provided with momentous intellectual stimulation from (almost literally) all sides, i’ve spent the last
few days several months now actually two years reflecting on a recurring question for those trapped by abstract social thinking: where do we draw the lines? predictably, it’s an echo of Proudhon‘s “what is property”, abstracted to fit ideological interest.
my proposal for slicing up the ideological scenario is that there are three main divisions to it: left vs right, authoritarian vs libertarian and cosmopolitan vs nativist. of course, they are nowhere near equally important.
left vs right is arguably the Prime Political Divide, roughly selected for over all of humanity’s existence (and even before) and embedded in our genetic make-up from time immemorial. it’s very designation as left vs right – a modern thing – may be inappropriate.
the other two axes have been built in history orthogonal to this primary divide, evincing a third position in the specter. they are much newer and less ingrained, and have usually played largely a role as Schelling points around which partisans on both sides of the first divide rallied. possibly, my main original point here is that the third divide will play a much more independent – autonomous – role in the near future than any of the others (maybe being an example of means-end reversal).
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left vs right
Bobbio‘s classical analysis of the spectrum (so looming its importance) already touched its essentials: the left seeks social equality, the right considers it impossible, unnatural, undesirable and consistently fights against it. the very definition of social equality varies wildly, though – and chaos ensues.
is there any definition of “social equality” that’s clear cut? is it equality of rights (as demanded classical liberalism), equality of power (in the formulation of anarchists) or equality of social outcomes (the rallying flag of socialism and progressivism)? that’s yet an open question.
Augusto de Franco proposes the left vs right divide as a social program: the left creates itself – by affirming some Utopian ideal of equality that is to be reached – and thus configures a “right” defined as “everyone else who disagrees” (the fissile character of the outer right could be well explained by such process). then it pursues elimination or conquest of the right as the only necessary step between now and such goal. left is thus presented as a politics of constant civil war, right as a party committed to fighting a losing game.
De Franco’s definition already get us past specific contents in defining left x right. these signs are reduced to badges worn by both side to state that the war continues. but why? “because the other side are evil oppressors / intractable barbarians”.
Robert Hanson went further downwards human political nature to put forward that left vs right is more mappable onto farmer vs forager. the propensities characteristic of left-wing politics (equality) dovetail nicely with foragers’ “world-of-plenty” mindset. right-wing is the rest, the pessimist “harsh-world” view.
Scott Alexander then goes on to present a thrive vs survive model of the left vs right divide, largely based on Hanson’s forager vs farmer. leftists are more apt to a world of plenty, where individual desires can be easily provided, and so equality can be furthered. rightists are more apt to a world of scarcity, where signs of loyalty, purity and commitment to the community are crucial to survival. As Land points out (and to an extent, Hanson agrees), such an arrangement would create a constant homeostatic wave-like history: right-wing farmers generate a world of plenty through hard collective-cohesion and authority, in which left-wing foragers thrive and inevitably destroy through unbounded hedonism. (such feedback dynamics is incidentally very proudhonian). Eventually, all these collapse into the r/K split of genetic strategies.
r/K strategies can as well be mapped onto man vs. women reproductive strategies. from there we can get to left vs. right divide, which is mostly about beauty vs strength, or faith x authority, or religion vs state, etc.
- left, women, K side: “stick to the holy Scriptures, be as gods. or else you will be shamed for taking advantage of weakness! sinner!”
- right, men, r side: “performance is all that matters. hierarchy is the rule. the weak will be slaves or killed. obey the orders!”
coupling this with Hanson’s own caveats to Alexander’s thesis, one thing pushes the conundrum a step further towards complication: both the lives of foragers and farmers are largely dominated by communal questions on how to spend communal resources. both left and right have opinions on how society should be managed, and how individuals should insert themselves in such scheme. Boehm went a long way into documenting the reverse hierarchy mechanisms through which forager societies keep individuals from withholding wealth from the group and from acquiring disproportionate status inside the band. Hanson himself describes the ways in which farmer societies push for social cohesion and respect for hierarchy.
from these two sides, a third, synthetic point forms, loosely based on the will to discord. this trend builds itself through history, its competitive strategy is an auto-erotic, autistic, individualistic “self cultivation”. it learns from both other side’s mistakes. a will to exit is, of course, built in it.
the (classical) liberal view of individual interest is absent in both and appears to be rather modern. it’s genetic origins seem to be linked to extensive outbreeding inside Northwest Europe. is there (now?) a third position, instead of only left and right? one related to an increasing atomization of society?
Stemming from John Haidt’s work, Moral Foundations Theory predict certain characteristics for three main ethical groups: Libertarians, Conservatives and Progressives. the graph below is very clarifying:
whether the libertarian sect is new or rather recent, triangles now infected the once bipolar spectrum. Dugin’s Fourth Political Theory presented a similar trichotomy in circular form, describing the possible associations between the tree modern ideologies:
the bipolar split returns here, though, since such alliances would cooperate on each side of the sea / land power divide. Land presents another graphical rendering of the splits
observe how it fits De Franco’s hypothesis: a left that is unified, at the edge of an ever expanding right-wing fissile divergence.
much as I have quibbles on some of its specifics, Butch Leghorn theory of triangles starts to bring back this ideological trichotomy back to genetic basis. the graphs he provides are self-explanatory:
I would only change the estate corresponding to the commercial sect from nobility to the bourgeoisie (which is both more historical accurate and less counter intuitive). merchants aren’t warriors, or even settled warriors. historically, they stem most immediately from upward moving peasants, and only later attempt to fix themselves in a intermediate stratum.
lasting organizations go from two opposing poles to triangles. this triangle is stable, and more stable than dipole, because each vertex checks the others. armies can crush merchants and churches. but merchants can defund armies and churches. yet churches can play mind games with merchants and armies.
nonetheless, the instruction of a third position points to a second ideological divide: what does the liberal/individualist corner is opposite to?
authoritarianism vs libertarianism
early on 20th century libertarianism, Nolan’s diagram showed up. it’s main aim was to locate the Libertarian Party among the two bigger parties. thus, libertarianism was showed to be the apotheosis of all freedoms defended by both parties. on the other side seated authoritarianism:
of course, this kind of approach fit well into the 20th century political landscape, in which fascism, socialism and liberalism faced each other in a usual cycle of mutual accusations, best memed than described:
but the Nolan chart also points in an interesting direction, to the extent that it presents a new perpendicular axis to the left vs right dimension. indeed our previous triangles that elaborated the left vs right chasm more deeply fit perfectly into Nolan’s diagram: the individualist corner aligned with libertarianism, with the left and right corners spreading across an axis of partial authoritarianism.
both left and right tend to focus on the authority of the social organism over the individual parts of it. individualists couldn’t care less. individualists look for independence through secession. nomadism is sort of inherent in their point of view. (which brings us to Hanson’s distinction between farmers and foragers, no longer mapped onto left x right, but on authority vs liberty)
the question open before us is: what is libertarianism and authoritarianism? the tentative answer: libertarianism synthesizes itself from an anti-social opposition to human sociality (now understood as authoritarian). liberty, if my triangular alignment stands scrutiny, is always already liberty from the social contract. agreeing rather than splitting is necessarily tyranny.
this alignment also points to a synthetic nature of libertarianism / individualism: it arises out of the conflicts played out in the principal divide, picking its parts from the debris of the underlying wars. it inherits and rejects about as much from hierarchical as from egalitarian sociality, towards zero socius. and there’s a very definite sense in which zero socius is indistinguishable from “tremendous tech”.
cosmopolitanism vs nativism
perpendicular (or astride, anyway) to both these axes, we have the one that i imagine is the most consequential to 21st century politics, the one that will likely divide its major conflicts and shape its destiny: the one going from densely packed urban centers to sparsely connected nations. from cosmopolitanism to nativism. this is sort of a new vocabulary (although i’m certain similar conceptions have been floated recently), so some explanation is due:
nativism seeks, in general a return to and an exaltation of the natural characters of their specific human groups. life in the country, in the tribe, the alignment of behavior and genotype, a simple life among trees, the stuff nature gives us, rejection of (digital) technology, critique of dehumanizing and/or degenerating capitalism, etc. for the nativism, the extent to which people depart from nature is the extent they depart from mankind. under these broad strokes one can include loads of left and right, authoritarian and libertarian categories, from traditionalist conservatives, to radical feminists, to eco-fascists.
cosmopolitanism is somewhat more internally fractured, and definitely historically newer, but still comprises many positions that diverge along the other axes. they tend to the contrary: to an artificial elaboration of natural categories that intentionally depart from humanity, towards the inhuman, and beyond. their is the unstoppable, stressful, multitudinous, chaotic life of the city, the social systems which lack trust and identity, engineering in general (biological, cultural, social), the heat-fucked chaos of techonomic pulse. rampant cyborgery, and probably much more besides, is the flight line they tend to.
even though this is envisaged as an independent axis, some overlap can be expected. we can see why individualists would look for big cities: it’s easier to secede and migrate inside of and between them. countryside agricultural life is easier for both church strategies and army strategies to blossom, being somewhat desired by both left and right.
for ages, the balance between countryside and city has been flipping from one side to the other, in a weird cycle. the cosmopolitan vs nativist axis points in the direction of a spyromorphing of it: fragmentation. there are possible successful survival strategies for both independently. the conflicts to come (and largely already happening) will define the extent to which this is true.
finally, the crucial and most proudhonian point: within each of these vertexes of the triangle, the design reproduces itself. multi-level triangulation, with two “natural” opposites and a third “synthetic” vertex always form in long lasting, adaptive organizations. this new synthesis – in stark rejection of hegelian dialectics – doesn’t abolish its building blocks, nor does this process ever reach an “end of history”, beyond which a final synthesis rules sovereign. fragmented multitudes merely continue to go on, ever more different.