; nor does either claim to be perfect. But Pournelle does a better job of finding two dimensions that are the most unlike while also being the most explanatory.
One might argue—I would—that Fascists and Socialists belong in the same quadrant, but that is a minor criticism of placement. Pournelle’s axes are sound.
He combines the “economic” and “freedom” into one dimension: “Attitude toward the State,” which is a more practical than Nolan’s breaking these apart. And nowhere does Nolan capture the influential nature of Intellectuals, as Pournelle neatly does.
A subtly is that, unlike Nolan’s trick of elevating his own party, Pournelle places what many would consider most appealing dead center.
For example, I tend to think the State as a necessary evil. It cannot be dispatched—it would be impossible to, even if one desired that outcome. I also view the standard intellectual’s self-assessment of superior intelligence with deep suspicion: for a start, any man that has to continually tell us how smart he is is doing something wrong.
This places me just under, and slightly to the right of, “Various Libertarians.”
Where are you?
1I can’t resist a plug for that book. It describes what happens when a giant meteorite slams into the Pacific. Apart from destroying civilization, it creates a miles-high tidal wave which sweeps over L.A., taking with it a surfer who happened to be on the ocean when the meteor hit.
I won’t tell you his fate, but it’s unique. “That damn surfer,” Pournelle said on at TWIT show last year, “is all anybody ever remembers.” He claimed the surfer was Niven’s creation.