Sometimes just getting some vocabulary described is useful, especially for future reference. If you disagree with this vocabulary, please point it out, so I can figure out if any of it’s wrong. In the meantime, I think this is all pretty analytically useful.
On any policy issue, there tends to be two and only two spectrums it might fall:
Social control by the government (what things are morally or game-theoretically acceptable, like drug usage, speech, sexuality, etc)
Economic control by the government (taxing the wealthy, welfare state, etc)
The reason these two groupings are useful, is that anyone who is on one end of the spectrum on some issues (say, social libertarian), is very certain to share that perspective on all issues at that end of that spectrum. There may be various issues that defy these categories and analytically aren’t useful (for instance, gun control might seem like social control… but most gun apologists are advocating the government use more draconian social policy to lower crime, and vice versa), but outside just sheer pork-centered self interest, these are pretty accurate categories.
Once we accept these two spectrums, we see where the binary identifiers people are grouped into, come from.
Left: Social freedom, economic control
Right: Social control, economic freedom
Is very different from
Libertarian: Social freedom, economic freedom
Authoritarian/Communitarian: Social control, economic control
And the thought that goes into each of those positions is very different. It’s just important to remember that a position on one spectrum, doesn’t deny the validity of the other spectrum, or mean that since you intersect on one issue, you will on another. It’s also important to note where some people are getting their beliefs from, deep down, and how any reconciliation deep down is impossible. (Or that people you may disagree with on other issues… can still find common ground on new ones.)
But there is another spectrum brought to light most recently by the passing of the Pope.
Anti-materialist Vs. Materialist. (which could also be Deontologist vs. Consequentialist)
Like the previous two spectrums, this does not correlate with other spectrums, but to ignore this is very foolhardy. This libertarian appeal to the Pope to support capitalism instead of socialism on materialist grounds is the type of foolishness I am talking about. One key use of this is watching how the Republicans turn from a Right-Materialist party into a Authoritarian/Communitarian-Anti-Materialist party, be it in our President’s speeches or arch-conservative Rick Santorum’s conversion to the minimum wage; this is not centrism or compromise, but a change in philosophy.
I leave it as an exercise to the reader where or if "Centrist vs. Extremism" is a useful analytical category, or correlated with other spectrums.