With steam now beginning to pick up on Election 2008, it’s a
good time to learn more your own political leanings and maybe help others do
the same. With that goal in mind, I recently paid a visit to what I consider to be an effective online learning tool: The Political Compass.
The site offers a relatively simple, quick, anonymous self-assessment to help you
determine exactly whether you have more in common politically with the Dalai
Lama, Joseph Stalin, Margaret Thatcher, or Milton Friedman (just to name a few
of the well-know figures the authors have plotted on their compass as
examples). As the authors put it:
There’s abundant evidence for the
need of it. The old one-dimensional categories of ‘right’ and ‘left’,
established for the seating arrangement of the French National Assembly of
1789, are overly simplistic for today’s complex political landscape. For
example, who are the ‘conservatives’ in today’s Russia? Are they the
unreconstructed Stalinists, or the reformers who have adopted the right-wing
views of conservatives like Margaret Thatcher ?
Based on the results of the online assessment, respondents are
given their position in relation to a vertical axis that covers the range
from Authoritarian to Libertarian and horizontal axis that covers the
traditional Left to Right dichotomy.
Like most self-assessments, this one has its challenges. As
the FAQ section of the site suggests, many of the questions beg for subtlety of
interpretation, but none is possible: the respondent can only indicate Strongly
Agree, Agree, Disagree, Strongly Disagree. It is a necessary evil with this
type of self-assessment exercise. And of course, there is also the question of how accurately
people are really capable of assessing themselves (a topic I plan to address
more at a later date). Would you be likely, for instance, even in an anonymous
assessment, to answer a question in a way that might suggest you have racist
tendencies even if your real, true answer to the question might, in fact
In any case, whatever the shortcomings, it is hard to
disagree that a little more thoughtfulness about political categorization would
benefit most of the world’s societies. So, give this online assessment a shot a see
where you stand. Better yet, ask the candidates in your local races to give it
a shot to and see where they stand–everyone might learn a thing or two!