I am sure you won't be shocked to know that recently I have been exchanging some ideas online about politics with a variety of people. During one of these exchanges, while we were discussing what is politically left and right, I found and posted the chart above showing politics as a spectrum from left to right with the axis reflecting the degree of power given to government versus individuals.
A friend countered with a diagram created by the founder of Libertarianism showing politics on two axes. I have spent some time considering both and this post reveals the results of both my research and my thoughts on these two diagrams.
The Nolan Chart is named after David Nolan, founder of the Libertarian Party. When looking at the Nolan Chart, you should first realize that it is a propaganda piece, devised by Nolan to attract people to Libertarianism. It is not necessarily an accurate, unbiased view of the political spectra. If it were unbiased, just above the image of the Statue of Liberty, at the apex of Personal Freedom and Economic Freedom would be the word “Anarchists” or their symbol.
For clarity about why I say this should be positioned there, here it the Wikipedia dissertation on Anarchism.
Anarchism is a political philosophy that advocates self-governed societies based on voluntary institutions. These are often described as stateless societies, although several authors have defined them more specifically as institutions based on non-hierarchical free associations. Anarchism holds the state to be undesirable, unnecessary, and harmful. While anti-statism is central, anarchism entails opposing authority or hierarchical organisation in the conduct of all human relations, including, but not limited to, the state system.
As you can see from this definition, Anarchism advocates a stateless society where each individual is sovereign and self-governing.
So, the true apex of this diagram should rest on Anarchism, not Libertarianism.
Self-governance is a key tenet of Libertarianism. The notion being that any "crime" which only harms the individual is not something the state should govern or limit. Hence, the Libertarian push to end the "War on Drugs" and legalize drugs as well as a host of other "victimless" crimes. Under Libertarianism, the legitimate role of government exists, but is limited to protecting society from predations, be those from other states or from individual or groups within the state. Libertarianism expects everyone to be on their best behavior. As do the Anarchists.
I suppose it is the issue of the need for the state that becomes a primary differentiating point between Libertarianism and Anarchism. From the Nolan Chart it is inferred that the state continues to exist.
I had to study the Nolan Chart for quite a while before it finally hit me what was really bothering me about the chart. At the bottom of the chart you see two, diverging statements about freedom.
Going from the bottom toward the Left it reads "more personal freedom". Going from the bottom toward the Right it reads, "more economic freedom."
I recalled having read that economic freedom has been found to precede personal freedom, so it seemed to me that this divergence of personal versus economic freedom was totally wrong. Not trusting 100% to my memory, I did some research. I found this very interesting treatise on economic freedom called "Freedom and Prosperity" by Jake Dubuque and "The Benefits of Economic Freedom A Survey" by Niclas Berggren.
Berggren provides some useful definitions. He defines economic freedom as "a composite that attempts to characterize the degree to which an economy is a market economy—that is, the degree to which it entails the possibility of entering into voluntary contracts within the framework of a stable and predictable rule of law that upholds contracts and protects private property, with a limited degree of interventionism in the form of government ownership, regulations, and taxes. This is a negative concept of freedom: freedom to do something without being hindered, as opposed to freedom in the sense of having access to actual opportunities to do something ."
Key pieces of this are the "predictable rule of law that upholds contracts and protects private property" and "a limited degree of ... government ... regulations and taxes." [my emphasis]
He also defines political freedom as "participation in the political process on equal conditions, actual competition for political power, and free and fair elections" and adds the dimension of civil freedom, which he defines as "protection against unreasonable visitations, access to fair trials, freedom of assembly, freedom of religion, and freedom of speech."
His definition of civil freedom seems to align somewhat with concept of personal freedom on the Nolan Chart. However none of this addresses the incongruity of having personal freedom diverging from economic freedom.
Milton Friedman in his book Capitalism and Freedom explained that “the fundamental threat to freedom is power to coerce, be it in the hands of a monarch, a dictator, an oligarchy, or a momentary majority. The preservation of freedom requires the elimination of such concentration of power to the fullest possible extent and the dispersal and distribution of whatever power cannot be eliminated."
Logically, this is as true for personal freedom as it is for economic freedom.
Dubuque, notes that, "Freedom House’s Freedom in the World index is used to measure political freedom, while The Index of Economic Freedom, produced by the Heritage Foundation and the Wall Street Journal measure the second variety of freedom. These indices are compared to the GDP per capita of each country. The results indicate that there is a significant correlation between each variety of freedom and wealth."[my emphasis]
The two indices of freedom, seem to buttress each other in every instance.
In addition to these contemporary studies which are conducted each year, many have looked at history and noted the direct correlation between economic freedom as a significant prerequisite to personal freedom. In a Readers Digest article in July 1941 Max Eastman noted that “[Marx] is the one who informed us, looking backwards, that the evolution of private capitalism with its free market had been a precondition for the evolution of all our democratic freedoms. It never occurred to him, looking forward, that if this was so, these other freedoms might disappear with the abolition of the free market."
Any student of western history can note how the rise of the merchant class preceded and led to the ultimate destruction of the system of serfdom which was the hallmark of the Dark Ages of Europe. The wealth of the merchants eventually put them on equal footing with the nobility and the increasing dependency of the nobility on the wealthy merchants forced them to concede the protection of law and receipt of freedoms which eventually trickled down to the commoners and liberated the serfs.
From history and from research it becomes clear that personal freedom and economic freedom do not diverge as shown in the Nolan Chart. Rather they travel in the same direction.
We now have uncovered two fundamental lies in the Nolan Chart. The first is that the chart omits its true apex as Anarchy and the second is that the Left is not a protector of personal freedom.
Dubuque shows how this view that the Left is a champion of personal freedom arises from a contradictory reading of the UniversalDeclaration of Human Rights, which was adopted 1948 by the General Assembly of the newly formed United Nations. He notes that the rights noted can be summed up into three categories:
- Everyone is entitled to the rights set forth in the declaration and that discrimination before the law is unacceptable.
- Everyone has personal rights, including the rights “to life, liberty and security of person,” in addition to the rights to privacy, education, religious freedom, freedom of expression, and the right to own property.
- Everyone is entitled to participate in government, either directly or through elections.
Modern Progressivism/Socialism embraced by the political left asserts that none of these freedoms noted above can be truly enjoyed if the individual lacks the basic necessities of life. They take Maslow's Hierarchy Needs and hold society responsible through the power of government coercion to see that the foundational needs are met so that the self-actualization needs at the top of the hierarchy can be met for everyone.
While this is helpful to understand why the Left manages to appeal to many people it doesn't directly rebut the lie shown at the bottom of the Nolan Chart.
Dubuque speaks to that directly:
If the socialist ideal of economic security for all is realized through a centrally administered economy, then freedom from necessity does not create freedom in any real sense of the term. While socialists can argue that physical depravation severely constrains individual freedom, the material security that their philosophy provides does not liberate the individual. Instead they are made dependent on the state. Even though the state’s motives might be altruistic, it still must have the power to enforce the regulations or central plan of the economy. With such a concentration of power in government and the state of dependency it creates, the individual cannot be described as politically or economically free. It doesn’t matter whether the government is a dictatorship or democratically elected by the majority; the state is totalitarian. As Milton Friedman writes, “fundamentally, there are only two ways of co-ordinating the economic activities of millions. One is central direction involving the use of coercion – the technique of the army and of the modern totalitarian state. The other is voluntary co-operation of individuals – the technique of the marketplace.”This simple characterization pointedly distinguishes between the two philosophies of economic organization available to governments.
This makes it clear to me that the coercive level of the state is the correct axis to apply to the political spectrum, rather than the double axes portrayed in the Nolan Chart. The coercive power of the state must decrease to allow both personal and economic freedom and is an inverse of those two factors.
Note that the very first chart shows that our Constitutional Republic is actually to the right of Democracy. This is because democracy, as was recognized by the Founding Fathers, quickly devolves into the tyranny of the majority and destroys the rule of law.
Our Constitutional Republic is the only form of government which is stable enough and strong enough to protect the rights of the individuals with the rule of law by limiting the coercive power of government. W. Cleon Skousen had it right when he called the establishment of the United States Constitution a 5000 Year Leap in political freedom and government.
Finally, my research led me to the chart below.
This chart explains why so many people today are laboring under the mistaken assertion that Fascism is an artifact of the political right instead of the left. Their teacher in school said it was that way and they never bothered to examine the premise for themselves and learn the truth.
Some might wonder that I would so indict our educational institutions. Consider for a moment the significant influence that began to appear in our colleges and universities in the 60's and 70's. The students who protested against the establishment of those days were heavily influenced by Marxism. For decades now, they have been running our colleges and universities and educating the teachers who educate our children in public schools. Considering that, is it really a surprise that we find our educational curriculum today is not only ignorant of many historical facts, but teaches not only falsehoods and has established a system which punishes independent thought and rewards the adoption of what the teachers promote as societal norms.
- The Nolan Chart is deceptive
- it omits its true apex of Anarchy
- it falsely portrays a divergence of personal and economic freedom
- the introduction of two political axes is useless and is an artifact solely to convey the incorrect notion that Libertarianism is a "centrist" approach to political positions.
- The "True Political Spectrum" is a more accurate and useful depiction of the political spectrum
- the coercive power of government is the central issue of both political and economic freedom
- the protections afforded to our economic and person freedoms are far to the right of the predatory policies of democracy, corporatism, fascism, socialism, progressivism, communism and all other forms of totalitarian political positions.
There are other conclusions you may draw, but I am highlighting these as central to my discussion with my friends.
Tom Sheppard is a business consultant and coach to small business owners and individuals. He is a recognized author with dozens of titles in business and fiction to his credit. One of his endeavors is to help those who want to see their own book in print. He does this through his trademarked Book Whispering Process (TM).
The author is not an official spokesperson for any organization or person mentioned herein.
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