In what I intend to be the last Letter for this year, I would like to spend some time to summarize some work I made to analyze a phenomenon that really stroke me over the past few years. I am talking about the very different reactions, often totally unexpected, that I received from friends and connections when discussing news and events happening in the world.
While some decades ago, people could more or less be easily categorized as being "left" or "right", "conservative" or "liberal" oriented, this is no longer possible. Each previously clearly defined "boxes" are now itself splitting and fighting on important topics like the power of the Banks versus the power of the State, the attitude towards terrorism, or what to do for migrants in Europe.
To start with, I believe we need to come back to the classical political split between right and left, that indeed has been the framework for political fights since the first years of modern world democracies, that I would place in the second part of the 19th Century. This bi-partisan picture was very much influenced by the development of the Industry and of Capitalism during that period. Opposition between the working class and the capitalists was articulated by Karl Marx and many other thinkers and philosophers, and later was embodied in the First International. This split was to remain for at least a century, largely reinforced and exacerbated by the creation of the first Communist State, the USSR.
The positioning of parties and individuals could be described and understood using a one dimension representation. Yes we shall use some mathematical reasoning in this letter, but really simple and understandable for every body!
I would call that one dimension, linear representation a measurement of how much Conservative or Revolutionary people and Parties used to be.
What is important to understand is that such one dimension description of political position could encompass all aspects of life in society, like attitude towards sexual liberties, women's rights etc. It was working well as a model to describe the behaviors of social groups in most areas of life, at least at macro level, as exceptions always exist. For example people on the right tended to be more religious, while people on the moderate left were less religious and Communists were declared atheists. People on the right were in favor of business competition and individual responsibilities, while people on the left tended to prefer a higher level of State control on the economy and for a redistribution of wealth under some form, with as you know a quite large split between Communists and "Social Democrats" on that question.
Don Camillo - the Priest and the Communist
We can go through many facets of social life, but in the big majority of cases, the behavior and opinion of Parties and their voters are pretty much aligned on that one dimension graph.
I believe the 70's started to put and end to that linear model, with the fast growing importance of individual values and the evolution of societies (in the west only of course) making the individual at the center of the social galaxy. The one dimension graph started to show its limits and we already at that time started to see irregularities in that one dimension representation. In France for example, the attitude of the "new right" embodied by Valery Giscard d'Estaing was much less conservative in terms of sexual liberties or women's rights than the Communist party and its followers, who in that respect were close to the extreme right parties.
During the last 2 decades of the 20th Century, such irregularities in the one dimension model became more numerous and the "individualism" criteria started to become a separate dimension to describe the behavior of social or political groupings.
Although somehow later, another criteria started to play an important role and influenced the way people felt about events in the world, and this one is related to the globalization phenomena. Here I do not mean the economical notion of globalization induced by free trade and WTO agreements, but the slow transfer of sovereignty from the traditional Nation state to larger entities like the EU, or virtual forces like multi-national groups and companies, not to mention the mythical Bilderberg group. The new dimension is now taking a big place in political discussion and here again creates dissonances inside the traditional political parties, as was clearly visible in the Brexit story or in the election of Donald Trump.
I see now three independent variables to construct a new model to describe the positioning of Parties, leaders and voters. Each variable shall use a scale from 0 to 10.
The first variable is the degree of freedom in the Economy, and I propose to call is Eco-liberalism. Typically the zero level of Eco-liberalism is a society where all economical freedom is denied and where the only economic actor is the State itself. The USSR used to be an example of that, and today I only see one country at that position, North Korea. A country or society at level 10 would be a country where 100% of economical and production resources are in the hand of the private sector. No country is at that level today, but this is the dreamland for convinced Thatcherists or Reagansists. Most countries in the west are somewhere between level 3 and 8, and I am sure you can easily position your own country on that dimension. A high level of Eco-liberalism implies a full priority given to private enterprise and on the contrary a deep disdain for anything looking like the involvement of the state in economical affairs.
The second variable is the degree of freedom for individuals, and I call it Socio-liberalism. To display a few examples, a zero level Socio-liberalism would be a society where individuals have no personal freedom and all have to strictly obey to a social or religious model. The two example I would suggest in our present times are (again) North Korea, and the infamous ISIS Caliphate, Saudi Arabia being not far, probably at 8 or 9, followed by Iran. Countries at a high level in that dimension are for example Sweden or Denmark, but you can easily assess the level of your own country. Here again, a very high level of Socio-liberalism implies a disdainful attitude towards any model that does not comply, especially towards the traditional family and any kind of traditional values, even in a tolerant environment.
The split between Eco and Socio liberalism has the advantage to end of confusion between two type if liberalism. Indeed I believe the two types are not correlated, allowing us to scale them in two separate dimensions. Many Eco-liberals are not at all Socio-liberals (look for example at senator McCain in the US, or many neocons or religious figures in the US who are enthusiastically supporting free trade and enterprise, but are also against any type of abortion or have a very conservative attitude vis a vis minorities, KKK-like groups being an extreme variant of them. On the other side, loud partisans of LGBT rights, minority rights, migrant rights are split when the topic moves to Eco-liberalism!
Finally the third variable is measuring the degree of attachment to the Nation state, with its traditions and values, compared to the desire to forget the local culture and adhere to a supranational entity of some type. I call that variable Internationalism. If you are at a low level of that variable, it means you are in favor or extreme national isolation (seems Northern Korea is again at zero on the scale), while very high level corresponds to a country giving up most or all of its sovereignty to other organs, and European countries are in that position, voluntarily like France or now by default like Greece. Here again we can run and pass the test of independence from other variable, as a country or region can very well be fully sovereign and be Socio-liberal (Iceland) or Socio-conservative (Iran). The same way, a world government (thus at level 10 of Internationalism) could be Eco-liberal as dreamed by Soros, or totally state controlled, very close to the world discribed by Orwell in his book 1984.
We now have the three independent variables to position groups and individuals in a new 3D political landscape, each variable being equally important, looking at the growing intolerance demonstrated by many actors in politics, where a high level Eco-liberalism, Socio-liberalism and to some extent Internationalism are considered as acquired for ever by most of the western elites (and journalists), anyone trying to propose an alternative position being considered as a retard, a vestige of the past, a fascist, a bigot, a racist and many more nice words....
The few examples below and the same exercise that you can make yourself on your friends, country, politicians and parties, show that the traditional left-right positioning of parties and politicians does not mean much today. Depending on the topic of the discussion, people may find themselves in full agreement, but in full disagreement on the next topic.
On the first graph, North Korea is safely in its (0,0,0) corner, while the may be caricatural representation of the West Coast Elite, a la Silicon Valley, stand at the completly opposite corner. Russia is obviously a non internationalist country (seems the USSR failed enough on that concept), quite moderate on the Eco-liberalism side, and clearly conservative in terms of Socio-liberalism, without being repressive (you may not agree on that, but this is what I believe living in Moscow for the past 24 years).
The second graphs tries to assess the position of some key French political figures including Juppe, Fillon, Melenchon, Le Pen and the infamous BHL. It is interesting to look at the red points from different viewpoints, and for example, Juppe and Fillon are very close if you neglect the Socio-liberalism dimension, while Fillon and Le pen are very close if you forget the Internationalism dimension!
Finally a graph on a few US figures like Hillary Clinton, Trump, Sanders and McCain. Here again, all dimensions matter, and Clinton looks very close to McCain if you neglect the Soci-liberalism dimension, while Sanders is not that far from Trump on many aspects!
Of course all positionings can be discussed, as they rely on politicians' declarations, especially for the ones like Sanders, McCain or Trump who never governed in real. Anyway I bielieve the 3D tool can uncover a lot of unseen aspects of politics.
But three degrees of liberty are indeed an issue when handling public affairs, as it becomes much more difficult to find a stable consensus and a governance that shall keep society coherent and happy. You may love one candidate on one dimension and hate him on another, which makes choices quite difficult...
What shall be the way to solve that new source of eco/socio/sovereign conflicts? I do not know, but what I believe is that the present tendency in the west to impose its vision like an ideology is wrong, and indeed generates a predictable reaction, that Socio-liberals like to call "popularism", with their usual disdain.
Shall we in the future change country or region to find a more comfortable environment to live, within social values that we favor? Many talk about it already, like US citizen warning they shall move to Canada rather then live under Trump's Presidency!
A good end of 2016 to all!