The American Political System Part I: The Spectrum


In our society we have multiple political divides that are based in the “us vs. them” mentality. However at their roots these political divides are based on basic ideological and cultural assumptions that can be catalogued and classified. Rather than being superficial differences these are deeply ingrained conflicts between different ethos. Many of our problems are based in these ideological differences. In order to understand them we have to delve into them. In this part we will deal with the political spectrum as it actually is and then go on to ground that spectrum in the basic cultural underpinning of society in part two.

The False Left-Right Paradigm

Americans have traditionally seen politics as left vs. right, Democrat vs. Republican, Liberal vs. Conservative, etc. and this has lead to meaningless and unhelpful debates like whether or not Hitler was left wing or right wing. The problem is that the left-right spectrum as it historically stands is superficial and arbitrary. It can’t possibly classify all of the people and do so accurately. It is the cause of the partisanship that dominates politics. All the finger pointing, name calling, and infighting stems from it. Rather the spectrum is, well, just that a spectrum rather than a line with objective attributes that can be used to classify every part of the spectrum and everyone in it.

The Method of Classification

Before we start with this chart let’s define a few terms:

  1.  Right: Defined by a commitment to property rights and tradition.
  2. Left: Defined by a rejection of property rights and tradition.
  3. North: Defined in Cultural Tradition or a Principled Rejection thereof.
  4. South: Defined in Philosophical Tradition or a Hedonistic Rejection thereof.

As you move further right economic and religious liberty increases. As you move further south civil and political liberty increases. The further left you go the more economic and religious liberty decreases. The further north you go the more civil and political liberty decreases. With this we can establish the political spectrum as it stands today.

Authoritarianism vs. Individualism

Some people have falsely labeled the spectrum as follows:

However this gives the false impression that Libertarianism, which is decisively right wing, can be left wing giving credence to the idea of left-libertarianism. Instead it should be labeled as follows:

Authoritarianism can be defined as any ideology which respects “authority” over “individuality” to the degree that the value of authority becomes the guiding principle of their political ideology.

Individualism can be defined as any political ideology which respects “individuality” over “authority” to the degree that the value of the individual becomes the guiding principle of their political ideology. 

Individuality vs. Authority is far more important of a conflict than Right vs. Left as it actually informs those on both the right and left. It is the root of our cultural and ideological differences. Right vs. Left unless understood within this frame work is trivial and meaningless. The differences between Republicans and Democrats are smaller in the Right vs. Left paradigm than differences between members of the same party when drawn along the lines of the individual vs. the state or Individualism vs. Authoritarianism. For example both Republicans and Democrats are social regressive in their own way. Republicans oppose drugs, video games, and prostitution on purely religious grounds whereas Democrats oppose them on more Social ones however within parties you have people who disagree with these views. For example Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders are more different from each other than are Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. Both oppose drug legalization. Yet Hillary and Bernie both disagree on this point. However Rand Paul and Bernie Sanders, while they disagree on economics and religion, agree on this. Yet there are still serious differences between how these two opposing sides approach authority vs. the individual. On the right authoritarians support authority due to its ability to enforce cultural tradition rather than on any set of principles. Whereas on the left this appeal to authority is based on a principled rejection of tradition. Conversely on the right respect for the individual is based on firm philosophical tradition and is thus based in objective principles. Whereas support for the individual on the left is based on a hedonistic pursuit if pleasure. It is a negation of principles. Thus individualists on the left are Libertine whereas individualists on the right are Libertarian. Authoritarians on the left are Progressive whereas Authoritarians on the right are Traditionalists. The most radical parts of the spectrum are the upper left and lower right corners. The upper left being extremist authoritarianism. The lower right being anarchism.

Classifying Individuals

It is difficult to classify political parties since they often align on left vs. right rather than north vs. south however we can classify individuals. 

  1. Adolf Hitler: Adolf Hitler is right-wing but only barely. His ethno-nationalism, respect for cultural tradition, and high regard for the property rights of his fellow Germans places him on the right. However his Socialist leanings mean that he would be left-wing if he dropped his ethno-nationalism, cultural tradition, and property rights position.
  2. Donald Trump: Right wing due to his nationalism and respect for cultural tradition. However if he dropped these he would be the male version of Hillary Clinton.
  3. Bernie Sanders: Decisively Leftwing. He is a Libertine.
  4. Rand Paul: decisively Rightwing. Libertarian.
  5. Gary Johnson: Barely Rightwing. His economic views line up with those of the average moderate Republican but his attitude is that of a Libertine.
  6. Austin Petersen: Rightwing. Libertarian.


Whereas right vs left and Republican vs Democrat as such are superficial at best political divides are real and based on actual ideological beliefs.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s