Most Americans are disappointed, or even disgusted, with American politics. We frequently describe major elections as "a choice between the lesser of two evils." Many of us are abandoning politics altogether, or at least the major parties. Today 42% of Americans identify as “Independent,” outnumbering Republicans at 25% and Democrats at 31%. We dislike both major parties, giving Democrats and Republicans disapproval ratings as high as 60% and 73% respectively. Americans clearly detest their political choices. Harry Binswanger knows why.
In a piece for Forbes Magazine, Binswanger provides an analogy that explains why the average American has become so apathetic about politics:
Suppose that someone proposed a Right-Left axis for eating, saying that the extreme Right is to eat arsenic and the extreme Left is to eat cyanide. The choice would only be: which poison do you want to die from? And the “moderates” would then be those who eat a mixture of arsenic and cyanide. What would be omitted from this setup? Food.
In Binswanger’s analogy, “food” is Americanism – characterized by individual rights, equality and liberty. The poisons are different flavors of statism – meaning centralized power, classism and subjugation. His point is that a political spectrum where facism is at one end and communism at the other end is absurd, not to mention uncivilized. Both of those ends are evil, and any “spectrum” where both ends are the same color is no a spectrum at all – it can only have one color throughout.
The American nation’s greatest accomplishment is its continuing demonstration that the true spectrum of human politics ranges not between different forms of statist domination, but from statism to individualism. This was a triumph indeed, considering that mankind’s default political condition throughout history has been characterized by statism. Clans, kingdoms and empires have almost universally claimed that their authority was boundless, and that their subjects possessed no rights that weren’t granted to them. No walk through human political history can help but become a dismal tromp from one oppressive, statist regime to another. The ancient Greeks were the first to seriously break the pattern and take a meaningful step toward individualism, but they were not able to maintain their breakthrough. Despots took hold and the Greeks sunk back into statism. Thousands of years later, the American nation resurrected the idea of individualism. We codified the world’s first viable system of inalienable human rights protected by the state, which stands in stark contrast to humanity’s history of revocable permissions granted by the state. Our civilization quickly became the most notable in both political and economic history. The nations that followed in our footsteps have benefitted immeasurably. We introduced the flower of human freedom into the modern world. Why would we now use a political spectrum where human freedom doesn’t even appear? After having climbed a few stairs out of civilization's swamp, why would we pretend we had jumped back down into it?
Binswanger claims that the American political spectrum should continue to be Left-and-Right, where Left represents statism but Right represents individualism (as it once did). A modern Americanist might look at this spectrum a different way. If we can agree that oppression is bad, and freedom is good, isn’t it more convenient to turn that spectrum on its side, so it is vertical? At the bottom is supreme government, mankind’s ugly default state. At the top is the supreme individual, the pinnacle of civilization. Now we have a scale that is more useful, because not only does it measure our political choices, but also the sophistication of our civilization.
Next time you hear an American lament our dismal choices between facism and communism, they may be pleased if you correct them. Not only is the true alternative of individualism far more likeable, it is America’s foremost specialty. Most importantly, it is the only idea in the world that has the power to fix American politics.