There is a fundamental misunderstanding in America when it comes to understanding the left and right, and it comes down to terminology. Typically, we define the right as conservative, and the left as liberal. The problem is: conservatism and liberalism are not opposites. Let me explain, with the help of Timothy Ferris, author of the highly recommended The Science of Liberty (not the 4-hour workweek guy).
The left and right are better thought of using the following diagram:
The more accurate terminology for the left is ‘progressive.’ Everyone in American politics is a liberal. Timothy Ferris explains:
By liberalism I mean the original political philosophy called by that name–the one espoused by John Locke and embodied in the Bill of Rights. Liberalism is based on the hypothesis that people ought to be maximally free, with the government intervening only to the extent required to protect their freedoms against abridgment by their compatriots or by enemies abroad.
Liberalism is the opposite of totalitarianism. Both conservatives and progressives have the capacity of moving towards totalitarianism or liberalism embedded in their ideologies.
This diagram also makes it easier to wrap your mind around moderates:
If you are a liberal conservative or a liberal progressive you will show up, on the old one-dimensional diagram, as a “moderate.” (Most Americans are called moderate because most are liberal, in that they support human rights and are suspicious of big organizations, whether governmental or private, that threaten those rights.) When people say that they have become more moderate with age, what they usually mean is that they’ve become more liberal–that, having come to appreciate the virtues of freedom in action, they have strayed from the dogmatisms of the Left or Right. From this perspective there is no need for neologisms like “neoliberal,” “neoconservative,” or liberalism with an uppercase or lowercase “L.” These words simply describe various trajectories taken on the playing field of tradition vs. innovation and freedom vs. despotism.
This model of left and right has really helped me understand the true nature of our political persuasions. What do you think? Do you feel that this model is more accurate to real life?