Coming to Terms with Politics

In the southeast, we recently endured a massive hurricane. When reflecting on the state of politics in our nation and around the world, a hurricane felt like an applicable metaphor. Winds of warring ideologies buffet around us. Debris in the form of hurtful words and misleading information damage our perspective. While some of us have been whipped into a frenzy, others want to hunker down to ride out the storm. We need aid for a clear understanding and a faithful response. The following may serve as refresher for you, or it may clarify things for the first time. Regardless, I hope it will serve you as you teach the kids and students in your own lives.

At God’s WORLD News, we love our maps. The graphic below of the political spectrum allows us to plot positions of political parties, figures, or even countries. As children get used to maps, they begin to recognize shared geographical features. The furthest sides of map actually share borders and oceans. Shared latitude, longitude, or altitude come with shared characteristics. Similarly, as we look at a political “map” we can more easily see shared characteristics, commitments, or methods in politics—and more clearly discern their differences.

You may be familiar with the political spectrum as represented in a straight line, rather like a number line for math. In politics as with math, one axis goes only so far in its ability to communicate. A “y” and even “z” axis are necessary to help us visualize further dimensions.

In the following graph, the left/right axis represents the spectrum of economic policy. On this axis, the far-left is a government-driven economy and the far-right is a free-market economy. The up/down axis represents social policy, from authoritarian (up) to libertarian (down). This more fully orbed understanding shows the insufficiency of terms like “leftist” and “hard-right” when describing political parties or leaders. They just aren’t complete enough. It also proves the misapplication of terms like “fascist” or “communist”—terms slung around like mud during elections season.

This video supplies a short, clear commentary appropriate to use with students trying to understand the subtitles of government, economics, and politics. It is the source for the following graph:


When my co-workers and I took the test, it dawned on us: Tools like this have trouble plotting a Christian view of society, economics, and politics. This test synthesizes our Christian family values with our mercy-mindedness and winds up plotting us as centrists. In reality, our views are not centrist at all. Our worldview gives us a strong view on a set of issues that don’t fit neatly into accepted categories, so by secular measure, we end up looking noncommittal.

In reality, our views are not centrist at all. Our worldview gives us a strong view on a set of issues that don’t fit neatly into accepted categories.

Teaching ideas: Try taking the survey. What do you learn from its questions? What do you learn from your results? Try printing the graph above and plotting the following alphabetized terms (simplified from dictionaries and encyclopedias found online) accurately with your kids and students and ask them what they notice as they do.

Capitalism: an economic system characterized by private or corporate ownership of capital goods, investments determined by private decision, and prices, production, and the distribution of goods determined mainly by competition in a free market.

Classical Liberalism: a political tradition that advocates free market and laissez-faire economics, civil liberties under the rule of law with emphasis on individual autonomy, limited government, economic freedom, political freedom, and freedom of speech.

Communism: a totalitarian system of government in which a single authoritarian party controls state-owned means of production; a final stage of society in Marxist theory in which the state has withered away and economic goods are distributed equitably.

 Conservatism: disposition in politics to preserve what is establisheda political philosophy based on tradition and social stability, stressing established institutions, and preferring gradual development to abrupt change specifically such a philosophy calling for lower taxes, limited government regulation of business and investing, a strong national defense, and individual financial responsibility for personal needs (such as retirement income or health-care coverage).

Fascism: a political philosophy, movement, or regime that exalts nation and often a race above the individual and that stands for a centralized autocratic government headed by a dictatorial leader, severe economic and social regimentation, and forcible suppression of opposition.

Liberalism: a political philosophy based on belief in progress, the essential goodness of the human race, and the autonomy of the individual and standing for the protection of political and civil liberties specifically such a philosophy that considers government as a crucial instrument for amelioration of social inequities (such as those involving race, gender, or class).

 Socialism: any of various economic and political theories advocating collective or governmental ownership and administration of the means of production and distribution of goods; a system of society or group living in which there is no private property; a system or condition of society in which the means of production are owned and controlled by the state.

I hope that as you look out at the political landscape, these tools sharpen your thinking and evaluating as you prayerfully discern who fits the bill for leadership, and as you train your children and students in the same discernment.

As a student, economics baffled me. On the other hand, I remember the clarity that came with my history teacher’s description of the various political philosophies and movements and where they fell on a political graph not unlike the one above. What do you remember from government and economics class as a student? What tools do you use as you help your kids and students understand the world in which we live? Email me at:  I’m learning with you–and listening!

Kelsey Reed

Kelsey Reed