Why Politics Is So Confusing
Politics In Mid-Stream
Here’s the bottom line, the condition of our political patient we call America: It’s in the intensive care unit, suffering from all sorts of cuts and contusions, and quite a bit of internal bleeding. It’s been attacked by an onslaught of injustice and immorality. Simply put, we don’t live in a free country. America is not the land of the free. It never really was. I know, I know, that’s not what we’ve been constantly told.
Understanding how freedom manifests itself is part of the waking-up process, politically. If you believe in the idea of human freedom, but aren’t sure how it should manifest itself, then you’ve opened the right book.
I’m sure all of us have noticed the pundits on TV and radio who promote their latest cutting-edge analysis of the leading political stories. Rarely, if ever, do we hear an analyst, expert, or commentator call into question the true essence of that process we call, with varying degrees of cynicism and eye-rolling, “politics.”
It’s an endless unspoken debate on political news channels: Should we have 25%, 30%, or 35% freedom? The best way of describing such a process is “politics in midstream.” This is a more specific version of what novelist/philosopher Ayn Rand called “philosophizing in midstream,” in which she criticized most intellectuals’ penchant for ignoring the fundamental premises contained in their arguments. “Check your premises,” Rand advised, though she herself forgot to check a few at times, particularly regarding government. Such is the misleading nature of unexamined assumptions.
The consequences of operating in intellectual midstream might not seem as severe as its physical counterpart. Imagine if, instead of testing a river’s waters to see how swift and deep the current is, you just stepped in and hoped for the best. Well, in regard to politics, it’s not just your own life at stake. The fate of a whole country hangs in the balance. That’s why it’s vital to stay on shore awhile and figure things out, instead of taking political ideas and their effects for granted and trying to reason correctly from there. When we are swept downstream, logic and evidence tend to remain on the shore.
So, before we step into that big river, let’s assess some things. What is the process of politics really about? Well, here’s what no politician or judge will explicitly tell you: Essentially, politics is the process by which people discretely (or not so discretely) attempt to convince you that your individual life is not as important as the nation, society, community, or “others.” The better their convincing is, the worse politics gets. This of course has repercussions for how we treat each other—how we treat family members, friends, neighbors, co-workers, employees, employers, and especially politicians, judges, police officers, bureaucrats and other less influential strangers.
“Would you rather have 25%, 30%, or 35% freedom?” basically means “How much of yourself do you want to recognize?” And these are probably conservative estimates. If you actually defend your right to life, to your decisions, and to what you own, law enforcers and their judicial accomplices who seek to deny you these rights will want to bestow 0% freedom upon you. Nonetheless, feel free to assign the particular percentages to the political group that you think fits best. It turns out that no matter how they’re assigned, the results end up being the same. Lost liberties and lost opportunities.
How did it come to this, or rather, why has it been like this for untold centuries? Well, that’s a really long story that’s been told quite well in many other books, and now in our highly connected age of the Internet (see bibliography). Fortunately, there’s no “required reading” to comprehend the pages that follow—just a critical mindset for finding, and accepting, the truth.
It’s safe to say that most people in America understand the utter folly of advocating either a dictatorship or full-blown Communism (which is essentially dictatorial in nature). The poor economic results and inherent evils of these systems of government have been confirmed repeatedly in both theory and bloody practice. It’s no surprise that most people who experience such wretchedness strive to escape it. Unfortunately, after a regime of fear is firmly instituted, fleeing often proves difficult, as well as dangerous to friends and family members left behind. They frequently suffer the consequences of political misbehavior.
Totalitarian regimes skillfully create ruthless, loyal police and secret police agencies that foster a populace of snitches. Most informants hope that their thuggish rulers will favor those who provide them with the most provocative and useful information about who is being disobedient. The disobedient can be alleged to be anyone; anyone can be fingered as “subversive.” So allegations run rampant and, soon, those who dare express their contrary political opinions do so in whispers—for even the walls have ears.
We certainly don’t want to end up in that sort of societal predicament. Nonetheless, quite a few in America promote the essence of the politics of Socialism, or “Social Democracy.” Many of them are guided by the economic ideals of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, who were passionate proponents of social justice and class equality. Unfortunately, the means by which they wanted to achieve such goals were not reason-based, and therefore not in accordance with the ideas of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Jeffersonian they were not.
In order for us to begin to grasp the meaning of complete liberty, it’s wise to first explore the fundamental forces that continue to oppose it. Here is what Engels wrote about The Communist Manifesto in the Preface to the 1888 English edition:
The Manifesto being our joint production, I consider myself bound to state that the fundamental proposition which forms the nucleus belongs to Marx. That proposition is: That in every historical epoch, the prevailing mode of economic production and exchange, and the social organization necessarily following from it, form the basis upon which it is built up, and from that which alone can be explained the political and intellectual history of that epoch; that consequently the whole history of mankind (since the dissolution of primitive tribal society, holding land in common ownership) has been a history of class struggles, contests between exploiting and exploited, ruling and oppressed classes; That the history of these class struggles forms a series of evolutions in which, nowadays, a stage has been reached where the exploited and oppressed class—the proletariat—cannot attain its emancipation from the sway of the exploiting and ruling class—the bourgeoisie—without, at the same time, and once and for all, emancipating society at large from all exploitation, oppression, class distinction, and class struggles.
Obviously, Engels was also passionate about writing long sentences (a particularly German phenomenon). However, let’s distill the essentials of what he meant. He and Marx correctly stated that many groups of individuals have been exploited and have struggled—such as, in their words, the “freeman and slave, patrician and plebian, lord and serf, guildmaster and journeyman, in a word, oppressor and oppressed.”
Engels apparently believed that such conflict didn’t exist in primitive tribal societies with communal ownership. Not so true. In fact, as we’ll cover in a later chapter, the less understanding and delineation of property rights people have, the more potential for conflict there is. Property rights are necessary to prevent conflict. Without knowing who owns what, reaching agreement and being productive proves extremely difficult, and disputes are instead settled by the club, sword, or gun. The more powerful people and adept groups of course win in such nasty disputes. In modern civilizations, lack of property rights leads to a particularly terrible form of oppression: The State becomes King of the Mountain.
The Communist Manifesto continually contrasts the “working class,” aka the proletariat, with the “exploiting and ruling class,” aka the bourgeoisie. Indeed, Communist arguments depend on making such class distinctions. Without them, they could gain little traction in the minds of those concerned with social equality and economic justice.
But the distinction they should’ve made is between the free market and the force of the State, which reveals the difference between a free market and a controlled market. In a controlled market, the politically connected in industry and in various professions conspire (no matter their motives) with those wielding the powers of the State to reduce the choices and opportunities of not only the working class, but also the “consumer class,” which means everyone in society.
Unlike the truly oppressed, who are kept in bondage by force, people who work in a market economy (even one that’s only semi-free) do so mostly by their own volition; they’re in their places of work, doing their work, by choice. Individuals choose to work for certain wages and in certain conditions, and they’re free to leave and find—or better yet, make—work elsewhere, that is, if the State allows them. If the statist system prevents choices for workers, that’s certainly not the fault of the market.
Granted, in the early and mid-1800’s the marketplace offered fewer employment choices than today. There’s little doubt that this environment had an influence on the ideas of Marx and Engels. The working conditions in many urban areas weren’t what one would call nice by today’s standards. Yet, the conditions in rural areas were typically nothing to write home about either (assuming one had something to write with), especially given the lack of medical care. Similar to the developing world today, getting sick often meant a death sentence. People frequently moved to cities to improve their lots in life, to increase their living standards and opportunities (even though mass deaths due to unsanitary conditions sometimes occurred).
Nonetheless, Marx and Engels made many false assumptions, assumptions that led them down an extremely thorny political path. One of their worst assumptions was that people who are employed are fundamentally different than those who employ them, that is, owners of businesses, managers of companies, and even entrepreneurs. They seemed to think that members of the latter “class” just jump into positions of influence, ready-made; supposedly, they are automatic owners of property and thus controllers of the economic fate of non-owners, the so-called proletariat. Again, perhaps Marx and Engels mistook the controlled economies of the State for a free market, although plenty of thinkers at the time knew better.
People who’ve brought themselves from rags to riches, purchased a piece of property, or just upped their income, know that it requires some long-term thinking and business savvy—the tried-and-true “perseverance, inspiration, and perspiration.” A little good fortune can help too, along with a society of complete liberty (more on that later).
Another false assumption revealed more of Marx’s and Engels’ ignorance of economics. They believed that employers would always pay workers as little as possible; employers who kept workers surviving at mere subsistence pay could exploit and oppress them to the fullest.
Not only does this incorrectly imply that workers had no choice in their place of employment, but it also runs counter to the evidence. When one employer cuts the pay of its employees, that’s an opportunity for another employer to offer a better deal to those workers. Employers compete for employees as much as workers compete with each other for the best jobs. This, again, is assuming that the State hasn’t intervened in these relations. The key is to have a free market in which opportunities and choices aren’t hindered.
Jobs are not a static quantity in a free market either, like one pie with only so many pieces. The free market is literally a pie maker, and there’s no limit to the flavors offered when freedom of choice exists.
The “emancipation of the proletariat” has nothing to do with taking responsibility for one’s conditions of employment and working to change them for the better. Rather, it has to do with misunderstanding the idea of “oppression” and using force (actual oppression) to achieve certain economic and societal ends. Not surprisingly, the results are nothing short of disastrous. Marx and Engels devised a special recipe for a really bad pie. Once again from The Communist Manifesto:
These measures will, of course, be different in different countries. Nevertheless, in most advanced countries, the following will be pretty generally applicable.
1. Abolition of property in land and application of all rents of land to public purposes.
2. A heavy progressive or graduated income tax.
3. Abolition of all rights of inheritance.
4. Confiscation of the property of all emigrants and rebels.
5. Centralization of credit in the banks of the state, by means of a national bank with state capital and an exclusive monopoly.
6. Centralization of the means of communication and transport in the hands of the state.
7. Extension of factories and instruments of production owned by the state; the bringing into cultivation of waste lands, and the improvement of the soil generally in accordance with a common plan.
8. Equal obligation of all to work. Establishment of industrial armies, especially for agriculture.
9. Combination of agriculture with manufacturing industries; gradual abolition of all the distinction between town and country by a more equable distribution of the populace over the country.
10. Free education for all children in public schools. Abolition of children’s factory labor in its present form. Combination of education with industrial production, etc.
You probably noticed that most items on this list are things that the U.S. Government does. Yes, America contains many aspects of Communism. Kind of makes you wonder what the Cold War was all about, doesn’t it?
American politics has swallowed proposals 2, 5, and 10, hook, line, and sinker—the graduated income tax, central control and monopolization of the money supply, universal public education and child labor laws. It’s also partially adopted 1 in terms of Eminent Domain, 3 in terms of the Death Tax, 4 in terms of asset forfeiture in the War on Drugs, 6 in terms of governmental ownership of highways, byways, and regulation via the FCC, FAA, TSA, NHTSA, etc., and 7 in terms of all the services that government provides and the monopoly privileges it grants businesses. I’m sure there are a few more, but you get the point.
This clearly demonstrates why it’s so important to identify the rationale and methods of Communism. It still presides in the minds of those who currently wield (and those who would like to wield) political power in America, as well as all those who enable them, irrespective of their intentions.
Here are the two paragraphs that followed the above list by Marx and Engels, to sum things up for us:
When, in the course of development, class distinctions have disappeared, and all production has been concentrated in the hands of a vast association of the whole nation, the public power will lose its political character. Political power, properly so called, is merely the organized power of one class for oppressing another. If the proletariat during its contest with the bourgeoisie is compelled, by the force of circumstances, to organize itself as a class; if, by means of a revolution, it makes itself the ruling class, and, as such, sweeps away by force the old conditions of production, then it will, along with these conditions, have swept away the conditions for the existence of class antagonisms and of classes generally, and will thereby have abolished its own supremacy as a class.
In place of the old bourgeois society, with its classes and class antagonisms, we shall have an association in which the free development of each is the condition for the free development of all.
Perhaps a particular poetry exists in such twisted logic. The statement that political power “is merely the organized power of one class for oppressing another” rings true, of course. However, to speak in terms of classes gets us on the wrong track entirely, which might have been their desire. The real distinction concerns people in society who respect rights to one’s person and property versus those who don’t respect them, whether through misunderstanding or full clarity. The irony in the above passage is the notion that “freedom,” “free development,” and the end of all “antagonisms” will come when a large group of revolutionaries “sweep away by force the old conditions of production.” Supposedly, once they eliminate the owners of businesses, managers of companies, and entrepreneurs, or force them into a state of being propertyless, things will become really swell.
Communism and all its watered-down variations overlook one significant detail: It’s simply unjust to forcibly take property from someone who hasn’t violated anyone’s rights; such an action is an infringement that contradicts one’s own right to property and self-ownership. In addition, this whole scenario begs the practical question of how an economy is supposed to function without people whose specialty is being capitalists. Are the workers (revolutionaries) suddenly going to acquire this skill-set without skipping a beat? More realistically, once they did get past the learning curve, who’s going to take their former place as “workers,” now thatthey are the “rulers”?
Apparently, Marx and Engels hadn’t thought twice about the reality of jobs. A manager can’t simultaneously be a machinist. A designer can’t simultaneously be a traveling salesman. An engineer can’t simultaneously be a deal-maker with suppliers. And a nurse can’t simultaneously be a surgeon. Granted, there are quite a few Jacks-of-all-trades in the market, people who wear different hats at various times and pull it off successfully. They can be quite productive in their various lines of work. But they can only do so many things. Invariably, they must make exclusionary choices, trading one hat for another.
There’s a big reason why capitalism offers us so many facets and fields of work, be they divisions of labor or areas of specialization: continual accumulation of capital and generation of higher and higher levels of productivity. Capital is the fountainhead of technology and innovation, and consequently of leisure and recreation. Without capitalism, there wouldn’t be nearly as many options for creative expression in the workplace or, for that matter, possibilities for fun in the world.
The idea of class encourages people to think mainly in terms of groups. An accurate term for this is collectivism. Collectivistic thinking is both a cause and an effect of class-oriented societies. Instead of viewing each person as a worthy individual with particular capacities—skills, talents, passions, hopes, desires, andrights and opportunities—class-oriented mindsets view people as members of certain elite or downtrodden groups. On the psychological side of the latter, this has a certain payoff: One doesn’t have to take responsibility for one’s choices and life situation, and one can blame others such as the “bourgeoisie” for one’s plight. This is the sort of self-deception that provides no fruitful individual avenues to personal growth, social mobility, and career possibilities. It’s inherently self-disempowering. Plus, it encourages people to get trapped in conflicts between identified groups, and to remain frustrated by the inability to change others that are “oppressing” one’s own group.
Moreover, those who consider themselves to be in the elite class typically do nothing to foster others’ movement to their level, because they’ve attained their positions through opportunities in a controlled market of State intervention. They feel that they have much to lose if they were to promote the liberty of others, as well as their own. So, the exploitation of others for personal gain continues, as does disregarding the unjust political context in which they operate.
The way out of the class-oriented mindset is by accepting the fact that each of us is an individual with a unique identity, which thereby encourages others to shift their focus similarly. We are only being oppressed when someone is trying to prevent us from making our own choices. We are only being ruled over when someone is initiating force against us, thwarting our ability to do as we please—or not respecting the rights of others to do as they please.
So, where does this leave the ideology of Socialism? One might call it Communism-lite: half the impoverishment but the same flavor. Given the horrible nature of Communism, this isn’t much of an improvement. Since Socialism contains many of the fundamental premises of Communism, it remains on that bleak continuum of statist political systems. Fascism too contains the premises of Communism. It contends that your self and property aren’t strictly your own, but rather things under statist regulation and control. Full-blown Communism simply drops any pretenses at freedom and goes for full enslavement of the citizenry. All become worker bees for the mighty queen bee, the State. Even those favored few who court her as she permits aren’t free. Being a slave master isn’t freedom either.
American government of course can’t be called either outright Socialism or Fascism, which are the two worst ways—Left wing and Right wing—of allowing some market forces to operate in order to milk citizens for all their worth. Still, America is treacherously composed of many awful aspects of each, reflecting the premises of Communism. It might best be called a semi-fascist welfare State.
This leads us to the typical views we witness in U.S. politics today. Let’s inspect some of the prevailing ideologies, and see how they measure up against Communism. Most Americans, if surveyed by a set of carefully crafted political questions, could be placed by the question askers into one of the categories below. You, wise reader, are different. You’re able to distance yourself from past inclinations. By reading this book on complete liberty, you’ve decided to take an objective look at the problems with these assorted views. Your desire and ability to remain objective will be your core strength as you continue reading, regardless of the implications for your past beliefs or the various responses of others in your midst. Of course, there’s no pressure or anything. Only the future of America (and maybe the world) is to be determined. So let’s proceed.
The problem with describing these political viewpoints is that, no matter how intricately each category is described, someone is bound to raise a counter argument or have a different interpretation. It’s a bit like trying to decipher the exact meaning of a Biblical story. So many translations, so little time. Yet for our purposes, creating exact descriptions isn’t nearly as important as identifying essentials and defining principles, which I’ll make sure to do afterwards.
Conservatives are those who typically vote for the Republican Party, though some may be fed up with the differences between what Republicans profess and what they do once in office. Nonetheless, conservatism tends to arise from the traditional values of responsibility, hard work, self-reliance, social modesty and good manners.
It’s often said that you become a conservative when you try to run a business and discover how much government affects your decisions and actions. Rules, regulations, and taxes are the norms in business, not the exceptions. For what it’s worth, conservatives also tend to be skeptical of the motives of the environmental movement, which typically lobbies for more rules and regulations. Conservatives desire government to be smaller rather than larger and taxes and regulations to be minimal. Conservatives tend to believe that the U.S. Constitution means what it plainly states and should not be open to interpretation, especially by “activist” judges. If they had their druthers, most conservatives would rejoice in a Constitutionally limited government.
In terms of law, conservatives tend to believe that others should sometimes be forced to abide by proper community standards of behavior, usually stemming from a religious sense of morality and doing what’s right (in their eyes). Naturally, they’re not known to be “soft on crime” and instead favor a law-and-order society of imprisonment and punishment for criminals. Those who are declared criminals, however, aren’t strictly ones who violate the rights of others (such as thieves and thugs); they can also be those who engage in consensual personal activities and voluntary exchanges that are simply not tolerated by the “moral majority.” Of all the types, conservatives also tend to be the strongest advocates of gun rights, though many accept regulation of the purchase, possession, and use of various weapons.
Neoconservatives, or Neocons, might be termed “watered-down conservatives,” both fiscally and socially, in that they embrace many of the same big government programs that liberals do (see below). Though some might say that they’d rather government be smaller, it’s just not “practical” in this day and age. There are too many foreign interests at stake and public projects needed for creating a better world.
Neocons are probably most noted, or notorious, for being big supporters of the military/industrial complex, though they contend that such support is for “The security of our nation” and “The defense of our people.” They are indeed the most hawkish in foreign policy matters, which sometimes involves bombing others in far away countries before they bomb us (the preemption doctrine), or when others get too far out of line of State and Defense Department policies and Executive opinions. They generally believe that it’s America’s job to be the world’s policeman (Pax Americana); the U.S. government should use its power to help guide other countries along the path to Democracy, freedom, tolerance, peace and prosperity. If America withdrew its military forces from its places of influence around the globe, they believe that things would assuredly go to hell in a bobsled; chaos and political instability would supposedly ensue. Neocons generally believe that even though the spread of Communism is no longer a major threat, terrorist groups may pose an even greater challenge, which means a greater need for Neocon leadership.
Liberals, or progressives, are the next slice of political Americana. Probably because the word liberal has been used pejoratively by so many conservative pundits, writers, and talk show hosts, members of this ideology now often describe themselves as “progressives.” Typically, they vote for the Democratic Party, though, like conservatives, they’re not averse to criticizing the weaknesses or corruption of Democrats in office. Progressives believe that government is by and large good, but especially when they themselves are in control of it. (The same could be said of the other viewpoints, by the way.)
Because liberals believe that particular groups of people, especially “the poor,” “workers,” or “minority classes,” are weak in comparison to corporations, big businesses, employers, majorities, etc., they believe that government is the primary way to attempt to solve any and all disparities in wealth, power, and status. Though they may advocate balanced budgets on occasion, their desire to wield the instruments of governmental power for the good of the people, particularly for “the little guy,” tends to lead to major spending, regulations, and taxes.
Here are some of their mottos, both spoken and unspoken, which also apply to a greater or lesser extent to all the other viewpoints discussed here: People are weak, especially the poor and elderly, but also virtually everyone else, so the government should take care of them with “safety nets”—or what conservative Rush Limbaugh aptly calls “safety hammocks”; people can’t be trusted, so the government should control them; people are greedy and selfish, so the government should force them to be moral, that is, not greedy and not selfish; people benefit from society, so they owe society—meaning that they owe the government; businesses constantly seek power and try to exploit workers and the environment, so the government should collar them and make them follow at heal.
It might be said that, compared to their political opponents, progressives aren’t hypocritical when it comes to growing the size of government and using it for their particular ends. After all, Bush 43 and company (under a Republican majority Congress through 2006) have increased the size and scope of governmental spending and debt beyond the wildest hopes of many liberals. Massive expenditures in health care, education, agriculture, and of course the military, come readily to mind. We’d have to go back to the 19th century to find a U.S. President who didn’t veto a single bill. James Garfield was killed his first year in office, which subsequently explained his lack of interest in the veto power. George W. Bush, on the other hand, has vetoed only one bill, halfway into his second term in office. He has, however, set a presidential record for signing statements, which are not-so-clever ways to avoid Constitutional accountability.
Independents are next. People with this view generally disagree with some things in each party platform. They are wary of ideological bias and realize that many in politics have definite axes to grind. They may consider themselves true reformers of government, sometimes similar to progressives, like those in the Green Party. Independents don’t mind embracing policies of other ideologies. They tend to pick and choose between and among the other viewpoints. They typically stress the need to formulate workable governmental solutions for society’s ills, as well as remedies for governmental waste, corruption, and incompetence. Nevertheless, for all their talk about reform, they tend to remain immersed in banter about the endless details of governmental policies, while leaving the essence of government intact. They may vote for candidates from different parties, but mostly for those who also classify themselves as Independent.
Moderates and centrists, like independents, also tend to avoid following strict party lines, but unlike independents, they tend to shy away from unpopular positions. They don’t like anything perceived as extreme or radical. Instead of going against the grain, they go with the flow. A middle-of-the-road approach to political debate usually puts them squarely on the wide fence concerning most issues. Some may embrace a centrist or moderate viewpoint in order to fit in or appear “normal”; one doesn’t have to form an unpopular opinion. Others in this group believe that government in general is good and is on the right path to dealing with society’s problems; it just needs a little tweaking here and there. Of all the views presented here, moderates and centrists appear the most conforming to the status quo. They play it politically safe and tend to favor more of the same: “I’ll have what they’re having; vanilla, please.”
Though various viewpoints within these next two ideologies are quite old, “traditionalists” and “secularists” appear to be somewhat recently delineated political divisions—mostly discussed by opinion givers who need something sensational for their daily talking points. Perhaps these two views have been popularized most by avowed cultural crusader Bill O’Reilly, self-described independent and traditionalist. The traditionalist is typically socially conservative, perhaps votes more for Republicans (and Independents) than Democrats, and looks primarily to the past and to religion for guidance in cultural matters. The secularist, on the other hand, is quite open to social change, isn’t very religious, and tends to be liberal, or progressive, and usually votes for Democrats. What’s common in both types, of course, is their view of government as a tool to maintain or implement their particular cultural views and moral viewpoints in society.
There’s an interesting paradox about these two groups. The “religious Right” calls the “liberal Left” secularists, that is, primarily “nonbelievers” who have serious sympathies with Communism. But some liberal groups, such as the American Civil Liberties Union, are frequently the ones defending individual rights to one’s own body, as well as to free speech, free press, and due process. Contrastingly, conservatives and traditionalists seek to ground freedom and the Constitution in the Judeo-Christian God. Yet they are commonly the ones who seek to impose their particular moral code on others, in violation of individual rights to one’s own body, as well as to speech, press, and due process. The present legal battles over such issues as gay marriage, medical marijuana, censored speech, pornography, abortion, stem cell research, morning-after pills, teaching Intelligent Design in public schools, Commandments on court house lawns, illegal immigration, a citizen’s access to justice upon arrest, etc., demonstrate the oftentimes wide-ranging nature of their debates.
Well, that concludes this brief overview of the state of our mainstream, or rather, midstream, political opinions. If the distinctions didn’t come across as clearly as you would’ve liked, have no worries. They all share a flaw that exposes the whole flimsy house of political cards. My purpose from now on isn’t to bore you with surface details of political affiliations, which you can get from any major political magazine, news program, talk show, website, or blog. Instead, it’s for us to go to the heart of the matter and recognize the essential contradictions of modern politics.
A principled approach to politics is something you may have never encountered. I wasn’t taught it by any teacher in school. Like most important things in life, I had to teach it to myself, through a lot of thinking, reading, and debating with others, as will probably you. It’s a learning process, to be sure, regardless of your age; new ideas are equal opportunity. The key thing for us to remember in the following chapters is this: If you believe in freedom and want to have complete liberty in your lifetime, then you have to grant it to others, across the economic and social board.
This leads us to the commonality in the above political viewpoints: They all desire to impose their values of “fairness,” “necessity,” “rightness,” and “compassion” on society with the force of the State. As a consequence, they also seek to employ coercion in the name of being altruistic. If we take altruism to mean simply being concerned with others’ welfare and interests, what could possibly be worse than coercing others rather than persuading them?
After all, if people are uncaring at base, then no amount of barbarity by fellow uncaring (or caring) people in power is going to make them more caring. The opposite actually happens. The more you strip people of their property and their choices in order to “help” others, the less nice, less benevolent, and less filled with goodwill and generosity they become. They also become less honest in dealing with their oppressors, and justifiably so; so-called cheating on taxes as well as cutting regulatory corners become commonplace. Not surprisingly, these behaviors also tend to occur in people’s dealings with innocent others in the marketplace. When people are constantly shoved around by government, and they accept the nature of their victimhood, their moods tend to worsen and they’re inclined to become less virtuous.
Moreover, the State’s version of helping others quickly becomes a euphemism for using coercive means to placate special interests, fund boondoggles, and line the pockets of politicians and their cronies—all at the expense of everyone else’s wealth. As in most political issues, it’s wise to follow the money trail.
So, our government’s policies actually achieve the exact opposite of their stated intentions. They work to turn the personal virtues of goodwill and generosity into mere public practices reserved primarily for the non-virtuous in government. The moral of this sad story is twofold: Never coerce persons into doing things against their peaceful desires, and don’t regulate or steal for the common good. Now let’s see what these conclusions mean for Democracy.