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« Offending Islam bad, inciting Islamists good? | Main | Abolish Delaware II: Why don’t big states split up? »

November 26, 2005



Is there any evidence in either direction as to whether the Soviet Bloc was ever tempted to be the aggressor? I think it was always assumed during the Cold War that they were... has that been confirmed since?

Frank Warner

What do you mean, tempted to be the aggressor?


I guess all I'm asking is how far away was Western Europe from being invaded, really? If the USA hadn't provide as much support to Europe during the Cold War as you did, how likely is it that would have happened?

I'm pretty sure NATO never seriously considered invading the USSR, as much as it would have been nice to depose the regime, since it would have been far too costly. Does that seem like a sensible statement?

Frank Warner

Each side's nuclear umbrella made major invasions unlikely.

The Soviet Union invaded its own puppet states of Hungary, Czechoslovakia and Afghanistan, and threatened to invade Poland when it was toying with freedom. But that was Eastern Europe.

The closest the Soviets ever came to invading Western Europe was its sealing off of West Berlin in 1948. Of course, West Berlin was within East Germany, so technically that was not even an exception.


I can see how true communism (ie not the Russian kind) could be considered far-left, but cannot understand why totalitarianism is considered far-right. In my mind, libertarianism is far-right, and nothing is further right. I remember not understanding it in the 11th grade when I was taught it, and my teacher said "the right wants to control people"(!)

Of course that is totally untrue. Conservatism realy boils down to this:
-Lessen the role the Government plays in our lives, and lessen the power it has to hurt or control us.
-Give the government only enough of our money to protect us, fund schools, build infrastructure, and help out the needy by teaching them to help themselves.

Totalitarians and Dictators want the exact opposite of the first part. They should not be granted the honor of being on the same side as conservatives and libertarians. I think there should be a new political chart:

Left: Liberals. far: Socialists, and true Communists
Right: Conservatives far: Libertarians
North: Russian/Chinese style communists and dictatorships
South: people.

That would restore a lot of honor to the left and right. And it would be easier to discuss the bad guys without subliminally damaging the right or left.

But “rightwinger” also implies someone who trusts government authority enough to compromise political liberties.
Frank Warner

Naziism is considered ultra far right, because it played on trust of government authority over political liberty to guarantee national security (You're secure, unless you're in a concentration camp). Its only difference from Soviet Communism was its economic system.

In my opinion, economic systems aren't the real divide between right and left. Every nation has some mix of capitalism and socialism. The real divide is between free and unfree. If people are free, they have a voice in all things, including economics.

jj mollo


There is endless discussion on the subject of political classification. You can't just say that everyone has their own ideas, because people do tend to cluster into groups, and some groups have broad commonalities with others. Jerry Pournelle, the SF writer invented a two-dimensional classification system that seems to make a little more sense than the old political pendulum.

jj mollo

Here's another link that has a better graph of the Pournelle Axes.


Good Lord that is complicated JJ :) And yet again, conservatives are lumped in with Nazis :(

Frank, I don't see how "trust of government authority over political liberty" is rightwinged. Don't conservatives believe in complete political liberty, just as liberals do? Maybe I don't understand the concept of political liberty.

"Government is not the solution to our problem; government
is the problem." That's from the God of conservatism (and my hero) Ronald Reagan. Conservatives view government suspiciously, just as our founding father's did. We are certainly not for giving up any rights to te government!

Frank Warner

When things are going smoothly, conservatives and liberals in a democracy sound alike on freedom. Everyone's for it.

But when someone's in trouble, you find a divide. If the whole nation is in danger, conservatives generally are more likely to give up a few individual liberties to guarantee their security. If part of the nation is in danger of starving or homelessness, liberals generally are more likely to demand government do something, even if it means limiting the right of the more affluent to keep all the money they earn.

Conservatives would limit rights for national security, liberals would limit rights in favor of helping the helpless. On the one priority, liberals are more suspicious of government power. On the other, conservatives are the more suspicious ones.

Of course, these concerns often overlap in one way or another. And when the two philosophies are pushed to their undemocratic extremes, they tend to look alike (Naziism and Communism).


Hmm, I guess I see the connection between conservatism and fascism then, if what you say is true.

I also guess that puts me firmly in the libertarian camp. I believe any power given to the government with the potential to be misused, will be misused. They haven't proven my point with the Patriot Act yet, but I expect them to soon.

jj mollo

You know that conservatives are definitely not being lumped in with Nazis, though being a liberal I sometimes accuse them of trending that way. Socialists are not the same as communists, but they share some of the same ideas. I think that the Pournelle axes imply that there is a natural virtue in being close to the center of the chart. Extremes are bad, and I would generally agree with that.

It's interesting that he places libertarians farther away from conservatives than liberals are. I must admit that it's always been hard for me to understand the alliance between conservatives, especially religious conservatives, and libertarians. Lots of libertarians are pro-choice and listen to Howard Stern on the radio, neither of which is pleasing to a typical conservative.

It would be very interesting to me to see this system superimposed over a Hamiltonian/Wilsonian/Jacksonian schema of some sort. Those distinctions seem very freighted with meaning, but I've never really understood exactly what they mean.


Good Lord that is complicated JJ :) And yet again, conservatives are lumped in with Nazis :(

Haven't you been informed that Bush = Hitler? Tsk, tsk...

I believe any power given to the government with the potential to be misused, will be misused. They haven't proven my point with the Patriot Act yet, but I expect them to soon.

Does the case of Mr. Padilla count? According to at least one person I know, he was arrested and held just to give the impression of being "tough on terrorism". Personally I think that's a bizarre explanation but the case does seem a bit odd and worrying.

If the whole nation is in danger, conservatives generally are more likely to give up a few individual liberties to guarantee their security.

What would Benjamin Franklin be considered? I am reminded of his quote, "Those who would sacrifice liberty for security deserve neither." Of course we all sacrifice some liberties, so you have to use common sense, but I see his point.

I would like to know, if there is not to be a security clampdown on terrorism (which almost certainly necessitates the loss of some liberties), what is the correct action? Be vigilant, but otherwise do nothing? It might work but I doubt any politicians would be willing to stand up for that kind of approach, conservative or otherwise, since if it fails it's political suicide.


That Franklin quote (slightly different) appears on my homepage. I saw it for the first time just after the patriot act was first enacted. It isa good reason why people should not be pro-Patriot act. I fear they will use their newfound powers not to curtail terrorism, but drug usage or some other crime. That is a gross violation of our trust, and it may be happening already. I recently heard (take with grain of salt; I have no proof) that the phone tapping part of the Patriot act has resulted in 8k drug related arrests. For the government to spy on me for ANYTHING other than to see if I am a terrorist is unacceptable.

That wall thing of Jamie Gorelick's might have been a good idea if it only went in one direction. Information flows into the terrorist detecting dept, but none flows back to the minor crime dept. I'm all for a security clampdown on terrorism, but completely against a 'general' security clampdown. More on that when Frank does a piece on the War on Drugs :) (No, I don't use drugs 'cept alcohol, but I'm very pro-legalization).

jj I am indeed pro-choice, but don't care too much about it either way. I would bow to whatever side the majority supports. I am anti-Roe v Wade, but only because it allowed a judge to make a law, the domain of Congress and Congress alone. I reconcile this dichotomy (cool word) with the belief that if RvW were overturned, abortion would be legal in most if not all states anyway.

Religious conservatives are misunderstood. I am sadly an athiest, but I have a lot in common with the bulk of the religious right. If you take out the crazies like Pat Robertson, most christian conservatives just want the US to be a Norman Rockwelly place to raise their kids, teach them their version of right and wrong, and not have schools contradict them.

They are not really looking to enforce their opinion on everyone else, just protect themselves from other opinions being forced on them and their children. Good examples are: gay is ok, premarital sex is no big deal, you get the idea; these items are considered 'opinion' by christian conservatives and should not be taught. Howard Stern is a fine example as well. My view, possibly shared with christian conservatives is, he's fine for adults, not fine for kids. He's ok to have on the radio, but would be bad if he were mandatory reading in school.

Unfortunately, christian conservative pundits are friggin' crazy. And the anti-abortion activists are just as bad, and don't represent the christians I know (I'm in Loooooooooooooosiana, I know a lot of them... I reckon).

Most of them do have a beef with evolution, and that is where we part ways. Overall though, we have more in common than not.

You make a very interesting point about the center being the best place to be. I have previously considered the center to be a compromise (compromise=failure by all sides), rather than a resolution (resolution=success by all sides). For my part, I can certainly see how libertarianism taken to the extreme would closely resemble anarchy, certainly not a position I would support. Thanks for the idea. I'll need time to mull it over though, as I only became a libertarian this morning ;). One step at a time.

To make a long post longer, I would seriously like to thank Frank for having this website. Never have I had such vibrant, reasoned dialogue with liberals and conservatives. Specifically the liberals though. You can't have these conversations on any other website without hearing stuff like "End the war profiteering in Iraq and bring the troops home now" or some other dogma. I will be sad on the day the trolls find this nook of the net.


Hear hear. I like the discussions here but we could use some more people who disagree with Frank (and we commenters too) more often. Sadly, last time someone came along disagreeing they pushed some of my buttons and I got a bit mad. I just have this thing about making wild accusations without backing them up... it sets off my temper :(

But I would like to see a little bit more disagreement, as long as it can be civil and logical.

I'm just afraid people with more extreme views tend to be less thoughtful. At least, that's how it seems to me.

But good job, Frank!

On topic... I always thought "conservative" meant roughly "keep the status quo" and the opposite end of the spectrum would be "progressive" (not liberal) - that is, those who are in favour of making dramatic changes.

"Left" and "right" to me are more to do with how much the gov'ment mandates things. Which is kind of odd, because people on the left want to heavily regulate economic activity, but not social standards, and people on the right seem to be the reverse - economic freedom but heavy on the social restrictions.

I guess that's why I tended more to the left in the past, because I believe in freedom and it seemed to me the social freedoms the "left" offer are pretty good, and the economic mandates they want to have make some sense. But I definitely think they're wandering into territory these days which should have sign posts reading "warning - minefield" and "abandon hope...". Providing a safety net and some equity is one thing, robbing the rick to give to the poor is another.

So, in short, I find it useful to distinguish "conservative" and "progressive" (and indeed "liberal" and "democrat") from "left" and "right".

In short, your Democrat party seem to be left/progressive but neither liberal nor really democratic. Your Republicans seem to be more of a religious/popular party. They're only conservative in the social sense any more.

Interesting stuff...

jj mollo

I think the majority of liberals are against the war because they don't really score too high on the rationalism scale. The interesting thing is that the majority of the conservatives are for it for the same reason. Liberals want to feel good about themselves by thinking of themselves as generous and peaceloving, basically as nice people. Perhaps conservatives want to be good, rather than feel good, by pursuing the dictates of duty, honor, country.

Not too many, liberal or conservative, consider the importance of liberating the people of the Middle-East as being a paramount issue in and of itself. And fewer consider it to be our responsibility. I think that Bush may, in this regard, be a visionary on par with FDR. The analogous forces of history have made Iraq the place and this the time where we needed to act.

I think Ben Franklin would have understood as well. He was, by the way, in the context of his time, a radical as extreme then as the communists were in the 20th century. He just happened to be right. Plus he had a sense of humor and that seems to help.

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