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The New Political Compass

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Every few hundred years in western history there occurs a sharp transformation. Within a few short decades, society —its world view, its basic values, its social and political structures, its arts, its key institutions—rearranges itself. And the people born then cannot even imagine a world in which their grandparents lived and into which their own parents were born. We are currently living through such a transformation.
Peter Drucker, Post-Capitalist Society

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New Political Compass, 167 kb

Today's politics is failing to deal with some of the most important issues of our time, and everyone knows it. National politicians deal with the few easy issues they can handle conventionally, while a growing number of issues are not handled at all.

Most polls tell us voters want politicians to get on with dealing with the big, difficult, emerging issues of our time, such as global warming, globalization, health care, education, biotechnology, giant corporations out of control, violence around the world, and the future of their children. But our political system is not supplying what people want. Voting remains at an all time low, reflecting widespread disgust with both the absence of good ideas and the dominance of big money. Survey upon survey shows over 70 percent of voters unhappy with politics and politicians. We are looking at the political equivalent of market failure: the breakdown of supply and demand.

What is it that voters want? The answer at least in part can be found in the wave of change that is going through western culture. A new constituency is emerging that is at home in neither the Democratic or Republican parties. As this constituency grows, we are seeing the decline of both Left and Right, and of both political parties.

I call the new constituency the New Progressives because they reflect the concerns of the social movements and consciousness movements that have emerged over the last 40 years. Some cut their teeth in the anti-nuclear movement, others in the civil rights movement or the women's movement. Even when they weren't directly involved in a cause, they tend to sympathize with its aims, so they reflect the wave of values change that has been emerging in American life over the past few decades, which is giving rise to the subculture I call Cultural Creatives.

The easiest way to describe this emerging political constituency is to say that they are at 90 degree angles to both the liberal Left and the social conservative Right, and they are directly opposed to big business conservatism. These “New Progressives” are not “the center” or mushy middle of Clinton lore. They tend to oppose corporate globalization and big business interests, and favor ecological sustainability, women's issues, consciousness issues, national health care, national education, and an emerging concern for the planet and the future of our children and grandchildren on it. Many of their issues are claimed by the Left, and sworn at by the Right, but their stance departs from both liberal Left and religious Right, as do business conservatives' stances.

This group is nearly invisible in the mainstream press. But the New Progressives are the biggest of the four constituencies at 36 percent of population and 45 percent of likely voters. If the New Progressives were mobilized under a single political tent, they could replace one of the political parties and dominate American politics for the next generation or more.

Left versus Right doesn't work any more
A century ago, Left vs. Right meant progressives and unionists vs. big business and maybe the Ku Klux Klan. But that was before nuclear weapons could destroy life on the planet, before the civil rights movement and women's movement, before the insurgent radicals of the religious Right came back into politics, and before saving the planet from ecological destruction and globalization became a huge issue. Both the issues and the constituencies of the US have evolved, but our political rhetoric stays frozen in century-old lingo and metaphors, and so have our political parties and our politicians.

When we add new data about values and political positions, it becomes obvious that this image of our politics is beyond inadequate, it's hopelessly wrong and misleading. With only 31 percent of the population fitting the image of Left versus Right, it simply doesn't have a future.

My data for the New Political Compass come from a 1995 values survey that included just enough political information to do this analysis. They don't cover all the issues and voter behavior we might ideally want; however, because they cover many issues, plus values and political affiliations, they do point clearly to what is emerging. The underlying structure of the data shows the opposition of liberal Left versus social conservative, crossed by the opposition of the New Progressives versus the Big Business Conservatives. The only ones left in the “center” are the politically alienated, the ignorant, and the studiedly apolitical.

he New Political Compass diagram on page 47 shows that all that remains of the secular liberal Left is 12 percent of the US adult population—about 15 percent of voters. Social conservatives, including the religious Right, are 19 percent—about 22 percent of voters. Those who vote with multinational Big Business Conservatives are at 14 percent of the US—19 percent of voters.

As we might expect, there is more similarity between liberals and New Progressives and between the two kinds of conservatives. However, while they may ally from time to time, the culturally conservative, Main Street Right often opposes the Wall Street big business Right. Worldwide, the traditionalism of social conservatives and the globalism of Big Business Conservatives are often deep enemies.

Likewise, the New Progressives may look Left to the rest of the polity, but they don't identify as “Left.” The New Progressives are less interested in the liberal Left's cultural struggle with the religious Right (East vs. West on the political compass) than they are with opposing the pro-globalization forces. The real “juice” in progressive politics is no longer with the class and union and rural-urban struggles of the early 1900s; instead, the growing edge is in the feminist, ecological, anti-globalization, pro-civil-rights, pro-peace, pro-health-care, pro-education, pro-natural/organic and even pro-spiritual movements that together make up the New Progressives.

As of 1995, the evolution of the four points to the compass wasn't complete, but that was seven years ago. Since then, the anti-corporate globalization movement came into existence, both in the anti-WTO-IMF-World Bank form and in the gathering in Porto Alegre of planetary democrats, where tens of thousands of people gathered under the banner, “Another World is Possible.” [See update by Walden Bello on page 50.] The war against terrorism, the meltdown in Argentina, and the collapse of Enron are further delegitimizing giant corporations. As that happens, we see a strengthening of the second dimension, the New Progressives versus Big Business Conservatives or North vs South on the political compass.

The New Progressives
The reframing of reality by new social movements is key to the New Progressives' worldview. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., didn't stop at issues of voting rights or the overturning of Jim Crow laws, for example. Instead, he reminded all Americans of their love for freedom, justice, and dignity, and showed that when some Americans are degraded, all are degraded.

Betty Friedan did not limit her framing of women's issues to the glass ceiling or pay equity; she showed that a majority of humanity is excluded from public life, and diminished at home and in gender relations.

Likewise, Rachel Carson was not simply asking polluters to stay out of her back yard; she was warning of the death of nature and warning that when birds and insects die, we and our children will soon follow.

The anti-nuclear movement reframed itself to became a pro-peace movement, incorporating conflict resolution and respectful communications into everyday life. The alternative health care movement focused on overall wellness, a concept that has permeated the awareness, if not the practice, of mainstream America.

Another reframing came with the recognition of inner experience as a source of authority. Beginning with the civil rights and women's movements, this seeking for inner authenticity quickly became part of the various consciousness movements, the peace movements, the spiritual side of the ecology movement, and the liberal churches. While this inner directedness was rarely a sign of enlightenment, it did indicate an inner searching and a growing maturity.

Along with these shifts came the insistence that cultural change is a valid part of the larger social change process. Most importantly, the inner dimensions of transformation were carried into political work, in the beginning causing dissonance with the more Left, macho activists.

The New Progressives have been going from movement to movement, retaining loyalties to one as they move to the next. They account for the convergence of all the movements into a common worldview and set of values. The New Progressives have developed new moral stances, new explanatory analyses, and new tactics and strategies founded in this emerging worldview. As each movement grew, New Progressives eventually adopted the movement's basic stance as part of their own worldview. If, as I estimate, the New Progressives are 36 percent of adults and 45 percent of voters, they represent a huge unmet political demand.

We stand at a watershed in politics where the two parties are weaker than they have been in over a century. There's room for immense creativity around the emerging agenda of the new millennium.

The New Progressives are well positioned to work with all the other three sides: with the social conservatives around bringing civility back into public life, with the Left on social justice and ecology, and with the business Right on efficiency issues. The key will be drawing upon the themes of the New Social Movements, proposing positive solutions, addressing hot-button issues that others won't touch, healing the loss of political trust that has degraded politics over the past 40 years, and using processes for dialogue and mobilization that are empowering and respectful. Doing so could allow the New Progressives to set agendas that will bring values of justice, sustainability, and compassion into public life for decades to come.


Download Paul Ray's full report:

pdf icon

New Political Compass, 167 kb

Paul Ray's website is www.culturalcreatives.org

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