7 - Political order

Politics is the art and practice of power sharing in (human?) social groups.

At the tribal level, human societies tend toward the strong leader model (although a hunter gatherer group might have both a hunting leader and a religious leader). As societies become larger and more complex, groups arise within groups - each subgroup with its own leader. Collections of groups become systems. The strong leader (king, queen, emperor, etc) can longer manage everything. Power sharing arrangements emerge.

In recent centuries, there has been a progression toward representative democracies of elected leaders. Power is pushed further down in the system, moving closer to the individuals. Does this progression represent an emergent response to increasing complexity? Did the United States come into being because its people demanded to be free? Or was it because a self-governing federation of states could manage things better?

Which Power Sharing System Is Best?
Most modern political systems (other than strictly authoritarian regimes) try to strike a balance between the need for control at the upper levels and the need for autonomy and flexibility at the lower levels. Lower levels need freedom to act - but their actions must be balanced against the needs and actions of other groups.

Politicians ask where does (or should) control come from - from the top, or from somewhere lower down? Who tells whom what to do? Who knows best, the government or the citizen?

Answers come from the liberal-left and the conservative-right with infinite shades of opinion in the middle.

There are several ways to categorize these groups. Some of the categories seem to work better than other - all might be examples of bogus order invented by humans looking for organization.

Notes: In the following, I present differences and positions as being obvious and self-evident - in keeping with the approach mentioned at the first of this series. But, maybe I’m wrong. Also, I thought I invented the freedom-vs-fairness thing mentioned below. But now I remember how the conservative columnist George Will sneers at liberal’s love of fairness. And I found this piece on the web by libertarian Charles Barr - http://libertyunbound.com/article.php?id=100.

Big Government -vs- Little Government
Government size is often used to categorize the liberal-left and the conservative-right. According to conventional wisdom, the liberal-left favors centralized control, the conservative-right decentralized control. However, when examined more closely, this division yields inconsistent and confusing results. For example:
  • The liberal-left favors a stronger central government for managing public policy (finance, health, commerce, business) but weaker authority when dealing with private policy (religion, morality, reproduction).
  • The conservative-right favors a weaker central government for managing public policy and stronger authority for managing private policy.
  • The liberal-left distrusts power wielded by groups within the system (by business, local government, military, religious political structures, etc.).
  • The conservative-right protects the power wielded by groups within the system.
Freedom -vs- Fairness
Another way to characterize the differences between the liberal-left and the conservative-right is how they view power sharing at the individual level. One side seems to emphasize freedom, the other fairness:

The conservative-right believes everybody should be free to pursue power (money, fame, etc.) with as little interference as possible from big government. How power is ultimately distributed depends on the individuals. Some will always end up with more power (money, fame, etc) than others. Inequities happen. The subgroups distrusted by the liberal-left will always be controlled by the richest, the smarted, the most aggressive, the strongest. For the conservative-right, this is a natural process, not to be messed with.

The liberal-left believes not only in fairness of opportunity (like the conservative-right), but in fairness of results. No one individual should be allowed to have undue power over another individual. Inequities should be minimized. The power of central government shall be used to restrict the power of some to protect the power of others. Although not always acknowledged, the liberal-left believes that strong individuals, if left alone, will always get an unfair advantage over everybody else.

Freedom -vs- Fairness Corollaries
The freedom-vs-fairness division yields some interesting fall-out:

There are correct expressions, utterances, views. Both the liberal-left and the conservative-right have notions of correctness that arise (or not) from their core positions. For the conservative-right, religion is often viewed as correct because it stems from individuals in the pursuit of freedom. Gun ownership is correct for the same reason. The liberal-left is concerned with speech; it should be fair and correct. Unfair speech is incorrect. Certain community esthetics are also subject to correctness (public art, landscapes).

Unfairness and Loss of Freedom
In the pursuit of fairness for all, the liberal-left is unfair to some (graduated taxes, business regulations, trade rules, etc). In the pursuit of freedom for all, the conservative-right allows individuals at the bottom of the heap to be dominated by those at the top. Only freedom of opportunity is equal.

Both sides impose order (and sacrifice freedom and fairness) in the name of correctness. For example, the conservative-right might censor speech and freedom in order to preserve a particular hierarchical structure (resulting from some individual’s exercise of freedom). The liberal-left might censor speech in order to ensure that one group does not speak unfairly about another group (this is “political correctness”).

At the extremes, both the liberal-left and the conservative-right can result (and have resulted) in totalitarianism. The unfettered liberal-left tends toward communism. The unfettered conservative-right tends toward dictatorship.

Hubris of the Left
When devising rules of fairness for the operation of a political system, the liberal-left must presume to understand the operation of the system. Those devising the rules of the liberal-left must assume they know better than those for whom the rules are being devised. When exercising power in the name of a public esthetic the liberal-left must assume that its esthetic is correct.

Free-Will and Responsibility
To the conservative-right, being free means having free-will. Individuals are free to choose between right and wrong. They are presumed to know the difference. They are responsibility for their acts. The liberal-left might acknowledge the free-will of others, but not their correctness. According to the liberal-left individuals don’t necessarily know their own best interests. They need to be helped, guided (or managed) - in the name of fairness and correctness. Free-will for some is limited - illusory. Such people might be held accountable for their acts, but not responsible.

Celebrations of the Right
The conservative-right with its emphasis on individual power favors hierarchical organizations. It celebrates the strong man, the tribe, the team. The conservative-right loves competition, aggression, dominance.

Symbols of the Right
  • Mel Gibson shouting “Freedom” in Braveheart.
  • Charlton Heston holding a musket in front of the NRA giving his “cold dead hands” speech.
  • A flag (especially the Confederate battle flag).
  • Patrick Henry shouting “Give me liberty or give me death.”
  • A lion.
Symbols of the Left
  • Gregory Peck arguing, “All men are created equal.” in To Kill a Mocking Bird
  • Martin Luther King saying “I’ve got a dream”.
  • Abraham Lincoln saying “A house divided against itself cannot stand.”
  • A bonobo mokney.
Religious Orientation
The religious orientation of the conservative-right is toward Jehovah and Allah. The religious orientation of the liberal-left is toward Jesus and Buddha.

Positions on economic issues can also be grouped along fairness -vs- freedom lines.

The conservative-right believes in the freedom of individuals to pursue wealth without interference from central authority. The inequalities that result when stronger, smarter, more aggressive people rise to the top of the economic heap are to be tolerated. Unfettered capitalism - without external controls is the most efficient system for managing goods and services.

The liberal-left believes that unfettered capitalism will result in an unfair concentration of wealth in the hands of the few. It also believes that in a managed economy where everyone gains wealth, the total wealth in the system increases. Even if the slices of the pie remain unequally divided, the total size of the pie gets bigger.

Capitalism, even when somewhat managed, seems to be a system of emergent rules - where the order springs from the system itself.

No comments: