We are all familiar with the traditional left/right model of politics. Democrats, Labour, Socialists, and Communists lay to the left, and Republicans, Conservatives, and Fascists lay to the right. This model is certainly helpful in that it allows us to map ideological similarities along a spectrum. However, it is also deeply flawed because it fails to account for other salient variables. For example, how much government does one support? Fascists and Libertarians are both considered right-wing parties, but Fascists advocate complete subservience to the state whereas Libertarians prefer as little state as possible. Even within unified movements there exists major differences. For example, David Priestland argues that Communism alone has three major sub-groupings: technocratic, utopian, and revolutionary. Thus, it is clear that a more nuanced model is required.
I’m certainly not the first one to point this out. A number of path-breaking political scientists have already developed models that better account for the highly complicated political cleavages that define civil society and politics (for example, here is one of Evan’s favorite political classification systems). Many now use multi-axis diagrams to better represent the complex views of citizens. Some measure support for state power, others examine foreign policy views, a few even plot support for trade. The point is that there is a rich and diverse set of views on both sides of the political spectrum, and broad classification system don’t acurately capture this diversity. It is insufficient, therefore, to merely describe someone as being on the left or on the right. This is particularly true for this year’s presidential election: Despite being on opposite sides of the political spectrum, both Trump and Sanders support big government and are skeptical of free trade. Thus, if we want to better understand our own country’s politics, we must move beyond simplistic models and embrace more dynamic and thorough representations of the diversity of thought within the American electorate. With such polarizing figures running in this year’s presidential election, it’s important to know where we, and others, stand.