Undoubtedly, symbolism is one of the biggest weaknesses of human beings. The need to label complex thoughts is a natural drive to enhance the efficiency of thinking by compressing related meanings into one word. While conceptualisation is rather useful, symbolism is a form of simplification that, over time, reduces our capacity to process more complex thoughts. Among the most prominent symbolised aspects are political thoughts. In contemporary political systems, cognitive decline is so advanced that we generally only differentiate between two sides of political thinking: left and right (click here to read more). With one of these two words, many very complex thoughts, systems and concepts are associated and even equated. Not only does that hinder fully engaging with the very important concepts but at some point, the definitional strength suffers and concepts start to carry different meanings. Among political scientists, the political spectrum, established by Hans Eysenck, extended the binary categorisation of left and right by adding a y-axis and, thus, a second dimension to it: l libertarian and authoritarian. Though this valuable extension offers more options to categorise political thought, it remains insufficient. In this article, the Political Cube is presented – an encompassing political tool to locate and measure political ideas.
Establishing this new concept is a necessary step in re-diversifying political thinking but also to more effectively analyse political ideas and, even more so, policies. It is a logical enhancement in the development of our political thinking that has only been one-dimensional (left vs. right) and two-dimensional (left/right vs. libertarian/authoritarian). We need a third dimension to accurately deal with politics. The Political Cube is, thus, based on the idea of Hans Eysenck. In his x/y-axis, four different fields emerge: (i) left/authoritarian (prominently Stalin’s & Mao’s governments), (ii) right/authoritarian (prominently Bush’s governments), (iii) left/libertarian (prominently present-day Netherlands) and (iv) right/libertarian (prominently Obama’s government). The x-axis reaches from left to right and describes the degree of government intervention and redistribution in the economy. While on the left side, governments display a high degree of redistribution efforts, on the right side, redistribution of economic resources is kept to a minimum. The y-axis, however, describes the invasiveness of policy measures or political thinking in general. While libertarian policymaking is non-restrictive and emphasises societal fluidity, authoritarian policymaking is highly restrictive and emphasises control.
Main Properties of the Cube
All of the above are valid and useful categorisations, which is why they are also present in the political cube. However, instead of “left” and “right”, redistributive and non-redistributive are used to describe the properties on the x-axis, in order to increase this concept’s accuracy. The main aspect of the political cube, as opposed to the political spectrum, is that it has a third dimension, the z-axis. Here, emotional is at the one end. It describes the policy measure or political idea as emotionally oriented, meaning that a policy action is either based on emotional arguments or is aimed to achieve an emotional outcome, such as a campaigning strategy or a decision to conduct a certain military action. But we can also apply the argument of emotionality also to ideas and ideologies as a whole. Thought systems that are predominantly driven by emotional arguments, for example, populist ideas, and less by technical knowledge are quite common but find seldom their place in the empiric realm. With the extension to a third dimension, those thoughts can be located and therefore more accurately analysed.
Next, the other extreme of the z-axis, the third dimension, is called technocratic. It is, of course, the exact opposite of emotionality and refers to a state of pure rationality. The more a policy measure adheres to the state of the art of political science, the higher it is to be located on this axis. Ideologies that are technical and detached from emotional assessment, such as Devletism, fall under this category, too. It does not follow that ideologies are exclusive in the sense that they do not allow for policy actions that lay on the side of emotionality; emotional policymaking, if intended and being the objectively most efficient way, is then to be counted as technocratic policymaking. The same could also be said of emotional policymaking: if a policy course is coincidentally one of the objectively best options, then it does not make this policy action a rational one if it was not intended and rather based on emotional drivers. But this is also due to the fact that ideologies encompass a whole set of thoughts, skills and beliefs, while policy actions are rather isolated and can be located better. Looking at them, however, in terms of how technocratic they are is essential because it defines the empirical depth of any political component we are looking at. Without analysing to what extent rational or emotional factors drove this component to the place in the cube where it is, we lack significant information about the background and potential implications for the future.
Types of Governments and Use in Analysis
From the above, it follows that our number of prototype governments increased to eight. The states in brackets indicate examples of such states:
– redistributive/libertarian/technocratic (European Union)
– redistributive /authoritarian/technocratic (China)
– redistributive /libertarian/emotional (Germany)
– redistributive /authoritarian/emotional (France)
– non-redistributive/libertarian/technocratic (Japan)
– non-redistributive /authoritarian/technocratic (Russia)
– non-redistributive /libertarian/emotional (United Kingdom)
– non-redistributive /authoritarian/emotional (USA)
The added z-axis aids our understanding of how states approach policymaking. For example, the European Union and China are highly technocratic political systems, which are built on very well-functioning bureaucracies. Such similarity cannot be displayed within the existing two-dimensional models, in which those two political spheres are often viewed as stark opposites. On the side, the USA and Russia are considered to be vastly different. In this model, however, we see that those two states are quite alike in two of the three dimensions (right/authoritarian). What separates them is the approach to policymaking and the policy choices that ultimately are implemented. Such a distinction makes it easier to understand state behaviour and craft the according policies. Also, other states can better respond to state actions when the nature of the state and its policymaking are clearer.
With the extension of the political spectrum by these two values on the z-axis, the categorisations merely doubled from four to eight. However, the three-dimensional space now offers more opportunities to accommodate more political streams and define them more accurately. For example, we can view taxation policies within this cube through a more differentiated lens. All of a sudden, it is not a matter of higher or lower taxes anymore (one dimension) or about the form of taxes (two dimensions), but we can now even consider the background of this policy course through the utilisation of the third dimension. In this example, taxation policies can be mainly based on economic considerations or be informed by social-political aims. Since the two-dimensional spectrum does not account for such aspects, we tend to overload the existing two axes with the needed input, thus, distorting the true meaning of the concepts. This, in turn, affects the population negatively and makes it more vulnerable to manipulation. When there is ambiguity around concepts, skilled manipulators can attach other meanings to them as they please.
Concluding, the Political Cube is not to be understood as competition to the existing frameworks of political categorisation; it is just the next step in its development. Also, political categorisation is just a minor step before and after political analysis. It merely serves as a basis for slightly more efficient political analysis and also bares the danger of, once again, being misused by people who desperately need to simplify complex political processes. However, in this form, the political cube is a very useful tool to locate policies, policymaking strategies and political ideas. By locating them correctly, we can sketch more accurate maps of politics altogether and maybe identify imbalances. It is an exciting new tool. Hopefully, it will find its way into the toolboxes of politicians and political scientists.