Over the weekend, Christian Lindner, leader of the classical liberal party Free Democratic Party of Germany (FDP), had quite a moment of Internet fame: A video recording showed him holding a passionate, emotional speech criticizing the common absence of acceptance of entrepreneurial failure in Germany. His move was triggered by a member of the Social Democratic party who made a comment mocking Lindner’s own failure as a company founder. Unlike in the U.S. where failure often is considered being a step on the path to eventual success, Germans have little respect for entrepreneurial risk-taking that does not immediately turn out to be fruitful.
I am optimistic that Lindner’s speech will be quite impactful in regards to raising awareness for an important but still ignored topic. I did not hesitate to tweet about it, twice, and to post it on Facebook. After then I realized something: If seen in isolation, somebody who does not know me would likely conclude that I am a person closely sympathizing with the German liberals. Which I usually am not.
Not that I care much about whether I give this impression. But the event made me once again think about an issue that has been crossing my mind many times lately: The traditional political landscape with its scale from left via center to right and with the parties positioned along this range does not represent me or my political views at all. Consequently I have huge trouble to cast my vote for one of the traditional parties. Too often it would mean succumbing to a predefined set of ideologies which I in part do reject.
There are a couple of areas where I clearly sympathize with ideas that are traditionally represented by left-wing politics. At the same time identifying myself as a lefty and voting for a party representing left-wing ideas would mean giving up on a couple of other principles and ideas that I find too important to barter away. Nor would I be comfortable supporting right-wing, conservative or libertarian politicians, even if there are at least a few elements represented by this political classification that I do not completely reject. What about center parties? Well, at least in Germany, one either votes for center-left (Social Democrats) or center-right (Christian Democrats or FDP), so one is still bound to the system of left-right politics.
The left-right approach might have been an adequate way to explain, understand, simplify and describe politics in the past. But I believe that today’s world is too complex, polarized and complicated for a two-dimensional approach that forces people into a corset of thoughts. I miss at least a 3rd dimension, if not more. I am missing thought concepts that take elements and ideas from the complete spectrum of traditional politics, as well as introducing completely new aspects. That would open up new ways of thinking and it would free voters as well as politicians from ideological baggage that comes with the left-right range.
Why does it hardly happen that a left-wing politician or party member publicly praises a successful entrepreneur who became a billionaire while otherwise holding on to traditional left-wing positions?
Why does it hardly happen that a conservative politician or party member publicly takes an exceptional pro-environment stance or pro-equality stance while otherwise holding to traditional right-wing positions?
It is not because we humans only have two possible sets of values that are completely distinct from each other and that cannot be combined in new ways. The more likely reason is that the left-right ideology and the legacy of political history creates mental obligations, which in some cases even are reinforced by official requests for party/fraction discipline. Millions of individuals are expected to reduce and simplify their political, economical and social values and opinions so they fit into a rather narrow political corset. This cannot be the future.
I have not spent enough time with political theory to be able to outline how the introduction of additional dimensions could look like, or what else could be done. I can only speak as a voter. As a voter, I do not see myself fitting into the existing political ideologies and I do not feel represented by the left-right indicators. They all come with trade-offs that, in 2015, are too big to accept, in my eyes.
What are your thoughts? Do you recognize yourself or not?
Update: On Twitter Andreas Clever points to a concept called “Nolan Chart”, which does exactly what I describe in the post: Adding an additional dimension to the left-right line. Very interesting! Read more on Wikipedia.
(Illustration: Flickr/NotionsCapital, CC BY 2.0)