Right vs Left: The Labeling Game
Every so often in the blogosphere, the old label argument rears its ugly head. Someone asserts that the old Left vs. Right and Liberal vs. Conservative labels don’t apply and a round of blog posts gets written in reaction.
This time, Glenn Reynolds asserted, for the umpteenth time, that he is not a conservative. Dan Morgan argues that this is a cop-out because there are only two big labels and everybody has to pick one.
If the conservative label does not fit Glenn Reynolds, then why would the lefty bloggers often get so worked up about things that Reynolds writes? Do you think that the people writing or visiting at DailyKos feel any sense of common cause with Reynolds? I think not.
So Glenn, sorry to break the news to you – but you are a Conservative.
This assertion, however, is quite problematic. One, it is not explained why only two labels are permissible and why one must choose between them. Further, it is undermined by Morgan’s own litmus test:
The big tent conservative movement is basically built around the principles that Ronald Reagan put in place. The order of priority, to the great bulk of conservatives, is roughly:
1) Assertive use of U.S. influence, including military force when justifiable, to further U.S. vital interests
2) Reducing the size and power of government
3) Reducing taxes and regulations
4) Expanding many freedoms such as free speech, freedom of association, free markets, and gun freedoms
5) Outlawing abortion, allowing school prayer, and supporting other conservative Christian causes
Glenn is for 1-4 but not 5. So, ipso facto, he’s a conservative, right?
But, objectively, George W. Bush and the Republican Congress are only for 1, 3a, 4d, and 5. Does that make them liberals?
Stephen Green applies some consequentialist logic and asserts, “I can’t agree with Dan on this one, if only because by his lights I’m [a conservative], too.” He then comes up with an interesting set of “five labels to cover beliefs” and “four hyphen-labels to cover the means.” While much more flexible and descriptive than the bipartite Liberal-Conservative schema, it does not solve the fundamental problem that keeps bringing this debate up: disagreement of where others rest on the spectrum. Further, it does not address the problem that people are willing to apply different means to domestic and foreign policy.
Two axis systems, like Pournelles (linked by Dean) and many others, are typically better than one axis systems, but they tend to create problems. Why? Because most people are inconsistent. They support government regulation of some personal conduct but not others. They support some taxes but not others. Aside from the anarchists, it’s just hard to categorize most people because they don’t think about government all that much and they don’t have very well thought out views.
That is unlikely to change.
Update: Rusty Shackleford, who describes himself as a neo-libertarian but would be a conservative in Morgan’s book, provides an ideological labeling schema complete with a hazy PowerPoint graph, axes, and directional arrows. There is not, however, a paragraph on the back explaining it.
Update 2: And then there are people like Rod Dreher, a religious populist who thinks he’s a conservative because he loves Jesus.
Update 3: Steven Taylor notes that Morgan’s forced choice only exists at election time.
Dave Shuler proposes an alternative tripartite schema of “status quo-ists, revolutionaries, and pragmatists.”