Dearth of ‘Systematic Thinking’ Dooms Debate

SocialismThumbby Jon N. Hall    1/12/16
MSNBC host Chris Matthews recently asked Democrat presidential candidate Hillary Clinton: “What’s the difference between a socialist and a Democrat?” Clinton hemmed and hawed and groped for a response. Finally, Matthews restated his question, and Clinton then answered with this: “I can tell you what I am. I am a progressive Democrat.”

If Matthews were nimbler and more of a journalist, he would have had a follow-up question: OK, what’s the difference between a socialist and a progressive?

And the answer, of course, is … not much. After noting that Matthews had posed the same question to Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Hot Air’s Ed Morrissey opined: “I’d be surprised if Matthews ever asks this question again in public, or at least if he asks it before the general election in November.” (You can watch this exchange and find commentary at Hot Air, RealClearPolitics, and El Rushbo.)

What the Matthews-Clinton exchange illustrates is the inability, or refusal, to engage in “systematic thinking.” Rigorous thought might take one where one doesn’t want to go. This failing is particularly evident when TV’s talking heads talk about the political “left” and the political “right.” They don’t appreciate that when one uses a one-dimensional model (left-right), that one needs to be calibrating a single variable, a single characteristic. What Clinton might try thinking about is what is being calibrated by the political spectrum.

For ages, we’ve heard charges from the Left of “rightwing fascism.” That is an incoherent, unsystematic charge.spectrum_SLIM But it’s made with no fear of contradiction; who wants to get into a tedious debate about what’s right and what’s left? If, however, your mental hygiene on matters political is important to you, then check out the graphic of the political spectrum at American Federalist Journal. You’ll see that it calibrates just one thing: Degree of Government Control.

Bernie Sanders, a self-described socialist, once took exception to being called a “liberal,” and said he was a progressive. The term “socialist” has been applied to many different government arrangements: communist, fascist, Ba’athist, Third Way, Clement Attlee’s U.K., etc. What all such arrangements have in common is central control by the geniuses in the central government.

In The Politically Incorrect Guide to Socialism (2011), Kevin D. Williamson maintains that the central feature of socialism is “central planning” by the central government. That seems fairly consistent with our little spectrum. (This terrific short video from features Nick Gillespie interviewing Williamson on the nature of socialism; Mrs. Clinton needs to watch it.)

In his Jan. 6 New York Times column “Up With Extremism,” Thomas Friedman seems to exhibit a certain difficulty with systematic thinking: “The agenda that could actually make America great again would combine the best ideas of the extreme left and the extreme right.”

Would that be the “best ideas” of communism/fascism on the left and anarchy on the right? (See our spectrum.) Friedman “calls for a nonpartisan extremist for president who’s ready to go far left and far right — simultaneously.”

Yeah, right. Why didn’t I think of that?

In the wider spectrum of all political systems and isms, American conservatism is not rightwing and not extremist, it is centrist. Progressives like Hillary Clinton cannot truthfully claim to be centrists. The question that she should be required to answer is: What’s the difference between a progressive and a totalitarian?

(NOTE: Read up on progressivism at Discover the Networks and at Heritage.)

Jon N. Hall is a programmer/analyst from Kansas City. • (1382 views)

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16 Responses to Dearth of ‘Systematic Thinking’ Dooms Debate

  1. Timothy Lane says:

    There have been scattered attempts to form some sort of scale that features more than 2 dimensions. The National journal rates Congressthings (relative to each other) on 3 liberal-conservative scales (economics, social issues, and foreign policy) for the Almanac of American Politics. Libertarians similarly like to do a 2-way rating for government activism on economic and non-economic issues. Jerry Pournelle once came up with a scale based on 2 axes, one based on belief in government power and the other in confidence that problems can be solved.

    I think the National Journal scale probably comes closest to what is needed. Even that is imperfect; liberals tend to favor libertine sexual rules (though they also increasingly demand approval, not merely legal toleration), but are very restrictive on consumer choices (light bulbs, cars, means of self-defense, even food and drink). And we have conservatives willing to restrict obscene speech (to some extent), and liberals even more willing (and increasingly so) to eliminate dissent.

  2. Rosalys says:

    “Would that be the “best ideas” of communism/fascism on the left and anarchy on the right?”

    If you were to circularize the political spectrum, you would find the far “right” meeting the far “left” and that the goals of each are the same. Anarchy is unsustainable and eventually leads to the over arching iron hand of a dictatorial oligarchy.

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      If you were to circularize the political spectrum, you would find the far “right” meeting the far “left” and that the goals of each are the same.

      While noting that politics likely cannot be broken down into an algorithm, general principles can be charted. Here’s a chart (made by someone) that mirrors the spectrum that W. Cleon Skousen talks about in “The 5000 Year Leap.”

      Political Spectrum

      I doubt few people in politics (other than Ted Cruz and such) are even aware of this concept. Who since Reagan has parsed things using the idea of “too much government” rather than, as is typical, the expediency of the moment? Perhaps there is no better way to define Establishment Republicans but those who are for the expediency of the moment.

      I doubt that most human affairs, especially including politics, can be charted, graphed, or broken down into algorithms. Each issue is planted in the culture of the moment and how it sprouts is highly dependent upon reigning attitudes and beliefs as well as sheer dumb luck. What makes America and the Constitution so remarkable is that they were, to a large extent, not the result of a higgledy-piggledy process but of forethought.

      I do agree that there is, or seems to be, a circularity to this spectrum. One of the things confusing the issue is that libertarians are actually very liberal. They are also full of anarchists. And Leftists are “liberal” in the sense that anything goes (except for a very long list of things deemed heretical). They use the state to impose this “liberalism”…which is to say, they are ideological zealots, probably emotionally fragile, who require the world around them to reflect their inner psyche.

      I suppose one could also have an authoritarian conservatism (which, really, is the one an only view the Left ever has of conservatives).

      Charts such as these are of limited value. But the overall point is that without restraint on government, and without an acknowledgment of unalienable rights, we are all just chattel for the unscrupulous and powerful. But it’s a difficult issue. The nature of government *is* control, an idea libertarians dismiss and why their ideology is useless as a political organization. They are too internally confused.

      The Left is at odds with itself as well. But we must note the two-tier system, the movers-and-shakers at the top who generally hate America, love Communism, and are prejudiced in all sorts of ways. But they have marketed to the useful-idiot tier (the “low information voters”) in such a way that their noxious agenda is disguised in “care of the environment,” “love of homosexuals,” “care for the homeless,” etc. It’s an idiot’s game, and ultimately a destructive one, but the marketing has been successful if only because no one is steeped anymore in even the basics of history, political philosophy, and the dangers of authoritarian government.

      All that your typical useful idiot on the street knows is that he is “nice to homosexuals and the homeless” while ignorant (or uncaring) of the results (as we see in Europe) of this “it’s all good…have no borders and make no judgments” attitude.

      • Timothy Lane says:

        This is why I divide liberals into the Inner Party (who know full well what they’re doing) and the Outer Party (who actually believe the justifications provided by gliberal Inner Party sophists). Today, the left and the Democrats would be further along that “coercion of the harmless” axis — probably about 9 and 8.5, respectively. The GOP Beltway Bandits would probably be about 7 (they’re the corrupted, lacking the moral courage to resist the Left, rather than the corrupt who actively seek their form of fascism).

        And Rosalys has a point about the circle. Many 19th century liberals (such as Mazzini in Italy) proved rather autocratic when they got power, and so did the Spanish anarchists in their way.

        • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

          The circular nature of the spectrum is, at best, an interesting conversation piece. I think the reality is that the most illiberal people are “liberals.” So there is no circle there, only the uncovering of who many of these people really are.

      • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

        The link below leads to a fairly standard circular chart which tries to lay out relations between political ideologies. Charts like this have been in use for decades. My polysci professor used one in his intro class. And he got to basics when he said that many believed the fundamental difference between the left and right was their view of man.

        • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

          That’s a splendid looking graph, Mr. Kung. One of the problems is determining if they are of any real use. And I think they are not.

          I find such graphs to be a confused mess. Note that “secular moralism” and “religious moralism” are sucking themselves down to the bottom, seemingly caught in a current driving them inextricably to tyranny.

          At the other end of the vertical axis is libertarianism. And in my experience, they are another brand of secular moralizer. And it’s not the I object to moralizers. It just depends which morals, for what reason, how much, etc. These graphs are useless in that regard and I think shed not a bit of light on the matters at hand.

          It might be more enlightening to see a chart describing “coalitions of interest” or, as you stated, “one’s view of man.” But these graphs expose their near uselessness when you get to asking individual questions such as “Is granting ‘rights’ to homosexuals expanding or contracting freedom? Is is expanding or contracting the state?”

          I think a good case can be made that our freedoms are being contracted and the state growing. One faction (a very small one) grows in power at the expense of a much larger one.

          The last time a politician acted substantially on principle was probably when Washington surrendered his sword to the Continental Congress. But I think most other issues are settled by factors other than political philosophy, per se.

        • Timothy Lane says:

          Interesting, but I note that it places communism as being far less tyrannical than fascism. In reality, to the extent that there was a difference in the scale of tyranny, Stalin was worse than Hitler and Mussolini. Of course, the situation might have changed if Hitler had had as much time as Stalin did. I also have some doubts that the Jeffersonians and Jacksonians are properly placed.

          • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

            Jeffersonians are closer to socialism and Jacksonians are across the axis and closer to corporatism? What the hell does that even mean? Like I said, these charts may be good for shits-and-giggles but are of very little use in understanding our world.

            Particularly amusing is the moral relativism inherent in this chart. We have “politically correct” on the left side and “piously correct” on the other. But other than fashioning words that sound similar, I can see no symmetry here. This graph, and those like it, are little better than those used in phrenology. They probably tell you more about the graph-maker than anything else.

  3. Steve Lancaster says:

    Hitler, who we can assume is an expert on fascism and communism, gave orders that any dedicated communist who wished to join the nazi party would be given membership without qualification. German communists reciprocated with the same policy granting membership to any nazi wishing to join.

    Both the nazi and the communist recognized the commonality of their movements. It doesn’t mean that they did not hate each other only that there are common elements in their ideology.

    • Timothy Lane says:

      Many in the SA, in particular, were called “beefsteak Nazis” — brown on the outside, red on the inside. This is probably one of the sources for the modern term “watermelon” for most eco-zealots — they’re green on the outside and red on the inside.

      • Steve Lancaster says:

        Yet, all across our culture nazis are categorized as “right” and communists are “left” while in reality both are statists with barely differing ideology. For Joe sixpack who both despise the difference in the reality of who is in charge is indistinguishable.

  4. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    In The Politically Incorrect Guide to Socialism (2011), Kevin D. Williamson maintains that the central feature of socialism is “central planning” by the central government.

    All government is central planning to some extent. As I’ve always said, it’s about what is being planned, via what method, and for what purpose. That is what distinguishes what we’d call traditional American government from the lunatic Left.

    Building a bridge to facilitate travel and commerce is quite different than using government money to fund “green energy” because of bad science and an environmental wacko Utopian goal.

  5. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    Would that be the “best ideas” of communism/fascism on the left and anarchy on the right? (See our spectrum.) Friedman “calls for a nonpartisan extremist for president who’s ready to go far left and far right — simultaneously.”
    Yeah, right. Why didn’t I think of that?

    That’s bizarre. My diagnosis is that Thomas Friedman is suffering from intellectualism. Certainly he’s made his name by supposedly (within a certain crowd) presenting himself as a smart person. Well, those who live by their juicy-chess-club brain die by their juicy-chess-club brain. The tendency is to need to keep it up, to one-up yourself.

    So you get clearly ridiculous statements like the above. But the Left is full of ridiculous ideas. I would find it difficult to join the Left because of the difficulty of figuring out which baloney is accepted. Obama wins the Nobel Prize for doing nothing. That was accepted. Big and bizarre things are accepted without thought by the Left.

    I doubt Thomas Friedman expected to do anything other than bamboozle people by his intellectualoid statement about “far left and far right.” He makes his living by crafting words into whatever order are the requirements of the day and of his sect.

    This is why I continually caution everyone here to go light on politics. If you don’t I think it can drive you crazy. The moral rot of the Left is centered in their adherence to politics as the be-all, end-all of everything. And, yes, we have to deal with this lunatic cult but we don’t have to be them.

    The whole question of the difference between socialism, Progressivism, and liberalism isn’t a real question (by people such as Chris Matthews) to begin with. The Left dances around with whatever label they can to disguise the fact that they are full-blooded, America-hating Communists. The rest is just a matter of degree. And quibbling over who is a socialist and who is a “Progressive” is missing the point that they are all socialists, they are Communists, and “Progressive” (as well as “liberal”) is just a name to try to hide this reality…a reality that they have always figured (correctly) that America would reject.

    Until now. You will more and more see these people calling themselves socialists.

    • Timothy Lane says:

      Friedman became notorious for defending despotism in China as a means of protecting the environment (which they don’t really do, but they make a good pretense of it, and that’s enough to fool Friedman). This was one of the factors that made me realize that “enlightened despotism” is really the ideal form of government for liberals (with “enlightened” defined as agreeing with them). As for me, I stopped reading him at all after he wrote an article not only defending Janet Reno’s kidnapping of Elian Gonzalez, but saying that the photo of a government goon frightening a child should be shown all over the world as a symbol of how America follows the rule of law.

    • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

      Friedman “calls for a nonpartisan extremist for president who’s ready to go far left and far right — simultaneously.”

      In other words, a capricious ruler ala Louis XIV, Ivan the Terrible, Hitler, Stalin or Mao. Fools like Friedman have forgotten, or never learned, history.

      Like Tim said, they seem to be looking (unconsciously) for a new Joseph II, but in doing so they will most likely come upon another Lenin who will lead to another Stalin who will lead to a Pol Pot.

      The only justice in all of this is that these fools are very often the victims of their beloved tyrants. Unfortunately, the rest of us have to suffer as well.

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