If you’ve ever been frustrated, confused or irritated at trying to figure out what political “team” you’re supposed to play for, join the club. Even the politically savvy have a hard time explaining exactly what one group believes and why. It’s enough to make a lot of people shrug their shoulders and opt for easier choices in life, like whether you want mayo or mustard on your burger.  Therefore, I’ve attempted to provide the most accurate and shortest explanation known to mankind.

The reason for the complications is simple: there are way more opinions than there are names for them. Before going any further, it must be understood that political parties and ideologies are two completely different things. I’ll explain this a little further in a moment, but political parties are nothing more than a vehicle by which ideas become policy through the cooperative effort of like-minded individuals (for more on parties go here). So throw out the Democrat/Republican paradigm for a minute. What we’re really concerned with is understanding what influences political opinions and how they differ. First, let’s look at a couple of popular spectra:

Though people act like this is the only way to look at ideology, it’s quite wrong. For the sake of brevity, I’ll just say that this spectrum was created over 200 years ago under a whole different set of issues, but we’ve been trying to apply them to modern times for decades—without success. People will tell you the “left” (lib’rals!) want radical change, usually in the form of equality and moral freedom. The “right” (the Neo-Cons!) want low taxes for the wealthy and traditional values. These are both oversimplified and frankly inaccurate.

This one gets a little closer to reality, but it’s too narrowly focused on money. One viewpoint thinks the government ought to stay out of people’s pockets, the other thinks the government ought to take or hand out money however it wants. But what about the moral issues? Any model that tries to graph political ideology has to account for non-economic values.

Some ideology models will try to combine social and fiscal issues, but they make it appear as though a person can believe in a completely free market, yet also believe in complete government control of your personal life. That simply isn’t possible. I’ve yet to see a spectrum that truly captures—both theoretically and visually—the full breadth of social and political thought, and why different ideologies are in such conflict with one another. It took me nearly two years to put one together, but when the end result of my research was presented to several Political Science professors it was received quite well. I’ve constructed a unique Political Ideology Spectrum that looks at ideology as a system of social values and beliefs about the freedom of the individual in relation to common goals.

All of the colors on your television or computer monitor are generated from very tiny dots. These dots only come in three colors—red, green and blue (RGB). The colors you see are based on which dots light up the most relative to other dots. In the same way, political views are determined by the particular balance of three distinct social values. Thus, a triangular spectrum is evident.

At the top I have placed Liberty, which represents a belief in the freedom of the individual. A person in this camp would tend to distrust government and prefer market solutions to solve most problems. At the very tip are the extremists who would advocate no government at all. Of course, we have a word for that—anarchy. It isn’t a sustainable situation, so more moderate individuals will attempt to pull toward the other poles.

Both of the bottom poles are statist in nature, meaning that they value collective power to individual power, and view personal choice as inherently opposed to what is “good” for society.

The left corner represents the value of Unity. Those who embrace Unity desire a world in which there is no conflict, and no division among people. According to this view, the differences between humans are merely man-made. Thus, if we can unmake them we can eliminate the things that cause conflict. This group will argue for policies which are said to end war, universalize incomes and opportunities, and eliminate judgments of merit or morality. This agenda, also, is unsustainable. It acts against natural forces in such a way that drives society into poverty, while at the same time removing individual liberties to the point—in extreme cases—of genocide (take China and the USSR for example).

While those in the right corner also seek state control, their objectives are radically different. They are primarily concerned with the Vitality of the nation. The difference rests primarily on a view of human nature in which differences among people are not invented, but inherent, and that humans naturally act according to self-interest, including conquest. Therefore, a strong and secure society must use the arm of government to promote that which strengthens society, and outlaw that which weakens it. The exact things that are promoted or outlawed depend on the rulers. The ancient spartans left undesirable newborns to die in the forest, and the Nazis tried to exterminate a whole race/religion. To use a less horrifying example, America has outlawed certain drugs, pornography and liquor sales on Sundays.

When we look at this spectrum, we can see how it applies to modern parties. Currently, people who lean toward the left corner call themselves Democrats. People who are closer to the right carry the GOP banner. But what of those at the top? People who desire small government, and who distrust the whole political system are less likely to form strong political parties. Many of them simply vote for whichever candidate is the least likely to expand government, particularly in the manner that concerns them most. However, many liberty-minded people are affiliated with the Libertarian Party, which waxes and wanes depending on the political climate. When citizens get upset with both parties for overreaching, libertarian principles tend to get more attention.

Determining our political values means determining our social values. To what extent should the freedom of each person be sacrificed for the good of society? And if state power is desirable, should it be used to unify us at the cost of prosperity and security, or to protect and strengthen us, even if it means there will be casualties? These are not easy questions, and as we each reach our own conclusions about them we will be faced with others who have concluded otherwise. This can make for a very messy debate, but the key is to always be willing to dialogue, and perhaps even change your mind.


This post was adapted from a research paper I completed in May of 2010, and presented at the 2011 meeting of the Southern Political Science Association. For a pdf of the full document please email wgant@hbu.edu

I was speaking to someone several days ago who said he was an old high-school buddy of Whole Foods Market Founder and CEO John Mackey – a likely story, since the national chain opened its first store only a couple of hours away. Perhaps I can arrange to meet him and beg him not to give in to the demands of environmental extremists. A report from PR Newswire says that “the Sustainable Supply Chain Coalition, an alliance of environmental groups, food activist organizations and labor unions” is trying to push Whole Foods and their supplier into an agreement to change their business practices. The complaint?

“Whole Foods top management has denied the existence of climate change and violated an array of workers’ rights. Whole Foods, which claims healthy food is its priority, is also guilty of selling food products that are not certifiably organic and instead labeled as natural.”

There’s a Whole Foods Market within walking distance of our home. Though we get most of our groceries from other – more affordable – stores, we make a trip to Whole Foods 2 or 3 times a month, and really enjoy the quality and variety of products they offer. I suppose the fact that I’m not obsessive about organics and that I don’t completely buy into the anthropomorphic global warming story makes me a minority among Whole Foods shoppers, but it also puts me in a position to react quite angrily over this attempt to coerce the company into a political agenda.

First, it is absolutely the right of the company and its management to believe what they want on “Climate Change.” Such a belief has nothing to do with the products they provide. But, of course, that’s part of the complaint as well – not all of the products are “certifiably organic.”  Leaving aside the fact that “organic” is often no better for you or the environment than the standard model, go visit www.wholefoodsmarket.com and take a look at the top left of the page. You will see a logo, followed by a slogan: “Selling the highest quality natural & organic products.”  The company is dedicated to providing healthy alternatives, and nowhere is it said that organic products are the be-all-end-all of health food. To assert so reveals an ignorance and arrogance within eco-culture that I have become increasingly irritated with.

Now, there’s also a mention of workers rights being violated, though the article doesn’t give any clues about specific complaints.  I find this strange considering that for the last 13 years Whole Foods has been ranked by their own team members as one of FORTUNE magazines “Best 100 Companies to Work For.”

American liberals were angered at Mr. Mackey back in August over an article in which the CEO stated his opposition to the current health care reform bill: “While we clearly need health-care reform, the last thing our country needs is a massive new health-care entitlement that will create hundreds of billions of dollars of new unfunded deficits and move us much closer to a government takeover of our health-care system.”  A self-described Libertarian, Mackey advocated solutions that reduce government involvement, beginning the article with a quote by former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher: “The problem with socialism is that eventually you run out of other people’s money.”

If Whole Foods’ customers are going to act like children because the company, while doing more for “sustainability” and healthy food choices than anyone else in the industry, isn’t a bastion for liberal causes, I say to the Whole Foods management, maybe you need to expand your customer base.

There is no reason why Whole Foods Market shouldn’t have mass appeal. Thus far, they’ve been largely – albeit mistakenly – viewed as a left-wing outlet, selling hippie food to hippie folks. Sure, they’ve got the cliff bars, TOMS shoes and recycled toilet paper, but it’s only because the company is value-driven toward good stewardship of our bodies, our communities and our environment (see WFM’s core values).  These are not liberal values, they are human values, and especially Christian ones, which are being supported through an organization who understands free trade and free people. And might I add that there are plenty of non-hippie items available as well.

I want to encourage you, Whole Foods Market, to keep with your current practices, and open up your marketing strategy to those of us (many Republicans, in fact) who shop at your stores because we like your products and the respect you show toward your customers and employees – not because you stroke our egos and support our ideologies.  And I feel I have some right to say this, because I’m not only a customer… I’m a shareholder.

Third parties are generally a waste of time, and there are two primary reasons. #1: lack of sufficient funds and networking for a successful national campaign, and #2: a hesitancy among people in both major parties who fear that by abandoning the ship they are weakening it, only to dive into a sinking boat. Instead, the parties shift and sway with the interests of those who support it. Because of the fundamental ideological differences in the two parties, most issues go to one side or the other, but there is always disagreement within a party. Some Democrats oppose abortion, and some Republicans support it. Party affiliation isn’t so much about submitting to the beliefs of the party s it is influencing the party with your beliefs.

So there’s no real reason to go around calling for a new party – but it sure is fun to speculate.

Results from a Gallup poll came out last week that show how Americans believe the Democratic Party has become too liberal, but that views on Republicans are split. Some think they’re too liberal, others think they’re too conservative.

If I can digress for a second, I have to wonder whether the people answering these polls understand what the terms “liberal” and “conservative” mean. I suppose it is a result of the Culture Wars, but it seems that the modern political landscape in this country tends to be framed as a debate over moral traditionalism versus moral relativism. While that is definitely part of the discussion, we should remember that the true issue is not over which type of morality to legislate, but whether morality is the proper arena for government intervention in the first place.

I am not saying that law should ignore ethical issues, after all, what is law but a standard of ethics? I am simply saying that the principles of true Conservatism have been diluted by an overzealous crowd of politicians and yes, even church folk, who desire to use the Federal Government as a means to correct society’s ills and bring the prodigal sons back to order. Do I believe that our nation has made steps away from our Christian heritage? Yes. Am I disappointed and grieved at that fact? Yes. But do I think that making laws is going to cure America and bring God’s blessings upon us? No!  Laws do not make people good, and perhaps the greatest problem is deciding whose definition of “good” we follow. The Baptists? The Presbyterians? The Catholics?

Anyway, it seems that while Republicans continue to be unpopular as a party, Conservatism itself is gaining steam when you get right down to its basic tenets. Americans believe in liberty. They may not like the scary aspects of Capitalism, or the burden of individual responsibility, but when faced with the real alternatives, and when the hidden details are made plain, Americans always value their personal privacy and freedom. So what the Republican Party has to do is embrace their traditional message of Liberty. Will they? Can they? I don’t know. But if not, the time would be ripe for a new party. What would I call it? With all the revolutionary-era references lately, what better name than “The Federalist Party.” Yes, there was a Federalist Party before, but there’s no reason why we can’t resurrect it. Especially since the Federalist Papers already provide the manifesto!

The original Federalist Party began only two election cycles after the first American election. They were the remnants of people who called themselves “Federalists,” who argued for the adoption of the Constitution. There’s a bit of confusion over the name, because in their own time they would have represented the “pro-Big Government” position. Yet today Federalism is often used to refer to the constitutional divide between federal and state powers, which is typically a small-government position. In reality, modern day conservative rhetoric more closely resembles that of the Anti-Federalists, who opposed the Constitution because it was a harsh blow to the liberties they had just fought for – and they were right. The Bill of Rights was not part of the Constitution, and was added only as a condition of New York’s ratification.

However, when compared to the modern era, it is clear that todays Democrats are a far cry from their 18th century counterpart. No one would have dreamed of direct income taxes (much less at 40%), nationalization of banks, or massive social programs in 1789. The principles that the Federalists promoted were of limited government with a reasonable amount of power, enough to sustain itself and protect its people. Under the Articles of Confederation – our oft ignored first constitution – the government was extremely inefficient, currency and military structures were abysmal, and the Federal Government had no real power to levy taxes on the states to pay for itself, or to do anything really. Washington has to have a certain degree of authority. We can’t deny that. But today’s conservatives argue that the ever-growing power of the Federal Government has far exceeded that which was intended by our Founders, and that under an authority this strong liberty cannot be protected. And I have to agree. No one can doubt that states and individuals in America have consistently lost ground over the last 100 years – especially under the leadership of such social utopianists as Franklin Roosevelt, Lyndon Johnson, Jimmy Carter and Barack Obama.

So maybe its time to go back to our roots and remind America of what she stood for on the day she was made. The new Federalist Party would do that. What would be the basic Federalist party platform? Let’s see….

1. The Separation of Powers, providing Checks and Balances between the 3 branches of Government and within Congress itself is essential in protecting liberty in America.

2. The Constitution, while it can be amended under severe necessity in order to achieve more thoroughly the ends for which it was intended, is not a “living document”, for it is designed for the sole purpose of protecting the liberties of Americans.

3. The 10th Amendment, which reserves all rights to the states that are not given to the Federal Government, must be respected.

4. We are a Representative Republic, not a Democracy. The public should be aware of the dangers of true democracy.

5. There should be as much separation between the individual and the Federal Government as reasonably possible.

6. Repeal the 17th Amendment, which disconnected State legislatures from Congress by making Senators electable through the population instead of the legislature, as originally designed.

I’m going to stop there and let other people fill the blanks….

If you have a suggestion for the “Federalist Party” platform leave a comment. I will add the ones I really like to the post. It doesn’t have to be serious, after all, this is just for fun… or is it?


Update: Lee Coursey asked below why I wouldn’t just join the Libertarian Party. Well, good question, and I do have an answer. In my opinion the Libertarian platform is so focused on absolute liberty that is comes quite close to Anarchy, and I do not believe that it can muster the kind of broad support it would need to become a major party, simply because it is so radical. Also, they seem to take on a view toward moral relativism that I don’t believe is a positive step.

A few examples of where I split with the Libertarian platform: 1) While there are grey areas on abortion, the Government should definitely not take the hands-off approach they are proposing. The freedom to live is our most precious freedom, and if nothing else a Federal ban on late-term abortions is entirely appropriate. The rest can be up to states. 2) They want to lift all censorship restrictions – that’s ridiculous. Many of our current regulations are very reasonable. Parents can filter most of what their children see and hear, but if there were no restrictions whatsoever that would be an impossible job. I do believe society has a certain right to make demands on communications through government. 3) I think one of the few ways government has to regulate business is when dealing with Monopolies – at least among non-luxury industries. The public needs competition. Without it, the consumer loses all negotiating ground and becomes controlled by the company. When freedom to pursue profit leads to the loss of choice on the consumer’s part something has to be done. 4) LIbertarians would put education completely in the private sector. Bad move. While education may not be a fundamental right, it is vital to our survival as a nation and to the very valuable American concept of economic Mobility. I did not come from a wealthy family, and if my mother had to pay for education I simply would not have gone to school. Obviously I wouldn’t have learned to read and write, and I would definitely not be blogging about political theory and whatnot. In order for people to be good citizens they require a certain degree of education, which should be available to all citizens.

My point is, when we enter into a society we do so understanding that we are all in it together, to protect one another. Those in our society that mean to disrupt this goal have their life, liberty and property taken. But in order to have a strong and prosperous society we must all be willing to give a reasonable amount of our own liberty. A peaceful society is a give and take relationship. To champion liberty in its absolute purest state is to call for an end to law, thus an end to the civil society. Many of the ideas Libertarians support would increase personal liberty – no doubt – but they would also weaken our nation. Abraham Lincoln understood this, and eventhough he was a proud sponsor of liberty – the first Republican, and “Great Emancipator,” in fact – he knew that there as a price to pay for lasting peace, and he was willing to deny transient cries of liberty in order to preserve the Union. Libertarians romanticize over liberty to an extent that they no longer ask what is reasonable to sacrifice for the greater good, and I fear that under their control America would be a weaker and less secure nation.