Political compass

by Chris Bertram on October 31, 2003

“Brian Leiter”:http://webapp.utexas.edu/blogs/archives/bleiter/000399.html and “Larry Solum”:http://lsolum.blogspot.com/2003_10_01_lsolum_archive.html#106748057295088488 have been posting about the political compass test. “Brian”:http://webapp.utexas.edu/blogs/archives/bleiter/000415.html#000415 finds the rightist bias of law professors depressing and expresses hope that more of the blogosphere’s philosophers will take the test (including me). So here goes. And yes, unsurprsingly, there I am in the “bottom left-hand quadrant”:http://www.digitalronin.f2s.com/politicalcompass/questionnaire.pl?page=printable_graph&X=-4.88&Y=-6.36 . I’m not sure about the company I’m keeping, though. George Orwell, Tom Paine and even Joseph Stiglitz and the Dalai Lama I can live with, but Naomi Klein and Tariq Ali? This chart needs another dimension.



Sindelar 10.31.03 at 10:39 am

And Hobbes as on the authoritarian right?


Mike Jones 10.31.03 at 1:37 pm

Welcome to the neighborhood! :-)

Mike (-4.75, -6.46) Jones


Thorley Winston 10.31.03 at 2:12 pm

Bottom-right but given the wording of the questions and the lack of a “N/A” option, I left about half of them blank. There were too many questions that offered a false choice or when neither “agree” nor “disagree” would accurately represent my views. I rather suspect that the creator(s) of the test were rather biased on the left (or probably just British) and it showed in the wording of many of the questions and no doubt in how the answers were scored.

I tend to prefer Bryan Caplan’s Libertarian Purity Test as a more accurate barometer of my own views (score 71), given that the questions have more of an actual relationship to how one perceives the proper role of government in different areas without forcing the test taker to make any false choices because of the wordingn of a question.



marc 10.31.03 at 2:24 pm


I agree that this survey is poorly written. One of the worst features is the prevelence of compound thoughts which one is asked to agree/diagree to. I was not sure which way to answer, and eventually gave up.


Thorley Winston 10.31.03 at 3:09 pm

Marc wrote:

I agree that this survey is poorly written. One of the worst features is the prevelence of compound thoughts which one is asked to agree/diagree to. I was not sure which way to answer, and eventually gave up.

That’s pretty much the problem I had although I just left the question blank and it still tallied my score. Some of them I purposefully left blank because I anticipated that my answer would be read in a manner which might distort my political views (such as the abortion question). It really was not a helpful survey IMNHO.


Brian Weatherson 10.31.03 at 3:09 pm

I was

Economic Left/Right: -0.75
Libertarian/Authoritarian: -5.64

This is a point Matthew Yglesias has made several times, but it’s worth making again.

If you thought a 1D graph obscured things, you’ll probably think the 2D graph isn’t much better. I tend to have fairly extreme economic views, for instance. I tend to favour what are (at least by American standards) extremely pro-union, pro-worker positions (I think the minimum wage should be $8 to $10, for example), and I’m happier than most to resort to regulation at the first sign of market failure. But I’m also strongly free-trade, especially anti-tariffs. I don’t think a tax that discriminates between people who buy goods from other countries and people who don’t is morally defensible, whether or not it’s economically useful. (It isn’t, but that’s somewhat beside the point.)

But do I come out as an extremist here? No, my extreme views ‘balance out’ by their lights. (Though it’s not as if this is a particularly original position – I take it I’m just in the tradition of the pro-labour wing of the 19th century British Liberal Party.) So I turn out to be a ‘moderate’. C’est la vie.


Russell Arben Fox 10.31.03 at 3:29 pm

I’ve never liked these tests. Not necessarily because they are inaccurate–though I agree with the criticisms made in these comments here–but because they always emphasize what I already know: that almost everybody, when put to the test, expresses libertarian rather than communitarian sympathies; and that almost nobody ever joins me in the upper-left hand corner. And then the test makes me feel even better by telling me that if I happen to believe that social cohesion and personal happiness requires a defense of both economic equality and civic morality, then I must be cut from the same cloth as Vladimir Lenin. Delightful.

Economic Left/Right: -6.25
Libertarian/Authoritarian: 1.56

(More on my view of these tests here: http://philosophenweg.blogspot.com/2003_09_01_philosophenweg_archive.html#106452049985483597)


Keith M Ellis 10.31.03 at 4:38 pm

I’m a little surprised by my result (I’m also in the bottom left quadrant):

Economic Left/Right: -1.25
Libertarian/Authoritarian: -3.54

I’m a pretty strong believer in the efficiency of markets and trade, so it’s a surprise to find myself on the left side of the economic spectrum.

Being an American, at first I thought this was just another of those common (around these parts, anyway) 2D libertarian tests; which it is, sorta. But there’s something funny, to my American sensibilities, about the economic axis. I’m guessing that on the libertarian test, I’d score farther to the “right”. Although I should hasten to add that there’s no guarantee of that, since in regards to economics, my libertarianism is *not* _philosophically_ derived. It’s pragmatic. In this sense, libertarians and myself are fellow travelers, but very different creatures.

Anyway, I think this test reveals an important distinction between how Americans and Europeans (not sure how Canadians factor into this) think about the “left/right” dichotomy. Perhaps because Americans are so far to the “right”, economically-speaking, of Europeans, the left/right sorting principle here in the US is primarily _social_, not economic. I’m very far to the left on most social issues, and it’s for that reason I primarily self-identify to the left. And since my supposed rightward economic tilt is very much _not_ built around what I sense is the conservative entitlement mentality that rationalizes inequity and fetishizes material wealth, I certainly _don’t_ identify with them—and thus I don’t think of myself as a “rightist” on economic matters, either. I’m an odd duck (but comparable to people like Brad DeLong, I think) because I support markets and trade for social justice reasons. I mean, I _want_ jobs to move from the US to developing countries.

I know there are social scientists here. And people with stronger analytical skills. I’ve been wondering for a long time why isn’t there (more) effort to empirically derive the “correct” dimensionality of socio/politico/economic clustering? Test a sample population on a large number of issues, and use analytical tools to find the dimensionality that shows the most distinct clustering.

For a while now, I’ve believed that the traditionalism/progressivism affinity is actually the first order political sorting principle. (Although that’s not really true in my case, interestingly.) Following that are the anarchism/authoritarianism and the cynical/trusting affinities.


CdM 10.31.03 at 5:11 pm

Keith Ellis makes some good points. I posted a comment a year or two ago to a different discussion forum, suggesting that the economic dimension of this test conflates views about appropriate economic policies and views about distributive justice. Somewhat like Keith Ellis (I think), I place myself far to the left on distributive justice, but my economic training also means that I often favor market solutions to economic questions. (And like Keith, I am broadly pro-globalization in part because I think it has desirable redistributive consequences.) On average, this may make me resemble Naomi Klein, but the average is definitely misleading.


Ian 10.31.03 at 5:31 pm

For what its worth the Political compass put me roughly where I thought I was (on 20/08/03 I was
Economic Left/Right -5.88/Libertarian/Authoritarian -4.97). As a matter of record this is posted in the About section of my Blog. I intend to update it from time to time – it does change)


Dick 10.31.03 at 5:58 pm

Jerry Pournelle (not a name often mentioned over here) had a 2 x 2 breakdown on attitude to the state crossed with attitude to reason; scale ran from Hate to Worship, as I recall. His second dimension would be a nice third on this brealdown.

I thought those compound questions were deliberate. Force you to choose under pressure.


Micha Ghertner 10.31.03 at 9:07 pm

Keith, not all libertarians base their arguments or beliefs on moral claims. David Friedman, for example, is about as extreme a libertarian can get, yet he rejects most of the libertarian philosophical claims as either false or so based on personal intuition as to be useless for political discourse.

I’ve been trying to move away from arguing politics on philosophical grounds to focusing more on economics and pragmatism. I wish more people would do the same.


sidereal 10.31.03 at 9:51 pm

I also found the questions irritatingly loaded. My gut feeling was it’d put almost everyone in the bottom left quadrant, more or less (and that’s where it put me). Even though relative to the (wide variety of) people I communicate with, I’d put myself solidly in the bottom right.


drapetomaniac 10.31.03 at 10:08 pm

Precisely why is the Dalai Lama less objectionable than Naomi Klein or Tariq Ali? Do you find yourself having cozy feelings about theocratic authoritarianism as well as empire?


Thorley Winston 10.31.03 at 10:57 pm

Speaking of sci-fi authors and politics, here’s another questionaire:



Some of the questions are just as loaded (e.g. “right hand approach versus left hand approach”) as the original survey on this thread, but he does pose at least a few interesting questions IMNHO.

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