A week or so ago, when explaining my new gig as a community columnist for The Tampa Tribune to a couple of friends, I was asked from what political perspective I would write. That led me into defining what terms like “libertarian” and “statist” mean.
I’m sure there are many who are either oblivious to or not interested in the difference between political ideologies. Most generally understand the difference between a conservative and a liberal, but that’s about the extent of it. Not everyone can be a political science major, and not everyone wants to be.
But while you shouldn’t be expected to know a lot about political theory or public policy, or be overly enthused about such topics (like some of us are), because of the effects government and politics have on each of us, you should be aware of some fundamental definitions of the different political perspectives, particularly your own ideology.
It reminds me of a quote from Pericles: “Just because you do not take an interest in politics doesn’t mean politics won’t take an interest in you.”
Most of us, whether we know or not, have a certain political persuasion that comes from a variety of factors: our upbringing, our experiences, books we’ve read and so on.
A while back I stumbled upon a Web site titled, “Advocates for Self-Government.” On this site was what they called the “World’s Smallest Political Quiz.” I urge anyone who may be naive or in doubt of their political persuasion to go take this survey at www.theadvocates.org/quiz.html .
The quiz asks five personal issue questions and five economic issue questions and then plots the accumulation of your responses (either “agree,” “maybe” or “disagree”) on an axis that includes four main sectors of political persuasion with the center being reserved for “centrists.” The four sectors are: Libertarian, Left-Liberal, Right-Conservative and Statist-Big Government.
Notice that the sectors include more than just the old way of looking at political ideologies through the prisms of either Left-Liberal and Right-Conservative. The creators of this quiz added the sectors Libertarian and Statist into the mix.
This addition is not to confuse people, but rather to enlighten them on the idea that a lot of people do not fit into the traditional liberal versus conservative political boxes. It does this by defining what the five sectors are.
Libertarianism is the particular ideology promoted by the site. According to the site’s definition, libertarians “support maximum liberty in both personal and economic matters. They advocate a much smaller government; one that is limited to protecting individuals from coercion and violence.”
Left-Liberals, according to the site’s definition, “usually embrace freedom of choice in personal matters, but tend to support significant government control of the economy.”
According to the site, Right-Conservatives “tend to favor economic freedom, but frequently support laws to restrict personal behavior that violates ‘traditional values.'”
Big Government-Statists are defined as those who “want government to have a great deal of power over the economy and individual behavior. They frequently doubt whether economic liberty and individual freedom are practical options in today’s world.”
And finally, Centrists are said to “espouse a ‘middle ground’ regarding government control of the economy and personal behavior.”
According to this quiz, I am 100 percent Libertarian.
If you have a little more time you can visit www.politicalcompass.org . This site uses the same type of grid that the other quiz does, but asks you to agree or disagree with more specific statements, like, “There is now a worrying fusion of information and entertainment.” I’m a little skeptical of its accuracy though, given that it put me in the center of the ideological map, close to the spot it put former presidential candidate John Kerry. Anyone who has read my columns knows I’m neither a middle-of-the-road kind of guy nor a John Kerry supporter. But I guess that’s putting it mildly.
Hopefully these sites will be able to guide readers in the right (not a pun) direction as to how to properly identify themselves politically in a world that narrowly focuses on left versus right and liberal versus conservative. I also hope it helps to spark their interest.
Adam Fowler is a USF firstname.lastname@example.org