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Chop 'em up neatly

Kevin Drum challenges us to come up with a two-axis system of political temperament classification that makes sense. OK, I’ll bite.

Preferatory, I’ll note that I think it’s important that the ends of the axes are non-pejorative. The Libertarian quiz fails because the questions are slanted. Any useful system can’t be biased towards one result. That’s propaganda, not political science.

So: axis one is Freedom vs. Safety. What’s more important to you? There’s no “right” answer to this question, in my book. I have my own strong preferences. That’s me. Someone else might have different preferences. Note that this isn’t a question about rights; I might think that everyone has a natural right to be safe but personally prefer to give up that right for the sake of freedom.

OK, but what about the question of freedom for /me/ vs. safety for /you/? You can’t talk about freedom and safety in the abstract. You have to acknowledge that sometimes the question is whether you’re willing to compromise someone else’s freedom in order to secure your safety. Do you think it’s OK to remove the Afghani government (compromising their freedom) in exchange for greater safety for the US?

I was thinking that this is the Personal vs. Global axis, but I’m not sure if there’s really a range there. I can’t think of a case in which you’d take someone else’s freedom in order to increase your own; same goes for safety. It’s easy to find cases where you compromise someone else’s safety for your freedom, or their freedom for your safety, but if you’re already on one side or the other of that axis then there’s no difference between the personal decision and the global decision.

There’s the nugget of something there. I think the question of whether you consider rights to be universal or personal is important. Just not sure how to phrase it.


  1. In a two car auto collision, the safest place to be is in a large SUV colliding with a small car, and the least safe place to be is in the small car. Couldn’t you cast seeking restrictions or eradication of SUV ownership as a my safety vs. your safety question?

  2. Maybe. Let me think on that. Someone over on LJ suggested the location of nuclear waste disposal sites, which is pretty good. Also public smoking — “I want to live someplace where nobody smokes” vs. “I want to smoke wherever I want.” I’m gonna mull it all over some more.

  3. OK, I think I figured this one out. And you thought I’d forgotten all about it… Without further ado, the

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