Political Compass #5: My enemy's enemy is my friend.

Many political debates here have included references to The Political Compass, which uses a set of 61 questions to assess one’s political orientation in terms of economic left/right and social libertarianism/authoritarianism (rather like the “Libertarian diamond” popular in the US).

And so, every so often I will begin a thread in which the premise for debate is one of the 61 questions. I will give which answer I chose and provide my justification and reasoning. Others are, of course, invited to do the same including those who wish to “question the question”, as it were. I will also suggest what I think is the “weighting” given to the various answers in terms of calculating the final orientation.

It might also be useful when posting in these threads to give your own “compass reading” in your first post, by convention giving the Economic value first. My own is
SentientMeat: Economic: -5.12, Social: -7.28, and so by the above convention my co-ordinates are (-5.12, -7.28). Please also indicate which option you ticked.

Now, I appreciate that there is often dissent regarding whether the assessment the test provides is valid, notably by US conservative posters, either because it is “left-biased” (??) or because some propositions are clearly slanted, ambiguous or self-contradictory. The site itself provides answers to these and other Frequently Asked Questions, and there is also a separate thread: Does The Political Compass give an accurate reading? Read these first and then, if you have an objection to the test in general, please post it there. If your objection is solely to the proposition in hand, post here. If your objection is to other propositions, please wait until I open a thread on them.

(The above will be pasted in every new thread in order to introduce it properly, and I’ll try to let each one exhaust itself of useful input before starting the next. Without wanting to “hog the idea”, I would be grateful if others could refrain from starting similar threads. To date, the threads are:
Does The Political Compass give an accurate reading?
Political Compass #1: Globalisation, Humanity and OmniCorp.
#2: My country, right or wrong
#3: Pride in one’s country is foolish.
#4: Superior racial qualities.)

Proposition #5: The enemy of my enemy is my friend.

SentientMeat (-5.12, -7.28) ticks Strongly Disagree.

Like #2, I believe this comes down to putting national or self interest before moral principle.
I feel this is another strongly authoritarian proposition, which I react to by Strong Disagreement; another -0.25 on the social scale, say.

Of course, it is naive to think that realpolitik has no place in the world. One might be joined in the course one has concluded to be “right and just” by utter monsters whose ends merely happen to be served by the same action. However, I believe it is important to consider them just as inimical for the duration (while accepting the convenience of the alliance) or, better still, seeking the glimmer of friendship where others might simply stamp “enemy” without a second thought. Indeed, one might even wonder whether your enemy would be your enemy if you hadn’t befriended his enemy in the first place!

The proposition as stated is simply a thug’s propaganda, and taking it to heart will ultimately lead one to be morally compromised just around the corner. I feel the proposition speaks the language of fear, used by authoritarians throughout history to focus attention on the “bad guy” while ignoring the evils of one’s own side, all in the name of temporary political expediency. It is a wrecking ball designed to knock down the foundations of co-operation and good will to replace them with the quicksand of Machiavellian mistrust, as demonstrated by the swiftness and ease with which the “friend”* becomes the enemy himself.

The proposition is not realism, it is misanthropic and pessimistic cynicism, which I would wish to see far less of in politics as humanity progresses.

*This photo is used solely to illustrate my distaste for the proposition, not to instigate the infantile partisan squabbling I started these threads in order to avoid; if a current politician of another stripe has provided an even more illustrative photo, I would gladly have used it had I known.

I (+0.75, -5) Disagree, but not strongly. There are occasions when it is necessary to make nice with enemies because there is a greater common enemy.

Senientmeant, I simply cannot agree the proposition is a “Thug’s propaganda.” There’s a reasonable middle ground between idealism and cynicism. Your claim that this puts “national or self interest before moral principle” may usually be true, but there are cases where self interest and moral principle coincide.

The perfect case of this is Western cooperation (and propping up, to some extent) of the Soviet regime during World War II. As Churchill put it - I’ll get this as close as I can without looking it up - “If Hitler were to invade Hell, I would at least make a favourable reference to the Devil in the House of Commons.” It was not cynicism for the Allies to be friendly with the Soviet Union during the war; it was a matter of absolute necessity. Necessity cannot be cynical. Your point that one must wonder how we became enemies with both the USSR and the Nazis at the same time as well taken. However, the situation in 1941 did not allow for an alternative. The fact of the matter was that in that case the enemy of our enemy had to be our friend. It was an ugly and horrible thing all around - there was nothing good about the war, only varying degrees of bad - but it was reality.

Indeed, I would argue that the failure of the Allies to cooperate with Stalin and various lesser thugs would have been itself morally reprehensible, given the alternative.

Now, MOST of the time I suspect this policy comes back to become a worse problem than it was before, an obvious recent example being U.S. support for the people who eventually became the Taliban, which is why I fall into the Disagree camp. Actually, most of the time I doubt the policy is entered into with with a lot of moral or ethical point at all, even leaving aside the consequences. But sometimes it IS necessary, and I cannot imagine any reasonable argument to the contrary given the historical evidence, so I can’t tack on a “Strongly.”

The other point I’d have to make is that the proposition “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” does not state the enemy of my enemy was originally MY enemy, a condition I think you have assumed. The enemy of my enemy could be a party with which I am already friendly, or could be a party with which I was in a state of indifference. It would be quite logical for neutral parties to be brought together by a common foe.

I(-5.38, -0.15) agree but not strongly and with appropriate caveats as to not always and it depends on what the relationship with the enemy of the enemy was to begin with. Frankly, this is a proposition that if there had been a neutral position, I probably would have taken it. There are times when it is true, but there are times when it is not true.

I (-3.25/-6.10) agree with Eureka completely. I chose agree, but would probably choose disagree if I took it again (because I’ve thought about it more now that I’ve read this, and think it’s more often false than true… but I don’t think it’s ALWAYS false).

I retook the test just now, and after not quite 5 discussions of the propositions, I’ve moved to -2.88/-7.49. I think it’s possible I mis-read one or two questions the first time through, though.

(-2, -3.28) – I’m with RickJay on this one. In the Real World,this one should be a situational call. Maybe the enemy of my enemy is not my friend, but every shot in his direction is one less shot in mine and there may be circumstances where that alone can make a survival difference. However, in the practice, it’s got an impressive record of degenerating into the “he may be a SOB, but he’s our SOB” policy that turns us into a hostage of our “ally”, so as a statement of general policy, I’ll disagree.

You know, I picked Strongly Disagree for an entirely different reason.

The enemy of my enemy, as anyone who has played any game of Risk knows, is a null state. He may be my ally at the moment, or also my enemy. If he is my ally at the moment, and all I have in common with him is a common enemy, he is most certainly not my friend at all.

He is, however, someone who I could possibly work with under one situation for an unknown period of time. The trick is not to get too dependent on him, and not to leave my forces anywhere he can sneak attack them when he no longer thinks our shared enemy is a threat.

Now… my friend is my friend. Atsa different thing entirely.

I (-4.62, -4.51) had to go with agree on this one. I’ve never been especially fond of the notion, and I think “friend” is euphamistic which implies a truce or ostensibly temporary alliance more than a bond or new kinship, but in any case this behavior seems natural and reasonable. I consider it the case that people who have a common goal should work together for that goal if it is feasible. I may be indifferent to or even not like a coworker who is in line for the same promotion I am, but if we both want to join a movement to unionize there is no reason to refuse a partnership in that capacity. My indifference or dislike of him is not (hypothetically) rooted in the drive to or to not unionize, so why should I let it interfere with that? In this case, sanctioning behavior (analogous to economic sanctions) is as much against me as it is against them.

As a matter of more traditional (i.e.- international) politics, I find the reasoning analogous. Humans are great competitors, but also great teammates. When one approach is not suited to the problem, the other often is.

What holds me back from strongly agreeing here is simply that cooperation is not the only or necessarily best way to achieve any particular result. I also hesitate because I foresee circumstances where my enemy’s enemy is my enemy at the same time for reasons that specifically hinder cooperation. For a really drastic example, my country only allows women in combat and hates men, while the other country allows men in combat but hates to have women there. Cooperation here in a military campaign would be difficult.

But to the extent that cooperation is not forbidden, and to the extent that the desired goal is tolerably similar, I agree with the proposition.

Why morally compromised? Are we compelled to adopt unethical behavior because our (temporary) ally does?

Well RickJay pretty much summed up my (-4,-4.75) feelings when I ticked “disagree” but not strongly. The phrase is a cliche and “friend” can be taken to mean “occasional ally”. I had to comment on this para from the OP:

You are pretty frazzled here. You are saying that we shouldn’t seek out alliances with baddies but put up when they happen to fall in to place? You can’t just “accept the convenience” of an alliance, it requires actions on your part. Then you say we should still keep considering them enemies or better still try to be friends? Is this a confusion with the word “inimical”? :wink: The last sentence is completely unfair, an angel cries when you twist a premise.

I might remind everyone that, as has been stated many times, this test employs deliberately vague terms and cliches in order to assess one’s reaction to the proposition. By ticking Strongly Disagree I am certainly not saying “We should never ally ourselves with anybody against a common foe”, regardless of whether the situation in hand is so singularly cataclysmic as a World War.

I am merely explaining that I find the proposition so distasteful that I react to it highly unfavourably where others might be more sanguine - there will doubtless be propositions where the reverse occurs. In the early 1980’s, this proposition had the West calling Osama Bin Laden and Saddam Hussein “friends”. I think my term “morally compromised” is accurate in this respect. I feel that agreeing to this proposition increases the likelihood of finding oneself morally compromise in future.

Well, I get that SentientMeat. I wasn’t trying to suggest that by strongly disagreeing you absolutely felt the proposition was false in all cases.

I chose “disagree strongly.” There’s an extremely important distinction between friend and ally for me. Sometimes the enemy of my enemy is my ally, but not necessarily my friend.


My choice is disagree strongly. Remember when we thought- “hey that Hussein guy hates the Iranians, too. He can’t be all bad.” Or siding with the Taliban against the USSR in Afghanistan. You may unite with another against a common foe, but that doesn’t make you friends. If you’re a sports fan, there’s a parallel. I have two favorite football teams- Michigan State and whoever is playing Michigan. Just because I’m rooting for someone to knock those Wolverine socks off doesn’t mean I like them. To sum up- either someone is your friend or he isn’t. The fact that you may have a common enemy may make them more useful, but that doesn’t make them your friend.

(-5.0, -5.33)

Which is why this is one of the many questions I didn’t like.

Having to choose between the four choices, I said disagree - but really, it depends. This is a decision that must be made on a case by case basis and it depends on the quality of the original enemy, the quality of that person’s enemy, my relationship with the third party, the type of engagement I’m having with the original enemy, and the forseeable consequences of making such a “friend” among other considerations.

I wish I could have picked neutral on this one (or, what many others have said.)