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February 25, 2003

Free Reads -- Political Test

Friedrich --

Another online "what are your politics" test, here, but more thoughtful and nuanced than most such, or so it seems to me. Although these tests never make enough allowance for those of us who simply dislike politics, or prefer to see politics kept out of as much as possible.

I can't tell who's behind it, can you? Still, pretty well done. I'll tell you my results if you'll tell me yours. Eager to hear how everyone else scores too. Other volunteers? Yahmdallah? Laurel? Michael Serafin? J.C.?



posted by Michael at February 25, 2003


As I typically present myself in terms of politics, I'm a centrist who leans to the left on education and health care, but who goes nearly libertarian on civil rights and govt. involvement in enforcing morality. Govt. is for building highways, infrastructure, defense, enforcement of law, providing public education, and balancing the power between corporations and the individual.
The test said:
Economic Left/Right: -2.00
Authoritarian/Libertarian: -4.72

Posted by: Yahmdallah on February 25, 2003 4:06 PM

Yahmdallah, you wild man, you.

I seem to shade right and shade libertarian. Boring person that I am, not too far in either case. Damn, there go my credentials as a radical.

Economic left/right : 2.64
Authority/liberty: -0.97

Like I say, I'm always annoyed that there aren't more "I'd rather be left alone, thanks/Government should just butt out/" options on these tests.

How'd you react to the test itself? Seem pretty fair?

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on February 25, 2003 4:40 PM

But maybe what I'm looking for isn't a "what are your politics" test, but instead a "how political are you" test. On which I suspect I'd score pretty low -- hence most of my I'd-rather-be-left-alone
politics, such as they are....

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on February 25, 2003 4:48 PM

Since you showed yours...

Economic Left/Right: 6.13
Authoritarian/Libertarian: -3.95

Much better than most similar things, although there were about a dozen questions that needed to be clarified.

Posted by: Aaron Haspel on February 25, 2003 5:23 PM

The problem with "I'd rather be left alone" is that you won't be. The adequacy of your pension and your access to healthcare are just two examples of things that will play a crucially determining factor in your quality of life, and which are greatly affected by politics.

Posted by: Iain J Coleman on February 25, 2003 6:33 PM

Economic Left/Right: -2.13
Authoritarian/Libertarian: -4.97

You'd think they could afford someone to write decent questions.

Posted by: j.c. on February 25, 2003 8:34 PM

Economic left/right: 2.63
Authortarian/libertarian: -0.87

Pretty close to smack dead-center. Actually, I probably would have been even closer if I could have sl=plit the difference between agree and disagree on some of those questions - on a lot of them, I found myself saying, "Yes, but..." Like the one about abstract art - I wouldn't say it's "not art", but that doesn't exhaust what I have to say on the subject...

Posted by: jimbo on February 25, 2003 9:32 PM

Well, Aaron has certainly staked a claim to the right/libertarian extreme, J.C. and Yahmdallah dare to take a lefthand turn, Jimbo and I set up camp right in the middle, no one reporting scores claims space in the "authoritarian" part of the chart ... Iain, meanwhile, seems to (could it be?) like government, hasn't yet reported his score, and has me wondering why not. Don't wimp out on us, Iain.

More volunteers, please. Friedrich von Blowhard, I'm guessing your results will fall 'way over there on the lower right, about where Aaron's sitting...

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on February 26, 2003 12:53 AM

Economic Left/Right: -0.13
Authoritarian/Libertarian: -6.41

The libertarian middle!

Like others, I found some questions problematic. A couple of examples:
"In a civilised society, one must always have people above to obey and people below to command."

I'd have said "In SOME parts ..." The military, for instance.

"Many personal fortunes are made by people who simply manipulate money and contribute nothing to their society."

What the hell does "many" mean?

Posted by: Mike Snider on February 26, 2003 8:43 AM

When I last took this test, I was mildly left and strongly libertarian - pretty much where Simon Hughes is placed in the analysis of UK politicians.

I don't think there's an issue of "liking" government. Government seems an odd sort of thing to like. The point is that how our society is governed -- and it will be governed, one way or another -- has a powerful effect on our lives, for good or ill. The key to getting more good and less ill is, in my view, public participation in the political process. This is basically a civic republican viewpoint.

Posted by: Iain J Coleman on February 26, 2003 9:23 AM

Here's my score:

Economic Left/Right: -2.88
Authoritarian/Libertarian: -4.31

I'm totally clueless as to what this means...wish I could add some clever banter. Could someone interpret for me? Oh yes, there was all that stuff with the survey that I could have read. Ugh!

I landed next to Ken Livingston and Tony Benn. Darned if I've ever heard of them. Am I totally lame or what???

But this survey takes away the problem I've considered where different milieus create their own definitions of left and right- idiosyncratic grouping that does't hold up when when exposed to other locals. It could be used to align regional differences...give one frame of reference so to speak.

Posted by: laurel on February 26, 2003 10:31 AM

My scores:

Economic Left/Right: 3.00
Authoritarian/Libertarian: -3.44

I guess, based on other people's scores, that makes me more economically right than many and a tad more libertarian than most. (However, I must add my voice to the chorus of the procedurally unsatisfied. I didn't actually agree with any of the answers to a number of the questions, so I'm not sure how accurate this really is.)

My question for my economically left-libertarian friends is how you reconcile your preference for such a economically intrusive government with the idea of maximal personal freedom. You don't see any contradiction there? Aren't you asking for a bit of special treatment with such an attitude?

If the government is justified in policing economic activities so vigorously, on what basis should you be entitled to your petty personal zone of liberty? What makes you so darn special?

Posted by: Friedrich von Blowhard on February 26, 2003 11:00 AM

Hey Mike, I have similar difficulties with such tests, although mine usually take the form of "I really have no opinion on this, and can't see why I should." For instance, the example you mention: "In a civilised society, one must always have people above to obey and people below to command." I'm thinking "'one must'????? What the hell does that mean? 'One' probably will indeed, just judging from history. I mean, name me a society that doesn't have something along the lines of 'rulers' and something along the lines of 'ruled.' But why am I supposed to have an opinion about this fact? Am I supposed to be saying this is a good thing or a bad thing? Who cares?" The option I tend to prefer -- let's work with what human nature seems to be, but in a very modest fashion -- never seems to be available.

Hey Iain

"The point is that how our society is governed -- and it will be governed, one way or another -- has a powerful effect on our lives, for good or ill." I don't think you'll get many arguments about that one, though I suspect that the "how to get better rather than worse results" question will create a few. One of my preferences is to strictly limit what government can do whenever possible, thereby strictly limiting the damage it can do. (I'm of the "first do no harm" school where politics is concerned.) But I suspect that (as many smarter people than I have argued) a person's political preferences are largely a function of temperament, which may be why discussing politics can be so hard. Changing someone else's mind might, just might, be possible. But changing someone's temperament? Unlikely. So clashes ensue. How to manage this? Me, I try to keep things on an affable "hey, let's have a good time comparing notes" plane, but that may be inexcusably superficial of me.

Hey Laurel -- Can we refer to you as "Red Laurel" from now on? (I go in for a little impish teasing sometimes too.)

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on February 26, 2003 11:02 AM

Ken Livingstone, AKA "Red Ken": Mayor of London, former Trotskyite, former member of the Labour party, recently responsible for introducing congestion charging to London. Loathed by Tony Blair for being (a) a socialist and (b) popular.

Tony Benn, AKA Anthony Wedgewood Benn: formerly a senior Labour MP, recently quit Parliament in order to devote more time to politics. A patrician of the old left, anti-war, anti-imperialist, anti-American. Recently visited Baghdad to conduct a buttock-clenchingly sycophantic TV interview with Saddam Hussein.

Posted by: Iain J Coleman on February 26, 2003 11:06 AM

Coming late to the party, from a sojourn in south America -- I seem to be more extreme than most of y'all.

Economic Left/Right: -3.75
Authoritarian/Libertarian: -6.00

Friedrich: To answer your question, I'd dispute the premise. Consider the present US administration, which seems hell-bent on redistributing wealth from poor to rich: doing it the other way round isn't more intrusive.

Posted by: Felix on February 26, 2003 11:22 AM

> > My question for my economically left-libertarian friends is how you reconcile your preference for such a economically intrusive government with the idea of maximal personal freedom. You don't see any contradiction there?

There's no contradiction: quite the reverse. The (right) libertarian account of freedom is incomplete to the point of inadequacy. Pure economic freedom means, for many, little more than the freedom to starve to death in the manner of their choosing.

Freedom, in my view, is about the practical access to real choice. A society in which all individuals are educated to the extent of their talent and inclination, in which adequate healthcare is available to all, in which a broad spectrum of transport alternatives are accessible, in which crime prevention measures reduce the likelihood of theft or assault, is more free than one which lacks these features -- all else being equal. Likewise, a society in which each individual has more disposable income in freer than one in which each person has less -- all else being equal. Maximising real, meaningful freedom throughout society involves finding some way of balancing all these competing claims on liberty.

So who gets to decide on that balance? Surely not some unaccountable elite, imposing their pet theories on an unconsulted and unwilling populace. No, the legal and financial framework which will affect the people must be formed by and consented to by the people. The only regulations consistent with freedom are those we impose freely on ourselves. As it happens, my own position on economic freedom is broadly shared by the majority of my fellow citizens, and when we take collective decisions on these matters we consistently favour progressive taxation to provide public services and social welfare.

Posted by: Iain J Coleman on February 26, 2003 11:39 AM

Hey Felix, I'm surprised you aren't a little farther out, to be honest. Maybe your spell in Argentina has mellowed you. Welcome back.

Hey Iain, You may well be way ahead of me on this (god knows my political philosophy education is spotty), but in case this is something I've stumbled across that you haven't... You might get a kick out of looking into the difference between the two kinds of freedom: "positive freedom" (or "empowerment," the idea of freedom you evidently favor, ie., "there is no freedom if access to health care, education, etc etc isn't present"), and "negative freedom" (the idea I'm more comfortable with, which is "freedom from" -- ie., "freedom from intrusion, freedom to be left alone to pursue your own thing," etc etc). Much follows from which you prefer. I have the feeling it's one of those long-running discussions that'll never reach a satisfying conclusion.

Hey, nobody asked, but it's my blog, or half my blog anyway ... Here's one of those rules of thumb I've run across that seem to serve pretty well. Where politics is concerned there are really only two kinds of people, at least where deep and basic feelings are concerned. One kind looks at the political sphere, sees something that's unfortunately necessary, and says, Lordy, that's potentially dangerous, let's do what we can to defend ourselves against it. The other kind looks at the political sphere and says, Wow, what I could do with that!

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on February 26, 2003 1:55 PM

Iain: Great post.

Michael: Let me try to reiterate what Iain was saying here. Your distinction is one without a difference. "Freedom to be left alone to pursue your own thing" is great if you're Friedrich von Blowhard, who can take his overeducated and well-looked-after (in a medical sense) self and drive on government-built roads out to a government-protected scenic site to paint something beautiful. On the other hand, if you're poor, with little access to health care or education, and no way to buy a car, such freedom might seem like a little bit of a sick joke. What's that line about millionaires and beggars and sleeping under bridges?

You want to defend yourself against government? You sound like a member of the Michigan Militia. What do you mean, exactly?

Posted by: Felix on February 26, 2003 2:12 PM

Economic Left/Right: 8.00 Authoritarian/Libertarian: 2.36 I'm "Authoritarian Right" on the chart. Makes sense, as I am a "recovering" Libertarian!

Posted by: Michael Serafin on February 26, 2003 2:24 PM

Well, by gosh, Felix really is back! Blogging, anyway, if not physically back. Are you in NYC yet? An internet cafe in Buenos Aires? Has Michelle taken the "what are your politics" test yet? 2Blowhards wants to know her score too.

I'll pass on the temptation to debate this and simply note that the positive-freedom vs. negative-freedom distinction isn't something I'm advancing or arguing, it's a long-standing distinction in the field. I'm just passing the fact of its existence along, as a matter of (I hope) helpful information. People on both sides have made tons of good points, and have then followed up with tons of great further points, as well as refutations of each other. You may be more enthusiastic about participating in the debate than I am. I'll stand back, observe that the debate exists, enjoy the spectacle, appreciate the style and the points of the debaters, and cheer for the team that appeals to me most. But I have little fresh to add (besides my hunch that one's preference is probably a matter of inborn temperament, and thus probably not very open to changing), and I doubt that either team's going to be delivering a knockout punch in the near future.

Let's see: in this corner, Iain and Felix. In that one, Aaron and Friedrich. Have at it, kids! The rest of us will be smoking cigars, drinking whiskey, and making bets.

Happy to pass along some "negative liberty" book title suggestions to anyone who might be interested...

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on February 26, 2003 2:33 PM

Please name some "negative liberty" titles ASAP! Thanks.

Posted by: Michael Serafin on February 26, 2003 2:40 PM

Ah, Michael Serafin finally checks in! With your scores, Michael, I think you'd be well-suited for the role of referee in the tag-team wrestling spectacle I was suggesting above. Are you eager to play the role? Or maybe even willing? I love the phrase "recovering Libertarian." I wonder if there's a kind of Betty Ford Clinic for them somewhere.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on February 26, 2003 2:41 PM

I'm playing a Nazi defendant in a production of JUDGEMENT AT NUREMBURG, which opens this Thursday. That's "politics" enough for me, for the time being. Thanks for the offer!

Posted by: Michael Serafin on February 26, 2003 2:46 PM

Ah, Felix, glad to see you're feeling fit and ready to rumble after your trip. Still I would have expected a bit more subtle attack on the concept of positive and negative freedom than that. There is a pretty clear intellectual distinction, and often a very functional one, between freedom from material want and freedom from state-sponsored violence or intimidation. Just shouting that poor people can't appreciate negative freedoms is neither very logical and rather condescending to poor people. Solving people's material problems is not a magic cure all for tyranny or oppression.

And anyway, why are you saying nasty things about me? According to my research, U.S. Federal Outlays in 2002 were $2,010,975,000,000, or $6,934/citizen, while California State outlays in 2002 were $100,032,000,000 or $2953/citizen. A Californian like myself was at least theoretically the recipient of $9887 in Federal and state government spending. Thus my five person family soaked up (in theory) $49,436 in government spending. (I say in theory, of course, because none of us receives Social Security or Medicare or MediCal, etc., etc.) I paid multiples of this amount in taxes, allowing a significant number of other Californians to pay less while still getting that $9887 in benefits per person. My business employs over 30 people, none at minimum wage and many at significantly above the U.S. average wage. The Federal government receives far more money from my busines activities than I or my family do (without being exposed to the kinds of downside risk that I face.) How exactly am I such a bad guy here? I have a rather uneasy feeling that I'm being de-humanized here--why? Is it possible you guys have a slightly bad conscience about making me the piggy bank for other people's positive freedoms?

Lastly, I can't even carry on a debate until I see your scores from this test.

Posted by: Friedrich von Blowhard on February 26, 2003 3:14 PM

For anyone who wants to poke around the negative/positive liberty topic of a bit, the place to start is Isaiah Berlin's essay "Two Concepts of Liberty," collected most recently in "The Proper Study of Mankind" (which also includes his famous essay about "fox" minds and "hedgehog" minds)... Tried to find a freebie copy of the essay online, didn't succeed, darn it.

Is anyone out there a big Berlin fan? I'm glad he was there, thought he made a lot of good points, but have always found the writing a little dull. Someone somewhere told me that he was known less for the writing than for his conversation, which was apparently staggering. Still, even in the writing he did make some good points.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on February 26, 2003 3:23 PM

Oops, got a little carried away with research.

A good Tom Stoppard piece in the Telegraph, roughly on the topic of positive and negative liberty:

A decent quick intro by J.B. Kizer:

Plus, I found Thomas Sowell's book "A Conflict of Visions" helpful on the diffs between the basic points of view. He writes about the "constrained" vision and the "unconstrained" vision, and it seemed to me a useful distinction. Here's a not-bad short review of the book:

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on February 26, 2003 3:26 PM

Free markets punish the poor the same way free speech punishes the inarticulate.

Posted by: Aaron Haspel on February 26, 2003 4:12 PM

They wouldn't let me into the theater because I couldn't pay. If I'm not free to see a movie, then what the hell am I free to do?! It's no different from racist oppression, for chrissake, Aaron, snap out of it!

Me: Economic: 2.00
Libertarian: -2.53

Pretty close to Michael.

Posted by: Jim on February 26, 2003 5:53 PM

Should the children of the poor be restricted in their opportunities because their parents didn't get rich?

Posted by: Mike Snider on February 26, 2003 6:20 PM

Oh, it's Isaiah Berlin who came up with foxes and hedgehogs, is it? I remember a particularly pointless conversation in Jamaica once trying to work out who was who -- and then, when that got too stultifying for words, trying out the cavalier/roundhead distinction instead. But since none of us really knew what we were talking about, it was all pretty unedifying. In general, I'm very suspicious of all "there are two kinds of people in the world" arguments -- but then again, aren't we all?

Friedrich -- glad to hear you're doing your bit to support the US economy. I don't think I said you were a bad guy, although I would dispute your implicit assertion that your family doesn't maybe get its full $10k's worth of govt spending because you're not on Medicare. For one thing, there are really big items in the budget like defense spending and interest expenses on the national debt which you can allot the benefits of as you please, but which certainly don't accrue to the poor any more than they do to the rich. For another, people in richer neighborhoods generally get better policing, roads, education, etc than people in poorer neigborhoods.

Still, I'm happy to concede that you put in more than you take out. Pretty much anybody who pays a six-figure tax bill would fall into that category, unless they're some kind of government employee or contractor. Are you aggrieved at this state of affairs? Of course it could hardly be otherwise: if we forced each American to shoulder their share of the national debt (ie the national debt divided by the number of Americans) then the country would go bankrupt overnight, and none of us wants that. (For an example of what happens when a country goes bankrupt, I would point you to Argentina, whence I have recently returned, although I did do a bit of wireless blogging while I was down there.)

You seem caught up on -- let me see now -- violence, intimidation, tyranny and oppression. And how freedom from these is the greatest freedom of all. Agreed. But surely you'd agree that freedom doesn't end there? And I'm interested that you say that "solving people's material problems is not a magic cure all for tyranny or oppression" -- I'm actually right-wing enough to believe that, to all intents and purposes, it is. Can you give a counterexample? The closest I can think of is Singapore, which certainly doesn't have the tyranny, and which is hardly in the major leagues in terms of opression, either.

Oh, and as for my scores, I posted them above.

Posted by: Felix on February 26, 2003 6:32 PM

I was indeed thinking of Berlin's ideas of positive and negative freedom, and I fully endorse the recommendation of his essay "Two Concepts of Liberty". It's one of the major essays of twentieth-century political philosophy. Let me make it quite clear that I'm bang up alongside the idea of negative freedom. That's what the quiz questions on authoritarianism/libertarianism are about, and if you recall I come out strongly libertarian in those terms. However, negative freedom is not enough. We also need positive freedom -- the freedom to direct our own lives, rather than be directed by others. Right-libertarians generally fail to recognise that aspect of freedom. Indeed, I think "libertarian" is a bit of a misnomer when applied to those folks, as they tend, at bottom, to favour an ideal of justice rather than an ideal of freedom.

The idea that, by paying taxes which will fund healthcare amongst other things, but not using that healthcare oneself, one is necessarily a net contributor to society is a bit naive. Your own health, prosperity and, yes, freedom, depend on a whole lot of other people all doing their bit to maintain and improve society, and an awful lot of them have recourse to healthcare at some point in their lives. The same goes for many other budget areas. I don't have kids, yet my taxes help pay for education. Am I being ripped off? Hardly. The taxes I'm paying now will help educate the doctors who cure me, the drivers and pilots who transport me, the public health officials who maintain my clean environment and the engineers who create lots of cool new stuff for me to play with twenty years from now.

Regarding Michael's point about two political temperaments, let me pass on this quote from Nick Clegg MEP:

"In the end, our differences are an expression of one of the enduring faultlines in politics between conservatives and progressives: you believe change is dangerous and should be treated with caution; I believe change is inevitable and should be treated as an opportunity."

Posted by: Iain J Coleman on February 26, 2003 7:10 PM

Hey Felix --

The fun response is "there are two kinds of people, ones who don't find the 'two kinds of people' comparisons helpful, and the ones who do find them helpful." You're right, though, that's too easy. But I'm eager to find out what the Cavalier/Roundhead comparison is meant to signify. Explanation please. I dimly recall what Cavaliers and Roundheads were, but what's the point of the comparison in the present day?

Hey Iain --

Excellent quote from Nick Clegg, thanks. Exactly.

Hey Friedrich --

I forget sometimes that you aren't a guy who's been working ultra-long hours for over two decades in a tough competitive environment to keep a small business afloat, meanwhile contending with high taxes and a ton of excessive and silly regulations. Sorry. Remind me occasionally to remind myself that what you are in fact is a plutocrat, exploiter and ingrate who doesn't understand what society has given him.

Hey, all: 32 posts -- some kind of record. Whee. Still eager to hear from more women, though. Or have you banded together and decided to let Laurel speak for all of you?

By the way, y'all fell for this silly political thing, and yet no one saw fit to comment on some of our truly high-class postings? Like the Mariel Hemingway one a few postings down? I mean, really. Don't you care about real culture?

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on February 26, 2003 9:03 PM

Hey Friedrich -- I forget sometimes that you aren't a guy who's been working ultra-long hours for over two decades in a tough competitive environment to keep a small business afloat, meanwhile contending with high taxes and a ton of excessive and silly regulations.

If California's taxes are "high" and its regulations "excessive and silly", then presumably you can point to an economy where neither of these two conditions obtains, an economy, moreover, which will presumably be much more successful and entrepeneurial than California. Or do your adjectives just jerk out of you, as if your knee's just been hit by a reflex hammer, despite the fact that really you consider them wholly redundant?

And what is it with Blowhards and straw men? Who among us is accusing Friedrich of being a plutocrat, let alone an exploiter?

As for Cavaliers and Roundheads, here's something pulled off the web at random:

The "Roundheads" and the "Cavaliers" fought each other in the English Civil War of the 1640s. In the centuries since that conflict, the distinctive character of the contenders has become part of the language of English-speaking peoples: Roundheads are industrious, middle-class, thrifty, sober, and puritan in their religion and lifestyle; Cavaliers are carefree, aristocratic, stylish, fun-loving, and easygoing in their religion and politics.

Of course, given that distinction, everybody would like to consider themselves a Cavalier, with the possible exception of John Ashcroft. But it can still come in useful sometimes, especially when limning the difference between libertarians and conservatives.

Posted by: Felix on February 26, 2003 9:59 PM

Michael accuses of us not caring about real culture, and neglects to mention that he begged for comments here even more piteously than usual. Then he complains when we oblige him.

Posted by: Aaron Haspel on February 27, 2003 12:25 AM

Caught out by the God of the Machine once again! That's the last time his poetry postings get linked-to by this blog, that's fer damn sure.

Beware the wrath of 2Blowhards! Shameless link-and-comment whores though we may be...

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on February 27, 2003 1:14 AM

Michael Blowhard
DATE: 02/26/2003 12:55:39 AM
And where are the women? 2Blowhards wants to know your scores, gals. Lynn? Laurel? Alexandra? Tank Mommy? Alice? Let us hear from you!

Posted by: on May 8, 2003 4:24 AM

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