Political ideological axes

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Political Ideology Portal


This page is for discussion of different political ideological axes; see political ideological axis for further explanation of the concept.

Known Axes

  • social freedom
  • economic freedom
  • belief in reason
  • statism vs. anarchism
  • optimism vs. pessimism
  • realism (pragmatism) vs. idealism
  • equality of stature
  • acquisitiveness (selfishness > reciprocity > altruism)
  • enlightenment vs. romanticism
  • forward-looking vs. backward-looking


For these dimensions:

  • A: equality of stature (low vs. high)
  • B: acquisitiveness (altruism < reciprocity < selfishness)

Mappings for some related ideologies:

Two-Dimensional Matrices

  • Wikipedia:
  • Jamais Cascio's "Future Matrix":
    • version 1: [optimism/pessimism] x [realism/idealism]
    • version 2: [optimism/pessimism] x [pragmatism/idealism]


Main Dimensions

What other dimensions might be significant in measuring political ideology?

  • whether good and evil depend on context or are absolute (moral absolutism versus moral relativism)
  • view of negotiation as primarily a zero-sum game (Acoop+Bcoop = Acomp+Bcomp), i.e. competition for limited resources, vs. the idea that cooperation can yield greater benefits for both parties (Acoop > Acomp and Bcoop > Bcomp) This dimension probably has a lot to do with Horizon theory.
    • view that one's own interests take precedence over the common good (Acoop+Bcoop > Acomp+Bcomp is not sufficient reason to cooperate)
    • view that the other party is likely to cheat in any negotiation and thus we should preemptively do the same wherever it would prevent loss or maximize gain (mistrust, paranoia)
  • importance of studying doctrine ("doctrinality" or "doctrinaire") vs. observation and analysis (rationalism) (Pournelle box only charts reason vs. irrationality - is "belief in an incorruptible doctrine" a form of irrationality? If so, is it the only form?)
  • preference for superior-inferior (usually hierarchical) power relationships, as opposed to peer-peer (when applied to governance, this translates to authoritarianism versus rule of the people)
    • perhaps this is a more-or-less logical corollary of "the toxicity of ideas" (see Brin questionnaire): (a) "I think ideas are inherently dangerous or toxic. People are easily deceived. An elite should guide or protect gullible masses toward correct thinking (Memic Frailty)" versus (b) "I believe children can be raised with a mixture of openness and skepticism to evaluate concepts on their own merits. Citizens can pluck useful bits wherever they may be found, even from bad images or ideologies (Memic Maturity)".
    • also seems related to the idea of the "desirability of some authority with the might to impose its will (perhaps for the "common good") upon recalcitrant individuals or competing systems", i.e. coercion, versus populism (see Brin)
    • may also be an expression of (or related to) the idea that the possession of power justifies its use (might makes right), a meme which seems to be quite successful under the right circumstances (e.g. Nazi Germany)
  • belief that the human condition can be improved (however slowly) vs. the idea of a golden past to which we can only aspire to one day return (usually by following the rules laid out in some ancient doctrine; this tends to go together with doctrinality)
    • This can also be stated in terms of the nature of the propagation of wisdom (see Brin questionnaire): (a) "humans knew a natural idyllic condition at some point in the past, from which we fell because of bad, inappropriate or sinful choices, thus reducing our net wisdom. (The Look Back View)" versus (b) "Wisdom is cumulative and anything resembling a human utopia can only be achieved in the future, through incremental improvements in knowledge or merit. (The Look Forward View)".
  • value of intuition vs. reasoning/analysis in arriving at understanding
  • value of human understanding, regardless of how it is arrived at
  • importance of personal property (left thinks this is a highly suspect idea, perhaps evil; right sees it as innate and irrevocable, one of the fundamental rights of man (see Brin))
  • nature vs. nurture: "What explains the observed differences among human beings in ability, temperament and achievement? Is it genes or the environment?" (see Brin)

Related Issues

Some issues which seem important but which may already be covered by the above:

  • willingness to reopen discussion of existing solutions (as opposed to just solving new problems), in different arenas (e.g. social, as in marriage laws; infrastructure, as in power generation - liberals don't want to reconsider nuclear as an option, for example, but conservatives aren't willing to consider that marriage might be redesigned either) – can this be expressed as a combination of any of the others? It seems a bit overspecific to be a fundamental dimension...
  • importance of observable facts versus pure reasoning (Continental rationalism)
  • whether or not studies of (a) animal behavior (especially primates, dolphins, and other large-brained animals) and (b) behavior of tribal, non-mainstream cultures can be of benefit to understanding our own behavior. Related questions: Is human nature fixed, immutable? Is our understanding of it changeable, or have we learned pretty much everything we need to know about it?
  • governmental style: "left-handed" (large projects explicitly coordinated and funded, e.g. pyramids, canals, wars, universities) versus "right-handed" (set up the rules and let individuals compete or cooperate out of enlightened self-interest, hopefully to the best benefit of society as a whole) (see Brin questionnaire)
  • Is there any use in trying to persuade others of your point of view by using reasoned arguments and factual data, or is it better (perhaps more responsible, if you know your viewpoint is the correct one and those who disagree need to be shown the error of their ways) to use a strategy of demonizing those who defend contrary points of view, overwhelming the discussion with arguments which do not yield easily to rational response and are likely to make your opponent look bad in the short run (where the long run doesn't really count for much, in the political arena)? (One's stance on this issue may be a direct corollary of one's view on the toxicity of information.)

Historical Examples

  • Stalin ("far left") was against personal property (see Communism, where most or all property is held in common), strongly pro-coercion by the state
  • Ferdinand Marcos, the Somozas in Nicaragua, and Saddam Hussein all believed in inherited private wealth (strong private property) and were also strongly coercive
  • Hitler ("far right") was perhaps the most coercive figure in modern history, but relatively moderate concerning private property.