Thursday, December 29, 2005

Freedom Frosting on a Collectivist Cake

From the Conservative Party [United Kingdom] website:


BELIEFS

We believe in the family. But we shouldn’t preach to people about how they live their lives.

We must respond to the challenge of social breakdown by actively supporting marriage through the tax and benefits system. But in a more liberal and less deferential age, we must support all families, for example through childcare, because what matters most is that children are brought up in a stable, loving home.

We believe in personal responsibility. But not in selfish individualism.

So let us tackle the challenge of an increasingly atomised society by showing that personal responsibility is part of a shared responsibility; that we’re all in this together; that there’s a ‘we’ in our politics as well as a ‘me.’

We believe in lower taxes. But not in fostering greed or favouring the rich.

A strong economy needs competitive tax rates and good public infrastructure. So creating economic opportunity for all means fairly sharing the fruits of economic growth between lower taxes and strengthened public services.

We believe in high standards in health and education. But opt-outs and escape routes for the privileged few will never deliver high quality for all.

The challenge is to deliver equal access to first-class public services without burdening today’s generations with higher taxes, or tomorrow’s generations with higher debt. More choice, competition and local autonomy must be matched by strong leadership to raise standards.

We believe in limited government. But rolling back the state must never mean the weak are left behind.

We want civic society to flourish. We must help social enterprises and voluntary organisations do even more to tackle the entrenched problems that affect our communities, believing that there is such a thing as society, it’s just not the same thing as the state.

We believe in national sovereignty. But not in isolation and xenophobia.

Now is the time to fight for an open and flexible Europe, with a high growth, low unemployment future, recognising that Britain has always done best when she engages ethically and enthusiastically with the wider world.


By way of reply via PP Commentary:

The above collection of statements seems [to me] to be distillable into one simple sentence: We want socialism and collectivism but we hope you buy all of the freedom and individual responsibility rhetoric.

(1) Note how after mentioning "Personal responsibility" there is this knee-jerk reaction against "selfish individualism."

Frankly, I contend that we need more selfish individualists out there --- people who worry about themselves instead of poking around in the lives of others. We need more people who tell the state to go away so that they can lead their lives as they see fit.

(2) Note how "personal responsibility" is used in the same breath as "we're all in this together." That's like somebody calling themselves a libertarian collectivist. Words apparently have no meaning.

(3) Note the knee-jerk statement about "not favoring the rich" in a discussion of lowering taxes.

Fact: if you lower taxes, then the upper income folks, who have more possessions and a higher income than others, will benefit. Is this basic economic fact lost on those who wrote this platform statement?

I'm not rich. I don't know if I'll ever rise above the middle class here in the US. [Let's hope!] But I already pay less in taxes than a person making $200k per annum. I wish this latter person had to pay less taxes.

(4) "High standards in health and education" means more government involvement. People rarely do good jobs for free --- it costs money. Where is the money coming from? From taxpayers.

Let's stop using euphemisms for big government --- at least have the courage of your convictions and say what you think without the lofty rhetoric. If the Conservatives want large-scale government involvement in education and health care, they should say so and stop mangling words. At least Labour is more direct about wanting government in almost everything.

(5) "We believe in limited government..." Words truly have no meaning after all of the preceding qualifications above about health care, education, public access, taxation, etc.

This is psychologizing on my part, and thus quite questionable, but when you lack the courage of your convictions, you have to keep telling yourself I'm really a good person after all. Every collectivist qualification of a pro-individual statement feels [to me, I speak for nobody else] like the platform committee members are trying to have the same I'm sooooo compassionate feeling that is ubiquitous in those with more leftist attitudes.

(6) Note how national sovereignty is mentioned, but then in the same breath the knee-jerk response is "but we're not isolationists!" Why, that would be selfish for a country to look out for its own best interests.

******

Just like much of what passes for conservative ideology and policy here in the United States, the platform strikes me as a socialist cake with libertarian frosting. Those like me may at first enjoy the thin layer of frosting, but the cake underneath tastes rather putrid and gives one indigestion.

BTW, I don't want to throw around "socialist" as some sort of epithet. I personally do not like socialism, but if people want to be collectivists, that is their right as free rational agents. What I'm objecting to is the double-speak whereby one talks about freedom, personal responsibility, etc, out of one corner of one's mouth, while out of the other corner you're not saying anything that is different from those who want the loving Nanny State to live our lives for us. Just call it what it is. Present the choices honestly, with no deflecting flowery and lofty rhetoric.

******

As a student of worldviews, politics, etc over my adult life, I've come to the conviction --- and it grows stronger --- that certain ideas are formally and practically antithetical no matter how flowery the language is that connects them. You cannot have freedom, personal responsibility, private property, and so on, but have the State involved in taking your wealth, redistributing it, etc. You cannot have a free society, I'd contend, if government is powerful enough to enforce subsidized this and socialized that. From observing history as well as current affairs, there is no comfy middle ground where you can have "the best of both worlds."

In other words, you can't meaningfully sit on the fence dividing socialism and individualism. Well, you can try, but if you think for a minute about the embracing of contradictions, that fence can't feel too comfortable. Or so I'd contend.

If the Conservatives in Britain are worried about having their message be clear again to voters, they might start with the simple step of not contradicting themselves immediately after each pro-individual statement. I'd like to see our conservatives here in the US should do the same.

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