Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Pedantic Politics --- Part 1

I identify myself first and foremost as an Evangelical Christian. [Though those who know me can produce a great inventory of my moral failings and lack of success in living up to the scriptural ethos.] By this, I mean that I take the OT and NT as the final authority in those matters spoken to by the texts, and, contrary to the tone of the majority, I'll make quite scandalizing and exclusivist claims about how Christianity accurately describes reality, which means that claims contrary to my claims are, in my book, false.

But, given that I'm not a hermit, I have to live and interact with the world-at-large, so I have what I believe is a fairly-carefully thought-out political worldview, as well. This worldview would've been described long ago as classic liberalism, but now, it is somewhat a misnomer, since the term liberal connotes a system of beliefs and principles that I found morally abhorrent and in contradistinction to the nature of men. In today's parlance, the term Christian libertarian is a better fit, though I strongly disagree with the oft-stated libertarian claim that abortion is a strictly personal affair as well as the general leaning towards unrestricted immigration. The locus of my politics, if anybody cares, is found in Frederic Bastiat's The Law. This pamphlet from around 1850, and immediately following the French Revolution, is as fresh and modern as anything today, in terms of ideas. In my estimation, Bastiat knew the difference between real liberty and counterfeit liberty!

How many political theorists do you see saying things like this?

We hold from God the gift which includes all others. This gift is life — physical, intellectual, and moral life.

But life cannot maintain itself alone. The Creator of life has entrusted us with the responsibility of preserving, developing, and perfecting it. In order that we may accomplish this, He has provided us with a collection of marvelous faculties. And He has put us in the midst of a variety of natural resources. By the application of our faculties to these natural resources we convert them into products, and use them. This process is necessary in order that life may run its appointed course.

Life, faculties, production — in other words, individuality, liberty, property — this is man. And in spite of the cunning of artful political leaders, these three gifts from God precede all human legislation, and are superior to it. Life, liberty, and property do not exist because men have made laws. On the contrary, it was the fact that life, liberty, and property existed beforehand that caused men to make laws in the first place.


In other words, our life is not, on the political level, one devoted to an abstract and omnipotent State, but dedicated to preserving, developing, and perfecting that which God has entrusted to us.

Also, one's life, liberty and property, are, according to Bastiat, prior to any sort of legal system or State. For this to make sense, Bastiat assumes the following, among other things:

(a) The God of Western theism exists

(b) There is an objective standard of good and evil that exists independently of man and State

(c) Life, liberty, and private property are inherently good things.

Note too that Bastiat exposes those politicians and demagogues who would attempt to make freedom, liberty, and property the effects of their politics.

Considering that I work in the American academy, where just about every negation to the above is held with a militant fervor, the words of Bastiat, over 150 years old, are meat and sustenance to my mind. At any rate, I could blog constantly on The Law section-by-section over the next month.

Here is some more interesting food-for-thought, courtesy again of Mr Bastiat:

Socialists look upon people as raw material to be formed into social combinations. This is so true that, if by chance, the socialists have any doubts about the success of these combinations, they will demand that a small portion of mankind be set aside to experiment upon. The popular idea of trying all systems is well known. And one socialist leader has been known seriously to demand that the Constituent Assembly give him a small district with all its inhabitants, to try his experiments upon.

In the same manner, an inventor makes a model before he constructs the full-sized machine; the chemist wastes some chemicals — the farmer wastes some seeds and land — to try out an idea.

But what a difference there is between the gardener and his trees, between the inventor and his machine, between the chemist and his elements, between the farmer and his seeds! And in all sincerity, the socialist thinks that there is the same difference between him and mankind!

It is no wonder that the writers of the nineteenth century look upon society as an artificial creation of the legislator's genius. This idea — the fruit of classical education — has taken possession of all the intellectuals and famous writers of our country. To these intellectuals and writers, the relationship between persons and the legislator appears to be the same as the relationship between the clay and the potter.

Moreover, even where they have consented to recognize a principle of action in the heart of man — and a principle of discernment in man's intellect — they have considered these gifts from God to be fatal gifts. They have thought that persons, under the impulse of these two gifts, would fatally tend to ruin themselves. They assume that if the legislators left persons free to follow their own inclinations, they would arrive at atheism instead of religion, ignorance instead of knowledge, poverty instead of production and exchange.


Brief commentary on this passage:

(1) Listening to many fellow academics and those in charge of the academy, I can empirically testify that our self-proclaimed intellectual superiors in the academy do view the masses as clay to be molded according to whatever theory the alleged superior holds, just as Bastiat states.

(a) For example, I have seen white males in tenured positions publicly lamenting and wringing their hands over the fact that not enough people of a victim-class have an academic position. The solution is to bypass qualified white male candidates in order to hire the less-qualified victim candidate. Note that the man wringing his hands suffers no negatives in the entire affair: he keeps his job, and he is allowed to feel smug and righteous about his compassion and care for the victim groups. However, the more-qualified white male [or, more generally, anybody in an oppressor class] is rejected. The rejected one is the piece of clay for the socially engineering potter.

(b) Speech codes in the academy. People have probably read enough about these elsewhere. Here again, we have a group of self-appointed social engineers deigning certain speech as harmful, offensive, etc, because it does not conform with their politics. I remember at my faculty orientation meeting, we were supposed to stand up before others and confess how we've been racist, sexist, etc. I refused to do so, because I will not conform my speech to these people.

(2) The above snippet of Bastiat also covers the redistribution of wealth. Here, we see both of the major parties in the US act as if the State has the right to take as much of your money as they wish, to be used as the State wishes. And do not delude yourselves: the Republican party is just as criminal and complicit in this. The fact that Republican legislators may claim to take less of your money than the Democrats may or may not be true; the point still remains though that your money and property are not your own --- they are yours until the State decides it can redistribute them for purposes deemed more noble, more practical, etc.

What would I like to see? In the most general of terms, I'd like a true honoring of private property, the idea that people are sovereign and are not to be treated as experimental units to conform to somebody else's idea of "social justice" or "progress," and I'd like to see people keep their wealth and the fruits of their labors without having to have the State take a part of it from them. Both parties in the US are disappointments. I expect disappointment from the Democrats, because they're well on the way to full socialism; the Republican party, though, is the real disappointment, as it has affectations of being the party of liberty and smaller government.

I have spoken in very broad brushstroke terms here, but I'd like to get specific. Just what is liberty? My answer is expressed quite nicely by Bastiat:
Actually, what is the political struggle that we witness? It is the instinctive struggle of all people toward liberty. And what is this liberty, whose very name makes the heart beat faster and shakes the world? Is it not the union of all liberties — liberty of conscience, of education, of association, of the press, of travel, of labor, of trade? In short, is not liberty the freedom of every person to make full use of his faculties, so long as he does not harm other persons while doing so? Is not liberty the destruction of all despotism — including, of course, legal despotism? Finally, is not liberty the restricting of the law only to its rational sphere of organizing the right of the individual to lawful self-defense; of punishing injustice?

It must be admitted that the tendency of the human race toward liberty is largely thwarted, especially in France. This is greatly due to a fatal desire — learned from the teachings of antiquity — that our writers on public affairs have in common: They desire to set themselves above mankind in order to arrange, organize, and regulate it according to their fancy.


Ah, Monsieur Bastiat! Thou speakest the truth!

3 Comments:

Blogger steve said...

Great post! Reminds me of something I meant to include in my "white man's burden," but forgot. I've since amended it.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005 1:43:00 PM  
Blogger centuri0n said...

OK -- Bastiat sounds good.

Until you think two words: "original sin".

Wednesday, July 20, 2005 2:33:00 PM  
Blogger Pedantic Protestant said...

Nope. Bastiat takes this into account tacitly.

Sorry Frank, you lose a mug for that comment! Now you're down to 37 mugs. Next time you need 38 cups of coffee at the same time, won't you be sorry!

Wednesday, July 20, 2005 7:15:00 PM  

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