The Framework of Consensus

For the purposes of this discussion, the goal is to reduce the actual complexity of a myriad of political and economic ideologies to a minimum. As such, the descriptions should only be seen as a broad generalisation of the concepts and issues, which may influence any perception of consensus. First, it is assumed that there is a definable different between an ideology and a philosophy in that an ideology seeks to change the world, while a philosophy may only seek to understand it. However, it possibly needs to be highlighted that different groups of people can have very different attitudes to change, which we might characterise, not necessarily explain, in terms of the following diagram.

If this characterisation has any validity, we might recognise that people in these different groups may develop a different worldview, which might then be associated with ideologies that have a different perspective on the scope of change. While there are many types of ideologies, we shall first simplify the scope of this discussion by defining only three basic groups of ideologies, i.e. religious, political and economic, but then ignoring the myriad of ideologies associated with religion, which has previously been discussed under the heading Human Perspective. As such, we shall only focus on the scope of political and economic ideologies, which are often entwined, because certain political ideologies are invariably drawn towards certain types of economic ideologies. As such, we might reduce the sum total of complexity to a much-simplified subset, but which still help characterise the problem of achieving consensus, if debate is both informed and rational.

In the diagram above, we might describe each of the four boxes as being generally representative of a type of ideology, held by an individual or group, which in a modern context seeks to control the political and economic systems of a nation-state. The scope of this control is then shown to range between complete individual freedom through to complete government control. So, while the goal of this discussion is trying to reduce the actual complexity of a multitude of competing variations within the ideological spectrum, we still need to clarify the terminology introduced. For, as per most discussions, terminology can be introduced as a form of shorthand, where a word or phrase is intended to infer meaning of some idea or concept, but where interpretation can be somewhat subjective. However, while the following definitions are only an attempt to mitigate misunderstanding, a degree of ambiguity may always persist when interpretation is subject to the confirmation bias of both the writer and reader.

  • Libertarian
    As shown bottom left, a libertarian prioritises individual liberty. As such, a libertarian will argue that liberty must be maintained in any change and, as a consequence, political and economic control by government should be minimised. However, there can still be much variance of opinion within this consensus, such that some libertarians accept some government regulation in order to curb the excesses of self-interest of some individuals, if detrimental to the freedom within a society as a whole. However, there may be no obvious consensus on this governance along the left-right spectrum of political opinion.

  • Totalitarian
    The scope of totalitarianism, top right, is an extreme form of authority, which in the current context will be associated with the collective state, i.e. government, rather than an individual. However, while totalitarianism might be seen as a political ideology that prohibits opposition, in most any form, it also tends to want to restrict the liberty of the individual and control the economic system of wealth distribution. However, if we were to characterise the nature of totalitarian governance, e.g. communism through to fascism, it may also be position anywhere on the left-right spectrum of political opinion.

  • Liberal
    While we might describe liberalism as an ideology that also supports personal liberty, it often requires government control to ensure individual rights, i.e. civil and human. As such, liberals will argue for democracy, secularism, gender equality, racial equality, internationalism, freedom of speech, freedom of the press and freedom of religion, but then require government regulation to prevent the excesses of capitalism. While this discussion is attempting to minimise the scope of terminology, some may perceive a similarity in the ideology, as described, between liberalism and socialism. While possibly too simplistic, it might be argued that the primary difference between these ideologies is essentially in their attitude to change, which in the case of socialism is much more under the control of central government. In this context, we might simply position socialism between liberalism and communism on the political spectrum.

  • Conservative
    In terms of the previous diagrams, conservative might be described as being more cautious about change than liberals and want the control of change to be reflected in the political governance. However, conservatives believe in personal responsibility and limited governance of a free market economy, which parallels some of the traits of libertarianism, although the latter are more likely to reject almost any political governance. While many identify conservatism on the right of the political spectrum, it is possibly better described as a political attitude, rather than an ideology, especially given its general objection to radical change. In this context, the central principles of conservatism might be described in terms of traditional values, the need for authority, inclusive of a respect for property and support for institutions that have stood the test of time.

As already admitted, the scope of these definitions is extremely simplistic, where in reality the neat distinction between the four boxes in the previous diagram can blur into an almost continuous spectrum of political and economic ideological differences. As such, the framework is really only intended to highlight the problem of establishing any wide consensus, when people have so many different opinions, which is possibly why people are given so little choice when it comes to political governance or the regulation of the economy.

What other factors might be considered in this framework?

Well, the issue of globalism and nationalism has already been outlined as an issue that can also divide opinion. However, while globalism might be associated with a range of political and economic ideologies, it is possible that nationalism is better described more as a social movement. Historically, we might recognise that institutions with political and economic influence might generally favoured the globalist agenda, if it is perceived to forward their self-interests.

Note: Many who favour globalism are naturally a beneficiary of this perceived progress, freed from their cultural past to pursue their own self-interests in terms of financial renumeration and opportunity. However, it has to be recognised that many do not perceive such benefits and are often left to cope with the negative aspects of mass migration compounded by imposed austerity measures that still persist as a result of earlier economic mismanagement. 

In contrast to the influence of global institutions. nationalism is often constrained to be a social movement localised within a specific geography, which reflects a given cultural and national identity, such that its influence may be limited in scope. In this respect, many social movements do not hold much political or economic influence beyond the power of mass protest.

Note: If this general assessment is not too biased, then it might also be suggested that the supporters of globalism might be in a better position to leverage its power to influence opinion in order to forge a perceive consensus that appears to support its interests.

Of course, we might question the perspective expressed in the note above, if the majority within any population are not the beneficiary of globalism. However, this issue returns us to the nature of any consensus and whether a majority opinion is ever really sought within any political system, irrespective of whether it is democratic or authoritarian in scope. As such, we possibly need to consider the practical limits of any consensus .