The Political Big Six: The Elementary Ideologies Of Politics


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The Political Big Six: The Elementary Ideologies Of Politics

Much ink has been spilled by those trying to classify political ideologies and comprehend the clash of worldviews. This article aims to do the same. Rather than propose politics can be measured as a simple tradeoff between two extremes (or that there are multiple dimensions of such tradeoffs), I allege that all political ideologies that are present within the discourse of our society ultimately are all reducible to one of six "elementary" categories. In short, there are six basic political orientations, at least within the context of Western society. Political discourse can be described as debates between these six basic perspectives.

Historically speaking, all of these orientations are rooted in the Enlightenment and the following Counter-Enlightenment. 

0. Misanthropic Authoritarianism
The entire Enlightenment Liberal project was ultimately launched in response to this particular attitude. Misanthropic Authoritarians believe that human nature is violent, dangerous and dishonest, and that the only way to escape this "state of nature" is through an authoritarian, hierarchical, repressive State. 

Thomas Hobbes is the obvious example of this kind of thinker. He believed that human nature was a dangerous beast that must be chained by social institutions. He supported a Leviathan - an absolute monarchy - to keep human nature at bay. 

In the aftermath of the Reign of Terror, a French Catholic philosopher named Joseph de Maistre affirmed a similarly dark view of human nature. In de Maistre's view, opening up the legitimacy of the State to rational criticism destabilized the containment of human nature which the State provided. As such, the rivers of blood unleashed by Robespierre were the logical consequences of the rationalistic unleashing of human nature. Consequently, the State had to be justified not by reason but by faith and threats; King, Pope and Executioner were all necessary to prevent the Hobbesian war of all against all. 

1. Enlightenment Liberalism
This is the ideology which all readers of this forum should be intimately familiar. Enlightenment Liberalism is premised on two things - reason and individualism. The individual is the atomic unit of society, and possesses the faculty of reason which they can use to improve the world around them. This view invests human beings with an innate dignity (as rational, intelligent, self-determining beings) and consequently innate rights. Because all societal phenomena are ultimately byproducts of individual action, any reference to "social good" can only be understood in terms of the good of a number of individuals. There are no objectively real collective entities, and the good of individuals is the only legitimate end of policy.

Liberalism comes in two varieties; classical liberalism (which supports a laissez-faire free market as the best way to promote individual rights, dignity and happiness) and social liberalism (which supports a mixed-market economy as the best way to promote individual rights, dignity and happiness). 

The patron saints of this worldview are John Locke and John Stuart Mill. 

2. Progressive Technocracy
The Enlightenment's confidence in science and reason was not always used for freedom, however. As Hayek correctly observed, some believed that reason was sufficient not merely to understand the natural world, but to perfectly analyze and quantify the social world. 

If human beings were merely like chemicals in a test tube, or particles in a physical field, why couldn't they be quantified and engineered? If society is merely a physical system, why isn't that able to be scientifically managed? If the self is a natural and scientifically comprehensible entity, why isn't it equally subject to the laws of causality? 

This is the mindset of Progressive Technocracy. Hayek referred to it as "constructivist rationalism" and "the abuse of reason," and charted how this mindset was critical in enabling the erosion of liberty in European and American society.

Whilst this mindset arguably goes back to Plato, and is evidenced in some Marxist work, the true patron saint of Progressive Technocracy is Auguste Comte. Comte was a philosopher of science and a contemporary of John Stuart Mill, yet Comte was opposed to individualism and instead embraced a fanatical totalitarianism. Comte was both a founder of Sociology and the coiner of the term "altruism" (which he defined precisely in the same way Ayn Rand did; anyone who wishes to accuse Rand of strawmanning must first confront Comte). He projected a future where society would be ran by expert social scientists who would function as priests in a 'religion of humanity.' Comte denied the individual's existence or significance; we are all, according to him, deterministic byproducts of the social forces which created us.

This is the ultimate root of all "Progressive" politics; the belief in a managerial state that intelligently designs society and can use the power of policy to reform the self, guided by cutting edge social science. 

This tradition is popular among the intelligentsia and bureaucracy, as this tradition flatters their philosopher-king fantasies and offers them guaranteed jobs in the elite "brains trust." The Progressive era in the USA is a monument to the dangers of this mindset, as it gave us eugenics and the lobotomy, cartelization and corporatism (as practiced by Franklin Delano Roosevelt), not to mention liquor prohibition and widespread social intolerance rationalized by "science." In the final analysis, this tradition yields societies just as rigid and repressive as Fascism, but rejects the romantic emotionalism of Fascism in favor of a cold (pseudo-)scientific posture. 

3. Egalitarian Romanticism
This is the tradition from which the majority of the left emerged. Egalitarian Romanticism was ultimately founded by Jean-Jacques Rousseau; Rousseau's big idea was that society (and in particular the institution of private property) was the ultimate source of repression and inequality. This works out, essentially, to a secular version of the Fall Of Man. Enlightenment modernity does not liberate us, but rather represses us; civilization destroys freedom rather than safeguards it. 

Whilst Marxism is often technocratic, particularly in its Soviet form, the ultimate underpinning of Marxism is of this Rousseauvian, romanticist bent. 

If we are to posit that the majority of contemporary leftism is ultimately based in Egalitarian Romanticism, then several apparent paradoxes of the left's intellectual development over time become explicable. How can the left go from industry-worshipping Marxism to tree-fetishizing Environmentalism with seemingly no notice of the contradiction? The answer is because both of these ideologies are ultimately just variants of Egalitarian Romanticism. How can artists become so enamoured with an ideology full of dry technocracies, dull bureaucracies and five year plans? Because the ideology is ultimately based on a romanticism that appeals to an artistic rather than scientific temperament. How can the left simultaneously maintain a connection to countercultural rebelliousness and expressive individualism whilst at the same time consistently supporting ideologies that ultimately constrict civil liberties? Because according to them, our inner selves are ruthlessly suppressed by the society we live in, and only through radically destroying it can we genuinely free our spirits from the restraints imposed upon us. 

Egalitarian Romanticism is a revolt against the modern world, for it sees this world as fundamentally incompatible with human nature.

4. Hierarchical Romanticism
Romanticism, however, was not always a handmaiden of equality. A parallel romanticism arose, one which embodied a revolt against the modern world precisely because modernity was seen as destructive of hierarchy. Where Egalitarian Romanticism sees man as naturally egalitarian and casts modernity as an unnatural hierarchy that mankind fell into through establishing modernity, Hierarchical Romanticism sees man (and nature in general) as a naturally engaged in brutal processes of tribalistic struggle, and sees modernity as fundamentally unnatural and fallen precisely because modernity is egalitarian and universalist. 

Joseph de Maistre was the immediate precursor to this tradition. De Maistre believed a sacred social hierarchy was inevitable, and that to allow reason to criticize it would only destabilize the heirarchy through rebellions resulting in bloodshed. Yet de Maistre's viewpoint still regarded the bloodshed of the "state of nature" as something to be escaped from, and the Hobbesian war of all against all as something which needed to be averted. But as the Death Of God became progressively harder to deny, the idea that human nature should be restrained began to decay, and Heirarchical Romanticism arose. This 'pagan' Hierarchical Romanticism accepts that inequality is natural, that modernity is unnatural, that nature is red in tooth and claw, but that we should embrace nature instead of seeking to defy it. Modernity is indeed a fallen condition, for we were once warriors that strove towards the mountaintop, and now we are domesticated materialists who care more for material acquisition than for the true essence of life. Man may be a beast, but modernity is an unnatural leash, and that leash shall be broken.

This is the dark, violent, Dionysian, hyper-macho romanticism one can find in sources ranging from Julius Evola to Fight Club, and clearly is where Fascism and National Socialism originated. In essence, the only thing which separates it from Egalitarian Romanticism is that where Egalitarian Romanticism sees nature as peaceful and equal (unlike civilization), this viewpoint sees nature as violent and hierarchical (unlike civilization). In both cases, human nature cries out to be free from the restraints of civilization. 

If any thinker is frequently (although perhaps somewhat unfairly) cast as the emblem of this kind of thought, it is the proto-Existentialist Friedrich Nietzsche. 

5. Skeptical Conservatism
It has long been pointed out that whilst Continental Enlightenment thinkers were often methodologically akin to Descartes, the British Enlightenment was much more empirical and thus much more epistemologically modest. Both Continental and British Enlightenment thinkers believed in reason, yet had different ideas about how it operated and just how far it could be taken.

Out of all the British Enlightenment thinkers, David Hume was the most willing to accept the limitations of reason, both in terms of its epistemic potential and its level of influence on real-world human behavior. This greatly influenced his contemporary, Edmund Burke, who (like many intellectuals of the time) was greatly disturbed by how the French Revolution was turning out. Could logical deduction truly take into account the complexities of society? Could any one intellectual correctly structure society? Why dispose of the tried-and-tested institutional wisdom, accumulated steadily over centuries often through painstaking trial-and-error? Reason may be important, but hard Cartesian rationalism has limits, especially when dealing with something as complicated as a human society. 

This epistemic caution forms the basis for what we might describe as Skeptical Conservatism. This viewpoint focuses on the practical and empirical, and emphasizes that the old adage of "If It Ain't Broke, Don't Fix It" is applicable to questions of institutional design. Burke's conservatism is not that of the prudish fundamentalist; he makes secular arguments. His conservatism isn't that of a reactionary but rather that of a moderate. Indeed, in contemporary argumentation, Burkean reasoning is more likely to be found among devotees of liberalism than among self-described conservatives; this can arguably be attributed to Frederich Hayek, who made powerful arguments against Progressive Technocracy and other forms of utopian social engineering from the basis of a Burkean-Humean epistemic modesty.


And so we can see Western political philosophy, in the wake of the Enlightenment and Counter-Enlightenment, as ultimately reducible to a dialogue between six core attitudes which we can personify with Hobbes & de Maistre, Locke & Mill, Comte, Rousseau, Nietzsche, and Hume & Burke. Obviously there are various different groups which have their own takes, but fundamentally I would allege that every Western political movement ultimately reduces to a variation on one of these six themes. 

So what does this tell us? Well yet again it validates the simplistic nature of "left-right" political spectra. According to contemporary standards of what counts as "right" and "left," the "right" is composed of Skeptical Conservatives, Heirarchical Romanticists, Misanthropic Authoritarians and Enlightenment Liberals, with a small spattering of Technocratic Progressives (the "Neoreactionary" branch of the Alt-Right are technocrats who believe in intelligently designed societies ran by 'enlightened' elites according to the principles of 'cutting edge' social science). The "left" on the other hand is composed of Technocratic Progressives (of a different type to the Neoreactionaries) and Egalitarian Romanticists, with a dwindling number of Enlightenment Liberals. Given how at least two of the six elementary attitudes seem to have variants considered "left" and "right" (Technocratic Progressivism and Enlightenment Liberalism), and given how these six attitudes are ultimately mutually incompatible, it shows why coming up with any definitive ideological-content-based definition of "left" and "right" is essentially impossible. 

It also makes sense of several other phenomena; as the left has slowly become more taken over by the Egalitarian Romanticism of Intersectional Social Justice, the Enlightenment Liberalism of the Left-Liberals (or Social Liberals - the offshoot of liberalism pioneered by Isiah Berlin and John Rawls) has become even less welcome on the left. This has resulted in some Left-Liberals, such as Carl "Sargon Of Akkad" Benjamin, Tim Pool and Dave Rubin, becoming exceptionally critical of and disaffiliating from the left, and in some cases making common cause with political groups perceived as 'on the right.' 

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