Political Geometry

In my day job, I’m a process analyst. I sometimes refer to myself as a translator between the IT and non-IT worlds, figuring out how to capture the endless opportunities for doing a particular thing not quite the same way as everyone else and rendering it in a way that the Nerd Herd can transform into something that is not quite how any normal human would ever perform that task.

I draw a lot of pictures.

I’m not very good at drawing, mind you, but me and the whiteboard are simpatico. I think it may be the fumes. I also do a lot of Visio and different kinds of charts – process charts, business landscapes, site hierarchies, swim lanes, UI mockups, etc. For fanfic, I put together genealogies, building schematics, and even battle plans. Blocking the movement of troops in the HotK battle scenes was always fun.

Back in the mists of time, when I had thought to be a political scientist, I used to draw up political continuum charts, single axis for Left/Right (oh, what simple, happy days those were!) and then adding quadrants (courtesy of Gardner) for tracking more/less authoritarian, greater/lesser direct participation, and other measurable indices of political health.

The phenomenon that came to a head in 2016 is one I’ve been observing since the mid-uh-ohs, and can be tracked back in the US to the Republican adoption of the Southern Strategy with a resurgent Nixon. It is increasingly observable in Europe as well, but the American mode is what I’m most familiar with. In a nutshell, it is the assault from all quarters upon liberal democracy as such. Most people are aware of the Left/Right bar chart, often accompanied by a bell curve wave over the top showing the bulk of the citizenry ensconced to either side of an imaginary center. That model has lost most of its explanatory power because it presumes a fundamental consensus that politics will be conducted within the bounds of liberal democratic practices and institutions. Centrism is the moderate tug-of-war between those who emphasize property rights and those who champion civil rights, but all legitimate political actors agree upon the necessity of rights-based government. Those who do not agree to this principle are at the (ineffectual) edges.

This political commitment no longer can be taken for granted.

Centrism today is more like being at the center of a bulls eye, with the forces of anti-liberalism attacking from all sides. All the other “isms” have come into a grand coalition, if you will, and are arrayed around the center that increasingly finds it hard to hold on. The chief common element of the illiberal opponents, whether anarcho-syndicalists, authoritarians, fascists, or your average multi-national crime family, is the inability to perceive any position other than their own as having validity, let alone legitimacy. You no longer have political opponents; it is a world of enemies to be subjugated, even exterminated.

This is the true political fight of the 21st century, to see if the experiment born from Renaissance humanism and crafted by thinkers as disparate as Machiavelli, Locke, Kant, and Rousseau, the political practice that placed reason and rights at the center of the political enterprise, disrupting the rule of the strong with its demand for unquestioning obedience, can hold its own.

The political pictures I’m drawing these days are beginning to look a lot like the Battle of Helm’s Deep. Without the Deep.


(Note – edited on 12/31/2016 to expand on the post-war consensus model, as too few actually understand it.)

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