In this excerpt from his book Beyond Red and Blue: How Twelve Political Philosophies Shape American Debates, Peter Wenz helps us determine our own political identity--and gives us conversation fodder for our July 4th BBQs.
These twelve political philosophies can help most people identify and critically assess their own political leanings and priorities. You can get an inkling of your own political identity by looking at the main values featured in each philosophy:
- Theocracy—the state should promote the values of a particular religion.
- Natural law—state laws should reflect what is natural for human beings and consistent with the proper role of humanity on Earth.
- Libertarianism—the state should limit itself to fostering maximum individual liberty while protecting human life and property rights.
- Utilitarianism—the state should promote the greatest happiness or preference satisfaction in society.
- Free-market conservatism—the state should foster maximum economic growth.
- Contractarianism—the state should protect individual liberty and promote economic growth while maximizing benefits to the poorest and most vulnerable members of society.
- Social conservatism—the state should preserve and protect social, political, and religious traditions that have served well in the past.
- Feminism—the state should ensure that no person is disadvantaged for being female.
- Multiculturalism—the state should recognize that no one culture holds all the keys to human flourishing and should therefore tolerate or promote cultural diversity.
- Environmentalism—the state should protect people and other species from unnecessary environmental degradation.
- Communitarianism—the state should foster bonds of community over tendencies to excessive individualism.
- Cosmopolitanism—the state should support certain universal values and norms.
Few people, if any, are moved by the values central to all twelve philosophies. Some people don’t care at all if our country contains the cultural diversity that multiculturalists favor. Many individualists have no sympathy with communitarian critiques of individualism and individual rights. Some thinkers, convinced that we can improve on conditions of ages gone by, have no interest in the traditions that social conservatives want to preserve. Those who believe that the international world is so dangerous that good nations must combat evil terrorists “no holds barred” reject cosmopolitanism’s universal norms of humane treatment (for terrorists). One way of locating yourself on the political landscape is to identify the values you reject.
Another way is to identify the trade-offs that you find reasonable. Almost all of us experience political ambivalence from time to time, because we respect and want to promote a plurality of values in circumstances where trade-offs are required. For example, just about everyone wants the country to be secure from attack. But most people also respect the principles, championed most forcefully by libertarians, of individual privacy and freedom from government control. Security and liberty are in tension in this context, because the greater the scope for privacy and freedom, the greater the chance for a terrorist to evade detection and attack our country. Where security and liberty are concerned, we must often trade some of one to get more of the other. Our political identities are revealed to ourselves and others largely by the trade-offs that we find acceptable.