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Why Political Organizations Always Drift Off Left: O’Sullivan’s Law, Experienced

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Activism: As the Pirate Party slowly veered to the left in politics, I got to experience Sullivan’s Law, which states that organizations that don’t outright declare themselves otherwise will inevitably drift off to the political left. The law doesn’t explain this phenomenon, but I think I can.

The Pirate Party was unique in its composition of activists. Whereas most political organizations can plot the political attitudes of their activists to a bell curve on the political left-to-right scale, that is, the organization can identify a clear peak and center mass where they lie politically, the Pirate Party instead had a complete empty trough in the middle, with waves crashing into the left and right wall on the left-to-right spectrum plot.

We had the most fervent anarchocapitalists and the most fervent anarchocommunists. At the same time. Cooperating. That was probably something of a political first. It also allowed me to see differences between these two groups that weren’t clear from the outset, and which might explain why organizations drift left over time.

O’Sullivans Law states that any organization that is not expressly right-leaning in politics will change over time to become left-leaning. There are some hypotheses as to why, including the observation that right-wing people will tolerate and even welcome left-wing people in an otherwise unpolitical organization, but that left-wing people will generally not tolerate right-wing people. While this observation can be made, I believe it is not enough for an entire organization to shift politically.

The explanation is far simpler, and it’s been hiding in plain sight for everyone.

Left-wing people are collectivists. They believe that the greater good shall have precedence over the wishes and desires over the individual, and organize to achieve this. Conversely, they do not feel at home when somebody tells them to forward a cause as they think is best in their individual situation.

Right-wing people are individualists. They believe that the greater good, even for the worst-off people, is best achieved by giving individuals as free reign as possible so that innovation and creativity can take place. Conversely, they do not feel at home when somebody is trying to dictate to them what to do and not to do.

This is almost painfully clear when working with both groups at the same time in a political organization. Ah yes, that’s the magic word, right there. Organization. A Non-profit organization, specifically. Do you know how these are run?

Basically without exception, they are run as a general assembly, where people are elected to positions and decisions are taken with a majority vote.

…decisions are taken with a majority vote.

It became painfully clear to me, that the form of a neutral association — the form we have, or, had, accepted as neutral — is actually nothing of the sort. It turns out, that an organization that takes collective decisions promotes people who like collective decision-making, and turns away people who prefer individual initiatives.

The association with its board, its general assembly, and its majority votes isn’t neutral. It is pushing its membership left, through its very nature, by selecting for those who enjoy collective decision-making and procedural trickery, and marginalizing those who prefer individual initiatives.

This is why, if I were to found a new political organization today, I would never use the traditional Non-profit Association format, for it is not neutral and it will ruin whatever original vision you had.

For this same reason, I have come to be sceptical of center-right political parties who are run by this majority vote. They’ll never be as powerful as they can be, had they instead organized by individual initiatives — because they are competing against left-wing political parties who feel right at home in this form of organization, which they usually mandated to be the norm for everyone.


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