The Pathos of Politics – The Political Spectrum

The Political Spectrum

The ordinary resources of empirical observation and ordinary human knowledge give us no warrant for supposing that all good things are reconcilable with each other. ~ Russian British Jewish sociopolitical theorist and historian Isaiah Berlin

An ideology is a doctrinal belief system about an idealized social order and the means to attain it. Ideology is a political belief system, much like religion is a spiritual belief system, and science an existential belief system.

Logically, the proposed solution to a problem, such as an increase in government regulation, should not influence one’s belief in the problem. But it does. The cure can be more immediately threatening than the problem. In general, people deny facts that threaten their ideologies. ~ American business scholar Troy Campbell

The 3 belief systems – political, religious, scientific – are invariably intertwined, and ultimately reflect personal character. Besides one’s view on human nature and its condition, a person’s political ideology roughly corresponds to a generalized level of fear, self-control, optimism, and comfort with change. Compared to liberals, conservatives are more afraid, less optimistic, more skeptical, have greater attention regulation and task persistence, and dislike change.

Deeply embedded in conservative and liberal politics are 2 different models of the family. Conservatism is based on a Strict Father model, while liberalism is centered on a Nurturant Parent model. These 2 models of the family give rise to different moral systems. ~ American linguist George Lakoff

Faith in free will figures strongly within the framework of ideology. Conservatives tend to attribute causality to personal effort and control, whereas social liberals are more likely to cite external factors, such as culture and economic climate.

As believers in free will, conservatives are inclined toward individual liberty (within certain moral boundaries), whereas liberal concerns are of social opportunity and equity. Conservatives tend to be more religious; liberals, more secular.


Ideology involves a perspective on the present and a vision for a preferred future, almost always presented as a material improvement. Hence, an outstanding feature of ideology is its offer of hope.

In prescribing a course of correction, ideology is action oriented. As ideologies are intended for mass consumption, they typically have a motivational tone. Politicians throughout the political spectrum have at least 1 thing in common: their appeals are directed to the aspirations of the Collective.

Thomas Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence and Karl Marx’s Communist Manifesto are more similar than different. Jefferson cited British repression. Marx cited capitalist subjection. Addressed to a wide audience, both cite grievances that justify revolution to a more just social order that proffered the hope of greater freedom.


Political thought, behavior, and emotion are powerfully driven by political identities. ~ American political psychologist Karen Stenner

The designations left and right originated during the French Revolution, based upon where Assembly members were seated in the room. The left was considered the “party of movement,” while the right was “the party of order.”

An ideology invariably involves a disposition to change. 18th-century classical liberalism grew the ideological roots from which democracy sprouted. From this liberalism emanates a bias to see movement to something new as positive progress. But progress has no intrinsic value.

Political labels are commonly used to signify level of discontent with the status quo, the vector in which change is desired, and how quickly.


The philosophers have only interpreted the world; the point is to change it. ~ Karl Marx

Radicals are exceedingly disenchanted and want revolutionary change in the existing order.

Though not all radicals are violent, and not all revolutions provoke conflict, those with vested interests in the status quo react severely. In rejecting the fundamental values of an extant polity, radicals put others on the defensive.

Accordingly, even though their numbers and influence may be miniscule, the authorities tend to crush nascent movements viewed as radical. In the US, civil rights leaders in the 1950s and 1960s were harassed and killed, as were Vietnam anti-war protesters. Left-wing demonstrators at the 1968 Democratic convention in Chicago were brutalized by the police. American federal government officials have repeatedly slaughtered religious cult members, as have Chinese authorities.

At polar extremes, left-wing radicals and right-wing reactionaries are both revolutionaries in their disgust with the status quo. Whereas radicals would vault into an envisioned future, reactionaries want to immigrate to an imagined past.

Besides spurning the notion of social progress, reactionaries reject claims of human equality. They favor distributing power and wealth unequally on some basis, whether race, social class, religion, or other criteria. Reactionaries almost always approve of subjugating women.

Ideologically, Mussolini’s fascism lay at the extreme right: a deeply historical reactionism. Fascism begins with historical fact: society is a social pyramid: at the base are the masses, ruled over by an elite. Fascists simply want to codify that societal order, with themselves at the political apex – the very definition of kleptocracy. At industrial-strength, fascism favors state control of a capitalist economy aimed to achieve autarky (self-sufficiency). Mussolini’s philosophy would have fit tidily in the tradition of the imperial Roman Empire.

Radicalism is not always suppressed. Sometimes it becomes mainstream, forming a new norm.

The 21st century has seen the rise of radical reactionary impulses in a sizable slice of the populace which is disgusted with the status quo via perceived loss of status. Discontent has driven a destructive impulse which insensible but crafty politicians have sung as a siren song. In wreaking a wrecking ball upon the American political landscape, Donald Trump has been a coloratura virtuoso.

One way to understand the rise of reactionary populism today is as the revenge of sovereignty on government. This is not simply a backlash after decades of globalization, but against the form of political power that facilitated it, which is technocratic, multilateral and increasingly divorced from local identities. ~ English political economist William Davies


Of all the varieties of virtues, liberalism is the most beloved. ~ Aristotle

Liberals share a belief in the general competence of people. They too desire progressive change, albeit more stepwise than radicals.

The meaning of the term liberal has been muddled through history and differs today by polity.

Few words have generated more confusion than the word ‘liberal’. ~ South Korean economist Ha-Joon Chang

Scottish historian William Robertson first used the term liberal in a political sense in 1769, in his book on the history of Scotland. Fellow Scot Adam Smith followed in his 1776 economics book.

The first political group under the liberal label were Spaniards, who, in 1814, opposed the king’s suspension of the constitution. The word spread from Spain to France, but set down deep roots in England, where it became associated with the political philosophy of John Stuart Mill, and in the policies advocated by the Liberal Party.

Classical liberals believed that government oppressed people when it had too much power: the less government the better. In valuing freedom above all, the laissez-faire (let things be) of classical liberalism is now called libertarianism. This remains the take of European liberals.

In bold contrast, modern American liberals are more concerned with societal well-being, and are willing to experiment with social engineering; what Europeans call social democracy. The term liberal in this context is intended to signify social liberalism, which involves attempting some degree of egalitarianism.

Liberalism, above all, means emancipation – emancipation from one’s fears, his inadequacies, from prejudice, from discrimination, from poverty. ~ American politician Hubert Humphrey in 1968

Today, liberalism is usually equated with the advocacy of democracy, emphasizing civil liberties such as freedom of speech. Until the later 20th century, most liberals were not democrats. They did reject conservative esteem of tradition and social hierarchy, but early 20th-century liberals did not support equal rights and universal (adult) suffrage: men labeling themselves as ‘liberal’ believed that women lacked the mental faculties necessary for rational choice. Further, the poor should not be enfranchised, lest they vote for the socialist confiscation of private property.

The character of liberalism changed as the ‘rising middle classes’ succeeded in establishing their economic and political dominance. Liberalism became increasingly conservative. ~ Andrew Heywood

By the turn of the 21st century, the term liberal in the US had been so effectively vilified by American conservatives that those on the left labeled themselves progressive instead. This was a repackaged reincarnation of a label from a century earlier. In the early 20th century, progressives were isolationists in foreign affairs who demanded leftist reforms in domestic policy, including antitrust legislation, and an end to government corruption. Progressives were modernizers ahead of their time. In that era, liberal was the term for the milquetoasts on the left.

Following Jeremy Bentham, contemporary liberals are prone to optimism about people’s ability to solve problems via reason and consensus. They tend to address social problems with a vigor that conservatives find meddlesome, by people armed only with dangerous overconfidence.

Liberalism is totalitarianism with a human face. ~ American economist and political philosopher Thomas Sowell

Today’s liberals have abandoned the natural law that fuels libertarianism, and fret less about government power. Contemporary liberals are more concerned about the corrosive effect of concentrated economic power than heavy-handed government. The liberal view now is that government can even expand liberty by limiting the oppression that capitalism imposes on workers. It is the philosophy of applying a bandage to someone profusely bleeding to death.

Worldwide, the liberal label is often more confusion than description. Japan’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party is a nationalist party with reactionary inclinations. Russia’s party of the same name is nakedly fascist. Britain’s ailing Liberal Democrats and Canada’s governing Liberal Party are among the few parties where the title lives up to its billing in meaningful measure.


In the middle of the political spectrum are moderates: essentially, a non-ideology of people that find more satisfaction with the status quo than anywhere else on the political spectrum, along with an impressive lack of vision. Moderates’ reluctance to change is exceeded only by conservatives, who are skeptical of efforts advertised as progress, and whose primary concern is social order.


Conservatism clings to what has been established, fearing that, once we begin to question the beliefs that we have inherited, all the values of life will be destroyed. ~ American political philosopher Morris Cohen

The term conservative dates to 1818, as the title of a French political magazine – Le Conservateur – promoting the ideology.

Conservative support of the status quo is not so much a statement of contentment as resignation: that what is may be the best that can be achieved at present. Conservatives are skeptical that human reason is up to the job of societal engineering. In this, conservatism is a psychological projection of dim-wittedness onto others.

Divergent views of the human condition are a fundamental difference between liberals and conservatives. Both agree that people have complex natures: a mixture of the moral and the corrupt, with rational and emotional motivations.

Where the two split is in which qualities dominate. Liberals believe that humans are basically rational and moral. Conservatives are not so sanguine: they mistrust the fortitude and morality of men, and view people as cunning, exploitative animals. Again, conservatives are projecting their own mental makeup onto humanity at large.

Conservatives tend to view humans as naturally bad, uncooperative, untrustworthy, and in some instances, just plain stupid. As a consequence, conservatives tend to view government and politics (both permeated with those corrupt and dull-minded people) with great skepticism. Because of this belief in a flawed human nature, conservatives in general view human attempts to create a just society through reason as unrealizable. ~ American humanities scholar Brian Farmer

The more fear a youngster has, the more conservative that person will grow up to be. More than anything, fear defines conservatives.

If you hold up images of objects that people consider dangerous or unpleasant, for example of large spiders, and then measure the production of sweat from people’s fingertips (skin conductance response), you get an indication of spontaneous physical reaction. In these cases, conservative voters react more strongly than liberal ones. ~ Danish political scientist Lasse Laustsen

Conservative leaders feed fear to draw support: emphasizing the threat of terrorism and minority groups, including immigrants. For centuries, conservative demagogues have crafted scapegoats by referring to targeted groups as dangerous sub-humans and “germs.” For instance, Donald Trump is an acknowledged germaphobe and has a penchant for describing people he does not like as “disgusting” or “animals.”

The adherence to moral absolutes creates intolerance among conservatives against those who think differently and leads to demonization of their perceived enemies. When the enemy is thus dehumanized, torture and killing are prescribed with little violation of conscience. ~ Brian Farmer

By contrast, liberal leaders typically try to allay fears, and approach public policy in a positive light.

The only thing we have to fear is fear itself – nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.~ US President Franklin Roosevelt upon taking office (1932) during the Great Depression

Whereas libertarians believe society functions best with minimal government, and often have a “live and let live” attitude, conservatives favor ‘law and order’ authoritarian control.

The negative view of human nature espoused by conservatives also translates into low social trust. As a consequence, conservatives tend to favor rule through coercion, a strong military, a strong police force, and an emphasis on personal self-defense. ~ Brian Farmer

The moral compass is one of the seminal differences between liberals and conservatives. Liberals typically view the world through a secular perspective. Morality is situational. Conversely, American conservatives tend to espouse a strong religious orientation. Morals are absolute.

Adherence to moral absolutes constitutes the oppressiveness which characterizes conservatism. As moral absolutists, conservatives prefer to punish transgressors of their moral norms. Compassion to those in out-groups is anathema to conservatives. Inconsistently, conservatives tend to be less judgmental of compeer miscreants. Morally, conservatism and hypocrisy go hand-in-hand.

Whereas most conservatives concur with reactionaries that human equality is a myth, American conservatives, under sway of the tradition of libertarianism there, accept an abstract principle of equality in opportunity – but they oppose addressing inequities. Social dominance and repression of minorities and other out-groups are acceptable, especially if advertised as instrumental in maintaining order.

Traditional conservatives typically view income inequalities as legitimate and natural and therefore attempts at redistribution to the poor are a violation of the natural order. ~ Brian Farmer

In the socioeconomic sphere, conservatives view life as a contest. Accomplishments are what is important.

In regarding private property as an inalienable right, conservatives and classical liberals agree. The similarity ends there. Whereas classical liberals may see societal corrosion in gross material inequality (as Adam Smith did), conservatives believe the property right trumps all others. Further, to a conservative, wealth is a measure of a person’s value to society.

Conservatism is not all looking through the glass darkly. Conservative caution sometimes stems from respect for tradition: believing in preserving practices and institutions that they think have worked in the past. Obviously, this perspective encourages scant societal change.

In their constructive lack of vision and mistrust of reason, conservatives often rely upon solutions which they view as natural. Conservatives tend to place great reliance on custom, and sources of authority, including religious leaders.

When social solutions are required, conservatives look to the past, doing so nostalgically and not historically (in full historical context). Conservatives wistfully hallow the past and see current society as being in a state of moral decay. The rose-tinted view on the past dirties the present day.

Whereas social liberals might use a government program to solve a societal problem, conservatives are apt to eschew such a rational initiative, preferring to let “market forces” work their magic. Markets are actually a disordered dynamic of atomistic transactions, yet conservatives often talk of markets as though they are guided by some preternatural wisdom. Such irrationality shows a telling parallel between conservatism and fascism in embracing the unreal. Whether markets actually work efficaciously as imagined is beside the point that conservatives prefer to leave societal problems to dynamics that are not rational interventions.

Just as liberalism has branches, so too conservatism. Those who follow Burke tend toward elitism. British Tories make no bones about the ruling class having a civic duty to govern.

Then there are the entrepreneurs, who are much more individualistic, and at times facilely populist in their approach. Believing “the cream rises to the top,” entrepreneurs tend to espouse that leaders can come from any stratum of society. Hence, entrepreneurs favor latitude for individual accomplishment, and oppose government intervention that might interfere with the precious socioeconomic winnowing process. Despite the ostensible espoused liberality of opportunity, this is a form of Darwinian elitism, made by the successful to trumpet their superiority.

In the late 20th century emerged more vividly 2 strains of American conservativism, both with roots in the 1960s: neocons (neoconservatives) and theocons (social conservatives). Neocons are intellectuals that tout the superiority of Anglo-American values and institutions and feel that government should export those virtues to the rest of the world, forcibly if need be. Although neocons are small in number, their influence has been outsized, as they are well-financed and erudite. Neoconservatism was reflected in the foreign policies of American Republicans in the 1980s into the 21st century (the Bush administrations), and that of British Labour prime minister Tony Blair.

Neocons are essentially wannabe colonialists of the political mind. Neoconservatism is a historical continuation of the Americanism versus Communism mind-set that prevailed among conservatives during the Cold War, from the late 1940s to 1989, when the Soviet empire fell apart from chronic mismanagement.

Theocons are religious social conservatives, typically fundamentalist Christians. They brush aside constitutional separation of church and state in wanting public policies to reflect their Christian faith and subsidize their social organizations. Theocons want “in God we trust” to be far more than a mere motto on money.

Social conservatives are less interested than economic conservatives in minimizing government and fiscal rectitude. Indeed, theocon focus is on government support of Christian faith-based institutions, especially parochial schools, and banning abortion, same-sex marriages, teaching evolution, and anything else that contravenes their beliefs. The difference between American theocons and political Islamists is in the god and prophet worshipped.

The righteousness of theocons represents a danger in a multicultural society that is based on tolerance. Theocons pay scant respect to the democratic process. Incivility toward opposition is a norm, and violence, such as murdering doctors who perform abortions, is considered justified.

Despite differences, conservatives share a similar psychology and worldview: fear, especially of social change, psychological projection, tribalism, moral absolutism, ideals of violence, suspicion of human rationalism, and thereby skepticism toward social programs.

Conservatives are not necessarily stupid, but most stupid people are conservatives. ~ John Stuart Mill

While conservative positions vary, their overarching promise of political order is appealing to many people, as it fosters an illusory sense of stability. The ideas of radicals and liberals often sound attractive, but the very process of change bodes for disruption.

Most people have low thresholds for sociopolitical disorder. Hence, the prospect of change, even though it may produce positive results, is disturbing, and so encounters a natural psychological resistance. People are willing to suffer a system that tends against their interests rather than endure disruption in their patterns of everyday life. This makes “order” a powerful selling-point for conservatism.

Albeit hesitantly, conservatives can agree to change, and the change they will accept is progressive. Only reactionaries entirely reject progress as positive, preferring the old ways as the best. Reactionaries desire regressive change. If not considered an anarchist for disabling American political institutions (that is, for anarchy, not anarchism), President Donald Trump had reactionary impulses in letting market forces overwhelm the government’s ability to grapple with them.

Libertarianism has been identified here as classical liberalism, but its American strain is reactionary. American libertarians want a return to the 19th-century laissez-faire policies that let robber-baron capitalism thrive. This is an alignment with entrepreneurial conservatism. Above all, to an American libertarian, private property rights are inviolate.

The modern conservative is engaged in one of man’s oldest exercises in moral philosophy: that is, the search for a superior moral justification for selfishness. ~ John Kenneth Galbraith


There is a tradition within conservatism that has favoured authoritarian rule, especially in continental Europe. ~ Andrew Heywood

Authoritarians express much deeper fears than the rest of the electorate. They seek the imposition of order where they perceive dangerous change, and desire a strong leader who will defeat those fears with force. ~ American attorney and journalist Amanda Taub

With the world a menacing place, many conservatives feel a strongman is needed as a leader. This is a primal impulse.

A deep tone of voice appeals to conservative voters. More generally, conservative voters seem to have a preference for politicians who look physically strong and masculine, while liberal voters prefer those who have less dominant features and seem more accommodating, perhaps even slightly feminine. ~ Lasse Lausten

In the 21st century, the streak of authoritarianism is stronger in the US than in Europe: 33% of the European Union electorate have an authoritarian bent, whereas 45% of American voters do. The more close-minded and fearful of change a person is, the more inclined to authoritarianism.

Authoritarianism is now deeply bound up with partisan identities. It has become part and parcel of Republican identity among non-Hispanic white Americans. ~ American political psychologist Christopher Federico et al

The authoritarian streak in many conservatives holds an inherent paradox. They want the state to have power over people, but do not want it to care for people: in essence, authority without responsibility. This inconsistency is sociopathic and morally bankrupt.


Anarchism is founded on the observation that since few men are wise enough to rule themselves, even fewer are wise enough to rule others. ~ American author Edward Abby

The antithesis of state control is anarchism. Anarchists of every stripe see institutional government as an impediment to human progress and wish to strike it down.

Anarchy and statism are incompatible, which explains why statists must mislead people by defining anarchy as chaos and disorder. ~ American political essayist Darrell Anderson

Anarchism is often misunderstood. It does not prescribe anarchy. Instead, anarchists favor cooperation, thereby allowing people to fulfill their potential absent state coercion. In assuming that self-government would work, anarchism is exceedingly optimistic about human nature.

Every Muslim must rise to defend his religion. The wind of faith is blowing. ~ Saudi Arabian revolutionary Osama bin Laden

The theocratic political ideology Islamism produces reactionaries who claim dedication to implementing Islamic law (Sharia). To this end, Islamists revolt against more moderate regimes with a will to absolute power.

Establishing the Islamic state worldwide belongs to the great goals of the revolution. ~ Iranian Muslim cleric and revolutionary Ayatollah Khomeini


Those intellectuals who say that the clergy should leave politics and go back to the mosque speak on behalf of Satan. ~ Ayatollah Khomeini

The semi-secular Pahlavi dynasty ruled Iran from 1925 until swept away by popular revolt in 1979, led by a clergy tired of being paid only lip service by the ruling Shah.

This revolution did not follow the typical pattern, in that Iran was relatively well-off economically. The Shah’s regime had become brutally repressive, corrupt, and extravagant, and so, had to go.

In the Islamic government all people have complete freedom to have any kind of opinion. ~ Ayatollah Khomeini before the Iranian Revolution

The revolution installed a Muslim theocracy with its own flavors of repression and corruption. In this revolution, the people got the government they deserved.

We will break all the poison pens of those who speak of nationalism, democracy, and such things. ~ Ayatollah Khomeini after the Iranian Revolution


The men and women of Afghanistan are building a nation that is free, and proud, and fighting terror. ~ US President George W. Bush in 2003

In the fight against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan that began in 1979, Islamists were succored by Pakistan, itself a Muslim nation, and funded by the US and Saudi Arabia. The exhausted Russians left in 1992, having gained nothing but grief from the ceaseless conflict there that had cost over a million lives, and created millions of refugees, most of whom had fled to Pakistan.

The Islamic state created after the Russians left was torn asunder by a civil war fueled by hegemony competition between Saudi Arabia and Iran.

The home-grown Taliban began politico-military action by bringing a measure of justice to corrupt local militia leaders who were raping civilians. From thence they grew but were only able to take over Afghanistan in 1996 with support from Pakistan and Saudi Arabia.

The Taliban were routed from power by an American-led military force in late 2001, in retaliation for the 11 September 2001 aerial attacks on US targets by al-Qaeda, an Islamic terrorist group which had been based in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

The pieces of the bodies of infidels were flying like dust particles. If you would have seen it with your own eyes, you would have been very pleased, and your heart would have been filled with joy. ~ Osama bin Laden, reminiscing on the 9/11 attack which he masterminded

The Americans accused the Taliban of harboring Osama bin Laden, mastermind of the attacks. The Taliban were left friendless internationally after the US threatened to bomb Afghanistan “back to the Stone Age” if they continued supporting the Taliban.

The US-led invasion did not destroy the Taliban. In the years that followed, the Taliban bided their time, launching horrific terrorist attacks in Afghanistan, often against civilians, in an effort to destabilize the regime propped up by the Americans. As America withdrew its presence, the Taliban resurged; the Afghan government unable to contain them.

To fund their effort, the Taliban abducts women and sells them into sex slavery, for which there is a thriving market among Muslim men.


In both Iran and Afghanistan, the fundamentalists who took power created oppressive regimes. Women have borne an especial brunt in being brutally repressed. But then, this differs little from established Islamic states. Muslim men are heretics to the teachings of Muhammad in this regard.

Be kind with the soft and gentle ones (females). ~ Muhammad


A nation is an imagined political community; imagined because the members of even the smallest nation will never know most of their fellow-members, or even hear of them, yet in the minds of each lives the image of their communion. ~ Anglo Irish American political scientist Benedict Anderson

Historically, communities coalesced via a shared culture, especially a common tongue. Whereas language was the loosest binding, religion was the tautest.

In the deepest regard, a community was one where its people held a communal belief system: tribalism in its truest sense. In modern times, people often speak of a community as comprising shared beliefs (notably religion), regardless of ethnicity or even language.

The Pope is the chief of the Christians. He is an ancient idol, worshipped now from habit. He claims to be the successor of one of the earliest Christians, called Saint Peter, and it is certainly a rich succession, for his treasure is immense and he has a great country under his control. ~ Persian traveler Rica in a 1712 letter from Paris to his friend

Politically, the realms of rulers evolved into countries, often with boundaries that were arbitrary in the tribes they contained. Nascent nations were not natural communities. They were instead dynastic concoctions determined by conquest and amended over the centuries by diplomatic give-and-take.

Political states emerged from the minds of men. Their practical implementation was of borders: offering free (but taxed) trade within, and tariff from without. Even more important, as from ancient times, was declaration of sovereign territory. These material distinctions never mattered nearly as much as the fixed mental figment which defined political identity more than polity: nationalistic ideology, identifying oneself as belonging to a nation. Historically, imperialism and its reaction sharpened the sense of nationhood in occupiers and occupied alike.

However bounded by lines on a map, and codified into political structures, a nation has never been anything more than an anchor of abstraction for the peoples within to be subjected to an overarching fate – led to fortune or folly by the whims of their leaders.

Nationalism, the theoretical expression of the nation-state, is the most powerful political idea of the past 2 centuries. ~ Leon Baradat

Nationalism calls on a nation’s peoples to support the state’s interests in the spirit of fraternity. Rightists use nationalism to encourage unity and stability. Leftists see it as an ideological vehicle to improve the well-being of citizens.

Despite the obvious absurdity of disjuncture with community and self-interest, people believe. Nationalism is emotively potent in providing a sense of identity with something greater than the self. This allure is a wellspring for both group-belonging as intrinsically desirous, and a deistic religion with secular roots.

As a form of self-identification, nationalism both unites and divides people. Although nationalism ostensibly has positive overtones, its exclusory focus frequently stirs conflict over scarce resources.

Even casting this artifice in its most positive light, nationalism degrades societies by papering over simmering social tensions with abstraction, not solution; and this leaves aside nationalism as a destructive force for foreigners.

A nation is a society united by a delusion about its ancestry and by a common hatred of its neighbors. ~ English Anglican priest William Inge

Along with the elevation of democracy as an affirmative abstraction, nationalism grew in importance from the French Revolution. The 2 World Wars and Cold War that followed congealed nationalism as a sociopolitical force.

 World War 1

The first calamity of the 20th century. The calamity from which all other calamities sprang. ~ German-born American historian Fritz Stern

By the 20th century there was the strong stench of competitive nationalism among the leaders of European nation-states, which had become enmeshed in a tangled web of alliances that had formed from colonial empires jockeying for dominance.

The assassination of the Austro-Hungarian Archduke Franz Ferdinand by a 19-year-old Bosnian Serb activist on 28 June 2014 started a chain reaction that plunged Europe into a cataclysmic struggle. Austria-Hungary, which had been looking to assert itself into the Balkans, declared war on Serbia, accusing its government of orchestrating the attack. Russia then mobilized to defend Serbia, its ally. This led Germany, which was allied with Austria-Hungary, to declare war on Russia and its ally France, and to invade France’s neighbor, neutral Belgium. Britain had promised to protect Belgian neutrality, and so declared war on Germany, which it had been battling for naval supremacy.

Technology turned warfare into mass slaughter. The introduction of machine guns and accurate artillery made advancing over open ground suicidal. Nevertheless, insane military leaders clung to 19th-century tactics for much of the war, ordering massed infantry assaults that meant troops were mowed down by the thousands.

In the 4 years that followed, 9.7 million soldiers and 10 million civilians died in a ghastly conflict from which political leaders learned nothing. The war’s conclusion did not end the conflicts, some of which are still raging today.

War fatigue led to the collapse of the centuries-old Romanov dynasty and the imposition of Soviet Communist rule. The polyglot empire of defeated Austria-Hungary was dissolved into a motley collection of independent states roughly based on ethnic identity. The harsh terms insisted upon by France on Germany led to the rise of Adolf Hitler and his Nazis.


Patriotism is to nationalism what worship is to religion. As with religion, patriotism can spawn self-righteous ignoble actions.

Patriotism is the last refuge of scoundrels. ~ English writer Samuel Johnson

As it has in the worst excesses of political exercise, nationalism became a puissant posture in the 2010s. Donald Trump campaigned for US president in 2016 under the slogan “Make America Great,” despite a campaign offering nothing more than twaddle and lies.

In keeping with fascist thought, a significant facet of nascent nationalism has been loathing minorities. During his demagogic campaign, Trump called Mexicans “killers” and “rapists,” and promised to build a wall across the 3,201 km US–Mexico border to keep them out.

Beyond xenophobic tribal affinity, the primary propellant for ascendant nationalism has been the sapping of jobs and domestic economic vitality via globalization. While the younger generation express their alienation, the older nostalgically wish for a fictional time of security, and naïvely vote for those who promise it. As far as turning back the overwhelming plutocracy that corrodes US democratic ideals, Trump’s pseudo-election was setting the proverbial fox to guard the henhouse, as events would prove during Trump’s administration.

The point is, you can never be too greedy. ~ Donald Trump

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There are many countries in the world that are governed by men who use their office to enrich themselves and their families. ~ American journalist Jonathan Chait

“Shithole countries,” as President Donald Trump called them, have long been derided for their corrupt governments. With Trump putrefying the body politic, the US wholeheartedly joined them. Trump has proven unsurpassed in decimating the state called America – his efforts as president the exact opposite of his campaign slogan.

Private Property

At one time in the world there were woods that no one owned. ~ American writer Cormac McCarthy

Based upon natural law, private property was originally thought by classical liberals to be an inalienable right. The march of economic ‘progress’ had liberals observe that control of property meant denying liberty to others.

One of the most hotly debated phrases in the 1776 Declaration of Independence was “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” Those more conservative than Jefferson argued that the phrase should be “life, liberty, and property,” just as John Locke had written.

Accordingly, liberals demoted this once natural right to a secondary position. Property became a social right: one that may be granted, regulated, or denied based upon perceived societal needs. Eminent domain, a long-standing legal principal, follows this value priority.

Liberals challenge private property as lacking a link between it and human well-being. Natural rights are those necessary to lead a decent life. Something which is denied by one to another is not just. If equal treatment is a moral virtue, then subjection without consent has no moral basis. Hence Jefferson’s insistence on “pursuit of happiness” as a natural right, but not “property.”

11 years after Jefferson penned the Declaration of Independence, a less liberal group of men met in Philadelphia to write a new constitution. Scant mention was made of the rights of citizens in 1787. Indeed, it was only in 1791, in adopting the 5th Amendment, that any general statement of inalienable rights appeared in the constitution; and then the reference read “life, liberty, and property.” Conservatives were clearly in control of the country.

The transformation in the United States from revolutionary liberalism to conservatism leading the political pack was astonishingly quick. Only in dire economic crises, or facing outrageous social injustice, have liberal inclinations stirred the nation. As a general rule, those on the left of the political spectrum emphasize human rights, while those on the right lean toward property rights.

It is not that liberals lack appreciation of property. Ask a liberal whether a seller should be able to discriminate against a buyer on a racial or religious basis and the answer would be an emphatic “no!”, as this would violate fairness from a human rights standpoint.

Conversely, a conservative would uphold property right as preeminent. A seller may sell to whomever he pleases; it is, after all, private property to use or transfer as seen fit.

Values & Goals

Leftists advocate egalitarianism. Socialists want greater material equality so as to reduce socioeconomic stratification. Radicals tend toward pure democracy. Rousseau, the founder of modern radicalism, demanded equity in political power, as did Marx. Liberals are more milquetoast: accepting representative government while insisting that political power ultimately be in the hands of citizenry.

In contrast, the right are unabashedly elitist. Social stratification is natural. To conservatives, capitalism serves a societal function in separating winners from losers: from those deserving esteem and those deserving less in every way. It salves the conservative conscience that capitalism is the status quo, and so may also be revered as conventional.

While capitalism is today a conservative institution, it started out as a liberal challenge by Adam Smith to the mercantilist status quo. Smith was wildly optimistic in thinking that social stratification was not natural, as egalitarian societies have been largely absent throughout human history.

Marx asserted that nations were artificial boundaries designed by capitalists to divide humanity and distract them from their commonalities. The left generally value the spirit of fraternity, and tend toward internationalism. In contrast, those on the right are prone to be patriots.

Ideological Bent

Ideology makes it unnecessary for people to confront individual issues on their individual merits. One simply turns to the ideological vending machine, and out comes the prepared formulae. When these beliefs are suffused with apocalyptic fervor, ideas become weapons, and with dreadful results. ~ American sociologist Daniel Bell

Ideology is a political heuristic. Relatively few people are consistent on individual issues with regard to ideological label. Instead, a prioritized moral value system guides issue-oriented political opinion. When issues are morally uncertain, the typical trade-off is between individual liberty or enforcement of equity. As people like liberty, and equality is an abstraction in capitalist societies, equity often draws the short straw.

As lovers of intellectual abstractions, liberals especially like liberty and social equality. Drawing lines is difficult for them because fewer issues incite moral judgments.

Conservatives are not so conflicted. Many more issues are morally grounded for conservatives than liberals. While liberty is a fine ideal, social order is more important. Hence, conservatives would punish moral transgressors, whether for selling sex or taking drugs; deeds which liberals view not morally, but as victimless acts that should not be crimes at all.

In economics, liberals and conservatives switch sides on permissiveness. This stems from conservatives tending to fear the poor, whereas liberals are suspicious of the rich.

Conservatives believe people have wealth because they deserve it, and that government power should thwart attempts by the underclass to seize it. By the same token, there should be no impediment to private use of property.

Liberals think that those with economic power exploit it unfairly, to the great disadvantage of the less fortunate. Hence, liberals would employ government power to regulate inequitable economic behavior (inequity being in the eye of the beholder).

Uncharacteristically, American liberals have recently betrayed their tolerance for civil rights with efforts to enforce political correctness by suppressing hateful expression, whether racial or sexual. In reaction, right-wingers have stoutly resisted muzzling such free speech, despite their instincts for social order.

Perceived self-interest and group affiliation are primary drivers of personal ideology and its exceptions. Economics and age are other active factors.

Whereas those doing well are usually satisfied with the status quo, the underclass has much to gain from progressive change. But people’s political attitudes have less to do with their material well-being than the mental world in which they live.

Age is often a significant factor in ideology. Young adults are usually more liberal than the elderly, as the older generations inure to feel a vested interest in the status quo, if only in sentiment. The American generation born in the 1980s is a rare exception in being the most conservative age segment in that nation; an oddity explained by a fearful uncertainty of the future – an outcome of shoddy parenting.

Some people are psychologically suited to a particular ideology. Liberalism requires a tolerance for disorder, and an active empathy. A few are fond of change; the status quo is never satisfying. Many with a conservative bent resist change out of fear, heedless that it might benefit them.

With the rise of cultural and lifestyle politics, Democrats and Republicans are now sharply distinguished by a general dimension of personality tapping tolerance for threat and uncertainty in one’s environment. ~ American political scientist Christopher Johnston et al

People on opposite sides of the divide have a fixed or fluid worldview. The fixed tend to be wary of what they perceive as constant threats to their physical security specifically and of social change in general. The fluid are much more open to change and, indeed, see it as a strength. ~ American political scientists Marc Hetherington & Jonathan Weiler

A salient factor in ideological inclination is one’s view of human nature. Those who hail their fellows as essentially well-meaning and rational lean to the left. Conversely, those who view men as morally weak, selfish, and prone to aggression range to the right.

Conservatives view prisons as an institution for punishment, whereas leftists would prefer to see them as rehabilitation facilities. Believing denial of liberty punishment enough, liberals think that prisons ought to school convicts in socially acceptable behaviors and provide training for skills by which they may make an honest living on the outside.

Affirming one’s political tribe or community has in many respects become more important in deciding whom to vote for than the stands candidates take on issues. ~ American political journalist Thomas Edsall

Ideology is often a tribal badge. Beyond posture, political issues are irrelevancies.

The power behind the labels “liberal” and “conservative” to predict strong preferences for the ideological in-group is based largely in the social identification with those groups, not in the organization of attitudes associated with the labels. That is, even when we are discussing ideology – a presumably issue-based concept – we are not entirely discussing issues.

Contrary to an issue-focused view of political decision-making and behavior, political thought, behavior, and emotion are powerfully driven by political identities. Identity-based ideology can drive affective ideological polarization even when individuals are naïve about policy. The passion and prejudice with which we approach politics is driven not only by what we think, but also powerfully by who we think we are. ~ American political scientist Lilliana Mason

The commonality of tribal ideology illustrates why modern democracy is not working: most voters don’t bother to inform themselves about the facts salient to political issues, comprehend implications, or regard public policies as societally consequential, beyond attaining some aspirational ideal. Politics is instead a fashion statement of identity.

Political conflict has shifted from economic to psychological factors. ~ Thomas Edsall

In recent years, partisanship is far more grounded in social and moral values, and identity politics, than the influential groups of yesteryear (especially unions) that maintained a focus on group economic interests. The new affinities that shape partisanship are more a matter of choice, making partisanship more fluid, and opening it to the formation of affinities grounded in personality, values, religion, and lifestyle choices. ~ American political psychologist Leonie Huddy

Citizens care less about the outcomes a policy produces and more about the groups and symbols with which a policy is associated. ~ Christopher Johnston et al

Just as a person’s views may change over time, the political spectrum can shift while a person’s ideology stays stationary. Ronald Reagan was a New Deal Democrat in the 1930s. By the 1960s, he was a reactionary Republican. A reporter asked Reagan why he had left the liberals. He answered, “I didn’t. They left me.” The policies that Reagan had wanted in the 1930s had been enacted. That was all the change he saw fit.

The most radical revolutionary will become a conservative on the day after the revolution. ~ Hannah Arendt

As the status quo of societies differs, so too positions on issues in the political spectrum. A given policy in one society may be conservative, liberal in another, and radical in a 3rd.

Complexity is the destiny of thoughtful individuals, from which they will never be rescued. ~ American philosopher Leon Wieseltier


Material equality is the moral issue at the heart of ideology. The idea of civil rights is ultimately of property rights: of the person (the body as property), personal expression (the property of ideas), claim upon some material asset (private property), and the ability to dispute a property claim (the property of justice). The ideological treatment of equality is inevitably the basis for equity as a societal metric.

No one disputes that people vary widely in shrewdness and skill. Neither can one reasonably argue against that Nature belongs to no one, nor that its claim as human property is anything more than an expression of ideology, not a natural right beyond ‘might makes right’. The key question then is: what justifies inequality?

From conservatives to authoritarians of all stripes, those on the right wing view individual differences as justifying material inequality. This comes down to clutching ‘might makes right’.

Some slyly contend that inequality is the reward of hard work. They do so ignoring that inequality is invariably institutionalized to the degree that no amount of hard work can overcome the built-in, systemic inequities of a stratified society. More simply, they ignore how much harder poor people must work to survive than rich ones.

Modern liberals are schizophrenic in their regard of inequality as justified. Irrespective of ability, they view everyone as deserving legal equity and equal opportunity, but fear that social equality might penalize talent and threaten individual freedom. This oxymoronic ideology is an abstract house of cards. Material and social status determines access to opportunity and justice in any society that is stratified. Liberals disavow ‘might makes right’ while furtively fondling it.

What is repulsive is not that one man should earn more than others. It is that some classes should be excluded from the heritage of civilization which others enjoy, and that human fellowship, which is ultimate and profound, should be obscured by economic contrasts, which are trivial and superficial. ~ English economic historian Richard Tawney

Political Violence

Violence is used by people at practically every point on the political spectrum. ~ Leon Baradat

Though political violence is common across the political spectrum, ideologies vary in their appetite for violence as a vehicle for political change. The farther from the status quo an ideology is, the more likely it opposes the law, which hypothetically communicates a society’s aspirations.

Conservatives and moderates tend to be law-abiding. In contrast, radicals and reactionaries readily justify breaking the law.

This is not to say that laws are not regularly broken by those of a conservative bent. Corporations – legally treated as citizens in the United States, and as conservative as the day is long – are inveterate transgressors of the law. If a corporation does not succeed in legally gaming the system, it readily breaks laws which do not suit it, especially in the all too common case where the chance of getting caught is low, and the penalties for malfeasance are less than the potential rewards.

As government enforcement of its own regulations is typically spotty at best, corporations are often unfettered in their disdain of the law. Practically all large-scale illicit exploitations, including pollution, are corporate acts.