Search for a 21st Century Ideology

Andrew Sullivan has been arguing that the main political fault-line of our age is not Left vs Right, but Faith vs. Doubt. He argues for a politics of doubt and a religious perspective of skepticism and wonder. He argues for an anti-fundamentalism that embraces both positive and negative freedom, “freedom-to” and “freedom-from”; a creed based not in the possession of Truth, but in the pursuit of it.

Over the holidays I had a conversation with Mark Surman, where I claimed that I did not subscribe to any political ideology. Mark called me on this and reminded me of the political compass, where ideology has two axes: economic left/right and social libertarian/authoritarian. He’s right, of course. I DO have an ideology, or rather a political orientation, but I don’t see myself reflected in major political parties or even in political discourse in general. And I know I’m not alone. Not by a long-shot.

The Political Compass

Here’s the classic two-dimensional political compass. I would characterize the horizontal axis as a measure of economic equality vs. free-market capitalism, and the vertical axis as social freedom vs. control. (Interesting that Stephen Harper is plotted to the Left of Tony Blair in this. Source:

More after the jump…

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What’s a Libertarian Democrat?

In the U.S., people have been observing a shift in the binary Democratic-Republican axis. Markos at left-wing blog Daily Kos argued the Case for the Libertarian Democrat and caused quite a buzz, mostly reactions from the right that thought he was crazy. But I think he may be onto something. As seen in the political compass above, our major political leaders all appear to have strong tendencies toward control (or fascism), which is leaving an untapped potential political pool of social freedom-lovers, whether of the Left or the Right.

So I redid this political compass survey from a few years ago to see where I stand today. I am slightly left of centre on the Left/Right axis, and strongly Libertarian on the social axis. I’m not as Left as the Dalai Lama, but just as Libertarian. My guess is that many of the creative and entrepreneurial people I associate with and look up to are similarly libertarian in orientation along the vertical axis, regardless of where they find themselves on the Left/Right continuum. And many are frustrated by policy, politics and institutions that are all heading in the direction of various kinds of control, regardless of where the various political parties may sit on the Left/Right continuum.

The Politics of Control

Government agencies and institutions work to continually justify their existence by proving what they have accomplished; that they produce benefits to the public and are accountable. Setting policies and creating institutional structures that enable individuals and civil society to more fully participate in the determination our collective destiny runs counter to this organizational control bias. Governments seek instrumental outcomes of policy that can be measured and managed as a way of demonstrating value and accountability, consolidating power and winning in electoral races. In so doing, these command-and-control strategies crowd out the possibilities for the private creation of public goods and the legitimate free expression of public aspirations.

Similarly multinational corporations, under the rubric of free-market capitalism, operate to internalize the market through increasing consolidation, the acquisition of innovation and value capture. Corporations have legal status as persons, but have no soul. This is not to say that corporations are inherently evil, but neither are they inherently good. The one thing they are very good at, however, is control, and many people around the world see that control as having come at the cost of innovation, creativity, public space and public culture.

In an era of increasing uncertainty, complexity and risk, governments and corporations will work in ways to consolidate or maintain control. However, these natural organizational survival instincts work against the resilience necessary for society to adapt quickly in an environment of increasingly rapid change. Command and control is ultimately not sustainable against the forces of rapid technological and social change, but will be relied upon in the absence of useful alternatives.

A New Deal for the Creative Age

My operating thesis is that a New Deal for the Creative Age is possible, one that embraces the creativity, freedom and complexity that lies between chaos and control. This post-industrial New Deal aims to unite the forces of social and economic progress in a new political arrangement that incorporates a sophisticated understanding of the power of complex social systems. With the rise of the Creative Class and creativity and innovation as the new basis of competition in a flattening global economy, a political coalition which can negotiate this new New Deal could potentially become the natural ruling party for this new age.

I’m looking forward to developing this line of thought this year. Maybe I should organize a WonkCamp…

4 thoughts on “Search for a 21st Century Ideology”

  1. Ha! Welcome Nick. If you know some Toronto wonks, let’s talk! I’m looking for like minded citizen-wonks who understand that policy and government need to change radically for the new millennium, but don’t have answers – mostly questions.

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