One thing has become remarkably clear over the last while – that the old "left and right" division of political views is frankly meaningless today. Left and Right represent almost directly opposite viewpoints between the US and Europe for one thing and the names talk about the two major viewpoints in politics as they existed shortly after the French revolution – while ignoring most of the nuances that real people tend to think and actively encouraging the most annoying problem in modern politics – which is to split all of politics into a simple two-sided coin without consideration for the fact that somebody may feel different on a specific issue (or set of issues) to how he feels about others.
The political compass attempts to address this and makes a good effort with fairly solid scientific criteria, but it occurred to me while preparing a character for a new dungeons and dragons campaign yesterday, that DnD has actually already achieved almost the exact same summary of views as the political compass – and done so much more concisely.
The only tricky bit is that in real life, nobody ever admits to being evil – especially the ones who are, but then – which insane warlord has ever called himself an insane warlord ? But if you look at how the word is defined in DnD it's really not that wrong. DnD declares alignment on two axis – the first refers to your approach to law, order and authority (this is the equivalent to the compass's north-south axis) and the second refers to how the characters treat other people (good, neutral, evil).
For those not into DnD let me explain how these alignments work and how they combine. The legal alignment comes in lawful, neutral or chaotic.
- Lawful characters are absolutely obedient to laws and authority, they believe in order above all and never question the status quo. The most difficult thing for a lawful character to ever do would be to question his superiors. Knights would almost always play lawful characters.
- Neutral characters pragmatists. They see the law as useful and needed, but not as something to admire or revere – they will question laws and work to end bad laws. If authority is wrong they will question it, but they won't actively lead a rebellion except as a last resort. Many classes fall in this area, a typical wizard for example will often be neutral.
- Chaotic characters are actively opposed to all forms of law and authority and will actively and deliberately ignore rules and work against authority whenever they want to.
Then there is the social alignment:
- Good characters are primarily concerned with the welfare of others. They are selfless about working to defend the weak, feed the hungry and all their actions are governed by intensely caring attitudes toward others. Almost all healing classes are aligned as good.
- Neutral characters are unconcerned with other people's welfare – they won't go out of their way to help others, but they don't actively try to harm them either (unless the gain is very good) They care about their own success and believe that the success and happiness of ever other member of society is their own responsibility.
- Evil characters are selfish and care only for their own advancement and needs. They will actively and readily harm others to get their way. If somebody has something an evil character wants, they will take it, even if they have to kill the other person to get it.
These are then combined to create a particular type of character. Some make great sense, some combinations need a bit of thinking about. Lawful good characters are often public protector types, part of the system – believing that over-all the social structures benefit others and working for the good of the people in them while obeying orders meticulously.
Lawful evil characters obey the rules, but actively harm or exploit others – the head enforcer of a corrupted state who actively enforces draconian rules passed from above would be a perfect example of a lawful evil character.
Chaotic evil is the one most GM's actively try never to deal with as they are a nightmare in campaigns. Only caring for themselves they disobey laws and orders they don't feel like and will harm others (including party members) for personal gain whenever they feel there is a gain to be made. This is the thief without honor.
Now taking this approach out of the DnD world and applying it to politics can be a fun (and sensible) way I think of considering how political ideas and systems (and people) work, and interact with each other. Let's take some examples:
Lawful Good: The Dalai Llama is a good example of this. Living by a strict code of behavior himself but altruistic and peace-loving in the extreme (fighting for his people through strictly pacifist means) – these are the hallmarks of lawful good at it's strongest. Ghandi would be another example. A less extreme example would be U.S. President Barack Obama. A holder of authority (and in some ways an expander there-off) who believes in the validity of that authority and the rule of law, but ultimately with what seems to be a genuine concern for the welfare of his people.
Lawful Neutral: This is the typical modern day American Republican and hardcore capitalist. They are authoritarian about social norms and other matters which many would consider to be personal choice, while being highly against regulations about economic or social welfare matters as they believe that in these case individual choice and responsibility are all that matters. Their neutral economics are not per se harmful (nor is it good) but it does have the downside of actively enabling those who are evil. By not wanting constraints on any economic activity – they remove the constraints that stop others from acting with evil intent.
Lawful Evil: This is the ones who take authoritarianism to extremes and create police states where the rule of law is absolute and unquestioned, civil rights have disappeared and the people live in fear. Stalin, Hitler, Pol Pot … most of history's greatest butchers in fact were lawful evil. Lawful yes, because they believed and promoted the power of the state, evil because they abused that power at the expense of their own (and other) people. Another variation would be Al Queda. Believing in an absolute authority and law system - to the point of their willingness to murder and terrorize all who do not agree with it.
Neutral Good: Nelson Mandela is the obvious example. He wasn't lawful – since he actively rebelled against a legal system he was opposed to (to the point of committing high treason in fact), but his intentions were the betterment of his people. Later he would go down in history for his forgiving and reconciling attitude to the people who had harmed his people in the first place. I can think of hardly a better example of Neutral Good and how he interacted with the Lawful Evil of the system he replaced once he was in power only strengthens that.
Neutral Neutral: The perfect middle of the road pragmatist. You will find something like this in the system of the Netherlands for example. Where laws are lax on things that do not really affect other people - but considered important in the matters that do, and society is generally caring but not outright socialist. This is about the closest I can find, Netherlands may actually be too far to the "Good" side to qualify, it's a tricky one and seems to have very few true adherents. Perhaps proving that all people have biases and true pragmatism is somewhat of an idealistic proposal.
Neutral Evil: Jacob Zuma. Most other corrupt politicians. They aren't chaotic – they form part of the power structure and promote it and obey it's laws when convenient, but will disobey if there is sufficient personal gain. Due to their position – this disobedience for personal gain must inevitably harm others, since they know this and don't care (in fact they do not wish to see upliftment for their people as it would weaken their powerbase) – this makes them evil.
Chaotic Evil: The bad guy in XXX. This is the character whose insistence on anarchism is both extreme and selfish, they do not believe their freedom should be constrained by "not harming others" and will actively seek the destruction of all power and authority systems even at the cost of innocent lives. I used a fictional example first as it's easily recognized but make no mistake that plenty of real examples exist. Timothy McVeigh was chaotic/evil aligned. All corporations are Chaotic Evil. They flaunt and disobey laws whenever they can, and care only about one thing: profit. They are in fact legally constructed not to be allowed to be anything but this.
Chaotic Neutral: American Libertarianism (or Capitalist Libertarianism), this is the realm of those who believe in true individual freedom without concern for others. They aren't intent on harming others but believe that other people's happiness and success are their own responsibility and society must not enforce any systems to care for and uplift them – leaving all charity down to personal choice. Chaotic Neutral thinkers tend not to be particularly harmful themselves but like Lawful Neutral they actively enable Chaotic Evil by removing any barriers to their operation.
Chaotic Good: This is the realm of Joseph Proudhorn and all European/Socialist Libertarians. This is the thinking style that true equality must be both civil and economic to be meaningful. This is very much the philosophy I personally ascribe to. Chaotic Good politics want to see the greats possible (if not complete) removal of state authority, deeming all laws ultimately harmful and preffering direct-democratic systems to govern communities on a small scale with instantly recallable structures to prevent power build-ups which can be abused. Deeply concerned with the welfare of their fellow man they reject the enablement of chaotic evil people and enterprises and will instead promote cooperations and worker-owned business over all else as fair and just ways to do business for the benefit of all rather than the few and to prevent the role of "manager" from simply being yet another type of authority to abuse.
See ? It works !