Most Americans favored local, horizontal organizations from the time of the earliest European settlements through the late 1700s. As a Christian society with an entrenched warrior ethos, the colonists’ approach to two fundamental questions placed them in the lower right quadrant of the political circle. The distribution of positions looked something like this ……
This set of answers placed the new society in conflict with the British government’s authoritarian controls. Ironically, the ensuing war began to push America’s political outlook upward on the circle.
Alexander Hamilton is one example of this shift. Wartime experiences convinced him that some form of concentrated control would be required in the nation’s affairs, leading him to argue for a strong central authority at the Constitutional Convention. He then helped to strengthen that approach as America’s first treasury secretary.
Therefore, in the early 1800s, the country’s collective power answer slowly began to shift from citizen-centric to centralist within the still-conservative, still-Christian, and still-capitalist nation. This trend accelerated during the Civil War, then reached its apex as new corporations like Standard Oil, US Steel, the railroads, and the House of Morgan drove the late nineteenth century economy. America held to the same values as in earlier times, but a new power answer was now dominant.
Populist movements led a backlash against the moguls’ power, however. In response, central government was made more robust. The core components were put in place around 1913, as the Federal Reserve, the popular election of U.S. Senators, and the income tax shifted influence from top-down corporations to institutions of government.
This trend accelerated under Woodrow Wilson and Franklin D. Roosevelt, as more bureaucracies and regulations were established in Washington DC. Later presidents consolidated those gains. Thus, the twentieth century became a golden age for the upper left quadrant. Power remained centralized, but the liberal values of cooperation, consensus, civil rights, and care for the commons gradually superseded the capitalistic conquests of America’s early industrial age.
A counterclockwise movement around the political circle can thus be discerned across a span of more than three hundred years. The eighteenth century favored the lower right quadrant. The nineteenth featured a shift to the upper right. And by the twentieth, the upper left was in control.
If the trend continues, another shift can be expected. Liberal values would remain dominant, but America’s power answer would become more decentralized, horizontal, emergent, and self-organizing. The lower left quadrant would rise ……
Two questions come to the fore. First, what would American society look like under an ascendant lower left quadrant? Second, how would the transition take place?
Characteristics of the New Paradigm
The lower left quadrant was largely depopulated in the twentieth century. But emerging signs of virulence are now visible. Grassroots trends like permaculture, functional medicine, and local sourcing find a home in this part of the circle. Related movements like vaccination choice, new urbanism, and homeschooling span the axis between lower quadrants.
Under citizen-empowered liberalism, the nation’s value structure would largely stay the same: issues like environmentalism, women’s equality, and LGBT rights would remain priorities.
In contrast, difficult changes would occur in the pragmatic arrangements of American life. Large bureaucracies, both public and commercial, would scale down. Entertainment conglomerates would fall from favor. Federal control and funding would diminish. Wall Street would retrench.
These losses would be offset by the growing influence of asymmetrically structured local communities. Free speech and transparency would be prioritized. Psychedelics usage would be legitimized, and possibly ceremonialized. A myriad of new organizations with diverse goals would emerge, featuring horizontal, fluid connections between members.
A shift of positional distribution toward the lower left would also impact the other quadrants. For example, the lower right would benefit because the upper left’s diminished influence would reduce the threat of Nanny State interventions. Similarly, conservative evangelicals would move lower on the circle, calculating that an alliance with the lower left would protect religious freedoms.
In contrast, centralist conservatives would fare poorly, due to a simple rule of political geometry: when one quadrant gains power, its diametric adversary loses power. Therefore, legacy corporations would languish, American military influence would decline, and the dollar would relinquish its reserve currency status …… among other limitations.
The remaining quadrant – the upper left – has the most to lose from a shift of influence. Therefore, its fate is closely tied to the other major question ……
What Would a Transition to Lower Left Dominance Look Like?
Would the process of change be organized and strategic? Or would it be disorderly? Might it begin with some kind of structure and then morph into chaos?
If the path were incremental, the lower left would have to build strong coalitions within the quadrant. Alliances would also have to be built between quadrants.
Initial indications of an internal coalition are emerging in the “free speech wing” of liberalism, a loose aggregation of free thinking, determined intellectuals. Similarly, nascent alliances between lower left and lower right can be seen in the diverse membership of informal groups like the IDW.
But after two centuries of holding the reins, centralists of the left and right would be unwilling to relinquish their grip on power. This is especially true of the upper left, which has already utilized unprecedented tactics to maintain control. An oligarchic alliance would attempt to stifle the lower left’s growing influence.
This alliance would be resisted by a different kind of left-right coalition: one formed at the bottom of the circle. The resulting vertically-oriented conflict would be intense but would likely be of limited duration. It could turn kinetic, or it could remain cold.
Carefully constructed alliances and coalitions might be bypassed, however. Instead, a runaway train of fiscal and financial dysfunction could create a cascading series of uncontrolled events. In this scenario, citizens would band into hastily constructed, locally cooperative communities just to survive.
So, transition scenarios are impossible to foresee in advance. But relationships between quadrants follow a predictable structure. If the lower left does gain influence, every other part of the circle will be forced to adjust.