Left vs Right, Authoritarianism vs Libertarianism

Anyone interested in politics should take a good look at the Political Compass website. Here you can read about Left vs Right (economics) and Authoritarianism vs Libertarianism (social attitudes) and see how you fit into the big picture. There’s a relatively simple test to take, and here are my results, shown with the positions of the various UK political parties in the 2015 general election. It seems like I’m a political outsider, although not an extremist.


That’s me in the bottom right corner. No wonder I can never find a political party that I really agree with.

The Political Compass website has a lot of very interesting facts and explanations, some of which I want to share with you here. I would like to thank fellow blogger nannus for bringing this fascinating website to my attention.

The political compass of Europe

You might have the impression that Europe is a kaleidoscope of differing political views, with governments of diverse hues. Wrong.

If you’re American, perhaps you think that Europe is a hotbed of god-damn socialists. Wrong again.

Viewed through the prism of The Political Compass, all European governments are right-wing authoritarian – even the Nordic countries.


It seems that most of the political spectrum is completely off-limits in modern Europe. If you want to get elected in any European country, you’d better be sure to endorse free trade, moderate taxation and be rather restrictive about what people are allowed to do with their free time.

US politics

What about America? Here are the results for the 2012 US Presidential elections.


Same thing really, but with an even narrower spread of views (apart from Ron Paul, who seems to live in a world of his own.) If anything, US politicians are rather more right-wing and authoritarian than European leaders.

The other 3 corners

If nearly all Western governments are in the right-wing authoritarian corner, who is in the other parts of the graph?


So Stalin is in the top left, with a clear policy of no freedoms – economic or social – for anyone. Remind me again – who voted for Stalin? Oh yes, absolutely nobody. Also in this corner are Mao Tse Tung and Pol Pot. In order to remain in power, Stalin killed between 34 and 49 million people (apologies for the imprecise statistics, but what’s a few million between friends?), Mao killed between 45 and 78 million, and Pol Pot killed a rather paltry 1.7 million. Pol Pot was in power for just 4 years though, so he had only just got started.

We should be in no doubt that left-wing authoritarian governments are seriously bad news, and do everything we can to avoid them.

Left-wing Libertarians like Gandhi are a different matter. They love everyone, and believe in a kind of voluntary collectivism. Good luck with that, you bunch of hippies. No one’s going to vote for you.

In the bottom right we find no political leaders whatsoever, just academics. It seems that the notion that people should be free to do broadly what they like as long as they don’t hurt anyone is never going to win any popular support. We’d much rather tell our neighbours what they can and can’t do, even if that means that they impose restrictions on us too.

The myth of right-wing extremists

The website also examines the idea of right-wing extremism. It points out that this is a complete misnomer. Most fascists are economically left-wing or centrist. Hitler, Mussolini, the British National Party and the French Front National are all to the left of mainstream parties. Indeed, NAZI stands for National Socialists. The bad boys of politics are not right-wing, but Authoritarian.

Economic vs Social restrictions

So nearly all democratic governments can be characterised to some degree as right-wing authoritarian. Furthermore, there appears to be an inverse correlation between economic and social liberty. Countries that lean to the left economically tend to be more socially permissive, while those that allow greater economic freedoms tend to be more socially conservative. In France, you can do whatever you like in the bedroom, but have to obey lots of rules in the boardroom; in the UK, you’d better not frighten the horses, but you are free to buy and sell them at whatever price you like.

Why do we feel the need to impose so many rules on each other? I don’t know. Perhaps we’re all bastards.

But why not combine the best of both worlds – economic freedom and social freedom too? Sounds good to me, but it will probably never catch on.


26 responses to “Left vs Right, Authoritarianism vs Libertarianism

  1. Hahaha. You have your own quadrant, Steve! Your final paragraph is a great starting point for discussion. I came out same as you on the y-axis but in the mirror spot on the x-axis (i.e., I’m almost exactly where the Green Party was plotted). I guess that means we’re both quite permissive socially but I’m more inclined to favor some structural checks against exploitation by economic elites. Per the website itself, it’s good food for thought, and it seems to have plotted you and me accurately, but a heuristic model that puts all the European and American parties/governments into the same quadrant may be of limited practical value … especially since it placed both you and me outside the quadrant of all civilized governments 🙂

    • That’s exactly where I expected you to be. You’re a hippy and I’m an idealist, and neither of us are ever going to be represented by mainstream political parties. I would be happiest in The Netherlands, and you should move to France!

  2. Hmmm. As I mentioned on another thread, I’m at about the same position as you on the authoritarian / libertarian axis, but slightly to the left of the center line on the left / right axis.

    I’m a little suspicious of the graph that groups every government out there into right wing authoritarianism. That smells like something put together by somebody who simply refuses to hear anything about the actual logistics of governance.

    • Well, there are a lot of people who claim that political parties are all the same. Maybe they are right to some extent.
      The founding principle of the EU is free trade within its borders, so that puts all EU countries to the right of centre. All EU countries support a welfare state, a mixed economy, monetary controls, and moderate taxation. Just how different are they?
      Certainly no European country has a government that remotely resembles the old Soviet Union, or the ideals of Gandhi.

      • So democracies that permit free trade, provide social safety nets, a mixed economy, and moderate taxation, are “right wing authoritarian”? Regardless of my test results, I suspect that site would consider me an authoritarian.

    • i share the skepticism about the test… The grouping of American politicians is suspicious, plus Hitler’s in the same quadrant, and not far off. I’ll have to take the test when I get a moment… be interesting to see where I fall.

      • I’m surprised at the negativity from Wyrd and Mike. These results make perfect sense to me, although they initially surprised me.

        • You might like to read the FAQs
          Particularly the questions, “You’ve got liberals on the right. Don’t you know they’re left?” and “Most governments and political figures are plotted on the right. Doesn’t that mean that your centre is misplaced?”

        • Thanks Steve, but the FAQ doesn’t change my perception that their assessment of current parties, leaders, and governments is too skewed to derive anything interesting from it. It’s worth reading their justification of why Barack Obama is a right wing authoritarian. That justification, tarring Obama with positions he is adamantly opposed to, removed any credibility I might have given the site’s assessments.

        • Skepticism is not negativity! 🙂

  3. Amazing, and I always thought you were an Anarcho-Syndicalist Steve. 😉

  4. Hmm. My test result reveals that I’m somewhat more left and libertarian than I thought: -8.65 on the authoritarian/libertarian axis, and -4.75 on the left/right axis. In principle. I support economic freedom, but I suspect my distrust of big business/multinationals exposes that I’m not yet ready to embrace Laissez-faire economics.

    I’m less concerned about the drift from left to right over the last 10 years as shown by the charts, as by the slow drift towards authoritarianism over recent years. Democracy isn’t threatened by movement left or right, but authoritarianism on the other hand is a definite threat.

    • Barry, you’re probably correct that there has been a shift towards authoritarianism in recent years. I don’t know why – perhaps terrorism and harsh economic times has done this. Perhaps it is simply the degree of change in the world.

  5. Okay, so I got:
    Economic Left/Right: -2.0
    Social Libertarian/Authoritarian: -3.85
    Which suggests I’m more centrist, but also more libertarian, than Gandhi.

    As a rough cut first approximation, that’s probably fairly close, but it leaves out so many nuances that it’s just an interesting data point. The thing is, my actual position is a lot more all over the map than that single dot represents.

    One thing I noticed is that the test forces you to take a stand, there is no possibility of a neutral answer (and mine were “no opinion; don’t care” in several cases). Being forced to pick a side when one truly doesn’t have a side seems like it must skew the results.

    The wording was interesting, too, in its use of “all” and “always” conditions. There were places I was in a high percentile, but not 100%, and given the wording, that changes my answer. (Which might be intended, I suppose.)

    I suppose my bottom line is that labels are useful for discussion, but when they are used for pigeonholing, I always feel like important information is being lost.

    • The reason the test doesn’t allow you to choose “no opinion” is to prevent people from skipping questions that they haven’t really considered.

      • Many tests handle that with a “Don’t Know” category that excludes the question from consideration. A problem with their tactic is that I was truly 50/50 on several questions.

        Look at it this way: how well can you characterize something as complex as a social-political position with only a couple of dozen (rather basic) data points? The data resolution there is pretty coarse.

        That said, when pressed, I generally label myself a centrist libertarian, so it did peg my basic views reasonably. I’m just not a fan of analysis that reduces a complex thing to a single number (or even two, as in this case, but two is definitely better than one).

  6. I found this topic interesting so I went off and tried the test. I was rather surprised to find myself down keeping Gandhi company in the bottom left-hand corner.

  7. I’m libertarian-left leaning (same as Green Party) and agree that ‘far-right’ politics are misinterpreted and are really authoritarian. I would class Hitler as authoritarian-left because economically his party was a socialist party with a central planned economy.
    Check out my post on this topic: http://www.thezarinamachablog.co.uk/2017/08/on-liberty.html

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s