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

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 promote a cause in whatever way they themselves think is best in their individual situation.

Right-wing people are individualists. They believe that the greatest 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.

Rick Falkvinge

Rick is the founder of the first Pirate Party and a low-altitude motorcycle pilot. He lives on Alexanderplatz in Berlin, Germany, roasts his own coffee, and as of right now (2019-2020) is taking a little break.


  1. Anonymous

    If not a traditional non-profit association format then what would you use now? What does it mean to be organized by individual initiatives?

    1. Andrew Durham

      Great question! Essentially, collectivism is characterized by centralization, individualism by distribution. Here are some examples.

      – The book, _Reinventing Organizations_ suggests different kinds of flat structure for organizations. Individuals get more respect.
      – Agile/Lean/XM/Musk organizations. Vote with your feet. Very individualist. Joe Justice of Wikispeed is a good source.
      – Robert Fritz’s Structural Tension Charting has a funny flattening effect on organizations and encourages individual initiatives.
      – Ironically, the distributed autonomous cell structure of collectivist organizations _before attaining power_. They use it for infiltration, subversion, intelligence, terrorism, and general rebelliousness. It is abolished after attaining power.
      – Band society. See Primitive Social Organization by Elman Service. John Zerzan, anarcho-primitivist also discusses it.

      Definitely nothing requiring representation, voting, delegation of personal power.

      I say some similar things as Falkvinge in my recent blog post

      There, I also link to my extended notes toward an individualist politics, party, and form of government (the distributed hyperstate) at


    2. Rick Falkvinge

      I have written a book on the topic. 🙂 In short, it’s possible to use people’s freedom to take initiatives and freedom to follow (or not follow) initiatives taken by others to lead an entire organization, one of at least 50,000 people.

      The book is called Swarmwise and is available for free from this site as a PDF.

  2. Mike

    Blimey! Rick is still alive!

    Welcome back.

  3. David Collier-Brown

    What about organizations that use “initiative and consensus”? I think that’s a fair description of the growth of the Toronto Linux User group, and I and various bosses have used it at work.

  4. B

    Sverigedemokraterna. De hade en bred bas över det politiska spektrat. I norra Sverige identifierade sig majoriteten av SD:s anhĂ€ngare som vĂ€nster. Nu har de fastnat pĂ„ högra sidan i politiken. (De skulle Ă€ven kunna beskrivas som kollektivister. Jag uppfattar att du blandar ihop “höger” och liberalism.)

  5. Jari

    How could you run a party without democracy? Why would anyone join a party where they cannot bring their own ideas and try to merge them with others? And be able to select members to lead said party?
    This sounds tad like you are still hurt that you lost the Pirate Party elections and someone else is now running the party.

    1. Travis Peacock

      Counterpoint – The Pirate Party strives for evidence / science in its decision making with a focus on individuals instead of corporations. Right wrong individuals are generally more willing to listen to their hearts and their favourite corporation while a leftist will generally care less about traditions and such.

      I disagree with the collectivist position having worked in many organizations: leftists are generally more passionate about their specific type of leftism and are generally unwilling to negotiate with people who are not their exact brand. Conservative right wing individuals (maybe DUE to their individualism and lack of care for the larger group) typically are more likely to band together in a bigger tent. Don’t believe this? Count the number of left of center political parties in whatever country you’re in and count the right wing parties.. you typically have one big conservative party and at least 2-3 big left wing parties.

      Why does the right wing party drift left (if it does)? Because actually things are better over here and as you try to appease more people the easier it is to say “well of course we won’t touch welfare for old people… Well of course we should build more roads..”

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