Since leaving high school in 2007 I have undergone an interesting political evolution. I had barely achieved the right to vote by the time we went to the polls that year. I was completely unaware of the issues or the facts. I can't quite remember who I voted for, but I know it wasn't for the Liberal Party (there was a pretty universal hatred of John Howard in my circle). It was probably a dummy vote, or a vote for the Sex Party (har har). By 2010 I was already sick of politics. Again, I didn't know who or what was going on, and to cap it off I lived in an extremely safe seat. My vote felt meaningless.
Since then I have learned a great deal. I took some philosophy and politics classes as part of my degree. I expanded my studies beyond international relations and into economics. I started buying the newspaper, and then two and then three. And then magazines, and then two and three. I started watching the news religiously, subscribed to a few hundred blogs from all over the world, and then got onto twitter. I started to care.
I also started writing, and then started doing some actual journalism. I have interviewed activists, experts, and random people on the street. Politicians too. This year alone I have had the opportunity to speak with people from across the political spectrum, from Christine Milne (Leader of The Greens) to Daniel Nalliah (Leader of Rise Up Australia). As part of my minor parties series I have interviewed and challenged representatives from the Socialist Equality Party to the Protectionist Party, and numerous parties on either side and dotted all the way in between.
Reading and interacting more, and now even covering politics, has made me question where exactly I line up on this “political spectrum”. And to be honest, I don't think I neatly fit on it at all. I share many of the same concerns that drive The Greens, the political pragmatism of supporters of the Australian Democrats, the admiration of the free market (and John Stuart Mill) of the Liberal Democrats, and the fervent Secularism of the Secular Party (and on and on). But I have issues with all of these parties. Indeed, I have issues with all parties. If pushed, I would probably say my thoughts line up closest with the form of “Radical Centrism” that is espoused by Walter Russell Mead. But that also has it's problems.
The Economist is celebrating it's 170th year this week, and as part of their celebration they have decided to answer many of the common questions about the magazine. It is their response to the question of whether they are “right or left” that inspired this post:
The Economist was founded in 1843 by James Wilson, a British businessman who objected to heavy import duties on foreign corn. Mr Wilson and his friends in the Anti-Corn Law League were classical liberals in the tradition of Adam Smith and, later, the likes of John Stuart Mill and William Ewart Gladstone. This intellectual ancestry has guided the newspaper's instincts ever since: it opposes all undue curtailment of an individual’s economic or personal freedom. But like its founders, it is not dogmatic. Where there is a liberal case for government to do something, The Economist will air it. Early in its life, its writers were keen supporters of the income tax, for example. Since then it has backed causes like universal health care and gun control. But its starting point is that government should only remove power and wealth from individuals when it has an excellent reason to do so.
The concepts of right- and left-wing predate The Economist's foundation by half a century. They first referred to seating arrangements in the National Assembly in Paris during the French Revolution. Monarchists sat on the right, revolutionaries on the left. To this day, the phrases distinguish conservatives from egalitarians. But they do a poor job of explaining The Economist’s liberalism, which reconciles the left’s impatience at an unsatisfactory status quo with the right’s scepticism about grandiose redistributive schemes. So although its credo and its history are as rich as that of any reactionary or revolutionary, The Economist has no permanent address on the left-right scale.
When The Economist opines on new ideas and policies, it does so on the basis of their merits, not of who supports or opposes them. Last October, for example, it outlined a programme of reforms to combat inequality. Some, like attacking monopolies and targeting public spending on the poor and the young, had a leftish hue. Others, like raising retirement ages and introducing more choice in education, were more rightish.
It is debatable whether this is an accurate description of the paper's editorial position. Certainly many commentators do not think so, choosing instead to view it as left of centre, right of centre, or corporatist (etc.). Something undoubtedly heavily influenced by the readers own biases. Personally, I agree that the paper takes an editorial line approaching radical centrism. But the thing that really strikes me from their explanation is that they claim not to be dogmatic. Also debatable, especially given their wholehearted support of free market proposals (one of the reasons given for their endorsement of Kevin Rudd is that Tony Abbott “does not seem an instinctive fan of markets”). But their political endorsements lend credence to the idea that they are not stuck in their ways. The same paper that endorsed Thatcher turned around and endorsed Blair, Obama, and now Rudd.
With only a few days left before the polls my minor parties interviews are getting quite a number of hits, so I thought I should explain where I come from. I am neither of the “right” nor the “left” (oh how I hate those terms). I appreciate the worries of most along the political spectrum, but agree with almost none of the proposed solutions. Eventually, I grudging accept the best of what is offered, complaining the entire way. Like The Economist I am not dogmatic, and I have no permanent address on the left-right scale.