Left Conservatives Under Right Progressives

To me, Bernie Sanders is a democratic socialist conservative pragmatist. I explain what I mean by this four-part label in the following article, originally published at Swans.com on 3 December 2012.


Left Conservatives under Right Progressives

This is an essay in analytical politics. In it I present a precise terminology for describing the general forms that the political orientation of a collectivity or an individual can assume in regard to national and international affairs.

The model to be presented allows any political tendency to be classified in a linguistically simple, conceptually clear manner, and it allows for making comparisons among all the varieties of politics and politicians at large today, and recorded by history. This is possible because only a small number of archetypes of political orientation are used, which are analogous to the genus and family units in the Linnaean taxonomy of biology. As with the Linnaean system, the purpose of this political taxonomy is to bring order and clarity to a topic usually clouded with partisan obfuscation.

Definition of Political Orientation

Any political orientation is composed of four factors, labeled as: power, economy, engagement, and character.


The form in which political power is held in a collectivity, such as a nation state, is determined by its degree of concentration, which will occur within a range of possibilities bracketed by dictatorship and anarchy. I collapse all the complexities by allowing for only two opposing forms: authoritarian and democratic.


The economy of any society is a political statement of the balance of power of the constituencies within that society; it is the structure determining the cycles of production and consumption, and the distribution of benefits and costs. The relationship of the individual to the society is characterized by two parameters: equality and freedom.

Economically, each individual is a person with some accumulation of personal wealth and property. An individual can either be burdened with or relieved of social responsibilities, and his or her accumulation can be taxed, or untaxed, or augmented by the collectivity, all depending on the specific nature of this individual’s relationship to the collectivity.

Equality characterizes the degree of social responsibility the individual has to the collectivity.

Freedom characterizes the degree of liberty the individual has to dispose of his or her accumulation.

Equality is measured by the degree of socialism in the society, which is the degree to which accumulation is bound to social responsibilities, and need is alleviated by public support.

Freedom is measured by the degree of liberality of the society, which is the degree to which accumulation is free of public responsibilities, and need is left to personal responsibility and charity.

The economic factor of any particular political orientation is assigned to one of two general types: socialist or liberal.

An economic outlook characterized as socialist has a greater proportion of equality (social responsibility) than an economic outlook characterized as liberal (economic liberty), in which freedom is dominant.


While the economy describes the internal or domestic structure of a political collectivity (whether a real society or an individual’s idealization), the attitude of that collectivity toward the rest of the world is termed its engagement.

A society reticent to engage with the rest of the world and preferring to withdraw from it is isolationist, while a society eager to expand its influence in the wider world, and which is forward with its diplomacy, trade and military force, is internationalist.

The isolationist attitude is anti-interventionist, anti-imperialist, anti-war, and fundamentally conservative.

The internationalist attitude has a tendency to be interventionist, imperialist, expansionist, and is fundamentally progressive.

Conservative engagement is that which seeks to preserve the insularity of the domestic realm from international turmoil, to minimize conflicts with foreigners, and to focus political effort into the consolidation of power in the domestic realm.

Progressive engagement is that which seeks to change the existing international order to the advantage of an actively outgoing political collectivity. Internationalist societies can export their domestic political ambitions and problems in the form of a foreign policy — diplomacy plus commerce or war — seeking “advantages” by reshaping (moving, or progressing) international norms and the international order.


A political orientation is a guide for personal action, so how do individuals act politically? This fourth factor is determined by personal character, which is limited to three types in this model, those of the: ideologue, pragmatist, and opportunist.


This is a person with principles, which could be either humanistic (e.g., abolitionist, Marxist socialism) or inhumane (e.g., slavery, fascist socialism), and who could be seen as either admirably firm in advocating for these principles even against contrary public opinion, or as obtusely rigid in disregarding human needs while seeking to impose an ideology upon society. Uncompromising.


This is also a person with a set of principles and a political orientation aimed at actualizing those principles. However, this type of individual is politically flexible, adjusting tactics to suit the circumstances of the moment in the effort to best approach the motivating ideals, both in the near term and further future. Willing to compromise.


This is the self-centered careerist who makes Machiavellian use of people and ideas to acquire power and wealth. The opportunist is free of the restrictions imposed by principles, so finds it easy to espouse allegiances and then dispose of them by betrayal as is expedient. Unprincipled.

Political Orientations

The political orientation of any collectivity is one of eight types determined by the specific values of its power, economy and engagement factors:



The political orientation of an individual is given by one of the eight triads just described, expanded into a quartet with the addition of the character factor set to one of its three possible values: ideologue, pragmatist, opportunist, and which are identified by the labels i, p, o, respectively.


Authoritarian socialist conservatives:
Joseph Stalin (o), Mao Zedong (i), Fidel Castro (i).

Authoritarian socialist progressives:
Leon Trotsky (i), Adolph Hitler (o), Che Guevara (i).

Authoritarian liberal conservatives:
Francisco Franco (o), Augusto Pinochet (o), China since Deng Xiaoping (o).

Authoritarian liberal progressives:
Roman Caesars (o), Napoleon Bonaparte (o), Imperial Japan 1932-1945 (o).

Democratic socialist conservatives:
Eugene V. Debs (i), Noam Chomsky (i), Willy Brandt (p).

Democratic socialist progressives:
George Orwell (p), J. Robert Oppenheimer (p), leftists for responsibility to protect (R2P) (p).

Democratic liberal conservatives:
Charles de Gaulle (i), Georges Pompidou (p), Ron Paul (i).

Democratic liberal progressives:
Winston Churchill (p), J. F. Kennedy (i), Ronald Reagan (i), G. W. Bush (o).

Conservative versus Progressive Wars

Conservative States confine their military deployments and wars to their domestic realms (as civil wars or defense against invasion), and to the countries or “buffer zones” just past their borders. Most nation states are of this type, and notable examples during the twentieth century were the U.S.S.R., the People’s Republic of China, and Iran.

Progressive States have (or had) large navies, such as: Periclean Athens, the British Empire, the U.S.A., and Imperial Japan; or they initiated wide-ranging military expeditions, such as by Imperial Rome, Napoleonic France, and Nazi Germany.

Authoritarian conservatives have been responsible for a great deal of bloody repression, and authoritarian progressives have been responsible for a great deal of aggressive warfare.

Democratic Tendencies

Left Isolationists

Democratic socialist conservatives form the largest contingent of the political left in the United States (and perhaps Europe) today, the anti-interventionists. This orientation looks back with dismay at the UN and NATO military interventions in Bosnia, Kosovo, and Libya, and opposes any such intervention in the Syrian Civil War now raging.

Left Internationalists

Democratic socialist progressives can support the resort to military interventions on the R2P principle, the “responsibility to protect” unarmed populations in immediate danger of attack, or under such attack, by armed forces of any kind including that of their own government. R2P is an evolving international norm, and all its applications to date have been controversial. Left Internationalists believe the principle behind R2P is correct, “preventing and halting mass atrocity crimes,” and that it is worth making the effort to bring more of the world into compliance with civilized political behavior. Ultimately, in terms of social evolution such an advance would be comparable to the abolition of legal slavery worldwide.

Right Isolationists

Democratic liberal conservatives, like Ron Paul and the Libertarians in the United States, want freedom from government regulations and release from tax liabilities. Since they are most sensitively attached to their accumulations they painfully feel the expenditure of public funds domestically as “welfare” and internationally as “adventurism.” They are anti-war anti-federalists, liberal isolationists, hence liberal conservatives.

Right Internationalists

Democratic liberal progressives include George W. Bush and the “neocons,” who propelled the United States into the Iraq War. Since nothing is more radical in terms of trying to progress or move international politics than to launch wars, the GWB bunch were radical progressives.

Such an identification only appears surprising to people indoctrinated by the broadcasts on US politics by corporate mass media, with grossing misleading labels. The GWB bunch were very liberal economically, as they created a huge public debt burden by major tax reductions on large accumulations, and by enormous expenditures for wars.

The G. W. Bush Administration was entirely one of economically liberal progressives, and not as usually mislabeled “social conservatives” (actually: reactionaries), “fiscal conservatives” (actually: liberals) and “political conservatives” (actually: radicals); reactionary liberal radicals.

The lies about our politics begin immediately with its mislabeling.

The Contemporary American Scene

The United States today is a democratic liberal progressive state, locked into that orientation by the overwhelming political power of incorporated accumulations, which favor inequitable freedom, and collectively sponsor the anti-parliamentarian bipartisan electoral system.

The essence of the presidential election of 2012 is that voters were limited to choosing between Barack Obama’s pragmatism and Mitt Romney’s opportunism. Neither the form of the nation’s economy nor the degree of its engagement were open to electoral influence.

The post-election dismay of the defeated Mitt Romney and the dominantly older white male would-be authoritarian liberals he personifies is that of ideologues and opportunists who find themselves trapped in a multi-cultural democracy with a popular preference for democratic socialist conservatism.

The illusion of democratic socialist conservatives who were co-opted to support the Democratic Party in the recent election, instead of building up a democratic socialist “third party,” is that despite Barack Obama being a liberal progressive, his pragmatism offered the possibility of advancing popular socialist conservative aspirations, by the workings of Obama’s assumed political flexibility from a position of electoral strength.

The disdain of the deeper left democratic socialist conservatives who rejected Democratic Party co-optation, and saw only differences of appearance and not of substance between Obama’s pragmatism and Romney’s opportunism, led them to support the Green Party, or the Peace And Freedom Party, or to boycott the election.

Given the containment of the dominant popular preference on political economy, by an elite with an opposing political orientation, we can say that the United States is a nation of left conservatives under right progressives.


I wish to acknowledge Michael Neumann, professor of philosophy at Trent University at Ontario, Canada, who spurred my thinking on themes entwined in this essay. [But don’t blame him for the result.]


Bernie Sanders’ (and our) “revolution” is about the left conservatives (the 99%) throwing over the right progressives (the 1%).

Left Conservatives Under Right Progressives
3 December 2012

12 February 2016 is the 207th birthday of both Abraham Lincoln and Charles Darwin.