Taxonomy of political positions

I am not a political scientist, so I do not employ sophisticated distinctions to describe people’s political persuasions, including mine. Instead, I divide political positions into the following: reactionary, conservative, progressive, and revolutionary. Note that I am talking about people’s political positions or views or opinions, and not about people as such. This is because I believe that many people have a complex set of political opinions, and that it would be wrong to label someone as simply a reactionary, or a conservative, or a progressive, or a revolutionary. In other words, I think it is possible, for example, for people to hold a conservative position in one issue, but a progressive position in another issue.

A reactionary position holds that the status quo is a deformation of the past, and things ought to be rolled back or undone. It is based on the belief that there was a golden age in the past, when things were much better than they are in the present, and returning to the golden age will solve the current problems. In most cases, the past is imagined or seen through a pair of rose-tinted glasses. The world used be better, and it is getting worse all the time.

A conservative position states that if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, so unless there is a compelling case to do otherwise, it is best to stick with what is known. Naturally there is a wide range within the conservative standpoint: there are instances where a holder of the conservative viewpoint can be convinced of merits for changes even if somewhat reluctantly, but there are also instances where changes are opposed adamantly and absolutely. The world may not be perfect, but it functions tolerably, and fiddling with it is risky.

A progressive position is characterized by the assumption that, unless there is a compelling case to stick with the known and the present, there should be changes to the status quo to make things better. However, changes should build on what currently exists, rather than starting from scratch. Like conservative views, there is a wide spectrum in the progressive standpoint: in some instances big changes are sought very quickly, while in others small, continuous and incremental changes are called for. The world is not perfect, but it can and should be improved.

A revolutionary position argues that the status quo must be discarded, and things ought to be done according to first principles. Unlike the reactionary position that looks for the past for inspiration, a revolutionary standpoint assumes that a golden age lies ahead in the future, mostly imagined by political theorists, and believes that changes ought to be implemented to go nearer to that goal. The world is not perfect, and indeed terrible, so a new world must be created.

These are of course caricatures, and there are more subtleties than this four-way division, but it is a method I use to gauge the political position of myself and others. And in this scheme, I’m half-conservative, half-progressive, with a tiny hint of revolutionary.