CAPITALISM IN A FREE SOCIETY
i've recently come to the conclusion that there is no logic to politics. some political persuasions may have an internal logic (especially libertarianism and communism), but there is no superordinate logic to politics in general. it all boils down to sentiment, appeals to emotion and sympathy. all politicians will pander to their audiences. it's not a matter of truth, but of opportunity.
That, I believe, is a salient perception. In a nation that is more-or-less "governed by the people," there SHOULD be no prevailing political persuasion in those political parties that attract significant numbers of voters. In this view, some level of "pandering" may not be all bad.John
well, what i meant specifically by "pandering" is that candidates will change their ideology to suit their audience. once in office, though, their real loyalties surface. take steve forbes, for instance. in front of the christian coalition, he's a moral firebrand--pro-life and so on. the rest of the time, all he really talks about is the flat tax. pandering in that sense is not good; it doesn't mean that there is no prevailing political persuasion, but that the candidates are opportunists. rather than say "pandering" may not be all bad, i would suggest saying that candidates and elected officials should be responsive to their constituencies. they should act primarily as a mouthpiece. certainly, in some instances, officials cannot rely on public opinion (when to declare war, etc.), but i think these instances have a limited occurrence.
It comes down to a matter of simple honesty. Of course, an honest politician is usually considered an oxymoron.John
a friend of mine once suggested that anyone can claim honesty before they reach office and mean it; but once in office, the money starts to appear and it becomes much harder to resist. i'm not so certain that libertarians would necessarily stay true to their anti-corporate welfare principles, especially if personal gain were involved. i mean, once you've been elected to congress you've got a pension. it doesn't matter a whole lot if you're not re-elected.Eyler
Under a government subject to the will of the people, you have political parties that, instead of having a logical dogma (like libertarianism and communism) they are trying to promote, basically make an appeal to the people from what Jefferson identified as one of two basic political persuasions: what we call the conservative or the liberal.
"The parties of Whig and Tory are those of nature. They exist in all countries, whether called by these names or by those of Aristocrats and Democrats, Cote Droite and Cote Gauche, Ultras and Radicals, Serviles and Liberals. The sickly, weakly, timid man fears the people, and is a Tory by nature. The healthy, strong and bold cherishes them, and is formed a Whig by nature." --Thomas Jefferson to Lafayette, 1823. ME 15:492
hate to say it, but this looks suspiciously like an us/them dichotomy. given the choice, who would really want to be "sickly, weakly, timid"?Eyler
Yes, I think you're right. I'm not sure Jefferson was 100% serious. But we know that if the Tories were describing it, they would call themselves mature, solid, and careful, and the Whigs, frivolous, rushing in like fools, change for change's sake, etc. Everyone tends to describe their opposition in terms flattering to themselves.John
based on this classification, i would prefer that everyone were a whig or progressive. you could have a range, but all candidates should be at the least responsive to their constituents, defenders of our basic rights, and progressive in outlook (i.e., optimistic, believe that things can be changed for the better), and open-minded. of course, some could be more culturally traditional, some could be civil libertarians; some could support a limited government role in the economic sphere, some could support redistribution programs; but all should be looking out for the interests of the people, and not themselves or industry or minority special interests (they should, of course, support the rights of minority groups, but should not attempt to enforce minority opinions on the majority).Eyler
I think that was Jefferson's view also, because he considered the whole nation as "substantially republican."
Jefferson considered this basic division to be entirely natural, and something that should be embraced, not condemned.
"The common division of Whig and Tory... is the most salutary of all divisions and ought, therefore, to be fostered instead of being amalgamated; for take away this, and some more dangerous principle of division will take its place." --Thomas Jefferson to William Short, 1825. ME 16:96
Such a more dangerous principle of division is inevitably a more ideological division -- one based on abstract political principles, not on an appeal to a sovereign people.
this makes sense. but i still prefer my "range of progressives" idea. of course, today you have very few true "conservatives". those who call themselves conservatives really combine elements of classical liberalism with cultural traditionalism (parochialism?). most true conservatives are actually known as liberals (e.g., john miller and neil postman); but what they want to "conserve" is culture in the face of the homogenizing effects of industrial capitalism. so modern "conservatives" are actually proponents of the progressive growth of urban-industrialism. i consider myself close to the cultural conservatives; i prefer classic art, music and literature to this mass-produced junk (except the simpsons, which provides delightful social commentary) you see today. and what is it that allows this mass-produced junk to survive? it is capitalism, in the form i outlined above. bombarded with advertisements, we are convinced that we need to buy this cd, that we need to read this author, that we need to watch this television program; it's a pretty blatant appeal to the herd mentality in all of us, really. simply show how the majority of people (why do you think we are so impressed with those "4 out of 5" commercials?) supposedly think and feel, and we get the sense that perhaps we should think and feel that way, too. it's pretty impressive, really. of course, most people don't have the time or desire to reflect on the situation, so it goes on pretty much unabated.Eyler
This herd mentality thing is a problem in a free society. It goes counter to the proper functioning of a democratic republic when the masses of people can be controlled by advertisers, when persons are elected to public office mainly (though not entirely) on the basis of how much advertising money they spend. And then, getting that money makes them beholden to moneyed interests, which further corrupts the political institutions. And since the elimination of the corruption is limited by that same advertising requirements, the problem looks serious, and at this point maybe even beyond solution.John
the only way to avoid the herd mentality is through a good education--free and available to everyone. but then, of course, you have the problem of actually convincing people they need that education. but this idea of the mass man has been in our political thinking since the first days of the republic (and before). it was hamilton's big issue: "the great beast". too easily controlled and manipulated. that's what checks and balances are for; that's what republicanism is for. "the people" have generally been considered too stupid or too easily manipulated to have a pure democracy. i think that's a standard of classical liberalism. that's one reason marxism and anarchism may have been so feared by the old order: they actually suggested that the people can handle things on their own.Eyler
Did Marxism actually suggest placing sovereign choice in the hands of the people? Or was his just another one of those systems that said it was geared to the public interest/welfare, but in fact was something imposed on the people "for their own good"? We know that the latter is what the so-called "People's Republic of Whatever" (the communist nations) really is: a governmental system that supposedly does all these good and rightful things "for" the people, but consists really of a managerial dictatorship that imposes its will on the people, as in China, North Korea and Cuba right now. The people's decision there is limited to "one man, one vote, one party, one choice."John
well, i suppose we'll never know, because marxism was never actually enacted. i'd say it comes between the "public interest" and "imposition" approaches. after all, marx considered communism a historical necessity. so in that sense it would be imposed. but on the other hand, he wanted a situation where workers controlled the products of their labor (rather than capitalists), and sought minimal government. the problem is, as he was aware, communism wouldn't work unless the whole world was involved. lenin thought it better to form a communist country immediately, and then wait for others to follow suit. so who knows? either way, it's impractical. my point is still valid, i think; whatever his ultimate goals, marx presented a very real threat to the "bourgeois" status quo.Eyler
I don't mean to be argumentative, but I feel this is an important point. Without question, Marx was viewed as a threat. But whether Marxism was actually enacted or not, there is a crucial dividing line here, and it is between a "government of the people" and a "government organized around a blueprint."John
well, in that sense i don't think marx himself wanted a "government organized around a blueprint". as far as i can tell, he saw communism as a historical inevitability, but the imposition of communism was to be facilitated by the workers. i think marx likely saw himself as a prophet of sorts. or a paul revere. someone who drew the workers' attention to the failings of capitalism. marx was opposed to those who invoked his name to support one system or another; a group of french "marxists" provoked marx to say "i am not a marxist". lenin's contribution to marxism was the idea of the vanguard party. where marx saw communism as a historical necessity, lenin though it necessary to form a communist nation, which would inspire other nations to communism.Eyler
The fact that Marx saw communism as an historical inevitability would suggest that he did not see himself as inventing a system or blueprint, but rather as projecting the course of ineluctable forces, whether he was correct in his analysis or not. A full discussion of Marx in relation to Jefferson and the Founders of American society would be an interesting topic, though probably not germane to an analysis of Friedman's book. Perhaps we should keep it in mind for a later and separate dialog.
i agree, if simply for the fact that i think marx is incredibly misunderstood. just like jefferson, really. people seize on particular things, and fail to see the broader picture. next semester or possibly over the summer i think i will try to do some independent (i.e., directed) study of marx and marxism (specifically i will be looking at its applications to geography, but perhaps i will have the time to read kapital, grundrisse, and other important books).Eyler
A blueprint is a system imposed in a totalitarian fashion, as in that quote from Karl Popper:
"Any society organized around a blueprint is inherently totalitarian."
another worthy quote:
"historically, the truths of black and white, without the nuances of gray in between, have contributed to the dehumanization of human beings and their conditions of life. absolutist truth is an unacceptable truth in both the interpretation of what human nature is all about and in the making of modern environments to suit that puported nature....a human being is more than a bundle of binary oppositions; she or he does not always crave an absolute social, spatial, or universal order. a human being can accept and even thrive on the ambiguities of humanist relativism." --from edmund bunkse, a humanistic geographer.
this sentiment applies as much to capitalism (in its libertarian forms) as it does to communism. both assume, or aspire to, an "absolute" social order. however, this absolute order vitiates the human individual. the individual is literally subsumed in the face of some overarching principle of organization or force; in both cases, really, this is economic determinism. this is one reason why i separate marx from marxism; the latter has historically tended to develop into a strongly structuralist approach (i.e., denying human agency), whereas marx made clear in many writings that humans are willfull agents.Eyler
This is what the libertarians don't seem to realize. When you say that society must conform to a certain ideological plan, you have already proposed a tyranny. A free people are free to do what they choose.John
absolutely. but i don't think libertarians are really striving for a "free people", but rather for free markets. at least they're honest about it, i suppose. as i said earlier, for libertarians capitalism is a necessary condition for freedom, not necessarily a logical extension of freedom.Eyler
Bingo! I think you've hit it on the head. The libertarians are striving for free markets as a adjunct to individual freedom. The idea of a "free people" never enters their lexicon, never figures into their political strategies. But a free people is definitely Jeffersonian, and is just as definitely at the foundation of this country, even though it seems to be only dimly recognized now, if at all. A free people is what our constitutional system has established. The idea of a government that is forced to provide individuals with certain liberties is a product of European liberalism going back to John Locke. Such a government could as easily be a monarchy as a republic. Locke apparently had no particular objection to the English monarchy, as long as it provided certain narrowly defined rights: life, liberty, property. But for the American Founding Fathers, the government was an arm of the people, and its role was much broader than merely a rights facilitator. It was a servant of the people collectively, and was expected to dance to the people's tune. In fact, for Jefferson, the people were to be introduced into the functioning of the government at every point where they were competent.
"We think in America that it is necessary to introduce the people into every department of government as far as they are capable of exercising it, and that this is the only way to insure a long- continued and honest administration of its powers." --Thomas Jefferson to Abbe Arnoux, 1789. Papers, 15:283. ME 7:422
Hence, the people could make it do things for their convenience and accomodation, and it was for this reason that Jefferson changed Locke's "life, liberty, and property" to "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness": the American government's role was greater; it could be used to assist the whole people in their pursuit of happiness. That means MORE than just guaranteeing their individual rights. But the libertarians and the European liberals saw government more narrowly, as a necessary evil that must be harnessed to provide certain predetermined protections for individuals. The idea of a whole people using the government for their mutual ends was not a part of libertarian thinking.John
i agree with this assessment, and could not have phrased it better. i would add that, despite their protestations to the contrary, libertarians cannot but help and see other people as means to an end, and not ends in themselves. if people where not "means", then how could you have profit? you only obtain profit by artificially increasing the cost of some service or product, and passing this extra cost onto other people. if your priority is profit, you can't but help and use other people as a means to that end. i don't blame libertarians for this point; i just don't think they see it clearly enough.
True. Someone may be using people as a means, but it is usually a fair means. When put in such terms, we are unable to have any kind of mutual relationship with another person without having it characterized as using them as a means to our own ends. Otherwise, we would not bother to approach them at all. But given that, we still must determine when the "use" is fair and reasonable. I don't think it is either, if the criteria is whatever we can get away with -- which just may be the practical outcome of the Objectivist "free trader" relationship theory, which defines a moral interrelationship as that between two people freely exchanging value for value.John
granted that economic relationships entail using other people as means. the problem is two-fold: one, libertarians often claim that their philosophy is moral precisely because it sees other people as ends in themselves; and two, often in our striving for certain ends we completely overlook how this affects the means used to obtain them. it's easy to see where profit-as-end will lead us.
This issue illustrates the abstract, theoretical, "egg-head" position of those who proclaim so self-righteously that they see others as ends in themselves, not as means to someone else's ends. Ultimately, it all depends on your point of view, how you decide to describe it. Instead of striving for the right artificial descriptors, we should be examining the nature of the relationships: are the equal rights of persons involved being respected? That is what is essential -- questions of justice and fairness, not the clever words we might use to disguise our intentions. When we respect the equal rights of others, then, and only then, do we begin to have a relationship with them that does NOT use those others unjustly as means. But "seeing other people as ends in themselves" is not precise at all; rather, it becomes a matter of what you choose to ignore or take for granted.John
also, you know they'll simply say that the free market does not have a blueprint.Eyler
This is where it gets tricky. The truth is, anytime you say, "A society must be thus and so," you have established a blueprint. A free society is free to do whatever its collective will decides to do with the institutions of its own society. If you say, "Markets must be free and unregulated," then the markets might be free, but the people themselves are not free to do whatever they dang well please with the markets. Only if a free people decide, on an ad hoc, item-by-item basis to make each element of the market economy "free" -- only then can you say that a free people have also a free market.John
oh, i very much agree. but this doesn't change the fact that libertarians are primarily interested in a free market, and less interested--if at all--in a free society. suggesting that a free market is the necessary condition for individual freedom effectively reduces the importance of a free society. but then, of course, society does not exist; or, alternately, society is only a collection of individuals. then, if the freedom of individuals is maintained only in a free market, and if a society is only made up of mutually interested individuals, then a free society is equivalent to a free market. so, again, we return to the question of whether a society is simply the sum of its parts, or if it is in fact more.
It all comes down to this question as you posed it. American society is, and was so created to be, more than a collection of parts. The right of self-government is possessed by the people as a body. As Jefferson put it:
"Every man, and every body of men on earth, possesses the right of self-government." --Thomas Jefferson: Opinion on Residence Bill, 1790. ME 3:60
ah, and this is where i introduce "faith". i do not mean that you cannot demonstrate that economies are social and rely on vast and complicated networks of consumption, production, and transaction to remain viable; i mean that it comes down to whether you can have faith only in yourself, or in other people as well. faith in other people means that society (or any collection of individuals) becomes more than merely the sum of the component individuals. is there something between you and i that is irreducible to ourselves as individuals? is there reciprocity, mutualism, shared experience (buberian influence)? or are there only two, isolated individuals who share nothing, or who are always, inavoidably, in direct competition? this is what i mean by faith.Eyler
This is a good point. But is it really a matter of "faith"?John
i refer to it as faith only in that you cannot really rationally "prove" that either view is correct. so, you make a judgement based on experience and belief (and possibly rhetoric as well).