Monday, November 14, 2005

Political Labels, Miscellaneous Thoughts

Somebody named Mark wrote [in part] the following:

To be fair, the word "conservative" is equally empty of meaning. (Conserving what? Go back several centuries, and today's "conservatives" are that time's "radicals"...) "Progressive" works well enough as a shorthand for "things can't stay how they are, and the solutions we need haven't been widely applied before."

And weak argumentation is equally represented on all parts of the political spectrum, as is strong argumentation. Everyone has their blind spots where they have to either wave their hands and admit they don't know, but they can't admit they don't know.


This was in respones to my thread dealing with typical leftist inanity.

I promised a response, noting that I agreed with what I understood the gist of the question to be. I may have promised too much, since I don't have many profundities if any to reply. As a result, I'll just note some talking points.

(1) I agree that today "conservative" is equally devoid of meaning.
(a) Many self-stlyed conservatives support big government as long as the politician advocating it has an "R" after his name.
(i) Many support big public education
(ii) Many support graduated tax rates for higher income people
(iii) Many support gun control measures
(iv) Some I have met in life are adamant that abortion is not the taking of an innocent person's life.

(b) I note that many people consider President GW Bush to be conservative. I, on the other hand, have said not a few times that he isn't.

(2) BTW, as a side note, I don't call myself "conservative" in the Rush Limbaugh, Ann Coulter, William F. Buckley, National Review, Sean Hannity, etc, sense. I'm more accurately described as a "paleocon," or, my choice is "classic liberal." Given that most libertarians I've met have no problems with abortion, I at best grudgingly let myself be called libertarian, though that is no fault of the word "libertarian."

My politics, or more accurately the underlying principles on which they are based, are summed up quite nicely by Bastiat's The Law. I never get tired of linking to this pamphlet.

Economically, Henry Hazlett's classic Economics in One Lesson is a common sense that dispels much of the goofy economic thinking put forth by D's and R's today.

Another side note: I used to do volunteer work for the Republican Party.

(3) I disagree with Mark's view of the word "progressive." I don't see it as meaning "things can't stay how they are, and the solutions we need haven't been widely applied before." This is based on how I've seen self-styled progressives view themselves, as well as the various materials that I've seen them write. Having been on a college campus in some form as a student/grad student/lecturer/asst prof for 18 years, I've had the opportunity to swim in progressive culture.

When I hear "progressive" I view the word as meaning "We need more government." Given that I have a level of distrust of government at any level, I certainly revulse whenever I see a call for more government.

I view progressivism as, at best, naive utopianism, and, at worst, a not-too-subtle idolatry where the State is put forth in the role of God. The State provides, the State nurtures, the State is there for you, and, in Bill Clinton's infamous words, the State feels your pain and wants to wipe away every tear.

This isn't original in any sense, but, it seems pretty clear to me: if the State can provide everything anybody wants, then it is certainly powerful enough to take away what you have.

(4) I don't disagree at all with the statement that weak argumentation is provided by all ends of the political spectrum. I certainly shudder when I see Bill O'Reilly or Sean Hannity speak for conservatives. I'd much rather have Walter Williams or Thomas Sowell, but they don't seem to be loudmouth-ish enough for the talking-head role.

I'll also note that weak argumentation is not the same thing as having a weak case, and I think the classic liberal position is the strongest insofar as it is most consonant with human nature, and recognizes what men want, and it stays out of their way.

(5) Would I prefer a theocracy? Sure, provided that it was really God running the show. My objections come to when men set themselves up as rulers, almost as God, without express divine warrant.

So, I could stomach a theosocialist society since I trust God and God's direct agents to act in better ways than impersonal committees and people who want merely to spend my money to buy the votes of others.

(6) One thing I've heard from social gospel types repeatedly is that the early Christian Church was socialist. Why, all we have to do is refer to the Acts and see people giving their property, possessions, and money to the Church. Shouldn't we follow their example?

There is a big category mistake underlying all of this. The people who gave their goodies to the Church were [so we presume] doing so willingly and in freedom. They weren't doing so under the threat of force, imprisonment, and confiscation by the State. At PP, we're against forced and compulsory giving. If people decide that they want to give, more power to 'em.

BTW, notice that this is a very selective [not to mention incorrect] use of scripture
by the left. They seem to suddenly go into relativistic fits when scripture speaks clearly against, say, alternative lifestyles.

(7) I suppose I should mention once again my view of what government should do. For me, gov't exists to protect life and property. Gov't does not exist to ensure that I have a certain quality of life, "affordable housing," "subsidized X" [X=health care, insurance, etc], or any other such thing. When we start acting as if people have a right to certain possessions, we set up the stage for a corrupt government, and we open the door wide for all sorts of ambitious people who prey upon that part of human nature that wants something for nothing, or something from somebody else.

This is the best I could do in 15-20 minutes of stream-of-consciousness thought.

8 Comments:

Anonymous Mark said...

Dear PP,

My response will also, I'm afraid, have to be in broad strokes.

1. "Classic liberal" is indeed a term with a much more precise meaning than "conservative." It also isn't conservative in any meaningful way, being itself a product of the Enlightenment.

(The best analysis of how this plays out today that I've seen comes from Meic Pearse, in Why the Rest Hates the West. Pearse is emphatically not a progressive, nor is he a classic liberal. He argues that contemporary Western society has become post-traditional, in contrast to almost all of the rest of the world and human history. With our immense resources, we can afford to play fast and loose with cultural unity without having the inevitable conflict devolve into chaos. Because conflict for us is, in a real sense, institutionalized, our left and right use the polarizing binary logic of “freedom of the individual” versus “best for everyone,” picking rhetorical sides depending on the issue in question. As a result, the “argumentations of left and right…have tended to the same end: the breaking down of all durable institutions bigger than the individual and smaller than the state”—families, faith communities, civic associations, regional organizations, etc. This breakdown is unthinkable in traditional societies, where very few individuals have enough resources to “go it alone,” and very few states are secure enough to effectively care for their citizens through government programs.)

2. Your view of progressive thought as "we need more government" is, at best, incomplete. It is more accurate to say that progressives think we need reprioritized government. By some accounts (such as these folks'), spending on past and present military-related activity is nearly 50% of the federal budget. Progressives generally oppose militarization on principled and pragmatic grounds, and see that chunk of money (whatever the actual figure) as plenty large enough to expand social programs and have a government no bigger (or even smaller) than it currently is.

3. Progressives also generally view government as existing to protect life and property. However, they generally frown upon protecting property rights at the expense of protecting lives. Environmental and safety regulations, accessible health care, safe and secure housing for everyone--these involve limiting property rights so that many individuals avoid poisoning, fatal injury, or avoidable death from illness or exposure.

4. The left generally sees the right as the ones out of touch with reality. One example: if all individuals are to support themselves solely through the fruit of their labor, that's all well and good--but where are the jobs for everyone? The classic liberal market requires a certain level of unemployment to keep wage pressure and inflation down.

5. Advocating a political system based on its congeniality with human nature seems a questionable line of argument for a Christian, given our longstanding realization that human nature is sinful through and through.

6. Appeals to common sense are as often or not the last resort of those without empirical data to back up their views.

None of the above points are necessarily an argument for progressives being right, either in general or on specific policy issues. But they do run counter to the premises you've chosen to work from, I think.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005 12:15:00 AM  
Anonymous Mark said...

Also, coincidentally, I just came across this food for thought from over at a slacktivist open thread:

"The only nations where taxation is theft are those which you aren't allowed to leave. Period. If you have the legal option to quit a nation, or if you have the legal option to stop paying taxes by not using the state supported economy, then it's not theft. The USA offers both options, and I myself have, in the past, utilized each."

Tuesday, November 15, 2005 12:28:00 AM  
Blogger Highland Host said...

As a Highland Host, I needs must say that I am a conservative. Highland Hosts are always conservative.
(Previously 1689)

Tuesday, November 15, 2005 9:21:00 AM  
Blogger Pedantic Protestant said...

Enumerated reply:

(1) If you contend that I'm using the term "classic lib" imprecisely or just flat-out incorrectly, I'll allow for the possibility that you're right. I use that term on myself based on what others [who seem to know the things of which they speak] say.

I'd rather just say I'm anti-State based on what the modern conception of the State happens to be.

And if I can wax verbose, I'd say I'm pro-life, anti-tax, anti-regulation, pro-gun, pro-private property, anti-collectivist, etc. These too are slogans, but they give more of an accurate picture.

BTW, I cheered when the aliens blew up the White House in Independence Day, and not just because I imagined Clinton in there, either!

(2) I have yet to see one progressive idea that doesn't call for a proscription of personal freedoms and liberties.

One might say that the progressive love of abortion is an anti-gov't position. But often this is accompanied by the idea that I have to pay for the taking of life.

(3) The progressives I've known [and remember I've been in the university setting for close to two decades now] view gov't as the great equalizer, the tool to carry out what Sowell refers to as "cosmic justice."

(4) What the left thinks of the right and vice-versa is not important to me. I consider leftist ideology deficient in theory, and murderous in practice.

And I don't claim that individuals have to support themselves solely through the fruit of their labor --- if I've been clear, I merely stand against the idea that the guy down the street has a right to the fruits of my labor because some third party determines that it is for the best.

(5) Human nature is completely sinful, but there are plenty of admonitions in scripture that correspond with what our human nature agrees with, even in its fallen state. Of course, there are plenty of admonitions that go against our nature too.

What I mean is this: is man meant to work in a collective? Do we have a desire "to have more" so that we can enjoy it, or so that we can have it redistributed to others who did not work for it? Etc.

(6) Questions of a moral nature are not amenable to statistical analyses. I don't argue against abortion or gun control, say, based on data, but on moral principles.

If only you were a Roman Catholic...you'd made a respectable arch enemy! :-)

Tuesday, November 15, 2005 5:04:00 PM  
Anonymous Diane said...

Mark,

Is the United States really a place where you can avoid taxes by not participating in the "state supported economy"? If so, where?

Note that in taxes, I'm including in property taxes as well as all of the income taxes, sales taxes, etc.

I'd love to move to such a place, but I honestly don't think that it exists. As far as I know, even the states with no income tax have property taxes.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005 6:44:00 AM  
Blogger Shamgar said...

First, PP, I am so glad I stumbled across your site. It always encourages me to find others of like mind.


2. Your view of progressive thought as "we need more government" is, at best, incomplete. It is more accurate to say that progressives think we need reprioritized government. By some accounts (such as these folks'), spending on past and present military-related activity is nearly 50% of the federal budget. Progressives generally oppose militarization on principled and pragmatic grounds, and see that chunk of money (whatever the actual figure) as plenty large enough to expand social programs and have a government no bigger (or even smaller) than it currently is.


I think you have a misconception of what "Big Government" is. Big Government is not necessarily synonymous with "Spending more money". Usually you have to spend more money to grow the government, so they tend to be associated. Expanding social programs, by definition, is making the government bigger.

3. Progressives also generally view government as existing to protect life and property. However, they generally frown upon protecting property rights at the expense of protecting lives. Environmental and safety regulations, accessible health care, safe and secure housing for everyone--these involve limiting property rights so that many individuals avoid poisoning, fatal injury, or avoidable death from illness or exposure.


The problem with this is that it removes the freedom of deciding those things from the individual. It places a small group of people up as knowing what is best for everyone else. Such that people who say, are willing to take the risk of potentially being harmed in exchange for maybe being cured, aren't able to make that choice.

You provide a crutch for people till they think they no longer have to think critically and can simply abdicate all responsibility to the government. Then you end up with situations like Katrina, where citizens are completely unprepared and the government is woefully inadequate to the task of caring for them.


4. The left generally sees the right as the ones out of touch with reality. One example: if all individuals are to support themselves solely through the fruit of their labor, that's all well and good--but where are the jobs for everyone? The classic liberal market requires a certain level of unemployment to keep wage pressure and inflation down.


That is what the Church is for. I wouldn't think we'd have to say that. And when the government isn't robbing the people of a large percentage of their income so that they can attempt to make some poor secular substitute for the church we're ever more capable of exactly that. And when the government isn't being a nanny for the nation, there are more opportunities for us to help, as people will be more open to accepting it.


5. Advocating a political system based on its congeniality with human nature seems a questionable line of argument for a Christian, given our longstanding realization that human nature is sinful through and through.


We aren't advocating it based on its congeniality. Rather, we understand that human nature is sinful, and our political system takes that into account. We recognize that no government is going to be able to counteract the sinfulness of man, only the Holy Spirit can do that. This political system accounts for man's sinful fallen state, creating an almost ideal environment for the growth of the church.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005 8:04:00 PM  
Anonymous Mark said...

Diane,

Note that in taxes, I'm including in property taxes as well as all of the income taxes, sales taxes, etc.

I would imagine it is very hard, but possible. There are people who do without lots of things, and barter for the rest.

Property tax is one of the easiest to avoid, actually: just rent, or pay camping fees. (Of course, then your money is covering someone else's property taxes...) Getting off the grid is trickier when renting, though.

Sunday, November 20, 2005 2:53:00 PM  
Anonymous Mark said...

Dear PP,

"I have yet to see one progressive idea that doesn't call for a proscription of personal freedoms and liberties."

What's the joke...A man goes up to a woman and asks, "Would you have sex with me for a million dollars?" The woman thinks hard and says, "Yes." The man then asks, "Would you have sex with me for a dollar?" The woman, shocked, replies, "What do you take me for?" The man answers: "Madam, we've already determined what you are. Now we're just haggling about price."

If we're going to have government protecting life and property, we're already in the business of proscribing individual freedoms and liberties: my freedom to kill you, for example, or my liberty to camp out in your backyard. The statist vs. individualist argument is simply haggling over what freedoms and liberties will be proscribed.

This haggling centers around discussions of "rights." Progressives and libertarians (sorry for using that word) disagree about what rights people have, on what basis, and how they should be prioritized. But they're talking about fundamentally the same kind of social contract.

"The progressives I've known [and remember I've been in the university setting for close to two decades now] view gov't as the great equalizer, the tool to carry out what Sowell refers to as 'cosmic justice.'"

Academics and students are not exactly representative or progressives as a whole. Academics of all persuasions tend to be the loopiest of their kind, because they never have to test their ideas in practice.

Most progressives do see government as the best tool to achieve their goals, it's true, because historically it has been. Government is what ended slavery, segregation, the disenfranchisement of women, child labor, dumping industrial waste directly into rivers, etc. Most progressives would be happy to see these goals achieved by other means, but they know it's not realistic, because people tend towards protecting their own self-interest, and without external constraints it's the most ruthless people who protect their own self-interest the most effectively.

One can argue the wiseness of progressive goals, or the effort progressives put into finding non-governmental solutions, of course.

"What the left thinks of the right and vice-versa is not important to me. I consider leftist ideology deficient in theory, and murderous in practice."

Yes, and they consider your views deficient in theory and murderous in practice. You considering it so doesn't make it so, any more than them considering you so makes it so.

"And I don't claim that individuals have to support themselves solely through the fruit of their labor --- if I've been clear, I merely stand against the idea that the guy down the street has a right to the fruits of my labor because some third party determines that it is for the best."

So your position is that individuals must support themselves on the fruits of their labor and the unreliable kindness of others. Which inevitably leads to people falling through the cracks. Other than "that's a shame," do you have a reasoned counterargument against that?

Also, it is not a third person deciding what is best. It is the citizenry as a whole, through the mechanism of participatory government. It's you and everybody else picking who will decide what's best (or at least what's better) and holding them accountable. That might not be considered preferable to a random third party, but one should be accurate about what one is objecting to.

"What I mean is this: is man meant to work in a collective? Do we have a desire 'to have more' so that we can enjoy it, or so that we can have it redistributed to others who did not work for it? Etc."

I would say the Biblical picture of how man is supposed to live is that we are meant to live in community. God's covenant with Israel in the Old Testament is with the community as a whole, not with individuals; the new covenant in Jesus is with the Body of Christ, the universal church, not with individuals per se (though individuals are critically important within the Body). The desire to "have more" is presented as good, because we are not only meant to enjoy having things ourselves, but enjoy other people having them too.

Is that a "collective"? I don't know. It doesn't sound like it to me.

I'd be interested in seeing how you read Scripture so that the individual is so highly privileged.

"Questions of a moral nature are not amenable to statistical analyses."

Nor is the moral choice generally the common sense choice. The world would be in much better shape if it were.

"I don't argue against abortion or gun control, say, based on data, but on moral principles."

Okay, then: from what moral authority to you derive your principles? Mine is the God revealed in Jesus Christ, who we learn about through Scripture and the experience of the universal church.

"If only you were a Roman Catholic...you'd made a respectable arch enemy! :-)"

Sorry to disappoint! I'm an evangelical, though a high-church one.

Sunday, November 20, 2005 3:41:00 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home