21.4.07

Terminology & Phrasing

Basic descriptions of every category are on this site but for more descriptive info and discussion of why particular labels have been chosen take a look here...

Liberal

The term Liberalism is a contested one with a definition that shifts and changes from decade-to-decade and from nation-to-nation. This may in part be because of the persuasive power of the concept of liberty and the fact that movements dedicated to other objectives recognise that power or even accept its value alongside others. In its first twelve months the Political Objectives Test utilised the word ‘Liberal’ as part of three distinct category names. However I have since decided to make most category names unique and with that in mind the term ‘Liberal’ can only belong to the classical liberal.

The classical liberal extrapolates from liberty a preference for a predominantly free market economy. In this they will differ from many of those that I now call 'Progressive'. They also derive from liberty a dedication to a cosmopolitan and permissive society that will separate them from many of those that I now call 'Establishmentarian'. However classical liberals are very much practitioners of politics as “the art of the possible” and as such they accept the very useful role the state can play in smoothing over some of the adverse affects arising from a world of autonomous persons all exercising personal liberty. This very important factor separates classical liberals from libertarians.

Socialist

The term Socialism has been utilised for well over a century to denote any and all manner of movements dedicated to the economic elevation and political empowerment of the working classes. Marxists utilise the term specifically to refer to an historic phase in which the organizations of the working class occupy the apparatus of the state. However since the formation of a dictatorship in Moscow on behalf of the working class a major schism occurred in the labour movement and those elements dedicated to incremental reform or ‘evolution’ rather than ‘revolution’ have been much more likely to use the term socialist as distinct from the word communist. It is this usage that the Political Objectives Test employs.

Socialists may also make use of other terms such as ‘labor’ or ‘social-democratic’ and have done so for decades. In Anglophone nations since the fall of the Berlin Wall there has been a migration of terminology so that garden-variety socialists avow the term ‘socialist’ while communists use the term as a more savoury word than the one which they once bore. Here the original distinction is reasserted.

Conservative

The term Conservatism may refer to somewhat different things in different contexts and settings. One key thing distinguishing conservatism from other forms of politics is its assertion of the relevance of the particular and circumstantial to the political life of a society. Other movements insist on universal principles that apply in all cases and to all persons. Conservatives in contrast will adhere to different things depending on the particular group of conservatives under consideration. While they may be 'fiscal conservatives' (advocating balanced budgets) the degree to which they support free market policy (privatization and deregulation) can vary. Some will support constitutional monarchy while others will have come to accept some form of republic. Some (such as the ‘christian-democratic’) will declare a religious basis for political values while others will be wholly secular. Many will be nationalist while a growing number are becoming internationalist in perspective.

One thing all conservatives however will want to do is defend those present practices that they deem to work – a conservative mantra may well be “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it”. Herein I distinguish garden-variety conservatives from fascists who envisage a golden age which they then wish to emulate. A conservative wishes to slow present change while a fascist wishes to rapidy “move forward to the past”.

Progressive

Originally I utilised the term ‘Social-Liberal’ for this category and it is a term that is recognised by political scientists and even by some political activists. However I have since decided I wanted my terms to be more distinctive (hence now there is just one ‘Liberal’ category). Also the term tended to make many test-takers think that the Political Objectives Test distinguishes between ‘social’ and ‘economic’ issues rather than assessing overarching philosophical considerations. So I turned to the word ‘Progressive’ which has been utilised since the days of United States president Teddy Roosevelt to refer to a proactive usage of the state within the setting of a free society in the service of improving quality-of-life.

The progressives tend to be pragmatists wary of ideological restrictions on the work of government – hence they prefer a term more akin to an advertising slogan than to political terminology. They promote a vague image of ‘progress’ which is difficult for the average punter to dismiss. However in seeking to advance quality-of-life they necessarily have to engage with both liberal and socialist values. These values have an historic tension. Classical liberals can overlook the limitations put on free action by economic conditions while socialists can dismiss the importance of having an ability to make decisions for oneself. Progressives try to recognise both. For progressives it is important that there be incremental but regular reform that they feel they need to have been instrumental in making happen.

Communitarian

Originally I utilised the term ‘Social-Conservative’ for this category but it is a term that is disputed among political scientists and is only sometimes employed by political activists. Also the term tended to make many test-takers think that the Political Objectives Test distinguishes between ‘social’ and ‘economic’ issues rather than assessing overarching philosophical considerations. There are a number of historic instances of this kind of politics but it took a while to find a fitting umbrella term for it. Another term from Europe is 'distributivist' but that is a bit of a mouth-full. Eventually I selected the term ‘Communitarian’ that is utilised in the United States for those who are wary of both the economic and cultural implications of too much liberty at the expense of ‘community values’.

The communitarians focus on the notion of a community that both takes care of its members and polices how they behave. As such communitarians will share in common with socialists support for state intervention for the nurturing of human needs but they will also share with conservatives a desire to use peer pressure to proscribe particular behaviours and life-choices. There is a tendency historically for this kind of politics to be practiced by those adherents of religious denominations that focus on both worldly works as well as relations with the divine (e.g. Roman Catholicism had strong links to the ‘centre party’ brand in inter-war era Europe).

Establishmentarian

Originally I utilised the term ‘Liberal-Conservative’ for this category but it is a term that is disputed among political scientists and is barely if ever employed by political activists. I have since decided I wanted my terms to be more distinctive (hence now there is just one ‘Liberal’ category). Also the term tended to confuse many U. S. test takers for whom its two component words represent opposing political forces. I passed over 'neo-conservative' as too context-specific and eventually settled on the somewhat clumsy ‘Establishmentarian’. It is only used within the context of specific political issues but I find it resonates well with my understanding of this form of politics.

If one looks closely at the decisions taken by establishmentarians one will notice that they are something other than an arbitrary blend of liberal and conservative. The economic decisions of establishmentarians are more likely to be pro-business than they are pro-market (distinguishing them from classical liberals). The cultural decisions of establishmentarians tend to be made to defend the status or honour of particular interests rather than in preserving traditional practices per-se (distinguishing them from conservatives). The effects of these decisions may look the same but the motivations are different.

So what motivates establishmentarians? It is the desire to both defend ‘The Establishment’ and also to constantly be establishing new generators of prosperity. A liberal wants every person to decide for themselves how best to live as long as they can do so responsibly. An establishmentarian however prescribes a particular kind of life as the best life to live. A conservative wants everyone to occupy different roles or stations within society. An establishmentarian however wants everyone to aspire to the same kind of role. The entrepreneur is the icon for establishmentarians. Is this an exclusionary or elitist philosophy? It may seem that way but establishmentarians think that everyone can be included in this way-of-life. Someone who establishes a new firm becomes an employer who then offers jobs to many others. Some of those employees over time may become partners in the firm or even rivals establishing competing firms. In this way the establishmentarian feels that success can be transmitted from person to person.

Moderate

There is a lack of coherent philosophy or distinct movement for moderates. Rather moderation is something that an isolated person can embody. Also a political party can be moderate in effect if it embraces a populist interest in preserving itself as government. Sometimes an ideology will mistakenly be characterised as moderate if it is perceived as sitting between other more prominent positions within a particular polity. So for instance classical liberals may seem the moderates sitting between progressives and establishmentarians. Or communitarians may seem the moderates sitting between garden-variety socialists and conservatives (moreso in the past than now).

I chose the term 'moderate' rather than 'centrist' because of wanting to get away from the notion that we need to conceive of these political descriptors fitting within a chart. Also one could argue that the categories Apathetic and Confused Extremist are also centrist.

Libertarian

A libertarian differs from even a classical liberal in that the libertarian wishes to minimise the size of the state while the liberal merely wishes to curb the power of government. A libertarian would argue that the size of the state inadvertently transfers too much power from those affected by it and into the hands of government.

A liberal by contrast would argue that proper checks and balances will suffice to limit the power of government (they may still wish to limit the size of the state but for arguments of efficiency or self-respect). The libertarians (particularly prominent in the USA and instrumental in challenging notions of left and right via this test) may argue that they are the natural successors of the classical liberals but the differences described here are important ones. The libertarian obsession with minimising the state makes them almost anarchists.

Almost. The key difference between a libertarian and an anarchist is that the libertarian will still accept some kind of state and government however small. They are 'minarchists' rather than anarchists and reject the anarchist desire for all aspects of ones life to be self-managed in all ways. Having a government that polices the rule of law is something that libertarians still wish to have.

Utopian Socialist

Marxists use the term 'utopian' as a way of dismissing rival brands of working class politics. For them these other forms lack the technical understanding of how to successfully change society and so can only propose imaginary utopias. I use the term utopian socialist then to describe those who wish for a communist-like end result but lack the fanatical dedication to utilise class warfare to get there. They also stand in contrast with the garden-variety socialist who accepts that incremental change is what works and has abandoned notions of utopias altogether.

Ultra-Conservative

For some an ultra-conservative is one who adheres more purely or accurately to conservative values than does the garden-variety conservative. However for others the term is a polite way of saying fascist. And the ultra-conservative has in common with the fascist an interest in romantic notions of a past that may never have been. However they (begrudgingly) accept along with conservatives the practical limitations of politics that are imposed by circumstance.

Radical

Historically the radicals were campaigners for the fullest practical extension of the electoral franchise and of human rights. This nineteenth century conception of radicals gives them a kinship with the twentieth century progressives. However the challenge that these democratic demands imposed on the powers-that-be put the radical within the same marginalised position as the revolutionary. It is with this in mind that I present the radical as a half-way position between the progressive and the revolutionary. The radical will be subversive in small everyday ways and as such I also have incorporated the image of the 'radical ratbag’ protesting and living an alternative way-of-life.

Reactionary

Marxists use the term ‘reactionary’ to refer to those elements of society that respond to forces of change (such as Marxists themselves) with some degree of resistance. They are distinct from those who actively prevent change but they will serve as a tool for those wishing to prevent or reverse changes. With this in mind I use the term to refer to those who are loyal to the status quo even if they only derive limited benefit from it. If such a reactionary did more fully embrace the status quo then they would be an establishmentarian. If however they recognised the limitations the status quo put on them then they may become resentful of both the status quo and those who critique it and become a survivalist.

Authoritarian

During the Cold War international relations experts utilised the term ‘authoritarian’ to distinguish restrictive regimes that could be tolerated from those ‘totalitarian’ regimes that should be opposed. Here then I use the term to refer to those who wish for a more restricted society but who hold back from wholesale regimentation of all aspects of life. An authoritarian may indeed themselves be alarmed by dictatorship despite the fact that they endorse many aspects of strong state control. So they may be akin to totalitarians but in other ways they will identify with the objectives of the more conventional communitarians. One thing they may consider is ‘corporatism’ (representation of recognised groups within society) as a compromise between the more volatile model of representing every citizen via parliamentary democracy and the more restrictive one of military dictatorship.

Anarchist

In this test 'anarchist' is more a conceptual space than it is one coherent political philosophy uniting a movement. Those subscribing to anarchist thinking will very much be free-thinkers and so a plethora of different perspectives will form moreso than for any other category. All however will be hostile to the state.

Many who use the term Anarchist will veer more in the direction of the revolutionary in having a commitment to equality as well as liberty. Others may be more inclined towards the survivalist in having a commitment to stability as well as liberty. And the majority of those who get the 'anarchist' result in the test are more likely to be libertarian in that they pragmatically accept some minimal form of state.

Communist

Since the formation of a dictatorship in Moscow on behalf of the working class a major schism occurred in the labour movement with those aligned with Moscow identifying as communist rather than merely socialist. In this selection of word the communists were stressing the objective of a classless society in which all productive forces are communally held.

However for this end to ever be achieved communists are dedicated to capturing and commanding the apparatus of the state. They discover that the many challenges and opponents facing them are such that there is always need to preserve the state and with it a governing elite. The objective they share with the revolutionary never comes. Furthermore they find that in order to preserve power they must become ever more like the totalitarian.

In this day-and-age most communist regimes have been relegated to history. However communist sentiments are preserved by the ‘fellow travelers’ that are the utopian socialists.

Fascist

The fasces is an image from Ancient Rome of a bunch of sticks surrounding an axe. This object represents the strength that comes from standing together (the sticks cannot be broken while bundled together) and also the importance of rallying around an even stronger leader. There is both subservience and violence implicit in this image. The fascists in name (originally in inter-war Italy) chose this concept to represent themselves and were deliberately evoking notions of past glory. Another concept important to fascists is the power of the will – the desire to take decisive action became more important than any discussion that may hinder action – as such fascism is romantic rather than rational.

The fascist concept is attractive in times of risk and change. It offers comfort in traditional ways that are re-cast into a harsher form that can face and best the confusing forces of a changing world – forces that are necessarily perceived as an enemy. Many of the sentiments of fascists will be shared with survivalists but they seek the power to impose these sentiments on all. In this process they are tempted to exercise power over others at any cost and so turn ever more into totalitarians.

In this day-and-age fascist regimes are a thing of the past. However some still identify with fascist notions and are more likely to now be regarded as simply ultra-conservative.

Revolutionary

Both anarchists and communists advocate for revolution. There are many names for the kind of politics that shares characteristics in common with both (such as 'anarcho-syndicalist') but rather than select any of those I am utilising revolutionary as a coverall term. The revolutionary shares with the anarchist a desire to smash the state. They also share with the communist a desire to overturn the class structure of society but they wish to abolish the state as part of any revolutionary event (rather than just capture the state as an interim action and postpone the dismantling of that state indefinitely). The revolutionary wishes to fundamentally alter cultural norms rather than just political institutions. They are few and far between but some of the ethos and practices of the revolutionary (such as consensus decision-making as an alternative to majority rules) are utilised by radicals.

Totalitarian

It was noted in the post-war era that the character of the most entrenched of both communist and fascist regimes was very similar. The term totalitarian has therefore been attached to dictatorships from the Soviet Union to The Third Reich. Whatever mission the movement once had is replaced by the need for total control. In a totalitarian society all aspects of life are regimented as much as the regime can enforce. Order is paramount. Uniformity is desired of everyone. The rule of the dictator is underpinned by the dominance of technocrats and the constant presence of military and surveillance personnel. Such a regime is difficult to entrench but many regimes will exhibit some of these characteristics in the form of authoritarian governments.

Survivalist

Survivalists anticipate future crisis that will necessitate the ability to be self-sufficient and protected. For survivalists (also known as "separatists") the world is full of dangers arising from the power of governments and the conflicting values of others in wider society. They share with anarchists a suspicion of the state and they have in common with fascists a resentment of those who are perceived as different or degenerate. Frequently they are also concerned that the former has been captured by the interests of the latter. Survivalists are very rare but some of their sentiments are exhibited in small ways among those of reactionary temperament.

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