Wednesday, November 05, 2003

One is the Loneliest Number

This ball started rolling last week, but I never got around to blogging anything about it. Remember the "Political Compass" quiz? Well, starting last week everyone began taking it and sharing their results: Matthew Ygelsias, Daniel Drezner, Brian Leiter, and many, many others, all of whom Lawrence Solum kept track of. Now, I've expressed my discontent with the Political Compass before, not necessarily because it is flawed (though it obviously is that), but because taking the test simply reveals the strong preference for libertarian or quasi-libertarian positions in our culture--or, at least, the ease with which the presumed moral logic of libertarianism is seen to encompass what are clearly the political sympathies of the majority of Americans and other westerners. Those who take the test, whether on the "left" or the "right," more often than not find themselves occupying the bottom half of the quiz's schematic, where "liberty" is made an opposite of "authority." And who wants to be an authoritarian? Anyway, that's what I've always felt; when John Holbo took the test, I made a comment along those lines; I did the same when Chris Bertram took the test, and I left it at that.

But now behold! Sometime in the last couple of days, Tim Lambert has plotted all of those who have reported their scores on the Political Compass quiz on a single graph. And what does the result show, in all its schematic glory? That I was right: as The Plainsman puts it in his analysis (scroll down a little bit), what we have are plenty of "vanilla liberals," lots of "right libertarians" and "vanilla conservatives," a few "centrists" and "leftists," a couple of serious "right-wingers," and only "a small dotting of populists/paleoconservatives/theocons," with next to nobody occupying the upper-left hand quadrant. Actually, The Plainsman thought he was the only one there, but has since corrected himself, which is right...because I'm out there too. In fact, I'm way out there; I'm the single most isolated blogger on that graph, with no one within two data points of me in any direction. So much for believing in both social justice and civic morality! (I wonder where communitarian godfather Amitai Etzioni would land on this graph?) While I certainly wouldn't call myself either a paleocon or a theocon, the fact that such conservatives are willing to acknowledge the necessity of--as I put it in a thread on conservatism on John Holbo's site a while back--"follow[ing] through on their cultural beliefs to a demand for stability and equity in the fabric of the economic order" leads me to have a certain amount of sympathy for them. In an earlier post (again, scroll down), The Plainsman describes himself as a "moderate communitarian conservative," a man with a "slight tilt toward economic interventionism and social cohesion." He is absolutely right to insist that such a position is anything but "authoritarian." Unfortunately, I'm not sure how much difference his and my arguments will make. The Plainsman and I might not actually agree with each other that much on particular political matters (class-based politics? religious establishment? environmentalism? the war in Iraq?), but one thing is certain: if quizzes like these, with all their faults, fairly accurately reflect or reveal the overwhelming liberal individualist ethos which shapes the modern world--and I'm afraid that they do--then communitarians like he and I are going to have a pretty lonely time of it, for perhaps a pretty long time.