"The argument that the two parties should represent opposed ideals and policies, one, perhaps, of the Right and the other of the Left, is a foolish idea acceptable only to the doctrinaire and academic thinkers. Instead, the two parties should be almost identical, so the American people can 'throw the rascals out' at any election without leading to any profound or extreme shifts in policy."
~ Carroll Quigley, Tragedy and Hope: A History of the World in Our Time, pp. 1247-1248
(1966, The MacMillan Company, New York; Second Printing, 1974, Wm. Morrison, Los Angeles)
The United States of America, in the year 2016 of the Common Era, has endured some years of polarization. This polarization, we have been told, represents what some have named "culture wars." The simplistic, one-dimensional single line continuum on which all possible perspectives have been reduced to "Left versus Right," with "Left" conflated with "Liberal," and "Right" conflated with "Conservative," has been the supposed explanation. We are expected to believe that this polarization represents actual differences in worldview, and that the two sides are polar opposites, and are indeed poles apart.
In fact, however, not only is the single line continuum far too simplistic and limited to explain the many, many dimensions of perspective (of which a previous discussion here includes only seven), the two party system which has been the primary vehicle in which this polarization has been expressed is itself a deception, and a dangerous one at that.
"... perché lo universale degli uomini si pascono così di quel che pare come di quello che è: anzi, molte volte si muovono più per le cose che paiono che per quelle che sono."
~ Niccolò Machiavelli, Discorsi sopra la prima deca di Tito Livio, Libro Primo, Capitolo 25
"... for the general mass of men are satisfied with appearances, as if they exist; indeed many times they are most moved by the things which seem to be rather than by the things that are."
~ Niccolò Machiavelli, Discourses on the first Ten Books of Titus Livius, Book 1, Chapter 25
Rhetoric is one of the Classical Seven Liberal Arts and Sciences regarded as necessary for a free person (from the Latin word liberalis, which means in this context "of or pertaining to freedom; dignified, honorable, befitting a free person," and which derives from the Latin word liber, meaning "free, unrestricted"). The Seven Liberal Arts and Sciences were divided into the core, called the trivium (three ways, or three roads), and the lesser disciplines, which built upon the trivium, and were called the quadrivium (four ways).
The core trivium consisted of Grammar, Rhetoric, and Logic (and the lesser disciplines of the quadrivium, with which we will not be concerned in this discussion, consisted of Arithmetic, Geometry, Music, and Astronomy). Grammar is of course the proper use of language in a mechanical sense. Rhetoric is the art of persuasion. Rhetoric itself consists of Debate and various forms of Public Speaking. Its concern is with persuading another person, or group of persons, of a certain viewpoint. Rhetoric is thus a contest of sorts, and the winning of such a contest is the successful persuasion of the audience. Logic is a calculus of language, the study of correct and incorrect inference forms (or correct and erroneous methods of reasoning). Its concern is not with persuasion, but of seeking understanding and truth. Logic thus analyzes statements and arguments, and builds arguments from statements, in an effort to arrive at the goal of understanding and truth. Logic also analyzes the language used in Rhetoric.
Our secondary schools require Grammar be taught and learned sufficiently to pass courses in the subject. Some offer courses in Rhetoric. Few give any training whatsoever in Logic, which nowadays is reserved to the college and the university. Logic is not the same thing as "common sense." What is considered "common sense" is often quite wrong. Logic is a discipline; indeed, Logic is a Pure Science, which is to say, a science depending on deductions from demonstrated truths (the only other Pure Science is Mathematics). Logic is not, therefore, instinctive, but must be studied and practiced (and even a master logician will yet be fallible, but Logic itself is Pure, Objective, and Absolute). Without training in Logic, the people are easily hoodwinked and led about by the flowery language and witticisms used in Rhetoric. Logic should be a course required for graduation from secondary school, due to Logic's importance in maintaining a free society of free people, as over against those easily influenced by pretty speeches and led down the path to dystopian doom.
Machiavelli tells us that the majority of people are satisfied with mere appearances as if they were realities, and are more usually motivated by that which seems than by that which is. Politicians are well aware of this fact, and exploit it constantly, seeking to persuade the majority by pretty speeches, witty insults of their seeming opponents, and fallacious arguments (incorrect inference forms and faulty reasoning). Were the people trained in Logic, such exploitation would require more effort.
Superficial differences are paraded before the mass of the voters, words are spoken (and sometimes yelled) by one contender for office and seized upon by another as a point of attack. The contenders mock one another, construct rhetorical effigies made of straw out of their opponents' stated positions and then tear those straw men down, appeal to religion, appeal to prejudice, appeal to popular ideas, appeal to various emotions including patriotism and fear. Each seeks to portray the other as "other," as different, as dangerous or insane or foolish or unqualified or stupid or misguided or incompetent, and seeks to contrast himself or herself from "the other." All of this rhetorical effort, however, is mere bamboozling, for, no matter which candidate is elected, the policies enacted continue just as they did before, no matter which of the two main parties is in power.
Although overly simplified, the "Political Compass" scheme of graphing perspectives based on only two dimensions demonstrates the remarkable similarity between the candidates of the two main parties who make it to the general election. Invariably for the past 16 years, the two main parties' candidates for President have fallen into the "Right-authoritarian" quadrant of their graph, as will be seen in the images below (unfortunately, the graph for the 2000 presidential candidates is no longer available on the site):
The caption under each image will take you to the page on which the original image is found, where you will be able to see also the graphs for the candidates from the primaries, as well as some commentary on the elections and candidates (the page for the 2004 election does not include a graph for the candidates in the primaries). As you can see, Bush vs Kerry in 2004, Obama vs McCain in 2008, Obama vs Romney in 2012, and Clinton vs Trump in 2016, are all in the upper right quadrant, which is Right Wing Economics and Authoritarian on "Social" questions (I put "Social" in quotation marks as I disagree with the terminology; "Social" is not a synonym for "Civil," and what is being measured in this scheme is not one's attitudes toward Society, but rather, toward Civil Liberties and Civil Rights). What is most remarkable about the 2016 graph is the position of Hillary Clinton relative to the position of Donald Trump: she is further to the Right on Economics, but less Authoritarian on "Social" questions. The idea, however, that the Democratic Party is "the Left" is blatantly false. It is, in fact, nothing but Rhetoric, especially in relation to the rest of the world, but even in America, actual Leftists do exist in the political contests. Senator Bernie Sanders was much closer to Doctor Jill Stein than he is to Hillary Clinton. Both Sanders and Stein are Leftists, while Hillary Clinton is a "Neoliberal," which is a term which describes a rather far Right Wing perspective on Economics. Hillary is further to the Right than Trump, further to the Right than Romney, further to the Right than McCain, and about the same position as George W. Bush (although it is difficult to determine clearly, as the 2004 graph omits the graph lines) on both Economics and questions of Authoritarianism. By contrast, while Trump appears to be more authoritarian than Hillary, he is not as far to the Right. It's not much of a contrast, however; both are Right-authoritarians. More contrast can be seen between those two and Bernie, who is a Left-centrist (in this sense, "centrist" means he's in the center on questions of "Social" libertarianism vs authoritarianism), but Bernie is no longer a candidate in this election. Jill Stein offers an even greater contrast, as she is a Left-libertarian. Gary Johnson is even further to the Right than Hillary Clinton, but more of a centrist on questions of "Social" libertarianism vs authoritarianism, with a lean into the "Social" libertarian realm, but not as "Socially" libertarian as Jill Stein.
We are left with an interesting conclusion, which takes us back to where we started, with the quote from Carroll Quigley: the two main parties put on a show of being nearly diametrically opposed, but are actually very similar, and nowadays are both Right-authoritarian in perspective. In this particular election, we have three Right Wingers (the Republican candidate Donald Trump, the Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton, and the Libertarian Party candidate Gary Johnson) contending with one Leftist (the Green candidate Jill Stein). The last time a Leftist was elected President was when Franklin Delano Roosevelt was elected to a fourth term in 1944 (Truman, JFK, LBJ, and Carter were all more Centrists in terms of Economics, and even FDR was barely a Leftist, being essentially what would be called a "Social Democrat" in Europe); since 1981, when Ronald Reagan took office, the Presidents of the US have been increasingly Right Wing. Even Richard Nixon was more of a Centrist in economic terms than Reagan and the subsequent Presidents (although he was very "Socially" authoritarian by the standards of his era).
This show which the two main parties put on has led to a detrimental polarization among the people, and the sad reality is that the polarization is not substantial, but superficial; it concerns mere labels, "Democrat" and "Republican," and not any meaningful differences in terms of what the two parties actually attempt to do when in power. This deception must end, lest we lurch ever further toward a Right-authoritarian dystopia. We must reject the two party system and all for which it stands, for it is, in essence, a one party system masquerading as a two party system. The so-called "two party system" is in fact, a managed democracy with elections which are devoid of substantive meaning. This system cannot be changed from within, but must be rejected in favor of candidates who are not part of it. We hunger for real change, for progress toward a better future. The candidate who offers us hope and a real chance for that better future is Doctor Jill Stein. It's in our hands. Let us choose wisely.
The title of the post comes from Star Trek (The Original Series), Season 3, episode 8; episode 63 overall; production code 65.
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