The Bishop and the Butterfly: Murder, Politics, and the End of the Jazz Age
    Nebton's picture

    Cataloging political species


    As much as I hate the over-simplification of the liberal/conservative dichotomy (which feeds into the "with us or against us" mentality), a discussion I had recently with a friend left me thinking about how we often not only use those distinctions, but also use finer grained distinctions that are equally misleading. (Specifically we were talking about how the free trade vs. protectionism discussions combines disparate camps from both sides.)

    So, as an interesting exercise, I thought I'd try to create a list of political species within the liberal/conservative genera. For purposes of this discussion, I'm defining liberal as someone who tends to vote Democratic (including those who don't vote Democratic because they're not ideologically pure enough, but if truly forced to choose would choose Democrats over Republicans) and conservative as someone who tends to vote Republican (including those who don't vote Republican because they're not ideologically pure enough). In order to add a challenge, I'm requiring myself to create an equal number of species for each genus.


    1. Bleeding heart: Tend to be strong pacifists, pro-environment, anti-death penalty, save the poor. Includes socialists, many of the intelligentsia, and many other subspecies.
    2. Unionist: Place a priority on helping the working class, buying American, and keeping unions strong.
    3. Libertarian: Place a priority on keeping the government out of our private lives. Pro-drug legalization, anti-involvement in foreign affairs, supports gay marriage (or anti-marriage altogether in the sense that the government has no place in it).


    1. Libertarian: Place a priority on keeping the goverment out of our private lives. Anti-regulation of any kind. Probably don't care about gay marriage, but don't think the government has any place telling people who they can marry. Big fans of "the invisible hand".
    2. Moral majority: Place a priority on getting our country right with an imaginary being God. Don't want gays to marry, but probably think we should forgive Republicans who cheat on their wives. OK, so I'm not being that even handed with this particular species.
    3. I-hate-taxes: Really, really hate taxes. Think they know how to spend their money better than the government does. Might be very generous with charities, but want to be able to choose which charities they support with their money, if any at all.

    Reader participation time. What species would you create in these genera? I encourage you to be as even handed as possible (unlike me in #2 of the Conservatives above). Where do you see yourself in those species or in mine? I consider myself to be primarily a bleeding heart liberal above. I have my guesses about where other regular dagbloggers would fall in my classification, but I'll keep silent about my guesses unless asked (and I'll only answer my opinion of the person asking). I will say that I think most of my fellow dagbloggers also fall into the bleeding heart classification, though.



    I am a bleeding heart with a set of liberal unionist grandparents and a few conservative libertarian/i-hate-taxes extended relatives.

    I'd also add a fringe category to each group: Conspiratorialists

    Liberal Conspiratorialists: Convinced 9/11 was a Bush administration plot and that the rich and powerful sit around in a room and plot how to keep the proletariat in chains. Favorite city: Roswell, New Mexico.

    Conservative Conspiratorialists: Convinced that Barack Obama was born in Kenya and that the rich and powerful sit around in a room and plot how to make America a Godless, hedonistic paradise.

    Are you still a conspiratorialist, if there really is such a conspiracy? ;)

    A couple of years ago, I flew into Albuquerque in order to go to Chaco Canyon, NM. I considered visiting Roswell "while I was there", but then I looked at a map. :(

    I love categories, but I think that you need a rating system for more nuance. For instance, on a 1-5 scale, where 5 = "We must implement this agenda now!" and 1 = "Implementation of this agenda presages the Apocalypse/Dark Ages/World Fascism," I am:

    • Bleeding heart: 4
    • Unionist: 3
    • Libertarian: 4

    There's a sociology paper in here somehwere.

    I notice you left off your rating for the other 3 species…

    In that case, maybe we should drop the Dem/Repub categories and separate civil libertarians from fiscal libertarians:

    • Bleeding heart: 4
    • Unionist: 3
    • Civil libertarian: 4
    • Fiscal libertarian: 2
    • I-hate-taxes: 2
    • Moral majority: 1

    Um, does that mean you are a 1 on the moral majority scale?

    And can we please call them something else, because they're so clearly not in the majority. I prefer anti-hedonists. Or trifle-wads.

    Based on my research, they prefer to call themselves "traditionalists." But trifle-wad will do.

    Just to throw a bit of wrench into the works here, I'd like to tease out some of the contrasting economic perspectives.  Politics and economics are hard to separate, but I feel like economic perspectives get short shrift in a lot of these discussions.

    Take the contemporary American libertarian for example.  Socially, I have few disagreements with this set.  I favor drug decriminalization and full legalization of substances like marijuana.  I fully support federally qualified same-sex marriage.  I don't think the state should have the power to execute.  I think women of all ages should have unfettered access to safe, legal healthcare, including abortion.

    However, economically the picture is very different.  The reason for this is that the modern American libertarian is to the right of Milton Friedman economically.  They are predominantly adherents to the Austrian School of economics, a dogmatic approach to economics that has hardly evolved in nearly a century.  They believe, in keeping with their hero Ludwig von Mises, that all economic thought must be derived axiomatically.  They believe that math has no place in economics as human affairs are too complicated to model mathematically (though apparently they can be modeled axiomatically leading to the curious situation where sets of plain-language axioms, subject to the same analytical flaws identified by Gödel, are somehow superior to analysis where the symbols are numbers.. still waiting for someone to explain this to me).

    To say that they are fans of the invisible hand is to make the case mildly.  In the most extreme examples, as in the case of Mises' protege Murray Rothbard, they are so vehemently anti-statist as to regard all state power as being exercised at gunpoint, and thusly being fundamentally coercive, with economic policies such as industrial regulation being no exception to this indictment in their view.  They would take initiatives that Adam Smith himself would have balked at, like abolishing public schools, a social institution that Smith himself advocated for.  They would eradicate the Fed, FDIC, FDA, DOE, etc.  The only government they have interest in is one that operates a judicial system to enforce contracts, a police force to protect property and an army to protect the nation.

    As a Californian, I'm very familiar with the anti-tax fundamentalists.  I'm still trying to figure out if they're the same set as the Ron Paul-type Austrian school adherents.

    All of this is just to say that you didn't really address any economic concerns in your liberal libertarian, but did with your conservative libertarian.  I sometimes hear people identify as left-libertarian, but maybe that just means they're libertarians without painfully heterodox economic views.

    Yes, I was deliberately separating the two "halves" of libertarianism, into that half that tends to jibe more with the Democratic side of things and that half that tends to jibe more with the Republican side of things. Anyone I know personally who identifies as a Libertarian actually supports both of those groups of things, although they're usually forced to choose between the politician who supports the social half of their agenda vs. the politician who supports the economic half of their agenda. My closest Libertarian-ish friend (and the only one who I know how they voted in this recent election) chose McCain exactly for that reason. (As a fellow atheist, he was more concerned with Obama's frequent injection of his Christian faith into things than in the fallacious rumors of him being a Muslim, but it really just boiled down to economic policies.)

    Really?  He found Obama's approach to faith in public life more egregious than McCain's selection of Sarah Palin?

    Well, he was already predisposed to vote Republican because of his hatred of taxes…

    Using your classifcations and Genghis's scale I am:


    Bleeding Heart - 4 (mostly empathetic to these kinds of causes, but i do feel like a small minority of needy people are just friggin lazy)

    Unionist - 2 (they served their purpose and need to stick around to make sure basic rights are maintained but i think they do more harm than good nowadays.)

    Libertarian - 5 (socially, man, lay off. what i do in the privacy of my own home is my own business. legalize all drugs, legalize prostitution, legalize gay marriage, etc. etc.)


    Libertarian - 3.5 (economically, I must admit I have a lot of faith in Adam Smith's invisible hand, tho I think DF and I jibe on how the free market isn't perfect)

    moral Majority - 1 (this is kind of the antithesis of the Libertarian liberal category, which is why it's getting the exact opposite. So many hypocrites in this bunch it's frightening. But even if you practice what you preach and live life according to the Good Book, you have no right to exert your way onto me ... as long as my way doesn't harm others)

    I-hate-taxes - 2 (dont get me wrong. i do hate taxes, and think government wastes way too much money. I wish people gave enough charity to make taxes irrelevant, but that's just fantasy-land)

    RE: tax-hate, if you believe in the existence of a state whatsoever there will always be taxes and not just for a social safety-net, but more on this later as I have a work in progress on this topic.

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