On the 3-Axis Political Model
The information in this webpage should be taken with a grain of salt.
There are many ways people categorize political ideologies. Some may have one axis, two axes, combined axes, or every possible definable axis. However, the semi-popular three-axis model is both useful and versatile.
At the top, there is the civil axis. This deals with the government’s power over a population. It includes:
- Anarchism: Anarchism is the belief that there should be no government and therefore absolutely no government control. This can be seen from the structure of the word: “arch” meaning “leader” and “an” meaning “without.” It is unpopular.
- Libertarianism: Libertarianism is the belief that the government should have minimal control. The “libert” comes from “liberty,” relating to libertarianism’s ideals of freedom. It is somewhat unpopular.
- Liberalism: Liberalism is the belief that the government should have less control. It is not to be confused with cultural liberalism. Like libertarianism, the word originates from “liberty.” It is popular.
- Civil Centrism: Civil Centrism is the belief that the government should have some control. It is popular.
- Civil Conservatism: Civil conservatism is the belief that the government should have more control. The word is based on “conservatism” which is usually meant in a mildly culturally traditional context. It is also based on how there is a cultural equivalent of the civil liberalism, so this is the civil equivalent of the cultural conservatism. It is popular.
- Authoritarianism: Authoritarianism is the belief that the government should have maximal control. The “authorit” comes from “authority,” relating to authoritarianism’s ideals of authority. It is somewhat unpopular.
- Totalitarianism: Totalitarianism is the belief that the government should have complete (or “total”) control. It is unpopular.
In the middle, there is the economic or fiscal axis. This deals with how the economy should work. It includes:
- Communism: Communism is a far-left economic ideology based on ideas from German philosopher Karl Marx. While there are many varieties, its main qualities are all property being publicly owned (owned by the state) and wealth being distributed based on the needs of the people. It is unpopular.
- Socialism: Socialism is a leftist economic ideology that acts as a sort of “soft communism.” For example, instead of all property being publicly owned, only a greater portion of property is publicly owned. It is somewhat popular.
- Economic Centrism: Economic centrism is a centrist economic ideology that is, like other forms of centrism, moderate. It tends to take aspects of leftist and rightist economic ideologies and combines them into a balanced system. It is popular.
- Capitalism: Capitalism is a rightist economic ideology based on private property (ownership of property by the people rather than the state) and the free market (where the success of products, companies, etc. is dependent on people contributing to it through purchases and the like). It tends to be averse to wealth redistribution, though a similar effect can be achieved (or even desired) through taxes. It is somewhat popular.
- Social Darwinism: Social Darwinism is a far-rightist economic ideology based on evolutionary and ecological concepts from biologist Charles Darwin. It follows the mantra of Darwin’s evolutionary model: “Survival of the fittest.” The people are left to compete until the fittest “survive,” however that may be. It is unpopular.
And finally, at the bottom, there is the cultural axis, also called the social or societal axis. This deals with elements of culture, usually in regard to religion/secularism or identity politics (politics dealing with identities of race, gender identity, and the like). It may also deal with issues in the environment or technology.
- Ultra-Progressivism: Ultra-progressivism is a far-left cultural ideology that is a more extreme version of progressivism, hence “ultra-” It may come in the form of extremist, violent “SJWs” (cultural side; also, I hope that I’m using that term correctly) or complete transhumanists (technological side). It is unpopular.
- Progressivism: Progressivism is a leftist cultural ideology that encourages progress in society, hence, “progress” There is little difference between this and ultra-progressivism, only that this is less extreme. It is somewhat popular.
- Cultural Liberalism: Cultural liberalism is a center-left cultural ideology. (see word explanation in section on civil conservatism) It is popular.
- Cultural Centrism: Cultural centrism is a centrist cultural ideology that is, like other forms of centrism, moderate. It tends to take aspects of leftist and rightist cultural ideologies and combine them into more balanced beliefs. It is popular.
- Conservatism: Conservatism is a center-right cultural ideology that encourages conserving traditional values, hence, “conserv.” It is like the following ideologies, although less extreme. Because religion often encourages more traditional values, conservatism tends to be religious. It is popular.
- Traditionalism: Traditionalism is a rightist cultural ideology that encourages tradition in society, hence, “tradition.” It is somewhat popular.
- Reactionism: Reactionism is a far-right cultural ideology that encourages reaction to progressive values, hence, “reaction.” Being the farthest-right ideology, it is often discriminatory (cultural side). However, it could also be the not (necessarily) racist primitivism (technological side). It is unpopular.
Applications in Other Political Models
Due to it covering so many issues in politics, the three-axis model can be used as a lens to observe other political models and metapolitical thought.
In the United States, entities are thought of as being more “right” or “left.” But what exactly does that mean?
This model is interesting, as it excludes one axis and combines the other two. The civil axis is largely disregarded, and the economic left and right and the cultural left and right are combined simply to “the left” and “the right.”
While the combination of the economic and cultural axis is interesting, the exclusion of the civil axis is even more intriguing to explore. Of course, the left is known for being more authoritarian (big gov.) and the right is known for being more libertarian (small gov.) While this may be true, it is actually more complicated. For example, both the left and the right can be more authoritarian or libertarian depending on the issue. The left is more authoritarian on healthcare and more libertarian on the police, while the right is more authoritarian on the Mexico-United States border and more libertarian on gun rights. Additionally, particular entities on both sides can be (entirely) more authoritarian or libertarian: Democrats Bill Richardson and Mike Gravel are more authoritarian and libertarian respectively, while Republicans Alan Keys and Ron Paul are more authoritarian and libertarian respectively.
Of course, there is one tremendous thing this three-axis model can tell us about American politics: economic right-wing bias. While both Democrats and Republicans may seem on either side, almost every single one is actually capitalist. Earnest as their efforts may be, the vast majority of politicians don’t implement any truly socialist or democratic socialist policies. This allows moderately socialist policies and politicians (such as Bernie Sanders) to be seen as far-left when in reality, they are moderate.
You’ve probably seen the political compass somewhere on the internet but not exactly understood what it means.
The political compass is a two-axis model. The vertical axis is the civil scale with authoritarian on the top and libertarian on the bottom. The horizontal axis is the economic scale. These axes create a compass with four quadrants, each with shortened names: authleft is on the top left and is red, authright is on the top right and is blue, libleft is on the bottom left and is green, and libright is on the bottom right and is yellow or purple.
This model has spawned quite the following online, with meme subreddits and the like. It also has many tests around the internet which place you somewhere on the compass.
Works This is Based On
Ultra-detailed 16x16 3D Megacompass
Expanded and Modified 8values Chart
Various Political Wikipedia Articles
The Political Compass Website
This webpage was originally published 3 October 2020 and was last modified 21 February 2021.