Monday, May 10, 2004

From my website -- an attempt to explain Political Philosophy to my young son.

Political Philosophooey

Dear Zachary:

Liberal, Democratic, Conservative, Republican, Libertarian. Communism, Socialism, Fascism, Anarchism, Capitalism. So many names. So many ‘isms.’ What do they all mean? How do they relate to each other. What do they mean directly to you, to me and to everyone else?

You’ve heard me rant many times about the irrational need of so many people (the electorate) to be controlled and manipulated by an endless supply of bozos (politicians and bureaucrats) who revel in creating a mountain of stupid laws to meet that need. Let’s discuss this perplexing situation a bit. We can start by defining some terms:

politics -- The art or science of government or governing, especially the governing of a political entity, such as a nation, and the administration and control of its internal and external affairs. (The American Heritage Dictionary)

philosophy -- Inquiry into the nature of things based on logical reasoning rather than empirical methods. (ibid.)

phooey -- Function: interjection. Used to express repudiation or disgust. (Merriam-Webster Dictionary)

Can you see where I’m headed, Zachary? Do you get the feeling that perhaps I have some small degree of scepticism about whether there is any value to political philosophy?

Actually, I do think that political philosophy has value. It gives us context necessary for comparing varying political and socio-economic systems. It is sometimes easier to value the presence of something featured in one system by being reminded of its absence in another. I’m just annoyed that it is increasingly difficult to define one’s position. Terminology, nomenclature, rhetoric is seemingly even more elastic in matters political than anywhere else.

That’s a problem. A big problem.

Just about everything has a name. It is easier to direct attention to something by using a one-word name than by using a descriptive paragraph. The less time and effort it takes to identify something, the more time can be spent discussing the pros and cons of the thing. That is good. Political philosophy (as defined above) is merely a discussion of how we should govern ourselves. Discussion is good. Discussion is not the problem.

Do any of us actually understand all of the ‘isms’ I mentioned above? Do we understand the laws that rule us? Even more importantly, how many of us understand the effects those laws have on each of us individually and on all of us collectively? Very, very few.

Why is that? Politicians obfuscate. It gets them re-elected. If no-one can understand what is going on, then the perception is that we need someone to guide us through the fog. Many people want to be led. A few people even think that they need to be led.

Bureaucrats complicate. It gives them more work to do. It gives them job security. It means promotions as ever more bureaucrats are added to the Ministry of Redundancy.

Ergo ‘political philosophooey.’ That’s what I think. It’s all, pardon the expression, crap.

Let’s take a closer look at the various ‘isms’ and then try to understand what each means to those living under each system. Let’s begin with what I consider to be the worst ‘ism’ of them all: communism. All definitions used are from The American Heritage Dictionary. My personal comments follow each definition.

communism 1. A theoretical economic system characterized by the collective ownership of property and by the organization of labor for the common advantage of all members. 2. Communism.a. A system of government in which the state plans and controls the economy and a single, often authoritarian party holds power, claiming to make progress toward a higher social order in which all goods are equally shared by the people. b. The Marxist-Leninist version of Communist doctrine that advocates the overthrow of capitalism by the revolution of the proletariat.

The appeal of Communism, in my humble opinion, is that its adherents actually think that they have collective ownership of property and that they believe that everyone under the system is somehow ‘equal.’ The reality, of course, is that common ownership is nominal only. Real control of property is with the central authority, whatever they might call themselves. Citizens in countries controlled by communists, past and present, are poor, anything but free, often brutalized. That, in no way, appeals to me.

Communism has been the direct cause of more deaths than any other political system in history. Vladimir Lenin and Joseph Stalin in Russia, Chairman Mao in China, and lesser communist tyrants elsewhere on the globe were responsible for approximately 100,000,000 human dead. That’s one hundred million. That is three times the current population of Canada or over one third of the population of the United States. I don’t think that anyone in the world would disagree that communism is at the far left of the political spectrum. Yet do-gooders, meddlers and generally liberals of every stripe, proudly admit to everyone who will listen that they are ‘left-of-centre.’

socialism 1.a. A social system in which the means of producing and distributing goods are owned collectively and political power is exercised by the whole community. b. The theory or practice of those who support such a social system. 2. The building of the material base for communism under the dictatorship of the proletariat in Marxist-Leninist theory.

Socialism is basically just watered-down communism. It is also a term that can, and has been, claimed as the operative political system in regimes which have been just as totalitarian as Stalin’s Russia and Chairman Mao’s China. Think Germany. Yep, those reviled Nazis (1933 - 1945) were, in fact, officially socialists. The name of Adolf Hitler’s political party was Nationalsozialistischen Deutschen Arbeiterpartei (NSDAP.) That translates to National Socialistic German Workers Party. The moniker ‘Nazi’ was a nickname which evolved from the party name. Currently, European countries like Sweden are held up as shining examples of socialism, with cradle-to-the-grave social and health care and correspondingly ruinous tax rates. Canada, where we live, is well on its way to full-blown socialism. It is a slippery slope which leads to an accelerating loss of freedom and an ever-diminishing decrease in our ability to advance financially.

fascism 1.a. A system of government marked by centralization of authority under a dictator, stringent socio-economic controls, suppression of the opposition through terror and censorship, and typically a policy of belligerent nationalism and racism. b. A political philosophy or movement based on or advocating such a system of government. 2. Oppressive, dictatorial control.

Italy, under Benito Mussolini (1922 - 1943,) is often used as the definitive example of Fascism. Sometimes Nazi Germany is cited. I have one question: If a political system’s characteristics are enslavement to the state, what difference does it make what it is called? Communist, socialist, fascist, I don’t care... just get me out of there as quickly as possible.

anarchism 1. The theory or doctrine that all forms of government are oppressive and undesirable and should be abolished. 2. Active resistance and terrorism against the state, as used by some anarchists. 3. Rejection of all forms of coercive control and authority.

The terms anarchism and anarchy typically evoke in all variety of statists a vision of hell on earth. How could we function, after all, without a government telling us what to do or not to do. Impossible! Is it really impossible? I think not. I would rather live in a nation completely without government than in one where every action is controlled, monitored, taxed. Anarchists are often portrayed (usually incorrectly) as a bunch of violent, nihilistic misfits. Personally, I am disinclined to do anything violent to achieve anarchism. All I want is to be left alone. Anarcho-Capitalists, Individualist Anarchists and Agorists all make some interesting points and are worthy of analysis.

capitalism An economic system in which the means of production and distribution are privately or corporately owned and development is proportionate to the accumulation and reinvestment of profits gained in a free market.

True laissez-faire capitalism can only exist in a free society with property rights recognized as a natural extension of the rights to life and liberty. I don’t know of any place in the world where there is true capitalism. Canada and the United States have statist variants of capitalism where businesses are rewarded or punished according to the mood of the electorate. When economies slow, let’s throw the business community a bone via moderately decreased taxes so employment will rise. When the economy is booming, let’s tax businesses until they bleed. Oh, and above all, let’s blame business for everything. Overweight? Blame McDonald’s and sue them for millions, so you can sit on your fat ass and cry in the beer that you buy with the money that the courts will extort from McDonald’s on your behalf. The general public’s approach towards business is much like a sick marriage or love affair where one party sucks the life out of the other, one indignity at a time, while professing everlasting love and devotion.

Want to see what capitalism can really do? Get rid of every corporate subsidy. They merely serve to protect some businesses at the expense of others. Get rid of every useless regulation and all predatory fees and taxes. The economy will boom and there will be full employment for everyone who wants to work. Best of all, everyone will be too busy enjoying their wealth to meddle in the affairs of the rest of us.

liberal 1.a. Not limited to or by established, traditional, orthodox, or authoritarian attitudes, views, or dogmas; free from bigotry. b. Favoring proposals for reform, open to new ideas for progress, and tolerant of the ideas and behavior of others; broad-minded. c. Of, relating to, or characteristic of liberalism.

It is hard to find real fault with dictionary definitions of liberalism. The reality, however, is that modern liberals rarely believe in individual responsibility. In their eyes, students fail because of poor teachers. Employees fail to advance because their bosses discriminate against blacks, gays or women. The thought that anything that might happen to them might be their own fault is something that wouldn’t occur to a liberal. No, the system is always at fault and only the government can fix it, preferably by taxing the ‘rich’ and spending many, many millions or billions on the ‘problem.’ Decades later, the problem might still there, but liberals would believe that it is only because enough money wasn’t spent.

democratic 1. Of, characterized by, or advocating democracy. 2. Of or for the people in general; popular. 3. Believing in or practicing social equality

Democracy is for the people, by the people. It means majority rule. And the majority is always right. Right? I don’t think so. Democracy is the worst possible form of government, except for all the others. Just so I am crystal clear on this matter, I think that democratic government ultimately sows the seeds of its own deterioration and ultimate destruction. The majority keeps on voting itself more and more perks at the expense of the taxpayer and attempts to legislate everyone’s behaviour until we all form a nice, homogenous, featureless, tasteless human soup. The only thing that democracy has going for it is that every other political system is worse.

conservative 1. Favoring traditional views and values; tending to oppose change. 2. Traditional or restrained in style. 3. Moderate; cautious. 4.a. Of or relating to the political philosophy of conservatism. b. Belonging to a conservative party, group, or movement.

The way that the term conservative is used or abused these days puzzles me. After all, the definition is quite clear. I can understand a desire to embrace traditional values and opposing change if that change is demonstrably for the worse. Conservatives typically have core values which they adhere to and champion. In typically Orwellian fashion, conservatives are labelled by others as being right-wing and, by association, are deemed as aspiring to be jack-booted fascists.

republican 1. Of, relating to, or characteristic of a republic. 2. Being in favor of a republic as the best form of government.

Republicans favour a government which is headed by a president and which utilizes representative democracy and not direct democracy. The intent of the founding fathers of the United States of America was to have a rule of law and not necessarily rule of the majority.

The United States has representative government, but the final choice as to who will be president is made by the Electoral College. This distinction is more nominal than practical. For a detailed explanation of the Electoral College and how it works, please click here.

In America’s republican system, a system of checks and balances allows several branches of the government to operate fairly independently of each other. At least that is the theory. In reality, if members of one party control the presidency, the judiciary, the House of Representatives and the Senate, they will be able to do just about whatever they please.

libertarian 1. One who believes in freedom of action and thought. 2. One who believes in free will.

I’ve saved the best for last. Imagine -- freedom of action and thought! Free will! That’s the sort of system I want to live in. Unfortunately, there isn’t a single country on planet Earth that has a Libertarian government. Libertarians have considerable difficulty in campaigning for and working towards forming a government. After all, they would only have to dismantle it, in great part, once they were elected. Libertarians I know personally are busy living -- going to school, getting married, starting careers, raising families -- all while minding their own business. Leave them alone and they’ll leave you alone. Some libertarians are wonderful, some are puzzling, some are pompous, some are humble. They are human beings.

So, Zachary, this has been your lesson in political philosophy. Confusing, isn’t it? I’ve tried to be as accurate as possible in my comments, but I will readily admit that my preference is to live in the freest possible system. Do you blame me?

Before I finally end this letter to you, I want to point out one more thing. The current convention of placing every political system on a horizontal (left-right) axis is nonsense. It makes no sense. Is there a better way?

There is, indeed, a better way. In the 1970s a young man by the name of David Nolan came up with a grid which had on its vertical axis the degree of individual liberty and on its horizontal axis the degree of economic liberty. Any political system could thus be more accurately charted and compared to other systems. The newest iteration of Nolan’s original grid can be found at the website of the Advocates for Self-Government.

OK. That’s it. Next time I write you a letter, Zachary, I think I am going to stick to something simple, like... well, you’re just going to have to wait and see.



  1. I really enjoyed the clarity and skill of your writing ability. You have taken a wide ranging theme and made it compelling reading. With your knowledge of my genuine admiration of your work, I trust you will not object to my printing of this document, and I look forward to reading more of the Atavist.

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