I often do political analysis in the course of my blogging, but rarely do I dive straight in and lay my cards on the table. In large part, that’s because my political philosophy is quite obscure and consequently difficult to explain. Not only do I not fit anywhere on the American political philosophy spectrum, but I have not found any existing political philosophy that really meshes with my own political principles. And this is not for a lack of trying; for many years I have read and studied and tried to find a political philosophy I could read and say, “Well there it is. That’s essentially what I think on the subject.”
That not having happened during the first 30 years of my life, it’s time that I just wrote out the basics of my political philosophy. As a start, I will need to clarify what my political philosophy is NOT.
There are obviously many philosophical assumptions underlying any political viewpoint. My intention in this post is not to examine the assumptions. Suffice it to say that my political views are informed by my views on the nature of the good, epistemology, and human nature. All of these views have been examined quite thoroughly already, and the philosophical underpinnings of my views are far too lengthy to try to cram into this exposition. Attempting to do so would only condemn my musings to an awful lack of clarity and digestibility, and I have no desire to cause anyone indigestion.
That being the case, I have to admit that it would be exceedingly difficult to understand the concerns which frame my political beliefs without having reference to them, and so I will treat them with relative brevity using dichotomies likely to be either familiar or easily understandable to the reader. This brevity will necessarily create some oversimplification, but hopefully not enough that there is too much whining. It helps to keep in mind that I see these labels as being merely descriptive labels rather than being pejorative terms.
Elitism & Egalitarianism
The debate between elitists and egalitarians is usually a debate over whether the value of a person is inherent and equal to the value of every other person or earned and different from the value of other persons. I tend to agree with the egalitarians that each person has an inherent worth not defined by their accomplishments, talents, or virtues and existing prior to them. I tend to agree with the elitists that accomplishments, talents, and virtues are things we should take into account in deciding where to allocate authority, liberty, and responsibility.
Authoritarianism & Libertarianism
The debate between authoritarians and libertarians is typically a debate over who should have the authority to make decisions which affect the community. Authoritarians tend to distrust the whims of individuals and recognize their limitations in making decisions, a tendency which leads them to prefer the hierarchical structures built into the community as the proper source of decision-making on issues which affect the community. Libertarians tend to distrust the motives and competence of those who are drawn to positions of authority and recognize their limitations in making decisions, a tendency which leads them to prefer structures which maximize the role of the individual as the proper source of decision-making. I tend to agree with both authoritarians and libertarians that there are sharp limitations to the capacity of political authorities and individuals to make decisions, though my general preference is to reduce authority because it can help reduce the amount of damage caused by our human limitations.
Traditionalism & Revolutionism
The debate between traditionalists and revolutionists is generally a debate over whether change in human social structures is a necessity which should happen very slowly and organically while retaining our core values or a privilege which should happen rapidly and artificially while reevaluating our core values. While I tend to agree with the traditionalists to the extent that change often takes places more effectively via organic and sedate means, I also tend to agree with revolutionists that we should honestly reevaluate our core values as new facts come to light. I do not favor or oppose change in general, but I do observe that we usually do far better when we change via evolution rather than revolution. This is not to say that revolution is never healthy or necessary, but that revolutionists tend to over-emphasize it in the same way that traditionalists tend to over-emphasize resistance to change.
Conservatism & Progressivism
The debate between conservatives and progressives hinges primarily on their differing views of human nature, specifically that progressives tend to see human nature as quite malleable and conservatives tend to see human nature as tending more towards invariance. I agree with conservatives that human nature is more invariant than progressives suggest that it is, and I tend to agree with progressives that human nature is more malleable than conservatives suggest it is. History suggests to me that human nature is like a rubber band in the sense that it can be stretched surprisingly far, but also in that repeatedly stretching the band too far will break it and in that it has a natural state which it prefers. This natural state can be changed only with effort and generally takes time. Stretching it too far and too quickly will cause it to either break or snap back. We very much need to change the rubber band and we also must take great care in how we go about it.
Collectivism & Capitalism
The debate between capitalists and collectivists is focused on the issue of the means of production, specifically the question of whether the representatives of the community or a more diffuse group of the individuals comprising a portion of the community is in control of the means of production. Collectivists recognize that when a select few own the means of production, they are then unlikely in many cases to use the means of production for the benefit of all of the members of the community. Capitalists recognize that when the representatives of the community own the means of production, they are unlikely to be able to distribute goods and services effectively and frequently use their access to the means of production more for their benefit than for the benefit of all the members of the community. I tend to favor non-public ownership of the means of production due to the practical problems of public ownership thereof, but also some type of employee ownership of the businesses which control the means of production as a check on the impacts of individual greed and unions in industries in which business leaders are most inclined to treat their workers as mere disposable labor without regard for their quality or quantity of life. I also favor local or regional cooperatives for public services like energy or water.
Central Planning & Market Adaptation
The debate between those who favor central planning and those who favor markets as a way of allocating goods and services is typically focused on optimizing the allocation of goods and services in such a way as to satisfy demand while minimizing waste and allowing for liberty and justice. Advocates of central planning suggest that market forces are the cause of many problems and that we can do better by allocating resources via government fiat. History has proven them decisively wrong on the latter point, and simply collecting the sufficient and accurate data needed to effectively conduct the calculations necessary to implement central planning effectively would require such an overbearing and tyrannical state apparatus that neither liberty nor justice could survive its existence. Those who advocate markets as the best means we have of allocating goods and services sometimes romanticize the power of markets or ignore the imperfections in them, but they are correct that it is the best means we have of doing so while maintaining any semblance of liberty and justice.
Stay tuned for Part II in which I start discussing what my political philosophy rests on and the nature of the polity.