Getting Onto The Political Spectrum

I read Andrew’s post on a case for the left. I am going to use my political “journey” to illustrate where I think political differences come from.

I came into a self-conscious awareness of politics when I was in the midst of my first degree. I simply noticed that the more conservative parties matched my beliefs better than their liberal counterparts. Therefore, the conservatives looked better. For example, conservatives favored small government, socially conservative policies, freedom of (verbal) speech and freedom of religion. They also seemed aware that attempts to build utopia on earth always lead to evil. That said, I was not really aware of all of the political details.

I also began to be aware of various theological positions that I had not encountered previously, and student attitudes toward professorial knowledge. The relevant theological positions are pacifism and theonomy. Pacifism simply interpreted the Bible in the wrong direction. They were unable to account for God commanding war in the OT without supposed that the moral commands of God had changed between covenants. The theonomists avoided this. On the other hand, they had problems dealing with the fact that Israel was also a covenant community rather than simply a nation-state. So I learned what I could and avoided the main “positions”. Students were prone to simply swallow everything that their professors told them. Since I wanted to avoid academic gullibility I avoided doing that.

Later on I became aware of conservative cases against the popular conservative structures. These tended to be cases against the Republican party (Canadian critique was much harder to find). The party was simply not living up the conservative standards that they espoused. Rather than simply allowing market forces to disperse companies, they supported them. Rather than protect freedom of speech, they suppressed it (McCain-Feingold act). Rather than promote small government, they expanded it and increased the budget (Bush). Socially conservative issues were being promoted to placate true conservatives.

It was not as if I could switch to the liberal side either. They were even less conservative than the other parties. Nor was there some third side that offered better adherence to conservative principles. As I withdrew from actively seeking out political information, I became aware of what the left was saying in their own words. They claimed to work for the poor, to support the needy and avoid the demands of corporations. Most of them seemed quite sincere. Naturally this led to a consideration of economics. I also became aware of various solutions to earlier problems that I had not considered. This is where I am right now.

So why do my politics differ from those held by others? I think that there are two different factors that are mixed together. One factor is my political commitments – small government, freedom of speech and religion, etc. The other factor is my empirical knowledge. For example, rent control does not create more affordable housing. It decreases the affordable housing instead. If the government wants to increase affordable housing, it had better find a different way of doing it. This mixing affects analysis of the other’s political side. Conservatives tend to believe that it is not the government’s job to help the poor. But this belief is acted out in quite different ways. Some believe that the government is permitted or even ought to take up the slack of society. Others believe that it should not do so. And so on.

So when analyzing another person’s politics, one has to separate the commitments from the empirical beliefs. One cannot simply assume that conservatives do not care about the poor, or that they all support right-wing politics. If you assume either of those things then you are likely wrong. On the other hand, one cannot ignore the vast numbers of people who do support Bush (for instance) without question.